Leaders: They’re all the same

This is the start of a BBC News item yesterday. The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used on a former spy in Salisbury, the PM says. Theresa May said the diplomats, who have a week to leave, were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”. The UK later told the UN Security Council that Russia had used “a weapon so horrific that it is banned in war” in a “peaceful” British city. Russia denies attempted murder and says it will respond appropriately.

I am sure you know all the background and if not, then where have you been?

I am extraordinarily worried, and I don’t believe the West fully understands the scale of the ‘war’ that Russia is waging. There have been intrusions in Georgia and Ukraine, cyber attacks across the western democracies and now the use of Russian produced nerve gas on the streets of a sleepy British city. We still wait to see if the Kremlin was directly involved or just very forgetful and can’t remember where they left phials of one the world’s deadliest poisons.

This is not the first time that Russia has been accused of murder. A public inquiry in the UK into the killing of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko concluded that President Putin probably approved his assassination.

The former spy was killed in November 2006. The 43-year-old had been an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, but he fled to Britain where he became a fierce critic of the Kremlin. In his final years, he also became a British citizen. After he was killed by radioactive polonium-210, believed to have been administered in a cup of tea, it emerged he was being paid by the British secret service MI6.

What Russia has done is despicable, but they are not alone in State-sponsored oversea assassinations. Russia is not the only pariah State.

On 17 December 2011, the supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong-il died from a heart attack. His youngest son Kim Jong-un was announced as his successor, and in February 2017 he had his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, poisoned at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport before an outbound flight to Macau.

I am sure you have your own opinions and that is enough commentary from me. I don’t think I can add meaningfully to all the very many articles already on the web.

However, what does interest me is the drive and motivation of global leaders to take such huge responsibility and all the slings and arrows. I have two ideas. First is that it can be a very profitable job and secondly, and it won’t surprise you, simply it appeals to their megalomania.

I am going to quote from the UK newspaper The Daily Mail with the caveat that its anti-Putin rhetoric is well known. Take this with a pinch of salt but the drift will be right.

Russian President Vladimir Putin might be the richest man in the world, according to experts who believe he could have a net worth of $200billion.

During his nearly two decades in power, Putin’s net worth has been widely speculated, with the former KGB agent likely having private assets in real estate and company holdings. One of the most quoted guesses of the 64-year-old’s net worth is political analyst Stanslav Belkovsky’s 2007 estimation of $40billion, but Bill Browder, author and a former fund manager in Russia, has said the president has a higher worth – upwards of $200billion

Belkovsky said that much of Putin’s net worth was thanks to the oil business, saying the Russian president controlled 37 percent of the oil company Surgutneftegaz, 4.5 percent of the natural gas company Gazprom, and had holdings in the commodities trader, Gunvor but Gunvor denies that Putin ever had any ownership in the company, which made $93billion in revenue in 2012, according to TIME.

A well-known sign of wealth for Putin is his $35million superyacht named Olympia. Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich is claimed to have given Putin the yacht after he became president of Russia. 

But perhaps one of Putin’s most visible signs of wealth is a palace on the Black Sea that’s reportedly worth $1billion. According to a dossier written by a political rival of the Russian president, Putin could have access to up to 58 planes and helicopters, a $500,000 watch collection and 20 palaces and country retreats. The report also claimed he uses a private jet with a $137million cabin which has a bathroom with gold fittings and a $62,000 toilet. Other perks include a 2,300-acre residence on Lake Valdai in north-west Russia.

As a passing aside, you might remember that much of Putin’s power was derived by, or certainly consolidated when he broke up the cabal of great oligarchs whom he claimed were stealing money from the State and so totally corrupt.

I want to be balanced and so let’s move back across the Atlantic. Trump made money from the Presidential campaign by hiring his own plane to the Republican party to ferry him around. I know he has set up all sorts of blind trusts but with his whole family so closely involved in the Presidency can we really believe they are effective? But whatever, his tax cuts significantly benefit him. I guess we will never know how profitable it is to be President of the USA.

So there we have one very reason to become a world leader. It is very profitable!

Tyranny and autocracy are unlikely to be the initial intention. More probably the leader thinks they can do good for the State but eventually the dopamine kick just isn’t just big enough. As we know power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.

President Trump this week sacked Rex Tillerson. First, he did it on Twitter and as Tillerson wasn’t on Twitter it was left to one of his aids to tell him. We might never know the reasons why he was sacked but there is good evidence to suggest it was because he wouldn’t do or agree with Trump’s views. The thought is that Trump only wants people around him who will do his bidding.

I have already said enough about Putin.

Interestingly Putin and Trump have similarities. Despite their obvious failings they still have large numbers of followers in their own countries.

Whatever Putin has done to Crimea there are even Ukrainians I know who rate him because he is seen to be strong and working to rebuild the Russian State to what he believes is its rightfully, predominant position.

The Russian people still love him. We will know in a few days how many Russian voters want him again as President. It will be a very large percentage even accounting for all viable opposition candidates taken out of the race.

While Trump’s popularity has declined there is still significant support for him and don’t be too sure that he won’t be re-elected.

Just like Putin’s increasing popularity in Russia, Trump’s appeal is based on building nationalist pride. The ‘America First’ campaign could have the same impact while Putin’s cry could be ‘Russia First’.

Who knows where all this will take us. Putin has his new ultra-supersonic, unstoppable nuclear missiles, and Trump wants an economically crippling trade war, Rocket Man and the Dotard want to talk about North Korea playing with its killer toys.

What a wonderful world we live in.