Russia, a Vile, Evil, and Disruptive State (Part 2) 

Backing up the charge of Russia as a vile and evil state

In my first blog on Russia, dated March 31, 2022 (, one of my conclusions was that Russia has been operating on the fringe of moral behaviour in a variety of areas in the past. A pattern of promoting Russian dominance and power has emerged over the past several decades. I noted three areas but expanded in this in an additional attachment to expand on these examples, i.e.Attachment #3, Russia on the Fringe of Moral Behaviour. See:

I now need to be more complete in the answer to the above question so I willcover the following historical, cultural and political realities:

  1. A selective primer of Russian history – will quickly sweep across the ages
  2. The security organs of the state: Russia is a police state, so I’ll talk about what the legacy of the gulag system has produced, both internally but more terrifying for the world, what they send out and implant in states around the world 
  3. Russian mercenaries; the Wagner Group and particularly its influence in Africa (and the rise and fall of Prigozhin) 
  4. The oligarchs, including the head of the Russian Orthodox Church
  5. Russian ethics, as represented by their attitude to sports cheating: they’ve just got to do it.
  6. Trying to understand the Russian people.
  7. The Solhenitsyn/Navalny Dissidents Factor
  8. Now to Russian History

1. A selective primer of Russian history:

Examining the key dates and activities highlighted next, one comes away with the following:

  • The Russian state over many, many years has suffered under the control and influence of one powerful dictator after another; that 
  • The country has never really reached the potential the size of the country and its physical resources suggest could be there; that 
  • The masses have been subjugated off and on for centuries; that
  • Russia, with the exception of being an ally during WWII, has been a philosophical opponent of the West and in particular the US; that 
  • Russians perhaps have reason to be paranoid in that they have been invaded (as columnist Gwynne Dyer has said) by “A team of would-be world conquerors (the Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler) and live in a country with no ‘natural’ frontiers”; 
  • Russia has been ruled through power rather than by the law; and that 
  • The current regime has steadily deteriorated into that of one driven by a single, obsessed man directing a repressive system with a seriously flawed view of history. Russia is not a country, but a criminal organization run by oligarchs whose expertise involves smuggling, money laundering, converting ill-gotten gains into cryptocurrencies, and hiding profits, assets, yachts, portfolios, or themselves from law enforcement anywhere in the world.

According to Andrei Zorin, a professor of Russian at the University of Oxford, Russia’s historical narrative is to a large extent defined by miraculous transformations that turn even the most humiliating defeats into apocalyptic triumphs. “The traditional stories of major Russian wars, be it against the Poles in the 17th century, the Swedes in the 18th, the French in the 19th or the Germans in the 20th, all follow the same pattern. After initial defeats that put the country on the brink of utter ruin, a strong leader mobilizes the nation and imposes a devastating defeat on the enemy.” For a Putin who is influenced by history, this is heady stuff.

2. The security organs of the Russian state: from the Cheka to Gulags NKVD to KGB to FSB: 

Political repression, purges, torture, arbitrary executions, disinformation, spies – and power have been the hallmarks of the various manifestations of Russia’s security organs over the years. It began with the tsars, the men who wanted to control the masses. They were terrorists who were in and out of Tsarist prisons. Even today we know them by their underground revolutionary names – Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky. They knew when they took over the massive Russian landmass via a political coup, they needed to arrest or kill all potential opponents. 

Lenin’s first act was (in December 1917) to create a powerful personal security service (the Cheka), calling for “merciless mass terror” and immediately ordering the arrest of opposition parties. It was in many ways a reincarnation of the Tsarist security service, the Okhrana. 

The leader of the Cheka stated publicly, “We stand for organized terror…this should be frankly admitted. The Cheka is obliged to defend the revolution and conquer the enemy even if its sword does by chance sometimes fall upon the heads of the innocent.”

The forced labour camp of Solovki served as a prototype for the Russian Gulag. It was set up in 1923 on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea as a remote and inaccessible place of detention, primarily intended for socialist opponents of Soviet Russia’s new Bolshevik regime. Its remote situation made escape almost impossible and in Tsarist times the monastery in which it was housed had been used, on occasion, as a political prison by the Russian imperial administration.

The Great Purge from August 1936 to March 1938, was largely conducted by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), the secret police of the USSR, until is was merged into other systems in 1930. The NKVD began the removal of the central party leadership, old Bolsheviks, government officials, and regional party bosses. Eventually, the purges were expanded to the Red Army and military high command, which had a disastrous effect on the military. The NKVD widely utilized imprisonment, torture (a great number of accusations were based on forced confessions under torture), violent interrogation, and arbitrary executions to solidify control over civilians through fear.

The KGB, rebranded as the FSB, has survived. The heirs of organizations that had wrought such terror during Stalin’s rule in the 1930s and 40s managed to secure power in the 21st century. Russian leaders have always depended on the security services to maintain their power. For Putin, strengthening the state’s security organs seemed like insurance against upheavals like those in 1991, which brought the demise of what he calls “historic Russia”.

Defector after defector has arrived in the West since 1917 with the same message. The Kremlin had created a ruthless police state capable of mass surveillance, empowered to destroy perceived domestic threats, and intent on relentless attack on foreign foes.

