by Austin Bay
March 2, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin -- he's crazy and delusional.
For many troubling reasons, this diagnostic narrative has emerged as a common media theme, a narrative to help explain in personal terms Russia's senseless invasion of Ukraine and Putin's irrational threat to wage nuclear war.
From the right (e.g., Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and The Epoch Times), from the left (CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, etc.), from the street (Ukrainian women crossing the Polish border), people express doubts about Putin's mental state.
It's an insistent topic, one with characteristics of a weaponized narrative employed in "narrative warfare." A weaponized narrative can create psychological vulnerabilities in an adversary's population. We've seen Putin weaponize narratives.
But can a weaponized narrative create vulnerabilities in a specific adversary?
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News Putin employs "an ever-deepening, delusional rendering of history ... always a kind of victimology" and that "he is descending into something I haven't personally seen before."
That's serious deterioration. Perhaps we've physical clues. Instead of the hard cheeks and macho chest (see Putin the Stud photos circa 2008), doctors note Vlad 2022's cheeks puff like a man taking steroids.
Weaponized speculation: Does he suffer from terminal cancer? With his time running out, he ignites a war to achieve his obsession?
Shades of Greek drama, but the poets are dramatizing tragedy wrought by obsessed human beings.
Time and again obsessed, powerful despots seize the bloody initiative, pursuing empire or Lebensraum nach Osten or a global caliphate. These destructive actors perpetually scourge humanity.
I personally believe Putin is delusional and his delusions have spurred insanity. For years I've seen the former KGB colonel as a cunning, calculating, disciplined and narcissistic fanatic driven by a vision of the Russian empire reborn. He seeks to control the core components of the Romanov empire and the Soviet Union: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Khazakstan -- the RUBK as I've called it since the late 1990s. RUBK, like Rubik's Cube, a puzzle Putin swears to solve and piece together with the force of his will, no matter the desire of others.
Now the force of his will is expressed by dropping cluster bombs on Ukrainian neighborhoods.
A dispute persists over the precise translation of Putin's April 25, 2005, lamentation over the demise of the Soviet Union. Did he say that the USSR's demise was "a major geopolitical disaster of the (20th) century" or that it was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century"? The BBC and NBC News chose "catastrophe." Both translations confirm the USSR's collapse appalled Putin.
Definitely a scarred psyche, though twisted psyche and soul seem more apt.
Putin suffers two historical ills: revanchism and irredentism. By mobilizing Russian ethnonational sentiments, Putin intends to recover what he regards as lost territories (irredenta) that by God and by history (or myth) belong to Mother Russia. Moreover, outsiders (the U.S., NATO) seek to deny Mother Russia what is Hers.
Since the mid-1990s these tropes and claims of Russian victimhood have fired Putin's propaganda. He propagandized his own people. claiming he must act to protect "cut off" Russians and secure "Russian rights" in lost regions (former Soviet territories). He invoked these justifications in 2008 during the Russo-Georgia War. In Russian Army military exercises from around 2016 on the enemy was called "The Western Coalition," deliberately incriminating NATO.
Agreed, Putin doesn't act alone. Russian Army generals and Putin's coterie of billionaire Russian oligarchs encouraged his delusions or at least failed to curb them. No one wants to be the naysayer who tells the obsessed leader he can't achieve his goals.
The generals and oligarchs signed off on fighting the slow war of attrition Russia has waged in Ukraine since 2014. Vlad did succeed in annexing Crimea.
Ukraine, however, continues to resist the conventional invasion Putin launched in February. Why escalate to tanks and air attacks and airborne assaults? Why gamble now?
Is the terminal illness plot something other than my fiction?
A fact: Antiwar protests, many led by the parents of Russian conscript soldiers, have occurred in over 30 Russian cities.
Russian oligarchs and mafiya types value their money. Sanctions will ultimately squeeze oligarch accounts and even seize laundered cash. Britain and other countries are moving to seize real estate assets owned by Russian oligarchs. Denying Russia's banks market access has already trashed the ruble.
Oligarchs must choose between their money and Putin.
The best way out of this stupid, murderous war -- for Russians, for Ukrainians, the rest of the world, including greedy oligarchs -- isn't more sanctions or more war. The way out for the oligarchs is a Kremlin coup toppling Putin. The gallows humorists call it a nine-millimeter solution -- a bullet to the insane man's head.
Who does the deed? Leave that to the oligarchs and embarrassed generals.