On a day in which I read in The Mail that 'Vlad the Impaler' is already considering anointing his successor, a former special forces thug who looks capable of even more evil mischief than his master, I have been pondering whether or not I have the stomach to read The Romanovs 1613 - 1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiori. I have read some of the reviews which are unanimously favourable but the story they tell is vomit-inducing. Yes, I know that 'back in the day' our own, er, dearly beloved kings and queens were capable of ordering executioners into action but they were rank amateurs compared to the Romanovs.
The second Romanov to rule was Alexei and he set the template according to Adam Zamoyski's review in The Spectator:
Alexei was tall, strong, clever and ruthless, and well-suited to empire-building. In 1649 he published the first collection of laws. As it came after a long period of instability, the accent was on reinforcing the state, which meant the position of the tsar. It identified a litany of crimes against his person and introduced a new concept: the duty to denounce [my emphasis]. His subjects were obliged to report not merely real conspiracies, but also their wildest suspicions regarding possible ill-intent. It prescribed draconian punishments — mild disrespect for the tsar entailed having one’s tongue torn out — and established the protection of the state as the ultimate purpose of Russian law.
So not much change there then! 400-odd years later in the 'reign of Vlad the Impaler' nuclear poison appears to be the preferred method of despatch! After Alexei we move on to Peter the Great, but great at what exactly? City building possibly:
The magnificent showpiece city of St Petersburg testifies to his success in one respect. But while he strove to civilise his subjects, prescribing the clothes they should wear and how they should drink tea, he himself indulged in epic bouts of drunkenness, bestial depravity and juvenile profanity, involving giants, dwarves and grotesquely disfigured cripples cavorting in ribald farce. He was also capable of breath-taking cruelty. He even tortured his own son to death. And his introduction of the table of ranks, which effectively turned every individual into a cog in the machine of state, brought Russia closer to the structure of the horde of Genghis Khan than to any other European society.
The cruelty and depravity seeped down to all levels of Russian society and blood stains remain to this day as John Kampfner points out in his review in 'The Graun':
One influential figure was Bogdan Khmelnitsky, who unleashed an orgy of violence against Catholics and Jews. Up to 100,000 Jews were massacred “in gleefully ingenious atrocities” while children were “eaten in front of their raped mothers”. Several streets are, to this day, named after this Cossack officer [my emphasis] a hero for handing over the territory that is now roughly Ukraine to the tsar: back to the future.
And so it goes on and on and my fear and loathing of Russia grows.