There are times when it can be an interesting exercise to examine the statements of politicians and try to separate what they actually believe from what they just say in order to get things done. In the case of Vladimir Putin, we had all better hope that it is the latter. If the Russian leadership actually believes in the recent outrageous claims they have made, I fear that we may be dealing with some entrenched delusions of persecution that could only be possible in the nest of spies that is the Kremlin. For those who haven’t been trolling the Russia news all day, Putin has lashed out at the West both on security issues and domestic politics, accusing them and the opposition of a plot.
At a meeting with the Armed Forces Senior Command yesterday, Putin said that “We see that some members of the NATO alliance are building up their military potential close to our borders in violation of previous agreements. At the same time, Russian proposals, for example, the proposal to develop a common missile defence system, which, I especially want to stress, would give all participants an equal part in its command, are left, unfortunately, without response. Of course, we cannot remain indifferent to what is a clear case of muscle-flexing.“[Actually, last April Russia refused the U.S. to collaboratively develop the missile shield. Ivanov told Interfax: “I honestly see no basis for speaking of possible cooperation on a strategic missile shield.“]Then today Putin “slammed” foreign governments for supposedly backing opposition parties in Russia (because obviously there is no chance that any Russians would ever disagree with his party). He warned that “Unfortunately there are still those people in our country who still slink through foreign embassies … who count on the support of foreign funds and governments but not the support of their own people. … They need a weak and feeble state. They need a disorganized and disoriented society, a split society, so that they can carry out their dirty tricks behind its back.” Putin also made an unprecedented indirect reference to the color revolutions, and talked about how the opposition probably traveled to these neighboring republics to learn such “provocations.”Does the Russian leadership actually suffer from delusions of persecution, as indicated by these paranoid claims? I recall one memorable anecdote from Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s book about the visit of Vladimir Putin, before he was made PM, to the dacha of Pyotr Aven along with Igor Malashenko (page 51):
Malashenko’s wife arrived late and seemed flustered by a phone call from their daughter, who was in London returning to her private school and had not been met by the academy’s private car. The girl, Malashenko’s wife reported, did not want to simply take a London taxi and was still waiting.”Our daughter is a strange girl,” she sighed. “I would certainly take a taxi instead of waiting at the airport so long.”Suddenly, Putin interjected, “Listen, your daughter is correct and you are not.”Malashenko’s wife was slightly irritated. “Why do you say that?””You could never be confident it was really a cab,” Putin answered.”But it’s a London cab,” she protested.”You don’t understand,” Putin said. “It doesn’t matter.”To Russia’s chief spy, anything, even a classic black British taxi, seems suspicious. “My wife was stunned,” Malashenko later recalled, “because here was a guy sitting in front of her who really thought her daughter could be kidnapped in London by a London cab. She thought it tells volumes about Mr. Putin and his mentality.”
As it has been stated in many other places, the president’s spook instincts serve Russia very poorly, because when one is convinced of such nefarious conspiracies in face of evidence to the contrary, there is no level of diplomacy nor gestures of trust to bridge the gap in reason.That’s why I don’t actually think that the president really believes either of the above statements – in fact, I would even suppose that he probably telephoned Washington to warn them that he was about to say these things as a populist move to energize the base during the elections season.Authoritarian systems almost always run on fear – and the dedicated creation of an enemy wishing ill upon your people is the most surefire way to convince them that they need not have a say in how the country is run. Now if only Putin could encourage the King of Spain to tell him to shut up, then he would have material to cost on up through Dec. 2.I strongly suspect that this is only the first in a long series of similar comments to come.