Vladimir Putin is a few years younger than I am. Like me he spent several years in Germany. Like me he lost an elder brother to diphtheria (his during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, mine just after the second world war). His mother, despite her extreme suffering under the Nazi oppression of Russia did not hate German soldiers. My father, a prisoner of war for 5 years and often put in German “revenge camps” in chains and fed on bread and water, did his best to understand the suffering of Germans under a vile dictatorship and liked visiting Germany after the war. He encouraged me to learn and study German, as I am sure, from what we know, Putin’s mother would have done.
Five of Putin’s father’s brothers died in the second world war. I lost a grandfather and a great uncle. Neither Putin nor I would speak German fluently today had our families instilled a hatred of the former foe. But that does not mean that Putin, like myself, does not grasp the very serious threat posed today by that same combination of European and American corporatism and German Eastward expansion which caused that war.
Nor are we blind to the remarkable similarities between the extent of “German EU’s” territory today and that occupied by Nazi Germany in the 1940s.
Vladimir Putin’s first job was to recruit spies in St Petersburg (the former Leningrad) then went to Moscow in the early 1980s then to Dresden in East Germany in 1984. Then back to St Petersburg (1990) as assistant to the Rector of the University. When offered a promotion in Moscow he turned it down: “I have two small children and old parents,” he said. “They are over 80, and we all live together. They survived the blockade during the war. How could I take them from the place they were born in? I could not abandon them.”
He left the KGB to join Anatoly Sobchak a leader of the first wave of reformers and one of Putins’ old law professors.
Putin also said then that he wanted to write a dissertation “on a subject I always knew and understood, I mean international private law.” I set out on a dissertation of the “German language of Politics” but decided that excessive academia blunted the learning process in the real world and I did not pursue it. Neither did Putin do his Law dissertation!
In 1991 Putin had his own “Yeltsin moment” – not exactly climbing onto a tank – but he played a key role for Sobchak at the moment of the Soviet coup attempt. Sobchak, in Moscow at that moment, vowed to defend Yeltsin and fight the coup, and took the risky step of flying back to his city to oppose the putsch. Putin, with good ties in the local security services, showed up at the airport with armed guards to protect Sobchak, who was potentially vulnerable as a leading democrat.
Putin, with his German linguistic and personal connections, brought some companies to St. Petersburg, including German banks. A currency exchange was opened, and hotels were privatized proving that he was convinced as he later said that the soviet system had destroyed itself and “there is no alternative to market democracy”.
In 1996 he left for Moscow and after first serving on the Kremlin staff, he became director of the Federal Security Service, the domestic successor to the KGB, in 1998, and later added duties as head of the Kremlin Security Council. He was picked for prime minister by Yeltsin because he appears to have impressed Yeltsin’s inner circle who were keen to find a premier and potential Yeltsin successor.
He got a prestigious “candidate of science” degree, the equivalent of a PhD, from the Mining Institute in St. Petersburg in June 1997, a time when he was also working in the Kremlin. The title was “Strategic Planning of the Renewal of the Minerals-Raw Materials Base of the Region in Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” (Reminds me of my energy policy papers in the 1980s emphasising the critical roll of market prices in discovering energy reserves!)
There have been the usual doubts expressed by cynics that Vladimir Putin scarcely had time to do a PhD dissertation but Mikhail Mednikov, a professor at the St. Petersburg Technical University, who was one of the reviewers at Putin’s oral defense of his dissertation, said, “The defense was brilliant. It’s a paper written by a market-oriented person.”
Putin has never campaigned for office, and he told an interviewer two years ago he found campaigns distasteful. “One has to be insincere and promise something which you cannot fulfill,” he said. “So you either have to be a fool who does not understand what you are promising, or deliberately be lying.” How we all recognise the symptoms!
The KGB past
On being challenged about his time in the KGB and its worst elements Putin responded by saying it would be “insincere” for him to attack the institution where he worked for so many years. I rather like a patriot who is not a nationalist and I believe Putin fits that description. He once said he could not read a book by a Soviet defector because “I don’t read books by people who have betrayed the Motherland.” But that did not mean he was defending soviet communism or the behaviour of its security services (as some in the West proclaim)
“The state security bodies should not be seen as an institution that works against society and the state; one needs to understand what makes them work against their own people. If one recollects those hard years connected with the activities of the security bodies, and the damage they brought to society, one must keep in mind what sort of society it was. But that was an entirely different country. That country produced such security bodies.”
He added that if Russia will “treasure elements of civil society that we have got, our only gain over these years, then gradually we will be creating conditions under which those horrifying bodies of security will never be able to revive.”
Putin’s remarkable popularity across the political spectrum
So we have a complex man, a decent man who took a stand against the totalitarian communists when it counted. Putin was made complex by the horrendous world into which he was born and the totalitarian society in which as a Russian he was forced to make his career. The Russian people understand this – just as they understand the threat from the West of Europe, which the British and Americans just cannot grasp. So Putin is popular – with ratings of over 80% while for instance Cameron languishes at 31%!
According to the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Centre today 82% support Putin’s policies and 84% would vote for him at the presidential elections. Support is virtually the same among men and women.
Putin was brought up in the Orthodox Christian faith, goes to Church regularly and has been responsible for overseeing the greatest restoration of holy sites and churches in a century.
If only Britain and the USA, or any European State could produce a popular Russian newspaper with a New Year’s headline: “With faith in God and hope for the best”
And what Russian Government conforming to the grotesque Euro-American stereotype of “soviet, atheistic, communist and aggressive” would celebrate in 2015 a new Russian film Curing Fear about one of Russia’s newest saints, canonized in 2000 – Saint Luke – who was a surgeon, scientist, and Archbishop of Simferopol and the Crimea, who publicly professed his faith during the Russian Revolution but was so popular the communist authorities dared not touch him.
[Putin] has restored the state. And Russian patriotism…. Little by little, he has become the leader of world opposition to the new ideological order dominated by the West [and characterised by] antiracism, globalism, homophilia, feminism, Islamophilia and Christianophobia…. He defends national sovereignty, family and the Orthodox religion.
— French intellectual Eric Zemmour, writing in Figaro magazine
Putin has long been a supporter of Christianity and Christian values within Russia. He has called for the Church to play a larger role in citizens’ social lives, better religion classes in schools, and television programs emphasizing religious values.
— From an article entitled “Vladimir Putin Vows to Defend Christianity Worldwide,” in the Christian Post
Evils of Stalinist past condemned
In August 2015, amid typically scornful western press cynicism, and partly in response to a wave of Stalinist revisionism and justification for the deaths under Stalin, the government of Russia announced the ‘State Policy on Commemorating the Memory of Victims of Political Repression’. Ordered by Putin, it was signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and published on the government’s website on August 18.
The policy was developed by Putin, the presidential administration and the Human Rights Council. The document stated
“Russia cannot become a full-fledged state ruled by law or occupy a leading position in the world community unless it memorializes the millions of its citizens who perished during the years of political repressions.”
There will be an annual commemoration of those who suffered under the soviet dictatorship every 30th October – the “Day of Memory of Political Repression victims”
Among the policies many aims are:
- to guarantee free public access to archival and other materials pertaining to political reprisals;
- to guarantee public access to memorials of victims of political reprisals;
- to launch relevant educational programmes.
If ever there was a country steeped in political extremism, oppression and poverty which has completely turned a corner in history that country is Russia. What a scandal that the Western powers, having encouraged such a transformation for 80 years, should have so lost its own anchor in nationhood, Christianity, democracy and enterprise capitalism that it now makes an enemy of the prodigal son.