Viewpoint by Purnaka L. de Silva*
“Anyone who falls into the habit of thinking and expecting the best of his subordinates at all times is, for that reason alone, unsuited to command an army”—Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) in Vom Kriege (1832)
NEW YORK (IDN) — The Kremlin confirmed in September 2014 that Russia’s current President Vladimir Putin, told José Manuel Barroso the outgoing president of the European Commission that “Russian forces could conquer the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in two weeks if he so ordered”. For more details see the September 2, 2014 Guardian article by Ian Traynor: “Putin claims Russian forces ‘could conquer Ukraine capital in two weeks’”.
Former Soviet intelligence officer Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of relatively junior rank in the KGB has been at the helm of power since 1999 in Russia, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, promoting a jingoistic brand of nationalism to keep his hold on power and creating a democratic deficit on the home front.
In a long list of extrajudicial crimes under the aegis of Mr. Putin, it is alleged that critics and potential rivals generally meet an untimely demise—ranging from helicopter crashes (e.g., LTG Alexander Lebed), murdered in elevators (e.g., in the high profile case of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya), falling out of windows (e.g., former third secretary of Russia’s delegation to the United Nations in Vienna found at the bottom of the Russian Embassy in Berlin) to Polonium poisoning (e.g., Alexander Litvinenko) or getting incarcerated on trumped up charges like Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexie Navalny (who incidentally survived poisoning by the Novichok nerve agent allegedly administered by Russia’s Federal Security Service). For more details click here.
So how did it come to pass that a lower-ranking Soviet intelligence officer is now at the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin, deciding among other things on who among Russia’s citizens gets to become egregiously wealthy, and which of his opponents live or dies? To answer that question, we must pull back the veil and look at who is inside the innermost circle of power, aiding and abetting Mr. Putin in his manifold crimes against the Russian peoples and their neighbours.
In fact, U.S. President Joe Biden said: “I think he is a war criminal”. See CNN on March 17, 2002 “Biden on Putin: ‘I think he is a war criminal’” https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/16/politics/biden-calls-putin-a-war-criminal/index.html. This much to the fury of the Kremlin.
Further compounding these war crimes allegations, on March 23, 2022, Anthony J. Blinken the U.S. Secretary of State issued a Press Statement formally declaring the commitment of “War Crimes by Russia’s Forces in Ukraine”. For more details read: https://www.state.gov/war-crimes-by-russias-forces-in-ukraine/
The answer to my question concerning Mr. Putin’s most recent enablers is provided in an illuminating essay by Anatol Lieven in his Financial Times eon March 11, 2022: “Inside Putin’s circle—the real Russian elite: As the west focuses on oligarchs, a far smaller group has its grip on true power in Moscow. Who are the siloviki—and what motivates them?”: https://www.ft.com/content/503fb110-f91e-4bed-b6dc-0d09582dd007
The siloviki (or “men of force”) are egregiously greedy, powerful, and ruthless like the master they serve – all of them believing in the ‘greatness’ of Russia—proving once again the mid-16th century proverb that “birds of a feather flock together” (William Turner in 1545).
In his essay, Anatol Lieven quotes a senior former Soviet official who said: “I think one reason [the siloviki] steal on such a scale is that they see themselves as representatives of the state and feel that to be poorer than a bunch of businessmen is a humiliation, even an insult to the state”—in other words ‘patriotic corruption’ but rampant corruption, nonetheless.
Lieven identifies five of Mr. Putin’s closest siloviki, namely: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, 71, Foreign Intelligence Chief Sergei Naryshkin, 67, Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nicolai Patrushev, 70, Chief Executive of Rosneft Igor Sechin, 61, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu 66. All the identified siloviki are deeply invested in supporting Mr. Putin’s War of Aggression against the peaceful, sovereign nation-state of Ukraine—an extrajudicial action, which in my considered opinion is based upon the premise of a post-Soviet ‘irrdentist’ pipedream.
In my opinion, post-Soviet irredentism is Mr. Putin’s jingoistic brand of nationalism, which actively advocates for the ‘restoration’ of territories belonging to former Soviet Republics that were once part of the USSR. Self-belief in a post-Soviet ‘irredentist’ pipedream puts Ukraine firmly in Mr. Putin’s sights.
Other sovereign 21st century nation-states that could be at risk are Moldova, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Georgia, and even Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and possibly even further afield in Finland and Sweden. To state that Mr. Putin’s post-Soviet irredentist policy is a threat to peace and security in Europe is an understatement.
On the other side of this equation, Anatol Lieven points out the depoliticization of the army by the Soviet and post-Soviet regimes particularly by Mr. Putin in exchange for massive state investment and funding. Together with his “ruthless purging of the upper-ranks of the military” reminiscent of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, has had a knock-on effect in the hammering Russian men and matériel in the ill-fated, badly-advised, totally uncalled for and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
NATO estimated on March 23 that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine in a few weeks not counting tens of thousands of wounded, when in comparison 15,000 Soviet troops were killed over 10-years in Afghanistan. For more details see the AP News report “NATO: 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops dead in Ukraine” by Nebi Qena and Cara Anna: https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-zelenskyy-kyiv-europe-nato-e35e54b40359e52f3ffd4911577b669a
Daniel Michaels reports also on March 23, 2002, in the Wall Street Journal that “NATO says that up to 40,000 Russian troops have been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or are missing in Ukraine”: https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/russia-ukraine-latest-news-2022-03-23/card/russia-lost-up-to-40-000-troops-in-ukraine-nato-estimates-xyZjWxinMDHzdeRZvAeD
The failure of Mr. Putin’s incompetent yes-men has led to mass casualties and staggering losses of men and matériel in Ukraine and has certainly burst Mr. Putin bubble and rudely interrupted his pipedream of a post-Soviet ‘irredentist’ military campaign to capture and subdue Ukraine in quick order. The fallout of this debacle will eventually lead to the collapse of the house of cards inside the Kremlin, nuclear weapons, and weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding, as inexorably as night follows day.
In fact, veteran Russian international envoy Anatoly Chubais, who controversially oversaw the wild west style rape of state assets by opportunists and future oligarchs after the fall of the Berlin Wall, resigned his post representing Mr. Putin and has sought refuge in Turkey according to the BBC report of March 23, 2022: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60849918 Chubais will certainly not be the first nor the last to leave the badly listing ship with Mr. Putin as the helmsman.
More serious is the news of a potential palace coup d’état by the FSB to depose Mr. Putin as reported by Tom Ball in The Times of March 23, 2022 “Ukraine war: Putin ‘at risk of coup’ by Russian security services”: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ukraine-war-putin-at-risk-of-coup-by-russian-security-services-vm6qgxtnp.
The clock is ticking in a fast-moving scenario and let this be an abject lesson to all would-be dictators, authoritarians, and militarists straying outside the bounds of the tenets of international law, the Laws of War, the Rome Statute, and our rules-based post-World War Two global order that ensures the protection of sovereignty, peaceful coexistence, security, stability, human rights, and sustainable development, with the august body of the United Nations at its focal point and to harmonize global efforts—ensuring the success of multilateralism and democracy. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 March 2022]
*Dr Purnaka L. de Silva is Adjunct Professor UN Studies (M.A. Program) at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University, and Director, Institute of Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD) Malta. In March 2022 he received Seton Hall University’s Award for Best Teacher 2021 (Adjunct), and in December 2021 was nominated Diplomacy Professor of the Year 2021 by the School of Diplomacy and International Relations.
Photo: Disquiet in the Russian secret service could prove fatal for President Vladimir Putin. Source: Toronto Sun
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