Category Archives: Boris Yeltsin

Putin and Russia, the World’s “Heartland”

Russia has always fascinated me–the mystical orthodox faith brought to Kievan Rus in the ninth century, the stern heroes who defended Muscovy against the Golden Horde in the 13–15th centuries,  the vast spaces, the remarkable literature of Pushkin and Tolstoy, the Bolshevik Revolution against imperialism … The West has always been a bit jealous of its proud race of genius.

I fell in love with Russia as a teen when I discovered Sergei Prokofiev and insisted–rebelling against my teacher–on playing his fiendishly difficult Toccata in D minor for my Conservatory diploma. I have no idea how I managed it now, but I did, and the piece and my performance proved to be a fine metaphor for the logical impossibility of 20th century Russia, which lived on war and revolution, dreams and nightmares. Prokofieff returned to Russia in 1933, at the peak of Stalin’s repressions, and produced his greatest works, “Romeo and Juliet,” “Cinderella,” “War and Peace,” his war sonatas (not to mention his Ode to Stalin). That hooked me.

Today’s standoff between the Russian bear and the American eagle is yet another epic struggle in Russia’s history, at the heart of Eurasia–the world’s “heartland”. It had a narrow brush with complete collapse in 1985–98 under Gorbachev/Yeltsin, a weak, indecisive leadership, a metaphorical reenactment of Boris Godunov seizing the throne in the 16th century. 1985–98 was a repetition of Godunov and the legendary Time of Troubles.

1998 saw a reenactment of the rallying of the nation to expel the Polish occupiers and reassert Russian power in 1613, just as Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power ended the western invasion in the form of NATO encirclement and western carpetbaggers. That is most certainly how Russians now assess their crippled society.

Putin is despised in the West as a corrupt chauvinist, and Russia is boycotted (though Europe is happy to continue to buy Russian oil and gas), but the reality is very different. Just as in 1613, the first Romanov Tsar Mikihail was inexperienced (a 17-year-old  pious prince whose counselors were a mixed bag, some relatively honest and capable men like his father; some, corrupted and bigoted), Putin has fashioned an image of an incorruptible Russian patriot, above the fray, but all the time juggling with powerful oligarchs and complex political currents, both at home and abroad.

Western media is a barometer not so much for who is a ‘bad guy’, but who is getting the imperial goat; who needs being brought into line. So in the West, the Nobel peace laureate Gorbachev and Yeltsin were both slavishly praised (both are despised by Russians, rating 1% in popularity) and Putin is relentlessly pilloried. Who’s the ‘bad guy’ and why is he ‘bad’?

The American bully tries to taunt the Russian bear into doing something rash, as it moves NATO up to Russia’s borders, encircling it as it did in Cold War days, wooing and inciting noisy little neighbours from the Baltics to Georgia and further. But the Russian leader stands by his principles and his fellow Slavs, despite the provocations. The Time of Troubles is over. No one is going to destroy the Russian heartland, nor will they succeed in breaking up the ancient slavic federation into a chain of Walmarts.

1991 sea change

Whether Left or Right, all agree that the US was more cautious in foreign policy when the Soviet Union was alive and well. There have been lots of coups instigated or just abetted by Washington, but, other than Korea and Vietnam, very little use of US troops in the process–until 1991.

1991 marked a sea change in world politics. Bush senior, US president at the time, professed the goal to be “a new world order–a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations … an order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the UN’s founders.”

The US and the EEC (newly incorporated as the European Union in 1993) would help the ex-socialist bloc, including the ex-Soviet Union and its energy-rich Central Asian republics, rebuild their economies and political structures along western capitalist, democratic lines, fashioning weak, “postmodern states”, independent in name only. This process began in Europe with the creation of the EU after WWII and accelerated in North America with the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, soon to be reinforced by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, creating a monster ‘rimland’ American empire-lite, surrounding the Eurasian heartland.

