Putin Increasingly Detached from Reality as he Listens to his Inner Rasputin

Vladimir Putin has failed to use the shooting-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 to exert pressure on the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to lay down their weapons. Rather, his administration has continually tried to place the blame for the MH17 incident on the Ukrainian government in Kiev, whilst allowing artillery and troop movements across the Russian border into the separatist camps.

The shrapnel-pocked fuselage of MH17 - proof of the pro-Russian separatists guilt
The shrapnel-pocked fuselage of MH17 – proof of the pro-Russian separatists guilt

Putin’s claims of a ‘smear campaign’ against Russia organised by the USA show his increasing detachment from reality. His bullying tactics have long won him internal control within the Russian Federation and scored him several successes in Eastern Europe (think Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine).

Yet the international outrage caused by the rocket attack on MH17, and the Russian leader’s refusal to accept any culpability, show a worrying disdain for peace. The selfish intentions of the European nations that rely on the Russian economy will not persist forever, and the potential for conventional ground forces to be sent to Ukraine by the West has become a possibility that just a month ago seemed impossible.

Putin, simply, sees himself as a god. His words, his whims, rule all manner of reason. In this way he differs from the infamous Grigory Rasputin, whose control over Russian politics in the build-up to and early years of WWI are as legendary as Putin’s actions will become in history. The Siberian mystic claimed himself as a transmitter of God’s will, his miracle cures a manifestation of divine intervention.

Rasputin won favour with the Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra by his apparent ability to ‘cure’ the symptoms of the Tsarevich Alexis’ hemophilia. As the only male heir to the throne, the well-being of Alexis was everything. Through a mixture of hypnosis, cunning, pure coincidence and blind ignorance on the part of the Tsars, Rasputin succeeded in creating the impression that only he, through his mystical connection with God, could assure Alexis’ safety.

The 'Mad Monk' who came to dominate Russian politics during WWI
The ‘Mad Monk’ who came to dominate Russian politics during WWI

Rasputin may have a been a debauched alcoholic but he was also an effective showman and he attracted a large group of followers wherever he travelled. Putin likes to portray himself as a sober fitness fanatic, yet the frequent images of him bare-chested in the Russian mountains or scissor-kicking an opponent during a judo competition are similarly cultish. Indeed, one only need look at the Nashi youth movement in Russia to see the cult of personality Putin has developed.

Such a status that both Rasputin and Putin developed for themselves rubs off on the political establishment and allows a degree of control unimaginable in any democracy. Even so, there is a lesson to be learnt from history.

The way in which Rasputin came to influence the Tsarina during the Tsar’s absence at the Front during WWI became increasingly alarming for both the Russian aristocracy and peasantry. Ministerial appointments, elections to the Synod, even troop movements were controlled by the erratic proclamations and suggestions of ‘Our Friend’, as the Tsarina affectionately termed her mystic. Rasputin’s murder at the Yusupov Palace in December 1916 had been a long-time coming, the disproportionate influence he wielded in the palace alienating nearly everyone around him.

If Vladimir Putin continues to drive Russia towards a deadly confrontation with the West, his political supporters and the people at large may start questioning his own ‘divine’ traits more vociferously. Another eruption of the pro-democracy movements seen in recent years, coupled with political defections and economic contraction might see his infallibility challenged.

Russia's saviour on horseback - the Putin myth is slipping
Russia’s saviour on horseback – the Putin myth is slipping


Corruption (in political dealings and within the mind) will not go unnoticed forever. Putin is running out of time to ensure his supremacy on the Russian throne. Without reining in the separatists in Ukraine and allowing a European war to develop, even the timid Western powers will fight back.

He may not end up bullet-riddled in the Malaya Nevka River but Putin’s belligerence could well see his political death much sooner than people anticipated.



Travelling into the Unknown: the California Gold Rush and its Early Pioneers

On the 24th January 1848, carpenter James W. Marshall discovered gold in the American River near Sutter’s Mill, sparking the California Gold Rush. Pioneers from across the USA set out for the West, intent on uncovering a fortune that few ultimately found. Whilst many of the pioneers may have been unsuccessful, their mass migration captured the popular imagination, precipitating the creation of California as a state of opportunity and good fortune.

The endeavours of the early California migrants are nicely illustrated in a series of maps produced by a military detachment escorting a group of pioneers between Fort Smith, Arkansas and Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1849. Forced to cross Native American territory, the 3,000 emigrants were provided with a military escort led by a Captain Marcy.

Map 1: Fort Smith to Old Fort Holmes
Map 1: Fort Smith to Old Fort Holmes

Map 1 shows the route from Fort Smith, now Arkansas’ second-largest city, to Old Fort Holmes, located at the mouth of the Little River near present-day Holdenville, Oklahoma. Native American territories are identified on the map, with observations made about the quality of land. This military escort was clearly equally interested in surveying the terrain for future settlement as it was in ensuring the safety of its party.

Map 2: Old Fort Holmes to Antelope Hills
Map 2: Old Fort Holmes to Antelope Hills

Map 2 shows the settler escort continuing to follow the route of the Canadian River to a series of ‘natural mounds’ beyond the Antelope Hills which, at an elevation of over 700m, served as a point of reference for the various tribes of the Plains Indians. Again it is interesting to note the annotations on the map, particularly the declaration of abundant gypsum deposits.

Map 3: Antelope Hills to Llano Estacado
Map 3: Antelope Hills to Llano Estacado

The third section of the route appears rather uneventful with no significant features noted between the Antelope Hills and the Llano Estacado (Staked Plain) in present-day Texas. This is perhaps not surprising given the open expanses of the Llano. This route was a popular one amongst the early California pioneers, however, despite the presence of the often-hostile Comanches in the region. 

Map 4: Llano Estacado to Santa Fe
Map 4: Llano Estacado to Santa Fe

The final map shows the continuation of the journey from the Llano Estacado to Santa Fe, which had been founded by the Spanish in 1610. The total journey of the military escort is charted at 819 miles and there would still be plenty more distance to travel for the pioneers as they continued their drive west alone.

The observations shown on the above maps are similar to those made by Francis Parkman in his account, ‘The Oregon Trail’, based on his journeying of 1846. Travelling before the Gold Rush, Parkman nonetheless looked at the virgin land with an eye for potential development. Just three years later, the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, along with myriad other routes, were being used regularly by the California settlers.

For the pioneers to make such marathon journeys through territories still occupied by substantial Native American tribes, across hazardous and unforgiving terrain, without any guarantee of profit at their destination, testifies to the historical allure of gold. Despite the misfortune of many who braved the journey, their exodus from the east helped create the founding myth of California and remains one of the most captivating periods in the Age of Discovery.

Map Sources