The head of the KGB mission in New York City Sergei Tretyakov defected with his wife and daughter to the US in 2000. He passed on details of Soviet infiltration of the United Nations and its diplomats. He was a bigger-than-life figure who appeared destined for the top rungs of the Russian intelligence services. Tretyakov was initially optimistic that the changes that led to the fall of the Soviet Union would lead to a new, democratic, and powerful Russia. However, Tretyakov quickly lost hope. “I saw firsthand what kind of people were and are running the country. I came to the ultimate conclusion that it became immoral to serve them…Russia has been repeatedly raped and looted by its leadership. I call this process genocide of the Russian people performed by a group of immoral criminals…I realized that the intelligence information I delivered was only used to contribute to the totally corrupt political system that didn’t show any signs of improvement.”

According to John Sipher, who was in the CIA’s clandestine service for 28 years, ”The motivation and messages from Russian sources over the years have shown an uncanny similarity and consistency not found in other groups. That is, secret Russian sources almost always make the choice to help the west after concluding that their system is evil and must be destroyed. They usually express love for their culture and homeland, but are committed to smashing the leadership and secret security services that underpin their corrupt, murderous, and oppressive system. From my experience over decades working in the CIA, Russians tend to be among the most committed sources. They are often their country’s best and brightest who eventually conclude that there is no hope in changing an evil system from the inside.”

This is all a terrible pattern. As Heidi Blake in her book “From Russia With Blood” said Covert killing is a deeply Soviet form of statecraft, a prized lever of power that had rested for more than half a century in the hands of the feared USSR security service from which the new president had emerged. The KGB had led the world in the art and science of untraceable murder, with its poison factories, weapons labs…While the West welcomed him to the fold, the Russian president was busy reviving the KGB’s targeted killing program…Anyone who betrayed the motherland, anyone who threatened the absolute power of the Russian state, anyone who knew too much – all put themselves squarely in the Kremlin’s crosshair’s. And every dead body sent a signal. If you cross Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, there is no safe place for you on earth. 

3. Russian mercenaries; the Wagner Group and its influence in Africa (and the rise and fall of Prigozhin):

A side show has been the actions of the Wagner Group, under its now disposed-of leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. (He never really did get the “opportunity” to go into exile in Belarus.) The rise of Prigozhin took place in the “Wild 1990s” when Putin was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, a city paralyzed by violent organized crime. Prigozhin, a convict turned restaurateur, catered to gangsters, secret agents, and political power brokers alike. After Putin was named president in 1999, he turned to Prigozhin. Putin smoothed the way for Prigozhin to secure billions of dollars worth of defence contracts. But how and why Putin allowed the insurrection of Prigozhin – now permanently out of the picture by his death, likely the result of Putin – is a curious part of this story.

Back in June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin was probably the most feared and famous mercenary in the world. His Wagner Group was in control of billions of dollars’ worth of companies and projects, while his fighters were central to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Then, he decided to march on Moscow, ostensibly calling for the removal of the defence minister and head of the general staff, but in reality threatening President Vladimir Putin in a way no-one had before. Within weeks he had died in a highly suspicious plane crash, along with much of the Wagner leadership. 

Prigozhin had weakened Putin and divided his ruling elite. The erratic oligarch also left behind many followers who appreciated his courageous and populist remarks about the foolishness of the war and the tragedy of thousands dying due to military incompetence. Strategically speaking, this oligarch bloodletting – regardless of who pulled the “trigger” – underscores the sheer recklessness and stupidity of the Putin mob. The elimination of Prigozhin provides no advantage for Russia and removes Prigozhin’s mercenaries who were the most effective forces fighting in Ukraine. It will speed up the country’s economic collapse. By stilling his only critic, Putin’s un-winnable and unaffordable war will continue to grind on, ravaging Russia’s currency, shredding its economic future, and sending home caskets. 

There was widespread speculation at the time about what would happen to the Wagner Group. Now, we have the answer. Shortly after Prigozhin’s mutiny, it was decided that Wagner’s Africa operations would fall directly under the control of Russian military intelligence, the GRU. Control was handed to Gen Andrey Averyanov, head of Unit 29155, a secretive operation specialising in targeting killings and destabilising foreign governments (another charming Russian initiative!). The three West African states with close links to Wagner – Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – have all experienced military takeovers in recent years. They have since announced their withdrawal from the regional bloc ECOWAS, and the creation of their own “Alliance of Sahel States”. Other African countries (17 in total) have connections with the Wagner Group: Libya, Centra African Republic, etc. 

In these countries, Russia is not a new ally. Russia was there before in the 1970s and 1980s and there’s this dream of getting back to a better time, which is often associated with the relationship with Russia. Now Russian paramilitaries are brought in to protect the military junta, allowing them to stay as long as they want. In exchange for considerable, if brutal, security assistance, Wagner required something in return. Wagner is reported to have secured valuable natural resources using these to not only cover costs, but also extract significant revenue. Russia has extracted $2.5 billion worth of gold from Africa in the past two years, which is likely to have helped fund its war in Ukraine. Also and with potential geopolitical significance, the Russians attempting to strategically displace Western control of access to critical minerals and resources with uranium being one of them, with Europe being left exposed once again to what has often been called Russian “energy blackmail”. 