Such alliances, with NATO under US guidance, are intended as the foundations for a united, peaceful world, a “postmodern imperialism”, devoid of messy competitive wars for colonies, neocolonies or the need for a life-or-death defense of ‘western civilization’. Russia was invited to join in the 1990s, but when it woke from its post-collapse hangover, it discovered that its dream of a nuclear free world had been pushed aside, and realized that the proposed peaceful postmodern imperial order was a sham. Events since have only confirmed this ‘sober’ assessment.

Bush senior hit the ground running, invading Iraq in January, without so much as a ‘by your leave’ to Soviet President Gorbachev (who merely approved, after an offer to mediate was ignored).

1991 was a doubly fateful year for Russians, who gained ‘freedom’, but most of whom lost everything after the August 1991 putsch, a few becoming fabulously wealthy overnight through blatant theft as the Soviet Union came crashing down. Mikhail Khodorkovsky epitomizes the change. A Young Communist League (YCL) functionary in the late 1980s, when no one was still joining, he and his ‘comrades’ opened businesses under the YCL stamp, positioned themselves to transfer them and YCL property to themselves as YCL functionaries, and then bought it for a song before their Soviet legal authority was canceled. At the same time, all state trade ground to a halt and the black market allowed them to add to their riches.

This happened in 1989–91, when Putin was languishing as a minor KGB agent in East Germany. By the time he returned to Leningrad, resigned from the KGB and got his political feet on the ground, the cupboard was bare. Khodorkovsky and his new ‘oligarch’ friends then used their new wealth to privatize the privatization process. By the time Putin was rising as Yeltsin’s protege, Yeltsin was conned into giving the crown jewels (resource industries) to the oligarchs in the infamous “loans-for-shares” deals, sending their wealth into the stratosphere.

Slaying the dragons

Russia is “no longer a superpower”. Its deteriorating economy is ranked “somewhere behind Spain”, White House press secretary Josh Earnest announced in October 2015. It doesn’t come near the Soviet Union in power and prestige. This taunt followed US scrambling of Russian military planes which were deemed a tad too close to a US aircraft carrier off the Korea peninsula, and US hysterics over Russian subs seen too near an internet cable in the Atlantic. How dare this second-rate Spain tweak the US nose?

Every day there is some gripe about the Russians. And don’t even mention the P word. Much like Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin is a strong, popular leader (83% approval) who dares defy the West, has been in power for over 15 years now (ok, as prime minister for a few years to requalify), accused of corruption.

To Russians, it seems he can do nothing wrong, despite defying the West on pretty well everything, from gay marriage to bare-faced western infiltration (excuse me, democracy promotion NGOs). Or perhaps it’s because of this. Russians strongly disapprove of US threats, and miss the feeling of being a key international player, which they enjoyed in Soviet times.

Western media loves to gossip about all political leaders, especially colourful ones who defy the empire. That puts Putin at the top of their list. Even a saint like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez got an unending stream of mud. The most damning attacks are on the corruption endemic in Russia after 1991. However, evidence of corruption points at most to Putin’s immediate circle, family and political friends, rather than Putin himself. His son-in-law Kiril Shamalov was already a rising star of Russian business when he married the president’s daughter Katerina in 2013, opening his own investment company and using his family contacts in business and banking (apparently all legit).

Putin’s own background and way of thinking is revealed in a collection of interviews with Putin, his family and friends called First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russian President Vladimir Putin (2000), a snapshot of the Putin family just as they entered the bubble of power and anonymity. His early career witnessed two scandalous, dysfunctional political families–that of his first post-KGB boss, St Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and later that of Boris Yeltsin. Putin’s ex-wife and two daughters are kept out of the spotlight.

Putin is one of those rare politicians who arise at moments of crisis, intelligent and committed. He quickly took control of the post-Soviet shambles, brought some order to the chaos and instilled a sense of pride in a defeated people. His own fate and that of his country became one and guided what is still his greatest victory: bringing the Yelstin-era oligarchs into line. This he did carefully, going after media moguls Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Guzinsky in 2000, forcing them to sell their TV stations ORT and NRT, ironically dubbed “shares for freedom” transactions, after which they went into exile. Guzinsky sold his shares to fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich who promptly gave editorial control to the Kremlin.

Who really wants peace?

