Brief Thoughts from Outside the US Foreign and National Security Policy Bureaucracies on Putin and Facilitating an End to the Ukraine War

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Optimistically, some juncture may soon be reached in the Ukraine matter at which Putin might be presented with the circumstance and space to conclude it is time to stop fighting. This may sound unrealistic. It may appear that nothing lies ahead except more death and destruction. The effort must be made to look at Putin and the Ukraine matter from different angles with the hope discovering an approach that will prove to be fruitful. Novel ways at looking at issues, recognizably up to a point, can better enable the astute to grasp what may on the right occasion be a viable line of thinking. Any thoughtful insight could become more relevant and valuable as conceivably in back rooms of Western countries’ foreign and national security policy bureaucracies, where planning and preparation for the contingency of negotiating with Putin over terms for peace in Ukraine may be underway. It is greatcharlie’s hope that the few insights presented here will have the potential to ignite a new line of analyses. Sometimes the smallest key can open the largest door. 

The opportunity to forge the best possible peace between Ukraine and the Russian Federation has long since been passed. That peace could been established before the killing began. However, Kyiv wanted the freedom to decide to join NATO and the EU. It rejected terms that it declare its neutrality. It response was a reasonable, but it could have only led to war with Russia under its current leadership. Much has been lost by both sides already but there remains the opportunity to create the framework for an evolving peace plan that will allow both sides to end hostilities. Optimistically, some juncture may soon be reached in the Ukraine matter at which Putin might be presented with the circumstance and space to conclude it is time to stop fighting. There must be a starting point for Ukrainians to rebuild, rejuvenate their country. This may sound unrealistic. It may appear that nothing lies ahead except more death and destruction. Even so, the effort must be made to look at Putin and the Ukraine matter from different angles with the hope discovering of an approach that will prove to be fruitful. Potiusque sero quam numquam. (It is better to do something late than never.)

Novel ways at looking at issues, recognizably up to a certain point, can better enable the astute to grasp what may on the right occasion be a viable line of thinking. Matters already reviewed and ostensibly settled could potentially be lifted from the region of the commonplace. Thoughtful insights could become more relevant and valuable as conceivably in back rooms of respective Western countries’ foreign and national security policy bureaucracies, where planning and preparation for the contingency of negotiating with Putin over terms for peace in Ukraine may be underway. However, as things are, insights proffered from unapproved sources outside the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies on what Putin “may think” on matter concerning Ukraine, the likely reasons for his choices, and what he sees as the way forward, are more often discounted by practicioners. Such judgments are left to the eye of the beholder. The most available justifications to mark them out are surely concerns quality and disagreement over analyses. Yet, in the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in perhaps every country, such appraisals are not completely objective. Additionally, as much of what Putin thinks is typically chalked up by experts as an expression of an ugly chip on his shoulder, his contempt for the West, spending time and effort diving deeper on the matter would likely be viewed upon as wasteful. 

Still, individuals as Putin with often have unique reasons for their choices, and no matter how unorthodox, disagreeable, or round the bend as they might seem, they must be applied in analyzing their decisionmaking process to have a chance at accurately predicting their moves. Perhaps greatcharlie marks itself as old fashioned but it believes even analyses of “unapproved outsiders” on what Putin thinks should not be looked upon as entirely unilluminating. At a minimum, many should be docketed for consideration later in its proper context. 

Later on, they may bring analysts to an understanding of those matters they had not held before. It is greatcharlie’s hope that the few insights presented here will have the potential to ignite a new line of investigation and analysis. It briefly highlights cause and effect, the interesting associations between things, yet avoids making too many charitable assumptions. Sometimes the smallest key can open the largest door. Non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quærenda sunt. (In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities )

Putin’s problems with the West began long before the Ukraine crisis and subsequent invasion in February 2022. Although the reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine, for a second time in less than a decade, and taken a good portion of its sovereign territory, Putin insists Western capitals are the ones with covetous minds. He often points to what the “insidious” way in which the US and its Western friends in the EU rolled up to Russia’s border with NATO in tow despite earlier understandings reached that they would never do so. Within the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in Western capitals, his singular perspective was likely looked upon casually as one more of Putin’s pretensions. Seeing how the situation stands, with Russian forces controlling Crimea and the Donbas, it would appear that he is grabbing parts of Ukraine to enrich Russia. Except for his two daughters, each woman formidable in her own right, the only real family Putin has in that sense is Russia. Russia is his mother, his father, his home. Perhaps in part for this reason, it should not be so hard to understand why Putin had taken such a maximalist position on Ukraine, the need to invade, the West. and NATO prior to February 24, 2022.

Putin’s Feelings About the West: Brief Meditations

For Russia, the anticipated waltz through Ukraine became a national emergency and some policy analysts and newsmedia commentators began to say the invasion would ultimately be Putin’s last act. The Ukrainians were not supposed have a cat in hell’s chance of “winning” the war.” Yet, if not for lack of just about everything needed high-speed, high-empo, high-intensity maneuver operations except good soldiers and courage, it initially appeared to many after Russia’s Kyiv debacle that Ukrainian forces might have been able to deliver a crippling blow of Napoleonic proportions to their opponent and perhaps forced Moscow to negotiate terms for peace. Putin could not turn back so easily. He certainly cannot afford to lose. Once the situation began to look unsatisfactory for Russia on the ground, one could have gathered from Putin’s statements and actions on Ukraine that he felt he was in a fight for survival for both Russia and himself. He appears to view the fight in Ukraine as a climatic stand, their present-day version of the Malakoff Redoubt, Stalingrad, or the Neva Nickel. 

Luckily for Putin, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces after those relatively disastrous initial weeks of the special military operation. As of this writing, especially in the Donbas, Ukrainian forces have faced retreats, setbacks, and even surrenders as in Mariupol. A land bridge between Crimea and Donbas has been created by Russian forces. It remains to be seen whether Russian forces have truly gained the initiative, and if so  whether they can retain it. From what the international newsmedia mainly reports that with everything taken into consideration, especially military assistance from the US, the war in Ukraine could still end in either side’s favor.

Despite the many challenges encountered as a result of his Ukraine venture, Putin leaves no doubt that he is doing what he feels must done for Russia and he believes he is on the right track. As it was illustrated in greatcharlie’s preceding, May 30, 2022 post entitled, “Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine” concerning war causation, there is an intellectual foundation to his choices. (There would be plenty of disagreement with that idea among those who loathe Putin as much due to bias than to sound argument.) 

Although the reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine, for a second time in less than a decade, and taken a good portion of its sovereign territory, Putin insists Western capitals are the ones with covetous minds. He often points to what the “insidious” way in which the US and its Western friends in the EU rolled up to Russia’s border with NATO in tow despite earlier understandings reached that they would never do so. Within the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in Western capitals, his singular perspective was likely looked upon casually as one more of Putin’s pretensions. Seeing how situation stands, with Russian forces controlling Crimea and the Donbas, it would reasonably appear that he is grabbing parts of Ukraine to enrich Russia. Doubtlessly, that was a planned attendant outcome of each occasion when Russia marched into Ukraine but not Putin’s priority. Except for his two daughters, each woman formidable in her own right, the only real family Putin has in that sense is Russia. Russia is his mother, his father, his home. Perhaps in part for this reason, it should not be so hard to understand why Putin had taken such a maximalist position on Ukraine, the need to invade, the West. and NATO prior to February 24, 2022.

