Putin, Russia and the Purpose of Power

Motivating Vladimir Putin is the inviolability of Russia’s imperial past, be it the Great Northern War (1700–21) or the Great Patriotic War (1941–45). No sacrifice by the people of Russia, let alone Ukrainians, appears too high a price to pay to the gods of war as long as the greater glory of Russia is restored. Putin’s concept of the “Russian world” (Russkiy Mir) is simultaneously a language and a geographical location, a civilisation and an all-powerful state, a nation-state and an empire and, most perilous of all, his personal destiny and the fate of Russia. We can see, in retrospect at least, that the likelihood of a new incarnation of the Cold War increased as Putin began to contemplate his place in the textbooks of future generations of schoolchildren. The grandiloquence of this one man, served by the lethal but compliant siloviki, casts a terrible shadow over the world.

An unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine was not inevitable. But Putin’s early career in the KGB, an enduring enmity towards the West, and more than two decades of holding the reins of power in the Kremlin, doubtless increased the chances. On June 9, 2022, with the death toll of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians soaring, Putin told the young engineers, entrepreneurs and scientists attending the annual St Petersburg Economic Forum:

Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for twenty-one years. On the face of it, he was at war with Sweden taking something away from it … He was not taking away anything, he was returning. That’s how it was. The areas around Lake Ladoga, where St Petersburg was founded. When he founded the new capital, none of the European countries recognised this territory as part of Russia; everyone recognised it as part of Sweden. However, from time memorial, the Slavs lived there along with the Finno-Ugric peoples, and this territory was under Russia’s control. The same is true of the western direction, Narva and his first campaigns. Why would he go there? He was returning and reinforcing, that is what he was doing.

We can only assume he believed his bloody assault on Ukraine was a question of “returning and reinforcing” what rightfully belonged to Greater Russia—however many years it took, however many lives were lost and whether or not “European countries recognised [his conquest] as part of Russia”.

How did we get here? In May 2005, Putin famously declared on national television that not only was the break-up of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” but a “genuine tragedy” for the Russian people. There are actually two points here. The latter one concerns the supposed disaster arising from the establishment of post-Soviet independent states and the permanent separation of ethnic Russians—in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and elsewhere—from the Motherland. Long-time Moscow correspondent Owen Matthews, in Overreach (2022), maintains that the vision Putin employed to justify his invasion of Ukraine “was based not on imperialism but ethno-nationalism”. In other words, “Putin would claim that the war against Ukraine would be fought not to bring a foreign people under Moscow’s rule but to protect the rights of people he regarded as essentially Russian”. To make sense of Putin’s perspective we have his 2021 essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, where he argues for the historical affinity between three discrete modern-day entities, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

But, of course, Putin’s “vision” of a Greater Russia has not only been about Russians living outside the borders of the Russian Federation. Also on his mind was the reduction of Moscow’s imperial realm to an area about the size it was at the time of Catherine the Great (1762–96). As a consequence, Putin’s political philosophy has turned out to be an incongruous blend of the imperial two-headed eagle and Soviet patriotism. The ambiguity of his under-formulated but always evolving belief-system has, over the years, encouraged those who should have known better to see in Putin what they wanted to see. Boris Yeltsin, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Patriarch Kirill are three examples of significant Russian figures, respectively political, cultural and religious, who directly or indirectly assisted the rise and rise of ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin.

Yeltsin, as viewed through the lens of Russian film director Vitaliy Manskiy in the 2018 documentary Putin’s Witnesses, could well be the greatest Putin enabler of all. As president of the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1999, Yeltsin founded the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 1995 and granted it, along with the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the authority to surveil private citizens akin to that enjoyed by the Soviet Union’s KGB. He appointed Putin as its new head in March 1998. Twelve months later Yeltsin was manoeuvring his protégé into the post of prime minister and then, on New Year’s Eve 1999, he pronounced Putin his replacement in the lead-up to the March 2000 presidential elections.

Because Manskiy had extensive access to both Yeltsin and Putin for an earlier documentary about Putin’s first year in office, Putin’s Witnesses provides an astonishing close-up view of Yeltsin and family, especially his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, revelling in Putin’s election victory. One of the reasons for their glee, doubtless, was that Putin’s win guaranteed Yeltsin and his coterie, the so-called Yeltsin Clan, immunity from future prosecution. Some blame the West for not organising a Marshall Plan to save the Russian Federation from financial ruin in the 1990s, but the West provided billions of dollars to prop up Yeltsin’s government, only to see most of it, as a rule, commandeered by officialdom. Boris Yeltsin—not unlike Putin working for the mayor of St Petersburg—was no exception to the rule.      

Putin in Manskiy’s film is something of a chameleon, warily polite to the Yeltsin people who facilitate and celebrate his rise to power and yet, in one-to-one exchanges with the interviewer, supremely confident of his powers of persuasion and leadership. The Yeltsin Clan mistakenly believed Putin’s ascendancy would serve not only their interests but the interests of—for the want of a better expression—post-Soviet liberalism. That is, a pragmatic pathway between the fanaticism of Soviet diehards on the one hand and ultra-nationalist obsessives on the other.

