US President Joe Biden (right) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left). “What is your substance, whereof are you made, . . . .” Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, is a fine thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego, do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Here greatcharlie hopes to assist those in US foreign and national security bureaucracies seeking to get a better handle on the Ukraine crisis, and gain greater clarity about Putin and his thinking.
With imaginable strain upon the national budget, Russian troops for the moment lie snug in the Winter weather in their homeland, still close enough to its border with Ukraine to unnerve those on that side. They are ostensibly the cudgel meant to induce the minds of leaders in Western governments–the US, United Kingdom, and the EU countries–to think Putin’s way on NATO’s “ceaseless” expansion toward its border. Putin’s demand to the West boils down to “Get out of my tree and stay out!” Things have not gone exactly his way so far, but perhaps to his satisfaction he has bathed in the sound of Western government voices and broadcast newsmedia, expressing shear terror and prognosticating war and doom in the meantime. Indeed, most Western governments believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and induce Western thinking to his like. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he will definitely invade Ukraine.
Surely, this has been a beast of an episode for the relatively fledgling, democratic government in Kyiv. One might posit that Putin’s presidency is the general misfortune of all countries neighboring Russia. The threatening, aggressive atmosphere is intolerable. They must reconcile to the universal order of nature. They have knowingly, comfortably organized middle grade armies to face a first class multidimensional military force, and they have left themselves in a state in which they could never see themselves winning without the US by their side. What beats the brains of decisionmakers in Western capitals is how to mitigate the danger in a sustainable way without disturbing the status quo much or at all. Concerns expressed in conference rooms on the top floors of the US foreign and national security bureaucracies might reasonably be that relaxation of the atmosphere may require taking Putin to the limit hoping he will choose peace and avoid the massive loss that would result from even a successful push into Ukraine. There is also the possibility that relaxation of the contentious atmosphere will not reverse ambitions in Moscow regarding Ukraine. Nevertheless, at some point after applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, both sides will need to be flexible and to compromise, if either really wants to get anything out of the diplomatic process. New calculations must be made now on both sides if the aim is peace and stability. Qui totum vult totum perdit. (He who wants everything loses everything.)
To possibly assist the efforts of the US, and its allies also, to peer in on the other side to better understand Putin’s actions and intentions concerning Ukraine by stimulating ideas in others, in this essay, greatcharlie offers a few new ideas. They were inspired while preparing greatcharlie’s preceding 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”. That post also offered suggestions for optimizing US-Russia diplomacy regarding the Ukraine crisis that matched the importance, enormity of the situation. Making the effort to stimulate new ideas sometimes requires stepping onto shaky ground. A few thoughts on possible steps and schemes of Putin, the course of things and thinking that may be hidden or most often excluded from analyses, are presented here. They were developed primarily in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting. To an extent, thoughts offered might more aptly be described as intimations. Some facts uncovered and presented may appear odd, recherché, but nevertheless they were all gleaned from credible, often official sources made available to the public. Hopefully, that will not be a distraction for readers. To hold only to existing thinking on Putin is to cut oneself off from roads to understanding him and his decisions that might result through further examination. Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur. (We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.)
Putin (left) being interviewed by Le Figaro in the Russian Cultural Center in Paris on May 29, 2017. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US presidents have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin again referenced, albeit vaguely,, unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”
Putin’s View of “Who Is in Charge” in Washington
If readers would bear with greatcharlie through these initial points, they will discover there is a method to what on the face of it recognizably appears as madness. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US president have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. (That view nearly parallels the impression previous US administrations once held on Putin’s situation in Russia.) Without judgment from greatcharlie, claims of such an arrangement have been proffered by conservative commentators, particularly those appearing on Fox News. Reportedly, Fox News pundits have repeatedly pushed the theory that Biden is president “in name only” and that a group of progressives–initially said to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and including former US President Barack Obama and former US Attorney General Eric Holder–are actually in control in Washington. How comments so outré expressed on Fox News, as well as others concerning the US administration found on online celebrity gossip magazines, blogs, websites, and YouTube channels, could find acceptance in Moscow is a curious thing. Perhaps the original hope among Russian officials was to sift through them to pick-up faulty scraps of “palace intrigue” with the correct degree of discernment was absent. Once such ideas are caught, despite all that is wrong about them, they often worm their way into analyses. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a person in good health..
