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Author: To Predict Putin’s Future Moves, Americans Need to Understand His Past

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

To understand what President Vladimir Putin may do in the future, the author of a new book on today’s Russia said Americans need to understand why and how he became a national hero by brutally suppressing separatists in Moscow’s second war in Chechnya.

David Satter, a former reporter for the Financial Times and fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said, “Russia has become in recent years an aggressive state” in its actions aiding breakaway provinces in Georgia, seizing Crimea in 2014 and backing separatists in eastern Ukraine. The regime uses those actions to distract Russians from their own economic troubles.

He termed the Russian government’s treatment of a series of bombings in 1999 that brought Putin to power “the greatest political provocation since the burning of the Reichstag, establishing the regime we have to contend with in Ukraine” and elsewhere. Nazis set the Reichstag [parliament] fire in 1933, blamed it on their Communist opponents and set the stage for Adolf Hitler to assume emergency powers as German chancellor.

The Americans and Western Europeans who believed that Russia would be a partner in keeping peace and order in Europe after the breakup of the Soviet Union were mistaken. Instead, Moscow became increasingly dictatorial under President Boris Yeltsin and Putin, his hand-picked successor. The Western image of Russia “bore no relation to reality” of what happened in a country that had no solid economic program in place when the state-controlled system was being sold off.

Speaking Thursday at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank, the author of “The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin” traced the rise of the obscure head of the FSB, Russia’s internal security and counterintelligence service, to “avenging the perfidious attacks on citizens in their beds” following a series of apartment house bombings around Russia, including in Moscow.

At the time, the Yeltsin government blamed the bombings on the Chechens who in earlier fighting successfully seceded from Russia. Putin, named prime minister, was put in charge of bringing Chechnya back under Russian control. Both Yeltsin’s and Putin’s popularity were negligible then, and it was likely that they would not survive the 2000 election. Satter added Yeltsin and his family then could face criminal charges of corruption, Satter said.

As the fighting in Grozny, the Chechen capital, intensified, another bomb was discovered in the basement of an apartment house in a city about 30 miles from Moscow. Satter and others contend that the bomb, which did not explode, was placed by FSB provocateurs. Later FSB officials said it really was only a test of vigilance. Residents of the apartment house and the surrounding buildings who spent the night on the street “absolutely did not believe it was a test.” He said that when he later interviewed local police they laughed at the idea that it was a training exercise.

Nor did a number of Russian political figures and journalists, “who questioned what happened” and sought to discover who really set the explosives in the other bombings. At least four of whom were either gunned down or poisoned, and many more were arrested on charges of suspicion, Satter said.

“Putin had to emerge victorious” to succeed Yeltsin as president, a second defeat would have endangered the regime. The first Chechen war, in Satter’s view, was waged from 1994 to 1996 to distract the Russian people from their economic troubles. “It was neither small, nor victorious.”

Satter said the 2002 school and 2004 theater attacks in Russia that left hundreds more dead, again blamed on Chechens, were suspiciously similar to the apartment bombings as to who was truly behind them.

In light of the fighting in Ukraine and Moscow’s threats against Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania today, the American “people are more ready to listen” to the threats Russia poses and the steps Putin will take to retain power, he said.

  • sferrin

    “Huurrrr,.. the 80s called and want their Cold War back. *yuck*, *yuck*, *yuck*”- Barack Obama.

    • UKExpat

      Putin is a very dangerous man. He has had his head well and truly rubbed in the sand when he tried to wrest control of mainland Europe’s energy supplies, an action that he had energetically championed in his previously published papers, fortunately for Germany and Eastern Europe he was stopped by the massive fall in global oil and gas prices. He is now desperate to make Russia the big player it was in the Soviet era and seems prepared to take risks to achieve this. Every effort should be taken to forestall him in this and gain as much information about his future strategy / intentions as possible. He is a man, with a large ego, on a mission and it would be very dangerous indeed to underestimate him. Making tacky glib comments about the cold war only hides this growing problem and could lead to complacency.

  • Secundius

    His Father was the Personal Cook of STALIN, and a Colonel in the NKVD. He’s “Oprichnina”, like Ivan the Terrible. the Oprichnina are Interrelated because of it Low Population Count of ~6,000…

  • Andre

    What does this have to do with predicting what Putin will do next?

    Note that the Kremlin clearly and loudly declared its interest in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and Donbas years before it intervened…

    • AND Russia told Obama to stop starting wars and overthrowing governments for years.

