20 years under Putin: a timeline

After the terror attacks in Boston, the Kremlin has offered to increase counterterrorism cooperation with the White House. Author and analyst Alexander Podrabinek notes that Russia’s current regime will use any issue to gain political advantage.



A good master will find a use for anything. There is no misfortune that Vladimir Putin cannot turn to his advantage. Perhaps the whole point of a primitive and shortsighted policy is that it allows one to benefit as much as possible from any situation. The recent terrorist acts in Boston have become the finale of Putin's tune. On the day of the bombings, Putin duly expressed his condolences to the president of the United States and incidentally added that "the fight against terrorism requires the active coordination of efforts by the global community," noting that Russia was ready, if necessary, to assist with the investigation by US authorities.

What assistance with the investigation can Russia offer to the United States? With what resources? Our investigating agencies, bound by a vow to forever serve the illegitimate government, are incapable of investigating even simple crimes; for years they have been unable to bring criminals to justice in even the most high-profile cases. They are not much to boast of, and they have nothing to offer.

The "necessary help" promised by Putin can only be seen as a hint that Russia has influence in the terrorist sphere and is ready to crack down on raging terrorists "if necessary" or even rat out someone. There is nothing surprising in such an assumption: the KGB was always closely tied with international terrorism, and the current regime and, in particular, its top officials, who originate from the KGB, inherited this legacy. It would only be strange if they did not draw on this experience.

The KGB was always closely tied with international terrorism.

An even more important aim for Putin, however, is to underscore the assertion that the fight against terrorism is a common task. Putin's insecure and clumsy mind dictates to him the necessity of finding in the sphere of international relations something that could put Russia on equal footing with the world's key players. Russia has many opportunities to become a global leader in science, art, intellectual resources, and even the economy. However, the protection of civil liberties and an accountable rule of law are needed in order for these areas to develop, two things that threaten the stability of the Putin regime. That is why Russia, as the Soviet Union before it, sees equality with its Western partners only in military terms and, for the last ten years, in antiterrorist repressions. In these areas, the Kremlin hopes to have a serious dialogue with the West and even offers help.

International paramilitary and terrorist threats can also be used successfully to confirm the Kremlin's main ideological claims, which it aims to diffuse throughout the country: the idea that foreign and domestic enemies threaten Russia, and consequently, that the use of drastic measures restricting individual rights and freedoms is justified by the interests of the protection of the state. And although the inevitably forced argumentation stands out a mile here, the government believes that this flimsy logic is enough to satisfy the masses.

This is the basis on which direct gubernatorial elections were abolished in Russia after the 2004 terrorist act in Beslan. To try to find a logical connection between the two would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The regime's point was that the consolidation of society and the centralization of government were necessary in the conditions of a terrorist threat. Such a utilitarian use of dramatic events in order to achieve a political goal suggests that the government deliberately encouraged the escalation of violence in Beslan by refusing to negotiate with the terrorists and firing at the school, where children hostages were held, with tank shells and flamethrowers.

The Kremlin has repeatedly used terrorist threats to toughen legislation and restrict civil liberties. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the rights to legal counsel and a jury trial have been encroached upon, allegedly in the interests of national security. In order to justify these repressive policies, the Kremlin has depicted terrorism as a global problem that demands global retaliatory measures.


In this memorandum addressed to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov detailed the contacts between the KGB and Waddie Haddad, a leader of the armed wing of the "Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine."


The chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov, has recently declared that the terrorist acts in Boston indicate that Russia and the United States share a "common and ubiquitous enemy." As a person privy to details of the attack, Margelov announced that the explosion had been organized by US domestic terrorists who were part of an "international network of killers." Margelov also said that "it is better to unite rather than publish lists that divide us." Meaning that instead of concentrating on fundamental disagreements, the Americans should join Moscow in the fight against the terrorist threat—the required degree of which Moscow will apparently provide.

The idea of a common international enemy does not undermine either the anti-Americanism that is being cultivated in Russia today or the government’s ongoing search for a domestic enemy. In the same way, Stalin's idea of the "aggravation of the class struggle" successfully helped to justify mass repressions, but at the same time, during the Second World War, it did not prevent him from seeking an alliance first with Hitler against American imperialism, and then with the Americans against Hitler. Neither the opening of the second front nor the mass transfer of supplies and food from the United States to the USSR under the Lend-Lease program encouraged the Soviet Union’s democratization. On the contrary, this American support further strengthened Stalin’s repressive regime, especially after the victory over Nazi Germany. The anti-Hitler coalition, Brezhnev's détente policy, and other local attempts at establishing closer relations with the West have only been tactical concessions, while the strategy has always remained the same—that of preserving the repressive regime by establishing a stable and irremovable government. Russia’s current policy is being forged in the same spirit.

The idea of a common international enemy does not undermine the anti-Americanism that is being cultivated in Russia today.

This policy became clear after a recent inspection of an office of the Kostroma Center for Civic Initiatives Support by prosecutors and officials from the regional department of the Justice Ministry in the context of a campaign to discredit nongovernmental organizations. Alexander Zamaryanov, director of the Kostroma Center, was accused of an administrative offense on the grounds that the center was involved in political activities without being registered with the Justice Ministry as a “foreign agent.” From the point of view of the Prosecutor's Office, the organization of a roundtable on US-Russia relations confirms the fact that the center is involved in political activity. In the order on initiation of proceedings, a Kostroma prosecutor wrote that during this event "issues of US-Russia international relations were discussed among other problems" and "Howard Solomon, Deputy Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Moscow, made a speech on the issues of Russia's political course, the political course of the US and relations between these two countries."

At the same time, it is evident that such claims are not being advanced against American diplomats (of what could they be accused?), but against a public organization that encroached on what the state considers its exclusive prerogative.

Terrorist threats are possibly not the only ones that the Kremlin will use to appear as an independent and important player on the world stage. Time has dealt a serious blow to the nation’s signs of enduring imperial greatness. Russian military potential does not inspire terror as it used to; in exploring space, Russia has fallen hopelessly behind; and even in the sphere of ballet, the country is not ahead of the entire planet anymore. The government might try to become active in the global fight against narcotics, but such a mission is extremely dangerous—one could inadvertently threaten some powerful interests. Thus, for now, Russia is left with the fight against terrorism, which it will try to use to raise the country from its knees while at the same time tightening the screws of the state mechanism that have gotten loose.