November 14, 2022 10.44 am This story is over 16 months old

Barry Turner: Vladimir Putin is the unpredictable enigma that never was

His intentions and failures should not be a surprise

Vladimir Putin is simply a failure, not a mystery monster. His collapsed imperialist adventure has destroyed the myth for good.

The City of Kherson is liberated, perhaps the most serious and ignominious defeat the Russian military have suffered since the collapse of the Soviet empire between 1989 and 1991.

Certainly this is the crowning moment of the heroism of the Ukrainian people and their president and army, less than a year ago described as no match for Russia. Someone once said similar about the North Vietnamese Army in its struggles against another imperialist aggression many years ago now.

How strange, that no matter how many times people have to be reminded that the consequence of not studying history is that one is condemned to live in it, that they still overlook this most important piece of advice.

Now, as it becomes more and more obvious that the ambitions of President Putin to be the new Peter the Great are rapidly evaporating the Western governments and the media wish to divert attention from an outcome they failed to predict. Far be it that the pundits could have got it wrong, so there has to be another reason for their lack of foresight. “Well it was just totally unpredictable, wasn’t it”.  No one saw this outcome!

In February this year Mary Dejevsky wrote an article in The Independent titled Twenty Years of Putin and the West Still Fails to Understand him. She made reference to the dictum of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, supporter of arming Soviet Russia against the Nazis, that has suggested ever since that no one can understand Russia, perhaps not even the Russians themselves. Dejevsky pointed out in the article that this ‘failure to understand’ can at time be very handy.

The somewhat absurd invention of the media that we did not know anything about the pretender to the Romanov throne as Czar of all the Russias’ is ridiculous in the extreme. As a student of Russian history since I first studied the language as a twenty something, I can say Russian politics and history are no more ‘enigmatic’ than those of Britain, France or a dozen other countries.

It is surprising how alike Russian and English/British history are. Both require a very close toothed comb to tease out the myth from the real history. Lots of British people prefer the myth to the reality because it is more palatable. Czar Vladimir Vladimirovich and his dwindling supporters are similarly entranced by the legends rather than the facts. Teasing out the facts from the myth however used to be the role of a journalist at sometime in the distant past, now their job seems to be writing the movie screenplay.

This writer has a dozen books about former Podpulkovnik Putin’s career, many written well over 10 years ago. Developments in Russian politics is in its 9th edition and Vladimir Vladimirovich features in all but the first ed. It has long been possible to read copious literature about him since he came to power. Presumably the Russia watchers in the Western media are unaware of all this literature.

Now the Western press want to pretend they did not see the current events coming, so they reinvent the idiotic notion of Russia being “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. The very same political euphemism conjured up by Winston Churchill to make excuses for Stalin after more than a decade of condemning him and his murderous rule, especially his rule in Ukraine.

Michael Stuermer’s Putin and the Rise of Russia was written 14 years ago, as was the excellent Russia: Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People by Jonathan Dimbleby.

These high quality sources alone make clear that Mr Putin started with very good intentions about clearing up the catastrophe left by the corrupt and drunken clown he replaced. He was constantly thwarted by the criminals that had asset stripped Russia and enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people. They of course were staunchly supported by the Western facilitators of oligarchy and kleptocracy without whom the Russian oligarch robber-baron class would never have thrived. Catherine Belton, hardly a Putin apologist, describes this in immaculate detail in her superb account Putin’s People.

We will never know if the Czar would have gone bad without this. Perhaps if the West had really assisted Russia with its transition to market economics and democratic politics he may have turned out very differently. That will certainly remain an eternal enigma.

The Western capitalists were not interested in either democracy or proper market economics in Russia, or any of the other former Soviet Republics. Those with assets worth stealing were the target and neither did Western governments care two hoots about them becoming democracies. The driving force was legalised thievery and the establishment of the kleptocracy that made billionaires not only in Moscow, Kiev and Astana, but in London, New York and Paris too.

Absolutely nothing can ever excuse ‘the Czar’ for his hideous crimes against humanity, but the path to them was paved with the greedy intentions in the boardrooms of banks in London, not in the barracks in Boguchar-Voronezh.

History is not going to look upon Russia’s early 21st century with favour, and after the inevitable defeat of this murderous campaign, and we shouldn’t overlook the role the West played in how this came about in the first place.


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Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.