Only on the anniversary of Putin’s elevation to the presidency, New Year’s Eve 2000, does Yeltsin betray unease about Putin. It occurs at the moment Yeltsin hears the new national anthem played for the first time on television. Putin’s anthem is the melody of the Soviet (that is to say, Stalin’s) anthem combined with new patriotic words. Yeltsin, a born-again anti-communist if nothing else, was disgruntled enough to go on the record at the time, something he rarely did in retirement: “My only association with the old anthem is party congresses and conferences that consolidated the power of the party’s bureaucrats.” But his protest was too little and too late. Manskiy’s 2018 documentary notes that the liberal-technocrats who schemed to bring Putin to power in 2000 fell from favour soon afterwards and were replaced by the so-called siloviki, people who often had connections with the KGB/FSB.

Solzhenitsyn’s endorsement of Putin is different though no less problematic. Some do not care to concede that the author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1961) and The Gulag Archipelago (1973), two of the greatest paeans to human freedom in the twentieth century, could finish up as an apologist for Putin. Prominent among Solzhenitsyn’s defenders is Daniel Mahoney, author of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology (2001). Frustrated by the frequent denunciations of the “political” Solzhenitsyn, as distinct from the incontrovertible “literary” Solzhenitsyn, Mahoney wrote The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth about a Misunderstood Writer (2014) to show that Solzhenitsyn, the novelist and social commentator, was less a dogmatic and war-like nationalist than a life-affirming patriot. He remained his own man, in the opinion of Mahoney, notwithstanding Putin’s frequent praise for Solzhenitsyn, the 2006 airing on state television of a ten-part serialisation of The First Circle and a special presidential award bestowed upon Solzhenitsyn in 2007. Whenever Putin granted Solzhenitsyn an audience, apparently the legendary champion of human dignity did not hold back, lecturing Putin on how things might be done better, starting with the reintroduction of democratic elections for provincial governors, curtailing endemic corruption, reducing the gap between rich and poor and addressing the peril of demographic decline.

Still, the evidence shows that right up until his death in 2008 Solzhenitsyn admired Putin and gave him more than the benefit of the doubt. Four months before his death, according to a WikiLeaks cable, Solzhenitsyn reputedly informed the US ambassador, William Burns, that Putin was a vast improvement on his predecessors: “Solzhenitsyn positively contrasted the eight-year reign of Putin with those of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, which he said had ‘added to the damage done to the Russian state by 70 years of communist rule’. Under Putin, the nation was rediscovering what it was to be Russian, Solzhenitsyn thought.” Solzhenitsyn’s body was failing at the time but his mind was sharp and he continued to follow current events. None of this is to suggest that were Solzhenitsyn alive today he would condone Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—quite the opposite, I assume, notwithstanding Solzhenitsyn’s long-held belief that the people of Great Russia (the Russian Federation), Little Russia (eastern Ukraine), White Russia (Belarus) and conceivably western Kazakhstan all belonged together in one ethno-state. 

Why could Solzhenitsyn not see the peril of Putin’s siloviki? After all, it had been four years since the liberal journalist Anna Politkovskaya published Putin’s Russia, a searing and comprehensive condemnation of the Kremlin: “Putin’s new-old nomenklatura has taken corruption to heights undreamt of under the Communists or Yeltsin.” Moreover, Putin’s exploitation of the Second Chechen War (commencing in 1999) had effectively polished off democracy in Russia. In the chapter titled “Our New Middle Ages, or War Criminals of All the Russias”, Politkovskaya depicts that war (and its toll of 25,000 to 50,000 dead or missing) as a cancer affecting every part of the Russian Federation—the judiciary, human rights, the political opposition, the army, the police, the various intelligence agencies, the media and, most important of all, the psyche of the general population. Already, by 2004, her country had fallen into the “Soviet abyss” and for a journalist to survive in Russia required “servility to Putin”. For any remaining contrarians, Putin’s “guard dogs” were ready with “the bullet, poison or trial”. On October 7, 2006—Putin’s fifty-fourth birthday—four bullets struck Politkovskaya, one fatally to the head. Oleg Gordievsky, a covert agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service who defected from the Soviet Union in 1985, warned the world at the time that the FSB was operating straight out of the old KGB handbook.

The third enabler, Patriarch Kirill (above), born Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev, was installed as the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009. That Kirill’s father and grandfather were priests during the Soviet era, a time when Christians were derided and often persecuted, and the young Gundyayev himself took up theological studies in such a hostile environment, indicates he was no communist dupe. Still, the freedom he enjoyed to study abroad in the 1980s likely suggests he was by necessity KGB. Certainly his predecessor as head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexy II (1990–2008), worked for the secret police from as early as the 1950s. Father Kirill, during the chaotic years of the Yeltsin era, participated in the free-for-all corruption that impoverished the Russian people and yet filled the coffers of not only the oligarchs but—on the back of duty-free imported alcohol and tobacco scams—the Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill’s conscience appears to be highly selective. For the benefit of the 70 million or so local members of his faith, he is forever directing his moral outrage at the decadent West but has rarely, if ever, condemned the horrors arising from Putin’s brutal war on civilians in the Second Chechen War, the Syrian civil war and now Ukraine. This is the missive he sent the World Council of Churches on March 10, 2022:

The peoples of Russia and Ukraine, who came from one Kievan baptismal font, are united by common faith, common saints and prayers, and share common historical fate. This tragic conflict has become a part of a large-scale geopolitical strategy aimed, first and foremost, at weakening Russia and stirring Russophobia.

