Has Putin Lost His Mind?

Many people, motivated presumably by a need to cover for their own long-term blindness or appeasement of a lifelong totalitarian thug of the first order, are depicting Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric of the past week as indicating a man who has suddenly “become unhinged,” or “lost his reason.” Not true. He was never hinged or rational in the first place. Rather, this moment, both in Ukraine and in his mind, is the inevitable and predictable fulfillment of everything he has done or said for two decades.

For there are two kinds of tyrants: Those who openly seize their desired territory immediately, by blunt force or inheritance; and those who, by practical necessity, must achieve their goals incrementally, after years of patiently chewing through various institutions and material deficiencies that prevent immediate seizure. The former type, having been granted his prize early and relatively easily, is more likely to strike a somewhat defensive posture toward the outside world, like a dragon protecting his pile of gold. The latter type, long restrained by circumstances, and therefore never having enjoyed the feeling of absolute possession that sustains the megalomaniacal self-certainty of the first type, is more likely to manifest the tyrant’s madness in stages, and with much greater wildness and aggression in the ultimate stages, as his lusts, having been so long partially thwarted, have grown to measures that he can no longer hold in check even for optics purposes, so intoxicated has he become by the scent of his dream’s possible realization at last.

Putin is clearly of the latter type. He assumed power auspiciously but within the limiting framework of a country weary of being the world’s enemy, and having begun to adopt many of the institutions of peaceful government. It took years of gradually fomenting social disintegration and disseminating paranoid disinformation to realign the Russian state in accordance with its previous global aggressor position. Only after many years of scheming against every open-minded and aspirational element of “the new Russia” was he able to begin reviving an ever-increasing amount of romantic nostalgia about the lost greatness of the Soviet era. A couple of months ago, he ordered the Russian national hockey team to wear the old CCCP uniforms during an international tournament, a sure and simple sign of his true intentions and of his confidence in testing public perceptions so brazenly — he must have felt very certain that the Russian people were now ready for such an overt glance into the abyss of history, and that they would no longer find it too offensive or terrifying to be reminded of generations of pain and oppression. It was a small but clear indication of his mind’s current condition: no madder than before, but feeling that “his time” had arrived at long last, and that the prize he undoubtedly always felt should have been his from the beginning was almost within his grasp. 

His “unhinged” words and actions of today are nothing but the natural next step for a tyrant, who like all tyrannical souls is a madman in the profoundest sense, a sense which the modern world has lost the ability to understand, and who is finally feeling free to reach out his hands to grab the territory he has always believed was his rightful possession, and his alone. Ukraine is not his first such grab, but it is his most blatant swipe at the West’s doorstep so far. There will be many more, in relatively quick succession no doubt, if he is not thoroughly stopped and utterly humiliated this time, once and for all.

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