Though my friends tend to avoid alliterative puns, they often ask me this type of question in relation to British commentators who openly root for Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine.
These Putinistas are de facto Russian agents, but are they witting or unwitting ones? Are they paid to spout their pro-Kremlin rubbish or are they moved to do so by the call of their own hearts?
My invariable answer is that I don’t care one way or the other. Their motives ought to be of interest only to their friends, families, priests or perhaps the MI5. For me, the only thing that matters is that they act as Putin’s mouthpieces, thereby doing the devil’s work and damaging the cause of resistance supported by their own country and all her allies.
I follow two such evildoers, although I’m aware of quite a few others. And what do you know, those two have made me reassess my lifelong contempt for psychobabble. Or truth to tell, for psycho- anything, even if there is some scientific basis to it.
The two chaps in question are Rodney Atkinson and Peter Hitchens and, their almost erotic craving for Putin’s brawn apart, they have one thing in common. While they themselves lack any conspicuous talent, they both grew up with talented brothers.
Rodney’s brother Rowan allegedly used him as the protagonist for his character Mr Bean. And the chip on Peter’s shoulder is even heavier, for his brother Christopher plied the same trade as his, but did it with a lot more verve. He mostly talked facile rubbish, but he did so with style and panache.
Of the two, the less said about Rodney, the better because, quite apart from his obvious mental problems, he is a very stupid man. Peter isn’t, which suggests his mental condition is even more acute.
His brother died in 2011, but Hitchens continues to ratchet up the sibling rivalry. Since Christopher was left-wing, atheist, homosexual and anti-Putin, Peter has to be the opposite of all those things. At the same time, he still seems to seek his brother’s approval, which is hard to get this side of a séance featuring a spinning saucer.
That psycho quirk is evident not only in the contents of Hitchens’s musings, but also in his constant contortionist attempts to pat himself on the back. Whatever his subject, one leitmotif is always present: I was the only man who told you so, but you didn’t heed my warnings and abused me for offering them. Now I’ve been proved right yet again, will you finally listen to me, you nincompoops?
Such stylistic flourishes make me want to argue with Hitchens even when I happen to agree with his typically banal truisms. For example, social damage done by recreational drugs is one of his pet themes. Hence, whenever I scan his animadversions I feel like rolling a spliff, something I’ve never done in my life.
As for his self-assumed role as Putin’s propagandist, I have my suspicions – not only because of what he says but also because of when he says it.
Hitchens consistently follows the Kremlin’s line, but that line isn’t straight. It zigs and it zags, it goes up, down or sideways. And I’ve noticed that, whenever Russian propagandists change their direction, so does Hitchens, at exactly the same moment.
Since that happens every time, one has to begin harbouring ugly suspicions about deliberate coordination. Yesterday’s offering by Hitchens is a case in point.
Ever since Putin blessed the world with his arrival at the Kremlin, the threat to “turn the West into radioactive dust” has been omnipresent in the background. That’s Putin’s way of throwing his toys out of the pram whenever he can’t get his way.
But at times that threat has been known to move into the foreground, at precisely the moments Putin sees as pivotal. Thus we had almost two months without overly shrill promises to annihilate the world.
Putin’s war on the Ukraine has entered an attrition phase, with no significant advances being made by either side. In fact, both sides are regrouping in anticipation of future offensives. For the Ukraine such prospects are contingent on supplies of Western armaments, especially heavy armour and AA systems.
Last Friday Western leaders met at Ramstein to discuss military aid to the Ukraine. While Germany again delayed the transfer of Leopard battle tanks, other countries, including Britain and even France are sending over dozens of tanks, hundreds of armoured vehicles and several new Patriot batteries.
That predictably sent the Putin gang into hysterical fits, and nuclear threats went many decibels up. The possibility of a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive now looms large, and Putin’s stooges could no longer contain themselves.
Thus Vladimir Gundiayev, known to the faithful as Patriarch Kirill and to the KGB as its lifelong ‘Agent Mikhailov’: “Any attempt to destroy Russia will mean the end of the world.” It goes without saying that thwarting Putin’s aggression is tantamount to just such an attempt.
This was echoed by Putin’s loyal poodle, former sham president Dmitry Medvedev. Having shaken his customary hangover, he explained that: “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may provoke a nuclear war.”
Putin’s Chechen viceroy Kadyrov, who doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than the bandit warlord he is, added a Muslim touch to the hysterics: “Russia will never countenance defeat in any fight. We can push the button – and salaam alaikum!”
Duma speaker Volodin: “Supply of offensive weapons to the Kiev regime will lead to a global catastrophe.”
Those were just four voices in a choir bellowing variations on the same theme: if the West sends heavy armour to the Ukraine, kaboom! And Hitchens clearly discerned his marching orders in the din.
