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How Vladimir Putin’s paranoia could lead to nuclear war

Vladimir Putin is a bad strategist: He does not understand the relationship between military violence and political objectives. In the last two years, he has all but ruined his aspiration to return Russia to the ranks of the great powers. His ham-fisted annexation of Crimea, along with his transparent support for secessionists in the ongoing civil war in East Ukraine, has been disastrous for Russian interests. Putin’s adventurism led to stock market chaos, a major currency crisis, and staggering levels of capital flight — all of which have compounded the problem of collapsing oil prices. The loss of revenue is damaging Russia’s conventional military power because the government will struggle mightily to modernize its forces. Meanwhile, Putin has breathed new life into NATO, an alliance that had been searching for common purpose and sagging under the weight of the war in Afghanistan.

Putin seems unable to recognize the depth of his blunders. Instead of reconsidering the wisdom of his approach, he has doubled down on his Ukrainian misadventure. One of the marks of a competent strategist is the ability to understand failure and change course as needed. Putin has not demonstrated that he can measure success or failure, or that he is capable of change. Instead of fostering serious strategic debate in Moscow, he has created an ideological echo chamber based on the idea of his own steadfastness against a rapacious West seeking Russia’s destruction. Such old-fashioned agitprop has helped him consolidate power at home, but it has badly weakened Russia’s position abroad.

But Putin’s incompetence also creates new risks. His inability to learn from Ukraine, for instance, suggests that he might be willing to try the same gambit in the Baltics on the pretext of defending ethnic Russians. Putin may believe that he can attempt a similar sort of covert coup using special operators and supporting separatists while publicly denying any involvement. He might also begin overt conventional maneuvers near the Estonian or Latvian border to send a tacit threat of Russian intervention. Making good on that threat, however, would risk a conflict with the United States, which would be obligated to come to the defense of its NATO allies.

In the abstract, there are psychological, political, and military pathways to nuclear escalation. First, intense wartime psychological stress might cause leaders to misinterpret signals of restraint, exaggerate the costs and danger of fighting, and become risk-acceptant. Second, paranoid leaders might believe the price of losing is regime change. If they are convinced that staying in power requires decisive victory, even against a vastly superior conventional enemy, they might be willing to gamble for resurrection by crossing the nuclear threshold. Third, leaders may opt to use nuclear weapons through a process of inadvertent escalation. They may reasonably construe attacks on their command and control systems, for instance, as part of a campaign to disable their deterrent force. Under these circumstances they might act on a terrible “use it or lose it” impulse, even if their adversary had no intention of destroying their nuclear capabilities.

While all three of these scenarios could occur during a NATO–Russia conventional conflict, Putin’s strategic myopia is particularly troubling because it exacerbates the psychological and political pathways to escalation. The inability to recognize failure might give him false confidence about Russia’s prospect against NATO forces, especially because Russia would enjoy initially superior numbers in a hypothetical war. This lead might not last long. In the last 30 years the United States has demonstrated extraordinary abilities to overcome enemy defenses through a combination of rapid maneuver, electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defenses, and brute force. A successful counter-attack against Russian forces, especially including strikes on Russian air defense installations, would come as a terrifying shock to Russian leaders. In this case a host of familiar psychological pathologies could take hold, making it possible for Putin to lash out in anger and frustration rather than seeking some way of limiting the damage.

There is also reason to believe that Putin may view losing to NATO as tantamount to regime suicide. …

How Vladimir Putin’s paranoia could lead to nuclear war

If Vladimir Putin’s Russia crumbles, a nuclear nightmare looms. Here’s why. | afr.com

Under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Russia is seen in the outside world as an expansionist power trying to revise post-Soviet borders and rebuild an empire. But what if Russia itself — a country of nearly 200 nationalities that stretches across 11 time zones — is in danger of crumbling?

