Saturday 14 July 2012

Deluded Tyrant in the Kremlin

In December 1564, Ivan IV took himself off into exile. From the remoteness of Aleksandrova Sloboda he wrote two letters to officials in Moscow, one announcing his abdication, the other stipulating that he would return to the throne only on condition he be granted absolute power. There were positive aspects to Ivan’s rule, especially in the earlier years, and “Fearsome” rather than “Terrible” might be a better rendering of his popular designation, and yet there is something wretchedly Russian about those obtuse boyars pleading, in the end, for Ivan’s royal restitution. Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face and even more so David Satter’s It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway do nothing to disabuse us of the notion that Russia as a whole remains clueless when it comes to addressing the most basic principles of democracy and the rights of the individual.

In August 1999, Boris Yeltsin announced that Vladimir Putin, Head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), was to be the new prime minister of Democratic Russia. Shortly thereafter, contends Gessen, the FSB made Yeltsin an offer he could not refuse. If Yeltsin allowed Putin to replace him as the president of the Russian Federation, Yeltsin could expect to enjoy the full protection of the intelligence service for the rest of his days, along with immunity from prosecution for any transgressions committed during a decade in office. The ailing and politically vulnerable Yeltsin assented. For almost seventy years the Chekists had been the sword and shield of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Now, thanks to the demise of the USSR and Yeltsin’s instinct for self-preservation, a criminal cabal with a lineage dating back to Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka commenced ruling Russia in its own right.

The article can be read in full at the following link: