I came back to town after four days with neither the Internet nor access to news of what’s been going on in the world. On their books of face, people were urging NATO, the EU, the UN etc. to stand up to Russian aggression in the Crimea. “It’s not just Crimea he’s after,” said one.
Thirty years post 1984, Putin wants to create a Eurasian Union in his own image. Without Ukraine, this will not amount to much. Furthermore, he does not want the EU on his western border any more than they want him directly on their eastern side.
There’s a vacuum in western leadership and he knows it. A relic from World War II and the Cold War, Russia can veto anything the UN may come up with by way of censure. NATO might like to get involved, but the fact that Ukraine is not a full member makes this unlikely. No one can suggest that the EU will give Putin pause for thought. Former UK ambassador to Poland, Charles Crawford, asked in a TED talk here a few years back: “Will the EU exist in 5 years? Maybe. In 50? Probably.” But not definitely.
Given that the EU’s eastern extremity is, give or take, 300km from Krakow it’s hardly surprising folks here are getting edgy about the possibility of Russian troops massing on the border ‘in defence of Russian interests,’ especially since one million of the forces of the late USSR were massed in this nation well within living memory.
The steady increase in authoritarian repression hasn’t done any harm internationally, at least with global sporting organisations – Russia has just finished hosting the Winter Olympics with the next World Cup, post-Brazil, headed there in 2018.
While all this goes on, one wonders what motivates Putin to act as he does. He’s been vociferous in his condemnation of ‘gay propaganda,’ linking it to child abuse. But pause and have a look at his power set up. A Russian president cannot serve more than two four-year terms consecutively. Vladimir gets around his own rules by having his partner and hitherto premier Dimitri swap roles with him: Dimitri as president; Vladimir as premier, swapping every four years.
They do make a lovely couple. To mask the closeness of their relationship, Vladimir deflects by attacking gays. An unconfirmed rumour says they enjoy playing other roles in private, reflecting interests from vampirism to US presidential primaries. One plays Vlad the Impaler, the other, Rick Santorum.
In The New Yorker, Putin is lampooned by Andy Borowicz who ‘quotes’ him as saying: “Any attempt by homosexuals to flaunt their bodies in a way that is distracting, provocative, or arousing will be frowned upon.”
“Specifically, gay spectators should remain fully clothed at all times, and resist the temptation to unveil their chiseled biceps or shredded abdominals.”
“Furthermore, under no circumstances should gays oil, grease, or otherwise lubricate their torsos in an effort to highlight their glistening, ripped pectorals.”
Over at The New York Times, Putin is accurately quoted as saying gay men and women could be “relaxed and calm” and that: “We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being hauled in,” which could be construed as showing favouritism.
Is he more bull or bear? Even if, as I suspect, bear, appeasement is inappropriate or, as Stańczyk is said to have observed: “It is a greater folly to let out a bear that was already in a cage.”
Mike Doherty presents Bull on the Mike on Expat Radio.
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