East Wind

History is a description of events—children learn about wars, revolutions, occupations, discoveries… In the process, they learn about kings and queens, tyrants and dictators, generals and admirals—the traits and personality of the people who defined and executed the actions.

A good book on history is a joy to read—this summer I’ve been enjoying Putin’s People, by veteran journalist and Russia-watcher Catherine Belton. The author is a soft-spoken, gentle lady, with a ready smile—the book, on the other hand, is a tour de force, which describes Putin’s rise to power from his days as a KGB agent in Dresden, East Germany, to his present-day role as a disrupter of European unity, promoter of Brexit, and Trump puppeteer, aka Trumpeteer.

The revelations on the orange man come about naturally, following a pattern of careful research evident throughout the book—Russia is run by the FSB, heavy-hitters from the KGB have replaced the Yeltsin-era oligarchs, and mountains of black cash have moved west.

This money is used for personal gain, but it is also the stuff of political influence. Belton describes how Russia agnostically funds Syriza and the French Front National, diametrically opposite sides of the political spectrum—anything for a bit of mayhem.

The final part of the book, which describes how Russian money poured into the US through real estate, bailing Trump out of bankruptcy, sheds more light on the entanglements of the (soon to be ex) US president than the Muller report.

This is no lightweight kiss-and-tell tale a la Michael Wolff or Michael Cohen—as you might expect from a financial journalist, this is heavy on detail—and horribly chilling.

At one point, Tchigirinsky, one of the many sinister characters portrayed by Ms. Belton, says, ‘An old Soviet dream that Europe, left without US military support, would dissolve into battle between its nation states, could even become reality. “Then there will be nothing left but for the Russians to come and take all the women.”‘

European and North American societies are rules-based, but the forces that wish to destroy the Western way of life are not. Russia and China, and totalitarian societies in general, are rule-based, and citizens of democratic nations cannot begin to appreciate the difference.

Maybe we just don’t care, as we thumb our way through Instagram and Twitter, wasting our hours away on complete banality. Life is made up of those hours, and there aren’t all that many.

Seven hundred and fifty thousand—that’s what you’ve got for an average life, but if you deduct one third for sleep you’re down to half a million—one by one, it hardly matters, there seem to be so many left, but believe me, it creeps up on you.

However you spend your time—which is why I’m so grateful you spend a little of it here with me—the Western way of life is incomparably better than the alternatives.

One of the bizarre sides to this is that Russians recognize the quality of life the West affords its citizens, which poses the question: why do they want to destroy it?

Londongrad, or Moscow-on-Thames, as the U.K.’s capital has become known, Paris, and Berlin are greatly admired by wealthy Russians as places to live in and have fun. Tourists flock to these cities, and arrive in droves in southern Spain to enjoy the sun, the food, and the beaches.

What does Russia want? What it has always wanted. It can be summed up in one word—empire.

This is a vertical society, where freedom has always been absent. After generations of tsars, there were three generations of communist rule, and now Putin perpetuity—journalists are shot or imprisoned, enemies are poisoned.

The only thing that has kept Western borders intact so far is NATO, and the implicit threat from America of retaliation for any action in Europe.

The return of America to normality with Biden’s election will throw a spanner in the works for Putin, which is why Russia is so desperate to see more of Trump—as much as Americans and Chinese are keen to see the back of him, although for quite different reasons.

Because America is a democracy—although a sorely tested one—the tipping point has not been reached.

A far more interesting question is who will succeed Putin when the hour comes, and what consequences that will have for Russian foreign policy.

If there’s one thing about dictators, they don’t like successors.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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