Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a
mystery inside an enigma.” Somebody needs to point out that Churchill
was wrong. There is no riddle, there is no mystery, and there certainly
isn’t an enigma where Russia is concerned. The riddle, the mystery, and
the enigma is the West, not the East.
Here is why:
Earlier this month the president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, fired his
prime minister for no apparent reason and elevated a career KGB official
to the job. The new prime minister, Vladimir Putin, replaced Sergei
Stepashin, also a former head of the KGB domestic branch (FSB). As it
Stepashin took over from Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in May.
Primakov had been the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR),
the renamed overseas branch of the KGB.
Keeping in mind that the KGB is now called the SVR/FSB, Boris Yeltsin
has now appointed three SVR/FSB generals to head the Russian government
in the span of a year. Of course, there is no riddle, mystery, or enigma
in a police state being governed by chiefs of the secret police. The
riddle is in the West’s refusal to see Russia as an extension of the old
Soviet Union. The mystery is in the West’s regard for Russian
“democracy.” The enigma is in the West’s determination to sign treaty
after treaty — despite mounting evidence of repeated Russian cheating.
The secretary of state, the president, and the world’s leading Russia
watchers often ignore Russia’s quiet continuation of the Cold War.
Russia yet supports its clients in Africa, Afghanistan, and the Middle
East. Russia has formed an alliance with China. Russia continues to
build nuclear war
bunkers, quieter submarines, and road mobile ICBMs. Day by day Russia
prepares for World War III and nothing is done on the American side.
The West has missed the fact that Russia is still ruled by the old
KGB and Communist Party structures. The riddle, the mystery, and the
enigma, therefore, is the West. Russia is simple by comparison. It
continues to follow the Soviet pattern of lies and treaty-breaking. The
behavior is so obvious and palpable, but Western observers continue to
draw an elaborate picture of internal Kremlin power struggles, of ethnic
rivalries, domestic chaos, famine, economic collapse and military
Yes, there’s a little truth there. No doubt. But in a general sense,
these outward presentations are lies, fables, and Potemkin villages.
They should not be mistaken for a free Russia. Just because Russians can
publicly express themselves, we should not imagine that the Russian
people have any real power. Simple, basic, totalitarian methods can
direct public opinion, can guide it step by step toward a new kind of
socialism. And that is where Russia is heading. In fact, that is where
the world is heading.
Real democracy and real capitalism are incredibly complex. In the
West we are accustomed to looking at such complexities. A free society
has many alternate power structures, so we expect to see these
structures in “democratic” Russia. What we find, however, is a number of
all traceable to the secret police and the old Communist Party.
In America we have local government, state government, big and small
business, independent churches, civic organizations, genuine political
parties (however moribund they ultimately prove to be). In Russia they
have the “elites” who are with Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and the “oligarchs”
who are with President Yeltsin. All of them, former Communist officials
and creatures of the secret police. A totalitarian landscape, like this
one, is dominated by a single set of structures. In truth, the elite is
the oligarchy. They are one in the same. Having them engage in a phony
power struggle, coordinated by KGB generals, is straight out of Lenin’s
NEP textbook. In a totalitarian country everything proceeds from the
center, which controls the state, the economy, the culture, and the
opposition. Under latter-day totalitarianism the opposition is led by
the secret agents of the regime — provocateurs, informants, and agents
of influence. This system was eloquently described by George Orwell in
his novel, “1984.”
Under Stalin the system was based on terror and brutality. Under
Gorbachev the system relied mainly on deception. This is not to say
there wasn’t any deception under Stalin, or that there is no brutality
under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. But the emphasis, the center of gravity in
the system, has successfully shifted. Today we are in the final phase of
a 40-year transition from the bare-knuckled approach of Stalin to the
phony democracy approach of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Many sacrifices were
made to accomplish this internal revolution. Some territory was let go.
Some military power was reduced. But through this process the West has
been exposed to a more dangerous and effective attack. Call the new
Russian system liberalism or democracy if you like, but the essence of
1990s Russia is found in its police state.
But why have there been so many changes in the Russian government?
Why is it Prime Minister Primakov one day, Prime Minister Stepashin the
next, and Prime Minister Putin after that?
As bureaucrats the generals of the secret police move from assignment
to assignment, depending on their special training. Every phase in the
regime has its unique requirements. Primakov was a Middle East
specialist. Under his regime Russia worked out new arrangements with
Syria, Israel, Iraq and
Iran. Stepashin was a Caucasus specialist, and it is noteworthy that his
job ended the day after the Islamic incursion into Dagestan. And now we
have Putin as prime minister, perhaps because he speaks fluent German,
and Russia now wishes to enter the European Union.
Whatever the strategic reasons for alternating one KGB general for
another, the reality of centralized control by secret police structures
must never be forgotten. In fact, we must also remember that Russia’s
government by deception also means diplomacy by deception, arms control
by deception, and high finance by deception.
For example, last autumn the Kremlin announced that Russia had
suffered its worst famine in 40 years. The West hurried to Russia’s aid
with billions of dollars in food. Last month we learned that this famine
did not happen. Instead of a five million ton grain shortfall, there was
a two million ton surplus. By deceiving the West about its food
production, Russia was able to add millions of tons to its strategic
In the financial and industrial spheres an even more sophisticated
deception is being played out. About a year ago Russia defaulted on $40
billion in short-term debt. The ruble fell, inflation climbed, and
stocks became worthless overnight. Russia experienced a total financial
And just like the famine that didn’t happen, Russia’s economic collapse
was also deceptive. According to Stephen S. Moody of the Foreign Policy
Research Institute, Russia’s industrial production is 11 percent higher
today than it was before the financial meltdown. In fact, Russia’s
industrial economy is still growing. Russian production increased by 3.9
percent between Jan. 1
and July 31, 1999.
Moody admits that something strange is happening in Russia. After
all, how can an industrial expansion occur when all the banks have
collapsed? What most of us forget is that the Communists have always
been striving for an industrial economy without money. That is a prime
objective of Russian Communism. And what a wonderful thing — genuine or
not — to claim that some experiment or other has achieved it!
In that event you’d finally have a Communism that works, and a new
model to present to the world. This would coincide with a revival of
Communism, first in Russia, then elsewhere. If this revival takes place
simultaneously with an economic downturn in the West, imagine the
political ramifications. Conservatives and free market advocates would
be on the retreat everywhere.
Socialists, fellow travelers, and Communists would undertake a great
Whatever the ultimate tendency of the Kremlin’s deceptive schemes,
there is no riddle, mystery, or enigma in Russia’s overall behavior. But
the West’s stupidity is much more of a riddle.