Putin could not have said it better.

Solzhenitsyn, in one of his last public interviews, attached little importance to Putin’s earlier professional life as a KGB agent in Dresden, East Germany (the GDR): 

Vladimir Putin—yes, he was an officer of the intelligence services, but he was not a KGB investigator, nor was he the head of a camp in the gulag. As for service in foreign intelligence, that is not negative in any country—sometimes it even draws praise. George Bush Sr. was not much criticised for being the ex-head of the CIA, for example.

In some ways we might agree. Both Putin and his opposite number in the CIA would have engaged in all manner of skulduggery and subterfuge to advance their respective causes. In the case of Bush, for instance, the US government itself has released records that clearly document the CIA’s involvement in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état that resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected Muhammed Mossadegh. Nevertheless, Putin’s time as a KGB officer cannot be dismissed as merely incidental to the Cold War—there are key consequences that need to be considered. First, as Catherine Belton outlines in Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Took on the West (2020), numerous Soviet intelligence officers with connections to Putin reached the upper echelons of power in the Russian Federation. Mikhail Fradkov, for instance, served as Putin’s prime minister (2004–7) and then as his director of the SVR (2007–16).

Agent Putin, stationed at the farthest western reach of the Soviet Empire from 1985 to 1990, would have seen himself as a warrior on the frontier between a reactionary imperialist superpower (America and the West) and a progressive socialist superpower (the USSR and friends, including the Soviet bloc). The GDR, from the perspective of most Westerners at the time, was a totalitarian nightmare that had to build a wall around the city of West Berlin in 1961 to prevent its captive population escaping to the freedom of the West. It was a “surreal cage” as Frederick Taylor characterises it in The Berlin Wall (2007), evidence of the moral bankruptcy of Soviet-style communism. Putin’s attitude to the GDR, as portrayed in an expansive interview that took place in 2000, was more nuanced. He admitted that Erich Honecker’s regime was heavy-handed and “totally invasive”, similar to the Soviet Union in Stalin’s heyday, and that a “position built on walls and dividers cannot last”. Even so, Moscow should not have just “dropped everything” in 1989-90 and abandoned East Germany to its fate—that is, to be absorbed by West Germany. It should have remained to help a new version of the GDR “rise in its place”.             

We are unlikely to ever know the full details of Putin’s service to the KGB in East Germany, not least because the official record of his work was expunged: “We destroyed everything—our communications, our list of contacts and our agents’ networks. I personally burned a huge amount of material. We burned so much that the furnace burst.” Catherine Belton makes a strong case that the Dresden branch of the KGB aided and abetted the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Red Army Faction—that is, terrorists. Putin, unsurprisingly, has played down his role in Dresden, portraying himself as a low-level operative whose work was innocuous. We may never know the full truth. But we do know Putin was outraged by Gorbachev’s failure to take a decisive stand in East Germany or even reply to a request for military back-up to protect the Dresden station from the “aggressive mood” of the locals: “But that business of ‘Moscow is silent’—I got the feeling that our country no longer existed. That it had disappeared. It was clear that the Union was failing. And it had a terminal disease without a cure—a paralysis of power.” Ever since, I would argue, Vladimir Putin has been the proverbial bayonet in search of an ideology. He would never be a Marxist-Leninist again and yet Western-style liberalism was unsuitable for the Russian world.

The bayonet part of the equation is evident in Putin’s escalate-to-de-escalate response to acts of civil disobedience. In May 2012, for instance, Putin cracked down on the wave of massive protests that were in response to voter fraud associated with his re-election to the presidency. The same brutal police measures were again employed in January 2021 when widespread demonstrations erupted after opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested on his return to Russia. (Navalny, to give all this its full KGB dimension, had earlier been poisoned with Novichok nerve agent by the FSB.) It was, inevitably, the same story in February and March 2022 after large numbers of people came out on the streets to protest against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine; and, again, in September 2022 when his regime announced a “partial mobilisation” of some 300,000 Russian men. Over the years tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have been beaten, detained and imprisoned—the same remedy for retaining the status quo recommended by KGB officer Putin to quell the aggressive mob back in 1989. To do otherwise was to succumb to a paralysis of power.

But what, exactly, is the purpose of power? If the duty of the KGB was to protect the Soviet communist system from external and internal adversaries, what is the mission of modern-day chekists—that is, Putin and the siloviki—since the Soviet communist system ended with a whimper in 1991? The answer, which took time to fully manifest, is to protect the Russian state from its external and internal adversaries. Conveniently enough, we might say, those who hold power in Putin’s Russia are the state. Do we call this form of rule fascism—or Ruscism and Racism—as Yale professor Timothy Snyder and others have argued? More accurate, perhaps, is Alvis Hermanis’s counterview:

Putinism, or Russism, is the opposite of fascism in terms of the development of the world. It is counter-revolutionary, strictly opposed to any social reforms and social mobilization. It is not based on youth, but on those who are stuck in the past. Putinism’s social course is aimed at the depoliticization of society. You can do what you want, just stay out of politics. We give you bread and entertainment, you don’t interfere with our rule, that is the social contract of Putinism.

