Russia: A Country Caught in a Devastating Cycle of Political Violence

This article was originally published on October 30, 2020.

Russia is a country that has always had two drastically different sides: One lighter, peaceful side that it tries to project to the rest of the world to gain Western approval/indifference, and a much darker, autocratic, bloody side that most of the leaders of Russia inevitably fall into perpetuating in order to maintain control over the country. Many historians and experts, even Russian ones, believe that the constant continuance of violence and extreme control over the people, press, economy, and many other aspects in Russia has made the people numb to the atrocities happening in their nation.

This existence of extreme tyranny and violence against dissenters has been prominent in Russia from the rule of Ivan the Terrible, who brutally murdered dissenters to his regime, including Russian aristocrats, all the way to the Soviet regime of Josef Stalin, who idolized Ivan the Terrible and had a very effective entire department dedicated to carrying out clandestine assassinations against his enemies, both internationally and domestically. Similar to Ivan the Terrible’s extreme nationalist army, Stalin had his secret police and concentration camps, the Gulag, both of which terrorized the Russian people and eventually made them numb to all of the violence, authoritarianism, and general lack of safety or freedom in the nation.

However, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the presence of violence and organized crime in Russia continued to thrive following the rise of Russian oligarchs and general political instability in the nation; this was very similar to crime and violence in Soviet and pre-Soviet Russia, except this was not government-regulated/controlled. Although Russia is technically a democratic republican federation now, its current president, Vladimir Putin, continues to perpetuate Russia’s history of domestic violence and unrest by using new tools, such as the FSB.

From the 16th century reign of Ivan the Terrible to the not-so-democratic presidency of Putin, Russian leaders have had a strong history of gruesome yet effective assassinations of their political rivals. For example, the regime of Ivan the Terrible was infamous for its atrocious means by which its enemies were executed. For example, the execution of Boris Telupa, a Russian man accused of treason, was described gruesomely, as a stake was “thrust into his fundament through his body which came out through the neck, upon which he languished in horrible pain for fifteen hours.” (LeVine 7). This behavior persisted through to the Soviet regime of Russia and its republics, especially during the rule of Josef Stalin, who was incredibly infamous for sending his political rivals to forced labor camps called the Gulag, in which millions of people died. Nikita Khruschev, the successor to Stalin, founded the KGB, the Russian intelligence agency notorious for terrorizing and spying on the Russian people. This is significant because this long, centuries-spanning assassination record, through its unreserved shows of power through violence, has perpetuated the general apathy among the Russian people; with such close proximity to constant violence, it was inevitable for the Russian people not to be affected.

However, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a seemingly democratic Russia, the violence and instability continued on. Boris Yeltsin’s presidency came after the fall of the Soviet Union, in a highly unstable political and national climate, allowing for the rise of organized crime and non-government-affiliated violence. This happened because of the power vacuum that was created following the fall of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service, and other law enforcement agencies, since “grievances that previously would have been… settled through legal or peaceable means suddenly poured out into the streets.” (LeVine 11). The larger corporatization of Russia’s economy led to the rise of several rich, powerful oil oligarchs who rose by associating with the Russian mafia and hitmen in order to eliminate business rivals, breeding violence, and crime in Russia which the unstable, ineffective government could not control at that point. In the late 1990s, “almost four-fifths of Russia’s banks were controlled by gangs, whose tentacles spread west to Israel, Europe, and the United States.” (LeVine 11). This is significant because although the post-Soviet Russian government was no longer directly involved in crime and the terrorization of the people, it certainly didn’t take any significant measures to stop it, allowing for the long line of violence and oppression of the Russian people to persist even through the term of Russia’s first democratically elected president.

Because of the extreme demonstrations of terrible power and violence throughout the past few centuries in Russia, the Russian people have become generally impassive towards the events happening in their country. This allows leaders to maintain power relatively easily, as “enormous tragedies” occur with such relative frequency in Russia that its people become almost numb to them.” (LeVine 6). This leads to a general attitude of fatalism in Russia, that things will inevitably happen, so there is to point in attempting to stop them from doing so. An example of this is outlined by historian Nikita Petrov, who says “Lots of people went into the street in protest. That would never happen here. Why? Here it’s ‘Why should we go into the streets? It would have no impact.’” (LeVine 4). He says this in reference to a 2004 terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain perpetrated by al-Qaeda, in which many Spaniards took to the streets in protest. This is significant because this illustrates that the general impassivity of the people contributes to the lack of consequences to Putin and various other Russian leaders’ crimes, “[going] along with autocratic rule even when offered an alternative.” (LeVine 7).

To put it simply, Putin’s excessive use of power is influenced by and perpetuatative of the long line of oppression and violence in Russia, which in turn causes and perpetuates the numbness and apathy of the Russian people to the government’s corruption and violent means of maintaining their power. And until either Vladimir Putin steps down from the presidency, or until the Russian people take a stand for their safety and freedom, this harmful cycle of corruption and violence will continue, at the cost of the oppressed people of Russia.


“Chapter 1: Russia’s Dark Side – A Land in the Grip of a Brutal History.” Putin’s Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of New Russia, by Steve LeVine, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009, pp. 3–12.