Missteps with Putin

Putin’s problems with the West began long before the Ukraine crisis and subsequent invasion in February 2022. In its January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”, greatcharlie briefly discuss much of what was at the nub of the matter. Portions of that discussion are provided here.

The formal inclusion of the new Russian Federation in the high realms of international politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union was nobly attempted. A seat in the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was inherited from the erstwhile Communist state. As important, Russia began to engage in separate meetings with leaders of the intergovernmental group of the leading economic powers, the G7, in 1994 while Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin was in office. Russia formally joined the group in 1997 at the invitation of US President Bill Clinton and United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair. This noble step was ostensibly taken in the name of international peace and security. Surely, inviting Russia to join the G7 was more than a friendly gesture and a fresh start. Membership would plug Russia into the international order, forestalling any burgeoning sense that if left isolated, control in Moscow might fall fully into the hands of organized crime groups, and so would Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Russia membership would more importantly plug the G7 countries vis-à-versa into Moscow in a structured way, creating an effective, stable line of communication and political and economic influence.

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at what became the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run especially due to his personality then.

At the G8, national leaders would come to the big table committed to having a positive impact in not only economic affairs, but world affairs in general. The existing seven members–the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU–were bound by shared values as open, democratic and outward-looking societies. Russia was not a country completely devoid of desirable things, Russia possessed natural resources, particularly oil and gas which the energy industries of the other powers coveted. Certainly, Russia retained the power to destroy with its nuclear arsenal and the residue of the once powerful Soviet military. However, Russia was hardly developed enough to participate in that way as a member.

As for Putin, he had not as yet grabbed all reins of power firmly in Russia, much as he tightly grips them today. It is not inconceivable that his political qualities were not fully scrutinized by any member state. However, more pertinently, Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, while in his own way appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. For Putin to be satisfied at that time, Russia would need to possess membership on his terms, legitimate terms. Within G8 meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea then that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance and dwell on lashing out in some big way. Perchance at some point Putin might have imagined that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage to lampoon Russia. He would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps in unconscious condescending behavior toward him, that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before. Perhaps such thinking could be said to have some validity given that such was essentially the case in early post-Soviet Russia. Putin had already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. That sensibility seemed to stick regardless of all else good that came his way through the G8. The G8 experience overall may have left a bad taste in his mouth. It is likely other group leaders may not have imagined that would be the outcome.

As a result of Euromaidan, power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced Western influence were taken. Putin responded robustly. The escalation of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, which at time was the sovereign territory of Ukraine and most national capitals say it still is. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8 and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all. Although Russia was suspended from the G8–once again the G7, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the group until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin allowed himself to retain a sense of  control over the situation, choosing when Russia would depart. He exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his at that time. It was an odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire then for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20. The Group of 20, G20, in essence is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets.

Body language can reveal plenty! Putin speaking (top left). Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the US and United Kingdom meeting at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit 17-18 June 2013. Within G8 meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea then that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance and dwell on lashing out in some big way. Perchance at some point Putin might have imagined that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage to lampoon Russia. He would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps in unconscious condescending behavior toward him, that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before.

Intriguingly, Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have had less meaning to him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. The memoirist, popular poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou for Beautifully Said Magazine (2012) stated: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Putin has an excellent memory. Putin believes he was treated badly, and knows he and Russia deserved better. However, at this point, Putin seems less interested in opinions of him in the West or his international audience for that matter. As far as he might be concerned, members of those organizations can have their way. Unlike the past, Putin made certain not leave the West with the ability to derail his plans, or give them the intellectually opening to disturb him. Coercive economic tools at their disposal are illusions of power that Putin would in time disintegrate by shining light on the realities they may have ignored. To that extent, indications are that Putin has instructed his officials not to tolerate any untoward behavior from those in the West with whom they may meet. It would be best for them to just walk away rather than subject themselves to mistreatment and outrageous calumny.

Dangling that which would most content the opposing party in order to compell its good behavior has been a method used to resolve disagreements and conflicts between empires, countries, city-states, and families for seemingly aeons. It can lubricate diplomatic exchanges and create favorable outcomes. It often resulted in sense of mutual tolerance and peace with honor between opposing parties. It all sounds quite transactional, because it is. Western political leaders are well-aware that Putin’s strongest interests lie in the province of developing commerce. As such, that interest could have been used as a lever in a well-considered, calibrated way the gain a handle on the Russian leader. Western powers could lend furtive or mildly acknowledged copious support that would enhance what the Russian President, himself, might recognize as weaknesses in his system in exchange for significant, immediate and long-term cooperation. Again, what would be most important is getting him to go along with whatever plan is developed. (Many might argue that this practice was used without shrewdness, without any real calibration, by the US in the construction of the Joint Comprehensive Plan on Action of 2016 concerning nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.) If lucky enough, the diplomacy of national leaders who would have engaged in such action in the earliest stages of the Ukraine crisis–pre-invasion–would have likely been able to offer a narrative in which they could have been seen as saving the day.

However, instead of any of this, awareness of that commercial interest in Western capitals has led to the targeting of it to cause his hurt, harm, and even pain and resultantly his ire and recalcitrance. (It has also been important for Putin to recognize the West is entitled to its share of ire and recalcitrance, and when a situation is moving favorably, he must also consider his actions with respect to Western reactions. There must be a commitment on all sides, including Russia,to the advancement of negotiations to secure a sustainable agreement. One might get the impression given his record that he has not reflected too much on that in recent times. Then again, perhaps he has.

It is unimaginable that Western political leaders decided to target that commercial interest unaware of its terrible importance personally to Putin, although that possibility cannot be completely dismissed. From what can be gathered, the choice to handle Putin in that way was made a while back. It was most apparent in the US when the US Congress passed the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (the Magnitsky Law) and subsequent Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which struck a nerve with Putin not only for economic reasons, but domestic political reasons as well. The Magnitsky Law,set precedent with regard to the manner in which the West would act to modify Putin’s behavior as well as that of other Russian officials and private citizens. Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt. (Also, omnia mala exempla orta sunt ex bonis initiis.) (Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.)

Putin (above) at work in the Kremlin. Western countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia’s corporate and financial system since it sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022. At this stage of the game, however, Russia hardly seems too deprived by coercive sanctions from the West. One might suggest the West’s moves against Putin and Russia became overplayed and predictable, and thereby anticipated and prepared for, to the greatest extent possible. Reportedly, in preparation for the US response to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin drastically curtailed Russia’s use of dollars, and thereby a degree of leverage the US might have had. Enormous currency reserves were stockpiled, and budgets were streamlined to keep the economy and government services going even under isolation. Putin also reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports.

