Although it is highly unlikely Russian President Vladimir Putin is being honest when he denies his support for pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels, it is always wise to explore alternative explanations, if not just to eliminate them. Clearly, any Russian support has not given Putin control over rebels as he cannot directly command them. Meanwhile, a lack of a cohesive, coherent strategy signals Putin is simply reacting to the ongoing events inside Ukraine, thus the annexation of Crime and Putin’s efforts at diplomacy could well simply be examples of Putin taking advantaging of an opportunity.
Furthermore, what reporting on the inner workings of Putin’s governance style suggests he is living in a bubble, even when considering the Russian view that the West is conspiring against Russia is broadly shared. After all, not much truth can be gleamed out of three-page reports printed in 18-point font. With limited discussion among a narrowing base of officials, who are punished for dissenting against Putin, limited consequences for decisions made, intense professional stress, i.e. his bad assumptions made during the Ukraine Crisis, stress from personal identity crises, i.e. Putin’s divorce, age, and eventual loss of power, Putin can only be expected to rely more and more on his intuition, i.e. his preconceived notions, when making decisions as intellectual reasoning cannot reach those who shut out the voices of the others. This means the personality of Putin has more impact on his decisions than real world consequences.
Putin’s “tough guy” persona dictates that his intuitive response to criticism, humiliation, failure, a lack of control etc, is to “fight back.” In other words, a Putin under pressure is intuitively driven to reject compromise and whatever conclusion he is being forced to accept. Because the Soviet Union’s last leader Gorbachev “surrendered” to the West, which was likely very traumatizing to diehard party members like Putin, Putin finds showing weakness to the West to be particularly averse. It is also important to recognize in the minds of former Soviets that the Westernization of Ukraine makes the Ukraine Crisis analogous to the Cuban Missile Crisis, thus Russian leadership fears the potential that the West will use Ukraine to both neutralize Russia’s nuclear arsenal/traditional military through an anti-ballistic defense system and position nuclear weapons/traditional NATO forces inside Ukraine to subjugate Russia.
Although it may appear Putin is reacting like a paranoid victim of dementia and/or someone being poisoned with hallucinogenic drugs, he may actually be under threat from internal forces. Clearly, Putin has admitted Crimea was invaded by Russian troops while evidence is mounting that demonstrates a growing presence of Russian forces within Ukraine, but that does not mean Putin authorized, or even had plans for, an invasion until after it occurred. More importantly, the reality that Putin appears to accept the idea that Russian soldiers are using their vacations to fight inside Ukraine either means Putin is sanctioning support for the pro-Russian rebels or he has lost control over parts of the Russian military. As such, his deceptive behavior would actually be his way of saving face while trying to balance the elements of his government that want to return Russia to its former glory.
In other words, Putin may not want to admit his incompetence. In such a scenario, increasing Western pressure on Putin is only going to force Putin to further appease rogue elements as his base of support is narrowing and he cannot afford to lose them. Unfortunately, a rebellious Russian military is probably an even worse threat to the Russian People and the Peoples of the world than Russia’s disregard of Ukrainian sovereignty, especially given Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Certainly, this possibility is unlikely, but the world needs to know if the threat exists. At the same time, an international investigation could help force Putin to be, at the very least, more honest, which would help derail his propaganda campaign aimed at vilifying Ukraine and the West as Russia subjugates its neighbor(s) and garners the favor of countries disillusioned by the West. Moreover, Putin is either lying about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine or he has lost control of his government and military.
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