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Down the River With Vladimir Putin

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

A couple of years ago Vladimir Putin journeyed to the American Southwest to take his natural son on an initiation ritual. The boy’s mother is now an American citizen. First stop was a big game ranch in Texas, where Putin and Jr blasted zebras, antelopes and bison. Apparently, Putin, reenacting a scene out of Mailer’s Why Are We In Vietnam, marked his son’s forehead in the blood of one of these hapless creatures.

Then it was on to Moab, Utah, for a raft trip down Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River, one of the world’s most demanding stretches of whitewater. The Moab river guide community is still shaking its head from its close encounter with the Russian president and former KGB man. “We get a lot of whacked-out people coming down the river, but Putin really is a dangerous guy, a real mobster,” a guide told CounterPunch in late March.

“His packs were loaded with guns, vodka and tens of thousands of dollars in cash,” the guide said. “He seemed to be a little on edge. It was during a time when it was unclear what was going to happen to the Yeltsin government. He was a real bully. He was drunk much of the time and bossed people around as if they were his personal slaves. His son caught a channel catfish and they slapped it down in front of the guide and demanded that it be cooked up immediately.”

Cataract Canyon is in the heart of Canyonlands National Park, one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. But Putin and son were soon bored with the redrock canyons and class five rapids. “By the third day, Putin was demanding that the guides call in a helicopter to have his party picked up and flown out. Then he got drunk and started bragging about how many people he had personally killed. More than 40.”

The rafts finally exited Cataract and motored across 30 miles of Lake Powell’s flat water to the marina complex known as Hite. The old town of Hite now lies submerged under 200 feet of water. The next step on the Putins’ tour was supposed to be a four-wheeler excursion tearing up the desert in the bizarre Needles District of Canyonlands Park. But Putin opted for a more traditional form of initiation for his son, straight out of Notes from the Underground. From the Hite marina, he placed a call to Las Vegas.

“We want some whores,” Putin shouted into his cellphone. “Price is no object.” CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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