Hence his piece yesterday that recapitulated the same theme: “Sending Ukraine our tanks could turn Europe into one big radioactive graveyard.”
After that self-explanatory intro came Hitchens’s stock claim to being the lone voice crying in the wilderness, yet having his prophesies unheard and unheeded: “I won’t waste time here going over the question of who started the Ukraine war, or even why. Most people don’t want to know and refuse to think about it, or to look up the facts. They defame and abuse anyone who tries to tell them. So to hell with that. I’m bored with trying.”
Though Hitchens’s ennui is regrettable, he is wrong. Most people do want to know and they do look up the facts. The trouble is that the facts stubbornly refuse to back up the Kremlin’s – and Hitchens’s – lie that the war was provoked by Nato’s westward expansion that threatened Russia’s survival.
In fact, the only thing it did threaten was Putin’s ability to do to all of Europe what he is currently doing to the Ukraine. Anybody in his right mind knows that Nato is a purely defensive bloc designed to stop aggression, not to perpetrate it.
Putin knows that too, and so does Hitchens. But they insist that Russia felt threatened which was the same as being threatened. And the only possible response to that subliminal threat? Why, bombing Ukrainian cities flat, murdering, looting and raping civilians, threatening the West with nuclear holocaust. What else?
That sort of thing lacks even novelty appeal. When I was a boy in Moscow, the Soviets pounced on Hungary that had risen to free herself from communism.
I remember the KGB spreading exactly the same kind of lies then: American – and West German!!! – troops were poised at the Hungarian border ready to move in. Thank God, who doesn’t exist, that Marshal Konev’s troops managed to beat Nato to the punch by going into Hungary pre-emptively and drowning the uprising in blood.
When I was a young man, the same scenario was played out with Czechoslovakia, when, explained the Soviet papers, Soviet tanks managed to nip Nato’s aggression in the bud by crushing Czech students under their tracks in Prague’s Wenceslas Square.
That song was written on the hymn sheet of Russian evil from which Hitchens sings with gusto. Yesterday he went from his usual baritone to a grating falsetto because Parliament had voted unanimously (and the US Congress almost unanimously) for arms supplies to the Ukraine.
To Hitchens that means that “the Government and its tame thinkers are not in favour of free debate on crucial national policy, and nor is anyone else much.” Meaning they aren’t ready to yield to Putin’s blackmail, so avidly rehashed by Hitchens.
Yet he’ll never give up his courageous stand as Putin’s propagandist: “So it is left to me to tell you that it is an act of grave stupidity for the West to supply Ukraine with modern tanks. Unlike everyone else in the media and politics, I am not a military expert. But I know what tanks are for, and it is not defence.”
That Hitchens isn’t a military expert is the only truthful thing he has ever said on the subject. This he proves by dropping his neo-Gnostic hint that tanks are a purely offensive weapon. Hence, by begging for them, the Ukraine has shown her true colours as the proxy aggressor in this war.
In fact, tanks can also be used for defence, wherein a counterattack is a time-proven tactic. In fact, offensive and defensive weapons aren’t easily distinguishable in modern warfare. So it is left to me to tell you that it is not the West but Hitchens who is stupid – or perhaps worse.
“But why is Britain in this affair?” cries out Hitchens. “I know that a lot of voters in key states in America hate Russia because their forebears came from lands Moscow had oppressed. I know that some neo-conservative fanatics in Washington have long desired to dismantle Russia and ensure that it is never an important country again.”
But the British are by and large neither descendants of Eastern Europeans nor neocon fanatics. Hence we should stand idly aside and watch Putin imposing his ‘traditional’, in fact bandit, values on the Ukraine first, Eastern Europe second – and tomorrow ze world.
Suddenly wafts in the spirit of Lord Rothermere, the owner of Hitchens’s paper, The Mail, in the 1930s. In his hands, the paper (and his other property, The Daily Mirror) became consistently pro-Nazi, advocating appeasement and barely concealing its owner’s admiration for der Führer.
Today’s answer to der Führer, Putin, is as forthright as his inspiration. He sees the Ukraine as only a proxy to the real enemy he is fighting: Nato or, more generally, the West. Refusing to fight back would be both immoral and strategically inept.
Under Putin the staff of the SVR (formerly the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, foreign intelligence) has doubled in size compared to Soviet days. Perhaps the most important of its tasks is manipulating public opinion in the West.
One wonders whether Hitchens represents one of the SVR’s recruitment successes. The recruitment could have been a straight transaction between two parties. Or it could have been what the KGB called recruitment ‘in the dark’, with the mark unaware that he had been recruited.
When it comes to practical outcomes, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. I don’t even particularly want to know which.