Fast forward to 2007. Munich. Putin criticized the US monopolistic dominance in global relations, and its “almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations.” The result: “No one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race.”

2019: Putin is still number one to Russians, but losing ground because the economy is still a wreck and corruption is rife. He inherited a mess and the West has piled sanctions upon sanctions, interfered in Ukraine to keep the two great Slavic nations, Ukraine and Russia, apart, determined to turn all the ex-Soviet countries into postmodern basket cases, begging for scraps from the western banquet table.

But Russians and those of us in the West interested in boring things like peace are as firm as Putin is in supporting Russia’s principled policies around the world. His Munich speech gave ‘Munich’ a new meaning as a historical signpost.

In our age of instant media, this all seems like ancient history, but history often tells us more about today than the latest soundbyte out of the likes of Trump or BoJo. And cultural history even more so, revealing the swamp behind the glitz.

I just watched the first episode of Years and Years, a British television drama series, a joint production by the BBC and HBO. It is primer on not only our moral decline, but it portrays Russia, a possible corrective, is portrayed as even worse.

Businesswoman Vivienne “Viv” Rook (Emma Thompson) causes controversy by saying she “doesn’t give a fuck” about the Israel-Palestine conflict on an evening talk show. Daniel Lyons (Russell Tovey) works on immigration control and marries his ‘husband’ and then, when Trump launches an atom bomb on China, rushes to the refugee holding centre to have sex with a Ukrainian refugee Viktor, who complains that the now Russian-occupied Ukraine has made homosexuality illegal, as in Russia. (It is not!)

That in a nutshell is our monstrous distortion of world politics, with nasty Putin-Russia even more threatening than the Soviet Union was depicted. It is impossible to deconstruct the morass that BBC and its US equivalent has created. It truly frightens me. My only solace is in genuine history, and I thank whoever or whatever that bequeathed me my quirky love of Russia and its noble and tragic history.

Rather than being an active midwife of a new world order opposed to imperialism (Soviet policy), Russia is playing a waiting game — the age-old policy of retreat used against the Mongols, the French and the Nazis. “Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess.” At times, it is wise to sit back and wait for the straw that breaks the ogre’s (excuse me, camel’s) back. A fool’s mate comes about when your opponent is bankrupt, and it certainly looks like this is how the current game is shaping up.

What really clinched my love affair with Russia is the fervent commitment of all Russians that I’ve ever met to peace. They were the arbiters of peace throughout the impossible 20th century, contrary to all the propaganda we were fed in the West. So I will end on a more upbeat note: The US and Russia have many common interests–an end to terrorism, an end to nuclear weapons, environmental rescue, an end to extreme poverty. They all require cooperation. They are not zero-sum games. It’s your move, Uncle Sam.

Why the West cannot stomach Russians

When it comes to Russia or the Soviet Union, reports and historical accounts do get blurry; in the West they do, and consequently in all of its ‘client states’.

Fairy tales get intermingled with reality, while fabrications are masterfully injected into the subconsciousness of billions of people worldwide. Russia is an enormous country, in fact, the largest country on Earth in terms of territory. It is scarcely inhabited. It is deep, and as a classic once wrote: “It is impossible to understand Russia with one’s brain. One could only believe in it.”

The Western mind generally doesn’t like things unknown, spiritual and complex. Since the ‘old days’, especially since the crusades and monstrous colonialist expeditions to all corners of the world, the Westerners were told fables about their own “noble deeds” performed in the plundered lands. Everything had to be clear and simple: “Virtuous Europeans were civilizing savages and spreading Christianity, therefore, in fact, saving those dark poor primitive souls.”

Of course, tens of millions were dying in the process, while further tens of millions were shackled and brought to the “New Worlds” as slaves. Gold, silver, and other loot, as well as slave labor had been (and still are) paying for all those European palaces, railroads, universities and theatres, but that did not matter, as the bloodshed was most of the time something abstract and far away from those over-sensitive eyes of the Western public.

