Russia — Ukraine: War or Peace

In mid-April, it seemed that a war between Russia and Ukraine was quite likely, and it was possible that the world was closer to a new major military conflict in Europe than it looked from the West.

The reason for underestimating the threat was that Washington, London, Paris and Berlin did not evaluate properly the actions of not only Vladimir Putin, but also Vladimir Zelensky. The inaccurate assessment of plans and actions of the Moscow Kremlin and the office on Bankovaya Street in Kiev, where the Administration of the Ukrainian President is located, increases the likelihood of conflict in near future.

To better understand the motives of Moscow and Kiev and to predict their actions in near future, it is necessary to analyze the bearings of Putin’s Russia and modern Ukraine.

Let’s start from the Moscow Kremlin.

                                    Part 1

                 Putin’s Matryoshka. Made in USSR

The present Russia is understood by many inside Russia and outside as a completely new state built on the ruins of the USSR. It is believed that Putin’s regime has nothing or very little to do with the Soviet regime of the times of Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and sure of Josef Stalin.

However, Putin’s Russia is connected to the USSR much more than it is perceived. In fact, the current state system of Russia is a transformed Soviet system, which itself had undergone throughout its history through changes, often quite serious and fundamental. Before its collapse, the USSR had very little to do with the image that Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the USSR, and the first revolutionaries of Russia aspired.

More, the USSR of 1980-s was the state system that Josef Stalin hated and sought to avoid by resorting to executions and repressions. In 1950, Stalin ordered arrests and executions of his closest associates, heroes of the Second World War, whom not long before those arrests, Stalin had called his successors. They were arrested and executed for trying to turn onto a path that could have led to the Soviet Union of 1980-s.

And yet, some of the characteristics of the system, laid under Vladimir Lenin, have been developed and preserved throughout the history of the USSR and are now in operation in modern Russia.

Let us take one of the main characteristics of the Soviet system, — state planning.

It is assumed that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the system of state planning was eliminated in Russia and in all post-Soviet states. However, Vladimir Putin and his team, who were brought up and trained in Soviet times, did not lose skills and eagerness to plan special operations, as they were taught in the KGB and the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR, as well as to plan development of the military-industrial complex, as it was done by key men in the Central Committee of the Communist party, who supervised the Defence industries of the Soviet Union.

One should take into consideration that the core of the current regime in Russia was erected by the KGB officers, army elite, specialists in military technologies and curators of the defense industries, who were brought up in the Soviet period and stood underground quietly through 1990s.

Vladimir Putin gave large and visible part of the economy, first of all, its civilian industries to liberal economists and representatives of private corporations in the government, but the most important and valuable parts of the military-industrial complex, as well as management of operations in the military sphere and in the «world of shadows», Putin gave to nobody, but professionals. In those fields, it is impossible to move forward without long-term planning.

Having a habit to cover up and hide all the important decisions and plans, Putin used to appoint as heads of the Ministry of Defense, space and nuclear complexes people, who worked as “screens”, covering up Putin’s real intensions. Some of these “screens” caused smiles, indignation and resentment by striking incompetence, and few of those «screens» the Moscow Kremlin uses until now.

                                    «I was ordered»

It caused a row of indignation when Putin appointed Anatoly Serdyukov as Russian Defense Minister. Before this appointment, Serdyukov had worked as head of the Tax service and earlier run a company in furniture business, for which he was nicknamed «the furniture man».

Serdyukov’s appointment as Russian Defense Minister in 2007, was met with indignation in Russia and with jokes in the West. In Russia, many people found it hard to believe that the level of non-professionalism or corruption in the Kremlin had risen to such a high level.

That anger and indignation were amplified by the fact that at that time, it became clear that the West and Russia had taken a course for mutual confrontation, and there were signs that the Kremlin seriously and quietly began to raise deep-hidden since Soviet times reserves in defence and space technologies.

At that time, I knew Serdyukov’s former assistant, who worked with him before that appointment, and I asked him what was behind that story.

— Doesn’t Serdyukov understand that military officers, especially high ranking officers, generals will never recognize him as a military and equal to them and will never accept him? – I asked. — He will not be able to work. He will be cut off, blocked, substituted and used. How did he dare to seek this appointment? And if he was offered this position, why did he agree?

