Roman Emperor Domitian is remembered for only one joke. “It’s a terrible thing to be an emperor,” Domitian said, “because everything thinks your paranoia about being assassinated is groundless—until you’re actually murdered!” Soon after Domitian was assassinated. Extreme vigilance is the essential mood of tyranny, which must inhabit that condition not just first because it is indeed in danger of overthrow and surrounded by enemies but also because it requires its people to be fearful and isolated, therefore conditioned for extreme solutions. President Vladimir Putin is living proof of this conundrum.
The recent drone attack on the Kremlin may have been the work of Ukrainian or internal Russian factions, possibly within his own wider security organs, or a ‘false flag’ operation by the regime itself, but it was inevitable that the dictatorship would claim it was an assassination attempt on Putin. This is absurd since everyone knows that the president does not live in the Kremlin but outside Moscow in his gilded mansion, Novo-Ogaryovo. Yet Domitian would sympathize because Putin has every reason to fear assassination.
It is a cliché of the cliché-ridden Western press on Putin—and his predecessors Stalin, Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible—that they are paranoid to the extent of madness. It is a cliché that ignores and misunderstands the nature of dictatorship particularly in Russia. All absolute systems in world history depend on coercion to crush opposition and maintain power, thereby creating internal enemies who can only use violence to overthrow the ruler. All such systems deploy war and xenophobia to inspire and control their own people which creates another legion of enemies. The Western press always emphasizes the omnipotence of the autocrat in a system without limits without seeing that a system without limits means the leader exists in a permanent state of carnivorous chaos without any real or lasting security. Systems without clear rules of succession grant enormous power to the ruler but also mean they have no means of retirement. In Russia—whether under Tsars Ivan IV and Peter I , Stalin or Putin—rulers could appoint their successors but could never do so without creating a potential present menace.
In October 2011, during the Arab Spring revolutions, Putin spent hours watching the gruesome smartphone footage of longterm Russian ally, Colonel Gadaffi, who was sodomized with a bayonet before being shot. Putin resolved to save his ally, Bashar al-Assad in Syria. And himself. He no doubt reflected on the nature of Russian tsardom. He was aware of it from the start: when Yeltsin offered him the presidency in 1999, Putin hesitated, asking “how will I protect my family?” The answer? To establish a dictatorship and keep it for life.
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Every wise tsar knows that his constant poise must be ferocious vigilance. Peter the Great set the standard of the all-talented emperor and supreme commander to which Putin—along with every other Russian ruler—aspires but he faced constant plots against his life which he handled himself by personally torturing and executing thousands of mutinous musketeers; he even tortured his own rebellions son Alexei to death. Peter invented modern Russia—even its name Roosiya was coined by him—as a new empire; he took the title imperator. The state has never developed from that vision. But this imperial self-image also sets a perilous standard for Peter’s admiring successors: the tsar – whether president or general-secretary—is also a military commander.
If a Russian ruler cannot dominate the “Russian world,” he will disappoint history. Peter was overwhelmingly successful in his wars—but even he was nearly captured and defeated by the Ottomans. Yet the dream of every Russian ruler is conquest. In 1904, Nicholas II’s Interior Minister V.K. Plehve, supposedly advised, “What this country needs is a short victorious war.” Every ruler (even in our democracies) aspires to one of those. Nicholas II instead faced a disastrous defeat vs Japan; but Putin built his imperial presidency and garnished his swaggersome overconfidence with a run of three ‘short victorious wars’ in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria. But they were minor skirmishes; Ukraine is proving very different…
Out of the last twelve Romanov emperors, six died violently. Ivan the Terrible and Stalin died in their beds by wreaking such havoc around them that no one dared destroy them. Putin is a killer but not yet a mass killer on their scale.
Circa 1700, Peter the Great (1672 - 1725), Tsar of Russia, beheading one of the rebel Streltsy (semi-professional musketeers) in front of his nobles.
Hulton Archive-Getty Images
In June 1762, the new young Emperor Peter III—puny grandson of Great Peter—threw away costly Russian gains against Prussia. His own Guards and his wife Catherine the Great overthrew him; the Guards strangled him. The press release announced he had died of haemorrhoids. When Catherine later invited the French philosopher d’Alembert to Russia, he joked “I must decline because I suffer from haemorrhoids which are a fatal disease in Russia.” After midnight, on 11th March 1801, Russian Emperor, Paul, son of Catherine and Peter III, was awakened by footsteps on the stairs of his Mikhailovsky Castle; he hid behind a tapestry as the conspirators—slightly drunk after a pre-homicidal champagne—burst into his bedroom.
