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Battleship Putin: Welcome to India
Clearly, the global geostrategic alliances are shifting goalposts, and Putin is a big factor in this paradigm shift. Russia is no longer a push-over. With Putin at helm, it's like a classical Russian movie from the past which has come back.

Sergei Eisenstein was not only a Great Russian filmmaker, who revolutionized the technique of cinematography in black and white with reasonably primitive technology; he was also a sharp political creature. 

'Battleship Potemkin', made in 1925, not only celebrated the Russian revolution and the naval uprising, it also marked the beginning of a new and fascinating language of cinema, which turned it into a classical text book film for students of cinema and parallel filmmakers. 

Indeed, his yet another long and painstaking classic, 'Ivan the Terrible', shot in post-war ravaged Russia and Kazakhstan, often without basic resources and electricity, is a history lesson in disguise, complex and camouflaged at many levels, celebrating bravery, nationalism and tyranny, of the past and the present continuous, of Ivan and Stalinism. Made in 1944, this film, shot at huge scale, anticipated the invasion of Hitler's forces into the territory of Soviet Russia. It is situated in the backdrop of the Great War against fascism on the bloodied, snowy landscape of the cold and frozen Russian winter with more than 6 million people dead, and with both the legendary and protracted battles of Leningrad and Stalingrad waged by the Russian people against all odds becoming historical epics of unprecedented resistance. 

To understand the phenomenon of Vladimir Putin one has to go back to Ivan the Terrible, both the film and the emperor-tyrant who ruled Russia in the 16th century with a bloody iron fist; and also the life and times of Comrade Joseph Stalin. Made in the time of Stalin, the film was a metaphor, of the Terrible Ivan uniting Russia against sinister forces, becoming a terror for his own people as he turns a monarch-dictator, unleashing a terror machine which was only outlived and matched later by Stalin. The victory of Ivan in restoring the great patriotic idea of the imagined 'nationhood' gives him an aura which only tyrants and dictators have, fetching thereby collective awe and glory in the eyes of the people, as much as infinite fear, obedience and subservience. This is the two sides of the coin of patriotism when vulnerable people in the grip of multiple social and economic crises pray for a strong leader to restore their vicarious sense of dignity, glory and sanity. Both, Ivan the Terrible and Stalin, did that for Russia, and the country paid a heavy price for that. 

Wrote film critic J Hoberman in the 'Village Voice' in April 2001, "Among other things, Ivan is a masterpiece of Stalinist architecture," as historian James H Billington observed in his interpretive chronicle of Russian culture; The Icon and the Axe', 'The mammoth mosaics in the Moscow subway, the unnecessary spires and fantastic frills of civic buildings, the leaden chandeliers and dark foyers of reception chambers — all send the historical imagination back to the somber world of Ivan the Terrible.' By 1941, the analogy was quasi-official. Not only did Ivan's terror provide means to legitimize Stalin's, the 16th-century tsar's war against Livonia offered historical justification for Stalin's annexation of the Baltic States."  

Stalin defeated the fascists, conquered Berlin, won the unwinnable battles of Leningrad and Stalingrad which went on endlessly with thousands of Russians dying in the war, stamped the power of Soviet Russia in Europe and across the world,  divided Europe with the Warsaw Pact with East Europe completely in control of Moscow, turned Soviet Russia into a military-industrial power in the post Cold War era, and gave the American empire and the mandarins of capitalism a big scare which not only stayed, but turned the American establishment into frenzied bouts of phobia and schizophrenia, popularly called as the 'Reds under the Bed' syndrome. 

This was pronounced and witnessed during the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee in the Cold War years, led by the equally infamous communist baiter, Joseph McCarthy, who hounded all shades of liberals and dissidents in the garb of eliminating communist from "the land of the free". Among those hounded were scores of writers, actors and filmmakers in Hollywood, including Charlie Chaplin and Arthur Miller, celebrated writer who once married Marilyn Monroe. The award-winning and acclaimed Hollywood film, 'Guilty by Suspicion' made by Irwin Winkler, and starring  Robert De Niro, Annette Bening, George Wendt, tells the story of an organized witch-hunt in which an established filmmaker in the 1950s is hounded, isolated and jailed along with others, because he participated in anti-war activities. They are all falsely condemned as 'communists' and marginalized and punished due to the frenzy unleashed by the phobia against communists. 

Amidst this scenario and the entrenched walls of the iron curtain enacted by the two superpowers in the eastern and western bloc, Stalin's Gulags and concentration camps, the purges, disappearances and secret police, and the cold-blooded horror stories of Siberia's death and labour camps, continued to haunt and stalk Soviet Russia, still celebrating the victory against fascism amidst millions of dead and mass starvation in a cruel winter. The story of Marshal Zhukov, therefore, is illuminating. 

