July 21, 2014
April 17, 2014
Stretcher-bearers wading through wheat and behind them a field of sunflowers higher than the tallest man. A scene as seen previously in the paintings of Van Gogh – but now with real-life corpses instead of Vincent’s death-wish.
Yet it flies past me – the tragedy of 298 passengers and crew killed when a Malaysian Airlines airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine, presumably by the Russian backed rebels currently controlling the area (though this is still to be verified).
Plane downed over the Great Plain and I know I should be feeling their pain. But for reasons still to be verified, my anti-missile shields have gone up; nothing’s getting through to me – not some body’s holiday reading strewn across the blackened crash site nor the teddy bears of dead children nor the fact that some passengers were human-rights-types en route to an AIDS conference in Australia.
It’s because the casualties are being played for political purposes, I tell myself. It’s because the coverage is strictly one-dimensional, with ‘the vics’ used to indict ‘perp’ Putin, president of Russia.
Show the punters enough victims and there’ll be no disputin’ who did it – seems to bethe gist. Pile high the body bags to hide the praise previously heaped on ‘progressive’ Ukrainians who are pro-Europe and anti-Russia.
I prefer the local miners: outwith the painted ceilings of geo-politics, coming up from underground and searching dutifully for human flesh among the sunflowers; and their wives wearing socks and sandals, plump in cotton print dresses worn thin over many years.
These are the sensitive ones, I tell myself. Despite coarsened features, they are thecivilising influence. How different is their dignified respect for the dead – in contrast tothe prodding of corpses for political ends.
How does he do it? On both sides of the Atlantic, Western leaders can only marvel at Vladimir Putin’s positioning. All week he has outsmarted them over Ukraine. Throughout three hours of Q&A, broadcast live from the Kremlin earlier today, he more than held his own with a domestic audience.
Where Putin is concerned, foreign policy success is not just a pretty face saver for failure at home. The Russian president is simply firing on all fronts.
Is it all down to appearances? Judging by today’s performance, indeed there are iconic elements in the
way Putin presents himself; such as the
starched white shirt (the
more effective because we have previously seen the
bare torso underneath), and chillingly blue-grey eyes. Yet his Yul Brynner bone structure is countered by, of
all things, a comb-over, linking Putin to various downtrodden husbands from a spate of
late twentieth century sitcoms. The
studio set didn’t help much, either. The
ice-blue background was meant to be cool; instead, of
all things, it looked like leftovers from a UK Aids-awareness campaign of the
But none of
this matters much because with Putin, appearance is not what’s paramount. This is not a man of
whom you would dream of
saying, he is a brand. Of
course by now his reputation precedes him, but only because, long before any concern for brand building or reputational enhancement, he first of
all addresses the
question – any question – in and of
itself. This approach allows Putin to appropriate the
situations in which he finds himself; in other words, he grasps the
nettle instead of
being stung by it.
While British politicians and even Barack Obama are afflicted by an unbearable lightness of
being, Putin’s actualité has allowed him to develop a successful realpolitik. He personally may pine for films about KGB men in the
Soviet era, or dream of
returning to the
Mother Russia, but it’s Mother Thatcher he resembles in his address to the world
as it really is.