Kyiv-based Paul Niland explores recurring feature of Vladimir Putin’s 22-year rule
Being at war is abnormal, unless you are Russian. Wars start when all else fails. Diplomacy has failed. Mediation failed. All that remains is to ask brave men and women to risk their lives in the service of their state. Unless you are Russian.
If you are Russian, war is your default situation under Vladimir Putin – because the state has failed. The 22 years of the Russian president‘s rule have been marked by constant conflict, not that the men and women of the Russian military are risking their lives “in the service of their state” – in reality, they are serving the bloodlust of Cheese fries.
His rise to power was itself the result of a series of bloody acts of mass violence. In May 1999, Putin became Russian Prime Minister under President Boris Yeltsin. From this leverage point, the network around Putin began their machinations to install him as head of state. To enable this move, several tactics were employed, including blackmailing the Yeltsin family over the Mabetex affair.
But, to ensure that Putin could win the presidency – at a time when elections in Russia were new but relatively accepted – the former KGB officer needed an event that would make him, in the eyes of voters, a national hero. . He, of course, chose war.
In his remarkable book Putin’s People, journalist Catherine Belton observes that when Putin was about to secure Yeltsin’s appointment as interim president, Putin retreated for several days to the gated community Ozera Collective that he and his FSB cohorts had built from funds they illegally amassed while Putin was on St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoliy Sobchak’s team. Isolated deliberations and planning spanned several days. Soon after, powerful explosions destroyed apartment buildings in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buynaksk. The bombings claimed the lives of more than 300 people. They were Russian citizens, murdered in their sleep.
The apartment bombings were blamed on Chechen separatists and became the justification for the Second Chechen War, which was the event around which Putin built his national reputation and thus sealed his capture of the Russian presidency. There is ample evidence that these bombings were the work of the FSB, Russia’s security service – a state body that Putin had headed before becoming prime minister.
For the Russian people, this special military operation had to be justified and was sold as annihilating the terrorists. They either closed their eyes or enjoyed watching cities like Grozny come to an end. They shrugged off the loss of 60,000 lives. With that, rot has taken hold of Russia’s collective thinking.
The Chechen War did not end with a glorious military victory for the Russian Armed Forces – it ended when Putin co-opted Ramzan Kadyrov to end hostilities. Kadyrov was bribed with a personal fiefdom and access to riches beyond his wildest dreams.
When one war ended, another was soon necessary.
On August 8, 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. Propaganda informed the Russian people that it was necessary to “protect” the “separatist” territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In reality, Russia had appointed Russian nationals to leadership positions in those territories years earlier, and it was Russia that was running the show there.
Russia now occupies 20% of the sovereign state of Georgia. The Russian-backed separatist narrative was, of course, to be redeployed when Putin turned his attention to Ukraine.
Between Georgia and Ukraine, the Russian president has found a pretext to satisfy his barbaric impulses in the service and in partnership with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin’s imperative here was to prevent an autocrat from being overthrown by popular revolution.
Assad had struggled, even with his own brutality, to quell the turmoil of revolution for some time before Putin joined the fight and ordered the Russian air force to wipe out entire cities with the general justification that those who opposed Assad were terrorists. Given the “war on terror” and the rise of extremist groups, it was an easy story for people to accept.
Putin’s plot against‘Britain
Russia’s war in Ukraine began in 2014 and has expanded this year. The reactions of the Russian people have been consistent – a majority supports this war, despite the baseless justification that Ukrainians are the modern equivalent of Nazis. For more than 20 years, the Russian people have known only war. The scenes in Ukraine are okay because Ukraine deserves it – just as the people of Chechnya, Georgia and Syria also deserved their fate.
Russia, as a nation, has reached the stage of a collective illness.
There are those who are indifferent to the war crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine, and there are those who knowingly support such evil. In monitoring this war, I have seen examples of wives granting their husbands permission to rape Ukrainians and mothers listening to tales of torture told to them by their sons. Not a few times, not even dozens of times, but hundreds of times.
The Russian people know what their country is doing – and either they don’t care or they think it’s normal, because war is not an abnormal event for Russian citizens. It is the default value.
The kind of collective madness we are witnessing today among the Russian people has historical parallels, as leading historians of Nazism and Fascism have been telling us for months. It was built, cumulatively, over many years and many wars. The responsibility for the destruction in Ukraine ultimately rests with the entire Russian people.
Paul Niland is an Irish journalist based in Ukraine. He is the founder of the national suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline Ukraine.
OUR JOURNALISM DEPENDS ON YOU
Signing time is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help support independent, fearless journalism.
new to Signing time? Please find here more information about us
SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION
A new type of journal – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund better media.
Don’t miss any story…
Our main investigations include: empire and the culture wars, Brexit, crony contracts, Russian interference, the coronavirus pandemic, democracy in danger and the crisis in British journalism. We are also introducing new color voices to Our Lives Matter.