4. The oligarchs, including the head of the Russian Orthodox Church:

Post-Soviet Russia had seen some of the most spectacular investment opportunities in the history of financial markets. Corruption of the oligarchs, the twenty-some-odd men who were reported to have stolen 39% of the country after the fall of communism and who became billionaires almost overnight, was rampant. The oligarchs owned the majority of the companies trading on the Russian stock market and they were often robbing those companies blind. 

Bill Browder, founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005. Since 2009, when his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was murdered in prison after uncovering a $230 million fraud committed by Russian government officials, Browder has been leading a campaign to expose Russia’s endemic corruption and human rights abuses.

I include in this list the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who also happens to be a former KGB agent and confidante of Putin’s. A few years ago, Forbes Magazine estimated that Kirill’s personal net worth was $4 billion, but this remains unverified. However, he wears $30,000 watches and owns a private jet, a palatial estate, a yacht, and valuable real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Suspicions are that his fortune was accumulated by skimming profits made by his Church in the mid-1990s after it was granted a monopoly to import cigarettes duty-free.

After the February 2022 invasion, Kirill did not condemn it as the worldwide Orthodox Patriarch did, but issued a directive to Russian soldiers that “your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of it the Earth”. Despite such a shocking pronouncement, Pope Francis told newspapers in Italy a few weeks later that he spent 40 minutes on a zoom call with his friend Kirill and warned him against becoming “Putin’s altar boy”. He warned him? Surely, the Pope knew that Kirill was a Putin insider and collaborator and had publicly promoted genocide.

5. The Russian ethics, as represented by their attitude to sports cheating

If there ever was a marker of the ethics of a team or individual morality it is in sport. Here, Russia has broken all rules, and particularly in the zenith of sports, the Olympics. For years, Russia has made a mockery of the Olympics, and its values, by doping its athletes and using the Games as cover for their misdeeds and military invasions. 

The state’s disregard for fair play and level playing field in sport, using doping techniques that have been proven to enhance athletic performance is pathological. While the Olympics are the focus, it’s been in other sports. Through the movie “Icarus”, an American cyclist Bryan Fogel secretly teamed up with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a charismatic and kooky character who ran a Russian anti-doping lab. Rodchenkov had been orchestrating a widespread doping operation for Russian Olympic athletes. He specifically coordinated these efforts at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Rodchenkov claims that culpability for both the anti-doping program and the killings goes all the way up to Russian President Putin. Rodchenkov is now in a witness protection program in the US.

In 2008, Georgia was invaded during the Summer Olympics in Beijing. In 2014, Ukraine (Donbas and Crimea) was invaded during the Sochi Winter games. In 2022, during the Beijing Winter Games, Russia prepared to launch a second invasion of Ukrainewhich took place days after the Games ended. Commented a group of athletes: “The Russian state will again use athletes to bolster the war effort and distract from the atrocities in Ukraine.” 

In December 2019 Russia received a four-year ban from all major sporting events by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA); this includes the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and football’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Even in chess, where the Soviets were very good, there is evidence that players from the former Soviet Union acted as a cartel in international all-play-all tournaments – intentionally drawing against one another in order to focus effort on non-Soviet opponents – to maximize the chance of some Soviet winning. 

6. Trying to understand the Russian people

Speculating on the Russian people themselves is fraught with over simplification but some attempt must be made to shed some light. I’ll try it four different ways.

First of all, addressing the elites. Authoritarianism in Russia will likely outlast Putin. In the post–Cold War era, authoritarianism persisted past the exit of longtime leaders in roughly 75 percent of cases, according to recent research. Moreover, there is a strong chance that the elites who hold antagonistic views of the West will remain in power. According to the same research, a regime often remains intact after longtime leaders leave office – a prospect made more likely if Putin exits on account of natural death or an elite-led coup. Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s security services, especially the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, have become only more empowered and entrenched.

Secondly, Lawrence Martin said in his February 22 Globe and Mail opinion piece that when he was covering the Soviet Union as a journalist the hope was that, once the taste of freedom and democracy genie was out of the bottle during Mikhail Gorbachev’s groundbreaking reforms, it could never be put back in. But that postulate has not played out. The Russian people themselves, have been habituated to authoritarian rule for hundreds of years and Martin questions how much liberty they really do value. ”Americans, you might say, have had an anti-authority streak. Russians you might say the opposite – a submissive mindset that has developed over centuries of oppression”. Martin concludes, “Democratization under Mr. Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin has turned under Mr. Putin to something more akin to Stalinization. The freedom genie was jammed back into the bottle, leaving one to wonder how much it was really wanted by a people lacking a strong anti-authority streak to begin with.”

So then thirdly, I go to general Russian inclinations reflected by two words. The untranslatable word toska helps understand Russians. It could be described as “emotional anguish”, or melancholy of a particular kind, or “Russian ennui”, except none of the aforementioned fully conveys its essence. Here is what writer Vladimir Nabokov once wrote about toska: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, lovesickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.” Toska is part of their Russian identity. It is a unique feeling linked simultaneously to the nation’s complicated historical past, its numerous tribulations and harsh climate. 

