Grigori Rasputin was a late 18th century Russian peasant who made himself out to be a mystic at a time when decadence and debauchery ran rampant and the royals and upper class nobles loved to dabble in mysticism. He finagled his way into a position of immense influence by seeming to use his so-called mystical powers to successfully treat their son Alexei’s hemophilia in spite of having no formal medical training.
History books record Rasputin’s influence on Russia as an evil one. As his power grew, so did the rumors about his drunken sexual excesses. The circumstances surrounding Rasputin’s death in 1916 are still not clear, though it is widely believed that he was poisoned, beaten, shot and drowned in the Nevi River by a member of the Royals, a Count Felix Yusupov. In a matter of months, the Tsar abdicated and then soon after, was executed, along with his family, by the Bolshevik revolutionaries.
It is said that Rasputin revelled in palace intrigue and created an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust similar to the one that Henry VIII of England had allowed to fester in his own court, back in the 16th century. In England in those days, if you wanted to stay alive, you had to network ferociously and maintain amicable relations with all sides. You could never tell when someone would whisper something down the fat toad’s ears about you and if that happened, you were a dead man. Hank’s favorite and only mode of punishment was beheading. If you were be married to Henry, you had a 40% chance of being executed, for as lame a thing as not being able to bear a male heir.
Intrigue comes naturally to people who live inside an opaque environment that is devoid of transparency. Most Islamic nations where the rulers habitually beat down the population, intrigue is all-pervasive. A Pakistani or an Iranian or Afghan will see a conspiracy in virtually everything he hears about (sometimes not without grounds though).
Lack of transparency has been significant in totalitarian, single-party communist states as well and the Soviet Union was the undisputed capo-di-tutti-capi of them all. There were layers upon layers, the way you heard Mike Myers say it in the movie ‘Shrek’. The Soviet Union was indeed like an onion, each layer having to be lived with in harmony, for you to not be purged.
Survival inside the middle to higher echelons of the Soviet Union had a name, Kremlinology – the art of divining which way the wind was blowing, from the most imperceptible clues. Zils, surreptitiously gathered at an out of the way Dacha outside Moscow, could mean anything, from a harmless weekend vodka binge to a plot to discredit or even kill.
When the hard-line General Secretary of the Communist Party, in Frederick Forsyth’s ‘The fourth protocol’ despatches a GRU agent with a briefcase-sized sub-kiloton nuclear device to be set off in England, bypassing and keeping in the dark even the powerful head of the KGB, the intrigue within the Kremlin and the silent tug-of-war between the moderates and the hard-liners is palpable. There are reported to have been many real life situations similar to the one in Forsyth’s thriller, one of the more infamous ones being the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world came up to and stared down the brink of a nuclear war.
For a brief while during the mid to late 80s, just before it imploded in the most grotesquely bizarre manner, the Soviet Union seemed to finally reach out of the fog. The Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev initiated ‘Glasnost’, or openness, a policy that called for increased transparency in the functioning of government institutions.
Glasnost came with another catchy term, ‘Perestroika’ or restructuring, a complete review of the way the Soviet state functioned in every area, be it the politics, economy, foreign policy, military readiness, law & order or human resources. No one called it the ‘Moscow spring’ but it appeared that way. The world was upbeat; Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were patting themselves in the back for having engineered the ‘endgame’ along with Gorby, who was starting to look like a cuddly koala bear.
Almost simultaneously, two events occurred then, that would shape our lives through to the 21st century. First, in 1988 the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving 250000 murderous battle-hardened Islamic militants trying to find their next raison d’etre, eventually regrouping under the banners of either the Taliban or Al Qaida, two names that have burned themselves into the mind of anyone anywhere over the age of 10. Second, the Soviet Union disintegrated, setting off an ugly free-for-all. While the US rejoiced, their President George HW Bush gloating in the senate,” We won the cold war!’ powerful ex-bureaucrats snatched and grabbed at whole state-owned enterprises in an orgy of privatization.
The period between 1991 when the Soviet state collapsed and 2000 saw the Russian nation plummet into complete chaos with oligarchs carving up state-owned resources like hyenas and becoming billionaires while the ordinary Russians scrounged and scraped to survive. Then, in 2000, a stocky ex-KGB agent named Vladimir Putin took over and brought Russia back from the brink. Life in Russia today is better than it used to be in the Yeltsin years. The stores are stocked with goods. The once worthless ruble is a genuine currency, strengthening against the dollar all the time. The Yeltsin oligarchs have all been given the boot.
No one has brought Putin out to the world better than Time correspondent, Adi Ignatius, in his 2007 Person of the Year cover story. He wrote about the experience when he accompanied the Time Magazine team led by editor, Richard Stengel, to Moscow for a dinner interview Putin.