      Crimea was the only target Russia could engage at that point.

      USA had strike group(s) in the Med off of Syria.


      • Andre

        Which governments has Obama overthrown? Which wars did Obama start? Putin’s presidency began with a war on a very spurious pretext, continued with invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, and in addition to the dirty war in Donbas, Russia is active in Syria’s Civil War…

        Neither Iran nor Russia has been obstructed by the US from intervening directly in Syria, and while US special forces have been aiding the Iraqis and Kurds to retake territory from Daesh in Iraq and Syria, American equipment provided to Iraq has wound up in Syria being used by Hezbollah in defense of Assad. Moreover, the Russian and Iranian efforts against Daesh have been scant despite the billions of dollars, hundreds of special forces operatives and tens of thousands of mercenaries they have committed to ensuring that Assad remains in power.

        Russia has had its eye on Crimea for some time. After Stalin’s usual demographic re-engineering on the peninsula, Khruschev used it as a cudgel to ensure that Ukraine was irrevocably tied to Russia. If Yeltsin had been more honest, perhaps Putin wouldn’t have to lie or act in bad faith.

        • Egypt, Libya, and Syria were admitted by the Administration as key ‘democracy objectives.’

          AND, the list Snowden gave the Russians and Chinese, included Russia and China.

          I do not agree with Obama, nor do I agree with Putin.

          I am merely looking at what they have both done.


          • Andre


            You claim that Obama “started wars” and “overthrew governments”, yet you conflate those accusations of hard power intervention with soft power influence. Both China and Russia use soft power, including propaganda, against the US…

            The so-called Arab Spring caught the West by surprise, and spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya and Syria. In Egypt, Obama did not provide support to Mubarak due to the regime’s unpopularity, and cautiously accepted the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, who was then quickly overthrown by Sisi’s Mubarak-esque regime, which would tilt away from the US and toward the Gulf Arab states and even Russia. In Libya, the US helped enforce the UN-mandated no-fly zone, while the UK and France overstepped the mark and intervened directly in the Civil War, along with Qatar. In Syria, Iranian advisors and special forces (IRGC) were on the ground when the protests were still peaceful, and it took months of regime murder, torture and imprisonment before elements of the SyAA began defecting. Washington as well as Ankara continued to believe Assad was a “reformer” for many months, before calling for him to step down, and neither the Turks nor the Gulf Arabs provided arms to the rebels until early 2012. All the while, the IRGC was attempting to crush the protests and insurgency as it had in 2009-2010 in Iran. Teheran was supporting Damascus to the tune of USD $1 billion per month well before the CIA began distributing TOWs to vetted rebel groups in the FSA.

            Putin’s track record includes the invasion of Chechnya (de facto independent), the invasion of Georgia (Georgia proper and Abkhazia), installing a pro-Russian government in Kyiv, invading Ukraine (including annexing Crimea and the ongoing dirty war in Donbas) and intervening on behalf of one faction in the Syrian Civil War.

            By the way, Putin has lied about invading Crimea (which he later admitted) and combating “terrorism” in Syria (Russian strikes are not against Daesh).

          • ‘The Arab Spring’ WAS financed and controlled by the US government.

            Do I like Putin’s methods more than Obama’s? NO.

          • Andre

            Not true. Egypt was a key US ally at the time, Tunisia was a major destination for European tourists and both Qaddafi and Assad were creeping toward reform. The Arab Spring served none of the great powers’ interests.

          • Money talked.

          • Secundius

            Partially by the USA. Founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement of 17 September 2011. We Professor Michel Chossudovsky (Canadian) and Micah M. White (American)…

          • And one last time, while I understand what and why Putin did what he did, I do not condone his behavior anymore than I do Obama’s.


          • I don’t disagree with your ‘facts.’

            BUT, when the Department of STATE told me that they used ‘Soft Power’ and a lot of money to overthrow Egypt and Libya, I BELIEVED them.

            And Putin threatened US over Syria and then hit Ukraine. Doesn’t make what Putin did right, but he was responding to Obama’s ‘Soft Power.


  • John Grady,

    To predict Putin, China, or ISIS – FIRST determine WHAT buttons the Obama Administration is pushing.


    • John

      Best to think of the Obama administration as a group of non American murderers.

  • Ed L

    Well I believe that something will happen to cause the oil prices to rise. I believe that Putin has already put a plan in place to get oil prices to rise to Russia can make a pile of money