Putin's actions in Ukraine are not insane
In the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some current and former Western officials began to question the sanity of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They pointed to seeming changes in Putin’s behavior, his way of talking about the crisis, as evidence that something had changed and made the Russian leader even more dangerous.
U.S. President Joe Biden called one of Putin’s speeches, in which he acknowledged the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, “strange” and “perverse.
Former French ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud went even further, tweeting that Putin’s speech was “truly incomprehensible. Araud wondered if the Russian president had fallen into a “paranoid delusion in a parallel universe.
Such talk of Putin as possibly out of touch with reality stands in stark contrast to previous public assessments and those of private analytical firms, which have described the 69-year-old Russian leader as ruthless, cunning and dangerous and risk-averse.
“Much of my gray hair came as a result of my years of service in Russia and, in particular, working with Vladimir Putin,” CIA Director William Burns told lawmakers last February.
Putin began his career as a KGB foreign intelligence officer and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1990.
“To underestimate Putin’s Russia is always a mistake,” Burns added.
Former U.S. intelligence officials also believe that describing the Russian leader as insane would be a huge miscalculation.
“I saw nothing to indicate that Vladimir Putin is not the same cold, calculating KGB agent he always was,” said retired intelligence officer and former CIA chief Daniel Hoffman.
“I don’t think he’s had time to make any mistakes,” Hoffman said, noting Russia’s successful military operations in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea and Syria.
Hoffman and other former U.S. intelligence officials believe Putin, encouraged by these results, looked at the current state of the world and saw a chance to make one of his long-held desires a reality.
In particular, former intelligence officials point out that Putin probably views the United States as weak because of domestic political disunity and the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which he believes show that neither Washington nor its Western allies are particularly willing to deal with foreign conflicts.