President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin gave an important speech on 21 February 2022. He gave his version of long historical evidence of the nonexistence of Ukraine. But his last few words gave away his game plan in Ukraine, “I consider it necessary to make a long-overdue decision to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic.” But on the intervening night of 23-24 February 2022, all hell broke loose when Putin, in a televised address, declared war on eastern Ukraine.
Putin has demonstrated from his speech and acts that he is still in the driver’s seat, and it is his decisions that will shape the next stage of the confrontation, relegating the west to a mere observer.
His speech had contradictions and takeaways. His 23rd February actions further cemented this fact. He is the same person who had referred to the USSR’s fall as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” However, in this speech, he pointed out all the USSR’s mistakes. Such speeches present a unique opportunity to delve into the mind of an authoritarian leader.
Who Is Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin was born in 1952 in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in the household of a naval conscript. Putin studied law and joined the Committee for State Security (KGB) in 1975. In 1984 he was selected to attend the Red Banner Institute of Intelligence. He got assigned counterintelligence duties in Dresden (then East Germany) in 1985. In 1990 he became assistant dean for international affairs at Leningrad State University. 1991 saw him becoming chairman of the committee for international relations, kick-starting his political ambitions.
In 1997 President Boris Yeltsin appointed him as deputy chief administrator of the Kremlin. He became Chief of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 1998 and Secretary of the Russian Security Council in 1999. The same year he was appointed as prime minister by Yeltsin. In March 2000, he was elected as President of Russia, when in December 1999, Yeltsin abruptly stepped down from the Presidentship amid corruption charges. Yeltsin was granted immunity from prosecution, and a new Tzar had emerged on the horizon of the Russian Federation.
Don’t Be Naive
The whole thing looks very simple, but it isn’t. Soon after the break up of the USSR, Russia’s military-security establishment, collectively known as the Siloviki had started counting days. Siloviki means ‘Power Men’, and they were really powerful.
Finally, Siloviki’s time came in 1999. They launched a coordinated attack on anyone remotely connected with Yeltsin. Leaked damaging evidence of corruption made Yeltsin’s family, advisors and the oligarchs nervous. The Kremlin’s fixer-in-chief ‘Sergei Pugachev’ who was later known as Putin’s banker pushed for Putin. This was after Putin had proved himself an effective bureaucrat and a loyal man. Oligarch’s fatal mistake was that they ignored Putin’s background in the security services. The fox was in the hen house.
Putin was Siloviki’s man and with Yeltsin out they were firmly in command. They started targeting one company after another and amassed a vast slush fund that served both personal greed and to finance its subterfuge and interventions abroad. Along with power and money they had an ideological glue — dream of restoration of Moscow’s imperial might.
Putin Understood The West
In 2008 when the whole world was struggling with the financial chaos, Russia invaded Georgia. As the threat became imminent, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili warned Putin of terrible consequences. He indicated to the western condemnation of aggression in the newspapers, “Do you see all these statements condemning you?” Putin was crude but straightforward, “Why don’t you roll up these papers and stick them in their arse?” Once Russian forces withdrew from breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, after the five-days war, Putin told Georgian president, “Your Western friends will promise you nice things, and they won’t deliver. I won’t promise you nice things, but I will deliver.”
Putin understands western greed that paralyzes their regimes. He knows that the western governments that preach the rule of the law, free markets and respect for private property had turned a blind eye to the plunder after the collapse of the USSR and had themselves rushed to sign new deals. The western banks have been laundering the Siloviki’s funds and allowed it to penetrate into European and the American markets. The western political parties readily accept donations of dirty Russian money.
Kremlin has generously funded political parties across the west. To name a few, National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary and the Five Star movement in Italy. Russian funding has made them openly hostility to the EU and NATO. Sergei Pugachev a one-time Kremlin insider and now bitter adversary of Putin calls Siloviki’s slush fund ‘a dirty atomic bomb’.
West Undermines Russia
Western leaders often mock Russia by calling it, “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Such mocking hardens Putin’s resolve to restore Russian imperial might.
The West does not have the will to deal with Putin, so they take the nonconfrontational route. Putin is a gambler who is accustomed to taking large risks that neither west nor his opponents would ever plan or execute. He also anticipates west’s expectations and disrupts their agendas.
Putin has been brought up in a system in which truth is created by the system. He knows west’s propaganda and agendas do not weaken him at home or in Ukraine. Exposing his atrocities may weaken him among human-rights activists but at home his approval ratings never drop below 60 percent.
In The End
It is general thinking in the west that Kremlin “has many towers,” meaning pluralism exists in the chambers of power in Moscow. Vladimir Putin has shattered that view of the Kremlin. There are no advisers left in Kremlin, only sycophants. Putin proved himself to be an unscrupulous and resourceful operator, ready to use any weapon, break any rule and use any strategy to consolidate his power, prosperity and prestige.
Putin demonstrated his style during a televised meeting on breakaway territory. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service Chief Sergei Naryshkin said, “I will support the proposal to support to recognise,” (formation of breakaway Republics). Putin retorted, “Will support or do support,” “Speak plainly, Sergei.” These lines would reverberate in Russian and the western minds for a long-long time demonstrating that it has been a one-man show in Moscow.
Despite all this, it is challenging to read Putin since he flips between a role of a lawyer and a KGB operative. He is threatening the west in KGB style but giving a legal shape to the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. Even the breakaway provinces don’t get formed without chaos. No one knows the real border. His diplomats have one answer and the lawmakers have another. Most probably, it is done intentionally so that the chaos lingers on.
However, one thing is obvious. Putin will damage Ukraine to such an extent that it will never dream of joining NATO. Conflict with Russia has costed Ukraine US$280 billion between 2014 and 2020. The damage from the past few months has gone through the ceiling. The crisis is costing Ukraine US$2b to 3 billion a month, as well as losses of US$1.5b to 2 billion from the crashed currency.
Putin truly believes in Chaos — controlling it, if created by others, or creating it to control others. The chaos between Putin’s ears is terrifying even for the people closest to him. As one longtime Kremlin insider describes Putin’s thinking in the Time magazine, “The world inside his head is only his own.”
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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