Historically, Mussolini may be the template for the odious Donald Trump, but on the contemporary world stage, he most resembles Vladimir Putin. Russia’s swaggering, macho coward makes loud noises to drown out the death rattle of outdated foreign and domestic policies lifted from the twentieth century. The American idiot may be a make-believe mafioso as opposed to Putin’s very real murderous thug, but the similarities are still disconcerting. Of course, in addition to not realizing Putin a poisoner and pistolman by proxy, Trump seems to not have noticed the Russian president is on increasingly shaky ground.
JUBILANT crowds waved Russian flags; homecoming pilots were given fresh-baked bread by women in traditional dress. Judging by the pictures on television, Vladimir Putin won a famous victory in Syria this week. After his unexpected declaration that the campaign is over, Mr Putin is claiming credit for a ceasefire and the start of peace talks. He has shown off his forces and, heedless of civilian lives, saved the regime of his ally, Bashar al-Assad (though Mr Assad himself may yet prove dispensable). He has “weaponised” refugees by scattering Syrians among his foes in the European Union. And he has outmanoeuvred Barack Obama, who has consistently failed to grasp the enormity of the Syrian civil war and the threat it poses to America’s allies in the Middle East and Europe.
Look closer, however, and Russia’s victory rings hollow. Islamic State (IS) remains. The peace is brittle. Even optimists doubt that diplomacy in Geneva will prosper (see article). Most important, Mr Putin has exhausted an important tool of propaganda. As our briefing explains, Russia’s president has generated stirring images of war to persuade his anxious citizens that their ailing country is once again a great power, first in Ukraine and recently over the skies of Aleppo. The big question for the West is where he will stage his next drama.
Make Russia great again
Mr Putin’s Russia is more fragile than he pretends. •