Move Over Agatha Christie, Make Way for Vladimir Putin
If you have enjoyed the thrill and suspense of Agatha Christie, Lee Child, Henning Mankell, Robert Ludlum, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, then Putin’s People will not disappoint.
Full of drama, suspense and intrigue, this book about Putin’s People (Putin’s Netz in German), is a fascinating account of how the Soviet Union became today’s Russia; and how Putin and his close buddies outsmarted, and probably continue to outsmart, the West.
Putin’s People shows how the break-up of the Soviet Union and the rash move toward capitalism, with the privatisation of state assets, created the first cohort of Billionaire Oligarchs – where a handful of Billionaires would together own the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. This was possible because Russia is an oil- and gas-rich country, requiring huge investments to explore and refine, making it relatively easy for a few owners to control much wealth (oil and Gas exploration not being amenable to micro, small, medium-sized enterprises. In so doing, the original and key state actors, such as the KGB, became disenfranchised and plotted, with Putin, the ‘great comeback’, where the ‘commanding heights’ – the oil, gas, banking and trade sectors were ‘returned’ to the hands of the ‘protectors’, thereby creating an alternative, and perhaps more greedy, set of Oligarchs. Putin’s People estimated that Russia’s GDP was US$1.6 Trillion and Putin and his KGB men had half as much or more stashed away in offshore bank accounts.
Catherine Belton’s book, Putin’s People is a must read for all those who wish to better understand the world. It has a number of lessons for all of us.
Here are some nuggets:
- The Perfect Lie
It is amazing how those that are in power; those that continue to pillage the country’s wealth, can convince themselves that they are correct; that they are doing the right thing; that they are acting in the interest of the people; that they are ‘protecting’ their Fatherland. This is exactly what Putin and the KGB believed when they reigned in the ‘runaway capitalism’ Gorbachev unleashed and replaced it with their own form of ‘state capitalism’. Except they saw the state and themselves as one and the same – so it was OK to have the country’s wealth and assets in their personal names and bank accounts, all held off-shore, of course.
- Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
When the Government and Judiciary act as one, and laws can be made and broken at will, anything and everything are possible. Anyone can go to jail or assassinated at any time; no one is ‘safe’ unless they ‘tow the line’. Lives can be taken; citizens can be bombed; assets can be seized; and you can even be thrown in jail for as long as they like. A brilliant example of this is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man at US$15 billion, aged 40, who was jailed by Putin for fourteen years. Khodorkovsky’s life story in his latest film Citizen K which is currently featured on Amazon Prime.
- Democracy Can be Bought
At the end of the day, governments and societies are made of people, human beings. And human beings are both fallible and buyable. Having lots of money to ‘play’ with, Putin could afford to buy votes; to buy people; to seed a strong military. Putin was even able to pay off the British Lords and win the favour of the British People through their favourite game, football. Don’t be surprised to find Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Chancellors (past and present) on his payroll.
Even businesspeople are paid huge fortunes to use their name truly believe they are worth it. The former US president, Donald Trump, for example was paid enormous monthly ‘consultancy’ fees plus an 18% ownership stake in major construction projects, just for the use of the name, Trump. Trump, too, honestly believed that he and his name were just so valuable. There are no limits to the size of one’s ego. And if you think that you are so valuable, why not run for President too? Not surprising, the Russian government/KGB toasted to his trumping of Hilary Clinton in the US presidential elections – he was indeed seen as ‘one of theirs’.
- The Ego (Pen-is) is Mightier than the Sword
One of the lessons that Putin shows is that ‘everyone has his price’: even the most loyal, democratic, and pious leaders. The methods of massaging the ego are ever so subtle and potent. Can you imagine that British Lords, Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Chancellors honestly believed that being paid an annual fee of US$500,000 to sit on a Russian State Oil Company Board was ‘an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’? These persons that are ‘bought’ truly believe that they have some innate or God-given talents that are in such high demand, that they hardly realise that they are being used as part of a bigger, more sinister plot. This certainly appears to be the case of Germany’s former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder who was paid handsomely to sit on one of the Oil Boards that cemented the ominous over-dependence of Germany on cheap Russian oil.
- Resource-Rich Countries, Beware!
Russia has the largest gas reserve in the world and is also the world’s largest gas exporter. Russia also has the second largest coal reserves, the sixth largest oil reserves, and is one of the largest producers of oil.
Governments of resource-rich countries invariably control the value, volume, allocation, and distribution of revenues from the exploitation of their resources. States become all-powerful and all-corrupt.
Corruption is hard to avoid as the stakes are very high: there is invariably competition for the right to exploit resources; the rights to deliver the contracts; the rights to distribute the benefits.
- Profit Trumps Democracy
With the vast wealth pipeline that Russian Oil and Gas meant in terms of investments, exploration, distribution, finance, and ownership, Governments and investors were willing to ‘close an eye’ to any incursions on democracy once they stand to ‘benefit’. This is no different from China and its Uyghurs. We continue to trade with China, and give them a slap on the wrist for the human rights violations
- What does Football have to do with it …. Everything!
When Abramovich purchased the Chelsea football club in 2003 for US$233 million, this was a ‘way in’ for the British public to grow to like Russia, and for the London City to feel more comfortable with Russian money, investors, neighbours, and new citizens. This was such an opportune investment that it bought Russia enough ‘goodwill’ to host the FIFA Football World Cup in 2018. Priceless!
- And Now Ukraine…
It appears that Putin did not get over the break-up of the Soviet Empire and always harboured visions of bringing back their Near Abroad territories under its fold – Make the Soviet Great Again (MASA!) The invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was, for Russia, a way to achieve its long-range plan of annexing these Near Abroad territories, but Ukraine was not a ‘walk over’ as he had hoped.
- How Many More Must Die?
In the words of a Trinidad Calypso by the Mighty Duke – How many More Must Die? How is it possible that a country can be so wealthy, owning huge stacks of natural resources, creating Billionaires of the few while the majority of its people are so miserably poor, and now forced to fight a war that they do not want because they do not want to die? Already this October, some 200,00 Russians have been conscripted to fight the War, while 300,000 fled to avoid conscription, reported The Economist. It appears that Russia not only has lots of ‘money to burn’, but also, lots of ‘people to die’.
Would it not be wiser to spend more money on uplifting the people in your country, rather than buying influence abroad, peddling Autocracy, creating mayhem and destabilising democracies (by funding parties to the Right and Left; fuelling Brexit; spreading Fake News, etc.)?
What is the value of Empire, Glory, Ego and Personal Aggrandisement, when most of your citizens are cold and hungry? How much longer will Russian citizens continue to live under these conditions? Is it that they do not know better?; that they are so brain-washed that they do not even believe their own children, family, friends and relatives that now live abroad?
- The End, the Beginning, or a Continuation?
Is the war in Ukraine the beginning, a continuation or the end of Putin’s systematic social, economic, political, technological and cultural onslaught on the West. And how far will Putin go? What do you think?
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Dr. Auliana Poon
Dr. Auliana Poon is the founder and Managing Director of Leve Global and Exceptional Caribbean.
Auliana loves the Caribbean and believes in its people. Her personal mission is to change the world; to transform our societies. And this is precisely why she has spearheaded Exceptional Caribbean – a continuing mission to elevate tourism, trade and lives.
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