Western Sanctions in Response to Ukraine’s Invasion

At this stage of the game, however, Russia hardly seems too deprived by coercive sanctions from the West. One might suggest the West’s moves against Putin and Russia became overplayed and predictable, and thereby anticipated and prepared for, to the greatest extent possible. Reportedly, in preparation for the US response to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin drastically curtailed Russia’s use of dollars, and thereby a degree of leverage the US might have had. Enormous currency reserves were stockpiled, and budgets were streamlined to keep the economy and government services going even under isolation. Putin also reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports. It is not greatcharlie’s intention spoil anyone’s appreciation of this essay by offering a regurgitation on the nuance of steps Putin has taken at home to better shield Russia from the harmful effects of Western sanctions. Economics is not greatcharlie’s area of expertise. Suffice it to say that nothing done by the West just before and following February 24, 2022 unsettled Putin.

Indeed, once the whole Ukraine crisis began in earnest, the West metaphorically began wielding an economic bullwhip of sanctions to back him up. Perhaps from the perspective of the West, all that Putin was being asked to do was to behave as a good chap on Ukraine because be knows he should, given the conventions on international law, international peace and security, and multilateral agreements Russia signed with Ukraine as the Budapest Memorandum design to preserve it from military threat. However, it is hard to see how they could ever have expected to get far with that mindset or that tack. When his invasion began in earnest, the West flailed him harder with the whip. However, no matter how hard the West lashed out, Putin would not respond. He would not even put his demands up for Dutch auction. Putin has recently declared Western sanctions have not had much impact on Russia’s economy and have done more to harm global trade and the international economic system. Putin certainly feels confident his measures to sanction-proof Russia worked to a great degree. Speaking on the state of Russia’s domestic economy on April 18, 2022, Putin explained that inflation was stabilizing and that retail demand in the country had normalzed.

In the past, Putin surely in an unintended way, would very likely have lent a helping hand to Western efforts to subdue Russia. He often allowed pride to overshadow good sense and discretion, and that often led to miscalculation and errors. It was a gross miscalculation to lash out at the US by interfering with the 2016 Presidential Elections. It is an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. Going after Kyiv, to knock out the Western oriented and Western supported government, early in the special military operation was an enormous mistake. Troops that would have been invaluable to the more militarily sensible operations of Russian forces in the Eastern and Southern Ukraine were needlessly lost with no gain. The whole world could see Putin had dropped a clanger. 

It is unlikely that Putin will make many more grand mistakes during the Ukraine campaign. Even if a real opportunity is set before Putin–the tiger and the tethered goat by the waterside scenario, he will very likely pass it up. Wrestling with this issue in a preceding post, greatcharlie supposed that at this point, a course has been set, calibrated by Russia’s best military, intelligence, diplomatic, and political minds, with all available and in-coming resources taken into consideration. There is probably little to no room for any sizable deviation from that path. Still, with all that being considered, almost anything is possible when it comes to Putin. All of this withstanding, there must be an answer, a way to initiate fruitful diplomacy even at this stage. One could get the impression given the record that finding a way to work with Putin, by creating some balance with which all would be reasonably satisfied, is just not a cross any Western capital would be unwilling to bear. Non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quærenda sunt. (In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities.)

Putin (right) gestures during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron (left) in Moscow on February 7, 2022. At the foundation of thinking concerning an international order and international organizations created since the end of World War II is idea that members will be answerable to the group of countries they signed up to deliberate and act collectively with. The fact is Putin does not feel answerable to anyone in the world despite Russia’s multiple membership in international organizations as the UN, where it is Permanent 5 Members of the Security Council, and G20. The easy, less than thoughtful answer might be to eject Russia from the G20 or at least keep him teed up on the idea he will be removed. However, that would more than likely make matters worse. Rather than gain a further grip on Moscow’s behavior, parties insistent on doing such would only travel further along into unknown with Putin.

Likely Impact Recent Contacts with Western Leaders Have Had upon Putin

At the foundation of thinking concerning an international order and international organizations created since the end of World War II is idea that members will be answerable to the group of countries they signed up to deliberate and act collectively with. The fact is Putin does not feel answerable to anyone in the world, despite Russia’s multiple membership in international organizations as the UN, where it is Permanent 5 Members of the Security Council, and G20. The easy, less than thoughtful answer might be to eject Russia from the G20 or at least keep him teed up on the idea he will be removed. However, that would more than likely make matters worse. Rather than gain a further grip on Moscow’s behavior, parties insistent on doing such would only travel further along into unknown with Putin.

In a May 31, 2022 New York Times guest essay entitled “President Biden: What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine”, US President Joe Biden reminded that  President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said, ultimately this war “will only definitively end through diplomacy.” Conceivably, some may believe that with some tacit approval from all allied capitals, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have spoken with Putin, most recently on May 28, 2022, to reach some confidential arrangement for more fulsome peace talks or establish the basis for a proposa concerning a ceasefirel to present to him during their next contact. Impossible n’est pas français. They would also have likely sought to chinwag with Putin with the hope of finding and exploiting a sociability that lives in Putin that is surely part of human nature. That is what the noble Roman pagan, Tulius Cicero expressed in his discussion of the idea of commonwealth in De Republica (51 BC) with the words: naturalis quaedam hominim quasi congregation. European leaders have gone as far as to aggregate their efforts with Putin not only as a sign of unity but likely also with hope that acting together they might find the right convention, the right phrases to trigger him to respond favorably to an entreaty to talk.

Searching for some advantage by reflex, Putin might assess that the Western leaders, by acting in pairs or groups, even in their visits to Kyiv, are most concerned that if either their counterparts were to travel or make phone contact alone, they would act out of self-interest, placing the needs of their respective countries uppermost. One leader might not trust another to come toward Moscow empty handed. Some special deal particularly concerning energy resources might be sought. On the other end of their possible mutual suspicions, given what transpired with the February 10, 2022 meeting between United Kingdom Foreign Minister Liz Truss and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, there may be a lingering fear that one might pick a fight with Putin, and all would in the end need to contend with the ramifications of that. (One might suppose Truss’ tack was likely agreed upon with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and foreign and national security counselors before she left for Moscow. The decision may have been to “pull out all of the stops.” Causa latet: vis est notissima. (The cause is hidden, but the result is known.)

To enlarge on that point, Truss’ heated, emotional outburst before the long-experienced Russian Foreign Minister, could be judged as being particularly inept given the need to develop some influence upon Moscow’s line of thinking during the tinderbox circumstances of the time. By her behavior, she merely advertised the limits she had. Indeed, she likely signalled to Moscow that London did not have any remarkable solutions, no good proposals to offer. She seemed to be revealing an angst that Moscow likely presumed to be prevalent among the United Kingdom’s foreign and national security policy decisionmaking officials. She appeared to express a sense of being trapped as lion in cage by the Ukraine situation. Truss’ behavior may have also indicated to Putin that there may be serious problems besetting Johnson’s Conservative Party as a whole, with cabinet members and Tory Members of Parliament feeling uncertain about their respective political futures. For the external audience, Truss may have amused some, but ultimately she did not enlighten or inspire and dismally failed move events forward in a positive way. No foreign official from any country should ever seek to do any of that in Moscow under any circumstance. Vacuum vas altius pleno vaso resonat. (An empty pot makes a deeper noise than a pot that is full.)

