You won’t find anyone who despises conspiracy theories as thoroughly, and mocks their holders as readily, as I do. There’s a caveat though, as there usually is.
Dismissing conspiracy theories shouldn’t mean denying that perfectly non-theoretical conspiracies do exist, and always have. And when it comes to Russia, they don’t just exist but abound.
For example, in the musical chairs of the Romanov succession, more tsars than not ascended to the throne by violent coup d’état, and in fact the dynasty was ended by a red, as opposed to purple, conspiracy.
This fine tradition was continued and greatly enhanced by the Bolshevik dynasty that has been reigning, mutatis mutandis, for 100 years. As an illegal contrivance to begin with, it has never had provisions for legal succession. New leaders move into the Kremlin as a denouement to only three possible scenarios: assassination, bloodless coup, bogus elections.
Of course secret police is inherently conspiratorial, and in Russia infinitely more so than in any civilised country. The organisation itself has often found itself on the receiving end of conspiracies. It’s only in the last 50 years that its heads have been allowed to retire. All the previous ones fell to conspiracies, historically verified or as near as damn.
Dzerjinsky probably and Menjinsky almost definitely were poisoned. Yagoda, executed. Beria, ditto. Merkulov, ditto. Abakumov, ditto. The murders they themselves had perpetrated were mostly by category, irrespective of any individual wrong-doing.
But they themselves were whacked, to use Col. Putin’s preferred term, for rational reasons, all traceable to some tectonic shifts in the Kremlin. A pattern was always visible to a naked eye, usually with no telescopic magnification necessary.
These days, however, optical instruments come in handy, along with some analytical ability. Murderous patterns bucking statistical odds are still discernible, but analysis isn’t easy.
For example, in the last two months of 1984 no fewer than five defence ministers of Warsaw Pact countries, including the USSR, suffered fatal cardiac arrests. The logician in me refuses to accept that sudden onset of heart trouble as purely coincidental.
The deaths were visible results of invisible struggle, probably of the armies against the increasingly dictatorial power of the secret services. In Russia the process got under way under the aegis of Yuri Andropov, KGB chief turned dictator, who had died earlier that year – but not before passing the relay baton on to his able successors, of whom Putin is the latest and the ablest.
The army continued to suffer attrition both before and during Putin’s tenure. Between 1991 and 2015, 42 Russian generals died, with only three of the deaths possibly attributable to natural causes.
The graph of those deaths shows two noticeable peaks. The first one happened in 2002, when as many generals died as in the previous 11 years combined. The second peak occurred in 2014, with three more generals dying in 2015.
One can only guess at the nature of those peaks, but the guess is reasonably educated. For 2002 was the culmination of Putin’s war in Chechnya; 2014, the beginning of his war in the Ukraine. In both wars, the army had to play a humiliating second fiddle to FSB and Interior Ministry troops, and also to paramilitary formations.
It doesn’t stretch imagination too far to surmise that there was a rumble of discontent among the army’s high command, which could only be quelled in the traditional ‘whacking’ manner that comes so naturally to the ruling KGB junta.
And now another epidemic pattern emerges, that in the Russian foreign service. Since late 2016, several Russian diplomats have died, again defying statistical likelihood. Here are six of the best:
In November, 2016, Sergei Krivoy, head of security at the New York consulate, had his head bashed in fatally.
In December, 2016, Andrey Karlov, ambassador to Turkey, was gunned down in Istanbul.
Just hours later, senior diplomat Petr Polshikov was shot dead in Moscow.
A month ago, Andrey Malanin, Russian consul in Greece was found dead in his bathroom, with the official cause of death rather vague.
Roughly at the same time, Alexander Kadakin, ambassador to India, died of a heart attack, even though he had never suffered from health problems before.
Later, Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative to the UN, died of a heart attack in New York.
Coincidences? Possibly. However, as Russian spies are taught, if coincidences number more than two, they aren’t coincidences.
Trying to explain this blight sweeping through the Russian Foreign Ministry would get us into the area of conjecture, where the charge of spreading conspiracy theories looms. However, if we justifiably refuse to accept all these deaths as coincidental, some explanation is needed.
Back in the 60s and 70s, western analysts tried to figure out the identities of the ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’ in the Soviet Politburo. Actually, they were all hawks, whose disagreements had more to do with tactics than strategy.
Today the situation may well be different. Putin’s kleptofascist junta is made up of offshore billionaires, whose wealth encourages at least some dovelike tendencies. These leaven the bellicose instincts of what the opposition sources call the War Party. Putin himself observes the tussle with avuncular divide et impera equanimity.
It’s conceivable that the diplomats had to die for falling foul of the hawks. It’s also possible they themselves were hawks who had upset the doves. Other possibilities exist too.
One way or another, we should follow the unfolding epidemic with more than just academic interest. The contagion may well affect us.