On a typical day I will be up by 4:30 am, have breakfast and go for a run at about 5:15. It’s dark in England at that time, so a favored route is a well-lit two and a half kilometer loop in my neighborhood. I do four iterations of the loop, and with each one I pass the still boarded-up house of a woman who was murdered by Vladimir Putin.
After my shower I have tea with my wife and we discuss, among other things, the world news. The news is largely dominated by the doings of Donald Trump, the president of the United States, a man who owes his current position to Vladimir Putin, and whose tenure in office serves as a daily testament to the ponderous debt Trump owes the president of Russia.
I’ll then catch up on the news of Britain. The news here is monopolized by Brexit, as it has ever been for the previous three years. “Brexit” is a portmanteau used to denote Britain’s exit from the European Union, the result of a public referendum in June of 2016 that narrowly passed. Just as Vladimir Putin heavily interfered with the American presidential election in 2016, he similarly, and with identical methods and resources, heavily interfered in the Brexit referendum, playing on the average Briton’s superstitious dread of foreigners. It was the same playbook Putin used in America, imported for British tastes, and in both cases Putin did just enough to have his way to influence elections in his favor and sow the seeds of division in both countries.
On this particular morning the dominant headline concerns the spiralling pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing to publish a report on alleged Russian influence in British politics. Johnson’s ostensible reason for delaying its publication is to take care to ensure that any portion of the report inimical to national security is redacted. Unfortunately this delay means the report will be available only after the coming election, so voters will remain ignorant of the extent to which Vladimir Putin has successfully manipulated them. The former Attorney General for Great Britain, Dominic Grieve, said Johnson’s explanation was “completely inaccurate, misleading and wrong” and stressed the report had already been cleared by the intelligence agencies. It’s tempting to wonder what the British prime minister owes Vladimir Putin.
When asked by BBC Radio 4, Hillary Clinton termed the delay, “inexplicable and shameful.” She explained, “I’m dumbfounded that this government won’t release the report about Russian influence, because every person that votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens.” Mrs. Clinton should know. Nobody steals elections and confounds democracies quite like the Russian arachnid, Vladimir Putin.
I was born long after Hitler was dead, but I expect there are people still alive who vividly recall what it was like to have one man so dominate the lives of everyone, and thus recognize in Putin the familiar scent of Hitlerian putrefaction. Just as Hitler was an evil that bestrode the twentieth century, Putin is an evil bestride the twenty-first. Putin is a man who strives to disguise his personal wealth, his power, his role in the murders of former agents and journalists, his successes in the disruption of world democracies, the thrall he holds over powerful and useful idiots, with a disingenuous effort that seems just a little too short of effective. Secretly, Vladimir Putin wants us to know how powerful he is, how rich he is, how evil he is, how much a figure like his hero Josef Stalin he cuts across the world stage. He revels in it.
If you support Trump, if you back Brexit, if you disregard or disdain reports of Russian interference in democratic elections, if you participate in the perpetuation of the idea that foreigners are thieves and rapists and drug dealers and are here to steal your job, whether you know it or not, whether you’re conscious of it or not, whether you love him or not, whether you care or not, you are, nevertheless, a useful idiot in the service of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.