Westerners like simplicity, particularly when it comes to moral definitions of “good and evil”. It matters nothing if the truth gets systematically ‘massaged’, or even if the reality is fully fabricated. What matters is that there is no deep guilt and no soul-searching. Western rulers and their opinion makers know their people – their ‘subjects’ – perfectly well, and most of the time, they give them what they are asking for. The rulers and the reigned are generally living in symbiosis. They keep bitching about each other, but mostly they have similar goals: to live well, to live extremely well, as long as the others are forced to pay for it; with their riches, with their labor and often with their blood.

Culturally, most of the citizens of Europe and North America hate to pay the bill for their high life; they even detest to admit that their life is extremely ‘high’. They like to feel like victims. They like to feel that they are ‘used’. They like to imagine that they are sacrificing themselves for the rest of the world.

And, above all, they hate real victims: those they have been murdering, raping, plundering and insulting, for decades and centuries.

Recent ‘refugee crises’ showed the spite Europeans feel for their prey. People who made them rich and who lost everything in the process are humiliated, despised and insulted. Be they Afghans or Africans, the Middle Easterners or South Asians. Or Russians, although Russians are falling to its own, unique category.

*****

Many Russians look white. Most of them eat with knife and fork, they drink alcohol, excel at Western classical music, poetry, literature, science and philosophy.

To Western eyes they look ‘normal’, but actually, they are not.

Russians always want ‘something else’; they refuse to play by Western rules.

They are stubbornly demanding to remain different, and to be left alone.

When confronted, when attacked, they fight.

They rarely strike first, almost never invade.

But when threatened, when assaulted, they fight with tremendous determination and force, and they never lose. Villages and cities get converted into invader’s graves. Millions die while defending their Motherland, but the country survives. And it happens again and again and again, as the Western hordes have been, for centuries, assaulting and burning Russian lands, never learning the lesson and never giving up on their sinister dream of conquering and controlling that proud and determined colossus.

In the West, they don’t like those who defend themselves, who fight against them, and especially those who win.

*****

It gets much worse than that.

Russia has this terrible habit… not only does it defend itself and its people, but it also fights for the others, protecting colonized and pillaged nations, as well as those that are unjustly assaulted.

It saved the world from Nazism. It did it at a horrific price of 25 million men, women and children, but it did it; courageously, proudly and altruistically. The West never forgave the Soviet Union for this epic victory either, because all that is unselfish and self-sacrificing, is always in direct conflict with its own principles, and therefore ‘extremely dangerous’.

The Russian people had risen; had fought and won in the 1917 Revolution; an event which terrified the West more than anything else in history, as it had attempted to create a fully egalitarian, classless and racially color-blind society. It also gave birth to Internationalism, an occurrence that I recently described in my book The Great October Socialist Revolution: Impact on the World and the Birth of Internationalism.

Soviet Internationalism, right after the victory in WWII, helped greatly, directly and indirectly, dozens of countries on all continents, to stand up and to confront the European colonialism and the North American imperialism. The West, and especially Europe, never forgave the Soviet people in general and Russians in particular, for helping to liberate its slaves.

That is when the greatest wave of propaganda in human history really began to roll. From London to New York, from Paris to Toronto, an elaborate web of anti-Soviet and covertly anti-Russian hysteria was unleashed with monstrously destructive force. Tens of thousands of ‘journalists’, intelligence officers, psychologists, historians, as well as academics, were employed. Nothing Soviet, nothing Russian (except those glorified and often ‘manufactured’ Russian dissidents) was spared.

The excesses of the Great October Socialist Revolution and the pre-WWII era were systematically fabricated, exaggerated, and then engraved into the Western history textbooks and mass media narrative. In those tales, there was nothing about the vicious invasions and attacks coming from the West, aimed at destroying the young Bolshevik state. Naturally, there was no space for mentioning the British, French, U.S., Czech, Polish, Japanese, German and others’ monstrous cruelties.

Soviet and Russian views were hardly ever allowed to penetrate the monolithic and one-sided Western propaganda narrative.

Like obedient sheep, the Western public accepted the disinformation it was fed with. Eventually, many people living in the Western colonies and ‘client states’, did the same. A great number of colonized people were taught how to blame themselves for their misery.

