What happened to Vladimir Putin?

MIDDLE ISRAEL: The journey to his Ukrainian fiasco began in Syria, where he became delusional about Russian victory and Western defeat.

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin watches a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square on Victory Day, May 9, marking the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.  (photo credit: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Pool/via Reuters)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin watches a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square on Victory Day, May 9, marking the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
(photo credit: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Pool/via Reuters)

Is Vladimir Putin sick?

The more his Ukrainian bankruptcy matures the more such rumors fly. A video clip of a meeting in which he is seen gripping the table and tapping his foot, made some speculate he has Parkinson’s. Other rumors suggested cancer, depression and narcissistic psychosis.

Well don’t believe these conclusions, none of which has been backed by relevant experts, as German broadcaster Deutsche Welle noted after reviewing the footage with scientists (“Putin and Parkinson’s,” April 28). We must therefore assume that what we face is not a derailed Putin, but the real one.

How, then, did Putin’s career lead to what may well emerge as its last act?

THE LENINGRAD where Putin was born and raised was a devastated metropolis that had recently emerged from a 28-month siege in which a million people died, mostly of starvation.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the executive board of the General Procurator's Office in Moscow, Russia April 25, 2022. (credit: Sputnik/Valery Sharifulin/Pool via REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the executive board of the General Procurator's Office in Moscow, Russia April 25, 2022. (credit: Sputnik/Valery Sharifulin/Pool via REUTERS)

One of the famine’s victims was two-year-old Viktor Putin, who died roughly when mother Maria’s brothers and father were killed and her husband was wounded while fighting, a decade before Vladimir was born.

Vladimir Putin’s apparent conclusion from this baggage has been that war is a natural part of life, a historic recurrence that cannot be avoided, and a political inevitability that can give its victor great rewards.

It was in that setting that Putin learned the term Nazism, which he was educated to understand differently from us in the West.

Yes, the USSR told its people that Nazism was about racism and genocide, but it did not say it was about the same totalitarianism that plagued the Soviet Union itself. Nazism, thus, was molded in Putin’s mind not as a system of thought but as a battle cry with which the masses can be incited to fight, regardless of the enemy’s identity or blame.

Postwar hardship and Communist education were, then, the early elements in Putin’s career that helped its ultimate procession to multiple wars. These childhood experiences were then compounded by early adulthood’s experiences as a KGB officer.

Yes, much of what the system told him those years the young spook would later discard and also offset. Economically, he would become a capitalist and cultivate a class of billionaires; religiously, he would become an openly practicing Christian and nurture the Orthodox Church, and, socially, he would revive the landowners’ class that was a major target, and victim, of the Communist experiment’s violence and zeal.

However, Putin retained two Soviet articles of faith: that Russia’s neighbors must be its satellites, and that the West is Russia’s enemy. For a 37-year-old KGB commander in Communist East Germany, as Putin was when the Berlin Wall collapsed, this thinking was almost genetic. That is why it followed him as he proceeded from espionage to government. It was irremovable.

This, in brief, is how Putin’s childhood and work help explain why, once he became Russia’s leader, he repeatedly turned to war. Even so, the current war is unlike his other wars; not in its political aims, not in military scope and not in its global repercussions. That is why people suspect he must have fallen sick. Well that’s a convenient way to escape discussion about the West’s contribution to Putin’s fatal choice.

THE WEST first provoked Putin and then tempted him.

The provocation happened in Libya, when NATO interfered in its civil upheaval in 2011 in order to unseat Muammar Gaddafi. In itself this was obviously a worthy cause from any Western viewpoint, certainly Israel’s. However, it was done in disregard of Russia, for which Libya was a historical outpost.

Putin’s imperialist instinct, which three years earlier had made him act in Georgia, was now provoked. Following American, British, French and Canadian jets and ships as they bombed what had been a vital Russian outpost, he read the situation in a way that to us seems absurd, but to him seemed the only truth: the West is attacking Russia.

Now, what began with a war in a Russian province (Chechnya), and then proceeded to a war with a former Soviet republic (Georgia), would morph into a conflict with NATO.

Where this attitude eventually led is now clear, if not to Russia’s misinformed masses then to the rest of the world. It led to the battlefields of Ukraine where Putin’s 22-year rule is now set to drown in blood. What motivated Putin – nationalism and patriotism, as he understands them – is also clear. What is less clear is what fueled the confidence with which he embarked on this misadventure. Well what fueled it was his war in Syria.

PUTIN’S JETS arrived in Syria the year after he annexed Crimea. The aim was not only to offset Russia’s loss of Libya by preserving its grip on Syria, but also to test the world’s response to Russia’s long-distance assault.

The test’s results were spectacular. Not only did Russia hand its client Bashar Assad victory, and not only did Putin ignite an American retreat, his jets now helped Assad’s attack on his people, including deliberate bombing of hospitals, schools, markets and refugees on the run – with impunity (“How Russia is using tactics from the Syrian playbook in Ukraine,” The Guardian, March 24, 2022).

The Syrian Civil War may well be recalled as the Ukraine war’s dress rehearsal, the way the Spanish Civil War was the prelude to World War II. Putin’s conclusions from his Syrian expedition were as simple as they were unfounded: Russia’s military was omnipotent, its empire was restorable and it could commit atrocities unopposed, because the free world’s leaders, unlike Russia’s, were a bunch of ignorable wimps. It was Putin’s fateful temptation.

These, in brief, are the elements of Vladimir Putin’s hubris, a tragedy whose underlying question – where was the free world’s outcry when Putin’s victims were not Europeans, but Arabs – is not about him. It’s about us.

www.MiddleIsrael.net

The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.