Remembering Vladimir Putin and his Absurd Neo-Soviet Lies
In March 2000, three months after Boris Yeltsin resigned and named him acting president of Russia, Vladimir Putin was asked by the newspaper Kommersant about the possibility that KGB agents (Putin himself was one) had planted the apartment bombs that exploded in September 1999 and killed nearly 300 Russians.
Putin replied, as translated by the BBC: “There are no people in the Russian secret services who would be capable of such crime against their own people. The very allegation is immoral.”
Last month, in other words, marked the tenth anniversary of one of the most absurdly dishonest statements ever uttered in the annals of world political history. And fittingly, yet more explosions in Moscow took yet more Russian lives, and Russians were once again forced to speculate about whether their own government might have been responsible. This is the true horror of life in neo-Soviet Russia.
Putin’s remark was amazingly farcical, even by Russian standards. The KGB, of course, was instrumental in the greatest mass murder of Russians in history, killing not just hundreds or thousands but millions while carrying out the orders of Josef Stalin. What’s more it was another KGB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, who took the lead in accusing the agency of organizing the bombings, and an even higher-ranking KGB agent, Oleg Gordievsky, accused the Kremlin of murdering Litvinenko to keep him quiet.
It is like the old query about whether God can make a stone he cannot lift: If the KGB is incapable of committing crimes against its people, then Litvinenko and Gordievsky were patriots telling the truth!
Nobody can dispute, of course, that the KGB would have had clear and strong motive to carry out the bombings. Vladimir Putin stood on the verge of being elected president of Russia, one of their own was about to take power. But a tide of public opinion is surging against him as his brutal bombing campaign in Chechnya is exposed as having led to hundreds of civilian casualties. Worse, the impetus to invade and “pacify” Chechnya is being seriously undermined.
And Putin certainly didn’t act like a man with nothing to hide after the bombings occurred. Instead of confidently and openly investigating the bombings, he razed the bombing sites and stonewalled the legislative investigation. When a group of legislators tried to take the investigation private, the were beaten, jailed and murdered until the entire issue disappeared from the public consciousness.
But you don’t need to know any of that to understand the truly breathtaking scope of Putin’s childish lie. All you really need to know is that the KGB was caught red-handed trying to bomb yet another building, this time in the city of Ryazan on the night of September 22, 2000. If that’s not sufficient proof to satisfy, then no such proof could ever exist.
Putin’s willingness to contend publicly, regardless of the facts, that the KGB is perfect, incapable of making the kind of mistake that would lead to a rogue group of agents targeting civilians in order to keep him in power, incapable of carrying out orders that he himself might have given to do so in order to avoid the “catastrophe” of some other leader taking power and leading the country to ruin, that willingness is fully neo-Soviet in character. Putin had spent so long behind the high walls of Soviet and KGB ignorance that he was, just like his Soviet ancestors, capable of uttering the most insane gibberish without the slightest self-awareness, just like the infamous Emperor with his “new clothes.”
We were reminded of all this the other day as we read the news that Russian auditors have acknowledged that Russian art museum curators have stolen at least 87,000 priceless pieces of Russian art in the most massive example of cultural corruption in world history. Others say that the government, which had been suppressing efforts to audit the nation’s museums ever since Putin took power, is lying once again, that the real total is nearer to a quarter of a million objects, and that the scandal goes beyond outright theft. Museum curators also created massive fraudulent billings for cleaning and maintenance of the items, billings that were paid to shell companies and the directly into the curator’s own pockets.
Come to think of it, we were reminded of it again when we heard so-called Russian “president” Dima Medvedev fume about launching a criminal investigation into the misuse of Russian Olympics preparation money. Russia spent many times more preparing for the Vancouver Olympics than it had four years before, yet got one-third fewer medals. All the officials who spent the money were, of course, hand picked by Medvedev and his “prime minister” Putin, picked because of their unquestionable patriotism, their perfect love of mother Russia. Yet, they robbed the country blind.
Neither the KGB nor the trustees of Russia’s cultural or sports legacies, of course, are immune from the painstakingly documented pandemic of corruption that dominates Russian life. When a country is ruled by a dictator who has no regard for individual rights or needs, then citizens take matters into their own hands. Just as in the time of Stalin, Russia is being consumed from within by this corruption, and now as then stands on the precipice of national collapse.