Putin’s Bloody Past Part One
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 16, 2022, with the disclaimer: “The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ceylon Today.” The Russian embassy in Colombo subsequently called Ceylon Today to complain about the article. Their spokesman said he was “deeply disappointed’.
Vladimir Putin has not suddenly become a psychotic dictator.
From 2007 to 2013, Catherine Belton was the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times. She currently works as an investigative correspondent for Reuters, based in London. In her book Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West, she gives a good insight into the character of Putin as he rose to power.
Before the USSR fell apart, Putin was a relatively junior officer in the KGB. He has fluent German from his days in Dresden working with the Stasi, the East German secret police. Markus Wolf was head of the Stasi’s foreign intelligence division and was the Stasi’s number two for 34 years. Wolf and Putin’s former KGB colleagues claimed that Putin was a nobody in Dresden. Wolf mocked Putin’s receiving a Bronze Medal – even cleaning ladies got that.
According to a former colleague, the Dresden KGB men spent 70 per cent of their time writing pointless reports. Russian human rights activist Sergey Kovalev told writer Jonathan Littell: “You want to know who Vladimir Putin is, young man? Vladimir Putin is a lieutenant colonel of the KGB. And do you know what a lieutenant colonel of the KGB is? Absolutely nothing.” What Kovalev meant was that a man who had never even made full colonel was simply a small-minded operative, incapable of thinking ahead more than a move or two.
Putin was not that insignificant. He was an enabler and handler for murderous terrorists. It is ironic to hear Putin rail against the Ukrainian government being run by Nazis. He ran agents in neo-Nazi groups and continues to fund them today. He also infiltrated the extreme left. The Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader–Meinhof Group, was responsible for a series of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, bank robberies, and shoot-outs with police over the course of three decades. Among the 34 people that they killed were industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer, the Dresdner Bank head Jurgen Ponto, and the federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback. Alfred Herrhausen Chairman of Deutsche Bank was a close adviser to West German chancellor Helmut Kohl. He was assassinated in 1989. Many of the group’s operations were executed with military precision, and the technology deployed was of the highest sophistication, which indicated state sponsorship.
According to a former member of the Red Army Faction who claimed to have met him in Dresden, Putin had worked in support of members of the group. Putin would be among the leaders in these Dresden meetings, with one of the Stasi generals taking orders from him.
After he retired from the KGB at the age of 39, Putin returned to his home city of St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). In May 1990, Putin was appointed as an advisor on international affairs to the mayor, Anatoly Sobchak. Sobchak had little interest in the day-to-day running of the city, so he left it to Putin. This gave Putin the chance to form business alliances and he also worked closely with the organised-crime leader, the one-armed bandit, Vladimir Barsukov.
Barsukov, nicknamed Russia’s Al Capone, was the founder of the murderous Tambovskaya Gruppirovka crime gang which seized national assets worth $100m. Barsukov was called St Petersburg’s “night governor” because he ruled the city after dark. Putin is said to have granted Barsukov’s oil company lucrative petrol concessions. In his book, We Need to Talk about Putin: How the West Gets him Wrong, Mark Galeotti tracks the links between the old Soviet criminal fraternity and the country’s modern-day rulers. Catherine Belton writes that after Yeltsin’s fall, “What emerged out of the chaos and collapse – and Sobchak’s ineffectiveness – was an alliance between Putin, his KGB allies and organised crime that sought to run much of the city’s economy for their own benefit.”
According to one former local FSB officer, it was a business that consisted of “murder and raiding.” According to former senior KGB officer Yury Shvet, with the help of Putin’s men in City Hall, the St Petersburg sea port became a major hub for smuggling drugs from Colombia into Western Europe. The Tambov gang also controlled the port of Stockholm. When Barsukov became a threat to him, Putin airlifted in police commandos from Moscow in a “full military operation” to grab Barsukov – then flew him straight back to Moscow where he was jailed for 23 years for ordering killings, extortion, money laundering and fraud. Putin tamed the mafia, and deployed them in the interests of the state, as defined by his regime.
Putin became president in 2000. He did not handle his first crisis well. The nuclear-powered submarine Kursk sank in an accident on 12 August 2000 in the Barents Sea, during the first major Russian naval exercise for over ten years, and all 118 personnel on board were killed. The response of the Russian Navy and government was lethargic and incompetent. Officials lied to the public and the media, just as they lie today. Putin authorised the Russian Navy to accept British and Norwegian offers of assistance only after five days had passed since the accident. Help from other countries’ ships had previously been offered and refused. When rescuers finally got in after seven days, they found a written note that indicated that some could have been saved if the effort had been made earlier. They died waiting.
On Monday 14 August, Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov stated that the accident had been caused by a serious collision with a NATO submarine, although he gave no evidence to support his statement. Senior commanders of the Russian Navy repeated this account for more than two years after the disaster. Many who desired a continuance of negative relations between Russia and the West supported this scenario. NATO was blamed even then.
Belton’s sources see the Kursk incident as revealing of Putin’s character failings. He was the hired manager, expected to serve only a few years, and did not seem to be up to the job. Putin initially continued his vacation at a seaside resort. Belton writes, “When disaster struck, such as the sinking of the Kursk submarine, he had a habit of withdrawing, paralysed into inaction, sometimes as white as a sheet.”
One can see on YouTube a volatile meeting where angry relatives shout at Putin. The distraught mother of a sailor scolds naval officers before being forcibly sedated and removed from the meeting. A nurse takes out a syringe and drugs the grieving mother, who collapses and is carried away on a stretcher.
When Putin was interviewed by Larry King, Larry asked him “what happened to Kursk?” Putin said “She sank” with a sly smile.
The second war on Chechnya began on 1 October 1999, when Putin declared the authority of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and his parliament illegitimate. On 5 October 1999, a Russian tank shell hit a bus filled with refugees and at least eleven civilians died. Two days later, 35 civilians were killed when Russian Su-24 fighter bombers dropped cluster bombs on the village of Elistanzhi. As many as 350,000 civilians out of the approximately 800,000 residents of the Chechen Republic fled to neighbouring countries. On 21 October 1999, more than 140 people, including many women and children were killed by a Russian Scud short-range ballistic missile strike on the central Grozny marketplace. Eight days later Russian aircraft carried out a rocket attack on a large convoy of refugees heading into Ingushetia, killing at least 25 civilians including Red Cross workers and journalists.
The Russian assault on the capital city, Grozny, began in early December. The battle ended when the Russian army seized the city on 2 February 2000. According to official Russian figures, at least 134 federal troops and an unknown number of pro-Russian militiamen died in Grozny. The separatist forces also suffered heavy losses, including losing several top commanders. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said that 2,700 separatists were killed trying to leave Grozny. The separatists said they lost at least 500 fighters in the minefield at Alkhan-Kala. The siege and fighting devastated the capital like no other European city since World War II. In 2003 the United Nations called Grozny the most destroyed city on Earth.
More blood next week.