Vladimir Putin's bored -- life is too easy

By Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist  |  Oct. 16, 2017 at 6:00 AM
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Here is an imaginary scenario to ponder. And it is imagined but plausible. Suppose Russian President Vladimir Putin has a muse, someone with whom he can share his innermost concerns, fears and ambitions. How might a conversation go?

Putin: I am bored possibly even depressed.

Muse: Why?

Putin: Life is too easy. Things are going too well. It is no longer fun. I need a challenge. The Americans, North Koreans, Chinese and the rest -- well none is a formidable opponent any more.

Muse: Really. I would have thought that President Donald Trump is so unpredictable and volatile as well as incapable of thinking through any of his policies that the prospect of unintended consequences must worry you.

Putin: No. Trump is a blow hard. He likes to pontificate and strut around like Mussolini. But his so-called advisers ignore him and do not carry out his wishes. And I do not believe he understands this. He still believes he can rule as he did high atop Trump Tower where his word is law. That might work in real estate. It does not work in politics.

Muse: But surely his rejection of decades of American activism and leadership provided you opportunities to fill the void. That must be a challenge for you.

Putin: In the KGB, we called this manipulating a useful idiot. Trump attacks NATO and calls the alliance into fundamental question. He goes to Saudi Arabia and does the Sword Dance with King Salman and thinks he has a friend for life. He rips up the Trans Pacific Pact and might do the same with NAFTA. And then he decertifies the nuclear agreement with Iran. Moscow could not have better organized these actions even if Trump was in our pocket.

Muse: You are running rings around him. You intervened in Syria and now Bashar al-Assad is in control. King Salman came to Moscow and you sold him many billions of rubles of weapons. Turkey, long a NATO ally, likewise is buying your arms and Russian citizens do not need visas to visit while relations between Washington and Ankara have never been worse. You and President Xi Xinping are on good terms and China has become a partner.

Putin: You don't understand. In Judo, it is only a good match when you face a worthy opponent. I did not like Barack Obama. However, I did respect his Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden. I send our former Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Washington and they are better received by Trump than members of his own party and Congress. I hack into his elections and get him elected. Perhaps I should be grateful that he has kind words for me and reserves his harshest criticisms for Americans such as Sen. Bob Corker and the lady mayor of San Juan. You can see why I am bored.

Muse: Yes. But there are still sanctions over your annexation of Crimea. Your economy is fragile. Does that not worry you?

Putin: Look, I do not need the FSB to rig popular opinion polls. They may not be 90 percent. They are close. And we are not stupid. We have many workarounds to circumvent these sanctions. Yes, I would prefer oil prices to be much higher. However, foreign arms sales are quite healthy. And it is no accident, comrade, that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is heading Gazprom.

Europe is in disarray. Brexit was the first crack. The referendum in Catalonia is an expression of unrest and disenchantment in Europe. NATO is a hollow shell. Our most recent military exercise, ZAPAD 17, clearly demonstrated our power and frightened our neighbors to the West.

Muse: Well, then, are you set to retire? You are 65 and have been at this for nearly two decades.

Putin: I have considered that. Yet, what would I do? Leaving office might even be more boring than staying. These are tough times for me, especially since I am running the table so to speak in terms of successes.

Muse: If you could do anything then, what might that be?

Putin: That is a good question. Have any ideas?

Muse: How about a Putin Global Foundation? Bill Gates has one. So do the Clintons. I know you do not like Hillary. Maybe you can put them out of business.

Putin: Now that is a really good idea. I might just consider that.

Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is a senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His next book, "Anatomy of Failure: Why America has Lost Every War it Starts," will be published in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.

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