My guest today for this Frontpage Interview is Vladimir Bukovsky, a former leading Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom. His works include To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow.
Konstantin Preobrazhensky: Vladimir Bukovsky, thank you for joining me today.
The period of Putin’s rule has been marked by a series of victories over the U.S. The most important of them was taking Russian Americans under the Kremlin’s control by absorbing the larger part of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad by the Kremlin-controlled Moscow patriarchate. The closing of the Russian service of the Voice of America is an unquestioned victory as well. Putin has managed all these achievements thanks to the personal sympathy of President Bush. Bush is said to have seen a soul in Putin’s eyes. But what can a rabbit see in the eyes of a boa-constrictor?
Because Putin is far more cynical, cunning and crafty than Bush. While Bush was brought up in a well-off bourgeois family, Putin used to be a street hooligan as a teenager. He became used to deceiving the rich boys very easily.
So let me begin with this question Mr.Bukovsky: Will Putin be able to do the same with Obama as he did with Bush?
Vladimir Bukovsky: It will be much easier for Putin to do it with Obama, because the leftist politicians love Russia and immediately yield to it. I am sure that now the Kremlin psychologists are creating a psychological portrait of Obama in order to find the key to him. The Americans have forgotten that KGB officers are ruling today’s Russia. And the KGB officers do not accept relations of partnership. They recognize you only either as a collaborator or as an enemy.
Let us see what kind of key they will find for Obama. As for Bush, the key for him was a naïve story about Putin’s neck cross. According to this story, in 1996, Putin’s country house in the suburbs of Saint Petersburg was burnt down through arson. And only one thing was found in the ashes: an aluminum neck cross, presented to Putin by his mother. At that very moment Putin understood that the highest spiritual forces are ruling this world.
Though this story would never seem convincing to us Russians, it deeply impressed Bush. Because he became a believer in his middle age and acquired the most heartfelt respect for religion. It made him decide that he and Putin had spiritual integrity.
“We are bleeding the same blood,” Mowgli, the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s fairy tale, used to say. Mowgli used this phrase even in relation to the boa-constrictor, Kaa. In the fairy-tale it was a sacred word of the jungle, but in reality, it is the key principle of KGB recruitment. The person recruited by the KGB should think that he has the same blood as his KGB officer recruiter.
Preobrazhensky: And Bush believed it. But Putin forgot to tell him that he had begun his KGB career in the “fifth line” of the Leningrad KGB. The “fifth line” was aimed at destroying the Church.
Bukovsky: Yes. And quite another method was devised for the French President, Sarkozy. During our meeting a year ago, he told me the following about Putin: “A man who loves women and the beautiful life so much, cannot be a bad man!” But Putin doesn’t have the reputation of a womanizer at all. This theme has been thoroughly avoided by his propagandists. It means that this false postulate was invented especially for Sarkozy. Because Sarkozy himself is such a person. It is he who loves women and the beautiful life. Now he is sure of having the same blood as Putin.
But the Kremlin psychologists began this practice even in Soviet times. They were preparing the Soviet leaders for meetings with Western colleagues. For example, in 1979, during negotiations with President Carter, Brezhnev put his hand on his shoulder and pronounced a phrase which was totally unacceptable for a Soviet leader: “Jimmy, God will not forgive us if we do not come to an agreement.”
Can you imagine for how many weeks Brezhnev was trying to pronounce the word “God”? But Carter took it in good faith. The Kremlin psychologists were addressing and exploiting his religious faith. Later Carter is said to have thought that he had brought Brezhnev to Christianity. And Gorbachev succeeded in persuading Margaret Thatcher that he was a pragmatist. I spent a lot of time explaining to her that a Communist cannot be a pragmatist. If he is a pragmatist, he cannot be a Communist, and vice versa. But she believed Gorbachev in spite of herself being a most experienced politician. I asked her to give a definition of a Communist-pragmatist, but she could not do it. Then I gave the following possible definition: a Communist who has no money.
Preobrazhensky: Putin was definitely luring Bush into his cunning clutches. In 2007, he made him accept a Russian war criminal, General Vladimir Shamanov, in the White House Oval Office. By this, Putin succeeded in plastering Bush very thoroughly with the mud of the war in Chechnya.
Bukovsky: Yes indeed. And people with criminal minds like doing that. They want to lower the whole world to their own level. Now, the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has found himself in a similar situation. In the 1970’s, he was a convinced anti-Communist and was even providing Soviet dissidents with some aid, but now he has become pro-Putin. Recently, I met his adviser on international affairs, Jenny De Michelins, and asked him: “How can Berlusconi maintain a cozy friendship with Putin? Putin is a dirty man. He is responsible for murders, thefts and corruption.” But De Michelins said that Berlusconi wants only to provide stable supplies of gas for Italy. Berlusconi is making the mistake which all the other Western leaders are making too. They think that Putin has been involved in business like them. But one thing Putin has not been involved in is business.
