Tag Archives: Putin

More Blood  


Today, by a remarkable coincidence, one day after I posted about the Bloodlands as they were called by Timothy Snyder, Winnipeg Free Press columnist Allan Levine commented on the same issue based on Snyder’s other book. Levine’s maternal grandfather born in those Bloodlands west of Kyiv. He was 12 years old when World I broke out and 15 years old when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia after the horrors of that war. In my post I quoted how as Snyder said this in his book   The Road to Unfreedom, “together, some ten million people were killed in a decade as a result of two rival colonizations of the same Ukrainian territory”.


Levine’s grandfather was a Jew who lived in a part of that region that was constantly fought over by various powerful and brutal  forces.  This reminded me of another book I had recently read by Phillipe Sands called East West Street. It is a fascinating book about the origins of the notion of crimes against humanity and genocide. It is no accident that a number of the most important people involved in that history also came from that same region. One of them was Rafael Lemkin who invented the word “genocide.” He came from Lviv a city much in the news these past 2 months, but I had never heard of it before I read that book. Here is a section of the opening chapter of the book about that city:


“Between September 1914 and July 1944 control of the city changed eight times. After a long spell as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s “Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria and the Grand Duchy  of Kraków with the Duchies of Auschwitz and Zator”—yes it is that Auschwitz—the city passed from the hands of Austria to Russia, then back to Austria, then briefly to western Ukraine, then to Poland, then to the Soviet Union, then to Germany, then back to Soviet Union, and finally to Ukraine where control resides today…the  streets of Lviv are a microcosm of Europe’s turbulent twentieth century, the focus of bloody conflicts that tore cultures apart.”


It is like hyenas and lions fighting over a carcass. During these times the city never moved, but its name changed many times from Lemberg, Lviv, Lvov, and Lwów. Now Putin wants to rip it back into Russia one more time and he doesn’t care about how many people he has to kill to do that  or whether they are women or children.


Levine’s grandfather was lucky—very lucky—to escape to Canada in 1921. Levine says that during the 12 years of 1933 to 1945, “upwards of 50 million civilians and soldiers were killed during those 12 terrible years.”  I think he meant they were killed around the world.  But this was the bloodiest part of that world because more than 10 million people died there. But that was then; this is now. As Levine said,

“Now, with the atrocities perpetrated by Russian soldiers on Ukrainian civilians near Kyiv, Mariupol, Bucha, and other cities, Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again reignited the horrors of the bloodlands. And to what end?”


Levine quotes from Snyder’s other book, Bloodlands, about how Stalin and Hitler “pursued transformative agendas with no concern for the lives of individual human beings.”  That is what fascist dictators do. And that is exactly what Putin is now doing. He, like them, is trying to build up a society on the basis of lives which are meant to be sacrificed. And sacrifice them Hitler and Stalin did and now Putin wants to do exactly the same thing. This is another great moment in history. Are we up to the challenge of confronting this radical evil? That is why this issue is so important and why I am obsessed with what is happening in Ukraine. I fear there will be more blood.


Many of us have not paid much attention to Ukraine until this year. That is a mistake. Ukraine is important. And very interesting.

Europe is well known around the world for colonizing countries for its own benefit. When I was young, I actually believed they did that to spread civilization to the world. That seems almost unimaginably naive now.

What is not commented on as much is Europe colonizing other parts of Europe–colonizing itself in other words.  In no part of Europe was this more significant than Ukraine. First, the Soviet Union under Stalin colonized Ukraine. That was Stalin’s attempt to make Ukraine and Soviet Union one. It was a shot gun wedding.  After that there was the attempt by Nazi Germany to colonize Ukraine. Again this was another bloody union. Neither of these imperial powers used seduction—only brute force. When this also failed, Russia quickly stepped in to fill the void. It would do what Germany was not able to do for long.  As Yale Historian Timothy Snyder who is an expert on Ukraine,  said  in his book The Road to UnfreedomNo other land attracted as much attention within Europe. This reveals the rule: European history turns on colonization and decolonization.” That is why Snyder in another book referred to this area, that included Ukraine, as “the Bloodlands.”  He named an earlier book after that. That  is what Putin is trying to do again.  He wants to join the ranks of Stalin and Hitler.

