- - Thursday, March 22, 2018

There has been no shortage of theories about the nerve agent attack that sickened ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on the streets of Salisbury, England. London blames the Kremlin, but some have theorized that it was rogue Russian agents or even Britain’s own security services who did the deed, in an effort to further embarrass Russia in the press and on the global stage.

The narrative I find most compelling, however, is that the assault was a countermove in a tit for tat war going on between Moscow and the West. We’ve written many times about the developments in Syria that have affected Russian forces in the region. First, President Trump fired 60 U.S. cruise missiles into Shayrat airfield last year in a bid to reset the red line for Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. There have been drone attacks against the Russian air base at Hmeimim. A Russian attack jet was shot down with a Man-Portable Air Defense weapon. The jury is still out as to who was actually behind these attacks.

To top it all off, over 100 Russian mercenaries were killed by American air power as they tried to overrun a U.S. special operations forces position to take control of an oil field in Syria.

I think the nerve agent attack in London was pushback in classic Soviet style, reminding the British (and the Americans) that the Kremlin can strike at any time in their own backyards with weapons of mass destruction. President Vladimir Putin reminded the West a couple of weeks ago, in effect, “We have weapons that you can’t defend against.”

The most striking comment to come out of Russia since the election of Mr. Putin to a fourth term Sunday just may have come from well-known firebrand, nationalist and perennial losing presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who declared that the presidential election this year would be Russia’s last.

Back in March 2000, when Mr. Putin was first elected, Mr. Zhirinovsky told stunned journalists at the Central Election Commission in Moscow that the “end of democracy” was at hand and “you’re all on the list,” RFE/RL reported in a little-noticed comment. Since that basically turned out to be true, and Mr. Zhirinovsky is known to launch trial balloons on behalf of the Kremlin, perhaps we in the West should listen to his latest comments as well.

This week, after the shouting over Mr. Putin’s re-election had died down, Mr. Zhirinovsky suddenly emerged to predict that Russia’s presidency “will be replaced by a State Council, which will be not elected but appointed.”

If you think about it, that development would make perfect sense. Mr. Putin’s “managed democracy” was always a sham. Why even bother going through the motions when everyone knows the election was just a coronation, a pageant and a sham? As opposition figure Alexei Navalny stated before the voting began in Russia, “The procedure that we’re invited to take part in is not an election. Only Putin and the candidates he has hand-picked are taking part in it. Going to the polls right now is to vote for lies and corruption.”

Doing away with the formalities of a national vote certainly would save money, time and effort. The Russian people most likely would not push back in any significant way; many of them pine for a more authoritative government anyway. Their only experience with “democracy” from the chaotic 1990s is tainted with pain, suffering and a massive loss of national pride.

Perhaps Chinese President Xi Jinping’s move to unlimited rule in Beijing is making the Kremlin jealous, or at least pushing Mr. Putin and his advisers to seriously consider alternatives to the current system. Perhaps the trial balloon by Mr. Zhirinovsky was just that, sent aloft to see how any changes to the system would fly.

In any event, it seems the world is in for tough times ahead as its biggest and most populous countries enshrine dictatorial rule. This development makes the election of Donald Trump, and the goal of making America great again, all the more desperately important. American leadership is needed, once again.

L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.

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