Some headlines are so redundant as to sound positively silly. A prime example of this is the one that reads, ‘Putin secures record win in Russian presidential election’.
Could there have been any other outcome?
Not on your life. And if there had been it would have been on a great many lives. Vlad has no time for the inconveniences of dissent. The one opposition candidate with a chance to make a mark, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running on trumped-up charges of fraud. One has to wonder, in light of recent events in Salisbury, how much longer he has to live. A few other candidates were allowed to take the field, but only because they represented not the slightest danger of making an impact, and moreover were useful idiots in that they gave the election a veneer of respectability.
So President Putin it is for the next six years, and who knows six more after that – and possibly, like his counterpart in China, for the rest of his life.
President Trump will be content with the result, however predictable it may have been. He has not, at time of writing, issued one of his early-morning tweets, but no doubt he is preparing a congratulatory message of some kind. The only question is whether the more sensible elements in the White House can prevent him sending it. Trump probably thinks that issuing it would only be fair after all Putin has done for him.
Trump was heard jokingly to mutter, following the bloodless Xi coup in China, that America could do much worse than award him, Donald, a lifelong tenure. We live in an age of unembarrassed despots, and Trump must be feeling a bit left out of things as the only super-power leader who has to bother with submitting to a democratic electoral process and a fixed term in office.
Is Putin as bad as the media has painted him?
The short answer is ‘Yes’; actually, the only answer.
Putin is a gangster, but a gangster in gangster’s clothing. He acts like a gangster and certainly looks the part. It was Putin who, I seem to recall, once said that one never leaves the KGB. He himself, a former KGB operative, never has. He may also be a psychopath, but then that comes with the territory. Most American gangsters have been psychopaths, traditionally knocking off their enemies with nothing more than a nod and a wink to lumpen henchmen, and often while playing with their kids. They do so with virtual impunity, since the trail of evidence can rarely be traced to
them, and witnesses are understandably hard to find.
The attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury – and possibly another former agent in London – can only have been committed with the approval of Putin. He denies this, of course, in the manner of Michael Corleone in the Godfather films, with a straight face broken only by the faintest trace of a knowing smirk. He knows that we know he did it, but he does not have to bother with the pretence of caring. He has offered the same response to charges that he has had passenger planes shot down, and Syrian civilians blasted to pieces by Assad’s brutal regime.
Britain reacted strongly to the Salisbury killings, but only with words and futile gestures, like expelling Russian diplomats, these being the only options available. One of these gestures has been to keep members of the royal family from attending the upcoming World Cup (soccer). This will cause no offence in Russian diplomatic circles, and will cause no end of smirks in the Kremlin. Refusing to send an England team would be a more telling gesture, but no more effective, unless other countries such as Germany, France and Italy were likewise to pull out. That would at least spoil Russia’s show, but it will not happen.
All agree that Putin is a ruthless tyrant and killer, and that they might any day be the victims of terror attacks with lethal chemical agents, but all will supinely declare that sport is supposed to be above such political squabbles – and winning a World Cup is much more important than a mere expression of political, least of all moral, principles. The leader of Britain’s main opposition party, disgracefully, can’t even bring himself to admit that Russia was behind the Salisbury murders, which says a great deal about what kind of government Jeremy Corbyn would lead if given the chance.
In Moscow, those smirks must be mere public camouflage for private hoots of laughter.