Some sections of the Left avoid naming Putin’s war in Ukraine as imperialist. Instead they insist war was launched to fight fascism, and point to NATO encirclement as excuses for war. These evasions are disturbing. Putin enabled the most reactionary, corrupt oligarchy and murderous thuggery of Kuchma and Yankuvich. This in turn both fueled and spiraled back to the Maidan coup of 2014 funded and driven by US and EU imperialism.
Both the Russian imperialist invasion and NATO Western imperialism are to be condemned. In real life there is often no simple ‘one’ or ‘other’. Such simplicity is for novels, belle lettres, propaganda and religious texts. Refusing to acknowledge Putin and his ‘siloviki’ as revanchist neo-imperialists, renders socialists incapable of convincing people of a socialist vision. Worse, it discredits that vision of those who see the reality of war and refugees.
Actually there is no dilemma here, for Putin’s history makes it impossible to paint him as an anti-fascist. His history is to grab riches for himself and his ‘oligarchs’ while subverting the former USSR into a capitalist state. He consolidated his rise to power with war in Chechnya. These two crimes remain relevant, and this article is confined to those two aspects.
Khrushchev and The Tension Between Light and Heavy Industry Capitalists
By 1953, the neo-capitalist class in the USSR was split between those in consumer industries, and those in heavy industry-armaments. Nikita Khrushchev came to power in 1953, remaining as Prime Minister till 1964. Khrushchev resurrected capitalist relations, but stealthily as this was unpopular. Even by 2000: “hardly anyone calls it a “capitalist revolution”… for tactical reasons, intending to deceive the people”. So the facade of ‘socialism’ was carefully maintained. [see WB Bland here and here]
Khrushchev instituted profit-based production, handing State Machine and Tractor Stations to collective farms. With Georgi Malenkov, they demanded more light industry at the Supreme Soviet:
“All the conditions exist for a sharp rise in the production of consumer goods… We must promote light industry by every means”.
Heavy industry state capitalists reversed this and removed Malenkov. In 1955 Marshal Bulganin, represented this faction. Khrushchev also sought “collaboration” with US imperialism in a utopian “partnership”. But by the 1960s the Soviet neo-capitalist class were smarting from the Cuban crisis and loss of influence in colonial-type countries. Consequently, the heavy industry section of the neo-capitalists class reversed the pro-USA collaboration. As the USSR disintegrated, these two sections of neo-capitalists battled each other . Despite changes of leaders up to Putin, none challenged the role of profit.
Gorbachev to Yeltsin
Mikhail Gorbachev (General Secretary 1985), of the consumer industry faction, eroded central control. Repudiating the heavy industrialists, he withdrew USSR forces from Afghanistan which fomented a crisis. In 1985, Boris Yeltsin was appointed to the Politburo.
Meanwhile, living conditions deteriorated. Yeltsin pushed for un-mitigated capitalism. In 1990 his proposals for privatisation in a ‘programme for 500 days’ provoked an attempted coup, led by Vice-President Yanayev, arresting Gorbachev. Yeltsin simply occupied the Soviet’s ‘White House’ which ended the coup. Gorbachev resigned saying “My life’s work has been accomplished’. As Medvedev says:
“The new rulers of the Russian federation introduced a ‘revolution from above’, to transform the so-called socialist system of former Soviet Russia into a liberal capitalist system.”
The dissolution of the USSR in 1991, by agreement of Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine formed the ‘Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS). Yeltsin, Gaidar and Chubais – removed price controls, urged on by US economist Jeffrey Sachs to:
“Introduce capitalism in one fell swoop to… dismantle quickly most of the controls and subsidies that had structured life for Soviet citizens for most of the century.”
They sold off the state, converting the economy into a comprador dependency on the USA, hitting heavy industrialists. Gaidar advised Russians to “simply shut our eyes tightly and leap into the unknown” – into ‘shock therapy’ . Chaos ensued: Suicides, alcoholism and misery rose, life span shortened – reflecting decline:
“The national income declined by 18%… the indebtedness of enterprises came to 2.5 trillion rubles”.
Anatoly Chubais was empowered to “build capitalism in Russia in a few years of frontal assault… accomplishing production norms that had taken the rest of the world centuries.”
Supposedly all citizens received a voucher for “an equal share” of industrial enterprises, of ten thousand roubles. Under massive inflation that value fell dramatically. Moreover people were unpaid. Into this human misery, vultures swooped in buying vouchers at a pittance . As the mayor of Moscow put it: “Privatisation was like a drunkard in the street selling his belongings for a pittance”.
This is how the oligarchy in Russia was created. It was exemplified by the oil and gas magnate Mikhail Khodorovsky whose power was broken by Putin.
