Catherine Belton (2020) Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and took on the West.

Over 100 days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Already the West has grown weary of fuel and wheat shortages and high prices. The eighth year of war. Russia occupying Crimea and Donbass regions, and almost twenty per cent of Ukraine since then, creating a land border, including access to the Black Sea. Catherine Belton’s prescient book is early and late. The modus operandi is in the title.

Ryzard Kapuscinski’s Imperium is instructive how it works. He was writing in 1994. Pre-Putin, the Yeltsin era.

‘The fall of communism in the state occurred relatively bloodlessly, and in ethnic Russia, completely bloodlessly. The great Ukraine announced its independence without a single shot being fired. Likewise Belorussia.

…It is interesting that blood flows only when blind nationalism enters the fray, or zoological racism, or religious fundamentalism—in other words the three black clouds that can darken the sky of the twenty-first century.’

In order to understand Russia and the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Ryzard Kapuscinski uses the analogy of another Russian writer, Yuri Borev who compares it to a train journey.

‘The train is speeding into a luminous future. Lenin is at the controls. Suddenly—stop, the tracks come to an end. Lenin calls on the people, for additional, Saturday work, tracks are laid down, and the train moves on. Now, Stalin is driving it. Again the tracks end. Stalin orders half the conductors and passengers shot, and the rest he forces to lay down the tracks. The train starts again. Khrushchev replaces Stalin, and when the train comes to an end, and he orders that the ones over which the train has already passed by dismantled and laid down before the locomotive. Brezhnev takes Khrushchev’s place. When the tracks ends again, Brezhnev decides to pull down the window blinds and rock the cars in such a way that the passengers will think the train is still moving forward.’ 

Boris Yeltsin brings in advisors from The Chicago School. They tell him to sell the train and the track and give everyone an equal share. Winner takes all. A new train with McDonalds and widescreen TV and a new track.

Putin is at the controls—indefinitely. Episode after episode of him wrestling bare-chested with bears and oligarchs is played on widescreen TV. His henchmen make early-morning visits to those that refuse to pay the market price in roubles for a ticket, or want to change the channel.

Catherine Belton tells the reader how Putin, with the help of the KGB, took over Russia, and threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. She offers a synopsis of who’s who in the Russian orbit that circles their supreme leader. He’s President for life. And the President can dismiss the Prime Minister, and any other public appointed body down to street sweeper. His inner circle get first pick on any deal worth around $40 million. State governors, for example, can haggle and war with each other their share, internecine battles that can lead to imprisonment and death, but one of Putin’s favourite sayings is it’s a private matter. Putin is number one, and unless fealty is paid, it becomes a public matter because that’s a private matter. 

The first names on Putin’s inner circle, the siloviki:   

Igor Sechin—Putin’s trusted gatekeeper. Like Putin, a former KGB operative from St Petersburg. He took payment of bribes and kept accounts, of who owed what. As Deputy Head of the Kremlin he helped organize Putin’s takeover of the Russian oil sector on which Russia’s wealth is largely based. Known as ‘Russia’s Darth Vader’ for his ruthless plotting against others. The power behind the throne. You don’t get to see Putin without seeing Sechin.

Nikolai Patrushev, former head of Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB.

Viktor Ivanov, former KGB, served with Putin in Leningrad KGB.

Viktor Cherkesov, former KGB, who ran the St Petersburg FSB.

Sergei Ivanov, former Leningrad KGB, and one of the youngest generals in Russian’s foreign intelligence.

Dmitry Medvedev—a former lawyer. Deputy to Putin when he ran the administration and kickbacks as Mayor of St Petersburg. Deputy head of Putin’s Kremlin administration. Chief of Staff for Putin’s Presidency, then President, with Putin as Prime Minister.  Obama famously thought Medvedev was a man he could work with, in the same way that George W. Bush (junior) looked into Putin’s eyes and said he’d seen his soul.

Putin’s custodians, KGB-connected businessmen. 

Gennady Timachenko, former KGB, worked his way through the ranks of the Soviet trade to become the first traders of oil products.

Yury Kovalchuk, former physicist, who joined with other KGB-connected businessmen to take over Bank Rossiya, which according to the US Treasury, became Putin’s bank.

Arskady Rotenberg, former Putin judo partner, who became a billionaire under Putin’s presidency.

Vladimir Yakunin, former KGB, worked undercover in the UN in New York, then joined Bank Rossiya.

The Family—Yeltsin

Valentin Yumashev, former journalist. He gained Yeltsin’s trust while writing his memoirs. Appointed Kremlin chief of staff in 1997. Married Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana in 2002.

Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, but also his gatekeeper.

Boris Berezovsky, former mathematician, who made his fortune running trading schemes for carmaker AvtoVAZ. Wangled his way into Yeltsin’s family. Acquired Sibneft oil.

Alexander Voloshin, former economist. He started working with Berezovsky on privatisation of Russian assets. Transferred to the Kremlin, 1997 to work as Yumashev’s deputy.

Roman Abramovich, oil trader. He became Berezovsky’s protégé, but outmanoeuvred him and took over his business. Banker to the Yeltsin family, bowed to Putin after a period of Siberian exile. Sent to London, poisoned (Polonium?) when tried to intervene at the start of Ukrainian war, possibly out of favour, and therefore in danger.

The Yeltsin-era oligarch who crossed Putin’s men.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former member of the Communist Youth League. He became one of the most successful businessmen of the perestroika era in the 1990s.

Mobsters and footsoldiers for the KGB—St Petersburgh.

Ilya Traber, former Soviet submariner, who became a black-market antique dealer in the perestroika years. A go-between for Putin’s security services and the Tambov organised- crime group controlling St Petersburg’s most strategic and lucrative assets, the sea port and oil terminal.

Vladimir Kumarin, Tambov organised-crime boss (‘night governor’).

Moscow footsoldiers and mobsters.

Semyon Mogilevich, former wrestler, known as ‘the Brainy Don’, who at the end of the eighties became banker to the leaders of Russia’s most powerful and organised crime groups, including the Solntsevskaya, funnelling cash to the West. Set up a criminal empire for drugs and arms trafficking. Recruited in the seventies by the KGB.

Sergei Mikhailov, (alleged) head of Solntsevskaya organised-crime group—Moscow’s most powerful—with close ties to the KGB. Criminal arm of the Russian state.  Cultivated links with Donald Trump in the eighties.

Vyacheslav Ivankov (‘Yaponchik’), dispatched by Mogilvvich to Brighton Rock, New York, to broaden the Solntsevskaya criminal empire.

Yergeny Dvoskin, Brighton Beach mobster. He became a Russian ‘shadow banker’ after moving back to Moscow with his uncle Ivankov. The Russian security services helped them funnel tens of billions of dollars for clearing in the West.

Felix Sater, (Dvoskin’s best friend). A key business partner of The Trump Organisation, developing a string of properties for Trump to cash in and keep the Organisation from bankruptcy, while retaining high-level clearance from Russian intelligence.  

The irony of the moron’s moron getting elected in 2016 is not that there was a cause for celebration in the White House, but jubilation and celebration in the Russian White House. Never had there been such a useful idiot in high office. Nigel Farage and little trumpet, Boris Johnson were also a useful gift. Brexit knocking five to fifteen percent off Britain’s gross domestic product and dividing the country. Scotland, for example, didn’t vote to be poorer.  

Putin, after Chechnya and Syria, invasion of Ukraine was an act of hubris. Oil and gas goes up in price and pay for his imperialistic adventure. As the West withdraws from Russia, there is a return to the old ways of KGB, and a Soviet world protected by wealth and power that Putin knows well. What emerges from Belton’s book is a cowardly man, much like Boris Johnson, promoted for the wrong reasons, but now he’s in power he intends to stay there. He’s already killed many Russians in the false-flag operations that got him elected President with an overwhelming majority after the Yeltsin perestroika experiment. There’s no reason he will suddenly stop killing citizens of his own country and others.

Will Putin’s People use nuclear weapons? Perhaps you may remember at the start of the ‘action’ his official media were talking about such things; speculation. He took on the West and went on a disinformation spending spree that elected a US President and helped through Aaron Banks fund Brexit for Boris. There is a familiar pattern of saying before doing. And blaming someone else like in the Salisbury poisoning debacle of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Perhaps, a long-range missile, said to have come from Ukraine—and a ‘tactical, nuclear strike’ in reply. I wouldn’t bet against it. Putin’s a gambler with a grudge who thinks he’s owed big time.       

Scotland 3—2 Israel

Watching Scotland is a duty, rather than a pleasure. This game was the exception to the general rule that we play Israel every other game and snatch a bore draw. I’ve only ever been to Hampden once for a Scotland game. Needless to say Russia beat us. I remember ex-Scotland manager Craig Levein was in the team. That’s about it. Steve Clarke went against the grain and sent out an attacking Scottish team. Up top, he played Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes.