To take it a step further, as Julie Fedor does in Russia and the Cult of State: The Chekist Tradition, from Lenin to Putin (2013), Putinism is about normalising and justifying the existence of the FSB-state on the proviso it protects the Russian people from their foreign and internal adversaries.

In a number of ways, argues Catherine Belton, 2004 was when Putin’s “vertical power” came into its own. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest oligarch of all, had been arrested in 2003 and charged with financial crimes. Perhaps he should not have founded Open Russia, originally a philanthropic organisation. Its pledge to fund regional journalism, education projects for the young and so on might have transgressed Putin’s admonition against oligarchs meddling in politics. Khodorkovsky’s farcical trial, which lasted throughout much of 2004, was reminiscent of one of Stalin’s show trials. The defendant did not receive a bullet to the back of the head but was relieved of his not inconsiderable assets and sent to a penal colony for ten years. Also, in 2004, the FSB botched the Beslan school siege in which some 333 students, teachers and parents died. Later, Nikolai Patrushev, then head of the FSB, delivered Putin a report claiming Western involvement in the terrorist attack. A Kremlin insider, according to Belton, provided her with this insight into Putin’s reaction: “Putin believed it because it suited him. The main thing was to create a myth, to blame it on the West. This is how they were able to cover it all up.” And so it was with Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004. Naturally, the pro-West presidential candidate in the 2004 presidential election, Viktor Yushchenko, was a CIA man and the demonstrators who came out to support him after the first rigged vote were funded by anti-Russian American interests. Yushchenko was then poisoned in an attempt on his life.

We could argue Russia was lost when Yeltsin handed over the presidency to the former head of the FSB on New Year’s Eve 1999, but Putin made it official in his speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference:

I think it is obvious NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the Alliance itself or ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of trust. And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? And where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them.

No one remembers, claims M.E. Sarotte in Not One Inch: America, Russia and the Making of the Post-Cold War Stalemate (2021), because there was never a formal agreement between NATO and Moscow to match Secretary of State James Baker’s suggestion to Gorbachev, in February 1990, that NATO would “not shift one inch eastward from its current position” if Moscow “let go” of Russia’s part of Germany. Baker, under direction from the White House, quickly retracted his off-the-cuff proposal and, in any case, Gorbachev did not act on the idea, not least because by then the GDR was no longer his to “let go”. There is certainly no mention of Baker’s proposition in the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany signed in September 1990 by Washington, London, Paris and Moscow. Bill Clinton’s 1994 Partnership for Peace program might have been a way to assuage the distrust for Moscow still held by former Eastern Bloc nations without granting them full membership of NATO. However, Yeltsin’s invasion of Chechnya in 1994 and Putin’s re-invasion of Chechnya in 1999 put paid to that idea. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were all accepted as members of NATO in 1999. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia and others  were not far behind.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might be the consummation of Putinism—the (prospective) restoration of Greater Russia, the demonisation of the West and, not to be overlooked, the continued atomisation of the Russian people. As Pavel Chikov, head of the Russian human rights group Agora, recently argued, a key domestic effect of Putin’s war is that new presidential decrees and their arbitrary and cruel enforcement have further “cowed” the Russian population. While laws in Russia have grown increasingly oppressive over the last two decades, at least they were relatively transparent. A person knew that “by adapting their own behaviour, they [could] minimize the risk of running afoul of law enforcement”. Not any more. Long ago a KGB lieutenant-colonel stationed in Dresden complained about the paralysis of power in Moscow as the mood of the people turned angry and the Soviet empire began to collapse. That situation has now been reversed. Today the Kremlin is omnipotent and the population paralysed. Who lost Russia? Alas, the Russian people.

Daryl McCann contributed “Russia, China and Iran: An Uneasy Alliance of Rogues” in the December issue and “Putin’s Inglorious War of Terror” in January-February. He has a blog at

33 thoughts on “Putin, Russia and the Purpose of Power

  • Farnswort says:

    “We can only assume he believed his bloody assault on Ukraine was a question of “returning and reinforcing” what rightfully belonged to Greater Russia”

    I suspect it had less to do with Putin channelling Peter the Great and more to do with the fact that Moscow could not tolerate a hostile, NATO-aligned Ukraine on its doorstep.

  • Farnswort says:

    “No one remembers, claims M.E. Sarotte in Not One Inch: America, Russia and the Making of the Post-Cold War Stalemate (2021), because there was never a formal agreement between NATO and Moscow to match Secretary of State James Baker’s suggestion to Gorbachev”

    Gorbachev in 2020:

    “Some of my critics reproach me to this day for not having insisted on a legally binding stipulation [in 1990] that would have prevented NATO from expanding into Eastern Europe in the future. But such a demand would have been absurd, even preposterous, because the Warsaw Pact still existed at the time. We would have been accused of destroying it with our own hands.” (What Is at Stake Now)

  • rosross says:

    There must be a high level of denial involved in demonising Putin and Russia given the clear historical evidence for the part the US and its Nato allies, lackeys actually, played over decades in creating this war.

