Book about Vladimir Putin: A Fourfold War

Book about Vladimir Putin: A Fourfold War

Who is Putin really and what does he want? Internationally renowned experts search for answers to pressing questions in the “Putin Black Book”.

Stalin and Putin busts in bronze

What does Putin want? A Soviet Union without Communism? Photo: Dmitri Lovetsky/dpa

I know that Selenski, like Hitler, holed up in his bunker. But I know where his bunker is… I either raze Ukraine to the ground or I cut off her political head.”

This sentence by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is based on a report by the Figaro reportedly fell during a phone conversation with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron shortly after February 24, 2022, the start of Russia’s offensive war against Ukraine.

For more than a year now, the “denazification” of the neighbor, which has long since become Putin’s personal obsession, has been in progress: It has claimed tens of thousands of lives, wiped out towns and villages, made millions into refugees, but Russia – also because of the unbroken will to resist the Ukrainians – hardly brought any closer to his goal.

How could this insane slaughter come about in the middle of Europe, which marks a turning point in world history? Could this war, which Russia still sells as “special operations”, have been avoided? Who is Vladimir Putin – the man who was appointed head of government in 1999 and only recently by then-President Boris Yeltsin, who wanted to kill the Chechens in the toilet? And who, with his brutal military killing spree in Ukraine, has finally said goodbye to the circle of civilized states?

Sovietism without Communism

Anyone looking for answers to these and other questions could find them in the “Putin Black Book”. The editors are the two French historians Galia Ackerman and Stéphane Courtois. The latter has also been known to the German public since the noughties with his two-part “Black Book of Communism”, which was translated into 26 languages.

The book contains 21 contributions by French and international experts, the German edition has been expanded to include essays by East European historian Karl Schlögelof political scientist Claus Leggewie and the journalist Katrin Gloger.

The individual treatises are not related to each other and can be read in any order. In their introduction, Ackerman and Courtois attempt a first general characterization of Putin’s regime. This has turned into a “harmful power” whose main export product is fear. The term “post-communist” does not do justice to the subject of the study.

One could speak of a “Sovietism without a communist idea”. What is new about this system is that the regime has merged with mafia-like groups whose cruel practices are being used, and corruption is endemic, especially in the higher echelons of power. “So it is this system that is sowing unrest around the world and whose imperialist aims go far beyond Ukraine.”

understand Russia

To understand how Russia ultimately became what it is today requires first and foremost an approach to the person of Putin, who is the subject of the first part of the “Black Book” under the title “Chronicle of an announced dictatorship”.

At the center of the considerations is, as was to be expected and, for those who are more advanced in the matter of Russia, of rather little knowledge gain, Vladimir Putin’s socialization in the secret service – first the KGB, then the FSB. It shapes the thoughts and actions of the Kremlin boss to this day. “Once a Chekist, always a Chekist” is one of the articles in which the French historian of Russian origin, Andrei Kosovoj, traces Putin’s career from this point of view.

On the other hand, a look back at the history of the secret service after the collapse of the Soviet Union is extremely revealing. Contrary to what many expected or hoped for, the FSB succeeded in infiltrating state structures with military precision and once again becoming a decisive power factor – both in foreign and domestic politics.

Forward to the past

In this context, Ackerman and Courtois speak of “Putin’s flight forward into the past” and refer to Sergei Medvedev, a Russian historian and political scientist specializing in the post-Soviet period.

According to Medvedev, Putin has been waging a four-fold war for years: a territorial neo-imperialist one that primarily targets Ukraine; a symbolic one to create a new Russian identity based primarily on military power; a biopolitical one, forcing citizens to embrace the values ​​of state power both in private life and politically; as well as a memorial that raises the past empire of the tsars and the former Soviet superpower to new heights by means of the rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin and the exaggeration of the “Great Patriotic War”.

What this struggle looks like on the various fronts can be read in parts two (“Politics of Destabilization and Aggression”) and three (“Ways and Means of Omnipotence”).

deny sovereignty

Thornike Gordadze’s article on Georgia is entitled “The Denial of Sovereignty” – an example of how the Kremlin asserts its claims to power in the former Soviet republics, which it still regards as a sphere of influence.

In the South Caucasus republic, according to the Kremlin’s reading since the Rose Revolution and Mikhail Saakashvili’s presidency (2004 to 2013) “deviated” towards the European Union and NATO, the Kremlin created facts at the latest with the Russian-Georgian war over the South Ossetia region in 2008 . Since then, Moscow has occupied 20 percent of Georgian territory.

The peace plan, which was mediated by the EU, was never implemented by the Russian side. The West has not learned its lesson from the South Ossetia war. According to Gordadse, he even reinforced Putin’s revisionist policies and encouraged him to plunge into other conquests in complete disregard of international law. This is as bitter as it is true, but as far as Russia is concerned, it is just one of the West’s blind spots among many.

Who would not have been burned into their memory, the pictures from the spring of 2022 from the small Ukrainian town of Bucha: mass graves, defenseless butchered civilians on the streets, raped women, tortured and abducted people. These atrocities are flanked by the targeted destruction of villages and towns, bombing of schools, kindergartens and hospitals.

A deja vu

All of this happened before – during the two wars in Chechnya (1994-96 and 1999-2009). As the Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said at the time: “We don’t take over our cities, we liberate them.” A déjà vu, as the war of annihilation against Ukraine shows every day. Vladimir Putin wants, not only in the occupied territories, to throw the peoples back into the homo sovieticus stage – the only way to guarantee total and permanent control.

According to Françoise Thom’s essay “Murder of the Peoples”, this enterprise has already been successfully implemented in Russia. What is meant by this is Putin’s veritable campaign against non-governmental organizations, independent media and anyone who raises their voice against the regime. The last remaining human rights groups, Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group, were recently silenced.

Could this development have been foreseen? one would have. There were enough signs, as well as corresponding announcements.

However, focusing exclusively on Putin as a person does not go far enough. Because even with a change of power in the Kremlin, which has taken Russian civil society hostage, the problem will not be solved.

“The Russian Misfortune”

“Where is Russia going?” is a question many are asking at the moment. It is not answered in the “Putin Black Book” either. Just this much: “The Russian calamity is back, causing major disasters among Russians, their close neighbors and around the world. Russia is heading into the abyss,” says the concluding chapter.

As Alexander Solzhenitsyn, dissident and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote on February 12, 1974, the day of his arrest: “This is it, the key to our liberation: the refusal to personally participate in the lie.” There is still a long way to go until then Away.

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