Is Putin angry? The US is discussing whether there is ‘something wrong’ with Russia’s president and how it is affecting the Ukraine war



With Russia’s attack on Ukraine in full swing, officials of the US President Jo Biden’s administration continue to bypass a question asked of them daily: do they still see Vladimir Putin as Russia’s legitimate leader, and therefore a man with whom it is still possible to develop a relationship – however difficult it may be – once the Ukraine war ends?

Change of regime in Moscow is not America’s official policy. But just three weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron tried to mediate one last last Biden-Putin summit To allay tensions over Ukraine, White House officials are reluctant to state publicly whether they are willing to acknowledge that the Kremlin leader has a long-term role to play.

Blame some of the restraint on competing views in Washington on the mental health of the Russian leader. It is 36 years since former President Ronald Reagan publicly described Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi as “the mad dog of the Middle East”, and political correctness today can prevent such phrases from falling from the lips of a US president. But voices both inside and outside Biden’s inner circle believe that Putin is no longer the man he used to be.

Nancy Pelosi, chairwoman of the House of Representatives, suggested earlier this month that Putin be suffering from some form of illness. “Some people say he has cancer and some people say he has brain fog from Covid,” she told reporters, admitting that “others just think he’s a complete, furious bully.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida claimed that “it’s pretty obvious … that there’s something wrong with Putin”, adding that “it would be a mistake to assume that this Putin would react in the same way that he would have done five years ago “.

Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill – herself a Putin cinema – describes the Russian leader as “isolated” during the pandemic and develops a “distorted view of reality”. Her former boss, former national security adviser HR McMaster, told CBS News that Putin “is no longer a rational actor”.

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This, of course, presupposes that he was a “rational actor” in the first place. Yet some observers of the Russian leader’s career claim that it is too easy for Western politicians – many of whom have misunderstood the Russian leader for years – to suggest that Vlad has suddenly gone mad.

In the reduction of Ukrainian cities to rubble, they point to clear parallels to the military behavior of Russia’s scorched earth during two separate wars in Chechnya and the flattening of Aleppo in Syria.

It was the Chechen conflict that led Putin to begin his repression of independent media in Russia, which has now lasted more than two decades, leaving the entire population – not just its leader – isolated from reliable information.

Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev – a staunch Kremlin critic – claims that “Putin is a rational actor” and that the invasion of Ukraine is “horrific but not irrational”.

Kozyrev claims that Putin “spent the last 20 years believing that Ukraine is not a real nation and should be a satellite state at best”. He says Kremlin insiders lied to the Russian leader about the country’s military strength for fear of conceding military budgets was “stolen and used on mega yachts in Cyprus”.

Kozyrev also claims that Putin’s top lieutenants convinced themselves “that President Biden is mentally incompetent … and that the EU is weak”, conclusions supported by the West’s lame reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

U.S. intelligence agencies have large departments that are responsible for maintaining psychological profiles of world leaders and tracking their behavioral changes. Those who monitor Putin’s profiles of both the CIA and the NSA are either struggling to keep up with the Russian leader’s mood swings or arguing that his behavior is not wildly contrary to his extensive track record.

Their work, of course, is secret. But when the White House decides whether Putin is crazy or just bad, we can get a sense of what they have concluded.

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