Outside the room of Marshal Zhukov in Moscow, his war room (visited by this writer some years ago), since he was the commander of the Soviet Russia's forces which captured Berlin, there is a huge painting with Stalin and his commanders looking at a map of Germany. Stalin is pointing at a particular spot on the map: Berlin, so, the great hero and commander, Marshal Zhukov, perhaps more popular than Stalin due to his great victorious march from Berlin, was felicitated at the famous Red Square in Moscow. He was hailed as the Red Star of Russia. Later, predictably, even he was banished to Siberia. Stalin just could not digest his popularity among the Russian masses and his grip on the Russian army. 

Similarly, thousands were killed, purged, tortured, sent to Siberia, including most comrades and party officials of the highest bodies, including legendary communist leaders, by Stalin's secret police. After Hitler's holocaust, this was another slow genocide which destroyed the legacy of Stalin's victory against fascism, and forever destroyed the original ideology of Marxism-Leninism. That is why, when Eisenstein made 'Ivan the Terrible Part II', after getting the Stalin Prize for the first part, the film was banned by Stalin. It was banned because behind the metaphor of Ivan the Terrible were the contemporary stories of the secret police, purges and the terror unleashed by Stalin's regime. Stalin apparently called the filmmaker for an audience and gave him a strict lesson in censorship. He said, no doubt Ivan was cruel, and you must show his cruelty, but you must also show how necessary it is to be cruel to protect the nation. 

Indeed, if not in terms of bitter realism, narrative objectivity or a parallel historical identity, the Putin phenomena must be seen within the metaphorical mirror images of both Tzar Ivan and Stalin, as patriots, iron-men, powerful dictators, strong leaders, unifiers and tyrants, though operating in completely different philosophical, political and ideological paradigms. There is something uncanny in the Russian psyche which has strong umbilical links to this narrative continuity and Putin fits into the scheme of things as effortlessly as a metaphorical film with a happy ending. 

Both Boris Yeltsin and Putin have had strong ties with the communist party in Soviet Russia before Mikhail Gorbachev unleashed the forces of perestroika and glasnost and the consequent break-up of the country. Both of them had top jobs in the communist system, with Yeltsin promoting Putin as his protégé after he became president of the Russian Federation. Indeed, Putin and KGB, the secret intelligence apparatus of Soviet Russia, had a strong, embryonic relationship; since his youth, he single-mindedly wanted to join the intelligence services.

It has been noted by those who documented his life and times that Putin wanted to work in the intelligence services since he was young. He was born in a humble family in Leningrad, and there is no reason to doubt that he did not ingrain the memories and narratives of the war against fascism, especially the great battle of Leningrad. His higher education was in Leningrad (now St Petersburg). His famous love for Judo and his athletic physique is perhaps dating back to his childhood. "We lived simply -- cabbage soup, cutlets, pancakes, but on Sundays and holidays my Mom would bake very delicious stuffed buns [pirozhki] with cabbage, meat and rice, and curd tarts [vatrushki]," said Putin, in a documented story on his life. His mother apparently did not like his passion for Judo. "Every time I went to a practice session, she would grumble, 'He's off to his fights again.'"

A story goes that he once went to the reception office of the KGB Directorate to find out how to become an intelligence officer. He was apparently informed that he has to do college, perhaps with a law degree, or serve in the army, to aspire to join the intelligence service of Soviet Russia. He was keen and motivated. "And from that moment, I began preparing myself to enter the law department at Leningrad State University," Putin has noted, in the short biography on his life. ( 

Consequently, his stint with the KGB, secret services inside and outside Soviet Russia, especially the protracted training in Eastern Europe, stood him in good stead for a long time to come, till the time he became the director of the new secret service (FSB, Federal Security Service, successor of KGB) of the Russian Federation under Yeltsin. Ultimately, he became the full-fledged prime minister of Russia. This followed with his becoming the President of Russia in the post-Yeltsin era. 

His popularity was never that of a mass leader or a charismatic personality; he was more like a strong doer behind the curtains, in the tradition of top leaders and general secretaries during the era of the Soviet Russia. However, after the terrorist attacks in Moscow and his strong actions in retaliation, his popularity gradually soared. Day by day, he became stronger and more powerful, and along with it, his charisma and mass appeal grew by leaps and bounds. The unknown official of the secret service became the strong man Russia needed, after the collapse of Soviet Russia, the entry of crony capitalism and the capture of the collapsing economy by big barons and billionaires, the social and economic disintegration of the inherited Soviet structure, the drastic fall in the value of the Ruble, and, of course, the gradual shrinking of the military and political might of Russia.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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