Calling Mr. Bond: Putin embraces his inner world-class villain

It has been a while since the world has had a really James Bond-worthy villain. But thanks to his announcement this weekend that he intends to publicly reassert his control over Russia, all Vladimir Putin needs at this point is a purring white cat in his lap and we will all know where 007’s next ...

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

It has been a while since the world has had a really James Bond-worthy villain. But thanks to his announcement this weekend that he intends to publicly reassert his control over Russia, all Vladimir Putin needs at this point is a purring white cat in his lap and we will all know where 007's next assignment will take him.

It has been a while since the world has had a really James Bond-worthy villain. But thanks to his announcement this weekend that he intends to publicly reassert his control over Russia, all Vladimir Putin needs at this point is a purring white cat in his lap and we will all know where 007’s next assignment will take him.

Of course, Putin’s decision to once again become Russia’s president after four years in the less powerful role of prime minister should hardly come as a shock to anyone. That he is likely to swap jobs with current President Dmitry Medvedev only confirms suspicions experts have harbored about Medvedev since he assumed office — that he was less a genuine political leader and more like one of those inflatable dummies people buy to ride next to them in their cars so they can drive in HOV lanes.

That may be a disappointment given Medvedev’s occasional displays of independence that gave rise to the hope that perhaps he might be a counterweight to the oversize influence of Putin in Russian politics. It certainly seemed to be to Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who boldly did what has become an anachronism in Moscow politics and took a dissenting stand by saying he would not serve in the new government, which is slated to take office after "elections" in March. But it seems unlikely that many other notable voices will join those of Mr. Kudrin in protesting Putin’s decision to hammer a stake through the hearts of those who still felt democracy had a chance in Russia.

For the United States and the West, the situation presents a problem. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously offered up that reset button in the early days of Barack Obama’s administration, she certainly did not expect that when hitting it Putin would reset the relationship back to its Cold War depths. And while we are nowhere near there yet, trashing any remaining illusions of political reform certainly does not improve matters. In fact, given Russia’s adventurism with its near neighbors, its regular embrace of international stances in opposition to those of the U.S., and its saber-rattling and strengthening of its military capabilities, it doesn’t take someone with the acuity of M to recognize that this is potentially going to be a much more problematic relationship for the United States going forward.

Given Russia’s nuclear arsenal, 11 time-zone dimensions, and enormous natural resources (that have resulted in increasing European dependence on Russian energy), it is not a stretch to see Putin solidifying his role as the first really big-league bad guy of the new century, a corrupt, scheming, megalomaniacal, major-power leader to force the demented heads of rogue states and terrorists living in Pakistani suburbs into the background of our geopolitical imaginations. That Putin’s eccentricities — his fondness for going shirtless, ideally while killing large animals with his bare hands — are so colorful will only serve to make it easier for screenwriters and Tom Clancy to turn him into a full blown on-screen baddy.

In fact, there is only one really major problem that Putin poses for those who see his becoming the Goldfinger of the 21st century as the natural next step for him after coming out of the closet this weekend as Russia’s near-dictator. And that is that by far the best actor to play him on-screen is … Daniel Craig.

Then again, there’s a twist neither Ian Fleming nor Cubby Broccoli could have imagined. Just the shot of life the old franchise needs. The best Bond ever vs. his greatest adversary, both played by the same guy. Sounds pretty compelling … though it is unlikely to be sufficient to distract us from the really dark doings at the Kremlin and their ominous real life implications.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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