    As to Putin’s speech, and this quote:

    In May 2005, Putin famously declared on national television that not only was the break-up of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” but a “genuine tragedy” for the Russian people.

    I would humbly suggest that context helps and reading the entire speech is required for that to be possible. And, given the horrors the US has inflicted on the world since the Soviet Union fell and it inherited unipolar dominance, there are many who would agree that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.’ The facts speak for themselves.

    It is worth noting, that Putin plays down the suffering of the Russian people when the Soviet Union fell, but there is no doubt it was most certainly a ‘genuine tragedy,’ as many attested when I spent months at a time in Russia about a decade ago.

    Perhaps Mr McCann could provide proof for the claim that Putin wishes to restore Greater Russia. This oft-made charge by Putin haters has never been accompanied by evidence for the claim. It would be very useful to see it.

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      Alexander Solzhenitsyn was probably right for President Putin is a class act compared to his predecessors and when I went there to live and work after perestroika I was amazed to discover that the people didn’t think all that much of “Gorby” and Boris, Boris of course responsible for elevating Putin in the first place and placing a lot of Russian infrastructure as in oil and gas on the market to be snapped up for next to nothing for those in the know thus creating the oligarchs of today and the rumour that Putin is the wealthiest man in the Galaxy. President Putin with all his faults is sort of Joh Bjelke Petersen on steroids for under his guidance or misguidance depending on how you look at it, Russia has become a modern country and is in the process of becoming a great country once again after almost a century of Marxist Leninism, probably in another century from now. Much to the dismay of some of my Russian family who by the way, are all very conservative, I think Putin has a case for The Ukraine is as corrupt as ever (think Poroshenko using artillery on the Donbas area in 2014, later Biden and Clinton and the hounding of President Trump) the NATO encroachment and remember what the USA did in the Cuban missile crisis, a class act by Khruschev to have the Jupiter missiles removed from Turkey. One wonders, in fact knows what the USA would do if Russia placed an army on the Canadian or Mexican Borders. Marxist Leninism was the pits, we all know that, but their educational system was/is World class and I never did see an ordinary bloke in the Russian armed forces pretending to be a woman, or God forbid, a male senior officer wearing a dress and high heels. All sides should be dragged to the negotiating table including those supplying arms, men, and equipment to The Ukraine else WW3 will really happen and it appears that Biden and his cohorts want it that way for the USA armament people thrive on war.

      • rosross says:

        Interesting insights although from what I have read from military analysts Russia/Putin never expected Ukraine to fall in a matter of days and in fact compromised themselves by acting to protect civilians. Putin may have hoped that the Ukrainians/US/Nato would see sense if they went in but he is too smart to think it would fall as you suggest.

        If he had done an American version of ‘shock and awe’ in Iraq, where they took out power and water within days, perhaps, but the Russians did not do that. In fact it was nearly a year before they began targeting utilities and that was after the Ukrainians began to target energy sources in Russia.

        Sweeney is a journalist who hates Putin so is not going to be an objective source on the subject. I prefer to stick with international and American diplomats, political analysts and military experts, who say Putin is extremely smart, measured and highly intelligent. The general conclusion is Putin is not a megalomaniac, nor insane and neither is he a Hitler. I am not sure such hyperbolic prejudice makes a case.

        After a year of this war, those conclusions have been demonstrated. That is not to say Putin might have miscalled and Russia will suffer in unexpected ways – as the saying goes, when the first shot is fired the plans go out of the window – but that so far, Putin has not shown himself to be sociopathic or cold-blooded and ruthless.

    • PETER BALDWIN says:

      Not persuaded by Putin’s July 2021 essay? Nowadays Putin’s circle don’t even bother to deny it. On state TV recently Margarita Simonyan, the head of and a favourite of Putin, said this in response to a panel discussion question:

      Q: During the press conference the following day, I heard of a new goal orientation when Putin spoke about the intrinsic unity of the Russian people which we have to achieve without fail. It was voiced for the first time, that all of our activities pertaining to Ukraine are mainly or largely determined through this goal. Do you see this as an advancement in our common and governmental worldview or am I exaggerating?
      MS: To me this is not an advancement, but a more sincere and more public acknowledgement that this was always the goal. I’m sure you have no doubt that even 20 years ago Putin wanted to gather the Russian world, to defend Russians and to have this opportunity. It was a matter of when we had the ability to do it. Even now our abilities are not ideal, honestly speaking. We can see it, let’s not deceive ourselves. Still it’s better than 20 years ago. I understand this is not the situation that a man suddenly woke up and remembered that Russians have to be unified, or at least be under protection.

    • Sindri says:

      “Perhaps Mr McCann could provide proof for the claim that Putin wishes to restore Greater Russia. This oft-made charge by Putin haters has never been accompanied by evidence for the claim. It would be very useful to see it.”
      Dear God, I shouldn’t respond. I shouldn’t.
      Exhibit A: Putin’s ludicrous 5000-word essay on why Ukraine has no right to exist: “On the historical unity of Russia and Ukraine”.
      Exhibit B: Putin’s INVASION of Ukraine.

