When Putin inherited Yeltsin’s office, he found himself alone in the castle. He had no cadres in Moscow that he could rely upon. He confronted a parliament dominated by communists and he had been far too junior in the KGB to enjoy true authority in the FSB.
Putin found the far-flung regions being run by robber barons (read: oligarchs) and did not enjoy a rapport with these immensely wealthy individuals that sat on top of huge in-flows of cash from the sale and hiring out of what had all along been State-owned assets, in the name of privatisation. In short, he was a king without a court.
Putin’s evolution to Tsar evolved through three stages –
First, he needed people close to him whom he could trust. That was the easy part. He brought in his pals from St. Petersburg.
Second, he made sure that his was the only court. This was the tricky part but he managed it, by pure brazenness. The oligarchs, especially the ones who controlled institutions that could threaten his power – independent TV, or independent big oil or independent Media – were exiled and their assets nationalized, beginning with the exile of powerful oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky and ending with the incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s Kremlin eliminated all politically threatening patronage systems in Russian politics.
Third, once these men were gone and Putin re-elected, he brought his St Petersburg friends into the eco-system. They are now the Putin oligarchs, the richest men in Russia today. Through a combination of re-nationalization and awarding of state contracts, Putin ensured that the largest cash flow from the sale of natural resources were in the hands of loyalists.
Fourth came the single-most important action Putin embarked upon that put him where he is now, in absolute control, more powerful than even the Tsar in his heyday. He went about eliminating dissent…..
Dissident journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, fell violently ill after she drank tea aboard an Aeroflot flight to South Ossetia. She was on her way there to help in the negotiations with the terrorists who were holding nearly 1000 teachers and children hostage in a school in Beslan. Later, tests showed a substance that was reported to be under development at the FSB research facility in the basement of the Lubyanka Prison, a joint known inside the FSB as the Kamera (Russian for ‘chamber’). Unfortunately for the Kremlin she survived the poisoning attempt.
But not for long. On October 7, 2006, Vladimir Putin’s birthday, Politkovskaya was entering a lift in her apartment building when she found that there was already a man in there, a man who then stepped forward and shot her twice in the head, at point-blank range. She died on the spot.
A week after the assassination, the dissident UK-based ex-FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, accused Putin of sanctioning the murder. Two weeks after his assertion, Litvinenko received a large dose of the lethal radioactive isotope, Polonium-210, mixed inside the cup of tea that he had been served in a restaurant, where he had gone to meet an old FSB colleague from Russia.
According to some reports, Litvinenko had tried to investigate Politkovskaya’s death and was writing a book about the FSB’s activities, including concentration camps in Chechnya. In the process, he had been having frequent contacts with Politkovskaya. His poisoning was strikingly similar to the thallium poisoning of the KGB defector Nikolai Khokhlov in 1957. Khoklov survived the attempt and was subsequently interviewed by Politovskaya for Novaya Gazeta.
Meanwhile, on 18 November 2006, former pro-Russian Chechen commander and FSB officer, Movladi Baisarov, was shot dead in Moscow. Apparently, Baisarov intended to give evidence on Politkovskaya’s assassination, that would have exposed the FSB. Novaya Gazeta was preparing a publication that would link Baisarov’s murder with that of Anna Politkovskaya, incontrovertibly.
There were many other killings of dissenting voices –
Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, ex-president of the Russian Republic of Ichkeria, killed in exile at Doha, Qatar, when a bomb ripped through his SUV.
Yuri Shchekochikhin, investigative journalist and writer who was about to expose the FSB’s involvement in the Moscow apartment bombings of 1999, his sudden 16-day long illness and death suspected to be by a new untraceable poison code-named ‘C-2’ that had been created by the FSB’s labs at the Kamera.
London-based ex-KGB Colonel, Oleg Gordievsky, poisoned by thallium-impregnated insomnia pills that had been handed to him by a Russia-based business associate (he survived the attempt).
Ex-PM and economic shock therapy advocate, Yegor Gaidar had, while in office, tried to curb the growing power of the very oligarchs that his shock therapy had helped give birth to. A day after Alexander Litvinenko’s death, he collapsed while delivering a lecture in Ireland. He survived, but barely, his health never recovering fully, until he finally died 3 years later, in 2009.
Ukrainian Presidential candidate and pro-EU politician, Victor Yushchenko, was fighting a particularly bitter and violent election against pro-Moscow candidate Victor Yanukovych having dinner with associates when he ingested a dioxin which put him in a hospital bed, nearly killing him and leaving his face permanently disfigured. This dioxin was traced back to the Kamera.
In fact, me, I am beginning to be worried. I have heard that folk who annoy Putin don’t live to see their 80s and 90s. I have a blog that constantly makes fun of him and says derogatory things about him. I want to live till 80 or 90. I haven’t yet tried all the Kama-Sutra positions. Maybe I should cool it a bit.
Meanwhile just last week on February 27th, the anniversary of the exact day when Russian soldiers in green uniforms without insignias (soon to be known the world over as ‘ those little green men’), seized the parliament of Crimea, former Deputy Prime Minister-turned dissident politician, Boris Nemtsov, was shot in the back four times as he strolled down the street with his girlfriend. He collapsed and died on the spot of course.
But I’ll be careful calling it an assassination. Unfortunate accident is what it is. I swear, Volodya, Nemtsov somehow must have found out how to contort his torso and shoot himself in the back. What? Yeah, yeah, I know. You strongly condemned this accidental mishap. Did I say it was you? Nah, never.
In fact, Putin has just announced that he is himself going to investigate the killing. Isn’t that a comfort? It is like the serial killer, Ted Bundy, joining the Washington State troopers to solve the killings of the 40 young women he murdered.
In fact, I am losing track of all the things you haven’t done, Volodya. You haven’t invaded Ukraine. You didn’t kill Litvinenko and all those others and you cannot even spell ‘polonium’. You have never even heard of this joint in the basement of the Lubyanka, called the Kamera. You are absolutely not responsible for anyone dying after you came to power.
On the contrary, you have encouraged lively debate in all those state-controlled TV channels with experts who have a natural desire to live, making their points on why you could not possibly be responsible for all those aforementioned murders.
I am actually fascinated by your bare, hairless chest and I love watching you fighting with salmon, riding bears, those blue-eyed Russian chics who adore the very ground you walk on.
My word-limit is up, so I’ll have to tell you about Putin’s chics in Part-4. It is about Putin’s women and in case you have a preemuchoah eejacklayshun problem, I won’t recommend it to ya.