As Russia gears up its massive preparations to commemorate the first centenary of the Bolshevik revolution, this traditionally detested pariah state of the inhuman gulags and ethnic suppression is presently basking peacefully in an unprecedented Pax Putiniana, the leader of which was once, ironically enough, a top official of the dreaded KGB.

Just as one man, Grigory Ras-putin, whose life was cloaked in legend and myth was a key figure in the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, a single giant figure has triumphantly emerged from the ashes of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, namely President Vladimir Putin. Alexander Kerensky, the Russian prime minister overthrown by the Bolshevists in October 1917, used to say that without Rasputin, the mystical peasant monk who advised Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, there would have been no Russian revolution.

A century later, Vladimir Putin, a single personality, an academician from St Petersburg University and former judo champion, has given dignity, tranquility and economic stability to his vast empire riding on the crest of a popularity wave offering a seemingly new pride previously unknown in a country of dissidents.

Political analysts in the West are baffled by his rise in global stature since he was prime minister in 1999. We are continuously witnessing the dangerous tendency of Western populists to befriend Vladimir Putin, foremost of these is US president-elect Donald Trump. No scare stories seem to cow the unpredictable populist electorate that has manifested itself so strongly in recent months.

Perhaps there is a reason why Putin has eclipsed contemporary national leaders in popular support. He achieved this through his ability to connect with people on real issues in a way that reflected their concerns.

What was once the corrosive opium of the people under communist rule has miraculously changed into a heavenly panacea for all ailments

According to the BBC, far-right politicians have completely dumped ideological principles like democracy and free speech. What is important for the populist movement is ‘bread and butter’ issues which have become mainstream.

This will be a formidable task for Malta to grapple with when it takes over the presidency of the European Union. Surely we should never succumb to ‘bread and butter’ issues in our sacred battles to uphold democratic principles and free speech.

Recent events on the world stage have been very disturbing. Trump’s winning card, indeed his trump card, has been isolationism, which is casting a dark shadow over the Nato alliance with shock-waves in the forthcoming French elections, with Marine Le Pen’s stature rising. The French National Front leader has openly declared her support for Putin and Trump, whom she considers the archpriest of nationalism, saying that Hillary Clinton would only bring hardship and war.

In Austria, the National Front is gaining ground, and the ex-Soviet satellite Bulgaria is again edging slowly towards the Russian fold. It appears that Europe is in complete disarray, with many EU countries breaking EU regulations with impunity and making a mockery of a unified Europe.

In 2014, Western economic strategies intent on discrediting Putin forced the Russian ruble to plummet to its lowest depths, but like the mad monk Rasputin a century ago, the Russian leader emerged victorious, brandishing the highly successful 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games as a major triumph. Like Hitler at the 1936 Olympics, Putin will surely make political capital of the 2018 Football World Cup as Russia exposes not only its unequalled sports facilities but also its great architectural and artistic heritage during the World Cup matches.

In an obvious populist move “highly religious” Putin has distanced himself from atheists and agnostics to proudly commemorate the millennium of Russia’s Christianity with a huge cross erected in the centre of Moscow.

What was once the corrosive opium of the people under Communist rule has now miraculously changed into a heavenly panacea for all ailments as Putin hangs up his jackboots from KGB times to don the humble Shoes of the Fisherman, preaching the muted voice of liberation theology. While Western Europe wants to forget its Christian roots, Russia is rediscovering its Christian traditions.

With Trump at the helm of the strongest economic power, people are now asking whether his admiration of the Russian leader will usher in a new rapprochement, a silver lining at a time when the dark clouds of another cold war are looming on the horizon.

Or will it open a Pandora’s Box of apocalyptic proportions?

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