      • rosross says:

        If that is what you got from what Putin has said about Ukraine then it simply says your level of subjective prejudice is so great you are incapable of reading rationally and processing objectively.

  • Phillip says:

    Surely you can smell something fishy when Biden & Obama plough so much printed US dollars into Ukraine.
    Surely you can smell something fishy when Biden & Obama corrupt the Ukraine energy companies by inserting Hunter Biden onto the board of Burisma.
    Surely you can smell something fishy when Biden & Obama interfere in Ukraine elections and impose their nominated Zelensky puppet.
    Have you researched why Zelensky shut down the Ukraine Orthodox Church? Putin has not shut down the Russian Orthodox Church.
    Have you researched why Zelensky shut down the media in Ukraine? Putin has not shut down the Russian media.
    Have you researched why the Ukrainians since 2014 have been invading the Russian border and inflicting civilian losses?
    Have you researched why Putin is very popular in Russia for upholding traditional moral values. Zelensky has no morals, he is the worlds biggest welfare recipient whilst his wife holidays in Paris on the US largesse.
    Have you researched why Ukraine is the manufacturing centre for the Covid19 vaccine manure?
    Have you researched and prepared a Peace agreement wherein NATO withdraws and minds their own business? What business does the US have in Ukraine other than to start WW3?
    Australia is choosing the wrong loser in this whole fiasco. We gain no economic advantage to get involved with this argument of two northern hemisphere neighbours.
    Australia cannot even build a submarine and yet we give Zelensky $600m plus to squander. We are dead meat floating in the Indian Pacific and all we are worried about is some skirmish in Ukraine … oh and some whoo haaa about a third floor voice in Canberra.

    • Sindri says:

      “Putin has not shut down the Russian media”

      I mean, really. Words fail.

    • Occidental says:

      Did you entertain the idea, that financially Australians are in fact the big winners out of this war? It could certainly be argued that much of the temporary increase in many commodities during 2022 were directly the result of the war. The federal government pocketed about 50 billion in extra corporate taxes from mining and gas companies during the period, so $600 million to Ukraine to help stiffen their resolve and lengthen the war seems like a good investment to me.

    • rosross says:

      Well said but don’t expect rational and objective responses in the main. The fevered hatred of Russia and Putin makes it impossible for many.

  • Farnswort says:

    A warning from Srdja Trifkovic:

    “Russia is not going to collapse any time soon. Putin may fall, but his successors are almost certain to be more radically nationalist than he. The “collective West” is obsessing with a caricature of Putin, the Russian Hitler, who, in reality, desperately wanted a partnership with the West. If and when he is removed, Washington and its Brussels minions will get in his stead some serious Eurasians who will never, ever use the term “our Western partners.”

    The war in Ukraine was started by Russia, but it was willed, engineered and choreographed by the U.S.-led West. It is both a mistake and a crime, a minus-sum game for the declining European remnant.

    It is ironic that even if the current team in Washington is successful, at a huge risk, in forcing Russia to withdraw to its pre-2014 borders, and even if Ukraine is subsequently admitted into NATO, America will be significantly less secure than it was before the Maidan coup, let alone before Putin’s intervention. The U.S. would then have to assume responsibility for supporting and defending a bankrupt state with arguably the most corrupt political establishment in Europe. The U.S. would become the ultimate guarantor, in perpetuity, of Ukraine’s borders, which were arbitrarily drawn by Lenin’s Bolsheviks in 1922 and expanded with a stroke of Nikita Khrushchev’s pen in 1954. Those borders would be certain to remain disputed by an embittered, revanchist Russia—just as Germany’s eastern borders were strenuously disputed after Versailles, and probably with similar long-term results.”

    • Occidental says:

      I see we have the usual suspects posting here, defending mother Russia against the depraved west. As I have asked before what animates otherwise intelligent ( I am

      • Occidental says:

        I don’t know what happened there, I tried to reduce a space, and voila, my half formed idea was there for all to see. But what I intended to post, was why would any sentient individual want to defend Putin, or Russia in this war. In your post you quote at length a fellow who was according to wikipedia, a spokesman for the Bosnian Serb government during the 1990’s. Someone who gave evidence in support of a convicted war criminal.
        Do you ever think about what others (particularly self identified experts) write or say, or do you just accept it, as if it comes from the burning bush? For instance “serious Eurasians” what does he mean? Is that code for ultra Russian nationalist? If it is, where else will they look for the intellectual, technological and cultural nourishment that all countries need. If not Western partners, then perhaps Chinese or Indian partners? If Putin falls, who knows what will happen, but I can not see Russians turning to Asia as a source of cultural or scientific nourishment. For five hundred years Russia has looked to Europe for its ideas, and it will continue to do so. Unfortunately there seems to be something in their culture which precludes an absorption of western liberal philosophy or democratic values.

