In 2002 the German political scientist Alexander Rahr published the book A German in the Kremlin written in the genre of Little Land, a panegyric to the new “gleaner of Russian lands” Putin. Eleven years later, when the “radiant” Mr. Putin came out of the fog, Rahr’s colleagues in the US wrote a new book, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. The title stresses: it is not an adept of Catherine II who reigns in Moscow’s red towers.
The two books are not just different texts and conclusions about the person whom a prestigious journal pronounced Person of the Year. They mirror an evolution of Western views on the Russian leader. From personal friendships, G8 handshakes, and joint plans of fighting terrorism to being struck off the list of the sound-minded and called a foe of humankind – this is the portrait of a bel ami in big-time politics. But the vice has never come off his face even before.
The name of Putin has already been associated with major tragedies, such as wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine, heavy tolls of human lives, and enormous money on his personal accounts. Almost a devil of sorts… But it is an exaggeration to compare him with Hitler, Angela Merkel says. Then who with?
No other individual has ever attracted so many profilers as Vladimir Putin has. Since the remarkable question “Who is Mr. Putin?” was asked in 1999, almost everybody has been searching for his X-files. A man who suddenly appeared from behind the backs of the persons he guarded – Anatoly Sobchak and Boris Yeltsin – has carved out a showpiece career. But the main reason why he is an object of permanent attention is the level of the danger he represents. If there were a gage to measure this danger, it would be buzzing like a Geiger counter near the reactor. Danger is the most powerful stimulator of public attention. For this reason, much more films are made about sharks than about crows, although the feathered scavenger’s cognitive functions are more effective than those of the underwater predator. This pattern holds good not only in the case of the fauna. The mysterious life of dictators (it is always shrouded with hidden and invented secrets) attracts far more inquisitive glances than the public functioning of the often-changing politicians. It is no mere chance that official biographers, such as the abovementioned Rahr, vest their heroes with the features of fearless and resolute hunters. A flawless propagandist of the Kremlin, he has been casting the components of a huge Putin monument for 15 years with the enthusiasm of a role-model worker. This bombastic hype was supposed to familiarize the people of the world with the cares and thoughts of a prominent perfectionist, a great power leader who can fly next to cranes, accurately shoot a Siberian tiger, and destroy enemies – a “true colonel” in a word. But it is not from Rahr’s or Vladimir Usoltsev’s books that the knowledge came – it came with “Nord-Ost” and Beslan terrorist act victims, the wreck of the Kursk submarine, the criminal regime of Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya, the war in Georgia, the atrocities of Syria’s butcher Assad, breakups of peaceful rallies and demonstrations, and arrests of dissenters. Then Crimea was annexed.
We were aware of what Putin, as president and individual, was capable of by scraping the almost empty barrel of history in search of at least scanty information about a person who had always shunned publicity.
His former wife saw him as calculating and cold-blooded. She dubbed him “deep freezer.” Judging by the comments of “Russian intellectuals,” charmed by talking with him “about theater,” he is neither stupid nor frank, which is the trait of an actor.
At one of the first summits with Putin, George Bush, for whom CIA guys prepared Putin’s profile, decided to personally check his counterpart and asked him: “Is it true that your mother left you a cross which you got blessed in Jerusalem?” Bush says this question took Putin unawares. He got embarrassed, for he did not expect the Americans to know the intimate facts of his life story. He quickly composed and told a story about a blaze at his country retreat near St. Petersburg, where he kept the cherished object. Putin answered a direct question with an embellished legend: he was rescuing children, guests, and himself from fire, and only then he tried to pull out an attache case with money. As for the cross, it survived by miracle and then really became Putin’s personal talisman of sorts. This was the first time Bush questioned the sincerity of his Russian counterpart.
But the most scandalous facts of Putin’s life story were made public by Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, a German political journalist and secret services expert. They are based on the evidence of a BND agent nicknamed Lina Sch. – Lenochka, as her “friend” Liudmila Putina called her in the Russian manner, – who was planted into the Putin family. At the time (1985-90), the personality of the director of the House of German-Soviet Friendship Adamov (Putin’s cover name) was of not much interest to the secret services. The aggressive nature of an ambitious KGB major, who beat and cheated on his wife with her “friend Lenchen,” surfaced a decade later, when it was necessary to know more about Mr. Putin. The big sociopolitical and medico-psychological machine for examining the secretive Russian president began to work as late as the end of his first term in office. That period saw the emergence of the term “Putinism” in the world’s encyclopedias, including the most popular one, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putinism). It mirrors the system of government in Russia, where 58 percent of topmost leaders, 20 percent of MPs, and 34 percent of civil servants have something to do with the security service, where FSB employs more than 200,000 people, almost three times as many as in the Ukrainian army. It seemed that this public profile would keep Putin off the world’s political stage. But the creator of an enormous repressive machine against his own people ended up as… eighth member of a democratic alliance of seven (!). What are Ukraine and the world to expect from a rancorous, lonely man in an age of fading, who is easily irritated but never loses control, and whom the powers that be have raised to an honorable rank?
