My friend Vlad kindly sent me the transcript of his recent speech, graciously granting me the permission to publish it. So here are a few excerpts:
“Today’s US rulers… those who have their hands on the control levers of the American state and military machine… want to establish an unchallenged domination in every part of the world, to guarantee their superprofits by robbing and subjugating the people of other countries. That’s why they need war… While pushing their country on the warpath, they also hope that the arms race and military tensions will enable them to prevent an economic crisis. But that crisis is ineluctably moving in on the US economy, and neither tricks nor brinkmanship on the part of the financial wheeler-dealers will preempt it….
“Having spread a network of military bases all over the world, and hastily putting together all sorts of aggressive military blocs, they are feverishly preparing for war with Russia…
“The US brass are staging demonstratively brazen and aggressive provocations against Russia… which are clearly designed to ruin the Russians’ tranquillity and to whip up war psychosis at home and among American stooges.
“Yet only hopeless idiots can expect to scare the Russian people with such provocations…”
Fooled you, didn’t I? For a second there you must have thought that Vlad is really my friend and the speech was really his. He isn’t and it wasn’t.
However, anybody who follows Putin’s rhetoric and that of his mouthpieces could have been fooled just as easily. Not just the general thrust of the speech but also its verbatim statements gush from Russian TV screens 24 hours a day.
In fact, the speech is real even if Vlad’s authorship of it isn’t. All I had to do to mislead you was replace ‘Soviet’ with ‘Russian’.
Otherwise the speech is exactly as it was delivered on 7 October, 1952, by Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s hangman-in-chief and Putin’s typological predecessor as head of State Security and aspiring dictator.
The latter ambition was nipped in the bud a few months later, when Beria’s comrades whacked him in gangland style and later staged a bogus retrospective trial featuring an unconvincing double as the defendant.
However, having killed Beria, they kept his policies, and followed them in the traditionally meandering Soviet manner of two steps forward, one step back. When Beria’s long-term policy eventually came to fruition, it became known worldwide as glasnost and perestroika, two of the few contributions Russian has made to European languages.
Beria saw foreign policy as a giant op designed to disarm the West and make it ripe for a Soviet takeover. His desired ends were no different from Stalin’s, but his methods were more subtle. Rather than raping the West into submission, Beria felt seduction would work better.
He proposed, among other seemingly liberal measures, disbanding the collective farms, building up the consumer economy, allowing the reunification of Germany, loosening the reins within the Soviet bloc and so forth. Beria correctly felt that a demob-happy West had no taste for a costly arms race nor certainly a direct military confrontation.
The Stalinist Politburo led by Khrushchev wouldn’t wear it: Beria’s thinking was too radical for their tastes. Stalinist policies without Stalin were more to their liking.
They killed Beria, but the relay baton he carried was passed on to his disciples within the KGB: mainly Shelepin, Semichastny and Andropov. In due course Andropov became the first KGB chief to rise to the very top, and it was he who sponsored Gorbachev’s ascendance.
The party’s resistance to Beria’s long-term strategy was thus broken, and English became two words richer. It’s hard to say whether the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union was part of the strategy or its unintended consequence. It’ll be another generation or two before we know for sure.
But what we know already is that, for all its stops and starts, Beria’s strategy is working. The West is disarming, some of its leading figures adore Putin, and Russia’s military muscle is building up at almost Stalin’s rate. Guns before butter is again the implicit slogan, while explicitly the Russians are appealing to the West’s good nature.
Look, they seem to be saying, we’re trying to be as free, democratic and prosperous as you are. But that takes time, and we’re experiencing some growth pains.
Play along with us, help us with investments and aid, and you’ll have a friend for life. And please don’t punish some of our precipitous actions too harshly: think of us as good but impetuous youngsters feeling their way into the grown-up world.
All that wooing abroad is accompanied, as it was in Beria’s time, by thunderous bellicose propaganda at home, designed to rally the populace and make it accept the growing deprivations.
The odd bit of murder, though not yet on the Beria scale, helps to keep the masses in check too, but for the time being it’s the Beria-like soundbytes that do most of the domestic work.
Thus we shouldn’t be surprised that Putin’s speeches can so easily be confused with Beria’s. For all lifelong KGB officers, which Putin self-admittedly and proudly is, Beria is the god they worship. His words are their gospel.
Those of us who pray to different gods should be worried and vigilant. What Putin is doing in the Ukraine and Syria just may be the dress rehearsal.