Editor’s blog: Fear the wounded bear

Is it some Peckham posse member?Perhaps anassociate of Al Capone’s?No, it’s actually Russian PM Vladimir Putin. (He was, of course, referring to the Georgians who recently dared to defy him.)

And how about this for a 21st century head of state, the man just voted the world’s most powerful by Vanity Fair magazine: ‘If you want to become an Islamic radical and have yourself circumcised, I invite you to come to Moscow. I would recommend that he who does the surgery does it so you’ll have nothing growing back, afterwards.’ That’s the way Vlad did things when he was in the KGB, and that’s the way he likes them done now.

Likewise when Putin does his annual summer photocall, the tough guy image is what he’s after. Not for him the cute shot cuddling a baby. Last year he was doing some coarse fishing in his battle pants with his shirt off and showing his 56-year-old moobs. This year he was snapped shooting a big cat, albeit with a tranquiliser dart. (Litvinenko wasn’t so fortunate – his dose was deadly.)

You cannot begin to understand modern Russia, and their need for Putin’s muscularapproach,unless you comprehend the extend of their wounded national pride. The humiliation they feel at years of Mother Russia being pushed around, at having lost the Cold War, and then having to endure the boozed-up Boris Yeltsin and all hisantics. The economic chaos of post-Soviet Russia when state employees such as teachers and military personnel would often go months without pay were a nightmare for most Russians (although not so bad for oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, who went quietly about their business hoovering up formerly state-owned assets).

But Putin’s remedy horrifies Western liberals who cannot understand why the Russians aren’t embracing democracy, a free press and respect for the rule of law. Maybe they thought the end of Communism would lead to a genteel society, the like of which existed in Chekhov’s plays, where characters sat around in the countryside doing very little, mourning being cut off from the excitement of the Moscow social whirl.

However, it’s not just the Western chatterati who feel queasy about Russian tanks rolling into Georgia. This kind of morale-boosting throwing your weight around makes Russians very tricky people with whom to do business, as anyone from BP or Shell will tell you. There have been some nasty powerplays in recent years: business leader thrown into jail, foreign assets sequestered and contracts torn up. Putin’s business muscle, exercised through his cadre of ex-KGB cronies, is rough and readyand it’s little wonder that so much foreign capital is now taking fright and flight from Moscow back to the West.

In today’s bulletin:
Inflation up, markets down – and Darling passes the buck again
Editor’s blog: Fear the wounded bear
M&S spits back in Waitrose food spat
Sainsbury’s: open wide and taste the difference

Books special: A Sense of Urgency