Russian theories concerning the power of the US President tend to be equally off-kilter. In an August 1, 2017 article, a journalist for Time, Simon Shuster, who served a stint in Russia, explained that “confusion over the limits on executive authority goes back to the early years of Putin’s presidency, when he established control over the Russian media and began to assume that his Western counterparts could do the same in their countries.” Pointing to the memoir of former US President George W. Bush, Decision Points, Shuster noted that during a discussion at a summit in 2005, Putin refused to believe that the US commander-in-chief does not have the power to muzzle journalists in the US. Bush quotes Putin as saying: “Don’t lecture me about the free press.” Referring to Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News, Putin continued, “Not after you fired that reporter.” Shuster further explained: “In Russian officialdom (and among the public generally) people often assume that the West functions a lot like Russia, with a tame judiciary, a subservient media and a ruling clique that pulls all the strings.”
However, the most shocking theory concerning “shadowy powers the run the US is that the ones who actually run the administration are more than simple advisers in the background receiving federal government salaries supposedly. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”
Concerning thoughts in the West on Russian views of how the US President in handling the Ukraine crisis, there was a considerable uproar heard worldwide, particularly in the newsmedia and expectedly from his political adversaries in the US, over how Putin might perceive and respond to a statement Biden made during his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. In fairness to Biden, presented here are comments in some detail to a question concerning the Ukraine crisis and whether the US and its allies were willing to put troops on the line to defend Ukraine, whether the US and its allies can agree on a sanctions package, and whether the threat of new sanctions would give Putin pause. BIden explained: “Well, because he’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves, number one. Number two, we’re in a situation where Vladimir Putin is about to–we’ve had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I. And the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don’t buy. I’ve spoken to every major NATO leader. We’ve had the NATO-Russian summit. We’ve had other–the OSCE has met, et cetera. And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra–invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.
Damnant quod non intellegunt. (They condemn what they do not understand.) It was determined on the face of it that with those words, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” Biden opened the door to a Russian incursion into Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would react. The newsmedia in the US and worldwide laid it on thick, denouncing and condemning Biden for doing far more than giving away the store. Reporters and commentators put their art of communication into providing drama, much as Rembrandt in his works, to convince that Biden somehow worsened the crisis. That was hardly valid thinking. Their forecasts did not bear out. Russian forces did not move a jot in Ukraine’s direction en masse or piecemeal, nor was the deployment of them dramatically increased. Biden would not speak idly on such a grave matter. Recognizably, Biden erred to the extent that he offered a trifle, a glint from the discussion in the backroom, that turned out to be too much information for a world ready to react with opinions on what most appear to know too little about. Even the most experienced can learn lessons on matters they have known well for a long-time. Yet, in fairness to Biden, he may have had good reason to say what he did.
While satellites and other technical means are providing streams of intelligence on the day-to-day activities of their presumed opposition Ukrainian forces, there have no doubt been occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by the Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Independent Guards Reconnaissance Brigade of the Vozdushno Desantniye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Special reconnaissance missions typically include penetrating deep behind opposition lines to engage in the covert direction of air and missile attacks, place remotely monitored sensors, and prepared the ground for other special operations troop who might engage in direct action against the opposition and unconventional warfare, to include guerrilla operations and counterinsurgency operations. On special reconnaissance missions in Ukraine, Spetsnaz might be tasked to move a little bit deep into the country to determine what activities are being conducted at certain highly secured military facilities, locate new weapon systems that have been deployed, locate and assess newly constructed defenses, monitor troop movements, locate and monitor foreign military advisers possibly operating in the Donetsk and Luhansk and Ukrainian military officers and other foreign military officials of interest.
