Saturday, February 21, 2015

Putin the Improviser

The Ukraine crisis is even scarier than you think: Russia’s strongman is making it up as he goes along

By Andrew S. Weiss, WSJ
Feb. 20, 2015 6:03 p.m. ET

After this week’s devastating military setbacks for the Ukrainian government, Western observers are trying urgently to get inside the head of Vladimir Putin. But the practitioners of this burgeoning cottage industry—call it Putinology—are missing one essential point: Mr. Putin has largely been improvising his way through the current crisis. That means that the Ukraine showdown is even scarier and more dangerous than you think: Mr. Putin is making it up as he goes along.

The Russian leader has routinely experimented with (and quickly jettisoned) any number of concepts, strategies and approaches, all in the name of gaining short-term advantage. Mr. Putin may be living “in another world,” as German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly suggested to President Barack Obama—but in our world, which Mr. Putin is busily remaking, he seems to think that keeping his opponents guessing and off-balance is an end in itself.

In opinion columns and books, the Putinologists have been struggling to explain the thinking of the man who, almost single-handedly, seems to be dragging much of the West into a new Cold War. Like their Kremlinologist forebears, they try to decode Moscow’s intentions through painstaking analyses of the Russian leader’s every public utterance or symbol-laden photo op; they comb through minute aspects of Mr. Putin’s career and private life; they sift for clues in the output of Russia’s sprawling state propaganda apparatus. A lucky few even get invited to come to Russia once a year to sit down over elegant meals with the man himself and other mandarins and courtiers who spin them on how things really look from Moscow.

(More here.)

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