Sunday, June 28, 2015


Properly The Russian Federation, which name is also an indication of its imperial aspirations.

Best looked at through the eyes of - you can do that for yourself; it's worth the effort.

But Russia is not really a country; it is simply the home of President, sometimes Prime Minister, unofficially Czar, and residually Comrade Vladimir Putin; it is just that his home is very large, extending as it does from Europe in the west to Siberia in the east. Putin's personal website makes for fascinating reading (

"Vladimir Putin was born on October 7, 1952, in Leningrad," it begins, and then, as has tended to be the story of his rule, it shifts very quickly to focus on the first person singular, the I-that-matters: "I come from an ordinary family, and this is how I lived for a long time, nearly my whole life. I lived as an average, normal person and I have always maintained that connection".

Average and normal are, of course, terms impossible to define, but still, I doubt whether too many people in Russia, other than the billionaire oligarchs who stole its resources when the Soviet Union collapsed, have ever lived remotely like Comrade Putin - which, incidentally, is not supposed to be pronounced as though it were a French word, like raisin or Africain or ignorantin.

"Vladimir Putin’s mother, Maria Shelomova, was a very kind, benevolent person," the website continues to bake blintzes in the Russian style (much yeast, much cheese, lots of raisins as a sweetener). "We lived simply - cabbage soup, cutlets, pancakes, but on Sundays and holidays my Mom would bake very delicious stuffed buns [pirozhki] with cabbage, meat and rice, and curd tarts [vatrushki]," Mr Putin says. The phrase from "my Mom" to "curd tarts" is then posted a second time, in a large box, in much the same way that a website dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, say, might pull out "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time", or one dedicated to Winston Churchill might highlight "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." But this, the pirozhki and the curd tarts, this is Vladimir Putin's most noteworthy contribution to the intellectual aphorisms of political philosophy. And note the glorification of the Putin mother into upper case Mom.

By the time you have read this far into the biography, you should have become both bored and cognisant that the website is as unlikely to reveal anything of value as is his reign as Czar of all the Russias. But you are wrong. Somewhat further down it is revealed that "In 1970, Vladimir Putin became a student of law department at Leningrad State University, earning his degree in 1975. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mr Putin studied at KGB School No. 1 in Moscow." No. 1. Not just any KGB school. The elite of the KGB. Where they don't teach grammar alongside poisoning their enemies ("student of the law department....).

After graduating from Leningrad State University, Putin was assigned to work in the state security agencies. "My perception of the KGB was based on the idealistic stories I heard about intelligence." (Does he mean James Bond here? Grahame Green? John Le Carr̩? Bay of Pigs? The Blunt-Philby-Burgess-Maclean quartet?) He was first appointed to the Directorate secretariat, then the counter-intelligence division, where he worked for about five months. Half a year later, he was sent to operations personnel retraining courses - which leads me to ask why he needed retraining; had he failed that badly after the first attempt? "Mr Putin spent another six months working in the counter-intelligence division." That was when he drew attention from foreign intelligence officers. "Fairly quickly, I left for special training in Moscow, where I spent a year. Then I returned again to Leningrad, worked there in the First Main Directorate Рthe intelligence service. That directorate had branches in major cities of the Soviet Union, including Leningrad. I worked there for about four and a half years."

"Then Mr Putin returned again to Moscow to study at the Andropov Red Banner Institute, where he was trained for his trip to Germany. Having completed his studies at the Andropov Institute, Putin left for East Germany in 1985 and worked there until 1990." Between 1985 and 1990, Vlad the Impaler worked in East Germany, serving at the local intelligence office in Dresden. "Over the course of his service, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and to the position of senior assistant to the head of the department. In 1989, he was awarded the bronze medal issued in the German Democratic Republic, 'For Faithful Service to the National People’s Army'. After returning to Leningrad from Germany in 1990, he became assistant to the rector of Leningrad State University in charge of international relations. In 1996, he and his family moved to Moscow, where his political career began. Starting in June 1991, Putin began work as Chairman of the Committee for International Relations at the St Petersburg City Hall, and from 1994, concurrently held the position of Deputy Chairman of the St Petersburg City Government."

"In 1996" - I am simply continuing to quote his website, with as few interjections as my forked tongue can restrain - "Vladimir Putin moved with his family to Moscow, where he was offered the post of Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Directorate. 'I would not say that I did not like Moscow, but simply that I liked St Petersburg more. But Moscow was very obviously a European city,' Putin recalled. His career rise was rapid. In March 1997, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office and Chief of Main Control Directorate." Busy with work as he was, he still found time to defend his doctoral thesis on economics at the St Petersburg State Mining Institute. In May 1998, Putin was made First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, and in July 1998, he was appointed Director of the Federal Security Service. From March 1999, he also held the position of Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. In August 1999, Putin was appointed prime minister of the Russian Government. The post was offered to him by then President Boris Yeltsin, who probably didn't know he had done this, as he was more than likely drunk at the time.

As Putin later recalled, "Mr Yeltsin invited me to come and see him and said that he wanted to offer me the prime minister’s job." (It is interesting that "prime minister" appears in lower case on the website, while "Mom" and "President" appear in upper case). "Incidentally, he never used the word 'successor' in his conversation with me then, but spoke of becoming 'prime minister with prospects', and said that if all went well, he thought this could be possible". Putin described his time in the prime minister’s office as an honour and an interesting experience. "I thought then, if I can get through a year that will already be a good start. If I can do something to help save Russia from falling apart then this would be something to be proud of."

Unfortunately, Comrade Putin has done absolutely nothing to save Russia from falling apart, though he has done a great deal to re-establish the Soviet Union under the alias of the Russian Federation, and very soon, no doubt, he will have the constitution changed, so that he can stand for election as Czar Romanov Putin the First. With Kiev, presumably, as his royal capital.

And finally, though it is not in his website, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, as Mark Haddon titled his splendid book about something completely different. It was January 21st 2007 and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, was visiting Putin at his Presidential residence in Sochi to discuss energy trade. Putin was well aware that Merkel is terrified of dogs. As soon as the press were gathered for the joint interview with the two leaders, Putin summoned his favourite dog, an extremely large, black Labrador, which sniffed Merkel's legs, while Putin grinned, and Merkel performed her best imitation of dementia. She recovered enough to tell one of the American journalists, "I understand why he has to do this — to prove he's a man. He's afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this."

Now that is a quote that should be pulled out and put in a box.

"I understand why he has to do this — to prove he's a man. He's afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this." German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Vladimir Putin.

Marks for: 1 (as in Czar Putin the First)

Marks against: as above

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