        • Sindri says:

          It isn’t worth responding really. You will only provoke a sort of furious doubling-down on the same fatuous arguments (“what do you think the US would do if Russia placed an army on the Canadian border”), and whoppers so obviously contrary to fact as to be pure fantasy: “Putin feels threatened by NATO”, “NATO has broken an agreement not to move eastwards”, “Putin stands up for Christian values” and (a new one) “Putin hasn’t shut down Russian media”. Best not to engage.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    Phillip..The Ukrainian Orthodox has packed its bags and left the Russian Orthodox.
    The attack by mother Russia on Ukraine has precipitated this.
    There are a few dissidents who want Russia to win the war.
    This is a bit of the background.
    ‘Have you researched why Zelensky shut down the Ukraine Orthodox Church?’
    So, yes and he has not done so, they have left the Russians and won’t be back soon.
    Zelensky has stopped the agents in the system controlled by Putin, you know the KGB.
    The KGB has form in this area having put priests right through to consecration while the Cold War was on.
    As the saying goes
    ‘You can take Putin out of the KGB but you can’t take the KGB out of Putin.’

  • Searcher says:

    Dear Daryl McCann, perhaps you might give us also your judgement of Biden’s morals?

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      Searcher, I think you are expecting Mr McCann to perform miracles. Firstly, there is little if any credible evidence that Joe Biden has any morals. Second, even if he does, how would comparison of Biden’s with Putin’s be relevant? It would take a fantastic distortion of history to convert the existence of NATO into an existential threat to the former Soviet Union or modern Russia.

  • Watchman Williams says:

    Putin’s real crime is that he is a nationalist, and the crazed fascists who desire to rule the world seek to wipe out nationalism altogether, to make way for a one-world government. Putin stands in their way and therefore “regime change” is a must.
    Also, of course, the US military/industrial complex is making enormous profits from armament sales, all paid for, ironically, by the US taxpayer.
    This whole tragedy has been provoked and manipulated by the corporate interests that own and operate the US Presidency and Congress. To them, the deaths of millions cannot stand in the way of profits.
    If there is any moral right in war, then Putin has it, in the opinion of many of those who are dedicated to the ideals of individual liberty and national sovereignty.

    • Rebekah Meredith says:

      Putin is a nationalist; his opponents are opposed to nationalism; they want to wipe out individual countries; that’s why they oppose Putin’s attempt to destroy a sovereign country, and support (more or less) that sovereign country’s people in defending her. Riiiiight.

      • rosross says:

        Most nations subscribe to nationalism in the sense of defending their integrity. The US plan, desire, scheme, delusion, fantasy of breaking up Russia into small satrapies, to allow US dominance in Europe, has been known for a long time. One presumes for the Russians, that the CIA coup in Ukraine in 2014, the 46 bio(weapons)labs and the fact US/Nato have been arming and training the Ukrainians for years, was a sign that action needed to be taken.

        Render Ukraine a non-threat and send a message to the Americans that the Russians were not going to stand for their aggression. Send a message to Nato and Europe that attacking Russia would mean greater losses for them than for Russia.

        Russia is the biggest country in the world and the Americans want regime change and to see it broken into manageable pieces for them. Only an idiot would think that the Russians would allow such plans to continue to exist.

  • norsaint says:

    Your CIA cheque is in the mail.

  • pmprociv says:

    Thanks, Daryl, for a considered and well-balanced outline, but I think you’ve missed one very important point, which I’ll come to. It stuns me to read some of the crazy responses here, but I’ll avoid getting entangled with them (life’s too short).

    Putin seems to be more of a street-thug than an intellectual reader (and now he’s revealed himself to be a mediocre chess-player, too), but he sure puts into practice much of what Machiavelli wrote about. Just like his famous predecessors, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Josef Stalin, he clearly read and manipulated those around him who would be useful to his ascent (explaining the early support from wishful-thinking Yeltsin, Solzhenitsyn, and many others, when he had very little track record), slipped into power almost effortlessly, started applying it incrementally, with incremental successes (all thanks to his powerful secret police network), gradually leading to such inflated confidence in his own ability that it eventually morphed into a megalomania of god-complex proportions – where he still might be, even though Ukraine’s gone pear-shaped. So now, he’s like Hitler in his Berlin Bunker, or Napoleon on his winter retreat from Moscow, only with that red button at his finger-tips. The ending is guaranteed to be very unhappy, for all players (although, if Putin’s lucky, he’ll die in bed of a stroke, like Stalin).

    But the missing element is monumental avarice, with some claiming Putin is by far the world’s richest man, worth up to US$1 trillion. He has effectively stolen the natural resources of the Russian people, many of whom are well aware of this, but too frightened/sensible to say so (despite Navalny’s brilliant illustration of where some of that wealth has gone). While others, above, claim Putin is popular in Russia, that’s only among the well-off in the big cities, mainly Moscow and St. Petersburg, who’ve benefited from the kleptocracy (this accords with Alvis Hermanis’s counterview, that Putinism, or Russism, is the opposite of fascism). Go to Siberia, and other remote regions, and talk (as I’ve done) to ordinary folk living in 3rd world conditions, and you’ll hear a very different story (despite state-controlled propaganda media). But public knowledge of Putin’s obscene kleptocracy (abetted by that other powerful arm of the Russian mafia state, Patriarch Kirill’s Orthodox Church) is growing, leading to broad discontent.

