Putin’s irrational demeanor: Strategically insane
Has Putin gone mad? There is much to suggest that he is not – but uses a strategy that Nixon and Trump have already used.
Angry, paranoid, completely insane or at least cold and calculating: About the question Putin’s motives there is much speculation about his war of aggression. But it’s impossible to say what the Kremlin boss’s mind is like. With therapy sessions from a distance, and by laypeople at that, no serious clinical diagnoses can be made. The American Psychiatric Association, for example, has therefore imposed the so-called “Goldwater Rule” on itself, which condemns long-distance diagnoses by politicians and heads of government as irresponsible and unscientific. Nobody who hadn’t put Putin on the couch and treated him himself could give any information.
According to the Federal Intelligence Service, there is no objective evidence of a personality disorder. But what about Putin’s escalation, his confused speeches about the alleged drug addict “Nazi Jews” Selenski and to explain the exaggerated threats up to nuclear war? People as disparate as French President Macron, who is still talking to the Russians, and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has negotiated with him regularly for a good two decades, are unanimous in speaking of strange changes.
However, Putin’s shrill tones may have been strategically calculated. This was indicated, for example, by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö after a telephone conversation with Putin. “That could also be intentional — namely, to create confusion,” he told CNN. Putin would not be the first politician in history to go haywire to intimidate his opponents.
The Madman theory originally came from Henry Kissinger, the strategist behind Nixon’s foreign policy. The tactic is to show the opponent that you are capable of anything, regardless of the sacrifices. Nixon and Kissinger first used the tactic in the Vietnam War in 1969. With a ruthless carpet bombing and the announcement to use nuclear bombs if necessary, the North Vietnamese should be unsettled and thus persuaded to negotiate.
Putin leaves no negotiation options
Trump, who incidentally was a personal friend of Nixon, dealt with North Korea in a similar way: first he threatened nuclear bombs, then he negotiated. And Trump’s approach to Iran also fits in with the theory. Immediately following the targeted killing of Iranian general Soleimani in 2019, he announced that “no option is off the table,” he was open to talks, and wanted “a better deal for everyone” that could also “make Iran great again.” Trump said at the time.
In contrast to Nixon and Trump, Putin apparently does not leave his counterpart with any negotiating options. Should he play the mad man, it will be to use maximum threats to discourage the US and NATO from supporting Ukraine more widely. He seems to have some success with it. Poland’s offer to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine is too risky for Washington. Putin As in Georgia in 2008, it wants to prevent Ukraine from gaining political self-determination and is apparently prepared to bomb the country back to the Stone Age. He doesn’t have to negotiate to achieve his goals. It can destabilize the country to such an extent that political independence, let alone accession to the EU and NATO, becomes virtually impossible.
Declaring Putin insane as the cause of war and crime is emotionally understandable, but falls short. Despite all the irrationality, Putin calculates coolly – nobody should be confused by that. The geostrategic interests of the Russian government are clear: Ukraine’s rapprochement with the West should be prevented. This has nothing to do with “Russia’s legitimate security interests”, as some claim. Rather with “Great Russian chauvinism” as Lenin would say – which Putin declared the main historical enemy because he stood up for the rights of the peoples oppressed by the Tsarist Empire and made the first state independence of Ukraine possible.