"There is no happiness in life,
there is only a mirage on the horizon,
so cherish that."
V.V.Putin - 16 June 2021
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Prior to the ascent of Yuri Andropov in 1982, no director or former director of the KGB had ever been appointed General Secretary. The only previous secret police chief to come close was Lavrenti Beria, who was arrested and shot during the power struggle that followed Stalin's death. Similar fates befell Beria's two predecessors. Then Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.
The reptilian, poker-faced former KGB agent, is Russian president seemingly for life. Putin simply feels that he’s the last one standing between order and chaos. Competing criminal clans consisting of security officers, bureaucrats, oligarchs, state-owned company managers and common thugs are likely to duke it out when a post-Putin power vacuum occurs. Many analysts believe that after Putin, Russia may slide into bloody chaos. The institutions of state, even the weak ones Putin inherited after the incomplete political reforms of the 1990s, have been hollowed out, corrupted and privatized.
The Washington Post editorialized July 19, 2016: "President Vladimir Putin, who promoted Sochi as a symbol of Russia's revival, was in fact boss of a rule-breaking machine. Mr. Putin, the one-time KGB officer and later FSB director, shows little respect for a rules-based international order; the drugged athletes and falsified test results are just the latest examples of his subterfuge and corrosive behavior."
Adam Szubin, who oversees US Treasury sanctions, told BBC Panorama that the Russian president is corrupt and that the US government has known this for "many, many years". He said: "We've seen him enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalising those who he doesn't view as friends using state assets. Whether that's Russia's energy wealth, whether it's other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don't. To me, that is a picture of corruption." Szubin would not comment on a secret CIA report from 2007 that put Mr Putin's wealth at around $40bn (£28bn).
Putin’s power is founded on his links to organised crime. Putin has a close circle of criminal oligarchs at his disposal and has spent his career cultivating this circle. Karen Dawisha’s book, "Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia" documents how during Putin's time as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg he was alleged to be was involved with the local Mafia, ex-KGB apparatchiks and bureaucrats in schemes involving the diversion of municipal funds, illegal arms shipments, the food shortage scandal of 1991, the local gambling industry, and money laundering for the Cali drug cartel through the Real Estate Board of St. Petersburg.
David Satter, author of the book published in May 2016 titled "The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin," said he had no doubt the allegations against the Russian president are true. Putin became president because it was necessary to protect Yeltsin and the Yeltsin family from criminal prosecution," he argues. "And who better to do that than someone who was a criminal himself and connected to the FSB?"
Masha Gessen describes the nature and power of Putin’s astonishing corruption and concludes that he has “claimed his place as the godfather of a mafia clan ruling the country. Like all mafia bosses, Putin barely distinguished between his personal property, the property of his clan, and the property of those beholden to his clan…he amassed wealth…by placing his cronies wherever there was money or assets to be siphoned off.” In other words, Gessen argues, Putin has established himself as the chieftain of what is, literally, a gangster state.
Alexei Navalny, the leading Russian opposition activist who heads the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), told VOA in June 2016 that "This "mafia" system is a merger of bandits and the state. It is a system that is built in part on family ties. Their children are already inter-married. Loyalty is based on the fact that these people grew up together since childhood, the same way it happens in the real mafia. So you have these people who grew up together, the way Roldugin grew up with Putin, [and who are] loyal [to each other]. This perfectly describes the system as a mafia. It is honed mainly to receive benefits for making money, but if, as a collateral effect, it is necessary to kill someone, it kills people."
- In 1988 Alexander Litvinenko was recruited to join what was then still called the Committee for State Security (KGB). He underwent a period of intelligence training at a KGB facility in Siberia, and in 1991 was posted to KGB headquarters in Moscow. In 1991 Litvinenko was assigned to the Economic Security and Organised Crime Unit of what was then still the KGB.
While working for the Economic Security and Organised Crime Unit that Mr Litvinenko first began to investigate the activities of the Tambov criminal group. This was an organised crime group based in St Petersburg. It was led by Vladimir Kumarin, also known as Barsukov, and another man called Alexander Malyshev. In the course of his investigations, Mr Litvinenko discovered evidence that the Tambov group was engaged in smuggling heroin from Afghanistan via Uzbekistan and St Petersburg to Western Europe. Even more significantly, he became convinced that there was widespread collusion between the Tambov group and KGB officials, including both Vladimir Putin and Nikolai Patrushev.
This was the start of what was to become one of Mr Litvinenko’s abiding concerns. He continued to investigate and to seek to publicise links between the KGB/FSB and organised crime both before and after he left Russia. Following his arrival in the UK, he made these allegations in his book The Gang from the Lubyanka, and also in the shorter essay The Uzbek File.
- Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist on the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. She was a critic of President Putin – Robert Service described her as, “a regular harrier of both Putin and Chechnya’s brutal ruler Ramzan Kadyrov”. Litvinenko had urged Ms Politkovskaya to take advantage of her American citizenship and to “go and write [her] articles in America”; but she had refused. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered by gunmen outside her Moscow apartment on 7 October 2006.
- On 17 November 2010 former Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison. The Magnitsky case was one of the largest tax fraud cases in Putin’s Russia. The theft of US$230 million from the Russian Treasury was uncovered in 2007 by Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was working for Hermitage Capital Management, then the biggest foreign investor in Russia. Magnitsky was arrested by the same police officers whom he accused of covering up the fraud. He was thrown into jail, where he died of mistreatment and inadequate medical care. Despite his death, the government of Russia continued to prosecute him.
The Panama Papers documents, published in April 2016, proved that the offshore accounts of the cellist Sergei Roldugin, an obvious "corrupt coffers" for Vladimir Putin, also received money under this scheme uncovered by Magnitsky. These same firms and persons were involved. In late April, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which was involved in bringing the Panama Papers to light, reported that Roldugin, a friend of Putin's since the 1970s, "received money from an offshore company at about the same time it was being used to steal money from the Russian government in the notorious Sergei Magnitsky case."
- Boris Abramovich Berezovsky was the most infamous of the Russian oligarchs, a group of prominent businessmen that emerged in the post-Soviet era as a result of radical economic and market transformations. The 67-year-old businessman was found dead 23 March 2013 at a property in Ascot, a town about 40 kilometers west of London. Police issued a statement saying that his death was being treated as unexplained and that a full inquiry was under way. Berezovsky had lived in Britain since 2000 after falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia had demanded his extradition on charge of fraud, but the British government refused and granted him political asylum.
- Boris Nemtsov was shot dead on a bridge near the Kremlin 02 March 2015. Nemtsov was crossing a bridge with Anna Duritskaya, a 23-year-old Ukrainian model, when he was shot four times in the back from a passing car. US President Barack Obama said said Nemtsov's murder is a sign of a worsening climate in Russia where, he said, civil rights and media freedoms have been rolled back in the last several years. Russian anti-Kremlin activist Alexei Navalny said March 03, 2015 that he thought fellow opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed by members of either the state security services or a "pro-government organization" acting "on the orders of the political leadership of the country," including President Vladimir Putin.
- Former Putin aide Mikhail Lesin died of blunt head trauma, the Washington Post reported 11 March 2016. Lesin died on November 6, 2015 at the Dupont Circle in the very center of the US capital at the age of 57. The police found nothing suspicious at the scene then. Lesin also had blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs, Washington DC's chief medical examiner said after a post-mortem.
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