Putin doubtlessly feels that Western countries, other than the US, pose little real threat to Russia despite any noise they might make about the prowess of their respective armed forces. (It must be noted that the United Kingdom possesses an estimated 225 strategic warheads, of which an estimated 120 are deployed and 105 are in storage. Added to that deterrent is a total of four Vanguard-class Trident nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which together form its exclusively sea-based nuclear deterrent. As of January 2019, France was said to possess approximately 300 nuclear warheads, most of which are designed for delivery by submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with the remainder affixed to air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) carried by strategic bombers.) To that extent,, Putin may believe there are many among certain foreign and national security policy circles in Western countries with a desire to emote more than do anything else such as find real answers to get Putin off Ukraine’s back and over to the negotiating table resolve matters.

United Kingdom Foreign Minister Liz Truss (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) at their press conference in Moscow on February 10, 2022 moments before Ivanov walked out. Searching for some advantage by reflex, Putin might assess that the Western leaders, by acting in pairs or groups, even in their visits to Kyiv, are most concerned that if either their counterparts were to travel or make phone contact alone, they would act out of self-interest, placing the needs of their respective countries uppermost. One leader might not trust another to come toward Moscow empty handed. Some special deal particularly concerning energy resources might be sought. Additionally, given the torrid exchange that occurred between Truss and Lavrov during their February 10, 2022 meeting, there may be a lingering fear that one leader might pick a fight with Putin for whatever reason, and all would need to contend with the ramifications of that.

At the same time they tried come to some point of understanding with Putin, Western leaders also have publicly mocked him during multilateral gatherings. During the June 2022 G7 Summit in Schloss-Elmau, Germany they did so publicly on June 26th with regard to shirtless photos taken of Putin while horseback riding. One might not expect Western leaders to speak idly concerning Putin when matters concerning him are now so grave. That intriguing juxtaposition of the ideas of arming Putin’s opponents and mocking him yet contacting him hoping to stoke some goodwill and desire for peace is surely not lost upon Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin. Equally intriguing to Putin was the insistence of Western leaders that they committed to resolving the Ukraine conflict with diplomacy, while also arming the Ukrainians to the extent national budgets and the largess of their citizens–their electorates–will allow or tolerate

Putin might believe many of the national leaders with whom he has been dealing so far, will unlikely keep their jobs given what is likely perceived to be the constantly shifting direction of political winds and the fickle nature of the electorate of Western countries. Remaining the flavor de jure amongst fellow parliamentarians and the electorate is becoming more and more difficult for Western leaders to do. Putin may believe that as time marches on, those remaining in office will surely have greater, more pressing domestic issues to be seen working hard on. Conditions on the ground and terms for a diplomatic solution in which Moscow would have confidence at the negotiating table will be determined by Russia alone. Presumably for now, that is how Moscow most likely views the situation. Through Putin’s lens, the actions of Western leaders, in coming to him, might be best described, in the form of a metaphor, in the chorus of Charles Aznavour’s 1962 pop music hit, Les Comédiens”,: Viens voir les comédiens / Voir les musiciens / Voir les magiciens / Qui arrivent. (Come and see the actors, / See the musicians, / See the magicians, / Who are arriving.)

Nam neque quies gentium sine armis, neque arma sine stipendiis, neque stipendia sine tributis haberi queunt (For the quiet of nations cannot be maintained without arms, nor can arms be maintained without pay, nor pay without taxation.) Whether, the Europeans might be willing to stay the course on Ukraine, Putin might say it remains to be seen. As things begin to settle from the original smash of the war’s opening, the state of the global economy will become clearer, and the Europeans, among many other political factors, may not have the desire to remain so giving if they fail to see any progress by the Ukrainian allies on the ground as they had initially. Supporting Ukraine is one thing. Subordinating ones own country’s superior interests for those of Ukraine is another. On this point, perhaps Putin’s thoughts might be best metaphorically addressed by the final verse to the aforementioned Les Comédiens” sung by Aznavour.  He sings: Les comédiens ont démonté leurs tréteaux / Ils ont ôté leur estrade / Et plié les calicots / Ils laisseront au fond du cœur de chacun / Un peu de la sérénade / Et du bonheur d’Arlequin / Demain matin quand le soleil va se lever / Ils seront loin, et nous croirons avoir rêvé / Mais pour l’instant ils traversent dans la nuit / D’autres villages endormis, les comédiens. (The actors disassembled their boards. / They removed their rostrum / And folded the calicos. / They have left in the bottom of the hearts / A little bit of serenade / And harlequin happiness. / Tomorrow morning, when the sun rises / They will be far away, and we will think it was all a dream. / But for now, the actors are travelling through the night / Across other sleepy villages.)

As for the US specifically, Putin conceivably began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move against Ukraine. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. The nature of his interactions was discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s February 4, 2022 post entitled, “Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine”.

However, what Putin is hearing now from Washington, though far from unnerving him, has unlikely provided him with any comfort. In the same aforementioned May 31, 2022 New York Times commentary, Biden explained that the US does not seek a war between NATO and Russia, will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow. will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending US troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces, so long as the US or its allies are not attacked, He added: “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.” He also stated: “The United States will continue to work to strengthen Ukraine and support its efforts to achieve a negotiated end to the conflict.” Having rallied to Ukraine’s side with unprecedented military, humanitarian and financial support, Biden explained: “We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression. Biden further explained: “Every negotiation reflects the facts on the ground. We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.”

As it would be as true for Russian forces, it would be true for Ukrainian forces that well-planned offensive action by them will determine whether a favorable position for Ukraine can be established. The military principle of offense prescribes that maintaining the initiative is the most effective and decisive way to dominate the battlefield. On the offensive, there must be an emphasis on the commander’s skilled combination of the elements of maneuver, firepower, protection, and intelligent leadership in a sound operational plan. The initiative must be retained. Moving forward, firepower, the allies’ greatest strength, must be used to its maximum advantage. Firepower can serve maneuver by creating openings in enemy defenses, but also destroy an enemy’s vital cohesion, his ability to fight, and effectively act. Indeed, one of the most important targets is the enemy’s mind. The allies should engage in actions that will sway moves by Russian forces to enhance the opportunities to destroy them.

To that extent, Biden stated: “That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine. Further explaining plans for assisting Ukraine militarily, Biden said: “We will continue cooperating with our allies and partners on Russian sanctions, the toughest ever imposed on a major economy. We will continue providing Ukraine with advanced weaponry, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger antiaircraft missiles, powerful artillery and precision rocket systems, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi-17 helicopters and ammunition. 

