How bad can Vlad be?

‘Evil’, ‘sociopath’, ‘dictator’, ‘corrupt’ ‘playground bully’, ‘bastard’.

Some of the descriptions that I have heard in conversations about the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

I’m not sure about ‘evil’. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ don’t seem to me to very helpful even when talking about people whose extremely vicious, hateful and destructive behaviour towards others is being considered. I have worked professionally with a few such people and even those who ‘got in right amongst me’ leaving me feeling revulsion and fear did not tick that box for me.

As for sociopathy, whilst I couldn’t rule this out and would be surprised if manipulation was not part of his skill set, I would need to meet the man to even begin to make a clinical assessment.

The terms ‘dictator’, ‘playground bully’ and ‘corrupt’ relate to power – and more precisely its abuse. I am not an expert on Russian constitutional structures but I know that the Dumas, the Russian Parliament, is a powerful, representative body that frequently puts pressure on the president. For the purposes of this discussion it is perhaps worth noting that The Dumas actively agitated for military intervention in the Donbass long before President Putin gave the go-ahead for the special military operation. He obviously has and wields considerable power but it doesn’t seem to be without checks and balances and I wonder how this compares to that of other ‘presidents’ around the world – particularly that of the president of the United States? As for ‘corrupt’, it seems that our attention is about to be drawn more to the president of the US on this matter – and not just about long-standing concerns about his abuse of power for personal gain, but also about matters relating directly to Ukraine.

‘Bully’ is more common parlance and all of us will have experience of bullying behaviour. My own experience of large public bodies is that the modus operandi of many (but not all) in very senior positions is that of bullying – generating huge performance expectations without much consideration for the consequences for subordinates, underpinned and driven by a culture of anxiety and fear. President Putin may be one of the exceptions to this, but I somehow doubt it. We know that his opposite number in The White House is a notorious bully.

Which brings us to ‘bastard.’ As you will probably have gathered by now, I have yet to meet the man, but I suspect that you don’t rise through the ranks of the KGB and then forge an exceptional political career in the most fraught of post-soviet era circumstances without being ruthless and relaxed about taking unprincipled decisions on occasion.

So, President Putin is probably a bullying bastard, someone that would be difficult to work for and someone you wouldn’t want to go for a pint with. But so what? I suspect that this could be said about most international leaders. Does it matter?

It matters because this is a central factor in the collective west’s narrative about the threat to its own global dominance and the cause of the war in Ukraine in particular. The demonization of Vladimir Putin is pushed without question in the west’s mainstream media in support of one of the clear aims of diplomatic, economic and military policy – to force regime change in Russia.

As I’ve argued before, the west needs to be careful what it wishes for. What if President Putin is actually the moderate actor in Russian politics? – the one who has shown consistent restraint since the Munich Security Conference of 2007 when he made a plea for a more multi-polar world and subsequently endured snub after snub from western leaders as he sought talks to re-establish arms treatises and foster positive economic ties with the EU. He is very popular in Russia, consistently scoring approval ratings in excess of 80% (which I note the west has long given up on rubbishing as ‘fixed’). This is largely due to his bringing to an end the post-soviet evisceration of the country’s economy by western elites. However, he does have his critics – most of whom favour a more robust military response to NATO expansion and US sponsored regime changes in adjacent countries (eg Chechnya, Georgia and of course Ukraine).

Now this is where it gets tricky. On the day Russia invaded Ukraine I knew with certainty that this was going to be spun in the West as an unprovoked and aggressive act by a country seeking to regain former soviet territory. This narrative would exclude any consideration of the context in which Russia was acting – a context that was (and is) unambiguously hostile towards it. This hostility is at such a level that it is perceived by the Russian leadership and people as existential. Moreover, I knew that anyone who sought to point out rather inconvenient truths about this context would swiftly be branded as ‘unpatriotic’, a ‘Putin apologist and appeaser’ – and thus I have been careful in the conversations I have had and how I have written about the war. However, reviewing where we are now with a collapsing Ukrainian military and backfiring economic sanctions, it is hard for me not to conclude that President Putin is the only adult leader left in the European room.

