The Bug House Files

Exploding toothpaste

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Impaler: Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to purchase some toothpaste prior to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Impaler: Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to purchase some toothpaste prior to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The Sochi Winter Olympics are under way, and while I won’t be watching I nevertheless wish Russia well.

OK, their attitude towards gays leaves a lot to be desired (“homosexuals are welcome in Sochi – as long as they don’t talk to children”), and President Putin’s increasingly loopy self-regard may or may not be a cause for global concern.

Indeed up until yesterday I was quite happy to follow the perceived western wisdom that all Ivans are bastards.

But then I read about the threat from toothpaste and I changed my mind.

To recap: on the eve of the Opening Ceremony, sources from US Homeland Security issued a bulletin to all airlines flying into Russia warning of the potential danger of explosives concealed in tubes of toothpaste.

“It’s real. It’s real and we got very good information,” a government source, who did not want to speak for full attribution, told CNN. “It’s based on a credible source. We’re taking it seriously. So are other countries. …”

The threat of terrorism is very real in Russia, as recent suicide bombings in Moscow will attest. And, when it has not been dominated by Russian ineptitude, gay-bashing and lack of snow, the build-up to the Winter Olympics in the western media has been dominated by concerns that militants from one of the neighbouring “ – stans” are planning a spectacular with the eyes of the world on Sochi and Putin.

In fact in all aspects of their coverage western commentators have been thoroughly patronising about Russia’s Olympics, with a barely concealed desire for Putin to fail dismally and for Sochi to end up as a smoking ruin.

For “western commentators” read “western governments”, and in particular the US government, who in the last few years has watched aghast as Putin time and again proves himself two steps ahead of the rest of the world in foreign affairs and enviably popular at home (62 per cent approval rate, compared with 42 for President Obama, 32 per cent for Prime Minister David Cameron and 22 per cent for French President Francois Hollande).

No wonder they want him to fall flat on his curiously smooth face.

The toothpaste bomb bulletin strikes me as particularly dismal, last gasp attempt to derail proceedings however.

Sure it’s a possibility – but in terms of timing, it’s like somebody jumping out from behind a bush with a Halloween mask on and going “Whoooo—ooooooaaaaahhhhh!!!” It really is a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, scare the shit out of ‘em.

Fortunately, nobody seems that bothered. Nobody, that is, except the unfortunate airline passengers around the world who, thanks to Homeland Security, must now surrender their toothpaste as well as their face creams and pile ointment, even on internal flights.

Still, at least they can watch the TV while they’re in the queue for security. I hear the Winter Olympics in Sochi have just started.

 

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Author: Jim Ford

I'm an author and journalist. "The Bug House" series of Tyneside-based crime novels is published in 2014

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