Staunton, January 30 – Vladimir Putin may or may not be personally anti-Semitic but he retains the Soviet-era KGB’s view of Jews and approach to Israel, thus helping to keep this latent evil alive and making it likely that sooner or later in his authoritarian regime he or those about him will turn on the Jews at home, according to Russian commentator Yevgeny Kiselyov.
In an article on Ekho Moskvy prompted by the recent anti-Semitic comments of Duma deputy speaker Petr Tolstoy – who has just been named Moscow’s representative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (ng.ru/politics/2017-01-30/3_6915_duma.html) – Kiselyov outlines his reasons (msk.ru/blog/kiselev/1918858-echo/).
Those who say that “the state anti-Semitism of Soviet times” is not to be seen in domestic Russian politics are right, he says; but “you wouldn’t say that about foreign policy” where the foreign policy establishment continues its “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel” approach right up to the present.
But the danger is, Kiselyov continues, that “foreign policy as is well known rarely exists in complete isolation from domestic policy.” Instead, each influences the other and so the existence of anti-Semitism in one sphere almost certainly means that it exists in a latent form in the other and may burst on the scene when the time is wrong.
As for Putin personally, the Russian journalist says, he has no way to know whether anti-Semitism is “alien to him by nature.” Putin is too careful to say anything directly. He understands that in today’s post-Holocaust world, people may “close their eyes to a cruel war in Chechnya, corruption, repression against independent media … and much else, but the slightest manifestation of anti-Semitism is a red line that can’t be crossed.”
Thus, Kiselyov points to the fact that even in the recent scandal triggered by the anti-Semitic remarks of Petr Tolstoy, Putin stood aside and allowed Medvedev to do the heavy-lifting in denouncing what the Duma deputy said. But that doesn’t fully answer the question about Putin’s relations to the Jews or what he has done or might do in the future.
Kiselyov says that acquaintances have told him that in the early 1990s, when Putin worked in St. Petersburg, he continued to enforce the Soviet Jewish quota on university students even when professors appealed against this. “There is nothing surprising in this: Putin was an honest servant and the main thing the product of the KGB system.”
Indeed, Kiselyov says, “observing Putin over the course of his long years in power, we more than once have had the chance to be convinced that the president of Russia is the living confirmation of the saying that there are no former Chekists.” And the KGB from which Putin emerged was anti-Semitic in the extreme.
Indeed, the Moscow journalist says, the belief of its officers in “a worldwide Jewish-Masonic conspiracy was a kind of secret religion;” and this certainly had an impact on Putin’s “worldview,” one in which he constantly divides people into “ours” and “theirs” and speaks about “enemies” and “friends.”
Moreover, he continues, one should not fail to take note of the numerous “militant newly converted Orthodox” in Putin’s inner circle who frequently have made anti-Semitic remarks, people like Vladimir Yakunin, the former head of Russian rail, and Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov with whom Putin is especially close.
Nor can it be entirely accidental that when Putin went after the oligarchs in the early years of his presidency, so many of those who were attacked – like Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris Berezovsky, Yakov Goldovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Leonid Nezvlin, among others – were Jewish.
Some Putin supporters will seek to defend him by noting that the Kremlin leader is friends with the Rotenberg brothers. But such defenses only recall the beloved justification of anti-Semites everywhere: “How can you call me an anti-Semite? Some of my best friends are Jews.”
Up to now, Kiselyov continues, Putin has not taken any step in domestic policy which is incontrovertibly anti-Semitic. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t. “Anti-Semitism always goes hand in hand with authoritarianism, with dictatorship and with semi-fascist regimes. And the Putin regime … has been precisely that for a long time already.”
If Putin felt he needed an enemy to mobilize the population and “no one besides the Jews remained,” then it is likely that he would arm himself with anti-Semitism just as Stalin did at the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s.” Russia’s Jews understand that, Kiselyov says: they are now lining up at the Israeli consulate in Moscow so they can get out now.
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