Deep strike assets could be provided to Ukraine in order to allow its ground forces to rapidly put direct and indirect fires on Russian armor and mechanized forces inside Russia at their lines of departure, assembly areas, and follow-on units in marshaling yards, and even transport hubs as soon as Russian forces cross the border. They could target equipment and facilities. However, Putin’s commanders have some say on their impact on the battlefield. If Russian forces could begin to move faster to capture territory and bring into Ukraine  systems to defeat any new weapons the US might provide. At Talavera during the Peninsular War (1809) of the Napoleonic Wars, Chestnut Troop Royal Horse Artillery attached to Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Brigade, which also included the elements of the 43rd Light Infantry, the 52nd Light Infantry and the 95th Rifles. The brigade remarkably traveled 40 miles in 26 hours, crossing mountain and river, to join the camp of then Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). Despite their outstanding feat of discipline and endurance, the guns of Chestnut Troop were unable to reach Talavera for the battle. However, even though they had just arrived, the entire Light Brigade had to march for another fifteen hours to secure the Almaraz Bridge, before French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces could take it, thereby keeping open communications with Lisbon. US assistance in the form of firepower will certainly improve Ukrainian forces still on the defensive, help them hold on to territory tenaciously, but there is no guarantee such assistance will arrive in time in sufficient quantities to be decisive in ejecting Russian forces from Ukraine.

With regard to Biden’s statements on military assistance overall, the indications and implications of that to Putin would doubtlessly be that the US seeks to establish Ukraine and as well-armed military power on Russia’s borders. For Putin that will never be acceptable. He will work with an untrimmed fervor to prevent that even if it means the unthinkable, the use of nuclear weapons. That is a hard saying.

Putin (right) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) in Paris on December 9, 2019. Putin and Zelensky had contact on only one occasion in Paris during a multilateral meeting on December 9, 2019 with French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The four leaders discussed what was at that time a six year fight in the Donbas between the Ukrainian government and ethnic-Russian separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts directly supported by Russia. One might wonder if there was anything so singular about their encounter then that may have led Putin to believe Ukraine could be his for the taking militarily.

What Putin Might Have To Say on the “Zelensky Factor”

As the story goes, Samuel Bernstein, the father of Leonard Bernstein who was among the most important conductors of his time. He was also the first conductor from the US to receive international acclaim. Samuel Bernstein actively discouraged his son from pursuing music. He wanted his son to inherit the hair and beauty supply business he had created. However, Leonard Bernstein became a professional musician. A few months following his famous Carnegie Hall last-minute debut on November 14, 1943, which made him famous overnight, a journalist asked Samuel Bernstein if it was true that he had refused to pay for his son’s piano lessons. Sam famously replied: “Well, how was I supposed to know he’d turn out to be Leonard Bernstein?” No one knew Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would turn out to be Volodymyr Zelensky when the comedian and actor took office in May 2019. One might suggest that as an experienced stage artist, performing under pressure in center stage, reaching his audience, capturing their attention, is his metier. Nonetheless, he is burning more refulgently than any could have expected, and to a degree,, displaying the qualities often ascribed to great leaders. Aux innocents les mains pleines.

Indeed, likely due to the conviviality he displayed prior to the Russian invasion, Western officials were apparently caught surprised by the fact that Zelensky would be such a lion of a man, stalwart of the Ukrainian cause, and a force to be reckoned with during the actual invasion. To say the least, Western government officials and news media commentators alike would viewed Zelensky as having galvanized the Ukrainian people to resist Russia’s effort to swallow up their country. Zelensky also impressed with his entreaties to the world to come to the aid of his fellow countrymen in the best ways that they could. One might safely assume that his efforts influenced how countries with the wherewithal to respond to the Ukraine in its time of need, worked with him, and rapidly developed and implemented plans to provide considerable support for his country. Indeed, such positive perceptions of Zelensky, his impact, that brought aid groups, humanitarian volunteers, foreign fighters, helpful weapons, and financial support to Ukraine. Although Zelensky, spelled a variety of ways in the international newsmedia, is his name, it is one that to people around the world now know singularly refers to the resilient leader of Ukraine. To that extent, it has become a mononym similar to but not as familiar as Beyoncé or Adele

What Putin thinks of Zelensky is important just for the fact that it surely has some part in the development of his aims and objectives. Surely,at least in part that opinion shaped his concept and intent for the Ukraine campaign. Certainly understanding how Putin feels about Zelensky would determine how a negotiated peace would reached. Rather than have the two presidents talk one-on-one, as with their previous meeting in 2019, a multiparty approach, with presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors, could be utilized. Stepping out on shaky ground, greatcharlie hypothesizes on how Putin may view Zelensky and what has been dubbed the Zelensky factor. The thoughts of Putin suggested here are constructed in the abstract. There is no acid test for what is theorized. One can only wait to hear what Putin says and see how Putin acts. At the same time, each suggestion should prove to be more than something akin to the top five ideas of a brainstorming session. Each has the quality of being most likely. 

None of what is presented should be taken too much to heart by the Ukrainian government and its supporters. Lest we forget an apposite quote, used by greatcharlie previously, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay, “The Crack-Up”, published in the ”February 1936 edition of Esquire magazine: “Before I go on with this short history let me make a general observation—the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.”

Putin and Zelensky are oil and water as leaders of adversarial countries at war, but also oil and water intrinsically as people. Given what is understood about Putin’s thinking, his assessment of this novice adversary would hardly charitable. The world heard a bit of that view in Putin’s February 24, 2022 address on the special military operation when he stated the following: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers. Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people. I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders.” 

It  could not be said that Putin has a penchant for the abstruse. There were many lurid suggestions about Zelensky, with emphasis on his life-style, circulating long before the invasion that likely undecertainlyrlied Putin’s somewhat Delphic remarks with regard to how “the junta” was “humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin may be many things but he is not an anti-Semite. However, at the risk of casting aspersions upon Putin with regard his possible attempt to exploit intolerance toward the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine, it may be fitting to note that upon taking office,  Zelenskiy promoted a tolerant culture, saying he stands for all people’s equality and freedom. A month after taking office, LGBTQ÷ Community in Ukraine celebrated “Pride Month” on Sunday, June 23, 2022 with a march in Kyiv. That celebration was unlikely widely approved of in Ukraine. According to a survey published six month beforehand by the independent think-tank Democratic Initiatives in which 1,998 people were interviewed, almost 47 percent of Ukrainians think that rights of sexual minorities should be limited while 37.5 percent are against restrictions, and 15.6 percent do not have an opinion. Perhaps Putin had information, maybe simply FSB 5th department pokery-jiggery, that attitudes had not softened or Ukrainians actually had become more intolerant over the last three years.

Interestingly, it was reported first in the Western newsmedia and later in more detail in Russia that much of what Putin was told about Zelensky and the government in Kyiv was the product of fabrications and falsehoods from some the Russian intelligence services, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, and Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. When asked to provide assessments on the situation there, it would appear some in those services sought to simply placate Putin, responding to his sentiments on Ukraine. In the reports of the FSB foreign intelligence department, the organization’s 5th department, there were allegedly many unproven torrid statements on the nature of Ukrainian society made concerning the destructive impact of the West on the culture, morality, spiritually, self-image of the people, ultranationalists, and the leadership in Kyiv, and the Ukrainian people’s willingness to stand fast against an invasion. Conceivably, the information provided in those reports on Zelensky was so satisfying to Putin that it managed to stick with him. 