Industrial output collapsed by 26 percent, Russia’s GDP fell 42 percent and industrial production fell 46 percent. Capital flight sent profits into Western banks. Savings of individual pensioners and families were wiped out. The Russian Academy of Sciences summed up 1992-1993:
“The income of the 10% of the Russia’s citizens most well-provided-for, was ten times higher than that of the least-well-provided for 10%. A third of the population has income below the official “subsistence minimum, and 10% or 15 million people are below the threshold of that necessary for physical survival. This signals the entry of society into severe social conflict”.
By October 1993, the Duma tried to impeach Yeltsin, who attacked the Supreme Soviet, killing at least 200. But while Yeltsin lost the Dumas elections, he won a referendum to alter the Constitution, and appointed a government. By 1994 more than 50 % of all productive capacity was in private hands, by 1995 80% of all state-owned enterprises had been sold.
Putin’s Role in This Theft From The Peoples of The USSR
Putin had been in the KGB in Dresden, as the GDR imploded. Likely in the GDR’s last days Putin helped move the Stasi’s cash into the West. Putin then returned to Russia. He emerged as a politician in St. Petersburg in 1994. He quickly gained positions there including controlling roles on financial committees. Putin became deputy to mayor Anatoly Sobchak.
The Joint Stock Commercial Bank Rossiya was established in 1990, through which enormous foreign cash transfers gutted the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In 1991 Putin’s ‘Committee for Foreign Liaison’ coordinated the Bank’s activities, collaborating with organised criminal elements . Putin aided Gennadiy Timchenko of Kirishi Petroleum Chemical Export, and Guvor, to gain contracts for food delivery in the ‘food crisis’ of 1991. However that ‘food purchase’ never arrived, the money stolen.
Putin protected Rossiya from investigations of money laundering to the West. As chairman of the Committee for Foreign Liaison he was responsible for encouraging, regulating, and licensing foreign investment in St. Petersburg. No monies left St Petersburg without his sanction. Putin aided the Tambow criminal gang and Gennadiy Petrov move monies out of Russia. By 2014 Rossiya bank was the 17th largest bank in Russia with over $10 billion in assets.
Putin made no communist expressions against fervent privatization. Instead Putin became part of the ‘Family’ gang of Boris Yeltsin. This included the financial oligarchy with Boris Berezovskiy for a long early period.
Putin surrounded himself with the Siloviki (‘strong men’ or ‘KGB Inc’) led by Igor Sechin. They resented selling Russia to the West, but equally they did not want to return to socialism. Instead they wanted to keep Russian capital for themselves Including for all its various misuses, for example helping Bashar al-Assad. As Putin’s former chief economics advisor Andrei Illarionov put it:
“Their ideology is the so-called ‘nash’-ism [ours-ism]… For ‘us’ common laws are not applicable. Another element of their corporatist state is the widespread use of force and violence in various forms towards opponents and ‘the others’.” 
Putin’s abuses were so blatant that legislators were zoning in on him. But the Commission led by legislator Marina Sal’ye was stalled by Putin. Sal’ye was ultimately forced into hiding. Numerous other documents and tied Putin into the gambling industry and simple but lucrative organised crime; real estate manipulations, fuel, commodities, etc.
Putin moved to Moscow as deputy head of Presidential Property Management Department (PPMD). In 1996 Yeltsin had seized control of all USSR and CPSU foreign property. Yeltsin used the PPMD to evade the Swiss-based company kickbacks scandal of Mabetex around the embezzlement of $62.5 million. Yeltsin’s fate now depended on Putin, who in 1997 became deputy chief of the presidential staff. By 1998 he was Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor. By 1999 Putin was made acting Prime Minister by President Yeltsin, whose resignation led to Putin becoming Acting President.
By now the corruption trail was more vivid. Felipe Turover had turned over 4,000 pages of evidence to Swiss courts and Russian prosecutors detailing Mabatex. This came to the Russian Procurator General Yuiry Skuratov – from the Swiss prosecutor general Carla Del Ponte. ‘Yeltsin-gate’ fast became close to a ‘Putin-Gate’ – with Putin under charges of abuse of office. Suddenly a public exposure was made of pornographic videos showing Skuratov with two prostitutes, but Skuratov persisted.
The Moscow apartment bombings, a reputedly false flag operation, was their solution. First the Chechen wars were revived inside Dagestan by paid ‘militants’ planted by the FSB. But the apartment bombings ‘justified’ a Chechen war.
Cutting Teeth In Chechnya Seals Rise to Power
The Chechen Wars attacked an independent nation. General Dzhakhar Dudayev led the Chechen National Congress, as President in October 1991. Yeltin sent in Russian troops, who stood down when surrounded by Chechen troops.