Scouts from Russian Federation Army reconnaissance units at a minimum would do the following: investigate the quality and size of enemy units; report on all activities of opposition units observed; report grid coordinates of opposition units. (If opposition units are moving, determine whether they are advancing of withdrawing and what routes they are using; determine which opposition military units or civilians are performing an activity, collecting information on uniforms, patches, any unit designations and features of civilians; report which opposition units were engaged in a particular activities; and, collect specifics about opposition units and their activities, detailed information with descriptions of tactics used, equipment and gear involved and all other noticeable aspects.
As suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities.
Russian Federation Army reconnaissance scouts in training in the Western Military District (above). During his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. It was determined on the face of it that with those words Biden opened the door to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would “react.” There reality is that there have doubtlessly been several occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Surely, it was easier for many to launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would most likely have done so in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the unseen forces.
Additionally, Russian military advisers are very likely present, “covertly”, in the Donetsk and Luhansk, recognized in Kyiv and by the majority of governments in the world as the sovereign territory of Ukraine, engaging in a range of military assistance activities to separatist force the two regions to include some of the following: supplying weapon systems; resupply ammunition; provide training on new weapon systems, provide training separatist in small unit tactics and larger unit operations, support the operation of air defense systems; support the operation of intelligence, surveillance systems; support the operation of rocket systems (Interestingly enough, the Minsk Agreement requires Russia to maintain knowledge on all of these types if weapon systems, their capabilities, locations, and numbers deployed.); support air traffic control; support separatist command, control, and communications, supporting separatist operations and strategy; and support the collection of intelligence; and, provide separatist commanders with technical intelligence from Russian sources.
Finally, according to the US and the overwhelming majority of governments in the world, Crimea remains the sovereign territory of Ukraine. There is currently a rather large Russian force on that territory which moves troops and equipment in and out of it daily. The presence of those Russian forces in Crimea is a serious problem, yet the regular movement of troops in and out of the province at this point is a relatively minor matter.
In “Il Penseroso” (1631), published in his Poems (1645), the great John Milton quips: “Where more is meant than meets the ear.” With respect to Biden’s statement, it would appear more was meant than met the ear. The minor movement of Russian military personnel into Ukraine most likely for reasons outlined here would certainly not be worthy of a nuclear confrontation. Still, more pertinent is the fact that Putin, himself, unlikely believed Biden was suggesting hypothetically that Russia could move into Ukraine with a battalion sized force to capture some border territory in Donbass to establish some permanent Russian military presence or even more fanciful, land paratroopers at Kyiv’s Airport, reinforce them with tanks, create a well-defended corridor to the border along the most direct highway. Misunderstanding that says much about what the majority understands about Putin. Surely, it was easier for many to believe that Biden was suggesting such a thing and the launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. There was nothing that Biden or his aides could have said publicly about actual minor incursions by Russian forces into Ukraine as described here without making matters far worse. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would have done so because Biden’s comments indicated the US and its allies were aware of Russian intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities inside Ukraine. He would most likely have docketed the event also in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the “shadowy forces.”
To make one last point concerning Putin’s view on the relative impotence of the US President versus the unseen power in Washington, one must cast one’s mind back to the time when everything negative imaginable was said about US President Donald Trump in the newsmedia and elsewhere by his detractors and political adversaries. Given the sort of visceral reactions that typically ensue with the mere mention of Trump’s name, greatcharlie feels it is going out on shaky ground to remind how official action was regularly undertaken against him–in the Congress, through multiple hearings on alleged wrongdoings and two impeachment and through the appointment of a Special Counsel. All of that and more was done seemingly with a blindness to the interests of the US as it concerned the presidency as an office and US foreign and national security interests. No matter which side one might fall on this matter, it might be recognized that even to some small degree, on international matters, the new administration is reaping the bitter fruit of those negative efforts.
