Understanding Putin Necessitates Getting Beyond Humor and Rumors

In the West, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is considered a celebrity. That has certain drawbacks. Among them, he has become a bit of an amusement. Often, humor and rumor is used to discuss Putin publicly. In popular Western culture, more distortions than realities are known about the Russian leader. Putin is far from the ordinary guy. He is a serious, savvy national leader who possesses a political acumen honed over two decades.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin certainly knows the West better than the West knows him, but the perception in the West appears to be the opposite. In the West, Putin is considered a celebrity, but that has certain drawbacks. As with most celebrities, in the West, Putin has become a bit of an amusement. He is the subject of humor and rumor in comedy clubs, prime time television, and social media.   What the US public has primarily gleaned from it all is that Putin is dictatorial and ruthless, and that oddly enough stirs the imagination of many. Since genuine facts about Putin are mostly absent in the public, Western political commentators and media pundits have allowed themselves to be more opinionated about him. Although greatcharlie encourages participation by policy aficionados worldwide in the debate on issues, big and small, we also urge a mature, thoughtful examination of those issues. Sapiens nihil affirmat quod non probat. (A wise man states as true nothing he does not prove.)

Given so many were willing to present opinions on Putin in public and that so many urgent and important crises in international affairs involve Russia, a new group of observers trying to get into the head of the 62-year-old Russian leader have had their analyses and theories intertwined with those of long-trusted sources of information and expertise. Those alternative sources have influenced the policy debate on Russia. The burgeoning practice of thinking outside-the-box in an attempt to get in Putin’s head is referred to as “Putinology.” It is not unusual now to hear offbeat reports of a study done by a lead researcher at the US Naval War College in 2008 that concluded Putin had Asperger’s Syndrome, basing on an analysis that linked his movements on videos to his state of mind. Speculation over Putin’s whereabouts for 10 days in March 2015 became a major news story worldwide. Some sources argued Putin was likely the subject of a coup. Others claimed that his girlfriend had given birth in Switzerland. There were even reports suggesting he had health problems. Putin laughed it all off in a television appearance. Much has also been made of The Adoration of the Kings (1510-1515), a painting by the 16th century Flemish painter, Mabuse (once known as Jan Gossaert) allegedly features Putin’s likeness. That is significant because Mabuse is a name the 16th century physician and clairvoyant, Michel de Nostradamus, in his renowned quatrains, used to prompt the identification of the Anti-Christ.

Western political leaders, perhaps due to political expedience and pandering to popular opinion, popular culture, have often gotten into the act of hurling anathemas at Putin. It was particularly noticeable during preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.   There was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. In response to Putin’s moves in Ukraine and a perceived threat Russia poses to NATO allies in the Baltic States and Poland, criticism from Western political leaders has been rather vitriolic, perhaps with the hope Putin would be wounded by such opprobrium. Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris. (It is human nature to hate a person whom you have injured.)

As a political leader, himself, Putin is far from the ordinary guy. Those seeking a more accurate picture of him should know that he is serious and savvy.  He possesses a political acumen honed over two decades as a national leader. Great guile has been displayed in his maneuvers to gain and retain political power and to amass a vast fortune. Putin presents himself as being able to take on Russia’s burdens and dominate situations on behalf of the Russian people. His accomplishments appear very impressive. This is true, more so, when moral good is not part of the calculus. Some would say the record shows Putin has operated in his own country with little regard for human and political rights. Key members of Russia’s opposition movement have been slain. Historians may debate whether greatness encompasses those who accomplish bad as well as good things. Using the lens of moral indifference, one can call many great because they have affected the world dolorously: Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan Attila the Hun, Napoleon Bonaparte, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and others. This is not to say Putin is in the same company as them.

Above is a painting by the 16th century artist, Mabuse, entitled, The Adoration of the Kings, which allegedly features Putin’s likeness. Nostradamus, in his quatrains, used the name Mabuse to prompt the Anti-Christ’s identification. It is an example of the unconventional “facts” being offered about Putin. The less certain Western political commentators and media pundits are about Putin, the easier it is for them to substitute illusion for reality.

The authentic Putin appears private. He keeps what is personal close to himself. He also appears quite humble in his private life. Putin’s humility may be one of the secrets to his success. Humble men are honest about themselves. The humble recognize their failings, but capitalize on their own talents. Those who are proud build themselves up as false Gods. They will always have an eye on what others think of them. The humble have disdain for the opinions of others.   Putin is well-aware that he has “very often” been taken by the “lesser angels of his nature.” That is not intended to mean Putin has been taken by divine beings or demons. It simply refers to what were apparently negative outcomes in the struggle between virtue and vice within Putin. Knowing their own strengths and weaknesses, and capabilities and the possibilities for their success in an endeavor, the humble usually manage to accomplish great things.

When speaking about what is important to him, Putin does not use throw away lines. He is straight forward and to the point. When he was declared the winner of the 2012 Russian Federation Presidential Election, Putin publicly wept. It is impossible to know what was happening inside Putin to bring that on, but his emotional expression was clearly genuine. Putin knows just how big he is, and also likely knows exactly how far he can go. He is undoubtedly very conscious of what his rise has cost him personally. Curae leves loquuntur ingentes stupent. (Slight griefs talk, great ones are speechless.)

There is little prospect for a mea culpa, penance, or contrition from Putin. On June 10, 2015, Putin was asked by the editor in chief of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, “Is there any action that you most regret in your life, something that you consider a mistake and wouldn’t want to repeat ever again.” In a type of self-autopsy, Putin stated, “I’ll be totally frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. It appears that the Lord built my life in a way that I have nothing to regret.” Putin, interestingly, did not attempt to claim that God’s goodness flows through him.

Putin already knows that no one’s arms would be outstretched to receive him even if he were to amend his life. He knows that he would only face retribution, as Victor Yanukovych of Ukraine, Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, and so on. Perhaps Putin also realizes that those who have held absolute power over others in history are usually found in the end holding on to power by their fingernails, knowing if they let go they will be destroyed. When challenged, they more often self-destruct rather than face retribution. With that in mind, Putin may have little choice but to stay on top until the end.