Putin and the Slimmer, Sleeker, Slimier Soviet State

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In Vladimir Sorokin’s dark new novel, set in the year 2028, Russia has traversed the slippery slope from Putinism back to czarism. The main character, Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, a member of the oprichnina—the czar’s elite federal enforcers—catches one of his men reading a banned book and reprimands him. “You understand, you idiot, we’re guards. We have to keep our minds cold and our hearts pure.”

Stephen Kotkin, a professor of history at Princeton who is writing a book on Stalin, immediately recognized that the more you follow Putin’s Russia, the less ridiculous the book, called Day of the Oprichnik, sounds.

“So it is in Putin’s Russia, where a gang of police officials, the siloviki, lord over not just the richest private citizens but also other parts of the state,” Kotkin wrote in the New York Times Book Review. “Sorokin’s imaginative diagnosis of Putinism further grasps that the officials’ looting is driven not by profiteering alone, but by their conviction that they are defending Russian interests. Everything Sorokin’s oprichniks do is a transaction, but their love of country runs deep. They may give in to temptation and tune in to foreign radio (‘enemy voices’), but these moments of weakness vitiate neither their pride in their work nor their code of honor. They have ideals.”

This is all worth keeping in mind as Putin prepares to retake the presidency. Most analysts agree that Putin is really in control now despite Dmitry Medvedev’s position as head of state. There aren’t many practical reasons, therefore, for Putin to lift the curtain on his puppeteer act and reveal the farcical nature of his premiership during Medvedev’s presidency.

It also doesn’t make much sense to stop attempting to fool NGOs and proponents of demokratizatsiya by so boldly rebuking the accepted social norms of modern statecraft, an essential element of which, for postcommunist states, is to pretend your people are much freer than they actually are.

But it makes perfect sense if you understand the importance of national identity. Putin’s decision to return to full power is mostly a symbolic one—but that symbolism, like the photograph of Putin after he supposedly shot a charging tiger with a tranquilizer gun, saving an entire camera crew, is an essential element of the projection of power for the state, not just its leadership. Medvedev may be something of a reformer, but those reforms are not only modest but also irrelevant if they must be acquired through the depletion of national pride. Putin recognizes this, and understands that if he can provide stability and security, the rest won’t matter.

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  • theleastthreat

    I've read in a book by two NYT journalists that after the fall of the USSR, Putin was out of work at the KGB and was looking for work as a taxi driver. At some point, he was contacted by old acquaintances and pretty much hand picked to run things in Russia after Yeltsin didn't hold up. So there may be more to this than just Putin, which would make sense.

  • Steve Chavez

    OUR MEDIA is only putting on glowing reports of Putin because in the 80's, while they were journalists for their leftist university newspapers, they towed the Communist Party USA which was bought and paid for by the KGB. The KGB's World Peace Council, started by the Soviets in 1949, had the U.S. Peace Council affiliate and one in every state. From there, members of that state Peace Council were directed to start their own group. For example, ten members of the Council now had ten groups and they signed up in each others group. Now sponsoring a protest are TEN GROUPS! GREAT KGB TRICK!

    Now these KGB DUPES ARE THE LEADERS OF UNITED STATES AND JOURNOLISTS! They show Putin bare-chested riding horses, throwing men twice his size to the ground, singing and playing the piano, fishing, driving cars (that don't start), and was on Larry King, who never met a Communist he didn't like. (I used to call in to his radio program and tried to expose these 80's fronts and he would hang up on me as soon as I said "Communist Party." When he had guests though, he couldn't hang up, so I asked Al Haig about the peace councils and he went on about their Soviet connection and their tactics in the U.S..)

    You now see how we treat Putin by not focusing on them. So he now is implementing "PUTIN'S REVENGE!" Putin, and our Communists, were bitter at their downfall. Who aided in the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan? "Putin's Revenge" is they/CPUSA help any country, or terrorist group, that will aid in our defeat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the whole Middle East with the destruction of Israel as the icing on the cake! OBAMA AIDS IN THAT MISSION! COMMUNISTS HELP EACH OTHER! Don't be fooled by his FAKE SUPPORT OF ISRAEL AND AIPAC/JEWS! Notice his support and direction of the Arab Spring and yet no action on Syria! CONNECT THE DOTS!!!

  • StephenD

    Putin, or should I say Dos Equis ~ "The most interesting man in the world" to many is nothing more and no less than the continuation of the KGB. The Soviet Union merely went underground. If there was true reform from the corruption the prevailed why were there never charges made against former officials? IT has been a farce from day one.
    Putin is like a celebrity to like minded Socialists around the world. I wouldn't be surprised if Hillary presented him with a plaque or if we see a Christmas Tree Ornament hanging in the White House with his mug on it.