Russians believe in sudba (fate), because they frequently use the term as a synonym for “life”. The idea that life’s journey takes a predetermined course has been overlaid so successfully on top of the Russian disinclination to obey rules and exercise self-restraint that, at some point, it has become a universal alibi. If a Russian is unwilling to make a decision, accept future consequences or make a sober risk assessment, he will invariably invoke sudba. “You can’t escape your fate [sudba],” is a popular phrase that absolves people of all responsibility. This is the root of Russians’ famous fatalism: Why undertake anything if everything is already known to be predetermined?

And finally, writing for the January 2024 issue of Harper’s magazine, Marzio Mian tried to explain the Russian mentality. “They’re not involved, so they do the same thing they were doing two years ago, one hundred years ago, two hundred years ago – marinating in their despair.” It’s referred to as “the Russian syndrome,” which is a mixture of nostalgia, melancholy, and affliction. “Putin is just the latest to exploit this passive attitude. Remember, Russians are agents of their destiny, not victims.”

7. The Solhenitsyn/Navalny Dissidents Factor

Before I am excoriated for condemning a whole nation with one sweeping brush, let me say that of course there are segments of the Russian population that are not dour, evil and wicked. I cite two individuals to make my point. The first is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer and prominent Soviet dissident who helped to raise global awareness of political repression in the Soviet Union, especially the Gulag prison system. His 1962 first novel, One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was an account of Stalinist repressions and brought the Soviet system of prison labour to the attention of the West. 

But it was his 1973 novel, The Gulag Archipelago, that was such a head-on challenge to the soviet state. Ploughing through the shocking Gulag, brings home the full nature of Soviet terror, of the inhumanness of the Soviet system of forced labour prisons that operated from 1918 to 1956. While his mystical belief in Russia’s destiny remains alien to most non-Russians, Solzhenitsyn, was staunchly in favour of letting the Soviet Union’s subject nations, including Ukraine, go their own way. 

While he wrote regarding his growing doubts about the moral foundations of the Soviet regime, he was also critical of the west, and if he were watching what’s now going on in the US, his criticisms would be justified. In a February 20 article in The Atlantic, Eliot Cohen took a very critical stance that he feels Solhenitsyn would have taken if he were still alive. He pointed out that we are now seeing the West’s inability to prevent the attack on a free country, nor even fully support it with all its considerable might as the war continues into its third year. He would be stunned at a nation that hints at a possible return to the presidency of one of the most corrupt and dangerous politicians in American history. He would see fear at punishing an Iranian regime that has repeatedly sought to kill American and Western people. He would see the West’s inability to prevent the murder, directly or indirectly, of a heroic dissident, Alexei Navalny.

Which takes me directly to Alexei Navalny. Most know his story, but what is important is that he was prepared to give his life to what he believed Russia could become. In recent years, Navalny became a cautionary tale for others who chose to challenge the Kremlin. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, the vehicle for his political activism, was dismantled and his allies were either imprisoned or scared into exile. However, with continued access to social media through his lawyers, Navalny was able to needle the Kremlin with acerbic humour. He spent his last days in a penal colony in the Arctic permafrost subjected to a regime of forced labour and solitary confinement. He described his ordeal in lyrical terms. “Prison [exists] in one’s mind,” he wrote from his cell in 2021. “And if you think carefully, I am not in prison but on a space voyage…to a wonderful new world.” We know enough about Putin to to be sure that his death was ordered by that man. Navalny will be celebrated as a man of remarkable courage. His life will be remembered for what it says about Putin, what it portends for Russia and what it demands of the world.

So it has to be said that here is a small, but quite remarkable sector of Russian society that does not flinch, that wishes and plans for a different future, that I call the The Solhenitsyn/Navalny Dissidents factor.

8. Now to Russian History.

I have extracted examples from Russia’s long history to support my thesis. I have included a more comprehensive list of key historical events in the attachments for perspective. (See “Russia, a Vile, Evil, and Disruptive State, Attachments”

1. The Putin Era, which I will deal with in three parts: 1. Putin himself, along with Russia in general, 2. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and 3. The Putin period, pre-war 2000 to 2022, February.

1a. Putin, and Russia in general

I won’t repeat my assessment of Putin, but just refer you to what I’ve previously written, which can be found at: Attachment #1, President Vladimir Putin. See:

I will add that, under Putin, Russia is not run like a normal state and decision-making is conducted more along the lines of an organized crime syndicate, where any weakness, including compromise, by the head can ultimately prove fatal.

Russia itself is a country with unparalleled natural resources and certainly human talent. (For some sense of its geography see the Attachments: But, as Professor Aurel Braun, professor of international relations at U of T said in the Globe and Mail last year, it “has not succeeded in creating a modern state that is resilient and economically competitive. Corrosive corruption has permeated its military. Russians on a per capita basis, are poorer than Romanians, suffer from a stagnant and inflexible economy and now face myriad, escalating Western sanctions that restrict access to vital technology and investments, deny travel and put at risk Russian overseas funds and assets.”

1b. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has to be considered evil in many ways. 

The initial unprovoked act has been compounded by a series of despicable actions taken by the Russian military. 

