The titular observation is attributed to gruff old Otto von Bismarck in 1871. One and a half centuries later, Western journalists have had a field day with their predictions of the “weakening” of Gospodin (Mr.) Putin and Russia. They saw the short-lived revolt led by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his band of murderous mercenaries as the signal that the Kremlin was tottering. Even with the quick descent of this would-be revolution, the commentariat continues to argue that all of this dissent proves the fragility of the Putin regime.
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s outfit, composed of convicts, is named Wagner. Why? Is that a reference to German composer Richard Wagner? Hitler was his most devoted fan. Hitler ran to annual performances of Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas at Bayreuth in Bavaria. It became for Hitler a cult—a pagan substitute for what he regarded as a weak, effeminate, and Semitic religion in Christianity. He wanted a virile, conquering, and Teutonically grounded faith.
Our columnists are forgetting Emerson’s quote: “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” Embarrassing perhaps for them, probably fatal for Prigozhin. Fiona Hill, Kremlin expert and biographer of Vladimir Putin, says Prigozhin has told the truth about the transparent lies that were used to justify this Ukrainian invasion. It could be that that exposure was the final break between Gospodin Putin and his one-time chef, Prigozhin.
Underestimating Russia, Hitler thought the abysmal performance of the Red Army against tiny Finland in 1939-40 confirmed his view that the USSR was “All rotten. We have only to kick open the door and the entire structure will collapse.” He was soon to be shown disastrously wrong. People last June thought Prigozhin had escaped with his life. Stalin was patient to wait thirteen years before putting an ice axe into his rival Trotsky’s skull.
We may consider the long history of Russia. Revolts sparked and revolts bloodily crushed is more the rule than the exception. Latter 19th Century Russian Realist Vasily Surikov’s 1881 painting, The Morning of the Execution of the Streltsy, whose rebellion against Tsar Peter the Great in 1698 shows how such events typically ended. Catherine the Great ruthlessly put down the Pugachev rebellion of 1773-75. Liberal noblemen inspired generations of Russians with their futile resistance to the accession of Tsar Nicholas I in 1825. They sought to liberate the serfs. They paid with their lives, but gained history’s accolade as the idealistic Decembrists (Dekabristi). Even the incredibly inept Nicholas II managed to hang on another twelve years following the widespread Revolution of 1905.
We need a very sober approach. Why would we want Prigozhin to prevail? President Biden has called upon God to “remove this man [Gospodin Putin] from power.” Hillary Clinton wants “regime change” in Russia. The Vozhd (boss) in the Kremlin shares the video of Hillary cackling over her overthrow of Ghaddafi—and his sodomizing and lynching by a Libyan mob. “That will never happen to me,” the Vozhd tells his associates. Sen. Lindsey Graham openly calls for the assassination of Russia’s ruler. This is a flagrant violation of international law and U.S. statute.
Of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, we know he is the most intelligent, most disciplined, most determined, and for us, alas, most vengeful against the Americans of any ruler in Russian history. He blames us for the collapse of the USSR, to which he devoted his life.
We know how he would react to being cornered: He tells the story of the rat he cornered in his crumbling Leningrad apartment house. The rat attacked him! He tells this story in every autobiography.
We also know he is no coward. As the Berlin Wall collapsed, he was a young KGB agent stationed in Dresden. An East German mob invaded the Stasi headquarters, ransacked its voluminous files on everyone in that captive nation. As the crowd advanced on his building, young Vladimir Vladimirovich walked out, alone. He had only a pistol. He threatened the mob. “Get out of here before I order them to fire on you all,” he said in his fluent German. They dispersed. He had no backup and he knew it.
We may have to deal with Gospodin Putin. FDR had to deal with Stalin. Kennedy had to confront, then deal with Khrushchev. Reagan tried to deal with Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, but he joked: “They keep dying on me.” He finally dealt with Gorbachev—most successfully.
Gorbachev was the darling of Western media. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh lampooned their swoons. He called them “gorbasms.” But we may remember the attack of KGB agents on democracy demonstrators in the Baltics—with sharpened shovels.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain was let down, Gorbachev refused to send in the tanks. Western media made him their poster boy. When was the last time we gave credit to the hostage taker for not shooting his hostages? It is true that Mikhail Sergeivich Gorbachev was the first Soviet ruler who did not wade through blood to attain the top post. It is also true that he sought to give Communism “a human face.” When he did that, the people gave that Communist face a sharp slap!
Russians have a well-known saying. When you go to dine with the devil, take a long spoon (and perhaps dine across a long table, as Putin is known for). We know Vladimir Putin and we know what we must do to persuade him to withdraw from Ukraine’s 2022 borders. He knows this is a катастрофа (catastrophe). It is the job of diplomacy to negotiate his face-saving exit without his volunteering to commit suicide. Let us dine with him at Torgau—and take a long spoon.