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US and Russia

A mafia president is better than a mafia state

Marlon Brando in The Godfather (1972)

“We are not the mafia. We don’t seek revenge like they did in… The Godfather.” So said Russian TV host Vladimir Solovyov last week, denying that the Kremlin bumped off Yevgeny Prigozhin. But “Qui s’excuse, s’accuse”, as the French say, and the killing had “all the hallmarks of a mafia hit”, writes Gideon Rachman in the FT. This should be no surprise. Vladimir Putin follows a “mobster honour code”, where betrayal and disloyalty “can never be forgiven”. As deputy mayor of St Petersburg in the 1990s, he forged close ties with the city’s underworld. And the Russian intelligence services, his old employers, maintain links with organised crime, which has “useful expertise” in smuggling, money laundering and murder.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that the day after Prigozhin’s death, a former US president was indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico) – a law “specifically designed to go after the mafia”. Criminal or not, Donald Trump has long adopted the “mannerisms and mores” of a mob boss. His first FBI director, James Comey, recalled a private dinner where the newly elected president told him: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.” Comey later said it reminded him of “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony”. But while Putin and Trump overlap on style, the systems they operate in are vastly different. There is zero chance of Putin being investigated over Prigozhin’s death or any other crimes. Trump, by contrast, could realistically be given a jail term. Whatever its problems, the US is still a “nation of laws”. Russia is nothing more than a “mafia state”.