Everyone wanted the bread basket of Europe. That was and is Ukraine. That is still true. Joseph Stalin realized that Soviet Russia unlike other European countries had no overseas possessions such as India, North America, or South America. He did not think that was fair. It really wasn’t fair for any country to possess other countries, but that was not relevant. Every European country thought it had the God-given right to exploit other countries. As a result, Soviet Russia had no alternative but to exploit its hinterland. Since Germany had no hinterland left, it exploited what it could. Here are some astonishing numbers that Snyder drew to our attention:


“Ukraine was therefore to yield its agricultural bounty to Soviet central planners in the First Five-Year Plan of 1928-1933. State control of agriculture killed between three and four million inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine by starvation. Adolf Hitler saw Ukraine as the fertile territory that would transform Germany into a world power. Control of its black earth was his aim.  As a result of the German occupation that began in 1941, more than three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine were killed, including about 1.6 million Jews murdered by Germany and local policemen and militias. In addition to those losses, some three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat as Red Army soldiers. Taken together, some ten million people were killed in a decade as a result of two rival colonizations of the same Ukrainian territory.”


Think about that. Let those numbers sink in. And I learned none of this in High School. How ignorant could I be?  Answer: very ignorant. For good reason, Snyder has called these lands “Bloodlands.”

In the western Ukraine the western districts which had been part of Poland before World War II, Ukrainian nationalists resisted the imposition of Soviet rule over them. Hundreds of thousands of those Ukrainian resisters were deported to the concentration camps called the Gulag. More bloodshed again.

Many of those prisoners were still alive when Stalin died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Stalin. In the 1960s and 1970s Ukrainian communists joined their Russian communist comrades and together ruled the largest country in the world. According to Snyder, Russian communists never denied that Ukraine was a nation, they just thought Ukraine would be better off under Russian rule. That is what colonists always believe. They are exploiting the colonized for their own good.

In 1991 the failed coup against Gorbachev opened the way for Boris Yeltsin, the new Russian ruler, to lead Russia out of the Soviet Union. At the same time, Ukrainian communists agreed with Ukrainian oppositionists that Ukraine should also leave the Soviet Union. As Snyder said, “In a referendum, 92% of the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, including a majority in every Ukrainian region, voted for independence.”

These are the people that Putin says are tyrannized by Neo-Nazi Ukrainian leaders into forcing Ukrainians to stay separate from Russia. Many Russian agree with Putin.  According to Gwynne Dyer, writing in the Winnipeg Free Press,

“In a telephone survey of Russians three weeks ago by Lord Ashworth Polls 76% said they supported the “special military operation” in Ukraine, 81 % said it was necessary to protect Russian security, and 85% had a favorable view of Vladimir Putin. The numbers are untrustworthy of course; would you always tell the truth to a stranger ringing up out of the blue and asking dangerous questions? It was also striking that a majority of the youngest group (18-24 years old) actually opposed the war, so there’s some hope if you want it. But a clear majority of Russians strongly back the invasion of Ukraine.”


It seems unbelievable that so many Russians would support their leader. It shows the power of lies. It shows what happens when powerful countries fight over weaker ones. Blood land is created.

George Orwell once said if you want a vision of the future imagine a boot stomping a human face forever.



Managed Democracy


After Vladimir Putin was in power he ushered in a new system that was called managed democracy. Russia became so skilled at this they began to export the system to its satellites such as Belarus and even, for a while Ukraine. The basic technique was derived from the Nazis of Germany. As Snyder explained, it involved “a mysterious candidate who used manufactured crises to assemble real power.  This technique really started with Hitler in Nazi Germany when the Nazis who had been elected took advantage of the burning of the Reichstag to consolidate tyrannical power. Many thought they had started the fire to do that.


Ivan Ilyin like the fascist he was, used a similar technique. As Snyder explained it:


“Ilyin had performed the same trick: he called his redeemer a “democratic dictator” since he supposedly represented the people. Surkov’s pillars of Russian statehood were ‘centralization, personification, and idealization’: the state must be unified, its authority granted to an individual, and that individual glorified. Citing Ilyin, Surkov concluded that the Russian people should have as much freedom as they were ready to have. Of course, what he meant by “freedom” was the freedom of the individual to submerge himself in a collectivity that subjugates itself to a leader.”


Snyder would not call that freedom. He would call that “unfreedom,” because that is what it is.

Surkov, first on behalf of Yeltsin, later on behalf of Putin, helped deliver to the Russian people things they liked, such as an average increase in the Russian economy of 7% per annum and a successful war in Chechnya in the first 8 years of the 21st century.  High prices for oil and gas provided the grease needed to keep the machine well-oiled. Some of those profits were even shared with the people of Russia not just oligarchs. Everybody was happy. To many Russians, a little loss of freedom, as they saw it, was worth what they got in exchange. All of this helped Putin secure  support to remain in power. In the long run of course, it helped the country to slide into fascism with Putin at the controls.