«When I heard about the appointment, I was also surprised and came to him. I asked why he did it,» — my friend told me. — «And Serdyukov said, «I’ve been ordered. I fought against this appointment as hard as I could, but I was ordered, and I couldn’t help but follow the order.»

Photo: Anatoly Serdyukov (left) with Vladimir Putin

At that moment, in 2007, I realized that Serdyukov was just a screen, and he was a person who had to deprive the Ministry of Defense of what it obtained in Soviet times but did not need in the modern world, what became superfluous for the defense of the country. I realized that Serdyukov was not allowed to go into the areas where important development was done, where the future was created. These developments were under control of other people whom very few outside of the Moscow Kremlin knew about and who were never highlighted.

                                The Russian Matryoshka    

When we analyze the present interrelations between Russia and Ukraine, we must take into account that until 1996, both countries followed the paths that were not much different. Russia started to move into new direction only in 1996, when two iconic figures appeared on the political scene, Yevgeny Primakov and Vladimir Putin. However, it is impossible to understand Putin’s Russia and the regime that is ruling Russia now without going back in the past and searching for those «scarlets in purple» that permeated the history of the Russian Empire and the USSR and stretched through decades and even centuries, defining and shaping the present and future of Russia.

History, for example, shows that internal enemy is more dangerous for Russian rulers than external one. Frequently, internal enemy creates «a deep state», or an alternative center of power using a kind of «Russian matryoshka» for destruction of ruling regime and existing system.

Back in 1922, the founder of the USSR Vladimir Lenin, who himself was a master of creating and using hidden deep centers of power, once predicted: «Communists have become bureaucrats. If anything destroys us, that is it.» Lenin saw the attempts by communist bureaucrats to create within the USSR their «deep state», which, as Lenin foresaw, could destroy both the Communist Party and the Soviet state. So, it happened…

Josef Stalin, who had also big experience and prefect understanding of deep state operations, was able to contain deep state development in Soviet Russia, dealing in the most brutal way with anyone who tried to create «Russian matryoshka» within Stalin’s system of power, even if those were his friends and comrades, as it was, for example, with Nikolay Bukharin, member of the Politburo and chief theoretician of the Communist Party, in 1937, and with Alexei Kuznetsov, Secretary and the second man in the Communist party, in 1950.

However, after Stalin’s death and finally, after blocking of the reforms that the Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin tried to carry out in 1965-1970, that allowed the Soviet economy to leap, the corrupt part of the bureaucracy managed to create «deep state» within the Communist Party and the Soviet government. After the death of the General Secretary of the party Yuri Andropov in 1984, the communist bureaucracy «deep state» seized power in the USSR. In 1991-1994, this «deep state» privatized the public wealth, which was created by the entire people as state property during 74 years of the communist rule.

Privatization by the top layer of the bureaucracy of state property — or «public” or “people’s” property, as it had been called in the USSR, that was the result of «perestroyka” and was the aim of the collapse of the USSR.

To destroy the Soviet system, the communist bureaucrat-privatizers found allies among top commanders of the Soviet special services, who controlled and used different opposition groups, including anti-communist groups and those who had different views on communism or stood for changes in the Soviet state system, as well as the Russian criminal world.

The alliance of communist-privatizers, the powerful groups in the KGB, GRU, Police and the leaders of the criminal world, most of whom were thieves, bandits and agents of the Soviet secret services at the same time, formed a new Russian elite, which covered up the criminal revolution by importing Western ideology, democratic slogans and using anti-communist opposition and Western politicians and consultants. These new elite tried to convince the outside world and the Russian people that new Russia was moving towards a democratic state system.

It was a hoax. In 1991, those who came to power in Russia were not liberals and honest entrepreneurs, but communist bureaucrats in alliance with professional thieves and bandits, behind whom stood a powerful group in the KGB, GRU and the Interior Ministry.

Their pseudo-democratic ideology and slogans were the cover up for ethics and moral values of the new Russian elite that was a symbiosis of ethical norms adopted in the bureaucratic apparatus of the communist party and special services of the late USSR, as well as traditional rules and laws of the Russian criminal world.

The aim of perestroika and privatization by the former communist elite was to secure transfer of power and wealth to younger generations by inheritance and to bury their fears of Stalin’s purges by constructing state system, which allow them to absolve from responsibility for their wrong doings and crimes.

The degradation of Soviet elite became obvious since 1970-s, and the new generation had no chance to get and keep their parents’ powers, influence and shares of the public wealth under their control. That was one of the main reasons that made the party bureaucrats to undermine the Soviet system.

                Easy to give up power, hard to keep it                    

In the mid-1990s, further rapid degeneration of the Russian ruling regime became obvious. The criminal-bureaucratic elite, which had been rapidly degraded by impunity they obtained in 1990-s, could not preserve their power, wealth and keep the country safe in their hands.

The vast majority of people in Russia hated new rulers. The support for President Yeltsin fell to 4% among population. Separatism in the regions grew, disintegration of Russia became real threat and return of the communist party into power looked very possible.

In 1996, Boris Yeltsin lost the elections despite hundreds of billions of dollars of support, including foreign, mainly from the West. The new president of Russia was to become Gennady Zyuganov, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, new party created in 1993, after the ban of the Communist party of the Soviet Union by Boris Yeltsin and the collapse of the USSR.

However, Zyuganov appeared to be no heir to Lenin and Stalin, but the same communist bureaucrat-privatizer, who privatized the idea and brand of communism. Yeltsin, supported by Russian oligarchs, special services and Western sponsors, managed to easily intimidate Zyuganov and buy Zyuganov’s rejection of his own victory. Boris Yeltsin was declared the winner and the President.

However, problems of maintaining Yeltsin’s regime were not solved by those elections. The elite needed a new team and a new leader who could rebrand the regime and preserve the power of the new post-Soviet elite. Vladimir Putin was chosen as Yeltsin’s successor in 1996. He officially gained power in 2000.

Vladimir Putin managed to reassure the Russian people, hugely disappointed and dissatisfied with their impoverishment and Yeltsin’s failed policies. Putin took control over oligarchs, criminal gangs and regional elites suppressing their separatist sentiments. He revived people’s hopes for better future.

Putin’s first eight years in office were particularly successful, and there were two main reasons for the rapid growth of the Russian economy in the first years of Putin’s reign.

In 1998, Yeltsin was forced to hand over the management of the economy to three key figures from the Soviet period: Evgeniy Primakov, who was appointed as Prime Minister, Yuri Maslyukov, who headed the economic bloc of the government, and Viktor Gerashchenko, who came back to the post of Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia. It was their turn from economic chaos brought by young, unversed and greedy pseudo-liberals to the state support of Russian industrial and agricultural producers that laid the foundations for economic growth for the next decade.

The second reason was the rise in world oil prices.

 From 2000 to 2008, Russia’s GDP increased by 2.5 times, and the incomes of the majority of the population increased several times. Putin managed to restore the people’s sense of stability and belief that the state and society were developing in the right direction.

However, at that time no one paid attention to the fact that Putin changed the structure of the state and its economy, turning consciously, on his own initiative, the Russian state into a «Russian Matryoshka.» He began to do that change at a time when the government was headed by Primakov and with his definite support. It looked like that it was Evgeniy Primakov who was the mastermind of Putin’s “Russian Matryoshka”.

            Photo: Vladimir Putin and Evgeniy Primakov

It was this turn in politics that became the moment from which the divergence of the paths of development of Russia and Ukraine began.

 The Deep State of Putin’s Matryoshka

Vladimir Putin divided the economy and the state into two main spheres or zones. This was done secretly, unofficially, nearly unnoticed by the public inside the country and by foreign partners and competitors. This division was not reflected by any legal acts.

The first zone was taken by the Kremlin under its direct control, and the second was put under control and management by the former Yeltsin’s elite, oligarchs and opposition, who agreed to adopt the rules set by Putin and his clan. The main new Kremlin’s rule was: «Do what you want, but don’t create problems for the Kremlin.»

The first or the «Kremlin zone” included the most valuable, strategically important and technologically promising blocks and sections from the remnants of the Soviet military-industrial complex, space industry, science, electronics and information-digital sector, energy, primarily nuclear, as well as oil and gas industries that were able to provide the source and channel of financing for the development of the «Kremlin zone». That zone was given under control of state corporations, as well as private companies, led by the members of Vladimir Putin’s clan, his personal and proven friends.

It was the internal figure of Matryoshka, which was placed in a bigger and visible to all the external Matryoshka named «the Russian Federation», which completely covered inside itself the first one — the “Kremlin Matryoshka”.

Putin left all non-important from his point of view sectors of the economy, including of the defense industries that were not included in the Kremlin zone, to the outside Matryoshka and divided it into so-called «lawns” or “fields» (polyana) that were given to feed Yeltsin’s elites, oligarchs and other clans and business groups, which emerged in the 1990s and agreed to unconditionally obey the Kremlin rules and stay away from big politics.

                    The First Bolshevik Matryoshka

It was one more experience from the Soviet past that was used in the creation of the Putin’s Matryoshka, primarily the experience of the Communist Party and the KGB.

It is not surprising that this operation began during the premiership of Evgeniy Primakov, prominent orientalist and political scientist and one of the ideologues and initiators of “perestroika”.

I happened to meet personally and work with him in 1981. At that time, Primakov was Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, and I worked in the department of India and South Asia of the “Novosti” Press Agency. In 1991, Primakov joined the KGB as first deputy Chairman, head of Soviet intelligence. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Primakov headed the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service until 1996.

Moreover, the method of transformation of the political or state system through the creation of a secret subsystem, or so-called “organizing center”, which in reality managed the entire system gradually absorbing and devouring it, was effectively used by the leadership of the Bolshevik faction in the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP).

In 1906, after the Tsarist forces suppressed an armed uprising of workers in Moscow and in several other industrial centers of the Russian Empire, the Bolshevik faction that led the uprising was extremely weakened. Many of its active members were killed in the uprising or arrested by the police. At the RSDWP congress in Stockholm, the Bolshevik leaders, including the top three of them, Vladimir Lenin, Alexander Bogdanov and Leonid Krasin, were not elected to the party Central Committee. They were pushed away from the decision-making process and the financial flows of the RSDWP.

In this situation, the Bolsheviks made a secret decision to establish a shadow center within the RSDWP, which other factions in the party and elected leaders of the RSDWP Central Committee did not know about. That was the idea of Alexander Bogdanov, who was the leading theoretician in the Bolshevik party. He was a scientist, creator of the Organizational science, which laid foundation for cybernetics, theory of systems and blood transfusion.

This shadow center of the Bolsheviks included three leaders: Vladimir Lenin, Alexander Bogdanov and Leonid Krasin, and it had no official name. Bogdanov called it «financial group,» Lenin called it «troika,» some called «the Board of three.» Later in the official Soviet history it was called “the Bolshevik Center”.

Pictured: The leadership of the Bolshevik faction. The members of the Bolshevik Centers are marked: Vladimir Lenin, Alexander Bogdanov and Leonid Krasin

Lenin, who was in Europe, acted as secretary, custodian of money and foreign coordinator. Bogdanov oversaw ideology, propaganda, organizational work and coordination, as well as fundraising inside Russia. Krasin organized a network of laboratories and workshops for the production of weapons, explosives and their delivery to combat groups to carry out armed uprisings, terrorist acts, bank robberies and other actions to provide the Bolsheviks with the necessary financial resources. 

Pictured: Leonid Krasin, The Official Representative of Soviet Russia in Great Britain, 1925. Prior to the revolution, Krasin was the leader of the Bolshevik Center’s Combat Group

By the way, the representative of this shadow center in the Caucasus was Joseph Dzhugashvili, who went down in history as Stalin and began his ascent to power in Russia from that very moment and position.

This center led Bolsheviks for three years, from 1906 to 1908, and during this period the Bolshevik faction was transformed into an independent party, which in 1917 came to power in Russia and became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Pictured: Alexander Bogdanov’s novel utopia «Red Star,» 1908, published in the US in 1984

The «matryoshka» dodge was used by Vladimir Lenin once again, exactly one hundred years ago, one year before his departure from the Kremlin and from state affairs due to illness. In 1921, the Soviet government announced a transition to a new economic policy (NEP). According to that decision, the new external matryoshka comprised of an open market and a mixed economy with all types of ownership was allowed. Private business, companies with share capital, cooperatives and state-owned enterprises started operating. Inside this external matryoshka there was the Soviet state sector that was subordinate to the Bolshevik government. That inner sector developed in accordance with Lenin’s ideas and was fed with fruits of the outer shell, for which the slogan «Get rich!» was put forward.

