Putin Regime a Hybrid of the KGB Honor Code and Criminal Practice, Davydov Says
March 18 – In C.P. Snow’s 1954 novel, The
New Men, about the beginnings of the Cold War, one character, who writes
literacy criticism for the BBC, reflects on how difficult it is for a Western
intellectual to respond to America’s use of a nuclear weapon against Nagasaki
only a few days after it had dropped the first on Hiroshima.
One could defend
the first, he said, as an act of military necessity, but not the second. For an
English intellectual like himself the only possible comment was to focus on
something so far removed from what had happened as to be a reaffirmation of the
Western intellectual tradition of which he or she is a part.
one is left with a somewhat similar feeling about Vladimir Putin’s so-called
“victory” in the so-called “presidential elections” in the Russian Federation,
an event that should be marked perhaps by a discussion of the best traditions
of Russian thought or a reference to something so obscure within that country
as to constitute a proper mirror of events.
happily, Moscow commentator Ivan Davydov provides what may be an even more
useful approach in a Republic post on
“the genealogy of morality of contemporary Russia” which focuses on “how the
current rulers [of that country] are distinguished from the criminal world of
the 1990s” (republic.ru/posts/90011).
recent scandal involving Russian diplomats and cocaine shipments from Argentina
renewed talks in Russia that the current Russian leadership are just like the
criminals of the 1990s, Davydov says. There is some truth in this but it is not
the whole truth – and recognizing the difference between the two related
species is important.
often point to Putin’s use of criminal slang in his speeches or his origins in the
streets of Leningrad as evidence that he was a criminal from the beginning, but
that again is only part but not the whole truth. Had he or his colleagues been
criminals from the outset, they would never have been recruited for work in the
KGB or other siloviki organs.
become part of the Soviet organs, Putin and his like acquired “a special view
on reality and became part of a special ethos,” but it was not a criminal one
in the usual sense. However, when the Soviet system collapsed, their reality
and even raison d’etre did as well – “and this was a serious trauma.”
to Davydov, “an impressionable man with a hypertrophied ego was thus completely
capable of declaring such a personal collapse as the greatest geopolitical
catastrophe” and viewing the life that followed “a psychological trauma” which
required striking back at the new order, something that made those who felt the
same psychologically close to criminals.
siloviki had lost their world and could not but feel it,” the commentator says;
and they cast about for ways to take their revenge. Those did not include
simply seeking to restore the past but rather making the best for themselves in
the new circumstances, having convinced themselves as criminals do that any
means to that end are permissible.
former KGB officers became the new feudals in Russia and everything came to
them as a result, Davydov says.“It is
difficult not to recognize the traces of this hybrid worldview, a combination
of criminal understandings with the honor code of officers of the special
services literally in all of them.”
them, like the criminals, law is the enemy, something only for others; but for
them unlike the criminals, they want others to recognize what they have as
legitimate and not as the theft it in fact typically is.These two goals don’t fit together well, but those
who hold both at one and the same time aren’t going to change. And Russia will
continue to suffer as a result.