Conceivably, Putin (above) 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 toward Ukraine, real or feigned. 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. It was a move made in tandem with his enhanced support of ethnic Russian separatist movements in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts that they might stoke emotional responses from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, To the degree that they would be led to miss advantages, make big mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might possibly provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion.
A Possible Manipulation of Great Conception
In greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, it is noted how Putin so surprisingly has gone through some lengths to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. Everything done to date appears designed to ensure the US and its allies know exactly what Russian forces are doing. Putin’s experiences as an intelligence officer in the field, political leader, and national leader have no doubt given him a mighty understanding of human nature and human interactions. However, equally pertinent is the fact that he is a judoka and well-experienced tournament competitor. In this respect, he is an expert in assessing competitors’ responses and reactions to forced falls and defeat.
Conceivably, Putin 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 toward Ukraine, real or feigned. 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. They were caught flat-footed when Russian forces moved in by the thousands. They were dubbed the “green men.” It was a move made in tandem with supporting ethnic Russian separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, oblasts (provinces) which border Russia. Donetsk and Luhansk are still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent, sovereign republics.
Despite their best efforts short of military action, Obama administration officials could not put together a response that could pry Russia out. Bonjour les dégâts! Not to offend those in power now, but on Crimea, as on a few other issues, senior Obama administration officials would habitually underestimate Putin. Putin then added figurative insult to injury by formally annexing Crimea. His latest build up of forces, several miles distant, yet near enough to the border of Ukraine, has caused sufficient anxiety in Washington and teasingly offer the opportunity for former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration to have a return engagement with him, and as he might hope, an opportunity to settle an old score. Perhaps in such a way Putin, too, might be revealing his desire too for a return engagement in which he could get even more of what he wants from Ukraine. Consuetudinis magna vis est. (The force of habit is great.)
Surely, in Washington, officials would claim what happened in the past with Russia on Crimea has not colored their new reactions on Ukraine. Subconsciously, perhaps it is a different story. As Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. To that extent, Putin may feel he has seen them straight, and seek, possibly as a side project, to stimulate their attitudes and behavior and calculate, even influence their moves successfully. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, it is clear that US administration officials believe the threat of Russian invasion is real. To enhance that sense of alarm, Putin would intermittently move a modicum of his forces in very observable ways, guaranteed to catch the attention of the US and its allies and heighten the sense of alarm, even though nothing significant was really happening. As for the Ukrainians, every movement would hopefully serve to emphasize the defenseless condition in which the US and its allies have left them in. Putin might hope that would stir a sense of extreme vulnerability and anxiety, anguish and despair, among them. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts and panic among the Ukrainians that an emotional response might be stoked from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, to the degree that they might make big mistakes or even miss considerable advantages that are right before them.
To enlarge on this point on forced mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion. Alternatively, depending how the wind blows, he would seek to check US decisionmakers, leaving them without any good options that would allow the successful support of US interests and only holding the choice to make compromises, even furtively, on his main demands, that would allow Ukrainians to live in peace in some satisfactory way. No one is infallible. As Putin knows, logic sometimes fails us. Reacting out of emotions rather than logic and wisdom could only result in missteps. Perhaps US decisionmakers might not even recognize any errors were made until they witnessed Putin exploiting their choices to the fullest. This may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, However, it is all hardly beyond Putin. His thinking in formulating such a scheme would likely be informed, bolstered by the aforementioned shambolic US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2021.
Without any intention to be offensive, greatcharlie states that one top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Putin is quite familiar with Blinken as he played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration–he was Obama’s National Security Adviser. He likely sees him as a real foe. Blinken is a professional, with experience in the high realms of government in the Obama administration, surely seeks only to be unwavering in his pursuit of US interests and not to be distracted by emotions toward Ukraine and its people. He is absolutely loyal and patriotic to the highest degree possible as his country’s top diplomat. In addition to being handsome and débonnaire, Blinken has a strong intellect and is strong-minded. Yet, he is mindful and very appreciative of his ethnic Ukrainian heritage. One might imagine that in a very human way, he would hope to make the land of his parents, grandparents, and ancestors very proud of his intercession in Ukraine’s time of crisis. On May 5, 2021, Blinken made his first visit to Ukraine as Secretary of State. Blinken visited Ukraine numerous times as a senior official in the Obama administration. Blinken’s great-grandfather, Meir Blinken, emigrated from Kyiv in 1904. He was accompanied by his wife Hanna and sons Solomon and Maurice Henry, Blinken’s grandfather. For Blinken, it was a cracking visit, during which his Ukrainian heritage was emphasized. At events, he often spoke the national language as taught to him by his family.
Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) A shark can smell blood a mile off when he is hungry. That first Ukraine visit as Secretary of State in May 2021 meant much personally to Blinken. That visit very likely meant much to Putin, too! He no doubt, closely analyzed moments of it, to better understand Blinken and to uncover some advantages gleaned from it all. Exploiting someone’s meaningful personal event in some dark way is an unprincipled, reprehensible business, and a practice that was polished and honed within the erstwhile intelligence organization in which Putin spent his first career, the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. Needless to say, intelligence work was his metier.
To go a little further on this point, also as explained in greatcharlie’s February 28, 2018 post, individuals as Putin can have a different context for learning about people. When Putin asks about an interlocutor’s family, home, office, even capabilities, it is not small talk or the result of friendly interest. Rather, he may be signalling, warning, that he has already evaluated an interlocutor as a potential target. He may be confirming information or collecting more. He may also be testing one’s vulnerability to falsehoods or how one might respond to unpleasant information. He is creating a perceptual framework for his interlocutor. Such tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods truly match those of a predator. Predators often use deflection, social miscues, and misinformation to provide cover for themselves. “Predatory humans” can use a contrived persona of charm and success to falsely engender trust. They have an exit plan in place, and are confident with regard to the outcome of their actions. Boiled down, they accomplish their deception using three steps: setting a goal; making a plan; and, compartmentalizing. By setting a goal, they know what they want and what it will take to get it or achieve it. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm. They stay focused. By making a plan, they not only determine ways to get what they want, but also develop exits if needed. By compartmentalizing, they detach themselves emotionally from attachments that might be embarrassing or be a liability if their plans are found out. They train themselves to give off no tells, so they can pivot easily into a different persona. While some might acquire this skill as Putin likely had while working in the intelligence industry, others may not have any natural sense of remorse.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting in Geneva in January 2022. It is possible that as an element of his current gambit, Putin and Russian Foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders would likely deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, the US administration believes the threat is real. One top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, it was revealed publicly that Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion.
Revenons à nos moutons. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to some possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion. Deeper and more subtle than what is on the surface for Blinken in such a circumstance would likely be the thought that Ukrainians at the end of all his diplomatic effort could find Russian troops sitting their laps. For him, that will not do. No prospective thought of Blinken on the whole matter would likely be more offensive than that to the extent US military units would not be involved on the ground. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul)
Although the vicissitudes of fortune in foreign affairs and war–friction in battle–have been described many times and in many ways by statesman, commanders, and scholars over millennia, greatcharlie chooses to quote Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian.” As presented in Book II, Ch. 4 of The General History of Polybius [Books 1-17] Tr. by Mr. Hampton 5th Ed. (TheClassics.us, 2013), he states: “In all human affairs, and especially in those that relate to war, . . . leave always some room to fortune, and to accidents which cannot be foreseen.” Whatever position Blinken may have developed concerning his ancestral homeland’s protection, perhaps its current citizens might be seeking to recast it a bit in what they deem would be a more helpful way. During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.”
Zelensky also explained that the decision by the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv “doesn’t necessarily signal an inevitable escalation and is part of a complex diplomatic game.” He went on to say tactfully, “We are working together with our partners as a single team.” Speaking in the Ukrainian Parliament also on January 25th, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way across the border. He sought to comfort the parliamentarians by stating: “Don’t worry–sleep well,” He continued by sardonically saying: “No need to have your bags packed.”