The most absurd but somehow logical occurrence then took place: many men, women and even children living in the USSR, succumbed to Western propaganda. Instead of trying to reform their imperfect but still greatly progressive country, they gave up, became cynical, aggressively ‘disillusioned’, corrupt and naively but staunchly pro-Western.

*****

It was the first and most likely the last time in the history, Russia got defeated by the West. It happened through deceit, through shameless lies, through Western propaganda.

What followed could be easily described as genocide.

The Soviet Union was first lulled into Afghanistan, then it was mortally injured by the war there, by an arms race with the United States, and by the final stage of propaganda that was literally flowing like lava from various hostile Western state-sponsored radio stations. Of course, local ‘dissidents’ also played an important role.

Under Gorbachev, a ‘useful idiot’ of the West, things got extremely bizarre. I don’t believe that he was paid to ruin his own country, but he did almost everything to run it into the ground; precisely what Washington wanted him to do. Then, in front of the entire world, a mighty and proud Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics suddenly shook in agony, then uttered a loud cry, and collapsed; died painfully but swiftly.

A new turbo-capitalist, bandit, pro-oligarch and confusedly pro-Western Russia was born. Russia which was governed by an alcoholic Boris Yeltsin; a man loved and supported by Washington, London and other Western centers of power.

It was a totally unnatural, sick Russia – cynical and compassionless, built with someone else’s ideas – Russia of Radio Liberty and Voice of America, of the BBC, of black marketers, of oligarchs and multi-national corporations.

Is the West now daring to say that Russians are ‘interfering’ in something in Washington? Are they out of their minds?

Washington and other Western capitals did not only ‘interfere’, they openly broke the Soviet Union into pieces and then they began kicking Russia which was at that point half-alive. Is it all forgotten, or is Western public again fully ‘unaware’ of what took place during those dark days?

The West kept spitting at the impoverished and injured country, refused to honor international agreements and treaties. It offered no help. Multi-nationals were unleashed, and began ‘privatizing’ Russian state companies, basically stealing what was built by the sweat and blood of Soviet workers, during long decades.

Interference? Let me repeat: it was direct intervention, invasion, a grab of resources, shameless theft! I want to read and write about it, but we don’t hear much about it, anymore, do we?

Now we are told that Russia is paranoid, that its President is paranoid! With straight face, the West is lying; pretending that it has not been trying to murder Russia.

Those years… Those pro-Western years when Russia became a semi-client state of the West, or call it a semi-colony! There was no mercy, no compassion coming from abroad. Many of those idiots – kitchen intellectuals from Moscow and provinces – suddenly woke up but it was too late. Many of them had suddenly nothing to eat. They got what they were told to ask for: their Western ‘freedom and democracy’, and Western-style capitalism or in summary: total collapse.

I remember well how it was ‘then’. I began returning to Russia, horrified, working in Moscow, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Leningrad. Academics from Akadem Gorodok outside Novosibirsk were selling their libraries in the bitter cold, in dark metro underpasses of Novosibirsk… Runs on the banks… Old retired people dying from hunger and cold behind massive doors of concrete blocks… unpaid salaries and starving miners, teachers…

Russia under the deadly embrace of the West, for the first and hopefully last time! Russia whose life expectancy suddenly dropped to African Sub-Saharan levels. Russia humiliated, wild, in terrible pain.

*****

But that nightmare did not last long.

And what happened – those short but horrible years under both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, but above all under the Western diktat – will never be forgotten, not forgiven.

Russians know perfectly well what they do not want, anymore!

Russia stood up again. Huge, indignant and determined to live its own life, its own way. From an impoverished, humiliated and robbed nation, subservient to the West, the country evolved and within a few years, the free and independent Russia once again joined ranks of the most developed and powerful countries on Earth.

And as before Gorbachev, Russia is once again able to help those nations which are under unjust and vicious attacks of the Western empire.

A man who is leading this renaissance, President Vladimir Putin, is tough, but Russia is under great threat and so is the world – this is no time for weaklings.

President Putin is not perfect (who is, really?), but he is a true patriot, and I dare say, an internationalist.