It would not be the first time that Russia tried aggression and expansion as a defence against modernisation and by doing so undermined its own territorial integrity. In 1904, when Russia was on the verge of a revolution, Nicholas II tried to stave off change by looking for national traitors and starting a small war with Japan. The war ended a year later in Russia’s defeat and 12 years later the tsarist Russian empire faded away in a few days. In 1979, as Communist rule struggled under the weight of its own contradictions, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; 12 years later the Soviet Union collapsed just as suddenly.

In 2011 Moscow’s urban middle class took to the streets to demand modernisation. Mr Putin responded by picking out alleged national traitors, annexing Crimea and starting a war against Ukraine. The idea that Russia’s latest foreign-policy adventures might end in the same way as previous ones — with the collapse of the state and disintegration of the country— is not as far-fetched as it might seem.

In short, Russia under Mr Putin is much more fragile than it looks. Vyacheslav Volodin, his deputy chief of staff, recently equated Mr Putin with Russia: “No Putin, no Russia,” he said. It is hard to think of a worse indictment.

If Vladimir Putin’s Russia crumbles, a nuclear nightmare looms. Here’s why. | afr.com

If Russia does indeed start to crumble, then what happens to the Putin regime? Do the ex-leaders simply go into retirement, or is it more likely they will experience a long prison sentence and for some even death? I’m thinking that Putin will not simply go quietly into the night. He will escalate as he always does. And that means Russia is extremely dangerous right now.

NATO eastward expansion would be ‘catastrophic': Russian official – Yahoo News

NATO enlargement into Ukraine and Georgia would have “catastrophic consequences” for Europe, Russia’s envoy to NATO warned Tuesday in a television interview, as relations between Moscow and the West sink to Cold War-era lows.

“Any political game concerning NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine is filled with the most serious, most profound geopolitical consequences for all of Europe,” Russia’s permanent representative to NATO, Alexander Grushko, told LifeNews television channel.

“I hope that people in Brussels and other capitals fully understand the danger of this game, the danger of the cards some forces are still trying to play. This would have catastrophic consequences,” he told the Russian channel.

NATO eastward expansion would be ‘catastrophic': Russian official – Yahoo News

Russia is implicitly telling us that Eastern Europe is the Russian sphere of influence. Russia will decide what happens in this sphere, not the individual countries. Western interference will bring nuclear war with Russia. Of course, there is the nasty problem of the Baltics. The Baltics is in Russia’s sphere of influence. How is Russia going to reconcile that?

Clearly Georgia should not be in NATO because defending it is too difficult. But what about Ukraine? Shouldn’t Ukraine be allowed to decide its own fate?

In my mind, this is just Russia telling us to prepare for the nuclear war that is coming anyway – because of the Baltics. The only issue is timing. Knowing Putin, the issue of timing will be determined by events. So stay tuned.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine takes an alarming step backwards

“To solve the problem of Russia’s conventional military weakness, he has dramatically lowered the threshold for when he would use nuclear weapons, hoping to terrify the West such that it will bend to avoid conflict.”

What’s really important about Fisher’s article is his call for attention on the growing danger of Russian nuclear doctrine. Sometimes strategic thinking is more dangerous than the capabilities themselves, and in this case, the destabilising nuclear strategic thinking that characterised the early Cold War have returned to Putin’s Russia (some strategists in Washington are also beginning to advocate for investment in more tactical nuclear weapons in the face of Russia’s policy in Crimea and Ukraine).First, Fisher argues that the mood in Moscow has substantially changed. He cites Russian strategic analyst Fyodor Lukyanov:

‘The perception is that somebody would try to undermine Russia as a country that opposes the United States, and then we will need to defend ourselves by military means,’ he explained. Such fears, vague but existential, are everywhere in Moscow. Even liberal opposition leaders I met with, pro-Western types who oppose Putin, expressed fears that the US posed an imminent threat to Russia’s security.