Lyndon Dykes missed a penalty, just before half-time to level the score at 2—2. It was identical to the penalty he scored against Austria. And anybody that watched that one winced, but we struck lucky in that qualifier.

Ex-Hibernian goalkeeper, Ofir Marciano who has a habit of making penalty saves, will mark that one down as one his granny would have caught.

Scotland were a goal down in the first five minutes. We had started well with long balls into Dykes and Adams, forcing the Israeli defence to sit in. Nir Bitton, six-foot-five, but as much chance of winning a ball in the air against any of these forwards as Julie Andrews climbing every mountain and becoming a nun in The Sound of Music. Austin MacPhee, Scotland’s new attacking coach at free-kicks, corners and throw-ins, had Tierney using a towel to dry the ball before flinging it long into the box. Inexplicably, Dykes, who you’d imagine would want to on the end of these long throw-ins, started taking throw-ins on the other side.  The Celtic defender and makeshift midfielder is good at playing simple balls beyond the Scotland midfield into the strikers.

Nathan Patterson, in for Stephen O’Donnell, was poor in the first-half, and a bit better in the second-half. He kept giving the ball away. And we’re often reminded you get punished at this level.

Solomon robbed him of the ball wide. Ex-Celt Jack Hendry brought down Zahavi twenty yards out.

PSV striker, Zahavi lifted it up and over the wall. Co-commentator, Ally McCoist, rhapsodised about what a wonderful free-kick it was, leaving our keeper, Craig Gordon, with no chance. It was a good goal, but perhaps a better keeper might have saved it.

Scotland’s equaliser was of the Robertson and Tierney variety. Just over thirty minutes gone. They held more than their own down the left, while on the right wing, Patterson and McTominay were slack in possession and turned far too easily. Robertson’s lay off at the edge of the box found John McGinn. He bent it into the top corner. This really was of the keeper having no chance school.

Israel went up the park and regained their lead in the next attack, two minutes later. This was of the Celtic school of defending. Hendry on the wrong side of the attacker. It comes off the Israeli player’s head. Gordon scoops the ball up into the air, which was poor goalkeeping. But equally, several Israeli players are ready to pounce. Dabbur from two-yard can hardly miss and pokes it home.

Scotland’s support deflated with that half-time penalty miss from twelve-yards after Billy Gilmour is brought down inside the box. In the second-half, Scotland dominated the ball, with McGregor, McGinn and Gilmour, in particular, picking the right passes.

Patterson upped his game, but went down far too easily in the Israel box after five minutes looking for another penalty and was lucky not to be booked. McGinn was booked for wiping out Soloman, after Scotland’s go-to man, lost the ball.

On the quarter-hour mark, Tierney whipped a ball into the box. Dykes gets in front of his marker and studs the ball into the net. The referee is quick to give it as a foul and book Dykes. The equaliser is chalked off. One acronym, VAR. He has a look and the goal is given. 2—2 and half-an-hour to go, Scotland in the ascendency. The question being asked by the drunk and sober was can we win it?   Being sober, I doubted it.  

Zahavi, for example, once again got in behind a static defence, only for his goal to be chopped off by VAR. VAR turned out to be our best defender, but having so much of the ball we limited their chances.

Patterson, for example, did what he was brought into the team to do and attacked their defence and got to the bye-line. Adams was waiting for his cut back at the back post. He remained waiting.

Then Dykes, who could easily have had a hat-trick, had one of those balls he’s got to score from. That’s co-commentator, Ally McCoist’s words, not mine. Tierney pinged it in, the QPR strike is above his marker with enough pace from the ball for him to guide it into the net. He headed it straight at Marciano.

John McGinn, who scored a wonder goal, missed what for him would have been even more of a sitter. Ryan Christie, who came on for Adams, picked him out. From ten-yards he can’t find the net.

That looks about it. Six-minutes added time—Fergie time, and he was in attendance, in the stands, giving conspiracy theorist some slack to play with—and Manchester United player McTominay ghosts in at the back post to chest the ball home from a Jack Hendry flick on. I rarely enjoy a Scotland game. The last time Leigh Griffiths scored two late free kicks against England and Celtic keeper, Joe Hart. There was still enough time for England to grab a draw. Here there wasn’t. Great game. Great win. (Whisper it, terrible defending).

Can we beat the Faroes? Can we finish second in this group? Only if we go back to being boring old Scotland and dragging things out to our opponents concede. Safe to say, Dykes will no longer be taking Scotland penalties or Stephen Clarke’s an Englishman. Cue the QPR striker stepping up in our next match? Possibly.