Putin and Zelensky had contact on only one occasion on December 9, 2019 in Paris during a multilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The four leaders discussed what was at that time a six year fight in the Donbas between the Ukrainian government and ethnic-Russian separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts directly supported by Russia. One might wonder if there was anything so singular about their encounter then that may have led Putin to believe Ukraine could his for the taking militarily.

Zelensky (on screen) addresses the UN Security Council by video on April 5, 2022. Zelensky has become a bona fide superstar in the West, and as such, the main hope of his Western managers would likely be that his words grip audiences of the powerful and star-studded personalities in their respective societies. After gaining their support for the actions of their respective governments to assist Ukraine, those government would have an easier time convincing ordinary citizens their actions on the matter were all very necessary regardless of expense. Zelensky has moved from one high place to another, the US Congress, the United Kingdom Parliament, the French Parliament, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the Bundestag along with other European national legislatures. He addressed the NATO Summit, the G7 Summit, the UN Security Council and even venues such as the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

Putin Likely Looked Upon Zelensky’s Recent Effort To Determine What Aid Ukraine Would Recieve with Some Fascination

From Putin’s lens, Zelensky has been allowed the chance by Western powers to be seated, at least temporarily, at their high tables to gain an even firmer handle on Zelensky’s fealty. Putin might say that Zelensky succumbed quickly to trappings of it all much as he would have expected of him. Putin knows the drill all too well as once the effort was made by the West to draw him into such a cabaret. As aforementioned, he was once the dernier cri and darling of Western powers. He at one time was entertained in similar ways as Zelensky by the West. That effort was ultimately unsuccessful.

Zelensky has become a bona fide superstar in the West, and as such, the main hope of his Western managers would likely be that his words grip audiences of the powerful and star-studded personalities in their respective societies. After gaining their support for the actions of their respective governments to assist Ukraine, those government would have an easier time convincing ordinary citizens their actions on the matter were all very necessary regardless of expense. Zelensky has moved from one high place to another, the US Congress, the United Kingdom Parliament, the French Parliament, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the Bundestag along with other European national legislatures. He addressed the NATO Summit, the G7 Summit, the UN Security Council and even venues such as the 75th Cannes Film Festival. 

Doubtlessly from Putin’s lens, Zelensky behaved as if he had become a new member of the club of Western leaders, and was enjoying every minute of it. Of course, that is exactly how Western capitals want Zelensky to feel. Intriguingly from the start, Ukrainian political leaders oddly expressed an impression that something akin to what young people call a “ride or die” relationship exists between the West and their country. Yet, Putin would likely insist they have erred as the inexperienced would. He would surely suggest that enthusiasm over Zelensky’s popular appeal, interest in Ukraine’s fate, should not be mistaken for some newly established brotherhood between Ukraine and the West, especially now that Russia has made its interests and intentions absolutely clear. If the Russian forces can shape things in their favor, Putin likely believes that will take the shine off Zelensky and Kyiv significantly. Western support of Ukraine continue in considerable measure, but Zelensky, himself, might become quite passé; so Putin would surely predict and hope.

Putin might posit, cynically, that after Zelensky spoke to all of those grand audiences, more support was gained for the Ukrainian cause than might have been achieved without it all. Putin would insist that the West was the true engine behind everything the West had accomplished. He would perhaps say that Zelensky’s heightened image was an aspect of a Western directed, US led, political warfare campaign regarding Ukraine. A Russian intelligence doyen, Putin knows the routine. He doubtlessly could explain forensically exactly how that image by reviewing piles of newsworthy fabrications. some have been exclusives. Moscow has produced its fair share during the war. All in all, Putin would need to accept that if such a political warfare campaign, as he might allege, is being waged by the West, it has been very successful.

Putin could not have missed the fact that Zelensky, more than being just pleased, appeared a bit too confident and too comfortable interacting with Western capitals. There was something to that. When Western leaders deigned to ask him what Ukraine needed–they surely had their own assessments prepared by their respective military, intelligence, diplomatic, and international aid bureaucracies, Zelensky perhaps misconstrued respect and approbation for submissiveness. Recognizably not just to Putin but presumably to all involved at a certain point, Zelensky began behave somewhat spoiled. Most apparently, Zelensky moved a few octaves off the mark and began very publicly offering his “informed” suggestions on what the Western powers should be doing for him then making demands for a line of action to Washington. As part of an effort by officials in Kyiv to be as creative as possible when the war was in its initial stage, two novel ideas were birthed of establishing a no fly zone and obtaining Soviet era MiG-29 fighters from Poland for use by pilots trained to fly them. It is a relatively forgotten issue, but nonetheless very pertinent. The jets would not be excess articles, therefore, to restock the Polish arsenal, the US would provide F-16 fighters. Poland has suggested the re-training of Ukrainian pilots and absorption in their forces would be arranged in Germany. Zelensky’s behavior brings to mind the “Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire Amoureux” (“The Cantankerous Lover”) (1666), known popularly as The Misanthrope, one of his best-known dramas of 17th century French actor and master of comedy in Western literature, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière. In Act 1 Scene 1, Alceste a disgruntled older aristocrat speaking to his friend Philinte on authenticity, courtesies, and the good of adhering social norms, states: “Non, vous dis-je, on devrait châtier, sans pitié, / Ce commerce honteux de semblants d’amitié. / Je veux que l’on soit homme, et qu’en toute rencontre / Le fond de notre cœur dans nos discours se montre, / Que ce soit lui qui parle, et que nos sentiments / Ne se masquent jamais sous de vains compliments.” (No, I tell you. We ought mercilessly to punish that shameful interchange of hollow facilities. I like a man to be a man, and on all occasions to show depth.of his heart in his words. Let him speak openly and not hide his feelings beneath vain compliments.)

There are certain expectations in interactions, exchanges between countries. Convention requires a certain etiquette. courtesy, expression of respect when asserting ones opinions and beliefs and concerns and priorities. Whatever is discussed must be communicated with the aim of preserving and if possible enhancing the relationship. Zelensky has had learn about such by crash course. He did not have any experience equivalent to working alongside Western capitals at such a level, could hardly had little idea of what was appropriate or what things looked like from their lens or their intentions. Admittedly in the role of apologist in this case, greatcharlie suggests the former comedian and actor, being a novice in politics and on the world stage, had not been up in such rarified air long enough to understand a few important things. His advisers were unlikely much help in that regard. Zelensky could only respond as he knew how. He likely saw nothing but green lights everywhere. 