The conspirators were let in by trusted servant; they were led by his chief minister & top generals; and backed by his own son, who waited downstairs. What happened next was history’s most savage liquidation of a Russian autocrat.
Paul, inconsistent and menacing, was destroyed by war , capricious foreign policy—including sending an army to attack British India. The conspirators saw his feet peeping out of the wallhanging and dragged him out; conspirators hit him with a golden snuffbox, knocking out an eye, then threw themselves onto him, shattering his head on the floor, strangling him with his sash, then drunkenly stomping his head to pulp.
Just over a century later Nicholas II was not killed by his generals but he was overthrown by them. Yes the crisis was accelerated by hungry crowds in the capital Petrograd but contrary to popular history, he was forced to abdicate by his generals when he was isolated in his railway carriage on his way to put down the revolution.
Putin knows all this history. “How will history remember me?” he kept asking historians in recent years. His isolation during Covid made him one of history’s most dangerous creatures: the omnipotent history-buff. Stalin read history obsessively and collected a huge library—half of which is in Putin’s Kremlin office. Before the war, Putin liked to ask visitors to chose a book then together they would examine Stalin’s pungent marginalia. He is not an intellectual like Stalin but he reads historical biographies—including a famous Russian biography of Paul and my own biography of Catherine the Great and Potemkin. History matters to him; he has always been obsessed by eighteenth century Russian leaders, Peter, Catherine and Prince Potemkin. They were the trio who dominated Ukraine; all subsequent Russian-Soviet leaders including Lenin and Stalin regarded the possession of Ukraine as essential to their vision of Russian statehood.
It was Peter who founded St Petersburg and won the Baltic. It was Catherine in partnership with her brilliant lover, co-ruler and secret husband, Prince Potemkin, who conquered Crimea in 1783 and south Ukraine 1787-91, founding the cities Sebastopol, Odessa, Kherson that form today’s battlefield. When I wrote that first book in 2ooo, Putin, waiting for it to be translated, asked for a one-pager on Potemkin’s conquests and cities. In his speeches and essays before invading Ukraine, he cited Catherine and Potemkin. When his troops took Kherson, they captured Potemkin’s tomb and when they retreated late last year, they stole the Prince’s body. I predict that Putin will create a splendid tomb for Potemkin in Moscow to prove the Russian claim to Ukraine.
But the history also shows what happens when tsars fail. In 1964, Khrushchev was fortunate that he was only overthrown and retired after he risked nuclear war and delivered an unprecedented national humiliation in the Cuba Missile Crisis—though his successor Brezhnev did propose his assassination.
Victory makes a Russian ruler invulnerable, almost sacred. Defeat places a Russian ruler in danger from his closest courtiers, ministers and generals. While one thinks of tsars overthrown by crowds, most are actually destroyed by their closest colleagues deep within their own palaces. The modern prototype would be another secret-policeman-aspiring- to-rule, Lavrenti Beria, overthrown in June 1953 by his trusted, somewhat inferior comrades, Khrushchev and Malenkov (whose house at Novo-Ogorovo is now Putin’s home—what a small world) at a surprise meeting. He was shot.
When Russian leaders fall, nemesis usually comes from those closest. “When you walk down the corridors,” mused Stalin, “you never go when it’s going to come.” Putin is not paranoid; he has ever reason to be vigilant.
Domitian would sympathize.