    So, how best to divert public attention from one’s grand theft? Why, find (or invent, if necessary) external enemies, maybe even start a “patriotic” war (oops, sorry — special military operation). There’s no doubt that Putin is a rabid liar, but it almost beggars belief that he’s also so abjectly ignorant of Russo-Ukrainian history; his confected version bears little relation to the truth. His early excuse for war against Ukraine was de-Nazification, mingled later with corruption in Zelenskyi’s government, mingled with protecting Russian-speakers, mingled with re-unification of sibling nations, mingled with NATO’s expansion, and these all still keep being bandied about and varied, a shifting target for critics (and supporters?). Surprisingly, though, no mention of Ukraine’s immense natural resources; obviously, they couldn’t have been a consideration, for an obsessed kleptocrat.

    Had Ukraine fallen in a matter of days, as Putin clearly anticipated, he’d have got cleanly away with it, and a puppet government in Kiev would now be calling the shots (metaphorically and literally). But he was fooled by his own megalomania. Not to worry; with probably declining health, and most of his stolen riches now unusable, why should he care about what happens to the Russian people (just like Hitler and his Germans)? They can go on suffering for letting him down so badly. And the Ukrainians? Mere subhuman scum. Anyone doubting Putin’s sociopathic, cold-blooded ruthlessness should read John Sweeney’s “Killer in the Kremlin: The Explosive Account of Putin’s Reign of Terror”.

  • Phillip says:

    Your essay certainly supports the delusional wisdom of the satanist Obama-Biden-Nato trifecta war party intent on destroying Russia and China. The Obama-Biden-Nato elites do nothing to seek Peace. They conduct military ‘defensive'(?) or are they ‘offensive’ training exercises immediately abutting the Poland/Russia and Ukraine/Russia borders. They blow up the Nord stream pipeline. They have an absurd attachment to a religion of climate change. They promote physical permanent mutilation of children via some gender transition with a retarded hypocritical mantra, “you can change your sex but if you’re under 18 you can’t have sex”.
    The Obama-Biden-Nato alliance does everything to irritate and annoy any foreign country that does not practice the same ‘we are better than thou’ philosophy.
    From experience it has been discovered that to do good business with your neighbour, a foundation of peace and trust must exist with both parties. Since WW2 the USA has not won a war or left a battleground country in a better situation than what it was before they set foot in the country. Barring the moon landing, have they ever left a foreign land in Peace with some thoughtful intelligence for the betterment or trust of the violated citizens? No. So, when is Australia ever going to learn about recent History? Bob and Harold did not halt and sent us “All the Way with LBJ” to a most senseless Vietnam War. John hid within the Bush and destroyed our morale first in Afghanistan and second on a mad WofMD hide and seek ploy. And now we are knotted to some stupid AUKUS deal by Scott and Anthony which obligates us to entertain more taxpayer funding, more conflict, more bloodshed.
    It is most disturbing that Australia is corrupted by some real lousy people who seek financial profit to stiffen the Ukrainian resolve and lengthen a war only for financial profit on a ‘good investment'(?).
    Peace never hurt anybody. If the O-B-N collective attempted to make Peace instead of continually promoting destruction, they may start to garner some credible receipts. We now see Chinese President Xi Jinping travelling to Moscow on a mission to create a Peace deal. And what does the O-B-N idiocy say, “We won’t accept a Ceasefire…war should continue because a ceasefire would only favour Putin…”, the USA National Security Council (NSC) Strategic Communications Director John Kirby.
    But how embarrassing does have to get when we take sides with these demented idiots of this Obama-Biden-Nato collective?
    Can Australia ever mind its own business? We are so pathetically outnumbered.
    Hiding the sins of Obama-Biden-Nato whilst posting a negative essay on Putin is not helping.
    Stop funding a war and strive for Peace please.

    • pmprociv says:

      Wow, Phillip, so “Peace never hurt anybody”? That’s what Hitler told the Russians (and maybe Napoleon did, too). I wonder if your belief might change once the People’s Liberation Army of China arrives on our doorstep? Of course, they’d find good uses for people of such a mindset, as the Nazis did in France and every other region they invaded.

  • Phillip says:

    Hello pmprociv,
    Peace has to be achieved before discipline reeducation penance can be meted out. It is no use promoting the fight or war any further. A ceasefire and peace agreement must be priority now.
    All participants are at fault.

  • James McKenzie says:

    Russia is not into Woke: a last refuge for Western civilisation?

  • Jack Brown says:

    Darryl repeats the rationalisations Putin gave for his behaviours and policies. Since Putin is by definition worse than Hitler why take these at face value. We know from the 2019 RAND Corporation “Extending Russia” strategy document and background material provided by the RAND study group that they had posited their recommendations on the basis that Putin was in a state of fear which they proposed to stoke and stress Putin into making poor choices pertaining to Ukraine, in a hope of relieving that stress. Does Darryl imagine Putin would go on TV and declare he was acting from fear? Of course not. Putin put on a persona of strength to disguise his fear.

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