Say what you like about Vladimir Putin, as a murderer he’s often not terribly efficient. For example, back in 2018, in a botched attempt to murder former GRU intelligence officer and defector Sergei Skripal, Putin missed him and killed a neighbour of mine instead. To be fair, these screw ups usually happen when he tries to be “cute” and poison his victims with binary nerve agents, or when he blows up their aeroplanes. Putin should stick to ordinary defenestrations. Boring though they may be, they seem to be the method that works best for old Vlad.
His latest murder is a case in point. It was classically inefficient. You might say Putin tried to get Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s aircraft to sort of throw itself out of its own window. According to eyewitnesses (and a surprising number of videos of the event) the plane just kind of “fell” out of the sky. As if somebody gave it a good push and, whoosh, down it went.
What probably really happened, of course, was that someone planted a bomb on it. Take a wild guess who. In any case, 9 other people died in the crash. I suppose it was lucky that the plane didn’t crash into an office building or an apartment building or something. Somehow, though, I don’t think Putin would have cared one way or the other.
As you may recall, back in June Prigozhin and his troops marched on Moscow in an attempt to overthrow Putin’s regime. Instead, Putin evidently offered him some undisclosed sweetheart deal and Prigozhin ordered his troops to stand down. What Prigozhin didn’t know, and what virtually everyone in the solar system who knows Putin did know, was that Prigozhin had signed his own death warrant. Exactly two months to the day later Putin made good on that warrant.
Putin remains the darling of the wingnut claque of the MAGA Republican Party for one reason and one reason alone. Donald Trump admires him. Putin is everything Trump wishes he could be. He’s all-powerful (or at least he was), he’s rich, possibly even the richest man on the planet, and he can have just about anybody he doesn’t like killed. He’s the closest thing we have to a real-life Bond villain, and Trump simply adores him. And what’s good for their lord and master is good for the MAGA claque.
No doubt Trump spends much of his day fantasising about what he would do to his enemies if he had Putin-like super powers. I think if Trump were ever president again, the first thing he would do would be to find a way to have many of his most bitter enemies meet with an accident. That must make the presidency particularly attractive to Trump.
Trump is famously vindictive. Before the 2016 election, Richard Branson told the following story. “Some years ago, Mr. Trump invited me to lunch for a one-to-one meeting at his apartment in Manhattan. We had not met before and I accepted,” Branson said. “Even before the starters arrived he began telling me about how he had asked a number of people for help after his latest bankruptcy and how five of them were unwilling to help. He told me he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying these five people.”
Branson said that Trump would talk of nothing else throughout the luncheon, no matter how Branson tried to dissuade and distract him. Vengeance is a huge part of Trump’s life, and Trump with Putin’s power would be frightening and dangerous indeed.
It isn’t known precisely how many political operatives, defectors, journalists, minor oligarchs and ex-cabinet ministers Putin has murdered — thousands perhaps? — but it seems as if he murders someone these days at least once or twice a month. He appears to take a great deal of pleasure in flaunting the obvious connection between himself and the deaths of people he hates.
His perfunctory, yawn-inducing “official denials” are almost deliberately banal, as if that’s part of the joke. There’s a cruel edge to everything Vlad does, and it’s clear by now that it isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. He reminds me of what Trump wistfully wishes he could be one day. It’s up to us to ensure that Trump never gets his hands on the levers of power ever again. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.