When Marx wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, he didn’t account for the possibility of the reverse sequence.
Yet the Biden-Putin summit, inaugurating the interplay between Russia and America for the next four years, shows that this possibility is very real. We were served up a farce, and a tragedy may be just around the corner.
Biden has been hailed in the American press for his self-restraint, belying the steely resolve underneath. No one seems to realise that Putin played Biden – and the sycophantic ‘liberal’ media – for a sucker. People in the West don’t seem to grasp the salient difference between the two chaps.
Biden’s words may not be deeds, but they still are words. The nature of Western governance is that politicians may be held to account for things they say. That’s why they so often, practically always, utter vacuous, noncommittal statements, trying not to give their opposition an opening. They can’t just say any old thing and hope to get away with it.
Putin’s words aren’t words. They are KGB ops, solely designed to deceive, provoke, unsettle, trick – whatever works to complete the mission.
The mission is to defeat the West politically, to force it to accept the legitimacy of the Russian regime and Putin personally, giving them a free hand to do as they will. Such a victory must not only be won, but it must also be seen to have been won.
Acting on his childhood experience as a self-described “common Petersburg thug”, later parlayed into a career within history’s most murderous organisation, Putin knows how to declare victory without actually uttering words to that effect.
The technique he uses comes straight from Petersburg’s back alleys, where the bully knows he can say anything he wants without anyone daring to disagree. The message is, “Oh yeah? So what are you going to do about it?”
Just look at the way he handled the issue of Navalny, whose Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) has been a thorn in Vlad’s side for years. To jog your memory, Putin’s Lucretia Borgias poisoned Navalny with novichok.
Yet they didn’t get the dose quite right, which is always a problem. Too high, and the poison will be instantly detectable in postmortem. Too little, and the target may survive.
That’s what happened in this case: Putin’s hitmen only succeeded in putting Navalny in a coma, not in a coffin. Still unconscious, he was taken to Germany for treatment, and his life was saved.
Navalny then returned to Russia, knowing he’d end up in prison. So it proved. He was accused of jumping parole and sentenced to 3.5 years in a penal colony.
When queried about this, Putin delivered his back-alley jive. Navalny, he said, had committed a crime by escaping to Germany. Hold on, Vlad, but surely, being in a coma, he didn’t have much choice in that matter? Oh yeah? So what are you going to do about it?
Then Putin corrected a widespread misapprehension. People treat Navalny and his ACF as legitimate political opposition. In fact, they are nothing but terrorists, teaching their supporters how to make Molotov cocktails.
But Vlad, the ACF was established in 2011, and in the intervening 10 years they haven’t committed a single terrorist act. Nor is there a shred of evidence that they are planning one. Oh yeah? So what are you going to do about it?
Biden tried to answer that implicit question by threatening “devastating consequences” should Navalny die in prison. By the looks of it, the devastating consequences will take the shape of another stern expression of deep concern.
Anyway, why weren’t there any consequences, devastating or otherwise, when the previous opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was shot dead a few feet from the Kremlin wall? Or when another opposition leader, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered? Or after dozens of other dissidents (Starovytova, Shchekochihin, Sheremet, Litvinenko et al.) were ‘whacked’ in Russia and elsewhere?
Where were the consequences of a London restaurant being poisoned with polonium and half of Salisbury with novichok? What about that Chechen émigré shot in Germany? Boris Berezovsky garrotted in London? Alexander Perepelichny poisoned in Surrey?
And why just threaten consequences? Why respond to the Navalny poisoning with merely token sanctions against a few Russian officials? That was supposed to send a signal to Putin, but a much stronger one was sent by Biden’s suspending sanctions against Nord Stream 2 contractors, effectively strengthening Putin’s ability to blackmail Europe with his energy cosh.
Biden did mutter something about human rights in Russia, giving Vlad a chance to embellish on the answer his foreign minister Lavrov once gave to his British then-counterpart David Miliband: “Who are you to fucking lecture me?” (At the time I was shocked by the split infinitive.)
What about those poor souls, said the Petersburg thug, who expressed their peaceful political opposition in Washington on 6 January, 2021? Hundreds of them were arrested, many will go to prison. Where are the human rights in that, eh?
Hold on, Vlad. They weren’t arrested for voicing dissent. They were arrested for storming the US Capitol, with five people dying and 140 injured as a result. So that analogy doesn’t work. Oh yeah? So what are going to do about it?
Then Biden raised the issue of cyberattacks on US political and commercial institutions. We have hackers too, threatened Joe. We can retaliate – will retaliate, especially if you hit one of our 16 vital infrastructure facilities.
Biden apparently named those lucky 16 to Putin, but he kept the public in the dark. Those outside the red line must be on edge, and even those inside can’t relax if they can’t be sure on which side of the line they fall.
Biden also expressed his deep concern (that dread phrase again) about the recent concentration of Russian troops on the Ukraine border. Hey, those were Russian troops moving around Russia, objected Vlad. Our troops, our country, we can do as we please.
And anyway, the Minsk Protocol is still in force, and it’s the only valid basis for even discussing the Ukraine. Putin was referring to the 2014 ceasefire agreement that followed Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine. Actually, Russia has been violating those accords with such metronomic regularity that they can only function as part of the aforementioned ‘Oh yeah?’ stance.
Much more germane to the conversation would have been the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, whereby the US and the UK guaranteed the Ukraine’s security in exchange for her relinquishing nuclear weapons. Yet invoking that document would have added a touch of realism to the unfolding farce, and Biden didn’t want to step out of character.
Until recently, Putin had only talked in that openly mocking way to the paper-trained Russian media and, through them, Russian people. Now he clearly feels strong enough to adopt the same public posture before the West, which doesn’t bode well for any of us.
For Putin seems certain he can now run his op worldwide and succeed, as he did in this case. Biden got nothing out of those talks, whereas Putin got exactly what he needed: an equal place at the international table.
Biden implicitly endorsed that elevation by calling Putin “a worthy adversary” with whom he spoke “the same language”. And he accepted Russia as “a great power”. QED
With a meagre three per cent of world GDP, Russia certainly isn’t a great economic power. But she punches way above her economic weight because she possesses a large number of nuclear warheads. It’s the greatness of a schoolyard bully, not of a bespectacled straight-A pupil.
Now, China, with over 18 per cent of world GDP, is a great economic power, which makes many observers, including some who ought to know better, regard her as the greatest threat to the West.
First, I’m not aware of any rule saying that the West can have only one threat at a time. Second, I see no evidence that China presents an immediate political threat. One doesn’t see Chinese troops in action anywhere in the world, and neither does China try to undermine Western elections and buy up Western politicians and parties wholesale.
Third, and most important, Russia and China are both ruled by disgusting regimes that hate the West. That makes them natural allies who can launch a two-prong offensive against us, economic (China) and political (Russia). I don’t know if any formal agreement has been reached between the two, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were in the near future.
China may eventually accumulate enough wealth to put a python-like squeeze on Western economies and monetary systems. Russia can at the same time keep “probing the West with the bayonet”, in Lenin’s phrase.
China, with her vast industrial capacity, doesn’t need political pinpricks to achieve her goals. Russia does, and one of the goals is to be accepted by the West as a “worthy [meaning equal] adversary”.
That goal was largely achieved in Geneva a week ago, with Biden agreeing to play his role in the farce.