In Ignatius’s own words……
“No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin’s. The Russian President’s pale blue eyes are so cold, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an effect, the gesture of someone who understands that power is achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking. The effect makes talking to the Russian President not just exhausting but chilling. It’s a gaze that says, ‘I’m in charge’……”
The interview meandered along through dinner and it was around 10, when Putin abruptly rose and left the table, even while the American guests were still eating. There were no ‘excuse me, I’ve had a long day’ or anything. He told Stengel and his team to continue with their dinner and just upped and left.
Interesting guy. Fits the profile of a psychopath very accurately, if you ask me.
Around the same time that Putin took office, the neo-cons took over the White House. Al Gore was defeated by George W Bush, through an election that stank of disenfranchisement and impropriety.
Putin had one thing in common with the Bush goons, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds and the Wolfowitzs. They all recognized and subscribed to the basic bed-rock of Nazi ideology, which was the need to have an adversary. There always had to be a life and death power struggle on. Political parties and nations became strong not by spreading peace and brotherhood but by fighting an enemy. Gorby could take his glasnost and perestroika and shove them up the other end of his elementary canal, as far as they were concerned.
There had to be an enemy. The alternative was a decline into wimpy liberal decadence and to these gents that was unthinkable. Citizens had to be kept on the edge, in a perpetually unbalanced state and shocked into letting the neo-cons do whatever they wanted. They had to be led by the hand, from one disaster to the next, while all along being told,’ Don’t worry, just leave everything to us, you go on and have yourselves a ball.’
If you believe conspiracy theorists, Putin has proved to be a master at engineering disasters. His reign so far has seen a succession of bloody terrorist atrocities. Frankly, after the Edward Snowden revelations, every conspiracy seems to have acquired an additional two legs. Me? I won’t discount anything anymore.
In the fall of 1999, events occurred that changed the security situation in the Caucasus totally. Some Russian analysts trace their observations back through an appalling chain of events that point toward a conspiracy of terror that went right up to the very top in Moscow.
This is how the whole thing began…..
That summer in 1999, the militant Chechen Muslim insurgent leader, Shamil Basayev, began incursions into the neighboring republic of Dagestan. Why he would do that when he didn’t have a beef with Dagestan isn’t clear. The incursion justified imposing a state of emergency in Chechnya and the postponement of the Russian parliamentary elections in December.
The international media meanwhile joined in gleefully. Analysts whistled up by BBC claimed to have inside information on how the Chechens were planning to broaden their jihad against the ‘infidel’ Russians and that Dagestan was merely the beginning.
That is when the bombings began. On September 4, 1999, a powerful bomb ripped through an apartment building in the southern Russian city of Buinaksk, killing 62. The action then moved to Moscow where two more apartment blocks were completely gutted, the casualty this time- 222. Again, the same month, 17 people died in another blast in Volgodonsk.
The Chechen rebels however, consistently denied responsibility, something that is inexplicable if you are a terrorist. After all publicity is the single main aim of any terrorist atrocity. Five men were held and then released ‘for lack of evidence’. Not surprising, since the buildings had all been bulldozed within days of the bombings.
A week after Volgodonsk, a resident of an apartment building in Ryazan, southern Russia, noticed a car with Moscow plates, with a Russian looking couple inside, parked right outside all through the day. Suspicious, he called the police and as the cop cars arrived, the suspect car sped away. The cops searched the building and in the basement, they found three sacks of hexogen powder, a very powerful explosive that is otherwise known as RDX. The discovery was significant as the same explosive had been used in all the other apartment bombings of the preceding month.
FSB agents soon arrived and confiscated the bags and the next day they announced that it had been an exercise and that the sacks actually contained sugar. The initial police responders however remained adamant that what they had found in the basement that day had been hexogen, not sugar.
Putin gave the order to start bombing Chechnya the next day.
Am I being just another conspiracy theorist? Maybe. Maybe I just need something to get my adrenalin going. Or perhaps there is actually enough going on that I have no idea about, to indicate that my worst fears may be true, that we live in an increasingly dangerous and evil world, in which the protectors turn out to be the killers.
Maybe Edward Snowden himself was a conspiracy. Perhaps he was an attempt by the American establishment to say to it’s despairing and jobless hoi-polloi,” Relax, we know, you have reason to be appalled, but we’ll fix it. Things will get better, you’ll see.”
Most ordinary citizens the world over, suffer from a kind of ‘battered wife’ syndrome. They are just plain happy to know that the state has acknowledged and that things are being fixed, much the same way an abusive husband expresses remorse and undertakes to go into therapy, after every beating. Folk are desperate to move on with their lives, eager to forgive and forget that nasty things ever happened, living on the hope that they won’t happen again.
Until we can stand up, I guess we shall just have to live with the Putins and the Cheneys of the world.