I still remember the day when I first heard his name. I was in my late twenties and deep into the research that changed my life. The discoveries that I made replaced everything I had known before, so imagine my astonishment at hearing someone else voice my thoughts and shape them into an engrossing read (the book I still recommend to everyone as a must-read: “Who set Hitler against Stalin”). That person was Nikolai Starikov.
When I meet him today, seventeen books later, I expect him to admit that his significant contribution would make him feel proud and accomplished, but as Nikolai Starikov tells me, to him it's only a start and the best is yet to come.
While others weaponize the past, the leader of the Great Fatherland Party approaches it with an open mind. So when I enquire about his next book “War By Foreign Hands”, the sparkle of a reckless adventurer comes out and settles on the happy semicircle around his eyes. That's what strikes me when I speak to Nikolai Starikov - the heartfelt interest of a child who is looking for truth.
History has always fascinated him, he tells me. As a child he received a precious gift from his father - a book prophetically called "The Book of Future Commanders" – that will define and reflect his future life. It triggered intellectual debates and led him to share his discoveries with everyone else.
"I have always been writing, ever since I was twelve or thirteen. I even won a writing competition of the KVN (the club of the joyous and quick witted) in Saint-Petersburg. To me it was important to share my knowledge”, he tells me with a soothing smile.
Dressed soberly and impeccably, he spreads reassurance everywhere around him. “What if I’m sitting in front of a future president?” a sudden thought jumps to my mind.
Criticized for his “incompetence” due to a lack of formal academic background in history, Starikov doesn’t seem to give these accusations much consideration. "Scholars study a particular and a very narrow period of history” he explains, and calls it a shortcoming. “To see the full picture one must step backwards to comprehend the cause-and-effect relationship", he emphasizes and smiles cordially. I nod and concur. His credibility grows in direct proportion to the number of his readers.
Determined to demonstrate the cynical attempts to destroy Russia in the past, Starikov untwists entangled facts the same way an investigator untwists a crime. All historical processes can be traced back to their origin through the consequences of those events. And as he carefully unfolds pages of the past, he discovers that behind every important historical event lies the truth known to few.
"You should always ask yourself one important question: who is interested in a certain event? Who will profit from it? In the end, books of history were written to mask the truth, to hide it from us. It is done in the same way that a murderer would attempt to hide any traces of his crime", Starikov explains.
Today, centuries after Emperor Paul’s death, the connection between his decision to break ties with Britain and his chilling murder is not as hazy or unfounded as it seemed to be before. While any hint at direct intervention in Russian internal politics would have resulted in a scandal, setting Paul’s closest circle against him worked wonderfully; there are no traces left to people behind these machinations.
"Russia is not the only country ‘under attack’”, Nikolai Starikov highlights. However, in the case with Libya, for example, it was a routine and a fairly simple operation. “Russia isn't such an easy target, it's more difficult to undermine. If in the past, in 1914, it was Russia and Germany that were used as two geopolitical pawns engaged in a war, today's goal is to undermine two major powers - Russia and China - by setting them against each other", Starikov explains.
“History teaches us that it doesn’t teach us anything”, Starikov explains. Names and geopolitical players may change but the substance stays. The remarkably good relationship between Russia and China will be inflamed by deceptive maneuvers. “It will be the same scenario as it was with Russia and Germany”, the bestselling author tells me. Attempts will be made to trigger the confrontation by a power within Russia. "Political power may go to those who are unfriendly towards China", Starikov warns. Fueled by either money or a treacherous idea, these seemingly patriotic powers will attempt to destabilize the country and work against its best interests.
That’s where he sees challenges for president Putin on his path of creating a truly great Russia. “The major difficulty, as I see it, is human resources”, the writer says, indicating that for a country as big as Russia it shouldn’t be that hard to find 81 committed, loyal and trustworthy governors. Personal loyalty is nothing if it can be bought.
Starikov debunks a popular myth of the Russian president’s unlimited and absolute power. Even Stalin was dependent and relied on his environment. “One person cannot govern the country all by himself, even a monarch doesn’t have unlimited power”, Starikov explains and immediately adds that to hold a country together a leader ought to be strong.
The best illustration of how successful the behind-the-scenes narrative can be at times is the present situation in Ukraine. Used ruthlessly with the sole purpose of engaging Russia in a never-ending civil war, Ukraine became a victim of its self-delusional ambitions. “To the West today Ukraine is luggage without a handle: too heavy a burden to carry and too much of a pity to leave it behind”, Starikov says.
What could be a practical outcome of this? Ukraine may be given back to us, he reckons. “Russia is going to restore Ukraine”, he draws an inevitable conclusion. We are one nation, after all.
The idea resonates and I am prompted to ask "So Dostoevsky was right then? Russia will unite and look after all other Slavic countries?"
Nikolai Starikov smiles at me with his distinct diplomatic smile and encapsulates all of his historical detectives in one laconic phrase: "I prefer another thought expressed by Fyodor Mihailovich: that every crime is always followed by a punishment".
Additional photo credits: Vitaly Vakhrushev is an award winning photographer from Yaroslavl, to whom we owe many thanks for his contributions to our efforts. Readers can find many more of his stunning photos on Rasfokus.