“The Traveler” ends with Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power. Recent events may suggest that we’re approaching a moment of deflection in the man’s career.
Let’s start with the nerve agent attack on the former spy and GRU (Russian military intelligence service) colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, UK.
Skripal was a double agent, working for MI6 for about 10 years before being arrested in Moscow in 2004.
It appears that he was held as an asset for a potential spy swap, which came to pass in 2010 when he was exchanged for a group of Russians arrested in the US. As I write these lines Skripal and his daughter are still in critical condition and relations between UK and Russia have been seriously strained, with both sides holding the other responsible for this assassination.
Yet, the question that is not asked in the debacle is this: who benefited from it?
The answer is far from easy. If an exchanged spy is assassinated by his own country’s secret service, then what sense have spy swaps going forward? This event doesn’t make any sense for any side involved.
So the common narrative is that Putin personally ordered this attack, out of anger or just to make a point. But this is a weak explanation, an easy way out of a bigger question.
There is a third possibility, namely that this is an episode in a power struggle within the Krelmin. After all, Putin holds power for 20 years and certainly there is pressure from other group(s) to take him down. Putin, a cold player as he is, seems to be getting desperate to project power, as shown in his recent speech about Russia’s new array of nuclear weapons that are invincible and can strike anywhere in the world.
The interesting fact is that we simply don’t know what is going on inside the Kremlin, except for official Russian information.
We don’t know who is fighting whom, only glimpses into the struggle. Recall how Yuri Ivanov, the Major General, second in command of the GRU, was washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean in 2010, a mysterious accident that was never resolved.
Moving on to Germany - the 2017 September election results have led to unprecedented difficulties in forming a new government there. After the longest government building process in modern Germany, Angela Merkel was re-elected as chancellor of a 'grand coalition' of Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) just this month. The SPD took power for both parties, as Merkel has realized that going back to the people would result in both parties losing even more ground.
What I do not think most people outside of Germany understand is - Merkel has lost control. In my view, the coming years will bring a rise in nationalism in Germany between the Catholic South and the Protestant North.
These are certainly interesting times.
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Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler