Putin’s Psychosis

Volodymyr Kish

Up until quite recently, I had thought that Putin, albeit afflicted with a warped Russo-centric ideology, was a very clever, shrewd and intelligent person. As a lifelong KGB operative, it is not surprising that he perceived the world as full of threats to Russia’s manifest destiny, but most people, including myself, accorded him a certain respect as a particularly competent and pragmatic political manipulator who through strength of will and  personal charisma, managed to always get his way.

Events of the past week have caused me to question my former opinion and are leading me to increasingly conclude that this latest of Russian Tsars has slipped into the abyss of psychosis and joined the ranks of such notorious megalomaniacs as Ivan the Terrible. I would hazard a guess that history will eventually remember him as Putin the Appalling.

It has been obvious that Russia, under Putin’s rule, has been manipulating and subverting Ukraine’s political system for the past decade.  There is nothing surprising in that, as despite all the changes since the Soviet Union disintegrated, one thing that has remained constant is the Russian mindset and its propensity to indulge in blatant imperialism.  The Russians have not grasped that the rest of the world has evolved politically and civilizationally to the point that colonialism is now viewed as an immoral and counterproductive political philosophy.  They still harbor the primitive urge to conquer and control.  No doubt, most of the world’s superpowers still seek to exert their influence in the geopolitical arena, but most have realized that doing so through the raw application of military power exceeds the bounds of moral behavior and brings consequences that greatly exceed any potential gain.

Since the end of the Cold War, most people have assumed that the “new” Russia would at least conform to the new post-colonial rules of the game.  Putin’s moves of the past few weeks should tell them that he has no intention of doing so, and that Russia has returned to the predatory imperialism that has dominated all of its history. By sending Russian troops into Crimea, at first covertly and then openly, Putin is essentially telling the world that he will do what he wants and doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks or says.  Undoubtedly, he must have figured that he could do this with impunity and that there was little that the rest of the world could do in consequence.

I suspect that he will soon realize that he has erred big time.  In contrast to the world that most of his imperial predecessors faced, Russia is highly dependent on the global economic and financial system, and in the face of some serious sanctions by the US, the EU and G7, Russia’s economy could be brought to its knees within a very short space of time.

What is ironic in all of this is that Putin’s motives in engaging in this Ukrainian takeover gambit was likely his fear of the Ukrainian democratic revolution spilling over across the border into Russia and undermining his autocratic rule.  As one Russian political analyst put it – “If those ‘khakhly’ in Ukraine can overthrow their authoritarian, oligarchic regime, why can’t we do the same in Russia?”  Putin’s popularity in Russia has been declining of late, and the opposition forces have been getting more vocal and organized, and Putin, as we know, cannot tolerate any opposition.  No doubt, he felt compelled to make an example of the Ukrainian “fascists and extremists” lest his own people start getting ideas about doing the same closer to home.  Dictators have a paranoia about displaying any sort of weakness, and the failure of his policies aimed at controlling Ukraine must have rankled him greatly.  It is therefore probably poetic justice that his recent moves, rather than forestalling his demise, will instead lead to its acceleration.

His rash action in overtly invading Ukraine is now forcing the rest of the free world to react, and if it does the right thing, Putin is finished.  The Europeans in particular can see the parallels in what is happening to what occurred some seventy five years ago when another dictator by the name of Hitler annexed the Sudetenland using almost identical pretexts and propaganda.  Hopefully the lessons learned from that debacle will weigh in strongly on what course Europe takes with this latest reincarnation of a fascist dictator.  A concerted economic and political response that isolates Russia politically and economically will almost certainly lead to his downfall.

All this of course presumes that the key world powers have the strength of will and the moral spine to do what is right rather than what is expedient.  It is a test that will either confirm Putin as a psychotic aberration or an evil genius.