Exit Strategies

Dark Hero


Not in vain is Russia heir to the traditions of Byzantium; intrigue, secret diplomacy and espionage are integral to the Third Rome’s strategic culture. Over the past decade Vladimir Putin has proven a consummate practitioner of statecraft in this fashion, as well as an able defender of the national interest. Yet where is he leading Russia? The answer remains a mystery. His formidable will and predisposition to action are impressive, but only in the service of a higher principle will these gifts signify greatness.

Barring any extraordinary surprises or disasters, Putin will again be president of the Russian Federation by spring of next year. His liberal protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, is slated for a return to the premier’s seat (now occupied by VVP, as he is referred to in Moscow), thereby flipping the leadership “tandem” back to its natural state. Titles in contemporary politics carry limited meaning. It’s clear that Putin was and is the Gosudar’, Russia’s ruler; he’s a Byzantine emperor, Petersburg technocrat and KGB veteran all at once. And his operating methods today still reflect the formative years he spent in Soviet intelligence.

Stories of interactions with Putin are telling in this regard. He has been known to inject some dark humor into his dealings with opponents, often with an acute eye to psychological advantage. Before a trip to Moscow, a senior U.S. State Department official made a series of press statements condemning Russia’s security services for the usual “human rights violations” and persecution of dissidents. Upon the diplomat’s arrival in the country, Putin invited her to a party at a compound on the outskirts of Moscow. Only after stepping out of her motorcade and into the sumptuous dacha would she discover that it was a birthday celebration for FSB heavyweight Nikolai Patrushev.

A significant element of Putin’s mystique has been his ability to confound and punish enemies. When he began his first term as president in 2000, oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky expected to control the Kremlin as they did under Yeltsin. Stripping Russia of her resources and impoverishing her people had proven a wildly lucrative endeavor. Instead, when Putin moved against their empires in his quest to rebuild the state, they were lucky to escape with their ill-gotten gains to more hospitable accommodations in London and Tel Aviv. Since American-supported Open Society magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky refused to take analogous hints, he ended up in a prison cell. Meanwhile the Kremlin waged brutal war against Chechen rebels and largely arrested Russia’s disintegration toward regional and ethnic separatism.

It is most notably in the realm of international competition that Putin has shown himself a statesman. He maneuvered Russia back to primacy within her Eurasian sphere of interests and worked to effectively reverse the tide of Washington-generated “color revolutions” from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan. The August 2008 war with Georgia, provoked by the unstable U.S. client Mikheil Saakashvili, served as Moscow’s unsubtle warning to the West that certain red lines need not be crossed. Putin has at the same time engineered a fruitful economic partnership with Germany, with this year marking the inauguration of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline across the Baltic. Should Berlin ever come to rethink its current cultural and geopolitical orientation, a Russo-German entente would field enormous strategic potential.

Western media commentators have been uniform in their expressions of dismay at the return of “Batman”, as Putin was crowned in a State Department cable, to his subterranean throne beneath the Kremlin. Such despondency from the manufacturers of opinion is somewhat encouraging; it could be taken as a sign that Russia’s once and future president has made some remarkable achievements in safeguarding his country. Orthodox Patriarch Cyril recently thanked him for preventing its collapse. Nonetheless, Putin stands before several daunting challenges.

Like the rest of Europe, Russia must undertake radical action if it is to have a future. Modernity in its Bolshevik iteration laid waste to the Slavic lands. Post-Soviet demographic decline will demand the expansion of pro-natal policies that Putin has at least begun to implement[1]. The energy-based economy he was content to promote during the past decade must be diversified if Russia is to attain dynamism and infrastructure commensurate with a talented and well-educated population base. In the Muslim North Caucasus, instability, crime and clan warfare are systemic, having already swallowed enormous federal resources and spread to Moscow itself. Ordinary Russians are fatigued by ubiquitous corruption, and the price of bribes keeps rising - from those required for government and business services to university admissions and traffic stops. All this transpires as the Pentagon deploys its missile-defense infrastructure- a new ring of “containment”- ever closer to Russia’s western frontiers.

