By Andrew Korybko, One World Global Think Tank
Russian President Vladimir Putin is the most talked-about man this century thus far after commencing his country’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine in late February. That dramatic move was intended to uphold the integrity of Russia’s national security red lines in Ukraine in particular and in the region more broadly. It followed the US-led West refusing to respect his security guarantee requests from December, which in turn prompted President Putin to kinetically defend Russia’s existential interests. The unprecedented and preplanned response by the US-led West accelerated preexisting multipolar trends connected to the ongoing global systemic transition and led to what many nowadays consider to be the worst crisis since World War II.
Amidst all of this, everyone is trying to figure out who exactly President Putin is and what he’s trying to achieve. Many of his opponents and even quite a lot of his foreign supporters alike have regularly misportrayed him as a strongman who’s obsessed with fighting against the West, each propagating this narrative in pursuit of their diametrically different ideological agenda. According to this common interpretation of his motives, he simply can’t get over how the USSR’s dissolution in 1991 led to the erasure of Russia’s former superpower status. In their minds, he’s plotted for decades to make the move that he fatefully did in February, though each side differs over their assessment of how successful it’s been since. This storyline, for as compelling as it may be, is grossly inaccurate and deserves clarification.
Beginning with the viewpoint of his opponents, President Putin is either a monster or a madman. The first implies that he’s a bloodthirsty dictator who couldn’t give a damn for any notion of democracy and human rights, whether the objective understanding thereof or subjective interpretations of them that vary based on society. All that he wants, they claim, is to kill as many people as possible. This leads to the second viewpoint of him possibly being a madman, as in, someone who’s literally gone crazy and surrendered to whatever pathology it may be that supposedly controls everything that he does. Those who ascribe to this interpretation insist that he isn’t a rational actor and therefore mustn’t be negotiated with. Whether a monster or madman, his opponents claim that this man must be contained.