  • War crimes – the ICC has issued a warrant to arrest Putin: The fact that Putin himself has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and is under an arrest warrant, says a lot. Last March 17 the ICC issued a warrant to arrest Putin for war crimes involving tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including the mass abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children – clearly a war crime. This is a stunning development that demolishes his reputation for all time by accusing him personally of committing despicable acts involving kids, intentionally torn from their families and culture. Large-scale child abuse, based on ethnicity, constitutes genocide.
  • Putin and Russia have clearly committed genocide under the United Nations’ definition contained in Article II of the Convention: “Genocide is a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, or racial or religious group, in whole or in part.” Putin will go down in history, with Hitler and Pol Pot, as a monster who regarded his victim’s children as spoils of war. He, and his rotten regime, are barbaric on an unimaginable scale because, for the first time, their predations have been televised and photographed for all the world to see.
  • The degrading actions of his army in various theatres of the war. The day before ICC’s bombshell, a UN-based inquiry provided evidence of Russian war crimes. These involved the mass kidnappings, but also the atrocities against civilians in occupied regions who have been murdered, tortured, and inhumanly incarcerated. This included the initial hideous slaughter, rape, and torture of hundreds of civilians in Bucha outside Kyiv. Further discoveries of Russian torture centres in liberated towns in eastern and southern Ukraine featured electrocution equipment and standardized layouts. It indicated that Russia had adopted institutionalized rape, torture, kidnapping and murder to subdue Ukrainian citizens in Russian-occupied territory. Ukrainian prisoners of war have been routinely starved, beaten, castrated and murdered. 
  • Russia targets civilians to cower them into a political accommodation. Thousands of Russian missiles, drones and ballistic rockets have been launched at civilian infrastructure such as power plants, train stations, shopping malls, schools and hospitals. Putin likely hopes to demonstrate that Ukraine’s government cannot defend its people, and that eventually, the only possible outcome in this war is a Russian victory.
  • Putin appears undeterred by the blood on his hands, whether from enemy ranks or Russia’s own. Russia’s strategy has been to send wave after wave of troops to capture cities and towns, regardless of the losses. The latest estimate by Britain’s Ministry of Defence Russian soldier casualties is 70,000. Officials in America think it could be as high as 120,000 dead. This does not include the number of soldiers who are missing or those who have been badly wounded in combat. Based on leaked documents from America’s defence department, it is calculated that around three to four Russian soldiers are probably wounded for every one killed in battle. (The ratio of wounded-to-killed Ukrainian soldiers is much higher, between six and almost eight.) The latest death count would imply that somewhere between 290,000 and 460,000 Russian soldiers were out of action by the end of 2023 – similar to estimates of Russia’s entire invading force in February 2022. It is reckoned the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2022 stood at 70,000, but estimates vary, and Zelensky just publicly stated they have lost 31,000. The confirmed death toll for Ukrainian civilians is well over 10,000, with the true total believed to be far higher. 
  • Russia also treats its own military deaths poorly. Russians are in no hurry to take away the bodies of their own dead soldiers; it is said that they pack their remains in garbage bags. As awful as this looks, it is too similar to its past history to discount. Then there is the question of military losses: they certainly undercount their deaths and injuries. 
  • Russia has been deliberately shelling journalists covering the war; this constitutes a flagrant international humanitarian law violation and a war crime. 
  • The Russian concept of victory at any cost may be the ultimate answer in explaining some of their actions. This is the message conveyed for more than 70 years by the Soviets and the later Russian government. Victory in World War II, and the holiday of May 9 in Russia, grows each year more and more like a celebration than a day of remembrance – more of a carnival, than a time for memorials and mourning – even if the total death count is believed to exceed 26 million, including 12 million soldiers. 
  • Victory, in the psyche of the Kremlin, is more important than its price in millions of human lives. There are no individual heroes, just the cause of the nation. The Afghan war, historians agree, helped accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union, precisely because victory was out of the question. Mothers and wives simply received death notices, without any proud funerals of Soviet soldiers killed somewhere far away for some unknown reason. When these quiet funerals began to multiply by the thousands, it was impossible to hide the failure of the war effort. 
  • This is gradually happening in the current conflict. At the two-year mark of Putin’s war against its sovereign, democratic neighbour, Russia’s “capture by destruction” of Avdiivka is a metaphor for its approach to this war. As it became clear that Russia’s 10-day plan to politically subdue Kyiv and its government had failed, Russia decided that it would rather destroy Ukraine than allow it to exist as an example of self-determination and sovereign resilience for Russian citizens.

1c) The Putin era

Putin’s era has been increasingly marked by horrible acts. For a brief period the birth of democracy in Russia and Eastern Europe, thanks to the choices of Mikhail Gorbachev gave hope. Then along came Putin. He has taken his country in a dark, more authoritarian direction. Putin’s seemingly open contempt for killing (or trying to kill) people who he deems affecting Russia’s objectives as a nation. (This can go both ways. There have been many verified stories about the US, and Israel, and…fill in the blank. It’s just that Russia has been so blatant.) 