  • Pranab

    Although whatever said of Putin I think he is a great leader.Nobody could imagine that such a vast country like Russia could emerge from billions od debt into GDP+ and full or reserves in less than 20 years.While all other western countries are wasting their taxpayers monies on invading muslim countries to steal their oil, one man army has silently steered their nation with pride(corruption included).He has to be admired for his fierce political foresight.

    • generalissimo

      if we're "stealing the oil", like you so deftly propose, then why is its price shooting through the roof? Do we pay for things we steal? Do we steal things so they cost more?

      Yep, we must "admire his fierce political foresight"… preferably from afar.

      I think time will show that, like China, Russia is surfing on the "artificially inflated growth" bandwagon. Sure, the numbers seem promising, but I'm sure they're not telling us the whole story. Essentially, you have a country with a native population going down the drain, sort of speak. It has all the demographic problems of Western Europe (mostly Spain and Italy) and all the health deficiencies of Africa combined. What a shinning future for Russia.

  • Marriedtoarussian

    Russia has a 1000 year history which includes 1000 years of corruption. That country can not be lead by a weak leader, we have seen what happens when it has been lead by a weak leader. The western banks and George Soros pillaged that country driving it into deeper debt than it already was. Putin with all of his faults brought that country back paid off its debt and is now growing. There are those in the US like the Heritage Foundation want to bring back the cold war, reverse any deals that have been with Russia and keep them as a enemy. The question is why? they are not a military threat, and they are not a economic threat. If they got their act together they would be more powerful than all nations but they will never be their to corrupt and backwards. Besides they are far more of a natural Alie particularly against the Chinese who pose a real threat to our national security and Russia's as well. By the way how many wars is Russia involved in right now? the US is in at least 4 wars 6 if you count all the other covert operations . The Russian people like stability and some reasonable degree of justice give them that and you will always be in power.

    • Jim

      I must agree with you. Putin is above all interested in the well being of the Russian people. No doubt Yeltsin was also. It was the" Boys from Harvard" who brought Russia to it's knees. Remember what Yeltsin looked like when he stood down his own Communist party. Then think of what he looked like at the end when he could not stand up by him self. What happened to him? The propagandists( for who knows) spread the rumor that Yeltsin had an illness. Wonder who gave it to him.?
      Forget the KGB slurs directed at Putin. He beats Clinton,Bush and Obama any day.

      • nightspore

        re: the "Boys from Harvard" bringing Russia to its knees – not according to Stephan Kotkin in his Armagedon Averted. According to this book – and the discussion is convincing – the Boys were a negligible factor. The two things that mattered the most were the Soviet heritage and the wholesale theft of the country's resources by the political class.

    • nocal

      Are you saying that George Soros had a hand in the demise of the Soviet Union? If so, I wonder why Soros hasn"t had a bullet applied to his brain yet. Unless, of course, he is currently more useful in applying his specialties to the United States economy.

      • skulldiggerin

        Of course !
        Soros is only the visible part of the
        Council For The Subversion Of The World.
        To put together an OWG(One-World-Government) you have to first destroy this most hated entity : the Sovereign-Nation-State, espc the Democratic ones.
        Hence the destruction of the US by attacks from all sides, with Soros & Co
        as the FilthKolumn.
        It `s no "Conspiracy Theory", it `s conspiracy. Period.

  • Ghostwriter

    Well,marriedtoarussian,didn't you know that Putin was a member of the old KGB,not exactly a recommendation for someone who claims to be a democrat. It's common knowledge in this country and many here think that he's a thug. Not exactly a good start for an alliance between the US and Russia.

    • Jim

      It's common knowledge in this country and many here think that he's a thug.
      It's common knowledge in the US that he is a thug? Really . He ripped Russia away from the Oligarchy that had driven Russia to the edge of starvation and gave it back to the People. They adore him. Which non thugs in America do you adore. Maybe Bush who slept while the financial system was choked to death by our own oligarchy and then turned around and gave them corporate welfare while the Americans were being thrown out onto the street.
      The entire article above is a series of assertions none of it backed up facts. It is in short a screed.

  • Steve Chavez

    Gorbachev is a hero in the world but hated in Russia especially by the KGB and Putin. Obama, who learned to love the Soviet Union from a young age and in college, will be a bigger hero in the world when he oversees the downfall of the United States of America! If he is re-elected in 2012, he will finish "Putin's Revenge!"

    FAST AND FURIOUS could derail him if Mexico seeks his, and Holder's, extradition for gun running which is responsible for killing thousands. WE INVADED PANAMA FOR A DRUG RUNNER DIDN'T WE? A Mexican presidential candidate is seeking extradition to any U.S. official. OBAMA was in El Paso two months ago and he said Republicans were so nuts about illegals that they wanted to build a moat with alligators. THAT'S AN INSULT SINCE THAT MEANS I, A REPUBLICAN, hate illegals so much that I want them EATEN ALIVE! But what he is doing with GUN RUNNING IS KILLING MEXICANS at weddings, birthday parties, drive-bys, embassy officials, AND FROM GUNS THAT OBAMA AND HOLDER APPROVED! WHERE IS THE MEXICAN ANGER AND PROTESTS AGAINST OBAMA? Last month there was a protest that started in Mexico City by LEFTIST MEXICANS AND LEFTIST AMERICANS and they ended in El Paso AND THEY BLAMED THE POLICE AND ARMY and not FAST AND FURIOUS!!!