The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering considerable disfavor and rebuke from them. In this wise, it clearly appears to be the preference of his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation. To that extent, the Ukrainian officials would surely like to douse the “madding fever” consuming its proud son over Russian moves with a bucket of ice cold water. Faber est suae quisque fortunae. (Every man is the artisan of his own fortune.) (Note as aforementioned, thoughts as these are intimations, developed in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting.)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right). During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering disfavor and rebuke from them. On this wise, it would surely be the preference of the people leading his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation.
Putin’s Understanding of “the US Within”
In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public. With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for committing US troops for that purpose either. If this parsing of Putin’s line of thinking at all hits the mark, certainly polling, would support any of the analysis hypothesized as being held by him. According to a Pew Research poll published on January 26, 2022 overall, 49% of US adults perceive Russia a competitor of the US. Only 41% view it is an enemy, and oddly 7% see Russia as a partner of the US. Despite evidence of increased political polarization in recent years, Republicans and Democrats apparently hold similar views of Russia’s bilateral relationship to the US. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, about 50% believe Russia as a competitor to the US, and 39% call it an enemy. About 9% of Republicans feel Russia is a partner of the US. Among Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, 49% see Russia as a competitor, while 43% view it as an enemy. About 6% of Democrats say Russia is a partner of the US.
Putin would also conceivably posit that at best what is known in the US public as the great East-West geopolitical struggle begun long-ago during postwar years and the unstemmed, unsatiated predilection of dividing up the world and deciding which country stands in which bloc, for most part is the stuff of school studies where the average Joe was concerned. If anything, they are viewed as matters in the province of government officials, policy officials. The January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll also finds that about 26% in the US public perceive the Russian military buildup near Ukraine to be a major threat to US interests. Only 33% in the US public believe Russia is a minor threat to US interests. About 7% of those polled say it is not a threat at all. As it is hypothesized here about Putin’s likely assessment, 33% of the public, a noticeably large share, are unsure whether Russian actions toward Ukraine affect US interests. Impressions of Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine also do not differ much by political affiliation. Republicans 27% of Republicans consider Russia a major threat to US interests, while 36% of Republicans view it as a minor threat in that regard. A somewhat large portion, 28% of Republicans, say they are unsure how the military buildup will have an impact. Among Democrats, 26% consider Russia’s build-up a major threat to US interests, while a greater 33% view it as a minor one, despite the position of the current Democrat-led US administration. Surprisingly, despite numerous public statements made about Ukraine by the administration, about 34% of Democrats stand slightly unsure how Russia’s military buildup will affect US interests. It would seem that for the US public, Ukraine is nothing to signify. They would do nothing to discover more about the situation. Even for those somewhat interested, doing so would hardly be worth the candle.
In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin (above) doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public. With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for committing US troops for that purpose either.
Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Perhaps the worst episode of his experiences with State Department diplomats during the Obama administration was over Ukraine. Some diplomats stationed in Kyiv–names purposely excluded here–had made some very disturbing statements concerning Putin and Russia that likely seared a negative impression of State Department officials upon the Russian President. From that, one might imagine that still today, Putin may judge US foreign and national security policy officials as seeing the world strictly through the filter of their comfort. They take a high and mighty attitude toward all others. Publicly they tell the world how their interests are amplified by their values, and express concern over human rights, diversity, and global warming. Yet, privately, they are most frantic about US power and prestige, economic power foremost, and the aesthetics of its power in the world which translates into its geopolitical stance. Putin would expect them to put the US national interest first and foremost, but he may feel they take that tack with a blindness to the interests of others. On Ukraine and Taiwan, Putin hopes it will lead them down blind alleys to deadends.