The Russian state engineered factions in Ingushetia to demand an Ingush Republic. By 1993 Chechnya was bitterly divided. By November 1994, as historian Dunlop says “the Yeltsin leadership had arrived at a firm decision to overthrow Dudaev in a “black operation” . In December 1994, an invasion led to “Russia’s biggest military operation since Afghanistan” . Fierce Chechen resistance, and Russian army morale disintegration – led to massive discontent inside Russia. The invasion of 1 January 1995 was fought to a standstill by Chechens.
But this victory was temporary. At stake were, firstly oil pipelines from Baku, Azerbaijian to link on to the Black Sea.
Secondly, it was necessary to ensure Putin’s leadership, to stop the impeachment of Yeltsin, since Putin’s neck was also on the line.
The path was to be internal subterfuge :
“Sergei Yushenkov, chairman of Defense Committee, telephoned Oleg Lobov, secretary of Russian Security Council.
Lobov told him there would be a war… (saying): ‘It is not only a question of the integrity of Russia. We need a small victorious war to raise the president’s ratings.’”
To make this “acceptable” to a reluctant Russian people, false flag terror operations were launched to ‘justify’ emergency powers. Warnings emerged in June 1999, of “the preparation of a series of terrorist acts in Russia (aiming at) canceling the future elections”, and “to be blamed on the Chechens.” The market town explosion of Vladikavkaz, North Ossetiya (March 1999) killed seventy.
The Yeltsin Family knew the planned events as the “Storm in Moscow”, which aimed to:
“discredit [mayor] Luzhkov with provocations, to destabilize the socio-psychological situation in Moscow. … (with) loud terrorist acts ..:… (and) kidnapping of… well-known people and average citizens by ‘Chechen rebels’ who with great pomp will then be ‘freed’”.
Helicopter gunships shot up the Caucasus “to create an excuse for cancelling upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections”. The oligarch Boris Berezovski (then close to Yeltsin and Putin) funded “extremist elements among Chechen separatists with millions of dollars.” Putin’s involvement extended to planning with the former Prime Minister Stashin, to bring “the international terrorist Shamil Basaev” into a campaign into Dagestan.”
Stepashin was candid to ‘Frankfurter Rundschau’ in 2000. They planned “to destabilize the situation “to permit Yeltsin to declare Emergency Rule in Russia and to postpone the parliamentary and presidential elections of December 1999 and March 2000.” Two subsequent explosions in September 1999 in Moscow led to about 224 people and innumerable casualties. Duly, Vladimir Putin became acting Russian president three-and-a-half months after the Moscow bombings.
After Putin turned on Berezovskii and forced him into exile, Berezovskii revealed ‘Operation Successor’:
“these explosions [in Moscow] were the work not of Chechens but of the Russian authorities.”
Putin – in his autobiography conceded:
“he had “to a large degree” taken responsibility for the entire (Chechen) war effort.”
No leftist can harbour illusions about Putin, who said:
“the Bolsheviks “destroyed what glues, molds the people of civilized countries – market relationships. They destroyed the market emerging capitalism. The only thing that they did to keep the country together within common borders – was a barb wire.”
Putin regained the lucrative oil and gas industries for Russian capital, destroying oligarch-compradors for foreign capitalists, especially Khodorkovsky. Lately, Alexei Navalny was targeted for revealing Putin’s hidden wealth. For example, The Kremlin claims that Putin earns $140,000/year. His publicly disclosed assets include an 800-square foot apartment, a trailer, and three cars. But according to some experts, he may be the one of the wealthiest men in the world with assets totaling up to $200 billion.
In light of this, it is clear that Russia under Putin is a hyper-nationalist neo-imperialist state while Putin himself is an oligarch and a ruthless imperialist, not “an anti-fascist”. It is not enough to replace one imperialist with its rival, one has to oppose the structures of power itself: at home, in the USA, and also in Russia.
. Roy Medvedev, “Post-Soviet Russia. A Journey through the Yeltsin era”; New York; 2000; p. 47
. Christian Schmidt-Hauer, ‘Gorbachev – Path to power’; London 1986; p. 130.
. Medvedev; Ibid p.14; 23; 43; 88-90;
. Catherine Belton, ‘Putin’s People’; New York; 2020;p.76; 33-34
. Karen Dawisha, ‘Putin’s Kleptocracy’; New York; 2014 p.63-70; p.80-83; 190-200
. Martin Sixsmith, “Putin’s Oil. The Yukos Affair and the Struggle for Russia”; London 2010;p.55
. Dunlop John 1, ‘Russia Confronts Chechnya’; Cambridge, 1998; p.193-197
. ‘The Guardian’, 3 December 1994.
. Dunlop, John2,’ Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Putin`s Rule., Ibidem Verlag, 2015. p.14-76