The Russian election of 2012 appeared to be democratic, but  was controlled by Putin. Like before he cheated and when he was caught, he even admitted it. After all he was now identified with the institution thanks to Surkov. Putin was able to convince enough people that more democracy than they had was not necessary.


This election proved important for many reasons. It taught Putin that there was more than one way to control “democracy.” As Snyder said,

“The fakery was repeated during the March 4, 2012 presidential election. Putin was accorded the majority that he needed to be named president after one round of balloting. This time most of the electoral manipulation was digital rather than manual. Tens of millions of cybervotes were added, diluting the vote cast by human beings, and giving Putin a fictional majority.”


Digital manipulation techniques featured prominently in subsequent Putin campaigns, first in Ukraine in 2014 and then in the UK and the United States in 2016.  He or his team were becoming increasingly sophisticated in producing the electoral results that they wanted.


Timothy Snyder summed up Putin’s victories in Russia this way:

“Putin chose to regard the transient illusion of winning on the first ballot as more important than law, and his own hurt feelings as more important than the convictions of his fellow citizens. Putin casually accepted that there had been fraud; Medvedev helpfully added that all Russian elections had been fraudulent. By dismissing the principle of “one person, one vote” while insisting that elections would continue, Putin was disregarding the choice of citizens while expecting them to take part in future rituals of support. He thereby accepted Ilyin’s attitude to democracy, rejecting what Ilyin had called “blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance,” not only in deed but in word. A claim to power was staked: he who fakes wins.

If Putin came to the office of president in 2000 as a mysterious hero from the realm of fiction, he returned in 2012 as a the vengeful destroyer of the rule of law.”


As was required by any Russian political leaders, Putin always claimed to be against Nazism, since their experience of Nazism in the Second World War was so horrific, but in reality, he learned the techniques of the Nazis and used them well. Like the magic elixir with which he could turn democracy into fascism and the people would accept it. It happened in Germany, then Russia and he tried it again in Ukraine in 2014, UK in 2016, and the US in 2016.

What is astonishing is how close he came to achieving his goals in the mature democracies.

Fiction Written in blood: Managed Democracy


President Yeltsin was for a while considered the savior of Russia. That did not last long. Too many considered him a drunkard and buffoon. Briefly he was the hero of the anti-communist revolution. In 1996 his own team admitted that he had faked an election in which he won another term as president.


In 1999 it was recognized that he was in ill health and a successor should be chosen. By this time, they had a lot of power.  Vast amounts of money will do that. The oligarchs of course wanted to manage this process so that someone who would be sympathetic to their cause would come to power. They wanted to manage the process for their own benefit. They wanted someone who would allow them to retain their gains, maintain their wealth, and keep them alive.


It took a while for Yeltsin to choose his successor but eventually picked  Putin. Later, he told Bill Clinton it was a big mistake. Vladimir Putin was hardly a likely prospect because he was so little known. Putin held a meaningless KGB post in East Germany. From there he took a post as assistant to the mayor of St. Petersburg and used that position to enrich himself. After all that was the Russian way.

Putin was considered to be a team player in the Kremlin. When Yeltsin appointed Putin as his prime minister he was not a plausible candidate because his approval rate was only 2%. That was not because so many despised him. That was because so few people knew him.

That all changed in 1999 after a series of bombs exploded in Russian cities killing hundreds of Russians.  It was possible that the perpetrators were FSB officers. The FSB was the new Russian intelligence service that succeeded the well-known KGB. Some thought the FSB had engineered the attacks for their own private gain. Timothy Snyder described the situation this way:

“Though the possibility of self-terrorism was noticed at the time, the factual questions were overwhelmed by righteous patriotism as Putin ordered a new war against the part of Russia deemed responsible for the bombings: the Chechen republic of southwestern Russia, in the Caucasus region, which had declared independence in 1993 and then fought the Russian army to a standstill.   Thanks to the Second Chechen War, Putin’s approval rating reached 45% in 1993. In December, Yeltsin announced his resignation and endorsed Putin as his successor. Thanks to unequal television coverage, manipulation of the vote-tally, and the atmosphere of terrorism and war, Putin was accorded the absolute majority needed to win the presidential election of March 2000. The ink of political fiction is blood.”

This launched Putin into a career of what was then called “managed democracy.” That  of course, was fiction written in blood. There seems to be an endless supply of blood.