From Andropov to Putin: The Last Spasm of a Decrepit Dictatorship

Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and author most recently of "The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century" (University of California Press, 2012).


paKremlinology is back on the daily agenda. This can hardly be considered good news. I distinctly remember: the year was 1983 and Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov – former Chairman of the Committee for State Security, an institution known under the horrifying acronym of KGB – reigned as absolute leader of the CPSU and the USSR. Today, the Russian Federation is commanded by none other than Andropov’s former subordinate, one-time KGB lieutenant-colonel and deputy chief of the residency in Dresden (in what was called – then and for four more decades after that – the GDR), Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

On September 1, 1983, a Soviet fighter shot down a South Korean Air Lines commercial aircraft (Flight 007), which had taken off from Kennedy Airport in New York City and was heading for Seoul after a stopover in Anchorage, Alaska. The current tragedy, directly linked to Russia’s intervention against the democratic revolution in Ukraine, shows that the Putin regime is applying and developing the strategy of Bolshevik-inspired international terrorism. The West must acknowledge this state of affairs before it is too late.

Years ago, the Soviet dissident Yuri Glazov, one of the most lucid interpreters of the Soviet experience, diagnosed Andropov’s neo-Stalinism, more sophisticated but no less repressive than Leonid Brezhnev’s, as the last gasp of the nomenklatura’s squalid rule. The same can be said about Putinism, this latter-day incarnation of the Andropov model. I will write soon about the Andropov legacies and Putin’s efforts to revive it.

Andropov’s propaganda claimed that the Soviet leader had not been aware of the decision to attack. Born one hundred years ago in 1914, Andropov died in 1984. He was followed in office by the inept Konstantin Chernenko and then – with his strengths and weaknesses, his well-known consistencies and inconsistencies – by Mikhail Gorbachev.

September 1983 is considered to be among the top moments of the last period of the Cold War, a moment of all-out, explosive tension. The USSR collapsed in December 1991. What followed was the Boris Yeltsin chapter, and then – under various avatars, either as president or Prime Minister – that of Putin. For the latter, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” Putinism meant imposing a disguised dictatorship of the KGB’s successor, the new/old secret police known as the FSB. The FSB’s “ethos” is deeply rooted in the tradition which began with the Cheka and the entranced Polish-Russian Bolshevik, Feliks Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky.

On July 17, 2014, a missile launched by the separatists in Eastern Ukraine – armed by Putin’s Russia and with military leadership provided by Russian citizens, Putin’s direct emissaries – downed a Malaysian airliner, flight MH 17, with 298 passengers on board. No one survived. The disaster was complete. Only apparently was this an anomalous and absurd action. In fact, as so many of the actions prompted by Russian (then Soviet, then yet again Russian) imperialism, it’s all about the infamous paranoid style being consistently exercised, without any reluctance or scruples. It replicates Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s mendacious tricks in his relationship with mass murders such as General Ratko Mladic and the psychopathic nationalist Radovan Karadzic.

In fact, Putin – either explicitly or surreptitiously – has encouraged the separatist rebels. Putin’s propaganda has gone once more into a state of hysteria, bearing a shocking resemblance to that of Slobodan Milosevic, especially that of the delirious Serbian television, during the wars of secession in former Yugoslavia. The lies are coming down in heavy waves, frantically and shamelessly. Brought up in the KGB’s climate of fabrications, legends, and mystifications, Putin idolizes Andropov. What is currently happening in Russia is linked to perhaps the last great spasm of the totalitarian secret police. Stale and stifling, Putin’s world belongs to bygone times. Predicting its end can be read by those who can read – the facts, not the stars.

Andrew Nagorski, one of the finest experts on the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet world, writes the following:

When the façade of an authoritarian regime begins to be exposed to the harsh glare of truth, it usually crumbles at some point. That doesn’t necessarily happen immediately or even fast. But both the world at large and the Russians themselves will soon realize that the emperor in the Kremlin has no clothes. Future historians are likely to look at the downing of Malaysian Flight 17 as a pivotal moment in that process.

I find it unnecessary to emphasize British historian and journalist Timothy Garton Ash’s competence. In “The New York Times,” Garton Ash – the author of the classic book “The Uses of Adversity,” a profound connoisseur of Europe’s political meanderings of the last five decades and more, an expert on German-Russian relations and the recent history of what was the Soviet Bloc – deals with the ominous Putin doctrine. It is a doctrine which encodes, in an aggressive manner, Russia’s right to intervene whenever the Kremlin decides that the rights of populations of Russian origin from other countries are being threatened.

The Russianness criterion would be similar to that used by Nazi Germany in the ’30s in order to define what was known as “Deutschtum,” meaning the common origin as a people, as “volk.” Garton Ash is right, this is an ideology of resentment, a conglomeration of authoritarian-imperial and intensely nationalist fantasies, with catastrophic consequences for the international situation. Putinism, as a mental formula, was not born yesterday. It suffices to read or re-read the writings of admirable individuals such as Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner, Yuri Glazov, Sergey Kovalev, Yuri Orlov to grasp the barbaric, totalitarian roots of what we may call the Putin Doctrine.

This article came out on the Romanian online platform www.contributors.ro and was translated into English by Monica Got.

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  • Wolfthatknowsall

    Truth hurts. And I hope this site’s russophiles are hurt badly by this article.

