Putin's 70th year itch

David Bullard writes on what may be currently motivating his fellow soon-to-be septuagenarian


When I was approaching my 60th birthday I thought it would be appropriate to mark the occasion with a couple of celebratory events. The main party was held on the day itself at Tokara restaurant, the GT Ferreira owned estate on the ridge of the Helshoogte Pass. It was a spectacular lunch for 30 guests prepared by the master chef Richard Carstens with appropriate quantities of Tokara wine.

An earlier and more modest lunch took place with some fellow 1952 vintage chaps at Sophia’s restaurant which had moved from its original spot in Rosebank Mall to Illovo. Among the illustrious guests were fellow PolWeb columnist Jeremy Gordin, a leading member of the Johannesburg bar who must remain nameless and the late Peter Bruce, formerly editor of Business Day.

I refer to him as the ‘late’ Peter Bruce because he arrived around 40 minutes late, affecting not to know that Sophia’s had moved months earlier to Illovo, which left the rest of us re-reading the menu and ordering more wine to pass the time. It was, as I recall, a festive occasion and we all made a grudging peace with the fact that we had finally hit the big six zero and that we were on the outer limits when it came to featuring on dating apps.

I mention this because this year sees us all hitting the big seven zero and how the past ten years have sped by, blurred by the rampant corruption and ineptitude of the ruling party no doubt.

Others celebrating their 70th birthdays this year are Vladimir Putin in October and Cyril Ramaphosa in November while Xi Jinping is close behind at 69 in June and the leader of the free world, sleepy Joe Biden, will become an even more confused 80 come November. Despite having a population of around 332 million to choose from it seems the people of the USA only feel that power and COVID decision-making can be entrusted to geriatrics.

There’s something about approaching a landmark birthday like a 70th that makes you reflect on your life and wonder how you might leave some sort of legacy. You’ve become used to the idea that the eight hours of uninterrupted sleep you used to enjoy is now just a happy memory and a good night is one where you don’t have to get up three times for a visit to the bathroom.

You’ve become accustomed to the fact that your knees make a clicking sound when you get out of bed in the morning and that it takes you much longer to get out of an armchair than it used to. You now accept as normal that you can go into a room to look for something and then completely forget what it was that you were looking for when you get into that room.

To combat this creeping decrepitude most of us take up a gentle hobby like bowls or set modest targets for ourselves such as trying to complete Wordle in three attempts or trying to order groceries online.

The more ambitious decide to rejuvenate the economy, create jobs, eradicate poverty and punish corruption (although why one would have to wait until your 70th birthday to do this remains a mystery) while the most ambitious decide to celebrate their 70th year by invading Ukraine and starting World War 3.

I think it was naïve to suppose, as many did, that assembling 180 000 troops on the border of a neighbouring country wouldn’t be a forerunner of some sort of hostility. The terms ‘bluffing’ and ‘sabre rattling’ were frequently used in much of the world’s media, no doubt to the great amusement of Putin and his cronies. On the morning of 24th February all doubt was removed as Russia invaded Ukraine on three fronts starting a war that could quite easily spread to the rest of Europe if Putin feels emboldened to do so.

Unlike the last two world wars where information was hard to come by and news travelled slowly, this is world war for the high tech age. Within hours of the Russian invasion it was possible to see footage, both from accredited TV channels and from citizens on social media, of what was happening in Ukraine without worrying about whether we were being subjected to propaganda and fake news.

Whether it was the stream of cars attempting to escape Kyiv, the badly damaged block of flats or the crowds of women with young children seeking refuge underground in the metro, what came across strongly was the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people determined to defend their country.

I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to have to suddenly leave your home with only the bare essentials and join a long queue of your fellow countrymen trying to get to safety and an unknown future across a border. The line at the border to get into Poland was apparently ten miles long.

Men between the ages of 19 and 60 have been forbidden from leaving because they are expected to stay and fight for their country. Are they pretending to be non-binary or trans-women to avoid the conflict? Not a chance. Even civilian women who have never handled a weapon are signing up for defence duties.

At one point it was rumoured that President Zelensky had fled the country but he quickly dispelled that piece of Russian propaganda by posting a video of himself on social media with key political figures in front of a famous city landmark while reassuring Ukrainians that he was there to defend Ukraine. Interestingly, Mr Zelensky started out as a comedian and then became a politician; an unusual reversal of the normal process.

Another report said that the US had offered Zelensky safe passage out of the country which he refused saying he needed ammunition, not a ride. I’m willing to bet that if similar troubles were to happen in SA our lot would be on a plane to Dubai.

However, despite the strong leadership and the sheer guts and determination of the Ukrainian people to defend their homeland the fact remains that the thug Putin has more toys at his disposal and is crazy enough to use them.

So far Europe and the US have resorted to sanctions against Russia, presumably in the rather airy-fairy hope that this will bring Putin to heel and force him into a diplomatic solution. Dream on Europe. For a start, sanctions take time to bite and if Russia can buy things through the backdoor or find an alternative supplier then sanctions won’t work.

When sanctions were imposed on SA back in the eighties Sandton City was full of luxury imports. I also don’t think being banned from the Eurovision Song contest is going to be much of a game changer.

Germany’s initial contribution to the defence of Ukraine was to offer 5 000 helmets (still to be delivered according to one news source) although I think Pres Zelensky would prefer 5 000 Helmuts, preferably fully trained and armed.

The grim reality is that Putin knows all too well that woke Europe has become militarily impotent over the past thirty years with politicians preferring to devote attention to cancel culture, what pronouns to use, hate speech offences, the rights of the marginalised LGBTQIA+ community and painting police cars in rainbow colours.

Last week it was reported in the UK press that a leaked report written by the UK’s national security adviser for MI5 and MI6 is urging spies to consider their ‘white privilege’, declare their personal pronouns and avoid using potentially offensive gender specific terms like ‘manpower’.

If sanctions don’t have any effect what does Europe and the increasingly feeble USA have up its sleeve I wonder? And what would be the reaction should Putin decide, on a whim, to send a few spare missiles thudding into some buildings in Europe’s capitals in retaliation for those sanctions? Could NATO muster a convincing fighting force or would they all be squabbling about the need for vaccine passports before getting sent into battle? Only time will tell but my guess is that Putin has ambitions way beyond Ukraine.

Rather like Don Corleone in The Godfather it’s all about commanding respect and for far too long poor little Vladimir has been seen as a joke by Europe. Now he’s out for revenge and a memorable 70th birthday present to himself.


I was listening to a radio programme the other day in which a woman was droning on about the lack of females who were heading up major corporates and how this was all the fault of ‘toxic masculinity’ or some such nonsense. I suspect that the real reason is that women are much smarter than men and have better things to do with their lives.

Many of the dynamic women I have met over the years in the business world have absolutely no interest in joining the main board and answering a lot of damn fool questions from financial journalists and analysts. They would far prefer to have a stunningly well paid position in the company, some shares or share options, a performance related bonus and the flexibility to divide their time between work and home without having to be on call 24/7.

But surely the problem of the alleged lack of females in top corporate positions is easily addressed in these newly liberated times. All it requires is for the toxic males heading up our top companies to identify as women. Problem solved. Step forward Adrienne Gore.