Preobrazhensky: What is he involved in then?
Bukovsky: He is involved in the reconstruction of the Soviet Empire. Lower rank KGB officers suffering from an inferiority complex are ruling today’s Russia. They still did not understand that the dissolution of the USSR was inevitable. We, the Soviet dissidents, were aware of it in the 1960s. But today’s Russian leaders think it was a catastrophe and blame the CIA for it. “Back to the USSR!” – That is their entire political program. They have not invented anything cleverer.
Preobrazhensky: Kremlin propaganda has openly called America the number one enemy. Many Russians are sure that America wants to destroy their country. Recently, the President of Ingushetia (the Russian Caucasus), an official person, has said so too. For Americans, it is hard to understand that Putin doesn’t need friendship with their country at all. He mostly needs the U.S. as a symbol of the exterior threat, which is so necessary for consolidating Russians in a time of crisis. Also, the ideas of American democracy penetrated into Russia in 1990s, so Putin has to cauterize them.
Bukovsky: The editors of the Western media tolerate the tone of their Moscow correspondents. The west has managed to justify even Putin’s severely anti-Western Munich speech by explaining it on the basis of some domestic factors. The Western leaders do not want to make Putin angry, naively believing that it will help them. While in fact that is just what Putin needs. Putin tells the West: “You are hostile!” and the West makes all possible concessions in order not to anger Putin again. Because Americans live in a society without conflicts, hostility causes stress, under which Americans have not been accustomed to live. But we Russians can tolerate it very well. Because we have been brought up in an atmosphere of police arbitrariness, of total boorishness. We all have stood in endless queues for many hours in order to buy something in the empty Soviet stores. Americans are much more vulnerable than Russians.
Preobrazhensky: And that is why Obama wants to improve relations with Russia.
Bukovsky: “Improving relations” is a senseless phrase. The West was also improving relations with the Soviet Union in the period of détente, but it resulted in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Preobrazhensky: But the new American President wants to seriously understand what is separating us.
Bukovsky: He will not make any discoveries. Let us just discuss the foolish game with the deployment of American missiles in Eastern Europe. The West has offered Russia a lot of concessions, but they have only made Russia angry. Because the root of the problem is not the missiles. Rather, it is the fact that Eastern Europe is “our” backyard and nobody may intrude there without our permission! What do these 10 American missiles mean in comparison with the thousands of Russian missiles? The power of the missiles is such that it is not so important where they are deployed: close or not so close to the state borders. And Russia had said that it is going to deploy the missile complex “Iskander” in the Kaliningrad region (near Germany) in spite of the U.S. It is teenagers’ logic: “Why is my friend allowed to do what I am not allowed? Let me beat him up for this!” And recently it has become known that those “Iskader” missiles have not been manufactured yet. It is a poker bluff. How is Obama going to “improve relations” with such a partner?
The closing of the American base in Kirgizia has the same motivation. “If you acknowledge Eastern Europe as a zone of Russian influence, then we can talk.” If the Americans really do that, the deployment of their missiles in Eastern Europe may become possible.
Preobrazhensky: Is the contrast between the American and Russian leaders like that between the well brought-up Tom Sawyer and the street boy, Huckleberry Finn, the heroes of the famous novel by Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”?
Bukovsky: No, the difference is more drastic. It is more like that between the naïve intellectuals, the heroes of the Woody Allen films, and the tough policemen whose roles are played by Clint Eastwood. The greatest mistake by the American leaders is that they consider their Russian colleagues to be similar to themselves while they are following quite a different kind of logic. For negotiation with them, America should appoint, not highly educated diplomats, but a sheriff from Chicago who understands the psychology of the mafia. He would cope there.
Also, the spiritual staunchness of the West is vanishing now. Political correctness is breaking the Western society into groups, depriving it of a single target. It is threatening the whole of European civilization. For example, in American universities, even in Stanford, the course on European civilization has been abolished. Instead, they may offer you lectures on the history of the African village. Left-wing political views are widespread in America. For the leftist American politicians, America is the main enemy. In this respect, they are Putin’s closest friends and assistants. And Russia is laying claim to domination. It is always injuring America.
Preobrazhensky: And in terms of the evidence before us, how do you see Russian-American relations ensuing under Obama?
Bukovsky: As it stands now, and if there is no drastic rethinking and reformulating, a chain of endless concessions by America.
[A short version of this interview was published by the “Novoe Russkoe Slovo” (“New Russian Word”), the Russian language newspaper in New York, on Saturday, March 15, 2009]