The emergence of Donald Trump as a viable presidential candidate in the United States has added ideological vigor to the global designs of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Trump’s overt admiration for the Russian head of state, whom he has identified as a real ‘leader,’ famously invited a reciprocal compliment from Putin. Both men have a taste for ostentatiously palatial homes and decor; both exhibit a ‘hard man’ swagger on the political stage. Perhaps worryingly for Ukraine, Trump has described the Ukrainian crisis as ‘Europe’s problem,’ tapping into war-weariness among the US electorate to boost his political fortunes. While American aid to Ukraine thus far has been very limited, it would very likely dry up altogether under a President Trump.
While America can afford to disengage from Europe and other parts of the world without immediate fears for its security, Europe faces a different dilemma. The European Union is experiencing serious challenges to its unity, the greatest being the prospect of the UK leaving the bloc. The UK is the EU’s second largest economy, and the effect of its departure from what was once only a ‘free trade zone’ would presumably be felt continent-wide. It has to be wondered whether such an outcome is not only favored by Putin, but is perhaps deliberate Russian policy.
Russian military incursions into or near British air space and the English Channel have bewildered Westminster, but are apparently directed at constantly testing the unity of the West. Sanctions against Russia are evidently unpopular with the governments of several EU countries, including Italy and France. Thus, the fact that Britain (with the US and Canada) favors continued sanctions until Russia restores Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is a serious obstacle to the Russian goal of getting sanctions lifted. Putin is also apparently testing the unity and integrity of the NATO alliance, most notably with provocations against Turkey.
The question naturally arises: does Putin want war? If sanctions and low oil prices are having a crippling effect on Russia’s economy, is the Russian regime’s involvement in Syria designed to spark an expanded conflict as the only way out of economic crisis? While it is impossible to say for sure, studying the psychology of the Russian leader may offer clues. In her insightful 2012 biography, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, Russian journalist Masha Gessen depicts a man whose childhood was marked by poverty, but whose parents doted on and deferred to their only offspring, treating him as a kind of ‘prince amid squalor.’ He was afforded his own room in the family’s ‘kommunalka’ (communal apartment, shared with other families) in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), and when his parents finally secured a car after a wait of several years, they let ‘Volodya’ use it as if it were his own. He was a small child but eager to prove himself in fights with larger boys, even to the point of viciousness. When he reached adulthood, his superiors in the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB) decided that his temperament was ill-suited for the best overseas postings (those in Western countries), and so he was posted to Dresden, East Germany, until the Soviet Union collapsed. By this time he had only made it to mid-level officer and could not count on a plum position in the post-Soviet security services. So he accepted a post in the notoriously corrupt Saint Petersburg city government, and rose from there. Today, despite Russia’s industrial and economic backwardness, Putin is ‘outward-looking,’ eager to be a major player in the international arena, and reminding the rest of the world that Russia has a nuclear arsenal, as if daring others to confrontation.
In other words, Putin’s biography reveals the image of a man who has always felt – and still feels – he has something to prove. German journalist and author Boris Reitschuster suggests as much in his 2014 book, Putinocracy: A Man of Power and His System. Below is Reitschuster’s encapsulation of Putin’s mindset written for the website FOCUS Online in February of this year.
Vladimir Putin lives in his own world. He is weak, but due to a well-developed paranoia, he is eager to bring the West to its knees.
Vladimir Vladimirovich does not tolerate compromise. He is always right! The leader of the Kremlin begins his day at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, and closer to noon, along with his press secretary Dmitry Peskov, he does his ‘morning rounds,’ explaining the world order and how to achieve it.
Later, the Moscow government makes corrections to recent news reports on the radio and in the press. And over dinner he turns on the TV and enjoys the news: ‘Behold, they’re saying exactly what I predicted. What a clever fellow I am.’
Paranoia is always the cause of a new disease
The native of St. Petersburg believes he will rule the country forever. The successor of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great is rescuing Russia, and all the world’s politicians and experts have simply been conspiring against him. According to Putin, the West is enclosed in its own world, like a turtle in its shell, and it does not see the obvious. In the Russian Federation there was a flu outbreak, which was organized by the US security services, and the virus was transmitted through the Ukrainians.
Well, is this not paranoia? Moreover, one leads to another…
The grooming of a KGB agent
For Putin and his colleagues from the KGB, education was never a top priority. The main thing was to be cautious. They notice enemy conspiracies and organizations everywhere. But in fact, only pro-Putin politicians operate behind strange masks: whether it’s the tragic story of the Boeing MH-17, which the Kremlin government ordered removed over the territory of eastern Ukraine in 2014, revolutions in Kyiv and Georgia, or demonstrations against the rigged elections of 2011 in Moscow.
Even when Putin had unsuccessful plastic surgery, taking Botox too far, the culprit was America.
In 2007 the Americans said that, ‘the Russians still haven’t become a civilized nation. They are in a primitive world, still living in trees.’ Thus, Vladimir’s self-esteem, once again, proved to be under the gun. The Russian president’s inferiority complex had only taken root.
Moscow journalist Michail Sygar in his book, Endgame: The Metamorphosis of Vladimir Putin, warned: ‘Conspiracy theory and anti-Americanism have become the official ideology of the new Russia.’ Even during his election campaign in 2012, Vladimir Vladimirovich showed signs that he longed for war. Citing the words of Mikhail Lermontov, Putin remarked that the soldiers have long dreamed of providing the citizenry with a stable life. ‘The battle for Russia continues. In our veins flows the blood of the victors. We shall overcome,’ said the president of Russia in a trembling voice.
‘The deep essence of weakness’
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin felt humiliated and weak. Perestroika and revolutions led to the collapse of the ‘ideal world.’ Vladimir Vladimirovich calls these events ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.’ In the pro-Putin media, the leader of the Russian Federation can call Gorbachev a traitor and Stalin—a great patriot.
Putin wants to weaken Europe, which is head and shoulders taller than the Russian president. He learned this from childhood. Little Volodya grew up in Saint Petersburg. It so happened that Putin constantly competed with the little boy in the neighborhood. Volodya thought him weak, and thus allowed himself to pour a bunch of insults on his neighbor. But on one wonderful day, the weakling made a change and ‘put Putin on his shoulders.’ That was not what Volodya had expected. Such a turn…
He learned for life: ‘You have to be strong, to be respected, to be able to defend your opinion.’
So he began to lead the country, only he didn’t need assistants who would get in the way. All the laws, democratic institutions, civil society and freedom of speech annoy him. Putin is used to deciding everything alone. Without the barriers of parliament, the courts, the press, the rules.
His mania has possessed the country’s population
Staying at the helm is expensive for Putin. Up to 2020, Putin plans to invest 23 trillion rubles (575 billion euros) in the modernization of 100 ships (including 20 submarines), 600 aircraft and 1,000 helicopters.
Through ‘purchased’ mass media, the Russian president is trying to convince people that this is the way it should work. Moreover, 48% of Russians, according to a survey, think it’s more important to live in a ‘great state’ that is respected and feared than in a prosperous state with a highly developed economy.’
Very few have noticed that Russia is a country which has been plunged into social injustice. 110 oligarchs own 35% of public assets. Many of them are close friends of Putin.
Putin’s difficult childhood
Teachers and friends of Vladimir say that he never stood aside when he saw a fight. He was eager to fight without hesitation. Scratches on the skin, torn clothes and disheveled hair were the calling card of little Volodya.
‘He was a weak but very naughty child, always trying to show his superiority,’ Putin’s teacher recalls.
It looks like nothing from the time has changed. But, unlike the yard lads, Merkel is a more serious opponent.