EUROPE: Russia moves in
Vladimir Putin has been described as both ‘cynical’ and ‘traditional’; his paranoia is charitably attributed to an austere childhood, less charitably to his diminutive stature. But these descriptions are well off the mark. A head of state who seriously harks back to the days of the Soviet Union, Tsars, Commissars and Catherine the Great in the twenty-first century needs his head examining. A leading article in the London Economist described Mr Putin’s world view as ‘a noxious compound of KGB cynicism and increasingly messianic Russian nationalism’ which had propelled him in to Ukraine. The concern, in Kiev as well as in Washington, was that his paranoia would propel him further west into Ukraine. ‘Vlad the Invader’ was unlikely to order his tanks into neutral and tell their crews to open hatches and give the smiling children chocolates. Mr Putin was a serial invader, constantly making veiled references to neighbouring states and their ‘difficulties’. His writ runs large – there is an actuarial probability that before long Kazakhstan (where around half the population are Russian speakers) would be appointing a new president. Uncertainty in the neighbourhood is good news for the Putin paratroopers. There are a number of smaller countries with significant Russian speaking minorities – not just Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Moldova. Mr Putin likes to have neighbours who will dance to his music, and no one else’s. The ploy of inventing problems where none exist has a sinister historical precedent. It was used by Hitler to gain popular support for his démarches, ditto Mussolini in Abyssinia and Galtieri in the Falklands. Hitler (correctly) perceived weakness on the part of Chamberlain, but failed to consider who was waiting in the wings. Galtieri saw any government lead by a woman as feeble. Their perceptions became their vision, and clouded rational judgement. Hitler, Galtieri and the land-grabbing Putin have something else in common. Their vision may well have been driven by a desire to enter the history books. But Sigmund Freud (in the Interpretation of Dreams) defined madness as a state of affairs where the interpretation of reality simply fails to concur with any generally accepted understanding. Long before Putin, Cervantes’ Don Quixote saw giants not windmills, princesses not serving girls. Cervantes got the psychiatry right, but unlike Putin, Don Quixote was never brutal in the execution of his vision. Simply misguided. Mr Putin, and probably those who advise him, are equally, but more malevolently, misguided. They see the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) presence on their doorstep as a threat, as a sinister organisation bent on weakening and encircling Russia. This chimed with the perception that Russia’s post soviet history, for over twenty years, had been just one humiliation after another. Sitting in his presidential aircraft on the long and lonely journey home from the November 2014 G20 meeting in Australia, Mr Putin found himself in the international ‘Johnny no friends’ seat. Such was the antipathy expressed by virtually all the delegates to the Russian position on Ukraine, that he cut short his attendance in Brisbane and instructed his pilots to head for the hills where he could sit and sulk. Freud and Cervantes would have had little hesitation in diagnosing Vladimir Putin as quite simply ‘mad’. Move over Moldova: you’ll be next.