We have a Russian Problem. Hollywood saw it coming.
2022 COULD be a year in which Putin goes full on Bond villain and tries to take Ukraine. He might. But equally, he might..not. Biden is of course keen to assert and even exert whatever shred of power he has left. Big, strong men, talking on the telephone. Yep.
Now, the west of course must make noises. We cannot lie back and do nothing if Russia annexes a supposedly sovereign state. Except? Why not? Putin has been playing games like this, throughout his tenure(s). And other eastern European / western populist wannabe iron men leaders are very possibly, following suit.
We all watched, in impotent anguish, as Belarus enabled an exodus: itself a sad sight, made worse by the Polish determination to never budge on their own immigration walls. Hungary, too is one to watch, with an increasingly right angled regime now all but banning gay culture.
And let us not forget the 2018 incident. Actual British soil, violated, for contract murder, by Russian order. We could even have turned a blind eye, but for the fact that the Larry, Moe and Curly sent to do the job almost took out all of Salisbury with some rather nasty radioactive crap. I do hope there were suitable reprisals, beyond the usual expulsion of Diplomats and so on.
But the reality is that we cannot move against Putin or Russia. Nobody who ever took on that nation did so with any success. Its landscape is impenetrable, as both Hitler and Napoleon discovered. And in a post nuclear era, threats of mutually assured destruction, remain, just that. Threats. And quite right, too.
Now I would never argue for appeasement. Indeed, even Trump, contrary to established narratives, did indeed ‘go after’ Russia in countless counter espionage /cyber warfare ops which he sanctioned, personally. He just did so whilst trying to play nice with his fellow Dorm raid frat boy pillow fight bully, Vlad Putin. A rather contradictory message.
And yet? It does not matter where we ‘go’ with Putin. He is not a Hitler or even a Stalin. No ideology behind his bid for power as both means and end in itself. We know that our brave service-people have to engage his fleet, regularly. Submarine warfare is now a reality, again. Regular incursions to our airspace and seascapes are basically, Putin’s hobbies, now.
At the same time? It would be a mistake to in any way isolate Russia completely. Their Oligarch money is critical to propping London economies. Their art is inspirational. GREAT theatre! Adorable women.
Above all? We need these guys in the bigger picture. China is a far bigger threat: ideologically, economically, militarily. Islamic fundamentalism will be on the rise post Taliban resurgence. Iran will get nukes. Saudi will continue to repress opposition and so on.
HOW do we do ‘that’ (ie; use / navigate / castigate Russian assets) without either offending or appeasing an over ambitious Putin regime? SIMPLE. Look to these movie gems from the mid 1990s onwards.
Russia was used, on film, as source of a plot/bad guy. Politics is ‘there’ (ie post soviet dangers after ill prepared handovers to mob bosses?). But also, not there.
As in Russians themselves not ‘the enemy’. The goal in each film? As in life, today: somehow, against all odds, both assert and embrace a game of espionage chess. Do so almost indefinitely, whilst moving with a kind of civility and successful safety: neither denying nor inviting the existence and tools of all out war.
Consider the following:
- CRIMSON TIDE (1995):
War with Russia is threatened. Nuclear subs are sent. But the real baddie here is a breakdown in command chain as Gene Hackman’s Captain clashes in style with his Commander (Denzel Washington). The movie is of course, pure fun and hokum. But its razor sharp dialogue, tension, lighting, set design, literate and philosophical ideas and great acting transcend the everyday blockbuster. BEST. ZIMMER. SCORE. EVER?
- GOLDENEYE (1995):
This was THE film that HAD to prove James Bond could survive a post ‘cold war’ cinematic climate. Spoiler alert: he did, perfectly so. The pay off for that was that they played things very safely in a kind of greatest hits package Bond film. But it nonetheless has pertinent things to say about a post soviet instability in Russia and the seeds of resentment among those who took advantage of that dynamic.
- AIR FORCE ONE (1997):
President Harrison Ford is held hostage by a mad Russian baddie (Gary Oldman). Yes, you read that ‘right’. Very silly indeed. And yet? For all that, the movie has some substance to it in the dialogue. One could even consider it an unofficial Jack Ryan film! The action is fun. It is a great ‘watch’ of a film: as in sit back and just look at its design / set piece execution. Great middle era Harrison, too.
The main point here, sub-textually, is that a LOT of Russians were indeed very annoyed when the Soviet Union collapsed and that the alternative, though ‘free’, was in a way, just as dangerous. Also notice the lesson on negotiating with terrorists. ‘Give a mouse a cookie? He’ll want a glass of milk’..
- THE SAINT (1997):
Happy 62nd birthday, Val Kilmer! I will never be done defending this underrated gem of a film. Is it terrible in places (yes: the poetry, self harm, drug use, backstory: yuck). But is it beautifully shot (Oxford! Russia! London!): absolutely! Charming motifs. Top notch cast, atmospheric score. And yes, it has things to say about an unspecified future time in which a Russian leader will try and take control.
In short? Yes. Russians make GREAT baddies, same way they make great everything. Kinda like the Brits! But beware the temptation to demonise ‘Russia’, itself. That is in nobody’s interests. And if Hollywood, 25 years ago, was capable of making that distinction? Then surely, so must we, today?