Now the West, once again, hates both Russia and its leader. No wonder; undefeated, strong and free Russia is the worst imaginable foe of Washington and its lieutenants.

That’s how the West feels, not Russia. Despite all that was done to it, despite tens of millions of lost and ruined lives, Russia has always been ready to compromise, even to forgive, if not forget.

*****

There is something deeply pathological in the psyche of the West. It cannot accept anything less than full and unconditional submission. It has to control, to be in charge, and on top of everything; it has to feel exceptional. Even when it murders and ruins the entire Planet, it insists on feeling superior to the rest of the world.

This faith in exceptionalism is the true Western religion, much more than even Christianity, which for decades has not really played any important role there. Exceptionalism is fanatical, it is fundamentalist and unquestionable.

It also insists that its narrative is the only one available anywhere in the World. That the West is seen as a moral leader, as a beacon of progress, as the only competent judge and guru.

Lies are piling on top of lies. As in all religions, the more absurd the pseudo-reality is, the more brutal and extreme are the methods used to uphold it. The more laughable the fabrications are, the more powerful the techniques used to suppress the truth are.

Today, hundreds of thousands of ‘academics’, teachers, journalists, artists, psychologists and other highly paid professionals, in all parts of the world, are employed by the Empire, for two goals only – to glorify the Western narrative and to discredit all that is standing in its way; daring to challenge it.

Russia is the most hated adversary of the West, with China, Russia’s close ally being near second.

The propaganda war unleashed by the West is so insane, so intense, that even some of the European and North American citizens are beginning to question tales coming from Washington, London and elsewhere.

Wherever one turns, there is a tremendous medley of lies, of semi-lies, half-truths; a complex and unnavigable swamp of conspiracy theories. Russia is being attacked for interfering in U.S. domestic affairs, for defending Syria, for standing by defenseless and intimidated nations, for having its own powerful media, for doping its athletes, for still being Communist, for not being socialist anymore; in brief: for everything imaginable and unimaginable.

Criticism of the country is so thorough and ludicrous, that one begins to ask very legitimate questions: “what about the past? What about the Western narrative regarding the Soviet past, particularly the post-Revolutionary period, and the period between two world wars?”

The more I analyze this present-day Western anti-Russian and anti-Chinese propaganda, the more determined I am to study and write about the Western narrative regarding Soviet history. I’m definitely planning to investigate these matters in the future, together with my friends – Russian and Ukrainian historians.

*****

In the eyes of the West, Russians are ‘traitors’.

Instead of joining the looters, they have been standing by the ‘wretched of the world’, in the past, as well as now. They refused to sell their Motherland, and to enslave their own people. Their government is doing all it can to make Russia self-sufficient, fully independent, prosperous, proud and free.

Remember that ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and many other terms, mean totally different things in distinctive parts of the world. What is happening in the West could never be described as ‘freedom’ in Russia or in China, and vice versa.

Frustrated, collapsing, atomized and egotistic societies of Europe and North America do not inspire even their own people anymore. They are escaping by millions annually, to Asia, Latin America, and even to Africa. Escaping from emptiness, meaninglessness and emotional cold. But it is not Russia’s or China’s business to tell them how to live or not to live!

In the meantime, great cultures like Russia and China do not need, and do not want, to be told by the Westerners, what freedom is, and what democracy is.

They do not attack the West, and expect the same in return.

It is truly embarrassing that the countries responsible for hundreds of genocides, for hundreds of millions of murdered people on all continents, still dare to lecture others.

Many victims are too scared to speak.

Russia is not.

It is composed, gracious, but fully determined to defend itself if necessary; itself as well as many other human beings living on this beautiful but deeply scarred Planet.

Russian culture is enormous: from poetry and literature, to music, ballet, philosophy… Russian hearts are soft, they easily melt when approached with love and kindness. But when millions of lives of innocent people are threatened, both the hearts and muscles of Russians quickly turn to stone and steel. During such moments, when only victory could save the world, Russian fists are hard, and the same is true about the Russian armor.

There is no match to Russian courage in the sadistic but cowardly West.

Irreversibly, both hope and future are moving towards the east.

And that is why Russia is desperately hated by the West.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook