Hoover Daily Report

Putin's Russia—Stalin Lite

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

World democratic opinion has yet to realize the alarming implications of President Vladimir Putin's State of the Union speech on April 25, 2005, in which he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." What this former KGB officer is saying is that it would have been better for the world if a totalitarian dictatorship, one that in the seven decades of its existence was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Russians and other peoples or their imprisonment in a Gulag slave labor system, were still to exist. Just imagine if German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were to announce that the fall of the Third Reich was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

The more I see and read about Mr. Putin, in power since 1999, and his "managed democracy," the more apprehensive I become about the future of Russia and the safety of its neighbors. If Putin believes that the dissolution of the Soviet Union into fifteen independent states represents the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century," then it follows that Putin might well believe he should do something to repair the loss occasioned by his predecessors Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev. Millions of onetime Soviet citizens, including the beleaguered Chechen people, believe that they are better off today because of the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." But to Putin the end of the Soviet Union did not mean freedom for millions of Soviet-yoked people—for him it meant, and still means, catastrophe.

The thousand-year history of Russia has an underlying consistency. Although it has never been able to produce a genuine democracy, it has successfully produced imperialist tyrannies, czarist and Bolshevik. The very first czar, Ivan IV (1533–1584), crushed the power of rival dukes and boyars and became an emperor. During his reign, he tried to strengthen the state and the military, but his methods and acts were so horribly cruel that he was later called Ivan the Terrible.

It is time to put aside fanciful hopes about Putin as Russia's democrat-in-chief. The best single-phrase description of Putin is "Stalin lite." Thus it was understandable that Putin would celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Yuri V. Andropov, the merciless head of the KGB. The Andropov celebration last year did not create much notice. Yet there would have been hell to pay, even a half-century later, had the German government in 2000 celebrated the birth centenary of Heinrich Himmler, the remorseless head of the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, and the SS and one of the architects of the Holocaust.

Putin endangers world peace: He has said he is ready to supply weapons to outlaw regimes. He has said he would provide short-range missiles to Syria and nuclear components to Iran. To fulfill such intentions would mean perhaps an even greater geopolitical catastrophe.