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Why is Ukraine so important to Russia? ›
What are Russia's broad interests in Ukraine? Russia has deep cultural, economic, and political bonds with Ukraine, and in many ways Ukraine is central to Russia's identity and vision for itself in the world. Family ties. Russia and Ukraine have strong familial bonds that go back centuries.Do Russians support the war? ›
The Levada Center, Russia's veteran independent pollster, found that respondents who said yes to the direct question of whether they supported the war fluctuated between 74 and 76 percent in April and August, declined to 71–74 percent in September and December, and climbed back to 75–77 percent in January and February.Did Putin want to join NATO? ›
George Robertson, a former Labour defence secretary who led Nato between 1999 and 2003, said Putin made it clear at their first meeting that he wanted Russia to be part of western Europe. “They wanted to be part of that secure, stable prosperous west that Russia was out of at the time,” he said.Why does the Ukraine matter to the US? ›
In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden made clear that backing Ukraine matters “because it keeps the peace and prevents open season for would-be aggressors to threaten our security and prosperity.” Without NATO's support for Ukraine, which has created the quagmire that Russia now faces, the United ...Why does Russia not want Ukraine to join NATO? ›
Currently, the organization has a total of 30 countries. In this way, Russia feels a threat from NATO's expansion to the east and, above all, fears that Ukraine, a country in which it can exert influence, will end up joining NATO, something that has not yet happened.How Russians feel about the war? ›
At the national level, public polling of Russian attitudes toward the war have shown support remaining relatively stable since the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion: On average, Russians still seem to support the war, even if not with the overwhelming positivity that the Kremlin might suggest.How many people have left Russia? ›
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 300,000 Russian citizens and residents are estimated to have left Russia by mid-March 2022, at least 500,000 by the end of August 2022, and an additional 400,000 by early October, for a total of approximately 900,000.Has the US ever been allies with Russia? ›
U.S.-Soviet Alliance, 1941–1945. Although relations between the Soviet Union and the United States had been strained in the years before World War II, the U.S.-Soviet alliance of 1941–1945 was marked by a great degree of cooperation and was essential to securing the defeat of Nazi Germany.When did Russia leave NATO? ›
In March 2015, Russia, citing NATO's de facto breach of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, said that the suspension of its participation in it, announced in 2007, was now "complete" through halting its participation in the consulting group on the Treaty.What would happen if Ukraine joined NATO? ›
If Ukraine were to join NATO, the collective defence principle would mean the whole of the alliance was at war with Russia. The West has been toeing a precarious line when it comes to direct conflict with Moscow, and trying its best to avoid becoming an active participant in the current Ukraine war.
Is Japan a member of NATO? ›
Japan Won't Join NATO, but Aware of Liaison Office Plan - PM
TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday the country had no plans to become a NATO member but acknowledged the security alliance's plan to open a liaison office in Japan.
It would exceed the largest anomaly ever recorded since the beginning of Food and Agricultural Organization observational records in 1961. And under the largest war scenario – a war between the U.S. and Russia – more than 75% of the planet would be starving within two years.How do Ukrainians feel about the United States? ›
Ukrainians have generally viewed the U.S. positively, with 80% expressing a favorable view in 2002, and 60% in 2011. According to the 2012 U.S. Global Leadership Report, 33% of Ukrainians approve of U.S. leadership, with 26% disapproving and 41% uncertain.What does the US gain from helping Ukraine? ›
The United States' support for Ukraine could restore its reputation as a real protector of freedom and human rights across the globe because Ukraine represents these values in this region.Can Ukraine join NATO during war? ›
Nato membership, carrying with it a commitment from all member countries to protect each other if attacked, has long been a demand from Kyiv. Although Nato agreed in principle in 2008 that Ukraine could be allowed to join, the country has never been given a formal pathway to membership.Is it hard to live in Russia? ›
Life in Russia can be quite challenging. The climate is harsh and many cities have high levels of pollution. There is also a relatively high crime rate and a number of security issues to take into consideration.Does China support Russia? ›
China has become an increasingly important trading partner for Russia as it seeks to soften the impact of economic sanctions imposed by some countries in response to its invasion.How will the war in Russia affect the world? ›
Not only has the war threatened the stability of Europe but it has also impacted food and energy security globally including in the Middle East and Africa, creating shock waves in a world barely recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.Can Russian citizens travel to USA now? ›
Russian citizens who wish to travel to the US for business or tourism purposes must apply for a US B1/B2 Visa. While the application process cannot be 100% online, iVisa can help you obtain the confirmation page you are required to have for your interview at the embassy, and they can do that offline or online.How many Russians are in the US? ›
Has Russia's population been declining? ›
Russia's population has declined for the past four years in a row and dropped by half a million people last year alone, standing at 146.45 million people at the start of 2023.Which is stronger Russia or USA? ›
Russia and the United States have taken divergent paths to military might. The US dominates the air with far more bases, fighter jets and bombers than Russia but Russia is superior on the ground with more tanks, artillery and land vehicles.Why did Russia and US become enemies? ›
We call it the Cold War, but in October 1962 the world seemed about to incinerate. The Soviet decision to install nuclear missiles in Cuba triggered a crisis with the United States that threatened a global holocaust.Who are allies of the United States? ›
- United States of America — 1949 (founded)
- Belgium — 1949.
- Canada — 1949.
- Denmark — 1949.
- France — 1949.
- Iceland — 1949.
- Italy — 1949.
- Luxembourg — 1949.