    • UCSPanther

      My thoughts exactly. It is just like in the time before the Cold War how many people were fooled into thinking Stalin was a great man, when in reality he was no different than Hitler. He was just more sneaky in his approach.

      Stalin was a sociopath who probably didn’t see others as people, but mere pawns or obstacles in his quest for power, and I wager that Putin is no different.

      Putin may be a strong leader, but no one should harbor any illusions about him.

  • IslamDownpressesHumanity

    Is Putin funding and facilitating the spread of islamic-fascism across the globe? Does Putin have islamic-fascists in his own cabinet?
    If anyone has a monopoly on lying amongst the leaders of the world today it’s the POSUS.

  • RMThoughts

    The author and Rip Van Winkle have a lot in common. They both went to sleep for 20 years. Seems to be a one trick pony that pines for the old days of the Cold War..

  • RMThoughts

    We, find
    ourselves facing the demographic, geopolitical and ideological challenge of
    global Jihad with a to the shrinking remnant of a apostate Christendom and decadent West. The West appears hell-bent on cordoning off, fragmenting, and eventually destroying the only Christian power that could and therefore should be its partner in the joint struggle — Russia. We overthrow elected governments Ukraine and isolate Russia in the name of lofty “democratic” ideals, but
    in truth are roused by avarice, blinkered by ideology, and driven by raw
    cultural prejudice, American leaders of both parties are endangering us by
    forcing a key potential ally into resentful, and potentially menacing,
    acceptance of its “otherness.”

    • Hanna

      Clearly a post paid for by Putin and part of the cyber army of Putins propaganda pawns. Shame on you. The blood money you took from Putin structures will be spent and forgotten, but the bad karma you create will stay with you forever.

      • RMThoughts

        Clearly? It would seem that anyone who disagrees with your wishful thinking is being paid by Putin. Very imaginative but highly unlikely. The modern world obliges us to refute foolish ideas, instead of silencing the fools.

  • Hanna

    Having grown up under sinister rule of the Soviets in soviet puppet state that Poland was I agree 100 percent. The analysis is spot on. While the focus is on power and, perhaps, paranoid delusions of Putins Stalinist establishment, let’s not forget the money however. Putin is personally arguably the greatest kleptocrat that has walked the earth, along with his cronies. 3 generations of negative selection of the most immoral and evil individuals in USSR to leadership positions has brought the fruit in the latest incarnation of totalitarian monster, of the same school as Stalin or Hitler, which Putin is. He tops an entirely corrupt, self serving, mafia style structure that is Russian “government” and from top to the bottom there will be plenty of, deeply immoral,and corrupt folks, who have lots to lose if the “people” were to see the emperors real clothes. This I would not bet things are going to change. Unlike Poles, the Russians, as a blocks do not want freedom, as much as they like the thought they are a “great” nation. This is the biggest issue. Putin probably does not have to fake elections to much, the nation is so,brainwashed, or so vast is the network of benefitted from Putins corrupt octopus structure of mafia- government, that stifles the land and perverts any semblance of rule of law. I feel the situation is dangerously unstable. Putin and his cronies having everything to lose will not give up peacefully. They will not go,down, if they have to drown the earth in blood. So sinister and dangerous are these figures. I expect every classic Bolshevik tactic to be used, including price hikes for oil exports and every type of economic retaliation for the sanctions. Additionally I expect Putin, when driven to the wall, will only intensify propaganda efforts and not have any scruples ( you can’t expect an ex KGB cold blooded murderer to have any) to lead the nation and the world to a disastrous war. The West under appreciates how unstable and dangerous the situation is and Putin appeasement is going to end up,exactly like Hitler’s appeasement efforts befor WW2. We need full military mobilisation on NATO Russian borders to show Putin NATO has teeth. Anything less than that, any attempt of “diplomacy” and Putin will bite the hand that feeds him. West , beware. You do not understand the extent of demoralisation and pure evil that 3 decades of soviet rule left as a legacy in the homo-sovieticus infected nation. I hope the West, and my country, will not pay a high price for this ignorance.

    • IslamDownpressesHumanity

      For crissakes your characterization of Putin’s presidency could just as well be applied to 0-bama’s. Has Putin been using tax rolls to persecute his political opponents? Has Putin been financing islamic states that promote/supply/fund/facilitate islamic terrorism?

      • 20pizzapies

        No entity has done more to facilitate Islamic terrorism than THE BIG OIL COMPANIES

  • Hanna

    Putin is a sworn enemy of the West and Western civilization. He is involved on arms deals and military support of every human rights breaking totalitarian nation on Earth ( Iran, Syria). He is not a partner to the West, he is the Wests greatest enemy. If Russia were to sponsor islamofascism, I would not be surprised, as Bolsheviks tactic was to combat the enemy in every way including instigating rot from within. West beware of Russia. It is able to destroy a lot more than it can ever create and as usually the direction it’s leadership chose to take is hostile to human civilization as a whole. Russian state will be ruthless and show no respect to human life, including classically, it’s own citizens in case of war.

    • IslamDownpressesHumanity

      But Russia doesn’t sponsor islamic-fascism and the US DOES.
      Has Putin ever stated anything like: “there must be no future for those who slander the prophet of islam” EVER?

  • 20pizzapies

    So ,now no more cheering for Snowden …..right ?