  • theleastthreat

    Part Un: I'm not trying to be rude or condescending but several of the comments here are very generous toward Mr Putin and his leadership skills, and seem overly optimistic about how Russia could be a great friend to the US. Someone commented that Russia isn't militarily involved to the same degree the US is, but they are not the military power they once were. In Chechnya, they have been brutal. They did invade Georgia too. They shot and killed a Japanese fisherman who may or may not have strayed into their waters.

    • theleastthreat

      Part Deux: As for his brilliance with the Russian economy, that came about when oil rose from $30 a barrel to $140/ barrel. When oil fell to $70, Russia started having trouble again. Now that it is around $100, their fine once again. Putin didn't pull that off, it was a fluke in their favor. What I'm saying is, it wouldn't hurt to read up a bit more about him and Russia. Hunches and gut feelings about all this aren't enough to go on. So, yes, I'd say GW Bush looked into Putin's soul and misread it.

  • theleastthreat

    Part Deux: The reason Russia is doing so well economically now is the price of oil rose from $30 a barrel to over $140/barrel and is now around $100. This wasn't because of some gifted leadership. It was a fluke in their favor. They can't be trusted as an ally against the Chinese since they side with China over Serbia, Iran and N Korea. That is just common sense. And if they wanted justice then they would look into various murders of Russians who dared to criticize the Putin Gov't. Some things I've read, that were heavily referenced, have led me to believe that National Socialism could be their next political system. So, you may want to read more about Putin before you give him a pass.

  • Pathena

    President Obama, who puts out his hand to tyrants and slaps democratic allies, appeased Putin and Russia by removing the anti-missiles protection from Poland.

    • Jim

      Placing missiles in Poland facing Russia to defend against Iran was a George idiot move. It was so obviously a Bush "get tough " fake that it made pigs eyes swell up with tears from laughter.

  • Fred Dawes

    Just keep watching putin he will start the next world war.

  • Bogdan from Aussie

    Putin's and his cohorts' strength derives from the temporarily high prices of oil and gas.

    If America under the leadership of Sarah Palin enters the way towards the energy independence, Putin's entire strategy of creating the mega oil/gas cartel with Russia as its leader will collapse and everything he will be able to present his citizens with shall be his bare A**E…

    • Vilko

      "If America under the leadership of Sarah Palin enters the way towards the energy independence…"

      Won't happen. Palin is a likable person, but she's clueless about energy, she knows nothing about fossil fuel depletion. She's a faux populist, and she simply doesn't have a high enough IQ to run a country.

      • CarolZ

        Vilko, this is just silly silly silly! Ignorance like your's is just embarassing—but
        continue to enjoy your bliss.

    • theleastthreat

      A lot of people put down Reagan as a washed up actor and never bothered to mention that he was a successful Governor. On the other hand, we have had 4 Ivy League educated Presidents in a row and just look at where we are today: crushed by debt, troops deployed all over, high unemployment, and at the mercy of OPEC. I'd have to say, that an elite education guarantees little if anything. Palin may actually be the better choice for a lot of reasons, regardless of who thinks differently.

  • sharon akers

    Obama and his democrats (Pelosi, Schumer, Reid, Hillary, etc) are all on the same sheet of music as Putin.

    Just make the appropriate changes to the above article, and you get this:

    "Obama and the democrats are doing the opposite: incrementally eroding the rights and the freedom of the American people until they have gone too far to fight back."

    Kind of scary, no?

  • skulldiggerin

    Vlad-the-bad will take his Scythia to Hell by his slyly covert/overt hostile policy toward Israel.

    On the other hand Americans, watch out for the DC1600 Pennsylvania Avenue FilthKolumn.
    Their DCDelilah of a figurehead is well primed to give Alaska back(understand `out`) to Vlad-the-bad`s Scythia as a token of friendship.
    And to demonstrate its (the FilthKolumn's) goodwill, it will dismantle the US,
    "Bekoz" it will say "the SU had already dismantled itself 20 years ago. Now it's our turn !"

    However " The Earth Is The Lord 'S ", & man projects But GOD REALIZES.

    Vlad will find himself soon enough embroiled in a conflict with unsavory neighbour
    Chikom, who admits no equal, and whose expansion can only be westward.
    (currently 100,000,000 Chinese are living in Siberia which, as the ice melts
    reveals dangerous layers of untapped methane gas that, once lit would make
    the Tunguska meteorite a mere firecracker.)

    Take heed Scythians.