Russian leaders are good

For a laugh, that is. Instead of striking fear into the hearts of their audience, their animadversions are beginning to have a distinctly comic effect.

New star in stand-up firmament

By contrast, no one is laughing at Zelensky – this though he started his career as a stand-up comedian. (Commitment to truth forces me to admit he wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs even then: to paraphrase Mark Twain, Zelensky’s jokes were no laughing matter.)

If Zelensky progressed from bad comedian to statesman and wartime leader, Sergei Lavrov’s career path took him in the opposite direction. Everything that KGB officer cum foreign minister says these days causes much unintended mirth among the listeners.

The other day, for example, Lavrov attended India’s G20 summit. There he met US State Secretary Blinken, but the meeting was brief and, from Lavrov’s standpoint, unsatisfactory. Blinken just told him, in no uncertain terms if not in so many words, that there isn’t much to talk about for as long as Russia is persisting in its aggressive war on the Ukraine.

Blinken was curt, but at least he didn’t laugh in Lavrov’s face. That came later, when Lavrov made the mistake of taking questions from the audience.

The first question was: “How has the war affected Russia’s strategy on energy, and will it mark a privilege towards Asia? And if it does, how is India going to feature in it?”

In reply, Lavrov went into his stand-up routine: “You know, the war, which we are trying to stop, which was launched against us, using the…” The audience burst out laughing without waiting for the punchline.

Since the art of such performances is relatively new to him, Lavrov lost the thread. “…The Ukrainian people, uh, of course, influenced…” he started but wasn’t allowed to finish. Instead of finding out what it was that the Ukrainian people had influenced, the audience roared with laughter and shouts of  “Come on!”.

Abandoning his preamble, Lavrov went straight to the original question, which he answered with uncustomary honesty. The war, he admitted ruefully, has indeed affected the Russians’ energy policy, and they “would not rely on any partners” going forward.

This time the audience detected a serious note, and no one laughed. Some, however, must have rejoiced, in a schadenfreude sort of way. What, they must have been thinking, not even North Korea?

To be fair, Lavrov was simply regurgitating the official line of Soviet propaganda, one that has been bandied about since at least 2014. I first heard it at around that time, when an old friend I hadn’t seen in decades was passing through London with his young Russian wife in tow.

The girl was an unreconstructed Putinista, which made me doubt my friend’s sanity or, alternatively, allegiances. When the conversation veered to international politics, the young lady accused the West, specifically the USA, of bestial aggression towards Russia.

When I wanted to know where that aggression was taking place, she looked at me with touching concern for the mental health of someone blind to the obvious. “In the Ukraine,” she said contemptuously. I tried to point out it was Russian troops, not the 82nd Airborne, occupying Ukrainian territory, but made no headway whatsoever.

Speaking of mental health (and comedy, come to that), Putin the other day outdid his foreign minister with room to spare. However, considering that his listeners were Russian, they had to laugh only inwardly. Here’s what happened.

A unit of 40 commandos entered Russia’s Bryansk region from the Ukraine. Reports identify it as belonging to the Russian Volunteer Corps, manned with Russians fighting for the Ukraine against Putin’s aggression.

According to the Corps spokesman, the commandos shot up a Russian personnel carrier, then entered a nearby village and filmed a short video calling for resistance to Putin. No civilians were harmed during the production.

According to the Russian side, the raiders attacked a school bus, killed two people and wounded a child. Such was the initial report, which has since been modified, more than once.

The wounded child was first identified as a girl, then as a boy, and then perhaps there was no wounded child at all. The target vehicle was in consecutive reports downsized from a bus first to an SUV, then to a car. The commandos took hostages, though perhaps they didn’t.

According to the Ukrainian government, the raid was a false flag provocation by the Russians. Neither side, however, produced any evidence, be it videos, photos or eyewitness reports, one way or the other. (The Russian side did release a photo of a bullet-riddled car with no number plate.) However, the old cui bono principle points an accusing finger at Russia, not the Ukraine.

Now make a death-defying leap of imagination and put yourself in Putin’s Size 6 shoes. How would you comment on that incident – what kind of conclusions were possible to derive from it even in theory?

Those nasty Ukies try to carry war into Russia? Wrong. This shows that the Ukraine has been the aggressor from the start? Wrong. Unable to defeat Russia on the battlefield, those Nazis are resorting to terrorism? Wrong.

Not wholly wrong, that is. Things along those lines were indeed said, but a great leader had to put them in a broad existential perspective. That’s when Putin donned his jester’s cap and put his funny foreign minister to shame.

Those 40 chaps, he said (quipped?), “set themselves the task of depriving us of historical memory, depriving us of our history, depriving us of our tradition and language.”

If such was their intention, their effort was undertaken on a rather small scale… but forget this remark. Any attempt to find a rational response to the ranting of a lunatic is wrong by definition.

If you doubt my qualifications to diagnose psychiatric disorders, you are welcome to come up with your own interpretation of that tirade. The only other possibility I can think of is one I suggested earlier: Putin and his henchmen are playing for laughs.

Back in the old days they all had to study Marx (Karl, that is, not Groucho). Hence they must be familiar with his adage that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

But they are proving Marx wrong. His aphorism implies a consecutive progression. But Marx’s erstwhile disciples are showing that tragedy and farce can unfold concurrently. Yet, appalled by the former, I’m not laughing at the latter.

3 thoughts on “Russian leaders are good”

  1. Quoting Marx (Groucho, that is, not Karl), with “behavior” substituted for “report”:

    “Clear? Why, a four-year-old child could understand this behavior. (Aside) Go out and get me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail of it.” [from “Duck Soup”]

  2. Have you thought of going on twitter? Peter Hitchens is asking for people to debate him on Ukraine on twitter and might say yes to you.

    1. He wouldn’t debate me — on Twitter or anywhere else. He wrote to me a few years ago, saying that Putin had nothing to do with the Salisbury murders. I wrote back, offering a debate in any medium or in front of any audience, other than his home turf, the Russian Embassy. Never heard from him since. I’m not on Twitter anyway — Facebook is as far as I’ll go.

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