As Putin enters his third presidential term, his task – the restoration of Russia – will require no less than the exertion of a Peter the Great. The feuding clans that comprise the power structure will not make this any easier (Putin is their main arbiter). It would be unwise to rely so heavily on “political technologists”, confidence men who reduce ideologies to mere marketing campaigns and breed only cynicism. Replicating the silly manipulations practiced by Western politicians in the pay of financial elites is beneath the dignity of a sovereign state with a thousand-year history of rule. Russians have long valued representative institutions like the zemstvo at the local and regional levels; they’ve also understood from experience that issues of national survival depend upon the will of the autocrat. As the poet Alexander Pushkin once expressed, “supreme power does not tolerate a weak hand”.

Putin could be the autocrat Russia needs, though it still remains to be seen whether he will explicitly formulate and lead a cause of national salvation. He certainly has earned admiration from Russian conservatives and some traditionalists in the West for his positions against U.S. hegemony, not to speak of his very style. Yet the Putin who delivered the 2007 Munich speech against NATO encroachment also delegated Dmitry Medvedev and his liberal advisors presidential power the following year. In addition, the Kremlin has worked to marginalize sincere and articulate Russian nationalists. These men have not shied away from opposing massive immigration flows from the Caucasus and Central Asia as well as the moral and spiritual degradation of society wrought through the media. Their analysis of Russia’s predicament is part of a wider reaction against anarcho-tyranny regnant throughout the whole of European civilization.

European peoples are the target of a campaign aimed at their dissolution. Were Putin to affirm the Great Russian ethnos and its right to an independent existence as Tsar Alexander III did before him, he would in one stroke create a basic framework of resistance to the global democracy offensive. An astute populist like Putin should recognize this. But at the rhetorical level, he often still employs liberal semantics. His new proposal for a Eurasian Union, a geopolitically sensible project, is publicly justified with a call for open borders and open markets- tools for the erosion of national identity.

In his work The Counter-Revolution, Thomas Molnar analyzed the phenomenon of the counter-revolutionary hero, a charismatic figure who will use supportive rightists for certain objectives, only to betray them at a later time. This type of actor might possess certain counter-revolutionary sentiments, but concludes that to retain power he must cooperate with the revolutionary media and cultural establishment, thus ultimately furthering their program of subversion. Charles De Gaulle, who after a triumphal return to power abandoned the colons in Algeria and surrendered French society to the leftists of May 1968, embodied for Molnar this projection of false hope:

“If one examines this phenomenon from all sides, one cannot but conclude that what impressed them in De Gaulle were the imponderables of his personality, what I called repeatedly style. An absolute rigor, the cult of loneliness, the iron will, the sense of mission, all this created an image that overwhelmed the counter-revolutionaries even though they were aware of his past record. Objectively examined, De Gaulle was the last person they ought to have trusted…”

One could rightfully say that Putin is no De Gaulle, as he has deftly neutralized dissent and potential uprisings, which are in turn often sponsored by a network of Western NGOs (and the governments that coordinate them). At the same time, propaganda to insurrection against traditional order enjoys a wide bandwidth in Russia- it is potent and nearly omnipresent through television and other electronic media. Pornography, for example, can be viewed on state channels. Through the business ventures of Wall Street and Hollywood, Washington holds means other than force to subdue its foes; weapons like MTV shatter national morale as no barrage of cruise missiles ever could. If Putin is truly serious about protecting Russia, he will prosecute a cultural counter-revolution[2]. To defy the Brave New World requires the discipline of repentance.

The struggle for renewal is fought in depths unseen; it is spiritual in nature. From Communist rule and genocidal wars to the seductions of a free and equal consumer paradise, Russia walks her Way of the Cross. Her unknown fate has been charged to the ruthless and enigmatic Vladimir Putin. May he come to be not a De Gaulle, but a Constantine, and rally against the forces of postmodern Mammonism a sacral empire.

[1] Ending the abomination of infanticide, known euphemistically throughout the developed world as abortion, would be a major step in demographic recovery among Russians. While the rate of abortions has been declining, there were still 74 for every 100 births in the country in 2009. Only through the resurgence of Orthodox culture and its hierarchy of values can this phenomenon, as well as alcoholism and drug addiction, be effectively curtailed.

[2] In this regard, Brazilian Catholic traditionalist Plinio Correa de Oliveira wrote: “It also must be recognized that if a person managed, for example, to put a stop to immoral or agnostic movies or television programs, he would have done much more for the Counter-Revolution than if, in the course of the everyday proceedings of a parliamentary regime, he had brought about the fall of a leftist cabinet.”