Messers Biden, Johnson, Sunak, Macron, Sholtz et al have presided over a disastrous war – disastrous primarily for the people of Ukraine, but also for NATO prestige and projections of its competence. Western hardware has consistently been shown to be inferior to that of Russia – as have the tactics imposed on Ukraine’s military. Crucially, their hubris allowed them to stymie a peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia in 2022 that would have stabilized the region and prevented the loss of so many, many more lives. Shame on those leaders for this.

The hubris was at least in part based on the expectation that comprehensive sanctions (and the stealing of gold reserves held in the US) would swiftly bring the Russian economy to its knees, creating internal chaos and making continued progression of the war impossible. In reality the exact opposite has happened. Russia has had time since 2014 to re structure its economy and industry so as to initially weather the head winds of isolation and then to prosper as part of a swiftly changing global economic order. The clear loser in this debacle is Europe – starved of cheap energy and facing large scale deindustrialization. Some argue that this was one of the US’s unstated war aims.

So, whilst President Putin retains a clear focus on achieving the stated aims of Russia’s special military operation (de militarization and de nazification of Ukraine), western leaders continue to pedal ludicrous myths about the effectiveness of Ukraine’s counter offensive, the brittleness of Russia’s military and the long-term prospects of victory. They cannot seriously believe this  …… can they?

How bad then is Vlad? He seems to have managed Russia’s military pushback against NATO expansion with skill and care. He has resisted pressure (internally and externally) to recklessly up the ante, preferring to allow his generals to husband and protect their resources and soldiers. In contrast his opposite numbers in the collective west have funded an entirely unnecessary war that has resulted in the slaughter of so many Ukrainians, the destruction of European economies and the upending of western global economic dominance.

How bad is that?

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of all this (and I am clear at which door most of the wrongs can be laid) the leadership of the collective west has shown staggering incompetence and a complete inability to face up to and acknowledge the realities of the situation. Today we are told that there is a stalemate in Ukraine, which ignores the fact that this is currently a war of attrition not of territory. The Ukrainian so called ‘counter offensive’ has made minimal territorial gains (to be measured in single figure kilometers and small villages) at the loss of tens of thousands of lives and much military hardware – effectively its total offensive capability.

There are signs that the leadership in Washington is beginning to realise the scale of the debacle and hence the rhetoric is shifting to prepare us all for a ‘long war’, one that will require ongoing support for Ukraine. Behind the scenes the Ukrainian leadership is being prepared for the necessity to negotiate a ‘freezing of the conflict’ with Russia (a la Korea). What nonsense is this? Why would Russia, which holds all the military (and economic) cards agree to a ceasefire that would allow the west to re-arm Ukraine (for a third time)? Why would Russia agree to talk to Ukraine again when the ceasefire agreed in 2022 was so crassly undermined by the west?

Vladimir Putin has been clear from 2007 onwards that the only way to resolve the conflict is for there to be talks between Russia and the USA to establish a new, over-arching security framework in Europe – one that recognizes the right of Russia (and others) to exist outside of the US hegemon. This seems reasonable to me, but for our western ruling elites this is a no no.

Time for regime change indeed – in the west methinks – time to stop focusing on the denigration of Vladimir Putin.

— x —

For a brief overview of the respective ‘badness’ of Russia vs that of the collective west see this article by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

The West’s dangerously simple-minded narrative about Russia and China:

And whilst we are on the subject of Jeffrey Sachs, the following interview in which he concisely explains how we got into the mess of the war in Ukraine and what Europe could and should do to bring about a cessation of hostilities is worth a look / listen:


NATO Summit – key takeaway



1 Comment

  1. Excellent! Tied up with this, that and the other it took me a while to get round to reading this, but I’m glad I did get round to it. Thanks.

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