Harold Wilson was certainly not one Britain’s greatest successes in the office of Prime Minister–a case of right man wrong time– but he was certainly one of the wiliest.
A firm friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel his eldest son spent some time as a Kibbutz volunteer. “A week,” Wilson once said” is a long time in politics.” One leader should now be absorbing the truth of this short short, sharp lesson more than most.
Step forward Vladimir Putin Russia’s own super hero. A modern day superman. While President Obama manages to fit in the odd round of golf, or toss the odd basket ball threw an inviting hoop Putin is frequently seen tossing hulks across the Judo mat and riding bare chested, his six pack glinting in the sun, across the ice cool rivers of the Russian countryside.
His tough guy image is not just in the sports hall. It transcends In to the world of politics where he is the unchallenged silver backed macho male. Thanks to Putin the super power turned basket case is once again listened to when its leader says “Niet.” As the holiday season closed in Putin was nominated Man of the year by the prestigious London Times newspaper. A reasonable reward for a man who had spent the year running rings round Obama and the other Western leaders. It seemed the New Year could only offer more of the same and fresh triumphs for the Russian leader.
There were no American boots on the ground in Syria, an unusually Hawkish French President Hollande had been tamed and Syria was voluntarily divesting it self of its weapons of mass destruction, in their chemical form. With the New Russia about to show its self off to the world in the upcoming winter Olympic Games the rehabilitation of Mother Russia seemed complete. So what could go wrong? To quote another old world British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan” Events dear boy, events.”
Putin, like most leaders intoxicated by success, believed he could change style without the wheels coming off. Instead of toughing it out in familiar fashion into the new year and beyond he decided to end it as Mr Compassionate. Worried about the image of Russia while the world’s eyes were fixed on her during the up coming Winter Olympics Putin displayed his soft side. Not very wise as the Russian bear out of the cold icy steppes is seen as hardy, rough and tough, but cuddly — never.
The bear dipped his toe in the water by giving a presidential pardon to former Oligarch and once Russia’s richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky. After ten years in jail slim with his thick black hair just tufts of white the former oil man was not going to cause any trouble. He quickly slipped out the country and apparently grateful to Putin for his release announced in Germany his retirement from politics.
Round one to the President but he had not bargained with the idealism of youth. The Green Peace protesters whose eyes burned with the outrage only the young can summon up showed no gratitude at all. Far from it. They had been roughed up while being arrested for trying to halt the work of a Russian oil exploration ship in the frozen northern wastes . Previously used to being bundled off upon capture amidst the arc lights of the world’s TV cameras things proved very different in this neighbourhood. With their fervent beliefs pitched against Russia’s no nonsense commandos it could only end in tears. Putin’s state operation swung into action. First charging the interlopers with terrorism and then changing it to a lesser charge of hooliganism, and offence which still carried a seven year jail sentence.
Christmas might have come and gone for them but while still on Russian soil they openly told how they were crammed into tiny cells infested by rats and little hygiene with shared toilets. The justice system? They labelled a joke and said it was quite evident the judiciary was not independent and did what they were told. They went on to laud the ordinary Russian people but the system, they said, was non democratic and corrupt. As they were hustled out of the country claiming they would fight for a future Russia governed by the rule of law two of Russia’s home grown agitators, members of the feminist rock band Pussy Riot, were freed from two years jail for insulting the state and blasphemy in an orthodox cathedral. A 360 degree turn for a state that only 20 years ago was communist with no religion.
These girls, in their early twenties, told the waiting world’s press they were giving up performing to fight for a new Russia without Putin. Not what Putin expected to hear. This coupled with threatened Gay demos at the winter Olympics in a state officially encouraging an anti Gay culture added to the confusion. The man of the year seemed to be on a throne made of straw.
Putin then suffered the greatest blow and with it gained the sympathy of the civilised world. Terrorist bombs went off in successive days at the train station and at a bus stop in the town of Volgograd. Thirty four people lost their lives and more than 70 were injured. Though no group claimed responsibility the blame was laid firmly at the door of Muslim separatists from the Russian Caucasus.
It now appeared that the hard man act and lack of freedom enjoyed by the average person were not enough to keep the Russian population safe. So a year in which Putin had climbed to prominence by standing up to an America returned to haunt him.
It was no ordinary civil war enveloping Russia in Syria. Ironically by supporting Assad long after his usefulness had run out, the fight turned into a religious one rather than a political fight for democracy and freedom. As history knows nothing is more blood curdling than a religious war where both parties are convinced they have god on their side. Russia now found its self not only lined up along side the Syrian Government who derive from the minority religious sect, the Shia, in Islam, but hand in glove with the Iranians hated by most Arabs for not being Sunni Muslims, the majority, and for not being Arabs but Persians.
It was probably inevitable than an Al Quida offshoot would send suicide bombers to blow themselves up in the cold winter streets of Russia. It was revenge against a people who in their eyes were supporting apostates. Putin then quickly announced he would” annihilate all terrorists wherever they were.” Language which might have come out of Jerusalem.
At the end of the day President Putin has got himself into a mess of his own making. To quote a famous saying which by far pre-dates the wisdom of both Wilson and Macmillan” If you sup with the devil remember to use a long spoon.” Not something Putin has yet got around to learning as his ships carrying arms continue to slip into Syria’s ports.