Essentially, to reinforce Russia’s growing strategic interests and to compensate for its substantial asymmetric disadvantage in conventional military means vis-a-vis the West, Putin has begun to reinvest in short- and medium-range nuclear-capable missiles, as well as lowering the threshold for potential nuclear use. A good example is the Russian ambassador to Denmark’s comments earlier this year that if Denmark were to integrate into NATO’s missile defence shield, Danish warships would then be targeted by Russian nuclear weapons. Here’s Fisher on Russia’s nuclear compensation:

To solve the problem of Russia’s conventional military weakness, he has dramatically lowered the threshold for when he would use nuclear weapons, hoping to terrify the West such that it will bend to avoid conflict. In public speeches, over and over, he references those weapons and his willingness to use them. He has enshrined, in Russia’s official nuclear doctrine, a dangerous idea no Soviet leader ever adopted: that a nuclear war could be winnable.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine takes an alarming step backwards

“To solve the problem of Russia’s conventional military weakness, he has dramatically lowered the threshold for when he would use nuclear weapons, hoping to terrify the West such that it will bend to avoid conflict.”

But what conflict are we talking about here?

We are talking about Russia reestablishing a sphere of influence in the countries of the old Soviet Union. And that means the Baltic nations too. Putin is going to use military means to take over the Baltic nations. And if NATO gets in the way then Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons.

But what if NATO looks like it is really serious about the Baltic nations?

Wouldn’t Putin have to think about plan C – strategic nuclear weapons? Given that Putin is Mr. Escalation, one has to think about escalation from tactical nuclear weapons. Where does Putin go if it looks like tactical nuclear weapons won’t cause NATO to back-down? Given that right now it looks like NATO and Russia are on a path to conflict and Russia is worried about the US undermining it, I would think that the Russians are examining plans for both the use of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.

Putin is not exactly a big strategic thinker, but he seems to be pretty good at tactical thinking. I would think that Putin will seek to take advantage of any events that come his way. For example, what if something happened in the Baltics to some Russian residents – like one or more apartment explosions? 

The perils of Putin’s grim trigger – The Washington Post

“Putin’s response to a bad situation is usually to gamble for resurrection through some form of escalation. Fisher’s concern — and mine — is that Putin will respond to his current status quo with even more conflict escalation to test NATO’s mettle.”

The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts prides itself on paying keen attention to warnings about the apocalypse (and usually pooh-poohing them). So when Vox’s Max Fisher writes a 10,000 word essay on “How World War III became Possible,” we here at Spoiler Alerts sit up and take notice.

Fisher ain’t soft-pedaling his thesis:

There is a growing chorus of political analysts, arms control experts, and government officials who are sounding the alarm, trying to call the world’s attention to its drift toward disaster. The prospect of a major war, even a nuclear war, in Europe has become thinkable, they warn, even plausible.

What they describe is a threat that combines many of the hair-trigger dangers and world-ending stakes of the Cold War with the volatility and false calm that preceded World War I — a comparison I heard with disturbing frequency.

They described a number of ways that an unwanted but nonetheless major war, like that of 1914, could break out in the Eastern European borderlands. The stakes, they say, could not be higher: the post–World War II peace in Europe, the lives of thousands or millions of Eastern Europeans, or even, in a worst-case scenario that is remote but real, the nuclear devastation of the planet.

You really have to read the whole thing because I’m not sure any summary will do it justice. Fisher does an excellent job of explaining why more nuclear tensions warrant more worry than, say, asteroid defense.

In essence, Putin thinks that his comparative advantage is his willingness to go to the brink and stare down the West in any confrontation.  …

So will it work? No, which is the problem. The hard truth remains that Putin’s strategic position now is weaker than it was five years ago. …

But, again, the failure of Putin’s strategy is the problem. As I noted last year, Putin’s response to a bad situation is usually to gamble for resurrection through some form of escalation. Fisher’s concern — and mine — is that Putin will respond to his current status quo with even more conflict escalation to test NATO’s mettle.