A tactless approach of a national leader, even of a novice, warrants reproach and rebuff. For Zelensky to believe that he was in any position to determine how other national governments should spend taxpayer dollars, pounds, and euros on Ukraine was daylight madness. Washington doubtlessly recognized that Zelensky has been given attention and has been both supported and admired. However, he should not have felt, as a result of thm respect and courtesies shown to him, entitled to dictate anything to Western governments. Surely, one might say the exigent circumstances that had beset his country made him desperate, even aggressive in his effort to garner as much assistance as possible from those he believed could help. Being 44-years-old at the time, Zelensky was still relatively young. Perhaps he had something to prove to himself or to the Ukrainian people. Interestingly enough, in Molière’s Misanthrope, in the same aforementioned act and scene, Philippe responded to Alceste’s remark by stating: “Il est bien des endroits où la pleine franchise / Deviendrait ridicule et serait peu permise; / Et parfois, n’en déplaise à votre austère honneur, / Il est bon de cacher ce qu’on a dans le cœur. / Serait-il à propos, et de la bienséance / De dire à mille gens tout ce que d’eux on pense? / Ét quand on a quelqu’un qu’on hait on qui déplait, / Lui doit-on déclarer la chose comme elle est?” (There are many circumstances in which plain speaking would become ridiculous, and could hardly be tolerated. And, with all due deference to your austere sense of honour, it is well sometimes to conceal our feelings. Would it be right or becoming to tell thousands of people what we think of them? And when there is somebody whom we hate or who displeased us, must we tell him openly that this is so?)

A couple of Polish Air Force Russian made MiG 29 fighter jets fly above and below two Polish Air Force US made F-16 fighter jets during the Air Show in Radom, Poland, on August 27, 2011 (above). As part of an effort by officials in Kyiv to be as creative as possible when the war was in its initial stage, two novel ideas were birthed of establishing a no fly zone and obtaining Soviet era MiG-29 fighters from Poland for use by pilots trained to fly them. It is a relatively forgotten issue, but nonetheless very pertinent. The jets would not be excess articles so to restock the Polish inventory, the US would provide F-16 fighters. Poland has suggested the re- training of Ukrainian pilots and absorption in their forces would be arranged in Germany. Surely, one might say the exigent circumstances that had beset his country made him desperate, even aggressive in his effort to garner as much assistance as possible from those he believed could help. Zelensky’s comments were not viewed as helpful in Washington.

Perhaps Putin considered Zelensky’s choice to approach the rich and powerful West in such a demanding way was impelled by something bubbling up from his subconscious. He likely Zelensky being what he always has been, a humorist, who by reflex, was making satire of the West and its wherewithal. Putin has a keen eye and taste for dry humor and crni humor. Zelensky may very well have given Putin cause to chuckle in the midst of all the bad that was happening on the ground in Ukraine for Russian forces. Putin probably imagined it all would eventually come to a head sooner than later.

Moreover, Putin perhaps viewed Zelensky’s behavior as being useful, distracting Western capitals, creating the primary narrative concerning Western support for Ukraine while he worked on getting Russian forces away from the horrid meat grinders in Kyiv and Kharkiv in redirected his forces in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Putin would likely go as far as to call Zelensky a convenient nuisance. As far as Putin was likely concerned, any attention and time placed on Zelensky’s behavior was time not spent increasing the strains they were trying to place on Russia. Zelensky, just as Putin, was willing to exploit any advantage he could find at that point. One aspect which is quite noticeable is that Zelensky seems to comfortably expect something for nothing as if it were the norm in this world. (Perchance Zelensky feels his country self-defense against Russia is the something in return for Western munificence.)

Washington surely was not amused at all by Zelensky’s no fly zone idea or his jet swap plan. Clearly, taking Zelensky’s proposed ideas would mean would only result in exchanging one bad situation for a worse one. Options such as Zelensky’s proposed no-fly zone and Polish MiG-29 transfer, supported by Warsaw, looked real, but they were nothing more than illusions. All illusions disintegrate when confronted by the light of reality. The possibility that US Air Force fighter jets might clash with Russia Federation fighters or bombers and invariably shoot down several of them put the whole matter out of court. Zelensky had to know the Biden administration has been emphatic about avoiding any violent exchanges between the US and Russia that could ignite a full-blown shooting war. It was unclear how the jets would enhance the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainians already had MiG-29 fighters and others in its possession that were not being effectively utilized. It was unclear what would be the survivability of the MiG-29 over Russian controlled airspace and whether Ukrainian pilots would be able to contend with the Russians. Further any financial resources needed to bring such a plan into reality had already been earmarked for weapon systems that US military experts had determined would better suit Ukraine’s needs. Zelensky is receiving intelligence from the US and other Western powers. That intelligence has had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. It has lent confidence to decisionmaking in Kyiv. Still, Zelensky would never have all the facts, the big picture, to the extent western capitals do.

As experience, acumen, and the interests of the US dictated, Washington apparently moved fast to reign him in a bit via conversations with their respective countries senior officials and certain legislators. On April 24, 2022, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Zelensky in Kyiv. The trip by Blinken and Austin and Blinken was the highest-level US visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia invaded. In the meeting, Zelensky may have complained about feeling supervised as a president of a sovereign country. In response to such a likely perception and complaint, Austin and Blinken would surely make the greater point that the plans of the US must not be interfered with. Surely, they spoke without savaging him. An indication that Austin and Blinken likely set Zelensky straight was the fact that Zelensky did not engage in similar behavior concerning US assistance afterward. One can only imagine what might have come next from Zelensky if such a likely agreeable exchange might not have taken place.

The mood of Zelensky and his advisers during the visit by Austin and Blinken was doubtlessly uplifted when they were informed that the US would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition. Despite the stresses that may have placed on Ukraine’s relationships in the West, he was fortunate none his benefactors handed him his hat, or turned to very blatantly using military assistance and training as a locus of control. Likely given their heavy focus on Putin they did not give up on the partnership, if they ever would have–which was presumably a card Zelensky felt he held. The true focus of the West was Putin and gaining a firm handle on him and his behavior. Zelensky was, and still is, a means to that end.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (center), April 24, 2022, in Kyiv. The juxtaposition between Zelensky’s “Sunny Jim” visage and the smiling faces of Austin and Blinken is stark and seemingly speaks volumes about the nature of the interaction and his attitude toward meeting his very important guests. Washington surely was not amused at all by Zelensky’s no fly zone idea or his jet swap plan. Clearly, taking Zelensky’s proposed ideas would only result in exchanging one bad situation for a worse one. The possibility that US Air Force fighter jets might clash with Russia Federation fighters or bombers and invariably shoot down several of them put the whole matter out of court. Zelensky had to know the Biden administration has been emphatic about avoiding any violent exchanges between the US and Russia that could ignite a full-blown shooting war. It was unclear how the jets would enhance the defensive or offensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Putin’s Likely View of Zelensky’s “Popular Appeal” in Ukraine

While Western analysts, officials, and news media commentators express the view that Zelensky has rallied his people despite what Ukainians themselves at best might say, it has worked out okay for Ukraine, Putin might argue that he has not actually gained their admiration. Putin’s statement about Zelensky’s government in his February 24, 2022 address on the special military operation was aforementioned. Still, Putin would need to admit that many Ukrainians appreciate the tireless efforts of Zelensky in the face of what is an existential crisis for their country. He can still distinguish between fact and the fanciful. Yet, with all intention to slight the Ukrainian President, Putin would likely state, and imaginably with some asperity, that the people of Ukraine more so view themselves as masters of their own will, independent and girded by their own sense of patriotism, of course inculcated from preceding decades as a society nurtured under the Soviet system. That sense of patriotism was transferred when they were presented, in Putin’s view errantly, with idea that they were living sovereign country, that  Ukraine was a real country. Further, the essence of their will and the spirit behind their sense to remain and defend what they were told was their country does not reside in one man. Such ideas about Ukraine being a country were repeatedly outlined by Putin well-before the February 24, 2022 address. C’est une idée bizarre, un peu folle.