In February last year, the authors of the book Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin answered this question which preoccupies the Western world. The key word in the title sounds very symbolic because the polysemy of the word “operative” (functionary, detective, secret agent) quite fits in with the multiple profile of the hero. The political journalists Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy are the most experienced Russia experts in the US. The former is in the US National Intelligence Council, while the latter knows very well about Mr. Putin’s financial operations. Unlike Rahr, they sought the motives of Putin’s everyday behavior rather than any feature of a superman. I am personally in rapture over the book’s chief metaphor or, to be more exact, comparison. The authors draw an analogy not with Hitler, Stalin, or Alexander II, as many researchers do, but with Mr. Benn, a character in a British cartoon serial (not to be confused with Mr. Bean). The adventures of a dark-suited and bowler-hatted gentleman look like those of Putin. Benn walks out of the house and visits readymade clothes shops. Having put on the attire, he leaves the fitting room through the back door and has an adventure that resembles an exploit. Then he gets back to the fitting room. As is nothing had gone wrong, Mr. Benn gives the shop assistant the already “used” suit. He thus becomes Red Knight, Balloonist, Zoo Keeper, Wizard, etc. Each role involves a new suit and a new episode.
However, the authors are not joking as if it were a cartoon. On the basis of many documents and serious research, they drew an enneagram, i.e., a model of human personality widely used in the US. It is used to examine candidates for various top offices in politics and business. Hill and Gaddy consider Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as bearer of many closely intertwined identities and single out the “core” six of them.
Firstly, he is a survivalist born to a woman who had barely come through a famine. A never-ending struggle for life and survival has been his behavioral motivation since childhood. As a survivalist, always expects emergencies and disasters.
Secondly, he is the outsider, from a family that was never part of the Soviet intelligentsia or communist nomenklatura. He was even an atypical recruit for the KGB, on whose doors he knocked and applied to join, for it was considered a prestigious job.
Thirdly, he is a statist and a history man, the avid reader of memoirs of Russian historical figures who looks to the past to find ways to restore the state’s power and its identity, but he is not interested in contemporary philosophical views.
Fourthly, he is alien to an important period in the country’s life. Posted to hardline East Germany, he missed Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and is unaware of what, apart from the shortage of food and other goods, made people rise up against the Soviet system.
Fifthly, Putin is a free marketer, one who always believes in market economics. Owing to these qualities, he scraped together a fortune, beginning with not so small an amount in 1992. His involvement in machinations with non-ferrous metal export licenses almost cost him a career. But the case was dropped, even though it was about more than 90 million dollars (http://www.ziare.com/vladimir-putin/ biografie).
And sixthly, Putin still remains a KGB case officer who tries to solve political problems by operative methods. One of them is now being applied to Ukraine.
The point is, of course, not so much in the psychological classification of Putin’s personality as in its importance to Russia and the world. For example, the book’s authors interpret large-scale corruption as the main element, not a defect, of Putin’s system. If corruption ceases to exist, so will the regime based on bribery, mud-slinging, and blackmail. There are no politicians in Russia whose secret dossier is not in Putin’s safe. In the West, too, there are a lot of VIPs captivated with the hidden devil’s straightforwardness, cynicism, and big financial possibilities. What is to be done with him? It is a question to the entire community which has already understood the futility of appeasement attempts. Everybody agrees that it is impossible to fight evil by way of concessions. But there is also a question that is more unpleasant for the West. Why is there such a wide gap between the public and official opinions about Putin’s personality and regime? The peoples of Europe, America, and many other countries, which have shown their position in the UN, have long been saying that Putin is dangerous for all of us. In the meantime, world leaders and global business have been expanding cooperation with and expressing support for him. This makes the picture of a “collective Putin,” as we call the phenomenon of overall consent with amoral rule in Russia, a kind of a Russian doll: Kadyrov and Lukashenko are placed in the case of Putin, the latter hides in turn in Merkel’s case, and the European Union covers them all. I do not wish the world were such a primitive toy.
Hill’s and Gaddy’s book says nothing about Russian dolls. The authors professionally warn about the difficulties of a dialog with Putin, which the “hero” of their study indirectly admits: (incidentally, he borrowed 16 pages from Clifford Gaddy for his dissertation). Of course, he brushed off accusations of plagiarism: by all accounts, “Mr. Benn” was trying on another suit at the time – not of a Ph.D. but of something more important.