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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jun-18 > Mapping Putin’s mind

Mapping Putin’s mind

Russia’s leader appears to believe his own propaganda, finds Oliver Bullough
From Cold War to Hot Peace: The Inside Story of Russia and America by Michael McFaul (Allen Lane, £25)

When Europeans first mapped the world, there was a lot they didn’t know. Not wanting to admit their ignorance, they made stuff up. Some of their inventions were impressively ambitious. The fictional Mountains of Kong stretched from Mali to Sudan, and adorned maps of Africa for most of the 19th century. Lake Apalachy sat happily in South Carolina for more than 200 years, and was apparently even visited by one traveller, despite not existing. These inventions always had one thing in common: they said nothing about the place being described, and a lot about the person doing the describing. Mapmakers hate having to leave their maps blank.

This same reluctance to admit ignorance, and the same compulsion to fill blank spaces, helps to explain Vladimir Putin’s extraordinary ability to intrigue people right across the political spectrum. He is the great uncharted continent of geopolitics. He produces unpredictable weather systems that bring ruin on some and lavish money on others, yet we know almost nothing about his internal geography.

Some people decorate him with positive qualities. Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s communications supremo, has shared a platform with the Russian president and consistently argued that he is demonised: “in Russian terms he is a centrist.” Others fill in the blank spaces with monsters: Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, recently compared Putin hosting the World Cup to Hitler hosting the Olympics.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Isabel Hilton, Rana Mitter, Kerry Brown and Yuan Ren debate the rise of China and what it means for the UK and the rest of the world. Hilton argues that China’s ideas could dominate the next century, just as American ideas dominated the last. Rana Mitter charts how those ideas have developed from Confucius to modern political theorist Wang Huning. Kerry Brown explores how Australia is dealing with the rise of China, by reimagining itself as an Asian country and drifting from the US. Yuan Ren asks whether China’s young people will forge a new path for the country in the coming decades. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield explores Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy, asking whether Britain would become a silent protester on the global sideline; Jonathan Liew asks if the World Cup has seen better days; Miranda France explores the life and meaning of Frida Kahlo, and Simon Jenkins says Trump’s charge through the China shop of world affairs is not all bad news.