The series of events that have led us to this point of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are remarkable, and for quite a few reasons.
First, there’s the resilience of the resistance in Ukraine, with ordinary civilians banding together to repel and harass the incoming Russian army in ways that led to several embarrassing new threats from Vladimir Putin. The Russian dictator appears to be completely incoherent in his escalation of the situation, leading at least one expert to begin to question his mental health.
Once widely viewed as a cunning, if ruthless, but ultimately rational actor, the Russian president is now isolated and increasingly paranoid, having launched a war in Ukraine that has alarmed even some of his closest advisers, says Catherine Belton, a former Moscow-based correspondent for the Financial Times, now with Reuters and the author of the widely praised book “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West.”
In an interview with Yahoo News’s “Skullduggery” podcast, hours before Putin placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert, Belton explains why the battle for Ukraine could be the Russian president’s waterloo.
Belton’s assessment was keen.
And I guess the question is really: To what degree is he now just acting all by himself? Because I actually can’t imagine for an instance that his decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine was supported by a majority of his own top officials. And you could see that on their faces when he held that Security Council meeting on Monday. You could see the fear in their eyes and that, really, they didn’t want to be there. They all looked deeply uncomfortable.
And I think for many in Moscow, Putin’s actions this week have come as a great shock. I think many were preparing for him to maybe, yes, recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk because already, since 2015, de facto they’ve been independent anyway. They were held by separatists backed by the Kremlin, and this was just making a de facto situation de jure.
Then, speaking directly on the tyrant’s mental state:
But we’ve seen him always before, no matter what he’s done … we’ve always seen him act, perhaps wrongly and terribly, but always with a degree of cool rationality. … And it seems [that] has changed over the last two years. He’s lost touch with reality. I mean, it really seems that he thought maybe the Ukrainians would just back down. Maybe he thought Zelensky was going to do the same. But it certainly seems he didn’t expect such resistance, and he didn’t expect, I think, such a strong response from the Western world, because Russia’s economy is now going to be devastated and it’s getting cut off from all the cultural ties. I mean, so many Russians are completely devastated by what’s happened.
Putin is believed to have spent much of the coronavirus pandemic highly isolated from even members of his government, which some Putin observers feel may have exacerbated his recent mania.