On January 13, many Russian news agencies and media reported that a prominent former US consultant called President Vladimir Putin the most brilliant leader on the world stage.
The reports were based on an analysis written by geopolitical strategist Harald Malmgren and published on January 13 on a British website. Malmgren served as an advisor to US Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
The title of his message: “What the West is wrong about Putin”.
But the Russian media ended up getting Malmgren wrong.
Take REN TV, which reported:
“Former senior aide to US Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Harald Malmgren, has called Russian President Vladimir Putin the smartest politician on the world stage.”
But this statement is misleading. REN TV not only exaggerated the original quote, but ignored the fact that Malmgren referred to Putin’s intellect while comparing him to an Italian mob boss.
Here is what Malmgren wrote:
“The impression I got of Putin was that of a smarter man than most politicians I had met in Washington and other capitals around the world. It reminded me of my childhood: I grew up in a predominantly Sicilian neighborhood, with a mafia that kept order. No disorganized crime allowed. Putin seemed to have the instincts of a Sicilian mafia boss: quick to reward but quick to pose a deadly risk for breaking family rules.
REN TV is owned by the National Media Group, a $30 billion private company headed by former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, with whom Putin is said to have had a romantic relationship and at least one son. (Kabayeva, however, denied this information.)
Besides REN TV, Russian state media and others reported the story in a similar fashion – exaggerating Malmgren’s description of Putin’s intellect while ignoring the mafia comparison. Here are examples from TASS, a state news agency; Ria Novosti, also a state news agency; Izvestia, a newspaper owned by Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas monopoly; and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a government newspaper.
Malgrem’s recollection of the Russian leader comes as Putin threatens a possible invasion of Ukraine over objections over the expansion of the US-led NATO military alliance. Putin, 69, has ruled Russia since 1999. His current term will end in 2024, and while he has successfully stifled political dissent and sidelined opponents, his popularity is waning among young Russians.
In a survey conducted by the independent Levada Center in September 2021, 57% of respondents aged 18-24 said they did not want to see Putin as President of Russia after 2024, 32% said they would like him to stay in the office and 11% said they had trouble answering the question. The responses of those 55 and older were almost exactly the opposite.