Skip to main content


What Putin and the Taliban have in common

Vladimir Putin: master of “power politics”. Laski Diffusion/Getty

There’s a “peculiar modern tendency” to describe things we don’t like as out-of-date, says Tom McTague in The Atlantic. The Taliban are medieval, Donald Trump supporters backward, Vladimir Putin a “Soviet throwback”. It’s nonsense. The Taliban is the product of “our globalised age of digital propaganda”; Trumpism is an expression of today’s America, not that of the 1950s. Similarly, Italy’s Cosa Nostra was dismissed for centuries as a feature of Sicily’s backwardness. Actually, the Mafia clan was a product of modernity, born from the enormous profits Sicily made exporting citrus fruits after the breakdown of the old feudal order. And when the EU arrived, the mobsters adapted, hijacking the bloc’s investment in the island.

As for Putin, he’s considerably more modern than much of the West. Most of us are mentally stuck in the short period of history after the fall of the Soviet Union, when America had no real rival. But now it does: China, which is frightening precisely because it is modern, especially regarding surveillance technology. Putin knows that America “is psychologically retreating from its imperial borders” – that’s why he behaves as he does. His version of “power politics” is more likely to define the 21st century than the “harmonious, ‘rules based’ globalisation” we cling to. The brief moment when we “all bathed contentedly under the American sun” is over.

Get our daily newsletter in your inbox

We cut through the noise to give you a fresh take on the world – in just five minutes a day. Sign up for the newsletter here.