I rendered my considered advice last week to all and sundry to ‘fasten seat belts’ as Vladimir Putin hits the campaign trail. Maybe, for the first time in Russian history, there is going to be an election with all the trammels of democracy. Including the trammels that are commonly associated with American elections. I think Putin is going to show that it is not the exclusive prerogative of American politicians to speak out while on the campaign trail, uninhibited by the constraints of public office.
Well, sparks are beginning to fly
if Putin’s latest remarks are any indication. (I hope our PM Manmohan Singh doesn’t get burned
Putin has despatched Senator John McCain back to the Vietnam War era, when as a pilot he used to bomb Vietnamese villages - comparing him with, say, Lady Macbeth who couldn’t wash off the blood stains on her hands with all the waters in the world’s oceans.
But more important is Putin’s resuscitation of the allegation that the Barack Obama administration deliberately murdered Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The explosive potential of the charge is such that Pentagon scrambled to react within hours. The White House would have known instantaneously that Putin surely is in possession of hard intelligence backing his allegation, and that it would cast Obama in a somewhat bad light as a sly murderer. Pentagon has given the waffly explanation that US had no troops on the ground. But Putin didn’t say so, either. He spoke of drone attack. Howzaat?
Of course, no one is going to haul Obama to the Hague as a war criminal as if he were Slobodan Milosovich. That isn’t the point. What is emerging without doubt is that Putin is not going to allow the US to stage a replay of the 1996 presidential election, where communist leader Gennady Zyuganov might have defeated Boris Yeltsin but for the blatant rigging with US backing, which ensured the re-eletion of Yeltsin, who was already a very unpopular figure in Russia.
By the way, there is an interesting chapter on this episode in Strobe Talbott’s book, The Russia Hand, where it is described how the Bill Clinton administration literally rescued Yeltsin from the jaws of electoral defeat by helping out on his campaign strategy. Imagine, what would have been the course of world politics if a communist leader had been elected as president in Russia in 1996 in a ‘free and fair’ election.
Like in 1996, the stakes are very high for the US. A Putin presidency is an extremely disconcerting thought for Washington at a juncture when a last-ditch attempt is being made to re-establish the western hegemony over the Middle East and the jury is out as to the shape of things to come in Asia-Pacific. Washington will do all it can to disrupt or at least weaken Putin’s candidacy. Obama will solicit even the blissfully-happy veteran McCain’s services at the barricades.