Masha Gessen at the La-La-Land times:
Vladimir Putin has enjoyed a stunning variety of incarnations in the American imagination in his nearly 15 years as Russia’s leader. He started out as an economic reformer and a budding democrat, held those misapplied titles for years — aided by President George W. Bush, who “looked the man in the eye” and “was able to get a sense of his soul” — before the U.S. media and its consumers noticed his authoritarian tendencies.
His graduation to dictator took years. In that time, he dismantled Russia’s electoral system, took over its media, saw many of his opponents killed, jailed or forced into exile, created one of the most ruthlessly corrupt government systems in history, made peaceful protest punishable by jail time, waged a long and brutal war on his own country’s territory and a short one against a neighboring country, Georgia, a piece of which Russia bit off in 2008.
But it was only after he invaded Ukraine last month that Americans’ image of him took another drastic turn. German Chancellor Angela Merkel ostensibly told President Obama that Putin was out of touch with reality. And then former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton compared him to Adolf Hitler.
So is Putin insane, is he Hitler, or is he both? He is none of those things. In fact, he may be unlike any politician the world has known.
What did Merkel mean when she said Putin was living “in another world”? She was probably commenting on the fact that he has grown so isolated that he believes his own television.
The day after Merkel’s statement became public, Putin held a news conference in which he denied that Russian troops were in Crimea and made so many other fanciful statements that the State Department issued a fact sheet exposing 10 of his most blatant lies. “The world has not seen such startling Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, ‘The formula “two times two equals five” is not without its attractions,'” said the document, posted to the department’s website.
Many analysts concluded that the bizarre news conference proved Putin had indeed lost his mind. They were wrong. Putin was acting the way he always has, like a playground bully. It was the last thing an American audience expected. The dramaturgy of war would seem to dictate that Putin issue a rousing call to arms. But bullies do not aspire to lead through rhetoric; they dominate by intimidation. When confronted, they either lash out or they obfuscate.
The political culture Putin has created in Russia is based on the assumption that the world is rotten to the core.
A corollary is Putin’s conviction that his opponents act out of self-interest rather than on the basis of political conviction. When members of the punk rock group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail, he said they got what they wanted.
This belief that everyone, without exception, acts solely out of base self-interest is what has led Putin to ratchet up the aggression, meanness and vulgarity of both his public statements and political actions over the years. When he threatens to castrate a journalist, when he invades other countries, Putin is showing the world that he has the courage of his convictions.
For American culture, which relies heavily on a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity, this is an impossible world view to absorb. It is another world indeed. But that does not make it crazy.
Ms. Gessen’s LAT bio states:
Masha Gessen is a Russian American journalist and the author of the political biography “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”
I don’t know about y’all, but I never believed in the “fundamental goodness of humanity.” There is far too much evidence to the contrary out there. And when somebody tells me they aren’t doing it for the money but for the principle, I generally assume they are doing it for the money.
Never appeal to a man’s “better nature.” He may not have one. Invoking his “self—interest” gives you more leverage. – Robert A. Heinlein
Vladimir Putin is neither stupid nor crazy. He is a Russian patriot who is doing what he thinks is best for himself and his country. That does not make him a nice guy, however.
Putin tells bald-faced lies for the same reason that Obama tells lies – he believes that lying will help him get what he wants.
Why did Putin invade Crimea? Because he CAN.
Putin correctly assessed that if he invaded and annexed Crimea the Western powers (that’s us and the rest of NATO) would be too weak and unwilling to stop him.
Vladimir Putin, like his USSR predecessors, will act according to our strength or weakness. Whenever we show weakness, he will be aggressive. He doesn’t want (and can’t afford) to go to war with us directly, but he will nibble away at us wherever and whenever he senses the opportunity. He will also encourage countries like Iran to be aggressive as well, in order to occupy our attention and sap our strength.
As Mitt Romney put it, Russia is “without question, our number one geopolitical foe.”