What may(not) happen to Putin, and to us – the psychology of Russia

Martin Jan Stránský

vydavatel Přítomnosti

Russia’s war with Ukraine is in full swing. By now, everyone has figured out that Putin planned the war all along, that he repeatedly lied with a straight face, claiming that the invasion would never happen.  His bluff and his lies worked.  Again.

Western politicians, raised on Western ideals, continued to believe that negotiations would resolve the situation.  And as the number of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border began to increase last year, Western negotiators remained blind to the truth, to Russia.   They failed to realize the extent to which Putin and Russia are obsessed with the deeply ingrained belief, that all nations around Russia’s borders are actually vassals of a “Great Russia.” Not only is Putin himself obsessed with this idea, but Ukraine has always been the biggest thorn in his side, as evidenced by the Russian occupation of Donbas in 2014. After all, Ukraine has been at war with Russia for 8 years!

Putin himself, as a result of his family background and KGB upbringing, grew into a deeply neurotic leader with an inferiority complex laced with a touch of paranoia.  His life is one of complete psychological isolation, removed from any meaningful personal or emotional relationships.  Like every dictator before him, he compensates his inferiority complex via shows of strength and control, be it stealing billions from state coffers (Putin is the richest man in the world today – why don’t the Russian people mind?) or riding bare-chested on a white horse, winning in judo, or sending troops to kill innocent neighbors and take over their country (Chechnya, Syria, Donbas and now the rest of Ukraine).

Some claim that it’s only Putin who is to blame for the war, that the Russian people are innocent.  Not entirely.  Russia is a nation that has been psychologically frozen since the Middle Ages. It is a nation that knows mostly suffering and poverty.  For the average Russian, democracy is foreign, irrelevant, and an impractical nuisance.

Most Russians have the exact same mindset that Putin has.  They snarl at sanctions.  The oligarchs have gotten around them nicely to-date, and as for the common man, if he’s aware of them at all, he’s proud of the fact that, as with everything else, he has overcome them as well. After all, it’s not difficult to grow French apples or Spanish peppers in Russia.  Most Russian’s don’t even pause to think about what the West thinks of them.  If they really want information, they have to dig hard, due to Putin’s endless censorship.  The official Russian party-line is, that the West is deformed, with imperialistic tendencies, a Nazi mind-set, full of homosexuals and other threats to the traditional hallowed values of “Great Russia.” Just read any one of Putin’s longer speeches.  It’s all there.

Russians, like Putin, have one basic need: to admire and psychologically embrace the myth of their own “Greater Russia,” and then drown their conviction in vodka.  The goal is an obsession, an ideal, one that must be achieved regardless of moral issues or cost of human life.  The extent to which Russian society is deformed by this tunnel-vision deformation of history is evidenced by the surreal fact that in Russia, the leaders who are at the top of the popularity polls are those, who massacred the most of their fellow citizens.  They were the “strongest.” In first place is Joseph Stalin (ten million Russian victims), followed by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (three million Russian victims). We’re talking 2022. Yes, there are many Russians who are more cultured, educated, and who don’t fit in with any of the above. But there aren’t nearly enough of them to make a difference.

The above underscores the fact that in Russia, everything is gaged on the basis of strength versus weakness.  When money and weapons from the West began to pour into Ukraine, it was the perfect catalyst that pushed Putin’s psychopathological state to a climax to save “Greater Russia” via a “defensive” invasion of a “vassal region” which had the misfortune of breaking away from its mother. The invasion of Ukraine is proof of how the West failed to understand the importance of Putin’s distorted equation, instead preferring its own.

So how will the situation unfold for Putin? Based on the psychological milieu of Russia and its leaders, there are only two scenarios. The first is an internal coup or assassination, led by generals and oligarchs, after most of them (due to prolonged military conflict and possible population unrest, despite truly effective sanctions) realize that the only way to allow them to return to tunneling the nation and accumulate power is to get rid of Putin. If the West found the courage to issue an international arrest warrant for Putin, it would give a legitimate excuse for that to happen. Though this is not a real possibility today, in politics, the more one talks about the impossible, the more it becomes possible.

