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In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 17, 2022 at 12:13 am

On February 24, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Officially called a “special military operation,” it was intended as an important step toward restoring Russia’s lost empire after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ukrainian troops were initially outgunned and outnumbered. But after weeks of combat, Russian forces retreated, stymied by ferocious Ukrainian resistance.

By September, Ukrainian forces launched a rapid offensive, recapturing much of the northeastern Kharkiv region, including the city of Izium. Previously, the Russians had been using this as a key logistics hub. 

On September 21, with Russian forces bogged down or retreating, Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 military reservists. All male citizens below 60 are now eligible to be drafted.

The announcement set off a massive exodus of at least 194,000 Russian men (and their wives or girlfriends) to such neighboring countries as Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. 

On the same day Putin announced the mobilization, he threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend not simply Russia but the Ukrainian territory his forces had captured.

Thus, in a series of swift moves, Putin:

  • Turned Russia into an international pariah;
  • Plunged its economy into chaos through Western sanctions;
  • Infuriated millions of Russians through his draft;
  • Brought NATO to the brink of all-out war; and
  • Humiliated Russia by exposing its military incompetence.

Putin is reportedly not inclined to heed contrary advice. But he would do well to heed that of Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, Machiavelli warned:  

When a prince becomes universally hated, it is likely that he’s harmed some individuals—who thus seek revenge. This desire is increased by seeing the prince is widely loathed.

A prince, then, should avoid incurring such universal hatred. By doing this, he protects himself from such vengeance-seekers.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Another Communist dictator—Joseph Stalin—may have paid the price for violating this counsel. 

Throughout his 30-year reign over the Soviet Union, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million men, women and children.

These deaths resulted from executions, a man-made famine through the forced collectivation of harvests,  deportations and imprisonment in Gulag camps.

Joseph Stalin

Robert Payne, the acclaimed British historian, vividly portrayed the crimes of this murderous tyrant in his brilliant 1965 biography, The Rise and Fall of Stalin

According to Payne, Stalin was planning yet another purge during the last weeks of his life. This would be “a holocaust greater than any he had planned before.

“The chistka [purge] had become a ritual like a ceremonial cleansing of a temple performed every three or four years according to ancient laws. 

“The first chistka had taken place during the early months of the [Russian] revolution. It had proved so salutary that periodical bloodbaths were incorporated in the unwritten laws of the state.

“This time there would be a chistka to end all chistkas, a purging of the entire body of the state from top to bottom. No one, not even the highest officials, was to be spared.” 

Yet Stalin did nothing to calm their fears. He often summoned his “comrades” to the Kremlin for late-night drinking bouts, where he freely humiliated them.

“What would you do without Stalin?” he asked one night. “You’d be like blind kittens.”

Then, on January 13, 1953, the Soviet Union’s two government-controlled newspapers—Pravda (“Truth”) and Izvestiya (“News”)—announced that a sinister plot by nine Jewish doctors had been uncovered.

Its alleged object: No less than the murder of Joseph Stalin himself.

Stalin’s closest associates—veteran observers of past purges—quickly realized that another was about to descend.  And there could be no doubt who its chief victims would be.

Then, on March 4, 1953, Moscow Radio announced: “During the night of March 1-2, while in his Moscow apartment, Comrade Stalin suffered a cerebral hemorrhage affecting vital areas of the brain.”

Death came to Stalin on March 5. 

The imprisoned doctors were quickly released. 

Officially, the cause was ruled a cerebral hemorrhage. Stalin was 73 and in poor health from a lifetime of smoking and little exercise.

But it’s equally possible that he died of unnatural causes.

In the 2004 book, Stalin’s Last Crime, Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian, and Jonathan Brent, a Yale University Soviet scholar, assert that he might have been poisoned.

If this happened, the occasion was during a final dinner with four members of the Politburo:  Lavrenti P. Beria, chief of the secret police; Georgi M. Malenkov, Stalin’s immediate successor; Nikita S. Khrushchev, who eventually rose to the top spot; and Nikolai Bulganin, minister of the armed forces.

Lavrenti Beria

The authors believe that, if Stalin was poisoned, the most likely suspect was Beria. And the method: Slipping warfarin, a tasteless and colorless blood thinner also used as a rat killer, into his glass of wine.

In Khrushchev’s 1970 memoirs, he quotes Beria as telling Vyacheslav M. Molotov, another Politburo member, two months after Stalin’s death: “I did him in! I saved all of you.”

With Vladimir Putin making himself universally hated and threatening to bring nuclear destruction upon Russia itself, this would be a good time for Communist history to repeat itself.

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