eXile on Putin

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Sun Apr 30 10:42:22 PDT 2000

[I think the date should be April 30. From Johnson's Russia List.]

YET ANOTHER LONG-WINDED OP-ED ABOUT PUTIN By Mark Ames the eXile March 30th www.exile.ru

There used to be so much at stake.

For us here at the eXile, the battle in Russia between the reformists and the anti-reformists was like one of those ruthless Cold War-era proxy wars: Angola, Nicaragua, Cambodia... we'd often side with the vilest of militia leaders because the most important thing was to prevent the opponent from metastasizing any further, from pushing you farther back.

Russia, we hoped, would be our paradigmatic Stalingrad; the cubicle partitions would be turned back somewhere around Khimki

either that, or what remained of the cubicle-free world would be partitioned for good. We had reason to be optimistic: The Russians destroyed Napoleon and Hitler - surely they could fend off Dilbert, capture him, and return his cartoon corpse to his American votaries, mutilated and disfigured as a warning to all that the Cubicle World stops at Smolensk, right?

Wrong. You can't fight Dilbert. It's like trying to fight The Gap. You may as well try to strangle gravity. You just can't do it. In fact, the only way to kill The Gap is to kill yourself. This is the only thing The Gap fears: a lost market, a Dead Unisex Soul (or Mertvaya Odnopolaya Dusha) no longer capable of consuming.

Two years ago, Russia did precisely that - it committed suicide and sent The Gap packing for Prague. By August 1998, the Battle of Stalingrad had arrived. But instead of a spectacular, Blake-ean cataclysm, Russia simply went limp

and eventually, so did we. But just when there was limpness all around, out of the shriveled, numb foreskin of Russia, there appeared Vladimir Putin.

We're not digressing here, much as we'd like to. This whole Putin thing is so degrading and depressing that our spleens tell us the only way to fight it is to ignore it. Because if there's one thing that has been more annoying in recent months than the American media's blatant whitewashing of the Putin phenomenon, it's all those long-winded, meaningless, hand-lotion-lubed op-ed pieces and analyses, each struggling to differentiate itself from all the other hyper-clever analyses by employing a surfeit of clever tropes and by pimping a metaphor or coining a phrase it is hoped will be widely adopted, thereby allowing its inventor access to even more publications. To reach a self-perpetuating state of reprodublication, to coin a phrase.

We don't have a fresh angle to offer on Putin - in fact, we're purposely, even aggressively unoriginal in our interpretation of him. Because to be original and witty when discussing a purely manufactured phenomenon is to play into its sponsors' hands, helping to further cloak the creature within. On the other hand, readers of our newspaper, particularly the web version, have been increasingly harassing us with questions of the "What The Hell's Happening Over There?" sort, and now that we're planning to hit the road for a five-week book tour of America, we decided that we'd probably save everyone a lot of sweat if we tried to answer your questions in advance.

So here's what we're going to do. We're going to put away our metaphors and Thesauri, and just lay our cards right out on the table for you folks, so's you knows exactly where we stands - who's a friend, and who's an enemy.

Here then, is our list of the 10 MOST POPULAR AND BLATANT MYTHS ABOUT VLADIMIR PUTIN that the Western media is overtly or covertly foisting onto its clients, and the facts that belie them. We do this not to show how much our Putin differs from the conventional portrayal, but rather to demonstrate how utterly recognizable and unmysterious he is. And to shut you up. Along the margins of this virtual wonk-lead, we'll also be publishing utterly extraneous material to demonstrate our disdain for the whole new Putinology industry - not because we honestly loathe it, but because it makes us appear cooler and more indifferent than we really are. And hopefully, it will stop people with too much time on their hands from bothering us with weighty questions about What's Really Going On Over Here.


Fact: Putin is a quintessential functionary, a bloodless mediocrity whose record in the KGB would be almost laughable - if it weren't so borderline-sinister. His superiors decided to park him in friendly East Germany like some Gomer Pyle who needed to be protected from himself, where Putin dithered in what for his directorate was the equivalent of a provincial Siberian post, while his more successful peers were slipping across NATO borders in Western clothes and cars, dining in fine restaurants, and swapping dollars for documents. From there, Putin began an astonishingly slow ascent that would have been the equivalent to getting "put out to pasture" in today's corporate world. For his services, he was awarded a bronze medal for his covert work in Leipzig, where even the local brew-house wenches mockingly referred to the notoriously beer-shy spook as "Vladi The Spy."

Putin's former boss, ex-KGB General Oleg Kalugin, called him a "mediocrity" and "totally Soviet" in his approach to governance.


Fact: As Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, Putin oversaw the complete and total criminalization (including the takeover of potentially lucrative ports by the Tambov Mafia) of a vibrant city that was poised to become Tallinn times ten. If Putin's career as a spy only earned him a bronze medal consolation prize, then his career as a corrupt official would earn him a string of golds (which would explain his supposedly mysterious rise to the top):

(a) In 1992, he oversaw approval of lucrative export licenses, the proceeds from which were supposed to fund food aid to needy Petersburg residents; instead, several million dollars in profits disappeared. Putin was accused of personally enriching himself, and the local city council requested his dismissal;

(b) Arranged contracts and soft credits for the shady Twenty Trust construction company, which received millions of dollars for work that was never completed and loans that were never repaid; although Twenty Trust did manage to build Putin a $600,000 dacha;