Putin would possibly note somewhat accurately on this occasion tha in contemporary times, it is more difficult through news media reporting to distinguish popular leadership from celebrity and novel amusement. While Zelensky continues to say the right things–there creative suggestions–and is trying to do the right things for the Ukrainian people, the Russian Federation likely feels only time will tell whether he will take a place among the pantheon of great national leaders. Putin is aware that many men and women similar to Zelensky have fallen short and have already been forgotten.

Breaking Zelensky Down

From what is known publicly, it would not be accurate or appropriate to suggest Zelensky in any way at all has come round the twist. Nevertheless, Putin may be wondering what will be the breaking point for Zelensky. He has likely calculated from observing and intelligence reports ordered prepared by the SVR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, how much can the former actor stand and how long can he do his job before succumbing to chronic stress, the pressures and loneliness of leadership, how long he can he live with all that has transpired and the horrors he has witnessed, and how is he coping with the reality that his name is inextricably attached to every order that has resulted in lives being lost in the tens of thousands on both sides. When Zelensky sneezes, the SVR likely counts the decibels. A number of newsmedia outlets have pondered this issue, too, making comparisons between Zelensky and US President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. 

Though Putin is aware that the prosecution of the war is Zelensky’s priority, there remain countless political, economic, social, and other concerns on the domestic front that require his attention. Many of those concerns may pre-date the war and even transcend it but nevertheless are being impacted by it. Western advice and assistance has doubtlessly helped but it all has a cumulative effect on Zelensky who is harnessed in the seat of the presidency. Putin would certainly know about the many challenging aspects of national leadership as such has been his patch for the most part of two decades. Putin also knows tired presidents can make big mistakes. He might imagine one of Zelensky’s acolytes from the more aggressive security bureaucracies could find advantage in that at some point. An over-wound watch requires repair and Putin may suspect that the West has not been tending to Zelensky with diligence as the focus is on other priorities. Putin perhaps would like to know what he could do to bring him over the line. Maybe he has already been working hard on that front furtively

Despite all of the deficiencies he may very likely detect in Zelensky that make him something in his eyes far less than a force to be reckoned with, Putin would likely admit that it would be better if someone with less of a stage presence ascended to the top in Kyiv. Surely, if Zelensky left the helm in Kyiv, Putin would believe a big hitch would be put in the plans of the West. It was widely reported at one point that Putin sought to have him called to higher service. Perhaps he is still trying, but if so, he must have his people moving at deliberate speed. Ukrainian security services have surely sussing out the tiniest of rumors of a threat. Woe betide those in Ukraine who make a habit of telling the wrong sort of jokes or just uttering negative things about Zelensky. On this matter, there may be some pertinence in Falstaff’s utterance near death in Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play The First Part of Henry the Fourth: “Company, villanous company, hath been the spoil of me.” All of that being said, Putin’s threat to Zelensky’s well-being is a point upon which greatcharlie has no desire to enlarge. Its fervent hope is that this suggestion above all others is unlikely and no plan of the kind outlined is in play. Overall, if what is suggested here about Putin’s larger view of Zelensky proves to be true, one-on-one peace talks between the two leaders would be out of the question. At a minimum, It might be best to include a third party, a leader representing countries able to lend the type of support that could gird an agreement.

Zelensky’s expression (above) is not one of an actor using his talent harnessed by technique. It is the expression of a man managing torment, anguish, fatigue and chronic stress, pushing himself to the utter limit. Though Putin is aware that the prosecution of the war is Zelensky’s priority, there remain countless political, economic, social, and other concerns on the domestic front that require his attention. Many of those concerns may pre-date the war and even transcend it but nevertheless are being impacted by it. Western advice and assistance has doubtlessly helped but it all has a cumulative effect on Zelensky who is harnessed in the seat of the ppresidency. Putin would certainly know about the many challenging aspects of national leadership as such has been his patch for the most part of two decades. An over-wound watch requires repair and Putin may suspect that the West has not been tending to Zelensky with diligence as the focus is on other priorities. Putin perhaps would like to know what he could do to bring him over the line. Maybe he has already been working hard on that front furtively.

The Way Forward

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Hopefully, political leaders and officials in not one Western capital believe that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will reach out to the West, humble and conciliatory, and seek terms for a full, unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine. Indeed, as a result of defeat, there would not be some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct. As any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very, very unlikely, it becomes more difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what Putin and his advisers–inarguably better aware of Putin’s authentic nature and intentions than anyone outside Russia–make of it all. Suffice it to say, even in the best case scenario for the West in which Ukrainian forces reclaim the overwhelming majority of territory taken by Russian forces, problems of great magnitude will very likely be encountered. This is not a situation that lends itself to the attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), which was the attitude of the the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army in 1870 which failed to discern and act upon signals that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. 

In Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell: A Lifelong Fight for Peace, Justice, and Truth in Letters to the Editor (Open Court Publishing, 2002), there is passage by Bertrand Russell that explains: “And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country`s pride.” Rebuffing the reality that their time on Earth is inconstant, they seek in conceit to shape it with a view not just leave their mark but to transform it to meet their idea of what is best. As is the pattern, they would declare that they are using national values and interests as a yardstick. The degree and manner in which those respective national values and interests are applied is dependent on the nature of the officials involved in the drama. In a few years or less, their “high-minded” notions, as they generally appear in contemporary timeshare, are now and then rebuked by the reality of the impermanence of actions taken by them. Their deeds often fail the test of time. They may even hold success for a little moment, but fail ultimately to really change the course of anything as successfully as fate does. After they move on from their high offices, the ascent to which they skillfully navigated over a number of years, more often than not their names are forgotten or rarely spoken anywhere except in seminars and colloquiums at universities and respective family gatherings of their antecedents. It should be enough to do the right thing and appreciate the collateral effects of that. 

Still in all, these aforementioned decisionmakers are indeed only human, and must not be judged by idealistic or super-human standards. Admittedly, harshly judging the competencies of those in the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies is the old hobbyhorse of those watching from the outside. Whether this essay for some inside will cause a journey from a lack of clarity or curiosity to knowledge remains to be seen. Harkening back one last time to Molière’s Misanthrope, he writes pertinent to this matter in Act V, scene i: “Si de probité tout était revêtu, / Si tous les cœurs était francs, justes et dociles, / La plupart des vertus nous seraient inutiles, / Puisqu’on en met l’usage à pouvoir sans ennui / Supporter dans nos droits l’injustice d’autrui.” (If everyone were clothed with integrity, / If every heart were just, frank, kindly, / The other virtues would be well-nigh useless, / Since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience / The injustice of our fellows.) Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

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