It was midnight in the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin was watching himself in the mirror as he toned his glistening pecs. “Pretty buff,” he thought. Behind him on the desk were a slew of headlines from the Western press – and they were very satisfactory. “Putin calls West’s bluff”, read one. “Obama – what a pussy”, said an American tabloid. “Putin brings back USSR”; “A Tsar is Born!” and so on. A thin smile passed across the lips of the former KGB man. Yes, he was summoning up the spirit of the former Soviet Union, the spirit of – Stalin himself! Just then there was a disturbance in the air.
A window seemed to bang. A net curtain puffed out. Putin turned around to see a little moustachioed man standing behind him. There was no mistaking those crinkling Georgian eyes and the evil glitter within. “Joseph Vissarionovich!” said Putin, laying down the dumb-bells, and noting that his arms were trembling. “Someone said they were trying to summon up my spirit,” snapped Stalin. “I see I am back in my old office. But who are you, and what the hell is going on?”
Putin did his best to bring the former communist tyrant up to date. “So capitalism didn’t collapse under its own contradictions?” asked Stalin. “Er, not exactly, Comrade Stalin,” said Putin, falling easily into the old ways of address. “Hmmm”, said the world-class mass murderer. His eye fell on the headlines. “Well, I see that you are at least continuing the struggle against imperialism. It says you have launched an invasion. That’s good – but where?” Putin gulped. “Well, Comrade Stalin, we have had to send some of our crack troops against the fascists in Cri –” He faltered. “Cri – Cri –” “Cri-Cri?” Stalin sneered. “What’s got into you, man? Where are we invading? Cricklewood? Christmas Island?”
“Crimea!” blurted Putin, looking more sallow and goblinesque than ever. Stalin blinked. His terrifying eyebrows seemed to merge like a pair of mating hairy caterpillars. He spoke softly. “Crimea? Are you mad? We can’t invade Crimea – we own Crimea. That’s where the Tsars had their summer palace, for heaven’s sake. That’s where I had my greatest diplomatic triumph.” A look of suspicion passed across his face. “You do remember the Yalta summit, don’t you?” “Of course, Comrade General Secretary,” said Putin unctuously. “You carved up the world.
“Roosevelt was dying and Churchill had no cards to play, and so you took advantage of the triumphs of the Red Army and brought huge tracts of Europe into the Soviet sphere of influence. It was superb.” “Thank you,” preened Stalin. “But…” said Putin. “But what?” said Stalin, getting visibly irritated. “But things have not turned out exactly as you foresaw, Comrade.” “In what way?” Putin’s eyes were downcast. He looked as if he might cry. “Really I cannot say, Comrade Stalin. It is too shameful.” “Tell me, confound it!” roared Stalin, or I will have you drowned in the septic tank of the Lubyanka. Tell me which Warsaw Pact countries are coming to help us fight these mysterious Crimean fascists!” “There is no more Warsaw Pact,” sniffed Putin. “No Warsaw Pact!” He took a step towards Putin. “Then tell me who is in Nato!” “Er, places like Hungary.” “What places like Hungary?” said an amazed Stalin. “Well, Poland for instance,” said Putin.
“Poland in Nato!” Stalin was turning puce. “Poland, aligned with the imperialists and capitalists of Britain and America! I will have you shot!
“In fact I will shoot you myself. Did this happen while you were running the Soviet Union, you snivelling idiot?” “I am sorry, Comrade Stalin,” said Putin, his voice firming as he tried to make a clean breast of it. “There is no Soviet Union. It broke up before I could take over. The Baltic states have left us and are members of Nato. The -Stans have all gone, and there are American troops in places like Uzbekistan. Even the Moldovans want to leave and join Romania.”
“Romania?” expostulated Stalin. “But Churchill gave me 90 per cent control of Romania! He wrote it on a napkin in Moscow and called it his “naughty document”. You can’t mean to say we have lost control of Romania as well?” “I am afraid so, Comrade. They have all joined a certain Western bourgeois capitalist economic club…”
By now Stalin was really beginning to lose it. He began to jig on one leg, and then to bounce around the room as though on the verge of announcing a general execution of the intelligentsia or the liquidation of the kulaks. “Silence! Lithuania in Nato! Latvia and Estonia in Nato! This is unbelievable! What is your name, you pointy-eared loser? Putin? Putin, I hereby execute you for gross betrayal of the Soviet Union.”
He reached into his sock, drew out a small snub-nosed revolver, and levelled it straight at the quivering form of the Russian president. All Putin’s machismo melted away; his martial arts expertise was forgotten. With a choking sob he flung himself at the feet of the former Soviet leader and clasped his knees in the ancient gesture of supplication. “It wasn’t my fault, Comrade Stalin. The Soviet economic system was just hopeless and the whole thing collapsed. So we replaced it with a gigantic kleptocracy funded by the proceeds of fossil fuel exports – and even then we have pretty shocking life expectancy figures and the birth rate is dismal.
“I am afraid that in the end we have to face the truth that people really do want democracy, and an end to corruption, and they want free markets and the rule of law. That’s why so many Ukrainians are turning to the West – in spite of all the cash I heaped on them – and that’s why in the end I expect we will lose it in Kiev…” “Lose Kiev?” Stalin’s voice rose to a shriek. “Lose the place where Vladimir the Great was baptised? You are a madman and traitor!”
There was a bang. Putin opened his eyes and saw that he was alone. It was just a paperweight that had fallen to the floor, so that his sheaf of cuttings blew mockingly around him. “Is Putin the new Stalin?” asked one.