The truth, however, is that I’m not feeling all that calm, for two reasons. First, as I’ve said, I don’t think Putin’s strategy will work, which means that at some point he’s going to need to escalate again. Second, Fisher’s essay presents a Russia that believes the Obama administration is hell-bent on encirclement. Imagine what Russia will think when Obama’s more hawkish successor comes to power?

Developing…. in some very disturbing ways.

The perils of Putin’s grim trigger – The Washington Post

How World War III became possible: A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think – Vox

“There’s a low nuclear threshld now that didn’t exist during the Cold War.”

‘The warnings: “War is not something that’s impossible anymore”‘

“Though Western publics remain blissfully unaware, and Western leaders divided, many of the people tasked with securing Europe are treating conflict as more likely.”

“He [Putin] has enshrined, in Russia’s official nuclear doctrine, a dangerous idea no Soviet leader ever adopted: that a nuclear war could be winnable.”

It was in August 2014 that the real danger began, and that we heard the first warnings of war. That month, unmarked Russian troops covertly invaded eastern Ukraine, where the separatist conflict had grown out of its control. The Russian air force began harassing the neighboring Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which are members of NATO. The US pledged that it would uphold its commitment to defend those countries as if they were American soil, and later staged military exercises a few hundred yards from Russia’s border.

Both sides came to believe that the other had more drastic intentions. Moscow is convinced the West is bent on isolating, subjugating, or outright destroying Russia. One in three Russians now believe the US may invade. Western nations worry, with reason, that Russia could use the threat of war, or provoke an actual conflict, to fracture NATO and its commitment to defend Eastern Europe. This would break the status quo order that has peacefully unified Europe under Western leadership, and kept out Russian influence, for 25 years.

Fearing the worst of one another, the US and Russia have pledged to go to war, if necessary, to defend their interests in the Eastern European borderlands. They have positioned military forces and conducted chest-thumping exercises, hoping to scare one another down. Putin, warning repeatedly that he would use nuclear weapons in a conflict, began forward-deploying nuclear-capable missiles and bombers.

Europe today looks disturbingly similar to the Europe of just over 100 years ago, on the eve of World War I. It is a tangle of military commitments and defense pledges, some of them unclear and thus easier to trigger. Its leaders have given vague signals for what would and would not lead to war. Its political tensions have become military buildups. Its nations are teetering on an unstable balance of power, barely held together by a Cold War–era alliance that no longer quite applies.

“The perception is that somebody would try to undermine Russia as a country that opposes the United States, and then we will need to defend ourselves by military means,” he explained.

Such fears, vague but existential, are everywhere in Moscow. Even liberal opposition leaders I met with, pro-Western types who oppose Putin, expressed fears that the US posed an imminent threat to Russia’s security.

That the world does not see the risk of war hanging over it, in other words, makes that risk all the likelier. For most Americans, such predictions sound improbable, even silly. But the dangers are growing every week, as are the warnings.

How World War III became possible: A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think – Vox

Dempsey report: Russia, China posing military threat; war with major power probable | The Japan Times

“A somber report released Wednesday by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns of a “low but growing” probability of the United States fighting a war with a major power, with “immense” consequences.”

America’s new military strategy singles out states like China and Russia as aggressive and threatening to U.S. security interests, while warning of growing technological challenges and worsening global stability.

A somber report released Wednesday by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns of a “low but growing” probability of the United States fighting a war with a major power, with “immense” consequences.

Russia has “repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals,” the 2015 National Military Strategy says.

“Russia’s military actions are undermining regional security directly and through proxy forces.”

It points to Russian troop presence in the Ukraine conflict, though Moscow denies it has deployed its military in eastern Ukraine to bolster a separatist insurgency.

And the report expresses concern about states developing advanced technological capabilities that are causing the U.S. military to lose its edge in that field.

Dempsey report: Russia, China posing military threat; war with major power probable | The Japan Times

There seems to be a lot more chatter about war with Russia and/or China in the last six months: Likelihood, avoidance, how it might play out, and things like that.