The list of his crimes would take up a whole book. The harsh truth is that Putin did not turn from a corrupt official into a terrorist. There is indeed no “evolution.” Putin from the very beginning was not just a thief, but a real bloodsucker. This is what the world could not or simply did not want to see. Putin has shown his true colours from the very earliest days. Russian military attacks constantly demonstrate Putin’s lack of humanity. In his language of power and his intolerance of dissent, Putin has come to resemble Stalin in his final phase in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Some examples from Putin’s years in power include:

  • 1999: The aftermath of the second attempt on Grozny, launched by Putin, was described by UN monitors as “a devastated…wasteland”
  • 1999: Putin’s reign began with apartment bombings during the Second Chechen War and were designed to boost Putin’s popularity. It is believed that these bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities were a false flag attack coordinated by the FSB in order to win public support for a new full-scale war in Chechnya and boosted Putin’s popularity in the lead-up to parliamentary elections
  • 2006: Many rightfully talked about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, but much less about the polonium murder (assassination) in London of Alexander Litvinenko.
  • 2015: The murder of reformist Boris Nemtsov became a landmark, but long before that, the security services killed an assortment of post-Soviet political chiefs over the years.
  • 2015: Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator. The Russian campaign has been criticized by numerous international bodies for indiscriminate aerial bombings across Syria that target schools and civilian infrastructures and carpet bombing of cities like Aleppo. In total, Russia may have killed between 14,000 and 24,000 civilians in Syria between 2015 and 2021, according to Airwars, an investigative group that tracks civilian harm in wars. In total, five million Syrians fled their country during this civil war and flooded into Europe and millions more ended up in refugee camps. The country essentially disappeared. There was an international outcry, but Russia was not crushed by sanctions, as were Iran and the Syrian governments. Putin hid its misdeeds behind his Wagner Group mercenaries.
  • 2019: The poisoning of a former Russian military officer and double agent for the British intelligence agency, and his daughter, in Salisbury, England – Sergei and his daughter, Yulia Skripal. (They survived.)
  • 2022, Feb: Brittney Griner, a US woman’s basketball star and a two-time Olympian, was given a 9 year drug conviction in a penal colony for the possession and smuggling of less than a gram of hashish oil. She had been detained in the days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. (The US subsequently released convicted Russian arms-trafficker Viktor Bout in an exchange for her.) 
  • 2022, March: Russia passed a censorship law that makes it illegal to publish what authorities deem false information about military operations in Ukraine. In response, many domestic news outlets ceased operations or left the country. 
  • 2023, March: The wrongful detention of The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich (the first such case of an American journalist detained for allegations of spying since the Cold War). Accusing Gershkovich of espionage may well have been motivated at least in part by fury that someone with a Russian background would dare report the truth about Russia. It must be especially galling for Russians of conscience to hear Putin using the antifascist language of World War II – the one feat of Soviet history that all its people are proud of – in the effort to destroy Ukraine. 
  • 2023, April: The condemnation of Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for treason – eerily reminiscent of measures from Soviet times. (Ironic as two of his great-grandfathers were executed as spies and “enemies of the people” during Stalin’s great purges.) He was a Russian opposition activist and Washington Post contributor. He survived what he characterized several years ago as two government attempts to poison him. He urged American lawmakers to expand economic sanctions against the Russian government under a landmark law known as the Magnitsky Act that was enacted by Congress in 2012 and expanded in 2016.
  • 2024, Feb: Involvement in the recent vicious attack on Israel by Iranian-supported Hamas. Russia (and Iran – both have stoked strife for years throughout the Middle East), is behind the massacre of Israelis on October 7 – which also happens to be Vladimir Putin’s birthday. The killers were members of Hamas, financed by Iran and trained by Russian mercenaries. Days after the atrocity, their leaders were praised in Tehran and some flew to Moscow to be feted. 
  • 2024, Feb: The horrible Navalny saga

2. Russia and the Cold War. 

The Cold War was generally considered to span from the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

