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Is Vladimir Putin the 'Useful Idiot'? If so, we all are.
Further to my musings last week, I have to admit to feeling unsettled. More so than 'just' being unsettled about the largest war in Europe since 1945, a humanitarian crisis of incomprehensible proportions and the all too comprehensible prospect of nuclear war.
No, I'm starting to feel like we're being played. True, we do live in times when too many college educated people are convinced that the lizard people took over in 1871, but I'm starting to think that a long game is being played out that if not entirely purposeful is incredibly opportunistic.
For some time now, those who have followed such things have noted a concerted effort to corrupt or degrade democracy (see my most recent podcast with Olga Lautman for example). First the Brexit 'victory' and then the Trumpist 'victory' made it clear that in all likelihood, DJT was at minimum a 'useful idiot' for the Russians. That is a "person perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause's goals, and who is cynically used by the cause's leaders". In this case, the president who considered himself the master manipulator, was being himself played by his BFF, Vladimir Putin, KGB.
The mix of players who coalesced around this effort - truly a conspiracy against democracy - from Steve Bannon and the Koch brothers to Nigel Farage and Tucker Carlson, were not necessarily directed by Moscow Centre, but with it, they constituted an 'intersection of evil' that did catch the attention of many. I'm starting to wonder - what if that was the magicians trick of catching your attention over here, while you disappear something over there?
As we watch the unexpectedly clumsy and incompetent behaviour of Putins grab for Ukraine (and notably, the war crimes being committed by he and his military), it's becoming clearer by the hour that there is no scenario where he emerges as a victor. Indeed, his corner is becoming smaller and smaller, each encroachment making him - according to intelligence assessments - more and more desperate. Not a good thing for one with roid-rage to have his finger on so many buttons.
In the last day or so, the whispers about a possible way out are getting louder and louder. China, more specifically Xi Jinping, appears to be reluctantly willing to step up and be the interlocutor between the Ukrainians, NATO and Russia - having publicly and repeatedly stated that Russia is China's most "important strategic partner". Hmmmm.
Just last summer, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko found himself in a very sticky predicament with his people, and had to accept the gracious support of his benefactor, Vladimir Putin. Next thing he knows, even the patina of sovereignty has been dropped when Putin announces that Russian forces - ostensibly in Belarus for wargames - will not be going home any time soon. Is the same about to happen to Vlad by his most important strategic partner?
Many are today noting that an iron digital curtain is dropping around Russia. In a few weeks, Russia's internet will be disconnected from the real world - just as has happened in China. In fact, Russia's most important strategic partner is the leader, by far, in the development of the world's first real-time/everywhere surveillance society - something that will come in handy managing Russia's discombobulated people. In turn, Russia's economy has been disconnected from the world with only one viable option to look to - and that is, its most important strategic partner.
I'm thinking the odds are better and better that Putin is about to find out what its like to be Lukashenko, in his case providing his benefactor with access to stupendous natural resources, with the people of Russia about to find out how the people of Belarus felt last summer.
If Xi emerges as the architect of peace, it may be the case that the actual design - however rough - was sketched out years ago. If so, the implications for democracy will be staggering. The world will be divided into to two armed camps, with neutrality a tough option in practice. On the one side will be democracy, on the other an emboldened China and its version of governance that delivers affluence and stability at the expense of freedom.
A new, historic arms race is almost inevitable, even if both sides agree to coexist and compete - that is trying to recruit new members to their side, or more worryingly for our side, trying to persuade members to remain. How long does one imagine Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to remain in a west that continues to focus on the hard work of democracy, if they can have the much simpler and equally affluent life that China is selling?
Trump gets eaten by Putin and now Putin by Xi. Hmmmmm?