To enlarge on this point, as it would concern US public opinion, State Department officials in Putin’s view, act in a world of their own, and drag the US public in directions that they for the most part are unaware of, and may disagree with, if ever consulted. As far as Putin might see, there are types in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies who look upon members of the US public as “Hottentots,” who could hardly fathom the complexity of the policy issues, situations their high offices contend with. Putin might imagine they would hardly believe the US public could understand what kind of skill and experience is required to maneuver against, to supplant, and to negate the interests of other countries and secure that of their own. That would closely equate to what Putin might project of his sense of the condescending attitude and behavior taken toward him during the Obama administration.
Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public presently knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, Putin would want to be the one to do that. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance now at Influencing US public opinion would be his likely assessment that the Biden administration, as he may perceive has been pattern in the US administrations he has dealt with over two decades, would not want the US public to be fully aware of what is happening, what is being done about Ukraine ostensibly in their interests. Putin would certainly be following polls of the US public, too. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from the January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it.
Using whatever medium might be made available and capitalizing on any popularity he may retain as an international figure, he may again seek to pitch his facts, his perception of the realities of the Ukraine matter to the US public. To be a bit more specific, Putin might express why Russia feels as it does about the situation, and what it feels it must do without security guarantees. Surely, it would be loaded with history from the Russian perspective, that any citizen living in Russia would dare not disagree with. Putin would hold out hope that the right choices will be made by the political leaders in the US. His hope would be that he will, using a diplomatic tone and soft phrases, stealthily scare the US public straight and make a lasting impression upon them, albeit a decidedly frightening one. Responding in a manner that he would doubtlessly suggest in his communication, he would hope the public will contact their Congressional Representatives and Senators, and repeat the facts and views he would have supplied them with. The ultimate hope for Putin would be to have encouraged Members of Congress to contact the White House and State Department to suggest “a better course” to Biden and top foreign and national security policy officials.
Recall that Putin attempted to reach the US public to shape opinions on Russia more than once. In a September 13, 2013 New York Times editorial entitled “A Plea for Caution,” Putin reached out to the US public concerning what he then perceived as the problematic nature of Washington’s policy approach to Syria and problems that could have been expected or possibly might have been avoided if a better path would have been chosen. He apparently believed then, as very likely does now, that because of a perceived disinterest and disregard of public opinion in the US in foreign affairs, there was space for him to jump in to insinuate his views among the people. Misreading or miscalculation, he actually made the attempt. (See greatcharlie’s August 31, 2014 post which analyzes Putin’s 2013 editorial.) Prior to that editorial, Putin published November 14, 1999 op-ed in the New York Times, justifying Russia’s military action in Chechnya which at great cost re-established government control of the breakaway province. Putin was so concerned with shaping opinions in the US that doing so apparently in part impelled his efforts to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential Election.
When he became Russian Federation President in 2000, he was mistakenly viewed in the West as shy, self-effacing despite his willingness to give interviews, make speeches, and publish writings, including a book entitled, First Person. An experienced national leader and well-practiced speaker, he seems more eager than ever to offer his views in public. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from a January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it. Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, surely Putin would like to be the one to do that.
The Way Forward
Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.) No senior Western official has publicly made the argument that Putin has lost his mind, nor has any provided evidence, even circumstantial evidence, that would lead one to believe some dramatic change in his mental health has occurred. To that extent, one might conclude no matter how disagreeable, deplorable his actions may be, it is accepted that he is behaving in a logical, quite sane manner. Moving comfortably in the reality of a leader as Putin is no mean feat. Few national leaders have had an authentic, natural rapport with him. That was not a shortcoming on their part, simply a reality as a result of their respective life experiences. Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved.
Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, one’s righteousness, is a good thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this particular crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution.
What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Superficial approaches to achieving an agreement, mere appearances of taking action that lack materiality, that are elaborate and useless, must be avoided. Such fruitless efforts will end up aggravating the situation. This episode may have actually opened the door to healing wounds, to solving problems that have only been bandaged to this point. Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and easily lost. Hopefully, the parties involved will make the most of this opportunity. Casus ubique valet, semper tibi pendeat hamus. Quo minime credas gurgite piscis erit. (There is scope for chance everywhere, let your hook be always ready. In the eddies where you least expect it, there will be a fish.)