Putin’s stormtroopers have a fine model to follow

Zu dem Verbot der S.A. der "Privat Armee" Adolf Hitlers! [Herausgabe des Fotos April 1932] Die Totenkopf-Brigade der S.A. während eines Aufmarsches in Braunschweig

Watching Russian football thugs turning France into hell made me upset for my friend Vlad. Really, I thought, I must tell him to avoid in-your-face parallels, lest some people might become wary.

The muscle end of Hitler’s regime had several branches and, one must admit with chagrin, Putin’s equivalent is beginning to resemble the earlier model in many structural details.

Early in his days at the helm, Hitler created the SS (Schutzstaffel), his personal guard led by his confidant Himmler. Initially a small, tight-knit force, the SS later expanded, bringing under its aegis the entire security apparatus, including the police, foreign intelligence, counterintelligence and even its own army, the Waffen-SS.

It’s instructive to observe how Putin follows the same pattern, recreating a massive security system on the basis of his personal guard, the Federal Guard Service (FSO in Russian, formerly the KGB Ninth Chief Directorate). A month ago both its remit and numerical strength were vastly expanded, with new police, security and even military functions added to its responsibilities.

The new head of this shadowy setup, Dmitri Kochnev, used to be in charge of Putin’s personal security detail. The FSO now numbers around 40,000, which alone is sufficient to demonstrate that its job goes way beyond throwing bodies between Putin and assassins’ bullets. Such is Vlad’s SS.

But Hitler also had a paramilitary force called the SA (Sturmabteilung). Before the SS was formed, the SA was his principal shock force. Its function was to intimidate and create mayhem, whenever intimidation and mayhem were required. Initially most stormtroopers didn’t carry firearms, making do with fists, knives, truncheons and some such.

It was SA bands that harassed Jews, dispersed the meetings of opposition parties and marched through cities creating havoc everywhere they went. Their MO consisted of beatings, murders and vandalism, all finding a well-publicised expression in Kristallnacht, the 1938 Jewish pogrom.

Russians know that Putin’s junta has its own SA, an unofficial and deniable force of thugs originally put together some 20 years ago by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the openly fascist Deputy Speaker of the Duma.

Football hooligans were the core of that group, but it quickly snowballed to include generic young thugs. They were used to protect neo-fascist marches, disperse anti-fascist ones, harass any gatherings of Putin’s opponents, beat up, maim or – if need be – murder those who wouldn’t be harassed.

In 2007, Putin’s close confidant Vitaly Mutko, Minister of Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy, created the All-Russian Union of Football Fans, a palpably fascist group supervised by the government. Its leaders were honoured by Vlad’s appearance. “You’re a real force,” he declared. “Don’t let anyone control and manipulate you.” Except of course Vlad himself and his special services.

None of this is news to Russians, but the rest of the world didn’t know much about this ‘force’ until it made its international debut during the ongoing UEFA Championship. British papers, shocked that for once our own football plankton was defeated in several battles, refer to the Russian thugs as ‘football hooligans’.

The Russians are undoubtedly that but, when unqualified, the term is misleading. For one thing, however much we may bemoan the impotence of our government in dealing with football violence, it wouldn’t occur to us to accuse the government of organising it.

Yet that’s precisely the situation in Russia. The militant thugs were carefully trained in special camps, then handpicked and equipped for this mission by Alexander Shprygin, head of the Union I mentioned.

Shprygin, Mutko’s man and a known neo-fascist, played a hands-on role in the violence and was one of the 20 thugs deported by the French. He thus didn’t pay for his return flight, but then his gang flew into France for free too, in a Ministry of Sport 300-capacity charter commandeered by Mutko, ‘Putin’s charter’ as Russian opposition websites call it.

Most of the thugs have full-time jobs in various security services, where they acquired general martial skills later customised for specifically football violence. The English beer-bellied hooligans were no match for the athletic Russians in anything but the density of tattoos.

The French were amazed at how well the Russian gang performed. The muscular yobs came kitted with identical black T-shirts and bandanas (a uniform clearly designed to avoid confusion between friend and foe), mouth gumshields, martial half-gloves and waist bags containing knives and other weapons.

After those stormtroopers claimed their victory over the English, the papers ought to have commented on a fundamental difference between them and our home-grown plankton. Whenever our lot act up, normal people – and this once I include government officials in that category – are indignant and ashamed.

However, the Russians are transparently proud. A typical reaction came from Igor Lebedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian parliament (Duma): “I don’t know what’s wrong with the fans fighting,” he tweeted. “Quite the opposite – well done, lads, keep it up!”

We can count on that. Far from being a sporadic outburst of violence, English-style, this was a carefully prepared subversive operation. And just like Hitler’s SA, Putin’s stormtroopers weren’t created for a one-off action. Now they’ve made their way outside Russia, brace yourself for more of the same.


1 thought on “Putin’s stormtroopers have a fine model to follow”

  1. The English are the football hooligans of Europe. This time they chose to take on the wrong crowd and got their ass kicked. Europe was cheering while you lament what they had coming to them. Yes sure Vlad’s police don’t carry weapons other than when on special operation. In USA police are better armed than the military tanks, personal military vehicles and all kinds of weapons. Yes Alex your eyes are wide open but you are blind in one eye and cant see out of the other.

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