Presently, the most likely scenario is, that Putin will continue according to the same script used by all previous European dictators.  Just look at Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Milosevic, their trajectory, methods, and their end.  Putin’s demanding ego won’t let him rest, until his “Great Russia” controls all the countries on the Russian border.  Though Putin’s offer to negotiate with Ukraine regarding “Ukrainian neutrality” may temporarily suspend the conflict, Putin’s paranoia will remain, and the current invasion of Ukraine will transform to another form of oppression.

Though the war is only several days old, Russia is under unexpected pressure.  Countries the world- over have unified in condemning Putin and Russia. More effective sanctions are being imposed.  The Russian army has failed in its objectives thus far. Most dramatic is the willingness of Ukrainian men to place their families on trains and buses to freedom and then return home and be willing to die with their president Volodimir Zelensky at their side, to defend their nation.  This has resulted in the expected and predictable Russian reaction of a barrage of new lies and threats to the outside world and NATO.  The standard Russian tactic of negotiating under stress has reared its ugly head: escalate, in order to de-escalate to a “compromise” that actually represents a gain for Russia.  Any sustainable concession is out of the question. The escalation tactic that Russia will use will be the use of nuclear weapons.

Although Putin is a systematic liar, he never once lied about threats. When he said at the beginning of the invasion that if anyone stood in his way, “the consequences will be worse than anything you have seen in history,” he was deadly serious. His ego and “Greater Russia” won’t allow him to do anything else. The day after Putin’s statement, former Russian President Medvedev voiced the “unimaginable” – that Russia was considering giving up the START nuclear deal. On February 27, 2022, Putin announced that he had ordered Russian nuclear weapons to go on alert.

Those who think that the worst case scenario can’t happen are as blind as those who saw the war in Ukraine as a bluff, as those who claimed that the Munich agreement in 1938 had saved the peace, or those who did not take Stalin’s takeover of Poland in 1945 seriously.  Then as now, our Western leaders have taken the easy way out, avoiding any truly effective steps that would by necessity, hurt them as well.  To-date, no one was bothered by the influx of billions of dollars to the West from corrupt Russian oligarchs, or by the EU developing a severe dependency on cheap imported Russian gas.

No wonder then, that Western reactions to the invasion are still partial rather than complete, camouflaged in dubious adjectives such as “severe” or “far-reaching.”  For whom?  There remains a lack of sufficient willingness to stand up against evil, and actually be willing to sacrifice one hundred percent to stop Putin once and for all.

So what should be done?  Russia and its citizens should be immediately cut- off from everything.  From all foreign bank accounts, especially from dollar reserves of the Russian Central Bank.  Russia should be expelled from every international organization of which Russia is a member. All Russian-owned property abroad should be temporarily confiscated. All Russians should be banned from entering all democracies. Russian citizens need to be put into a situation where they are forced to think more about who it is who leads them and what that leadership has caused.  It’s time they really got to know Vladimir Putin and his world and also got to experience just how their “Great Russia” can really take care of itself, isolated from the rest of the world.  There is a war on.  That war is not between Russia and Ukraine, but between Russia and democracy. Between Russia and all of us.

Most of all, it’s time to listen to Ukraine, to the country that the West built up.  It’s time to listen to Ukraine’s repeated plea, and immediately send an international allied contingent of troops to the defense of Kiev.  Ukraine, as a free country is now on its knees, and is pleading for our direct support and mercy, enacting its last wish before the final execution.   Should we fail to act, it will be (as before) too late.

How will this end?  That remains to be seen.  But the ending is entirely up to us.  Russia’s path is set in stone, as are its negotiating tactics.  As regards to negotiating with Russia, neither rules nor restrained dialogue apply, never mind diplomatic teas. European moral principles are as relevant to Russia, as is a drop in the ocean.  The West needs to finally realize that Russia did not need Communism in order to create a conflict with the West, and that the best thing about the Cold War was, that Russia was carefully monitored.  That’s why no war occurred.

Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, politicians treated Russia as if Russia’s medieval and infamous mentality had spontaneously healed, leaped forward into modern times, and adopted the diplomatic and moral standards of Europe.  The invasion of Ukraine is yet another proof that this has never been the case and never will be.  We need to realize this before it is truly too late.

Translated from the Czech original.

published: 2. 3. 2022

Datum publikace:
2. 3. 2022
Autor článku:
Martin Jan Stránský