The combined total of Nato military personnel currently exceeds 5.4 million – around four times as many as Russia, according to Statista. It has about five times as many aircraft, four times as many armoured vehicles and three times as many military ships.Why did France leave NATO? ›
In 1966, due to souring relations between Washington and Paris because of the refusal to integrate France's nuclear deterrent with other North Atlantic powers, or to accept any collective form of control over its armed forces, French president Charles de Gaulle downgraded France's membership in NATO and withdrew France ...Why does Ukraine want to join NATO? ›
Why does Ukraine want to join NATO? Ukraine has had a partnership with NATO since 1992. NATO established a Ukraine-NATO commission in 1997, providing a discussion forum for security concerns and as a way to further the NATO-Ukraine relationship – without a formal membership agreement.What does it cost a country to join NATO? ›
Each member contributes to a common fund based on the size of its overall economy. NATO's common fund budget — $3.1 billion in 2021 — covers administrative costs and collective military infrastructure. One example of a common fund project: housing US military vehicles, tanks, and artillery at a Polish Air Force Base.What was Russia's warning on World War 3? ›
Russia bluntly warned Thursday that further meddling by Western powers in Ukraine would spark World War III — this time a nuclear one that “will be catastrophic for all mankind.”Is Mexico a part of NATO? ›
No, Mexico is not a part of NATO?
What 5 countries are not in NATO? ›
- Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mexico wasn't a founding member of NATO because, at the time NATO was formed, Mexico was strongly inclined towards isolationism and neutralism.What makes Ukraine special? ›
Ukraine is often called the “Breadbasket of Europe” because it boasts the ideal conditions for growing wheat, and is a major producer of the stuff. 9. One of the most unique tourist attractions in Ukraine is the so-called 'Tunnel of Love'.Why is Kiev so important to Russia? ›
During the Russian industrial revolution in the late 19th century, Kiev became an important trade and transportation center of the Russian Empire, specializing in sugar and grain export by railroad and on the Dnieper river.What is the importance of Russia and Ukraine in global economy? ›
Russia and Ukraine make up 25-30% of global exports of wheat and a significant share of sunflower seeds. The higher price of wheat alone, up by more than 50% as of 7 March, could add more than one percentage point to UK inflation.Why is Crimea important to Russia? ›
In 1783, the Russian Empire annexed Crimea after an earlier war with Turkey. Crimea's strategic position led to the 1854 Crimean War and many short lived regimes following the 1917 Russian Revolution. When the Bolsheviks secured Crimea, it became an autonomous soviet republic within Russia.What does Ukraine give the world? ›
Ukraine is normally the world's top producer of sunflower meal, oil, and seed and the world's top exporter of sunflower meal and oil.What is the good thing about Ukraine? ›
Ukraine is famous for its historical cathedrals, beautiful beaches, and Orthodox traditions.What is the main religion in Russia? ›
The Russian Orthodox Church has been the dominant religious institution for almost a millennium and continues to be the most popular religion in Russia.Did Kiev ever belong to Russia? ›
Occupied by Russian troops since the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav, Kyiv became a part of the Tsardom of Russia from 1667 on the Truce of Andrusovo and enjoyed a degree of autonomy.
How much land has Russia taken from Ukraine? ›
On June 2, 2022, Zelenskyy announced that Russia occupied approximately 20% of Ukrainian territory.Is the war in Ukraine affecting the US economy? ›
The war in Ukraine was a “massive and historic energy shock” to the markets, according to a November 2022 report by the OECD. The “shock” of the war was one of the main factors that had slowed economic growth in 2022 to just 3.1 percent, and why the OECD projected it to slow to 2.2 percent in 2023.What is it Russia wants from Ukraine? ›
His declared goal on 24 February 2022 was to "demilitarise and denazify" Ukraine and not occupy it by force, days after backing independence for eastern Ukrainian territories occupied by Russian proxy forces since 2014.Where does Russia stand in the world economy? ›
Worldwide gross domestic product in 2021 was at about 12,183 USD per capita. GDP in Russia, on the other hand, reached USD 12,400 per capita, or 1.779 trillion USD for the whole country. Russia is therefore one of the world's largest economies and is currently at rank 11.What did the US do when Russia invaded Crimea? ›
The United States and the European Union responded by enacting sanctions against Russia for its role in the crisis, and urged Russia to withdraw. Russia has accused the United States and the EU of funding and directing the revolution and retaliated to the sanctions by imposing its own.Did Crimea ever belong to Russia? ›
Crimea became part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on 18 October 1921 as the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, The Russian SFSR founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922, with the Crimean ASSR retaining a degree of nominal autonomy and run as a Crimean Tatar enclave.Does Russia own Crimea? ›
The Republic of Crimea is a federal subject of Russia, comprising most of the Crimean Peninsula, excluding Sevastopol. Its territory corresponds to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, a subdivision of Ukraine.