As communication comebacks go, Vladimir Putin’s transformation from the man with a horse but without a shirt but to the all-powerful, all seeing bogeyman who stands at the centre of the forces sweeping across liberal democracies is a pretty good one. How did this man go from looking like a scuffed action man model, to a geopolitical behemoth? Put simply, his Putin’s ability to capture the global zeitgeist and cope under extreme media pressure has improved with practise and with twenty years near or at the pinnacle of politics, nobody has more practise than him. For an ex-spook, he is very comfortable out of the shadows and under the hot lights.
Putin is at the top of his game and running into the 2019 G20 he is streets ahead. Social media booms and babbles and but his effort wasn’t swept away by a tide of furious speculation on by any number of subjects, but his ability to cut through run a chill down the spine of every political leader in the world and every protestor at home comes down to some simple rules:
1. Big ideas are hard to distil
* Anybody can make something simple sound complicated. Some people take this skill as one of genius, and hairy lothario comedians and Tory leadership candidates take much credit for it as an ability – but it takes true genius to make something complicated and brilliant sound simple. ‘Liberalism has become obsolete’ is a punch to the gut.
2. Provoke a response
* It isn’t enough to say something anodyne and agreeable that everyone will read and nod along to. If you want your message to truly cut through on social media you have to provoke an argument that will rage amongst columnists for as long as possible.
3. Timing beats speed
* This article has been timed to land the morning of a Conservative leadership hustings and the G20 meeting between May and Putin. Johnson repeatedly returned his arguments to standing up to Putin, even calling it his greatest achievement as Foreign Secretary. May didn’t stand a chance anyway, but appearing on the frontpage of her nation’s paper publicises the lack of deference.
* It wrapped up in the early hours in Moscow last night – leaving as little time as possible for leaders to think of a careful response to it. The less careful, the more controversial – the more likely a response.
4. Precision beats power
* The choice of the FT is also interesting. The long intermissions in Putin’s communications mean that he can have the pick of any paper and picking the most heavyweight daily newspaper in Britain lends his arguments the intellectual heft of the paper. Liberalism is dying on the front cover of the Express looks shrill, on the FT it looks considered.