Under the Black Flag

Putin and the Polish Gesture

In 2002, Vladimir Putin told a French reporter who asked about “innocent civilians” killed in Chechnya that—since the journalist evidently sympathized with Muslims—he would arrange to have him circumcised, adding: “I will recommend that they conduct the operation in such a way so that afterwards nothing else will grow.”  People of the pompous persuasion were shocked to hear the president of Russia speak, well, the way most normal souls would answer some wise guy trying to score points for his ten seconds of fame.  Bravo Vladimir, I cheered at the time.  If only more heads of state spoke like that to self-important, busybody reporters.

Putin happens to be the favorite politician of one of my closest friends.  “It’s because he doesn’t sound like the rest of them, and he’s done a hell of a lot for my country,” says his Royal Highness Prince Nicola Romanov, the direct descendant of the last czar and titular head of that tragic family.  Romanov is my neighbor in Switzerland, a very tall, extremely well-read gentleman in his mid-80’s, who until recently was president of our ski club in Gstaad.  A bit of a comedown, I admit, but Nicola could not have cared less.  We elected him in order to chop the heads off the entrenched oligarchy ruining the club, and he did just that.  In a very noble manner, that is.  “My ancestors...

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