Putin’s here, Putin’s there, Putin’s busy everywhere

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
Maybe Vladimir Putin, in tandem with an alien reptile species, leaked the Panama Papers to discredit David Cameron and help force a British exit from the EU?

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that “all around, within, beneath, above is death - and we are death.” That was around two hundred years ago. If the great English poet were writing today, he might replace the subject with Putin. That’s because, according to the British media, “Putin is here and Putin is there, Putin is busy everywhere.”

Take the Daily Mail for example. Previously, its main concern was always how various things could give you cancer. Indeed, they’ve now ran the full alphabetic gamut from age to zebra toys. My personal favorites were cod liver oil, fatherhood, mouthwash and sex. Which non-Mail readers, in their ignorance, probably assume are good for them.

Now, it appears Putin has replaced horrible diseases and English property prices as the Mail’s main obsession. In the past two weeks alone, the paper has published some startling, often frightening, stories about the Russian President. Like revealing that Putin "is working with an alien reptile species.” If that wasn’t spooky enough, UFO hunters apparently have a video of an alien craft flying over his home. “This isn't the first time Putin has been accused of being in cohorts with alien life or receiving cutting-edge technology from them,” warns Britain’s second most widely read newspaper.

The following day, the Mail screamed that Putin had taken a break from the extraterrestrials to buy a flat for a “beauty queen 40 YEARS his junior.” The Mail was concerned about how Wendi Deng might react to the news. Deng is the Chinese businesswoman who most of the western media thinks Putin is currently dating.

However, as the Mail revealed the very next day, “Deng and Putin have never been seen together.” Also, as Putin is primarily based in Moscow (with downtime almost always in Sochi) and there is no record of Deng having visited Russia recently, I’d bet my last kopeck that they’ve never even met. Unless 'Dengput' are having some sort of virtual relationship over Skype, or something. Alas, given that Putin has branded the internet a “CIA project,” this is pretty unlikely.

Sex, Lies And Videotape

The Mail’s relentless coverage of Putin-related yarns continued with news of a “Kremlin-inspired sex sting” against the opposition politician, and former Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov. This time, the premise was that Putin had lured Kasyanov (known as 'Mischa Two Percent' in Russia) and a female political ally to a hotel and filmed their x-rated activities there. Putin must be one evil guy - forcing the married Kasyanov to partake in such heinous acts, against his will.

As an aside, Kasyanov is known as 'Mischa Two Percent' not because of his electoral support (which is probably less now), but because he was famous for taking two percent on corrupt deals when in government. After the sex tape, he has now - rather cruelly - been labelled “Mischa Two Centimeters” in Russia.

Putin sells. And fabricated stories about Putin, the more hysterical the better, are even more valuable. Why else would the Daily Mail have a special, dedicated Putin section on its website? Plus, the Mail is not alone in its delirium.

In Or Out?

British media coverage of the 'Brexit' debate continues to obsess about how “Putin supports Brexit.” The so-called “quality papers,” including The Telegraph, the GuardianThe Independent and The Times have breathlessly parroted this line for months. In reality, I’m not so sure that a Brexit benefits Russia.

While it’s true that Moscow resents Washington’s control over the rudderless EU, a Brexit could actually make things worse for the Kremlin. In a reduced EU, with the third most powerful member removed, German dominance over the organization would intensify. This Brit-less EU would also be more united, without English Eurosceptics and London’s rabid tabloid media machine causing constant division. In addition, Brexit would force the UK, in order to preserve links with other European powers, to escalate its commitment to NATO, thus reinforcing the importance of an alliance that Russia detests far more than the EU.

Anyway, all this nonsense came together at the weekend, to form a perfect circle. The Brookings Institution, arguably America’s most influential think tank, suggested that Russia may be responsible for the Panama Papers leaks, which have dominated the world’s news for the past week.

Brooking’s writer, Clifford Gaddy, contends that the lack of Americans exposed in the data dump suggests that Russian intelligence may be using the information to blackmail leading western figures. If Gaddy were right, the decision to release files on David Cameron’s family would be very curious. Surely, the Prime Minister might have agreed to quite a lot, if he could keep details of his family’s offshore accounts hidden.

It also seems fantastical that Putin would conspire to have his name featured on almost every western newspaper front page as the affair's chief scoundrel. Even though he's not actually named in the documents. Or was it a brilliant bit of psychological misdirection to ensure the first wave of coverage was all about him? If he's not the main Big Bad Man implicated in the papers then, it seems, he has to be the main Big Bad Man behind them. I'm not sure that even Sigmund Freud could analyze that.

Unless, Brookings wants us to believe that Putin decided to destroy Cameron’s reputation in order to diminish his credibility and increase the chances of a positive vote for Brexit in June’s referendum? That would be the most outrageous nonsense imaginable.

Western media, pro-establishment academics and think-tankers do have a Putin problem. However, it’s not the Russian president himself who is responsible here. With the likes of Bin Laden, Saddam and Gadaffi now dead, the propaganda machine needs a bad guy to sustain itself. Putin, right now, ticks all their boxes.

Yet, Putin is not a James Bond villain or the crazed leader of some tin-pot totalitarian state. He’s the (currently extremely popular) leader of the world’s second strongest military power and its sixth biggest national economy (source CIA, incidentally). Treating him like a real life Lex Luther or Ernst Blofeld, and continuously publishing obviously fabricated news stories about him, doesn't make the planet a better place. Sure, it might sell extra newspapers or increase web clicks. Nevertheless, on the other hand, it also cheapens discourse between east and west and promotes misleading stereotypes about Russia, and Russians.

Shelley's wife, Mary, famously wrote Frankenstein. The western media and the fictional monster, often have plenty in common these days.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.