Ugly, greedy and impish: How Vladimir Putin is the Russian Rumpelstiltskin
Rumpelstiltskin is an old fairy tale of European origin passed down from one generation to the next via grand storytellers. In 1812, the Brothers Grimm finally committed the story to ink and paper, thereby finding a worldwide audience for the cautionary parable of exaggeration, extortion and redemption. In it, a poor miller tells a whopper of a lie to his king, claiming that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king steals the daughter and locks her up to perform this very task, who then must strike a deal with a nefarious character in order to save her own skin.
The imp is a greedy and loathsome S.O.B., married to his deals and the leverage he has over the miller's daughter. To him, power is everything. We couldn't help but notice the striking resemblance to one Vladimir Putin, everyone's favorite Russian totalitarian.
The Modern Day Equivalent
Among his shortcomings, the Russian leader is notorious for impish displays of profound disrespect and tasteless attempts at eloquence that come off as mere mania. Similar to the fairytale character, Vladimir Putin is known to confiscate the sparkly property of others, to foist long wait times on colleagues and to make those who dare defy him dread the disappearance of their dearest. He has fostered a culture of fear based on the mob-like tactics of blatant theft, disrespect and murder. It is a telling aspect of the geopolitical state that the leader of a military and economic superpower behaves like a trifling bully and a petty thief. If left unchallenged, who knows what the map of Eastern Europe might morph into as Russia’s borders expand in neighboring territories.
Case in point: The 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, a move seen by the Ukrainian government to be a violation of international law. It's like when Rumpelstiltskin made the miller's daughter promise her unborn child to him, defying decency and tact.
When he isn’t altering the migration routes of Siberian cranes via hang-glider or imprisoning female punk rockers for mocking him, Putin enjoys shopping for the finer things in life. Rather than going to the market, however, the Russian president has his treasures unwittingly imported by foreign dignitaries. The proof is in the New England Patriots' owner Robert Kraft's recounted story of a business trip to the Kremlin that was less than profitable.
Kraft allowed Putin to try on his Super Bowl ring (valued at a mere $25,000) and was quickly dumbfounded when Putin vanished behind his security detail -— without returning the ring. His only comment as he hefted the bedazzled bling, “I could kill someone with this.” In the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin makes off with the miller’s daughter’s ring and necklace, too. So at the very least, Kraft should be glad he decided against gold-linked neckwear that night. This treatment of visitors, needless to say, isn’t doing any miracles for Russian tourism which could be seen by some as a contradiction in terms.
Hurry up and Wait
If Vladimir Putin’s proverbial waiting room had a sign-in sheet, it would read like an ironic roster of world leaders who did not earn their respective titles by sitting around.
Recent meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were both postponed by several hours. Apparently, Putin likes to test the patience of international figures, and has wasted no time wasting that of Barack Obama, Pope Francis, John Kerry, David Cameron, Queen Elizabeth, Shimon Peres and the entire UN General Assembly — among many others. In Rumpelstiltskin, he employs a similar tactic, waiting until the 11th hour to come to the counsel of the distressed miller’s daughter, and only then his presence must be brokered with bribes. He then magically spins straw into gold, or in Putin’s case — regarding the 2016 U.S. Presidential election — spins fake news into political chaos.
Maybe it was his intention to help Trump get elected, or maybe he plans to transform Trumps straw-like coiffure into a golden crown and then steal it right off his head. At this rate, world leaders should plan ahead by utilizing some creative scheduling with Putin. If a meeting is supposed to be at noon, they should tell him it’s at 10:00 a.m. but then wait until 1:00 p.m. to show up.
Kill ‘em All
Outspoken critics of Putin’s policies tend to develop unfortunate habits like intercepting bullets and drinking poison.
Dozens of Russian figures including activists, reporters, political rivals and former Kremlin colleagues have been blatantly murdered or have died suddenly under 'mysterious' circumstances. In every instance, the killers were either nowhere to be found or spuriously identified and never prosecuted. What was looking like a socially and economically progressive post-Soviet Russia has returned to a fear-based police state — reminiscent of the USSR, just without all the communism.
Just as Rumpelstiltskin vowed to take the first born child of the miller’s daughter, Putin’s vengeful tactics and empirical aspirations have human beings and large swathes of land disappearing from their familiars faster than a dying journalist can say “Crimea.” Maybe Putin’s master plan has some hidden tenets of altruism that will someday be revealed, or like Rumpelstiltskin himself, Putin is simply out to “make hay.”
There is one benefit of Putin’s transparent bullying. While operating illegally in plain sight, he is offering a stark glimpse into what the unchecked privilege of a world leader looks like. People in the West should be thankful that the political system as well as the media serve to keep political figures in check. Or at the very least, when someone claims to be able to spin straw into gold, they are taken to task and held accountable.
[cover photo: Donkey Hotey via flickr]