The Madness of Tsar Vlad?

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

This article was published in Ceylon Today on March 9, 2022

Madman on the Button

One of the most entertaining and yet frightening books I have ever read is Anthony Summers’s biography of Richard Nixon. The apt title of the book is The Arrogance of Power. Nixon had Kissinger tell the North Vietnamese: “Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry–and he has his hand on the nuclear button.” White House chief of staff HR Haldeman said that Nixon called this ruse the “madman theory,” the purpose of which was to frighten his opponent into submission by seeming to be dangerously unpredictable. Summers demonstrates that Nixon was, in reality, quite bonkers a lot of the time, with excessive amounts of alcohol and drugs stoking his congenital paranoia. Trump managed to be even more chaotic and unpredictable without the benefit of alcohol. Trump did it on diet coke. Hitler was teetotal and vegetarian.

The advantage with Nixon and Trump is that they could be removed. The arrogance and power mania of Putin seems to be unrestrainable. Those who are supposed to be advising him are reduced to gibbering wrecks. Public dissent is brutally repressed, with even small children being arrested for placing flowers outside the Ukrainian embassy. Enemies are poisoned and the press closed down. Putin plans to stay in power until 2036, which means that he would have been at the helm for 36 years.

Isolation

There has been a good deal of speculation about Vladimir Putin’s mental health. Apparently, Putin does not drink much and is very keen on physical fitness.

Nevertheless, he continues to make wild and mendacious statements. At the dawn of the nuclear age, strategic theorists warned of the danger of a madman with his finger on the nuclear button. Putin has told his defence minister, Sergey Shoigu, to put the nuclear arsenal on alert. A nuclear power station has been in flames after being hit by Russian artillery. Milos Zeman, the Czech president and long one of Vladimir Putin’s staunchest supporters, called Putin a “madman” because of the invasion of Ukraine. French president, Emmanuel Macron, has been trying to talk some sense to Putin but has been frustrated after lengthy conversations. He said Putin had changed since they had last met at the Elysée palace as recently as December 2019. Putin was “more rigid, more isolated” and was off on an “ideological and security drift”.

Social Distancing

A picture of a recent meeting of Macron and Putin neatly symbolises Putin’s paranoia. The two men sit at opposite ends of an unfeasibly long table. Similar distances are pictured at meetings with security chiefs and oligarchs. Putin’s innate tendency towards insularity has been exacerbated by his obsessive precautions against Covid. He apparently listens to almost no one, He is now reliant on a shrinking group of advisors who are too frightened to advise. This means that his view of the world is warped and delusional. He has spent too much of his time alone reading books about philosophy and weird theories about Russia’s historic place in the world. He appears out of place in the world of today, with an unhealthy obsession with his own greatness.

James Clapper, the former director of US National Intelligence, in an interview with CNN, said, “I personally think he’s unhinged. I worry about his acuity and balance.” Even if he is not clinically certifiably insane, his sense of reality seems to have become warped after being in power for too long already and no-one daring to oppose him.

Russian security expert and writer Andrei Soldatov believes the defence minister, Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoigu, is still the most influential voice the president hears. “Shoigu is not only in charge of the military, he’s also partly in charge of ideology – and in Russia ideology is mostly about history and he’s in control of the narrative.” Shoigu is in charge of the nuclear weapons.

Rational Man

Jonathan Steele writes in the Guardian: “The Russian president is a rational man with his own analysis of recent European history.” Patrick Cockburn, writing on Counterpunch before the invasion, seemed to be of the camp that saw Putin as a rational actor. “Western media may suggest that he is isolated in the Kremlin, his judgement eroded by two decades in power. But this should probably be dismissed as crude propaganda.” Cockburn is generally noted for his good judgement but he got it wrong here. Cockburn mocks “the war hysteria gripping political, defence and intelligence elites in the US and UK.” Putin did invade. Does that mean he has gone mad? I wonder how Cockburn feels about that now.

Is Putin behaving like a high functioning psychopath? ‘Theodore Dalrymple’, is the pen name of Anthony Malcolm Daniels, a cultural critic and psychiatrist.Much of Dalrymple’s writing is based on his experience of working with criminals and the mentally ill. He wonders if Putin is taking steroids. The previously butch Putin “has undergone a gestalt switch: invulnerability has been replaced by its opposite, unseen danger with every breath.” Dalrymple says, “People can be mad and realistic at the same time. Their paranoia has a self-fulfilling quality: if you behave as if people were against you, people will soon begin to behave as if they were against you. The origins of the problem become lost in a vicious circle of historical recrimination.”

Paranoid Vision

Michel Eltchaninoff is editor-in-chief of Philosophie magazine and a specialist in the history of Russian thought. He is the author of Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin, which is a fascinating read. Putin has developed, over decades, a vision of the world that is paranoid but coherent. It is a paranoia for the nation as well as himself. Putin often quotes a strange theory expounded by Lev Gumilev. Russia’s passionarnost must not be constrained. Russia carries the power and potential of a young people. He is obsessed with the idea that the West is determined to “Keep Russia Down.” Russia has for centuries been the victim of an attempt to contain and dismember it. Europe has collapsed into decadence, crushed by the weight of its humanism and political liberalism.

Putin has regularly consulted a collection of political essays titled Our Tasks, the major work of Ivan Ilyin, who died in 1954. Ilyin believed the West planned to “dismember Russia, to subject her to western control, to dismantle her and in the end make her disappear”. The method, according to Ilyin, will be the hypocritical promotion of values such as “freedom” in order to transform Russia into “a gigantic Balkans”. These countries will inevitably attempt to seize territories such as the Baltic countries, the Caucasus, central Asia and, especially, Ukraine.

Deadly Victim

In December 1999, Putin published a lengthy treatise setting out his vision for the country’s future.  He warned that Russia, for the first time in centuries, was in danger of becoming a second- or even a third-rate power. He stated that it was his personal mission to prevent that and to reclaim Russia’s rightful place as a global power. He wants victory over a West that he blames for the fall of the Soviet Union, for the weakness of Russia in the 1990s, and for the uppityness of the old Soviet republics.

The events in Ukraine in 2014 have been itching away at him. In March 2014, he said: “The politics of the containment of Russia, which continued throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today. There is a constant attempt to push us back into a corner because we have an independent position, because we stand up for ourselves.”

In recent weeks he has been re-iterating these ideas in a less coherent manner. This was wussy whingeing from a man with deadly weapons. He was saying to the West, “You didn’t want us to be friends, but you didn’t have to make an enemy of us.” That noble newspaper, the Sun, had no doubt that Putin had gone bonkers. “Gone was the shrewd geopolitical operator of old as on Monday he made his intentions clear with an obsessional rant about Ukraine.” The controlled and detailed rant made it clear that he does not even accept the idea of Ukraine. He claimed, falsely, that it had never really been an independent state and said it was “madness” that republics were allowed to leave the Russian Empire. This was not just about Ukraine. Every former Soviet state was in danger.

More next week about Putin’s psychopathic history.