Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

When the Czar Calls for You 

With a bit of drowsiness and some fatigue. That is how extraordinary meetings are concluded. How wonderful it is for the world to be preoccupied with you! How it monitors your every move and your armored train. How journalists rush to come up with exaggerations and absurd scenarios. How intelligence agencies clamor to sniff out a bit of information.

The focus on your image took attention away from news about earthquakes and storms. Your image was on every television screen and the headline of every media outlet. Your visit raised alarm among decision-makers in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

Mystery amplifies the allure of the leader. The West has spent fortunes in attempting to decipher his intentions. They still haven’t even found out the date he was born. Mystery adds some mysticism to the image. The trips by Mao’s heir never garner this much media attention. The same can be said about Joseph Stalin’s heir.

It was not an ordinary trip or visit. It was a sumptuous celebration. Yes, he did visit Russia in 2019, but that was different Russia back then, a different Vladimir Putin and a different world.

Just a few years earlier, the world committed a grave mistake as it usually does. It believed that the days were numbered for the master of rockets ruling over a starving population. It recalled his exciting meetings with Donald Trump. The man believed I was meeting with him because I wanted to be rescued. He treated me like a company president with whom he can strike a deal.

The West doesn’t understand us. Trump did not realize how much our country strove to acquire nuclear power. How much it had to sacrifice to produce a generation that dreams of weapons.

The United States lives in another world. It is easily deceived, perhaps because its president can be overthrown by a simple newspaper headline or news of a scandal that gets circulated on social media. Here we have Trump grappling with trials and Biden taking a hit because of his son.

Putin was frank and open. He let go of the reservations he had before and the self-consciousness he felt because of the so-called global public opinion. Another Putin has emerged. He is a ruthless warrior. He claimed that the West was declining, and that he was quickening its demise. He wanted to strengthen strategic relations and will be generous in divulging military industry secrets and satellite technology.

What sets this trip apart from the one carried out by his grandfather Kim Il-sung to meet Stalin is that Russia needs the visitor.

His delight is unprecedented. How wonderful it is for the czar to admit that he needs some of your arsenal! He lavished his army with ammunition in Ukraine and was still unable to decide the war in his favor or even set a date for victory. Putin can’t even provide the ammunition for his artillery in Ukraine. He miscalculated and the best evidence of that is his reliance on drones from Iran.

How wonderful it is for the czar to wait on me. For the red carpet to be rolled out and to be asked for help in saving the image of his army and lives of its soldiers and decimate his and your enemies. This means you have found your position, role and mission.

How wonderful it is for him to showcase to you his country’s rocket and space achievements and to pledge to pump new blood into your arsenal and provide a complete partnership on the front of global resistance.

In all likelihood Beijing was probably watching the proceedings with a degree of jealousy. Perhaps it sensed it should be more generous with his Korean neighbor and for North Korea to play a role in confronting Biden’s move to link warning systems between Tokyo and Seoul and to turn India into a thorn in China’s side.

He was deliberate in using the word “comrade” in describing his host. The master of the Kremlin is a true Soviet leader. He has nothing to do with the traitors Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev. He probably sends his reports directly to the great Stalin himself. He is the secretary general. His privileges are vast and exceed those once enjoyed by Leonid Brezhnev. Forget about the constitution, party slogans and elections. Necessity removes all red lines.

The talks were warm and friendly. We shared a sense of camaraderie. Putin forged ahead in Ukraine and burned the bridges for the return back. Defeat in the war is out of the question. Russia wouldn’t be able to withstand it. Defeat will strike at the core of the Russian federation. He won’t allow it, even if he had to resort to the most lethal weapons in his massive arsenal.

He pauses to contemplate a difficult question. Is Xi Jinping really on board with him? Does he want to see Putin victorious, even if it came at a hefty price? Does the goal of breaking the West align with the Belt and Road ambitions and the dream of becoming the world’s top economy? Will China ultimately throw its weight behind Putin, or make do with choice statements and small gestures of support? But how will Taiwan return to the Chinese fold if Ukraine thwarts the attempt to bring it to its knees?

The world that will emerge after the Russian war on Ukraine will be interesting. He confidently declared that the world will not go back to the way it was before the conflict. We will not see Putin shaking hands with the US. He will not shake hands with Germany, Britain or France.

The world of the Ukrainian wall is more dangerous than the world of the Berlin Wall. This is a major war. It is a war of vengeance for the Soviet Union that was assassinated by the West without needing to fire a single shot. It poisoned it with the media and technological advances. It’s like a world war but on a smaller stage. A ruthless fight that uses rockets, drones and precision weapons. He has a dangerous thought: If Russia has the right to deny the existence of Ukraine as a nation, then why shouldn’t he have the right to view South Korea as an American gimmick?

He looked into the mirror and tried to conceal his happiness. Russia that is embroiled in Ukraine will need him more. His country has never shied from sharing its rockets and missiles. The lifeline has been extended to him from the calamity in Ukraine. He smiles. He hopes that Putin’s remarks about the West’s rapid decline are true. He won’t mind seeing the demise of the West as long as he can keep sampling its best cheeses and wines.