When you have a country like Russia or China continually doing things that could lead to a nuclear war, then what should we think? They have certain goals they wish to attain, and if we get in the way there will be war – nuclear war. They have already decided that nuclear war as plan B is thinkable – is an option. The unthinkable is now the thinkable.

In my mind that is a change of state: Unthinkable going to thinkable. We have seen a change of state in Russia: MAD going to nuclear coercion. We have seen a change of state in China: The peaceful rise ends causing increased tension with many countries. The change of state in both Russia and China is moving us in a direction of less stability and an increasing probability of conflict.

Snow falling on a mountain gives the illusion of stability. After a long period of stability the unthinkable (massive avalanche) goes to the thinkable, then there is collapse.

We are clearly at the point where a great-power war is possible, but we still have not seen a trigger mechanism – a Sarajevo moment. Given Putin’s history, he will likely wait for an excuse (or generate an excuse) before launching any kind of preemptive nuclear strike on the US.

Most Russians fear imminent war with the West, but Putin’s popularity has reached record high

More than half of Russians fear war with the West in the near future, according to the findings of an independent poll within the country. Despite this, President Putin’s approval rating has reached an all-time high.

The findings come from two recent polls by the Levada Centre in Moscow, as reported by The Times. One poll gave the president an approval rating of 89% – an all-time high which appears to reflect his hard-line stance against the West. The other indicated that 55% of Russians are either “afraid” or “very afraid” of “the possibility of war between Russian and western countries”.

Most Russians fear imminent war with the West, but Putin’s popularity has reached record high

Related articles:
How World War III became possible: A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think – Vox
How a crisis in Estonia could lead to World War III: A flowchart – Vox

World War III book scenarios could become a reality, says Peter Singer – WSJ

Peter Singer, one of Washington’s pre-eminent futurists, is walking the Pentagon halls with an ominous warning for America’s military leaders: World War III with China is coming.

In meeting after meeting with anyone who will listen, this modern-day soothsayer wearing a skinny tie says America’s most advanced fighter jets might be blown from the sky by their Chinese-made microchips and Chinese hackers easily could worm their way into the military’s secretive intelligence service, and the Chinese Army may one day occupy Hawaii.

The ideas might seem outlandish, but Pentagon officials are listening to the 40-year-old senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

In hours of briefings, Mr. Singer has outlined his grim vision for intelligence officials, Air Force officers and Navy commanders. What makes his scenarios more remarkable is that they are based on a work of fiction: Mr. Singer’s soon-to-be-released, 400-page techno thriller, “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.”

Author Warns U.S. Military to Focus on China – WSJ

Are China and America Destined to Clash? | The National Interest

“Beijing has a broader array of options than the categories “status quo” or “revisionist” imply. What is striking, however, is that all but one of its options put Beijing and Washington on a collision course.”

In reality, the tenor of great-power relations in the coming decades will depend on the interaction of U.S. and Chinese foreign policies—which collide to a far greater degree than is frequently acknowledged. In fact, smooth relations between the United States and China will only be possible in the unlikely event that China adopts an extremely docile national-security strategy, or in the equally unlikely event that the United States cedes its dominant position in the Western Pacific.

At one extreme, China might continue its rise as an economic powerhouse without substantially enhancing its military might, and without seeking to alter the international order in East Asia or the world.

Alternatively, Beijing might choose a strategy that reflects its emergence as the major regional power in East Asia. …

In a more assertive version of this regional strategy, China would seek to become not just a major regional power, but also the dominant one. …

Are China and America Destined to Clash? | The National Interest

Who Is Russia’s Military Preparing to Fight? | Stratfor

The Cold War-style saber rattling is clearly growing louder, and it appears both sides see the situation as a long-term standoff. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Sunday that U.S. and NATO allies are preparing for a rift that will outlast Vladimir Putin’s presidency. Russia’s chief of the presidential administration, Sergei Ivanov, similarly indicated over the weekend that there are nearly no channels left for interacting with the United States. But it is Putin’s focus on Russia’s nuclear capability that has drawn more attention among many NATO members than the conventional military buildup. Putin has been the first Russian leader to continually highlight Russia’s nuclear prowess since Nikita Khrushchev. All other leaders since then were much more conservative than Putin — if not altogether silent — in discussing Russia’s nuclear potential.

Moscow is in a position of weakness. Russia is experiencing its second economic recession in six years, it was humiliated in Ukraine last year, and divisions within the Kremlin are deepening. Russia is not looking to go to war with NATO. As Ivanov also said, Russia “is not suicidal.” But what Russia is trying to do is convey that it is not entirely powerless should the United States take a step too far in the standoff.

Furthermore, there is a growing fear in Moscow that the West wants to exploit Russia’s weaknesses to break either the country or the government. Russian Security Council Chief Nikolai Patrushev said Monday that the United States was never interested in Ukraine but instead is using Ukraine to weaken Russia. He added that the United States “would like very much that Russia was not at all.”

The question, then, is whether the military is also planning for a scenario in which Kremlin dissent leads to a situation where the military would have to take a side. Moreover, it raises the question of whether the splits in the government are so deep that the military is starting to give public signals that it will not remain neutral.

Who Is Russia’s Military Preparing to Fight? | Stratfor via Google

“Putin has been the first Russian leader to continually highlight Russia’s nuclear prowess since Nikita Khrushchev.”

“Furthermore, there is a growing fear in Moscow that the West wants to exploit Russia’s weaknesses to break either the country or the government.”

As I have highlighted in the past, Russia is really confronted with two issues: Revolution (or fear of it) and creating a sphere of influence. Putin waits patiently for an event or plots secretly to facilitate an event that he can then take advantage of: Ukraine and Georgia.  He then threatens the use of nuclear weapons in order to help achieve his goals. These threats worked in the beginning but now NATO is finally starting to wake up a little bit. So the use of nuclear threats probably are going to be a lot less effective in the future. The push for a sphere of influence going forward is going to be a lot more difficult, and it’s just not going to work in the Baltics.

The really big problem here is that Putin is living on borrowed time. He has mismanaged the economy. Now with low oil prices here to stay and western sanctions, the Russian economy is in trouble with really no way out – short of a revolution. Not that there will be a revolution today, but the future is not looking good. Putin’s regime is at risk. The high approval numbers are really based on a very aggressive foreign policy which is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable because of the economy – making rearmament very difficult, and the reaction of NATO. And shutting down the ability of Putin to forge a sphere of influence means the “R” word (revolution) keeps popping up again and again.

If the Russian dream (kind of like the China Dream) is to get a sphere of influence, and that is shut down or made very difficult, then what happens next?

From Putin’s past we know he is not likely to back down. He will do one of three things: escalate, escalate and escalate. OK, one can be pretty sure he will escalate his foreign policy. But I just said the sphere of influence dream is either shut down or made very difficult. Well, that is true short of a real war. Escalation means a real war with nuclear weapons. Maybe Russia won’t get its sphere of influence, but it can eliminate the US instead.

Remember, it’s not like Putin can just sit around and do nothing. His mismanagement will mean revolution at some point. And we know the Kremlin is afraid of that or some version of that. From Putin’s past we can expect he will either wait for an event or facilitate one in order to act. When some kind of serious event happens that Putin can use as an excuse, then I think the possibility of a real nuclear war between Russia and the US opens up.

Of course, Putin can sit around, do nothing and wait for a revolution because the foundation of the Russian mafia state is rotten to the very core. Does that sound like his personality?

Putin Personality Disorder | Brookings Institution

Putin is trapped in a dilemma that will persist throughout his current presidency. His long-term goal is to rebuild and restore Russia. To succeed, he needs human capital — including the members of what is often called the “creative class,” many of whom have joined the opposition. But he does not understand this new urban middle class and he lacks the ability to connect with its members. His base of support comes from Russia’s “silent majority” of industrial workers, public sector employees, pensioners, and rural residents, all of whom are heavily dependent on state subsidies. As such, Putin remains distrustful of the very people he needs to power Russia’s revival.