It was this “organizational method” (using words of Aleksandr Bogdanov) that was used by Vladimir Putin in 1996-2000. However, Putin acted differently from Lenin’s matrix of 1921. He acted covertly, without announcing his plans and goals.

Within the Russian state system, an informal and secret power, financial, scientific and economic complex was created, led by Putin’s group called «Peter’s clan» and later the «Kremlin clan” by the old Moscow elite.

In fact, it was the «deep state» created by the decision of a narrow group of men, who comprised Evgeniy Primakov’s group, Boris Yeltsin’s so-called “Family” and Vladimir Putin’s clan.

The creation of this deep state began as soon as Vladimir Putin appeared in Moscow, in August 1996, and took a modest position as deputy manager of the Administration of Presidential Affairs. Officially, Putin was in charge of APA’s international relations.

Pictured: Vladimir Putin’s arrival to Moscow, 1996. On the left is Igor Sechin, a close associate and future president of the state-owned Rosneft Corporation.

In reality, Putin was already selected as Yeltsin’s successor but had to be tested by the “Family”. He was put in charge of cleaning up the Russian Ministry of Defense and the General Intelligence Directorate (GRU). The purpose of this purge was to remove the Minister of Defense Igor Rodionov, who entered into a severe conflict with President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle (Family) and clashed for control over diamond mining in Africa.

Rodionov was fired in May 1997, the purge of Ministry of Defence was carried out, and the successful execution of the task determined the future of Vladimir Putin. After a brief stint at the head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which was used to clean up and get under control of the former KGB, and as Secretary of the Security Council, in August 1999, Putin was appointed Prime Minister and Boris Yeltsin’s official successor.

The «deep state» was (and still is) under the full and direct control of the Kremlin. It was classified almost completely, and it was managed by a narrow clan, and important decisions were made by Vladimir Putin personally. Even during the period when Dmitry Medvedev (2008-2012) held the post of President of Russia, this subsystem remained under the control of Putin and his clan, in spite some attempts to break that control (I will come to that period later).

Unnoticed for the majority of the Russian population, trying to avoid the attention of foreign «partners» and «opponents», the «deep state» developed and expanded for twenty years to ensure Russia’s breakthrough in the field of strategic weapons, nuclear technologies, energy resources, access to the forefront of the operational use of cyberspace and other areas to provide Russia a place of one of the world leaders in the 21st century. 

The second zone — or external matryoshka — was given to the «Remainers» who were allowed to enrich themselves, but tasked with ensuring peace and development of cooperation with the outside world and maintaining standard of living of the population and stability in the country.

Financially, both zones were structured in such a way that the first began to unravel as a set of super corporations, trusts, whose activities were planned, managed and protected by the Kremlin as highest priority. If necessary, the Kremlin used the resources of the entire Russian Federation, including the external «matrix». At the same time, trusts and corporations of the first zone increasingly resembled the Soviet trusts and ministries.

The second zone developed to big extent independently controlled by the Yeltsin times pseudo-liberals, all other political groups, business and criminal clans. This outer shell — economic and political zone — tried to ensure its development and enrichment, using the domestic and world markets, the international financial system, trying to integrate into the modern world.

For many years, the Kremlin considered the creation of the «matryoshka» system as its great achievement, and Vladimir Putin probably enjoyed reading statements by Western politicians about “weak”, «decreasing» Russia. In support of their opinion, the Western politicians and economists gave examples of events and economic indicators of the outer zone of the Russian Matryoshka. What happened in the depths remained for the world outside the Kremlin immersed in darkness, and news from the deep state was brought to the world mostly by Putin himself or on his direct order.

This Russia, built by Putin between 1996 and 2008, was bound to enter into conflict with the West, especially the United States and NATO, and consequently with those countries of the former USSR that would choose an alliance with the West against Russia. It was during this period that the ruling group in Ukraine embarked on a course of breaking with Russia, relying on radical nationalism, merging with the European Union and joining NATO.  

Putin’s plan was to delay the coming conflict with the West as long as possible…

(To be continued)

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