Monday, January 13, 2014

The Empire strikes back

Vladimir Putin is a product of the most ruthless elements of the Soviet era. The KGB and its predecessors took human torment to new levels of barbarity in the name of the relentless will of Marxism. Now VVP- as he is known in most of Russia- chooses to operate these same ruthless dictates in the name of a Conservative, Orthodox world view. Yet, in reality both Marxism and Conservative Orthodoxy are both ideas that do not accept challenge, let alone compromise. In the Russian world view, the Slavophile tradition that has always rejected the freedoms of Western Liberalism and which has been reborn under Putin, has much in common with the anti-Western agenda of Communism. We should not be surprised.

As a student of Marxism-Leninism and as a loyal officer of the KGB, Putin has been well schooled in two other traditions: conspiracy and deception. From the earliest days of his rise to power, one can detect elements of both. There are many unexplained episodes and considerable evidence that the Russian secret police- now no longer called the KGB- has used criminal ends to blacken the name of its enemies. The bombings that took place in 1999, and which cemented the coming to power of Putin, for example, have been convincingly linked to KGB operatives, rather than the putative Dagestan Liberation Army which had never been identified before- or since. Ruthless in nature and determined to achieve his strategic goals, Putin is a formidable foe.

As far as the UK is concerned, there is no doubt that Putin is an implacable enemy. He regards Britain as an historic competitor with Russia for influence and control in Europe. As a nationalist and conservative figure, he regards British traditions of tolerance and openness with something close to contempt: "a small island no one listens to" as one senior Putinist official said last year. David Cameron is known to personally detest Putin, and the feeling is clearly mutual. 

This is why the story that appeared in Scottish newspapers over the weekend, suggesting that David Cameron had asked Putin for help in averting Scottish independence, is both much less and possibly much more than it appears. The source for the story is ITAR-Tass, the Russian state news agency, which, after the closure of RIA Novosti, is little more than a propaganda organ for the Putinist state. This story is then a direct intervention by Russia in the debate over Scottish independence and far from Russia being approached to save the UK, it is an attempt by Putin to discredit the UK Prime Minister. Number 10 have laughed the ITAR-Tass story out of court, and for once their denials have the ring of truth.

The break up of the UK would be a massive strategic victory for Putin- and would be way beyond anything the most Slavophile nineteenth century Russian nationalist could have hoped for. As a good conspirator, Putin knows perfectly well that he is unpopular in much of Western Europe and that an association of David Cameron with Putin would be very damaging to the British Prime Minister- which is of course precisely why ITAR Tass has run the story.

Neither is this the only intervention that Russians have made in Scotland in recent years- the mysterious figure of the supposedly Lithuanian, but actually Russian, banker Vladimir Romanov is alleged to have been a Russian agent of influence. Romanov's 2005 purchase of Hearts, the Edinburgh football club with many well known supporters, including Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond is said to have brought significant connections between Russian interests and senior figures in the SNP. The role of Romanov's bank, Ukio bankas, which had one branch in Edinburgh, is also highly questionable. Clearly after the SNP former publicity vice convener, Colin Weir, won £161 million on the Euro lottery in November 2011, there was certainly no need for covert funding. Ukio bankas in any event went in administration in February 2013.

So, as we digest the news stories of this last weekend, it is as well to think with the eye of a KGB agent and perhaps to think wryly, that "just because I'm paranoid, does not mean they are not out to get me". One thing is sure, it does not pay to underestimate the ruthlessness or the malevolence of VVP. The Russians have a word Disinformattsiya which is rather more than disinformation, it implies aggressively and actively misleading ones protagonist with information which is directly opposite from the truth. In the hands of Tass, the primary source of Russian state propaganda it is hard not to believe that journalists in Scotland have been rather naive. They have not asked the first question of any detective story: "Who benefits?". David Cameron certainly does not. What about Vladimir Putin? He is a student both of conspiracy and disinformattsiya and who would win a massive strategic victory if the UK broke up. 

He is certainly that ruthless, and perhaps there are those in the Yes Camp who would take help from Russia if it were offered. Of course that the story is raised now means that were any stories to come which linked the SNP to Russia would just look like tit-for-tat. Yet the question of who benefits is so much more credible when you look at the story from the other way round. Precisely, in fact, the way a KGB colonel would look at the situation.

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