  • 1945, Sept: Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk for the Soviet embassy to Canada, defected with 109 documents on the USSR’s espionage activities in the West. It awakened the people of North America to the magnitude and the danger of Soviet espionage
  • 1953: Joseph Stalin, one of history’s bloodiest rulers, dies. He ruled the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953, becoming one of the most powerful and murderous dictators in history. He was a communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism
  • 1954: USSR’s bid to join NATO was rejected. Moscow hit back, establishing an Eastern counterpart, dubbed the Warsaw Pact. The struggle for global dominance, known as the Cold War, really begins
  • 1956: A national uprising in Budapest, Hungary was defeated by Soviet tanks; 2,500 people were killed
  • 1961: Building of the Berlin Wall by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) that ideologically and physically divided Berlin. It was portrayed as protecting the Eastern Bloc from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people“ from building a socialist state in East Germany. It came down in 1989.
  • 1962: Cuban missile crisis when the US discovered Soviet missiles on Cuba, President John F. Kennedy demanded their removal and announced a naval blockade of the island; the Soviet leader Khrushchev acceded to the US demands a week later
  • 1968: Brezhnev sent Soviet tanks into Prague, Czechoslovakia to end the “Prague Spring” reform movement for national freedom
  • 1979: Start of Soviet War in Afghanistan – a contributing factor to the dissolution of the Soviet Union; they withdrew in 1989 
  • 1981: Martial law declared in Poland. While the tanks were Polish, the order to deploy them came from Moscow 
  • 1991, August: Referendum in Ukraine that led it to become an independent modern nation-state, effectively ending the USSR
  • 1991, Dec: Collapse of the Soviet Union. The presidents of the Russia Federation (Boris Yeltsin), Ukraine and Belarus meet and recognize each other’s Soviet Republics as independent nation-states (and told Gorbachev that the country he was head of no longer existed); the outcome, or the Belavezha Accords, put an end to the USSR, replacing it with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This collapse is a huge Putin issue
  • 1994: The Budapest Memorandum signed, obligating Russia and others to respect the sovereignty, independence, and existing borders of Ukraine. Ukraine was persuaded to give up the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world in exchange for guarantees for it’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. It prohibited the Russian Federation, the UK and the US from threatening or using military force or economic coercion against Ukraine. Had the Budapest Memorandum provided the guarantees of their country’s territorial integrity that the Ukrainians sought instead of mere assurances, Russia would have met with much greater obstacles to violating Ukraine’s borders, including in Crimea and the Donbas  
  • 1995, Dec-1996, Aug: The First Russian-Chechen war was a rebellion by the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria against the Russian Federation. Following the intense Battle of Grozny in 1994-1995, which concluded as a pyrrhic victory for the Russian federal forces (they destroyed much of the city and killed 20,000 civilians) their subsequent efforts to establish control over the remaining lowlands and mountainous regions of Chechnya were met with fierce resistance from Chechen guerrillas. Despite Russia’s considerable military advantages, the recapture of Grozny in 1996 significantly demoralized Russian troops. This development led Boris Yeltsin’s government to announce a ceasefire with the Chechens in 1996 and ultimately culminated in the signing of a peace treaty in 1997. It is estimated that the number of Russian military deaths was as high as 14,000; the number of Chechen military deaths was approximately 3,000-10,000; the number of Chechen civilian deaths was between 30,000 and 100,00
  • 1998: Putin’s career goes meteoric – he heads the KGB’s successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB) (after he becomes chief of Yeltsin’s presidential staff in 1997)
  • 1999: Start of the Second Chechen War. Much better organized and planned than in the first Chechen War: the Russian armed forces took control of most regions. Even today there are mass detentions and disappearances of young people in Chechnya, who are later found either in the police and officials’ offices, or not found at all. In Chechnya, there was no precise victory, great and shining, for the sake of which nothing was spared. Civilian casualties in Chechnya between 1999 and 2009 are incalculable and could amount to millions. The Russian army, especially during the second war, bombed civilian targets en masse, always claiming there were terrorists hiding there
  • 1999, New Year’s Eve: Yeltsin resigns, leaving power in the hands of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

3. Russia, World War II

  • By 1933, the totalitarian nature of Joseph Stalin’s regime presented an insurmountable obstacle to friendly relations with the West. Although World War II brought the US and Russia into alliance, based on the common aim of defeating Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union’s aggressive, antidemocratic policy toward Eastern Europe had created tensions even before the war ended. 
  • 1939: Throughout World War II Stalin played a cruel, manipulative, and uncompromising game. His cynical deal with Hitler in August (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact or the Hitler-Stalin Pact) allowed the Soviet Union to take Poland and the Baltic States and pushed the European democracies into a draining war with Germany. Poland was partitioned between them; they marked out their “spheres of influence” across Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. Stalin covertly partnered with Hitler to re-arm Nazi Germany 
  • 1939, Nov: The Winter War (or the First Soviet-Finnish War), between the Soviet Union and Finland was deemed illegal; it ended after 3 1/3 months with the Moscow Peace Treaty. Despite superior military strength the Soviet Union suffered severe losses and initially made little headway. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the organization on December 14, 1939
  • 1940, May: The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia prisoners of war carried out by the Soviet Union, specifically the NKVD (the Soviet secret police) 
  • 1940, June: Russia annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and deported some 95,000 of their citizens to Siberia
  • 1944, May: Stalin deported the entire Crimean Tatar nation – roughly 200,000 people – from its homeland. The deportation is remembered as “the Exile”, an event of brutal dispossession and mass death. Thousands of the deportees died over the course of the journey from inhumane conditions, lack of water and food, and vicious treatment by Stalin’s NKVD. Thousands more perished from hunger, exposure, and disease in “special settlement camps” in Central Asia and Siberia, where they languished for nearly half a century
  • 1945, February: The Yalta Conference (or Crimea Conference) was the meeting of the heads of government of the US, the UK and the Soviet Union (Joseph Stalin) to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany and Europe. Here the Soviets agreed to join the UN because of a secret understanding of a voting formula with a veto power for permanent members of the Security Council, which ensured that each country could block unwanted decisions.Other countries in Central and Eastern Europe were occupied and converted into Soviet-controlled satellite states (the people’s Republic of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovak, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, East Germany). Stalin also did not honour his promise of free elections for Poland
  • 1945. April: In the Battle for Berlin, there are horrific stories of rape by Russian soldiers of the German women (a taboo subject in Russia even today); counter stories of German soldiers raping Russian women abound

