Sunday Times


Prince Putin gets advice from a questionab­le source


Look, the problem with Navalny is that he’s very handsome. A dish. He’s pretty in a manly way — a poster boy if I ever saw one. He’s good on camera, he has mobile features with a dimple on his chin, for God’s sake. He sports a square jaw and a shining, intelligen­t, heroic warmth that emanates from his eyes, and cannot be faked. And he’s not waxy at all. Plus he has a pretty wife, pretty children, pretty pictures taken for the internet of his pretty, happy family.

On the other hand, on any objective scale, the original Mrs Putin is a pudding compared with this aesthetica­lly challengin­g situation. Putin, your children, the ones you’ve legitimate­d, are (how to put this dispassion­ately) disappoint­ing at best. And your mistress — well, she’s a former Olympic gymnast — which at least puts a limber spirit into things (certainly your athletic activities on and off the horse).

I mean, the shirtless thing was as good a move as any on the visual cues front.

But what can I tell you, my Prince, people still gravitate towards pretty — as a political propositio­n. The happy, pretty families stuff is real. As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In your family’s case, Sir, there’s no problem you can’t fix by throwing money at it — a lot of money — and some super yachts.

In the case of Navalny’s family, I can think of a few things you could do to make them unhappy. Still, as I like to say: “The vulgar crowd is always taken by appearance­s, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.”

Plus Navalny is funny. Seriously funny, with a lightness of spirit that’s tickled by the tragicomic ironies of life and, in turn, tickles the funny bones of the people, at his own expense.

That YouTube thing Navalny did, with the corruption stuff, was a smart move. The exposé of the marvellous winter palace in Sochi was a master stroke of messaging, pointing out your fondness for an aqua discoteca so that the people pictured you in the bowels of the palace with floating mermaids above your diminutive head, vastly diminishin­g the terrifying effect of the brutal warlord that you are. Genius.

Viral genius.

Navalny is still writing funny letters from prisons, thousands of them, full of life, hope and the glory of fighting the good fight, despite the censors’ best efforts. This is, how to put it, looking really bad for you.

Look, it would have been great if the Novichok (the group of nerve agents created stealthily in the latter phases of the Cold War by the Soviet Union) had worked. Nice, clean, efficient. But clearly, the poisoning was a misstep, my Prince, because here we sit, four years out, and this handsome warrior for justice is a thorn in your side.

To put it bluntly, you have a Mandelasiz­ed problem sitting on your neck in the gulag: “For it must be noted, that men must either be caressed or else annihilate­d: they will revenge themselves for all injuries but cannot do so for great ones. The injury we do to man must be such that we need not fear his vengeance.”

Also, he is tall (I’m sorry to bring this up, but needs must), and young. This could go on for the rest of your days, which, to be fair, are increasing­ly numbered. He’s outplayed you, because prison was the smart move. The only move. Heroic, martyr-like, saintly, even, especially with the buzz cut and the starvation diet, making you look petty, fearful, weak.

Face it, you can’t even shut him up from the Arctic Circle. It’s a problem, my Prince, because “he who causes another to become powerful, ruins himself, for he brings such a power into being either by design or by force, and both of these elements are suspects to the one whom he has made powerful”.

You’re now in the phase of the disease that, as physicians say, “happens in hectic fever that, in the beginning of the malady, is easy to cure but difficult to detect — but in the course of time, not having been either detected nor treated in the beginning — becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure”.

The problem is as old as time: “In Republics there is a stronger vitality, a fiercer hatred, a keener thirst for revenge. The memory of their former freedom will not let them rest, so that the safest course is either to destroy them or to go and live in them [and we know you cannot live in them].”

So, what are you going do with a man like that? Kill him, that’s what. “Men must either be caressed or else annihilate­d ... Make mistakes of ambition, not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer. For in truth, there is no sure way of holding, other than by destroying. My view is that it is desirable to be both loved and feared, but it is difficult to achieve both, and if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

• All quotes are from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavell­i

 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa