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

The last gasp of the secret police's squalid rule?

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 and was translated into English by Monica Got.

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Tags: Putin, KGB