Putin’s poisoning and the rebirth of dark historical forces
Thanks to Putin, we can now imagine what life was like under the Borgias or relentless Roman emperors such as Caligula and Nero. Dark assassins were busy neutralizing threats against power, including poisoning – the most insidious of weapons because it spread suspicion among intimate while the perpetrators were rarely identified, let alone punished. Last week I detailed a list of Putin’s likely casualties in Britain, from Litvinenko to the Skripals. More recently, Peter Verzilov, one of the main Pussy Riot activists, has suddenly collapsed and is now fighting for his life in the sequestered toxicology wing of a Moscow hospital where his friends cannot visit him. . They believe he too was poisoned.
For his principles, Peter Verzilov of Pussy Riot could not have wooed retribution more openly or courageously. He had the audacity to rush onto the pitch during the World Cup final in Moscow to protest the Russian police state. As with Hitler’s XI Olympiad in 1936, the FIFA games in 2018 were the crown jewel of Putin’s reign. As a theater of legitimation, as an emperor in the Colosseum, and as an illustration of Putin’s success in restoring order and national pride after the post-Soviet chaos. Verzilov sought to pierce this illusion.
On the very day of Verzilov’s collapse, Putin calmly observed in public that the Skripal suspects were civilians, not state agents. He encouraged them to reveal themselves. Let’s see what he meant. Contemporary Kremlinology almost requires some sort of literary theoretical approach to shake up the whole gamut of nuance. No doubt Putin wanted to absolve himself. It was not an official act, he hinted. And these were not rogue elements of the state under his command. Translation: his security services would not have failed, moreover, no dishonest element can operate under his watch. But there is an additional, very sinister nuance. I have frequently observed in this column that Putin knowingly chairs a proactive mafia network in which independent sadistic thugs commit atrocities as offerings to the boss.
They often do this to curry favor or to atone for a previous sin, hoping to save their skin. Since their crimes are never punished, the lesson is clear to all: the boss implicitly approves of such private initiatives. In the Skripal case, however, Putin’s warning simply does not stand. No one outside of state bodies can get a nerve agent like Novichok and engineer the technology to deliver it safely in a fake perfume container. But Putin’s ostensible point of view remains – he welcomes the lawless acts of killers vying for the favor. This gives him denial. It spreads pervasive fear among citizens and the world. And it instills paranoid suspicion between individuals of any group in the hope of uniting against it. Anyone, anywhere, can become their self-proclaimed enforcer against you. Your relative, your friend, your business partner. Your lunch date.
The Skripal suspects have now emerged. They appeared in an interview with the public broadcaster. The duo claimed to have traveled from Moscow as mere tourists heading to Britain to see the picturesque English town of Salisbury twice in the two days they stayed. They had heard of his glories from friends. They claim to have tried Stonehenge as well, but turned around when faced with too much snow sludge underfoot. (Was the snow in Moscow friendlier?) As many have observed on the internet, their story is blatantly absurd, and it is no coincidence. Putin and his media outlets are constantly trying to undermine the notion of empirical truth, openly and brazenly. Witness the “little green men” who invaded Crimea. Or the multiple theories, each more silly than the next, on the downing of the MH17, the civilian airliner. In Putin’s crazy Cubist fantasy, there is no guilt or innocence, truth or lie, and no independent institutions to determine such things. Result: a confused population seeks a strong leader. They regard it as the only truth. He becomes the true north of reality, essentially the builder of reality. And they admire his dismissive recklessness in the face of loud accusations, the loudest the better as it shows he soars above the quarrel clamor of mere mortals. It comes close to the cult of the emperor, the self-fulfilling circular conditions of the rule of divine law. It encourages the auto-infantilization of citizens.
Stalin understood the mentality, consciously exploited it. Just like the tsars and former monarchs. Putin plays on deeply rooted human frailties that go back to the old regime pre-modern era and before (when poisoners flourished). In those dark times, chaos was the main enemy – invisible plagues, natural disasters, sudden catastrophes – and fatalism the main answer. The West, as Putin’s media repeatedly asserts, is full of chaos, contradictions, confusion – the horrors of democracy. Russian Putin offers a stable alternative, a haven of peace under the protective umbrella of the strong leader. But there is another grim assumption of the past at play: a feeling that misfortune awaits those who ineffably deserve it. When people collapsed from poisoning, you didn’t know who had done it or what it was. It seemed that the Gods had imposed their impenetrable decree. The victims were unhappy, marked, arbitrary losers, rejections of nature. Hence the insane habit of Russian television of mocking the victims of poisoning as scythes, whiners, suitors while mocking the surrounding outrage as a laughable form of hysteria.
There is also a concomitant underlying assumption: that absolute rulers deserve their sovereignty, their dominance. They arrived at the top in a Darwinian state of competition against all adversity, nature’s irrefutable choice, the favorite of the Gods. Divinely anointed. Hence Putin’s amalgamation between his status and the Russian Orthodox Church, and even with the (victorious) Russian people. When he wins, they win. (Erdogan learned Putin’s lessons well.) These are dark atavistic forces that we thought we had buried in the mud of eons. Putin rekindled them for his own purposes and others will follow his example across the world. His authoritarian and populist example paved the way for many others to emulate. He has now introduced poisoning as an instrument of legitimate power. Think about it.