(c) In the corruption case against his former boss Anatoly Sobchak, it was learned that Putin's mother was given a prime Petersburg apartment almost for free; even though Sobchak admitted that it was "absolutely true" and that he was merely helping out "poor old mothers" like Putin's mom, the case against him was dropped when Putin was plucked from Pavel Borodin's side and appointed head of the FSB in 1998;

(d) Was brought to Moscow in 1996 to serve under Pavel Borodin, who is wanted in Switzerland for money laundering in the infamous Mabatex scandal; it is impossible to believe that the career spy and law graduate Vladimir Putin, as Borodin's trusted second-in-command, was unaware of Borodin's dirty dealings with Mabatex;

(e) Secured and released the video of "someone resembling" then-General Prosecutor Yuri Skuratov boning two Russian whores, then forged a criminal case against him, a move which snuffed out Skuratov's investigations into oligarchic corruption and money laundering, and which led to his replacement by a pliant prosecutor who subsequently dropped the high-level war on corruption;

(f) Named Mikhail Kasyanov as his second-in-command; Kasyanov, nicknamed "two-percent Misha" for his debt-manipulation swindle in cahoots with Yeltsin Family scam artist Alexander Mamut (who heads the tainted Sobinbank and MDM-bank), is believed to have been involved in developing the scheme by which state money was laundered in Swiss banks through Mabatex going back to 1996, when the de facto head of government worked in the Finance Ministry;

(g) Why doesn't Putin mention the Bank of New York scandal? Because he and his sponsors ARE the BoNY scandal.


Fact: Putin was manufactured and installed by the oligarchs in order to protect them and their interests.

His political party, Unity, was created, funded, and marketed by Boris Berezovsky, the so-called Godfather of Russia, and Roman Abramovich, who has sometimes been called the man behind the man, and was so frightening that even the Russian media was too nervous to publish his picture until he decided to run for a seat in the Duma; for their services, Berezovsky and Abramovich were allowed to seize control of most of Russia's aluminum industry. Putin is said to be close to Alfa's Peter Aven, whom he met back in 1992; his presidential campaign headquarters and economic think tank are located on property owned by SBS-Agro's Alexander Smolensky; RAO-UES head Anatoly Chubais, a fellow Petersburger, has played a key role in advising Putin and bringing him to power and prominence, and has been fighting with Berezovsky for Putin's favor (sound familiar?).


Fact: It is entirely possible that Putin (or, more likely, his sponsors) blew up his own citizens' apartment buildings and, led Berezovsky and Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, staged an invasion of Dagestan and the subsequent second Chechen War in order to rally public support. His Unity party faction in the Duma voted to quash an investigation into an incident in Ryazan last September when FSB agents were caught planting hexagen bombs in the basement of an apartment building. The FSB later said that their agents were merely testing the local police and citizenry for their vigilance, and Putin has led the fight to quash any further inquiries.


Fact: Putin's attitude towards foreigners is no different from that of any other Russian bureaucrat.

Do you know any Westerner who made a bundle in St. Petersburg, operating in an environment known for its respect for law, while Putin was its Deputy Mayor and top liason with foriegn investors? We don't. But we do know a few famous stories of big-time foreigner fleecing, right under Putin's stunted chin. Subway, one of the world's largest fast-food chains (second only to McDonald's), opened an outlet in 1994 to great fanfare, with plans to open at least thirty more. Within months, the Russian partner had stolen the business from the Americans; subsequent rulings by both the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and the Russian Supreme Court awarding almost $2 million dollars in compensation to the fleeced Americans were totally ignored, and meanwhile the stolen restaurant was allowed to freely operate just a hop, skip, and a jump from Putin's office. Also while deputy mayor, he oversaw the Kremlin-managed appropriation of an expensive dacha owned by German citizen Franz Sedelmeyer, which sent shockwaves through Petersburg's expatriate community. When a Russian court subsequently ruled that the government should compensate Sedelmeyer to the tune of $2.3 million dollars, Putin is alleged to have responded, "Tchya, and sauerkraut might fly out of my butt." Shortly after he was named to head the FSB in July of 1998, it is believed that top Russian officials and oligarchs stole an emergency $4.8 billion IMF stabilization loan, spiriting the entire sum out of the country. During Putin's tenure as prime minister, BP Amoco accused the Russian government of colluding with Tyumen Oil Company to strip BP of valuable assets in rigged bankruptcy proceedings, a process that was only reversed when the U.S. government and media intervened with unprecedented hysteria and pressure.


Fact: Putin is a chinless, five-foot-six snitch wrapped (by his dumpy wife) inside ridiculously oversized herringbone double-breasted suits, incongruous Zegna ties, and platform shoes, which make him look like an overzealous David Byrne groupie crashing a singles party at the Lodge.


Fact: Putin is a bureaucrat.


Fact: Putin is a bureaucrat.


Fact: "A Sukhoi-27 is the cheapest[!], safest[!!!], fastest, way to fly [from Sochi] to Grozny... Frankly, the last thing I think about is symbols." - Putin on why he hitched a ride into Chechnya in the backseat of an Su-27 on the eve of Russia's presidential elections.


Fact: The Russian population no longer counts. They were brainwashed in a media campaign so savagely manipulative it made the Goebbels' propaganda machine look like a creaky horse-and-buggy by comparison; with the opposition destroyed, fear of a resurgent KGB checking people's will to dissent, and a manufactured war and terrorism threat gripping the nation, there was no choice left. There is as much genuine enthusiasm for Putin as there was for any other "elected" official during Soviet times: it's called resignation.

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