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We may have misinterpreted the Cold War and most certainly misrepresented it as an ideological war predicated on the spread of “Communism” when, in fact, the tension has been always about autocratic / authoritarian political culture.

Open democratic systems strive to balance and limit the power of any one organization, party, or person to impress will on others without consent.

Dictatorships inherently represent police states, and the end of that kind of power becomes inevitably the power to visit suffering on others with impunity.

The “Empire” was Russia.

When the Cold War ended, the west may have opened its doors, its hearts, and its wallets to encourage democracy and the open market systems, and in some ways it started to work: the posture helped produced Kremlin adversary Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a part of the starting-gate mafia (to whom key state assets were sold) whose wealth transformed him into a modern and moderate capitalist politician.

The it’s-all-mine emperor-to-be (so today it seems) in the Kremlin disagreed with both liberalism and westernization and appears to have turned instead to building a feudal network of power to be distributed through the wealth of a massively enriched elite worldwide.

I have heard that Russia has exported as much as $3 trillion into western (rule-of-law) assets (I don’t have the time frame for that history of capital flight and seemingly quite compulsive and mad spending, the kind that doubles Trump’s money on a property and goes on to raze the mansion, thereby producing a $92 million undeveloped luxury beach front lot — it would be only money were it not also an investment tied to foreign wealth).

It would seem our businesses and properties may be working to benefit “Moscow” — Putin’s nobility — after all.

Richard Pipes book, referenced below, suggests that Russia’s princes adopted the outlook of the Mongols as regards power, property, and persons as the power of the same diminished over the land.  That early and traumatic experience with the Golden Horde appears then to have left its mark within the political culture that came to stand in its place.  By about 1702, the relationship between the powerful and the ruled had produced sufficient resentment and related insecurity for Tsar Peter I to issue a decree installing Russia’s first secret police organization:

According to its provisions, the head of the Preobrazhenskii Prikaz had the right to investigate at his discretion any institution and any individual, regardless of rank, and to take whatever steps he thought necessary to uncover pertinent information and forestall seditious acts . . . .  No one — not even the Senate which Peter had set up to supervise the country’s administration — had the right to inquire into its affairs.  In its chambers thousands were tortured and put to death, religious dissenters and drunks overheard to make disparaging remarks about the sovereign.  The uses of the police, however, were not confined to political offences, broadly defined as these were.  Whenever the government ran into any kind of difficulty, it tended to call upon its organs for help.  Thus, the complex task of managing the construction of St. Petersburg, after various unsuccessful attempts was in the end entrusted to that city’s police chief.

The Preobrazhenskii Prikaz seems to have been the first institution in history created to deal specifically and exclusively with political crimes.  The scope of its operations and its complete administrative independence mark it as the prototype of a basic organ of all modern police states.

Pipes, Richard. Russia Under the Old Regime: The History of Civilization.  P. 130.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974.

Related in Wikipedia

Era: Ivan the Terrible

Modern theories suggest that the motivating purpose for the organization and existence of the Oprichniki was to suppress people or groups opposed to the Tsar. Known to ride black horses and led by Ivan himself, the group was known to terrorize civilian populations.

Era: Alexander II, Alexander III / 1881-1917

Formed to combat political terrorism and left-wing revolutionary activity,[2] the Okhrana operated offices throughout the Russian Empire and satellite agencies in a number of foreign nations. It was concerned primarily with monitoring the activities of Russian revolutionaries abroad, including Paris, where Pyotr Rachkovsky was based (1884–1902).

The task was performed by multiple methods, including covert operations, undercover agents, and “perlustration”—reading of private correspondence. Even the Foreign Agency served this purpose. The Okhrana was notorious for its agents provocateurs, including Dr. Jacob Zhitomirsky (a leading Bolshevik and close associate of Vladimir Lenin), Yevno Azef, Roman Malinovsky and Dmitry Bogrov.



The Russian Section of the editor’s library offers additional and in-depth reading for those on the edges of Russian Studies, which were necessarily a big deal during the Cold War but another element much diminished when the end officially arrived on December 25, 1991.