4. Russia, WWI to WWII

  • 1917: Bolshevik Revolution, following which Russia withdrew from WWI, effectively abandoning allies (including Canada) and prolonging the conflict for them. As a result, the Bolshevik regime was not recognized by allied governments, nor were Bolshevik leaders invited to peace negotiations at Paris that resulted in the Treaty of Versailles
  • 1917, Dec: Cheka, the first of a succession of Soviet secret-police organizations known for conducting the Red Terror, was established by the highest executive authorities of the state. At the direction of Vladimir Lenin, the Cheka performed mass arrests, imprisonments, torture, and executions without trial. In 1921, the Troops for the Internal Defence of the Republic (a branch of the Cheka) numbered at least 200,000. They policed Labour camps, ran the Gulag system, conducted requisitions of food, and put down rebellions and riots by workers and peasants and mutinies in the Red Army
  • 1918 July: The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Nicholas II of Russia, his wife Alexandra, and their five children) were shot and bayoneted to death by Bolshevik revolutionaries 
  • 1922: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was born. Joseph Stalin becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; by the 1930s Stalin consolidated power to become a dictator
  • 1923, Nov: The forced labour camp of Solovki served as a prototype for the Russian Gulag (a system of forced labour camps). It was set up on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea as a remote and inaccessible place of detention, primarily intended for socialist opponents of Soviet Russia’s new Bolshevik regime. Its remote situation made escape almost impossible and in Tsarist times the monastery in which it was housed had been used, on occasion, as a political prison by the Russian imperial administration
  • 1932-1933: Stalin’s Soviet Union caused a famine, leading to devastation in both Russia and Ukraine. For the latter, three million died in what is known as the Holodomor – Stalin’s reaction to rebellion from Ukranian peasantry 
  • 1936, Aug-1938, March: The Great Purge (called also the Great Terror) was Soviet General Secretary Stalin’s campaign to solidify his power over the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the state by eliminating his rivals by the use of imprisonment and execution. Scholars estimate the death toll for the Great Purge to be roughly 700,000. In particular, the purges were designed to remove the remaining influence of Leon Trotsky. They occurred with the most prominent feature being show trials of leading Bolshevik party members. However, a considerable proportion of the country’s population was affected as well.

5. Russia, Pre WWI

  • Russia in its 1,000 year plus history has never had democracy (except for Yeltsin’s attempts in the 1990s that resulted in gangster capitalism, economic collapse, devalued ruble and 80% inflation; the early years of Putin were another short-lived attempt) 
  • 9th-12th century: Kievan Rus – a powerful East Slavic state dominated by the city of Kiev. Shaped in the 9th century it went on to flourish for the next 300 years. The empire is traditionally seen as the beginning of Russia. Vladimir the Great (980-1015) had consolidated the Rus’ realm from modern-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to the Baltic Sea and had solidified the frontiers against incursions.
  • 13th century: Kievan Rus was invaded by the Tatars. Their state, the Empire of the Golden Horde, ruled over Russian lands for almost three centuries
  • 1547: Ivan IV (the Terrible), who was also Grand Duke of Moscow, became the first Tsar. He crushed the Tatar stronghold of Kazan in 1552. The campaign began Russia’s expansion into Siberia, annexing a large Muslim population
  • 1613: The nobles chose Mikhail Romanov, one of the closest surviving relatives of the royal family, as Tsar. The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until the 1917 Revolution brought an end to the Tsarist state
  • 1696: Peter the Great became Russia’s de facto ruler; he transformed Russia into a European state. In 1703 he started his most dramatic project – a brand new capital on the Gulf of Finland. At tremendous human and financial cost, St. Petersburg sprang up. Peter assumes the title of Emperor in 1721 and Russia officially became the Russian Empire
  • 1762: Catherine II (Catherine the Great) came to power in a coup d’état against her husband
  • 1812: Napoleon leaves Moscow (Russian attacks; lack of food and shelter; bitter cold)
  • 1848: The Communist Manifesto by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; recognized as one of the world’s most influential political documents. It presents an analytical approach to the class struggle and the conflicts of capitalism
  • 1861: Tsar Alexander II (the Liberator-Tsar), freed 20 million serfs (arguably the single most important event in 19th century Russian history); something to commend

This is has been just a sampling from Russian history. (The Attachment goes further, for you history buffs.) There is a pattern!

3 thoughts on “Russia, a Vile, Evil, and Disruptive State (Part 2) ”

  1. Oh Ken! You are brilliant! Thank you for sharing this with us/me. I will certainly pass it on to our kids and a some of my reasonable friends.

    Your analysis and insight into this unholy mess our world is in is amazing. How I wish we could find light at the end of the tunnel. How can sane people idolize freaks like Putin and Trump?

    Where is an assassin when the world needs one? Trump and Putin would be at the top of my hit list! The world is a scary place right now! Just wait until the Alberta attack dog, Pollievre becomes our next PM….OMG angry and ranting red faced, all the time!!!!

    We have a rough time ahead. What a world mess we are leaving our children and grandchildren!!

    Hugs to you and Pen!

    I am appalled that people I used to consider. brilliant are Trump ardent fans and discussion support his every move and hang on his every word!!! It is like mass hypnotism. I would love to send your blog to them, but there is no reasoning woth them and if their US daughter’s inlaws are Republicans, there is simply no





  3. Ken, Again a tour de force! I have just one issue where I might disagree. Putin’s war crimes and the removal of Ukrainian children:

    I am reluctant to call this genocide. That word is in danger of losing some of its meaning, especially in Canada. At the end of the Second War, Greece had a civil war. Although the Soviet Union had agreed at the Yalta Conference not to interfere in Greece, she did. Just as in the Ukraine, she stole thousands of Greek children and took them to Russia for indoctrination, with the intention of returning them after they had been thoroughly indoctrinated. I think this may be the same thing that Putin is attempting, in which case I wouldn’t call it genocide. But I may be very wrong.

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