For any student of Russian history, the events of 1917 – which brought about the fall of Czar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of the House of Romanov – and what Russian President Vladimir Putin faces today are shocking in their similarity.
Then, as now, Russia was ruled by an out-of-touch leader who lived in extreme opulence while the population – the serfs – starved and struggled for every meal. Putin’s $700 million personal mega-yacht, Scheherazade, with its golden toilet-paper holders, 15-foot televisions and dance floor that converts into a swimming pool, is the modern rival of any czarist palace. Putin replaced the palace guard, Czar Nicholas’ dreaded Okhrana, with Siloviki, security officers mostly ex-KGB who are chosen for their loyalty, political reliability and conspiratorial beliefs that match those of their boss. The Okhrana, like Putin’s Siloviki, never hesitated to use assassination as a tool to maintain their boss’ political power.
Nicholas’ fall was hastened by an unpopular foreign war, which cost his Imperial Army an estimated 1.7 million soldiers killed, 4.9 million wounded and 2.5 million missing or taken prisoner. Today, Russian losses in Ukraine are a closely held state secret. Then, as now, Russian generals completely underestimated the enemy. Then, as now, Russian troops were ill-informed and ill-prepared for war. Then, as now, Russian generals lied about the army’s losses and its lack of progress on the battlefield. Then, as now, entire Russian units murdered their officers, abandoned their equipment and simply walked home. Then, the Russian people were shocked by the millions of coffins carted home. Now, Putin’s forces use mobile crematoriums to hide the skyrocketing casualties from the populace, to avoid the bad optics of train cars full of dead soldiers.
The primary cause of the revolution of 1917 was extreme anger and dissatisfaction with the rampant corruption and inefficiency that permeated the czarist regime. Putin’s “government” is even more corrupt. Like Czar Nicholas, Putin has surrounded himself with oligarchs who owe him fealty for their extreme wealth and positions of power. Unlike the Czar, Putin takes a cut of every dollar the oligarchs manage to steal or extort. Meanwhile, for everyone else who can’t access hard currency, the Russian Ruble has collapsed. It’s become worthless. As of this morning, one Russian Ruble was worth little more than one American cent. Millions of Russians have seen their entire life savings evaporate into thin air.
The Russian means of quashing dissent has not changed much since czarist times. Putin has jailed tens of thousands of his own citizens for merely voicing their opposition to the Ukrainian War. Public demonstrations have been banned and brutally stamped-out by Putin’s security forces. As a former KGB colonel, Putin knows well what these public demonstrations could bring – another Bloody Sunday or a complete regime change. All that’s missing are protestors carrying red banners calling for “Peace, land and bread.”
If history has taught us anything, it is that evil, murderous regimes never last. I hope Putin’s next official portrait will be taken in the basement of the Ipatiev House.