Posted Sep 2, 2022, 7:45 AMUpdated on Sep 2, 2022 at 9:06 am
This is the book you must have read this year. Because it reveals the true nature of the regime of Vladimir Poutine, the tsar who decided to go to war against Ukraine and beyond all the West. That of an authoritarian regime that dreams of greatness for Russia and, at the same time, mafia, the two aspects reinforcing each other. Then because this masterful work reads like a detective thriller, with its spies, its godfathers, its crooked Siberian businessmen, its Geneva financiers under orders, its courtiers ready for anything and its unscrupulous London commodity traders. Finally, because it is also a lesson in journalism. One can imagine the difficulty in finding sources agreeing to speak about the master of the Kremlin – hence the fact that many testimonies are anonymous – and the tenacity that the author needed.
The Putin System
In a breathtaking investigation, of nearly 600 pages, Catherine Belton examines the course of Vladimir Putin and the men on whom he relied to rise, to settle in power and to stay there. This British journalist, former correspondent in Moscow for the “Financial Times”, currently at the “Washington Post”, dismantles the Putin system, the relations of guardianship of the oligarchs, the networks of influence, the money, which moreover often passes by European financial centers, London and Geneva in the lead, thanks to established bankers.
In the mid-1980s, young Vladimir Putin found himself a KGB officer in Dresden. The location is important because the city is located in a western border country and is less monitored than Berlin. He is responsible for recruiting agents operating on the other side of the Iron Curtain and his presence in Germany will allow him to establish relations across the Rhine, including Matthias Warnig, former Stasi, the East German political police and current boss of North Stream. The collapse of the USSR surprises and shocks him. But other KGB agents sent to the West anticipated the end of the communist empire and began to set up financial networks to recycle dirty money.
Putin’s membership in the KGB is paramount because the former Soviet secret services are a clan. And these are its members as well as those of the security services – the siloviki, in Russian – which allowed Putin to find himself the right arm of the mayor of Saint Petersburg in the early 1990s, to take possession of the very lucrative port of the city through which hydrocarbons transit, by ousting the mafia gang “owner” , then to integrate the entourage of Boris Yeltsin and, finally, to appear as the successor of this president, hated by the Russians. We also find them today in Putin’s entourage, such as Igor Setchin, the former Deputy Prime Minister, or Nikolai Patrushev, head of the secret services, two men who knew the president in Saint Petersburg.
Reviving Imperial Russia
And since the arrival of Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in 2000, at the head of the country, all these ex-KGB, who have never digested the end of the Soviet empire, are working to raise money and “reviving Imperial Russia”, as Catherine Belton explains. For them, the end justifies the means. Monopolization of the country’s wealth – the raw materials sector in the lead – with the help of the State apparatus, organized corruption of the justice system, intimidation, imprisonment, violence… everything is good for success.
At the same time, these means and those of the Russian State are also put to the service of another cause: to remake Russia a power that counts on the planet after the humiliation of the Cold War. And for that, it is a question of undermining the Western democracies, of buying their elites – this is the case in ” Londongrad – and fund or aid anyone who can weaken the West from within. The KGB men are excellent at this. They were even trained for it, Vladimir Putin the first. Funding of extremist parties, launch of operations to hack the adversary’s networks, recruitment of relays of influence. It is a real operation of destabilization in which the Russian power launched itself a little more than twenty years ago. Proximity to the Kremlin with Marine Le Pen, the Italian Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, the Hungarian President Viktor Orban and even with donald trump has only one goal: to overthrow the established order and strengthen the Russian position. Putin’s so-called anti-system side is only aimed at increasing his power.
As we can see, we are very far from the defender of Christian and Western values that a part of the extreme right sees in Putin. As for the anti-Americanism of the master of the Kremlin, we understand from reading Catherine Belton that it should not be enough to seduce anyone who remains attached to the democratic idea. With the war in Ukraine and tensions with Europeans, at the dawn of a difficult winter, the French translation of this book is a work of public safety.
Putin’s Men. How the KGB seized Russia before attacking the West
by Catherine Belton. Talent Editions, 592 pages, 23.90 euros.