One of the few Catholic thinkers who understands the dynamics of the New Russia is George Weigel, and this article from the Ethics & Public Policy Center is a must read, and is is an issue also covered in the Lampstand book: Catholicism, Communism, & Criminal Reformation. For links to all Lampstand books at Amazon go to

An excerpt from Weigel’s article.

Attempts to understand Vladimir Putin and the Russian revanchism that now threatens to dismantle the basic security architecture of post–Cold War Europe ought to begin not with reference to Lenin and Stalin, or by digging into one’s dog-eared copies of books by Hans Morgenthau, Samuel Huntington, or George Kennan. To be sure, there is a Leninist component in Putin’s methods, but save that for a moment. At the outset, consider the possibility that the best literary guide to Putin, Putinism, and early-21st-century Russia is Mario Puzo.

Russia is, in many respects, dying. Alcoholism is rampant. Life expectancy is sinking: Today, a 15-year-old Haitian boy has a longer life expectancy than his 15-year-old Russian counterpart. The economy is stagnant, and the ruble is cratering. Russia imports potatoes from Romania. Churches are largely empty. Yet atop this rotting body politic is an oligarchic elite that functions very much like the Mafia families depicted in Puzo’s novel The Godfather and the films spun off from it.

These “families” are different, however, in that they were bred, not in Sicily or in Italian-immigrant neighborhoods in New York, but in the Soviet KGB — which, going back to its origins as Feliks Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka, considered itself an elite body, a cut or two above the usual political riffraff. Which, in the sodden political atmosphere of Leonid Brezhnev’s USSR, it was — and as such, the KGB was smart enough to figure out, rather before the rest of the Communist apparatus, that the jig was going to be up sooner rather than later.

So, in the waning days of the Cold War, KGB officers, far too clever to believe in Mikhail Gorbachev’s “reform Communism,” began siphoning Communist-party and Russian-state funds into KGB accounts, safely hidden offshore in banks run by the kind of men who ask no questions. Those funds, in turn, provided the financial leverage by which Vladimir Putin and some of his former-KGB comrades, taking advantage of the Wild West atmosphere in the post-Communist Russia of Boris Yeltsin, muscled their way into political power, allying themselves with other, previously non-KGB-related oligarchs and big-time Russian criminals — and then, when the time was right, liquidating those temporary allies, literally or through bogus criminal proceedings and long prison sentences. Thus Putin and his friends in the KGB, now-rechristened the Federal Security Service (FSB), drew all the strings of political power into their own hands while constantly enlarging their bank accounts.

No one knows for sure, but Vladimir Putin may well be the wealthiest man in the world today — a super-don, far beyond the ambitions of Vito Corleone, who has created something quite new on the global political landscape. Once upon a time, countries had intelligence services. Today, Russia looks a lot like an intelligence service that has gotten itself a country. And having done so, the FSB-dominated Russian oligarchy is buying up as much of what’s available — in London, on the Riviera, wherever — as it can.

Why has this vast theft of a nation’s wealth gone unchallenged? In part, because of Russians’ traditional deference to political power: The tsar — be he tsar, commissar, or president-for-life — is, well, the tsar. Putin has also been exceptionally clever in associating his regime with elements of traditional Russian civic piety, aided by the thoroughly corrupt leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been shameless in advancing Kremlin propaganda and lies and in lining its own pockets in the process.

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