Domestic dissent and Putin’s efforts to counter it will be a permanent feature of his current presidential term. Paradoxically, the more progress he makes toward modernizing Russia, the more people will demand greater political openness and, ultimately, Putin’s removal from power. The rise of Russia’s middle class, then, will continue to pit Putin against himself in the years ahead.

Putin Personality Disorder | Brookings Institution

Vladimir Putin, Narcissist? – The Atlantic

Among the world’s many politicians to be regularly called a narcissist, Vladimir Putin may be given the label the most, and with the most serious intent, especially since the Sochi Olympics and the Russian invasion of Crimea. During a recent segment on the PBC NewsHour, for example, New York Times columnist David Brooks stated that U.S. attitudes toward Putin have “hardened to an amazing degree” and the current administration now views him as a “narcissistic autocrat.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, has accused Putin of “narcissistic megalomania.” The Financial Times referred to the Sochi Olympics as “Putin’s narcissistic self-tribute.”

Photos of the Russian president scuba-diving, piloting a plane, behind the wheel of a race car, demonstrating his skill in martial arts, and baring his chest on horseback only contribute to this view and evoke the predictably derisive response: Putin is a narcissist.

Vladimir Putin, Narcissist? – The Atlantic

President Putin is a dangerous psychopath – reason is not going to work with him – Voices – The Independent

A secret war in Ukraine, murder in London, incursions into others’ airspace. His behaviour is getting worse

This is a staggering statement. Some commentators are reluctant to accept it, arguing that Putin genuinely feels under threat from Nato; Greece’s inexperienced new government, led by the coalition of left-wing parties known as Syriza, is making friendly overtures towards Russia. No one wants a new cold war but the evidence suggests they’re making a mistake of epic proportions: what European leaders are dealing with here is  classic psychopathic behaviour. Putin displays a complete absence of empathy and is painfully thin-skinned; he found being mocked by the punk band Pussy Riot so intolerable that two of the women ended up in penal colonies. Even more alarming is his lack of fear and enjoyment of risk, which means he enjoys baiting people he sees as opponents.

All of this brings me back to the problem with learning from history. The leader-as-psychopath is far from unusual: Saddam Hussein displayed similar characteristics, although a closer parallel in this instance is Stalin. The question is what to do about it, and it would help if people who make excuses for Putin stopped fooling themselves about how dangerous he is. I’ve believed this ever since the assassination of Politkovskaya, whom I knew slightly, and I’ve watched the evidence accumulate: at least 29 journalists have been murdered in direct connection with their work since Putin came to power: opponents have had their assets seized and been sent to harsh prisons in Siberia; neighbouring countries live in fear of cyber-attacks, such as the one on Estonia in 2007, or military invasion.

The Conservative MP Rory Stewart, who chairs the Defence Select Committee, described last week’s incident over the Channel as “a symptom of a much bigger pattern which means we got Russia wrong”. I think it’s more accurate to say that world leaders got Putin wrong, treating him as an authoritarian who would nevertheless keep his behaviour within recognisable boundaries. Remember when George W Bush gave him the affectionate nickname Pootie-Poot? If history teaches us anything, it is that treating unstable psychopaths as if they are normal, reasonable people doesn’t work.

Psychopaths love attention, so allowing Putin to host big sporting events such as the Winter Olympics and the World Cup is a mistake. They like to feel important, so he shouldn’t be invited to attend summits with other world leaders. His behaviour is escalating as economic sanctions start to bite, which is why he is sending military aircraft to test the air defences of other countries. He isn’t going to give up power of his own accord, which means that keeping open  back-channels to people around him is vital. Europe didn’t pick this fight, but we should be in no doubt that Russia under Putin is an unpredictable rogue state.

President Putin is a dangerous psychopath – reason is not going to work with him – Voices – The Independent

Is Vladimir Putin a Psychopath? | 1913 Intel