“Putin is the godfather of a mafia clan ruling Russia. And like all mafia bosses, he barely distinguishes between is personal property, the property of his clan and the property of those beholden to his clan.”
-Journalist Masha Gessen, 2012
Reprint from August 29, 2008
PUTIN WANTS TO BE TONY SOPRANO
GREENPOINT, Brooklyn, Aug.28…Winston Churchill famously called Russia “a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery.”
In the aftermath of Russia’s brutal foray into Georgia, analysts were wondering what was going on behind the stone walls of the Kremlin and especially in the mind of its leader, Vladimir Putin.
Now Igor Yopsvoyomatsky, head of the Greeznyzidh Think Tank, feels he has unwrapped the enigma and solved the riddle.
“Putin doesn’t want to be Tsar or Commissar,” he says. “He wants to be Tony Soprano…”
In an interview at Golubchik’s Lounge, Yopsvoyomatsky, a recent immigrant from Pinsk said he didn’t truly understand Putin until he came to America.
“In Brooklyn, on the streets of the Bensonhurst, quarter, I saw scores of muscular young men in sleeveless undershirts they call “wife-beaters,” wearing heavy gold ID bracelets and big rings, which is Putin’s preferred outfit. I heard stories about Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, another short man with big muscles who controlled the neighborhood. This is Putin’s fantasy role, I thought. The Mafia strong man.
“Putin models his behavior on American gangster culture,” Yopsvoyomatsky said. “He uses blackmail and intimidation. He works behind front men, corrupts public officials, and assassinates those who defy him.
“If you look at things in Mafia context you can predict every move he will make”
Yopsvoyomatsky offered the Georgian invasion an an example.
“This is about wiping out a rival boss and at the same time crushing a front man who wouldn’t play ball,” he said. “A two-horse parley, Tony Soprano would say.”
Putin’s Mob had made a deal with British Petroleum to exploit Russian oil and gas resources. ” BP was big corrupt company,” Yopsovoymatsky said. ” Involved in bribery and blackmail scandals . It had ignored safety standards, which led to bursting of Alaska pipeline and an explosion in Texas that killed fifteen. So BP made a deal behind Putin’s back with Georgia to construct pipeline that would run from Baku through Tiblisi, the Georgian capital, to Ceyhan in Turkey, completely bypassing Russian pipelines and providing independent supply of natural gas to Western Europe.”
BP’s Georgian country manager, Hugh G. McDowell said at the time that the “oil and gas fields of the Caspian (were) among the most sizable and productive in the world.” The pipeline traveled 1,768 km and transported one million barrels of oil a day. When it was opened in July 2006, BP said it was the largest new non-Opec source of oil supply in 15 years.
With a grimace Yopsvoyomatsky threw down a shot of Popov, the vodka in the plastic bottle, coughed and wiped his streaming eyes.
“Tony Soprano would never let someone make big money in his backyard,” he said. “So Putin wasn’t going to let his front man make a deal with enemy mob in Georgia to cut him out,” he said. “He also wanted to teach BP a lesson, not to, how you say, mess with the Boss of all Bosses.”
The Russian invasion effectively shut down the Georgian pipelines. The Russian Navy took over the port of Poti, preventing oil tankers from docking. It bombed the main east-west bridge that connected various oil depots to Tiblisi. It crippled BP’s jet fuel business at Tiblisi airport. It intimidated the neighboring countries, serving notice of what would happen if they made deals with the West.
Was it a success?
Maybe, but…Yopsvoyomatsky shook his finger with a sly look. “This is not the way Tony Soprano would do business,” he said.
“Tony would have brought in top hit men to show strength. Instead, the world watched rusty Russian tanks break down. It got a good look at antiquated military in action…Russians were so desperate they stole American Humvees to drive their generals around…”
“Tony would have consulted his soldiers first to see if his family businesses would be affected,” he said. “Putin didn’t do this. And now the Russian stock market has lost much value; the ruble has sunk; investors are withdrawing from deals; Russians were gobbling up American steel companies, but now US Congress wants to put a hold on acquisitions.
“Tony would have requested permission from the other families before making such a big move in their neighborhood,”Yopsvoyomatsky said. “Dictators and Dons do not like to be taken by surprise. But Putin didn’t inform Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Tajikstan, not to mention China, which is its counterpart in the Shanghai Co-Operation Organization, Central Asian version of New York’s Five Mafia Families. These countries also have rebellious provinces with secessionist movements. They don’t want trouble. They did not give Russia a public vote of confidence at their annual meeting. China even expressed ‘concern about the latest developments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,’ which is equal to slap in the face to Putin. Behind closed doors you can imagine how angry they really are.”
Yopsvoyomatsky thinks Putin has made a mistake. “He has no support from his so-called allies, his vassals are losing money and his enemies have forgotten their differences to unite against him.
“This is classic Mafia scenario,” he said. “The faithful Medvedev, the heir apparent, is watching in the wings as the Boss stumbles. He is having secret meetings, building alliances, biding his time.
Yopsvoyomatsky raised his glass. “Putin maybe has one more Mafia lesson to learn:
Dons don’t die in bed.”