COLM TOBIN: We’ll never have enough eyes to keep tabs on those wily Russians

February 20th, 2022 5:05 PM

By Southern Star Team

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A LOT of people in The Pale made the same joke when I first told them I would be writing a weekly column for this venerable journalistic institution.

‘You’ll have to keep your eye on the Russians so,’ they’d quip, in reference to that famous editorial on the pages of the Skibbereen Eagle over a hundred years ago.

So the irony isn’t lost on me that ever since, much like the rest of you, I’ve had to spend lots of my time doing just that. Keeping my eye on the feckin’ Russians!

As if I hadn’t enough to be worrying about with the global pandemic and the daily humiliation of Wordle.

I don’t know about you, but the geopolitical events of the past few weeks have left me confused, to say the least.

The Russians saying they have no intention of invading Ukraine, while steadily amassing troops on the border.

The Americans saying the Russians are likely to attack any minute now and they better not do it during the Superbowl. (Thankfully, they didn’t).

Macron flying off to Russia to sit eyeballing Putin across a 3km-long ping pong table.

Boris Johnson flapping around on the telly like some wonky Duracell bunny, pining for anything to draw attention away from his champagne-soaked administration.

And I didn’t even mention the saga of the West Cork fishermen which still, weeks later, feels like some demented fantasy sequence from a Pat McCabe novel.

Of course, Vladimir Putin loves nothing more than Western eyes on him. That’s the whole raison d’être of recent Russian foreign policy. It’s less Perestroika and Glasnost, (openness and transparency) and more troll farms and fake news.

Anyone interested in the real mechanics of contemporary Russian politics should take the time to study the Russian businessman and politician Vladislav Surkov, a key figure with much power in Putin’s administration.

Much of his political philosophy draws its influence perversely from the worlds of theatre and the avant-garde, where constantly changing narratives, the sowing of confusion and the trolling of entire populations acts as a way of maintaining power.

The great filmmaker Adam Curtis dissected the Surkov playbook in his excellent BBC documentary HyperNormalisation and made the point that his techniques are now beginning to infiltrate Western democracies through fake news and the weaponising of social media – in effect, they are using tools created by Western liberal democracy against itself.

In an editorial in the London Review of Books, the journalist Peter Pomerantsev describes this playbook in more detail.

‘In contemporary Russia, the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away. It’s a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused ….’

So what if this feared World War III isn’t some military event, involving troops massing on the Ukrainian border? What if the sowing of fear and confusion in my mind, and in your mind, and in the minds of many Western leaders, is just a means in and of itself?

Nowt ‘green’ about it

SPEAKING of foreign aggression, it’s been revealed that 32 ministers and junior ministers will flee this country for the St Patrick’s Day festivities this year.

It is a brain drain unprecedented since the height of the last recession.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is on his way to New York, which seems like an inconveniently long distance to cycle for a pint of puke-green Guinness.

Minister of State Jack Chambers will visit LA, where he will surely be auditioning to play the next Jack Reacher. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will visit Colombia and Chile, neither a hurling stronghold.

The Taoiseach himself will travel to London and Washington DC, presumably at different times unless his Department has evolved a system of human bilocation.

It won’t be all pints, jigs and merriment, of course. Serious business will be done. There’ll be the annual Passing of the Parsley to Joe Biden. Hands will be shaken; elbows bumped.

Lips will be bitten as donkeys in leprechaun hats stagger around on the streets in the name of some dude called Patty.

And so, with our primary legislative chambers hollowed out, what will the rest of us do? How can we even carry on?

The temptation would be to wreck the gaff with everyone gone.

But fear not. Ministers Heather Humphreys and Simon Coveney are both staying home to mind the fort and to make sure we’re all in bed before 12am.

Moreover, Humphreys will need to keep the PUP payments flowing. And Coveney will presumably keep the Russians away from Sherkin.

The Brits are at it again

IT is with a heavy heart that this columnist must report that The Brits Are At It Again.

This week it was all about the Oscars and before the ink was dry on the Academy’s nomination envelopes, various British news agencies were already claiming Irish talent as their own.

Jessie Buckley, Ciarán Hinds, Ruth Negga … Is nobody safe from this cultural appropriation? Who will they claim next, I wonder?

Saint Patrick? Guinness? Declan Rice? Ahem ….

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