Vladimir Putin is not a madman

I never thought Vladimir Putin would order a full-scale invasion of Ukraine 

My reasoning was that it was not in Putin’s or Russia’s interest to take responsibility for a country that, by most accounts, was even poorer than Russia itself and almost as corrupt.  Nor did it make sense for Russia to risk getting bogged down in a long quagmire war as it did in Afghanistan.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, had elected as a peace candidate with more than 70 percent of the vote, so there seemed like a possibility of negotiating the status of the Donbas secessionists and other issues.  

I thought Putin would take some limited action that would demonstrate Ukraine’s vulnerability and NATO’s lack of unity.

As a result of the invasion, members of NATO are more united against Russia than ever.  Sweden and Finland have abandoned their neutrality and may formally join NATO.  Countries not willing to fight Russia with troops are waging economic warfare against Russia.

So why did he do it? Was he crazy?

One of my rules of thumb is that when someone who seems highly intelligent does something that makes no sense to me, that person may have reasons that I do not understand.

I believe Putin has made this high-stakes gamble because he believes the actual existence of Russia is at risk.  I believe he further believes that the danger is growing and he had to act before time runs out.   

He has been saying for years that the goal of the U.S.-led alliance is to put itself in a position to be able to successfully attack Russia.  He may be mistaken, but he has reason to think so.

Notice that the ultimatum he issued last year is not limited to Ukraine.  It contains for main demands (1) Ukraine neutrality, (2) autonomy of Donetz and Luhansk, (3) no missiles in Poland or Rumania and (4) NATO troops back to 1991 limits.

Notice also that Russia has not used its full military might in invading Ukraine.  That means Putin may be holding back troops to enforce the rest of his ultimatum.


When Russia withdrew its troops from East Germany and other satellite countries in Eastern Europe in 1989, Secretary of State James Baker allegedly promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO troops would not move “one inch” to the east.  There’s argument as to what he really said.  But many people, myself included, hoped for a new era when the USA and Russia were at peace with each other.

In 1999, NATO expanded.  Putin protested and was ignored.  In 2004, NATO expanded again.  Putin protested and was ignored.

In 2008, NATO announced an intention to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.  Putin said that was a red line that Russia would not tolerate.  

I can understand why.  If you look at a map of Europe showing the peak of German conquests during World War Two, and compare it with a map of NATO with Ukraine and Georgia, you will see they are almost the same.

In 2014, a pro-American faction seized power in Ukraine. Since then, Ukraine has been a NATO member in all but name.

A missile defense system is being placed in Poland and Romania, which could be made capable of launching nuclear missiles. The U.S. meanwhile has exited the Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement.

Soon the United States will have duplicated Russia’s hypersonic missile, which means that a nuclear warhead launched from Poland or Rumania could hit Moscow in a few minutes.

From Putin’s standpoint, time is against Russia.  He has reason to feel that putting off the inevitable showdown will only leave Russia in a position too weak to resist.

I don’t see any reason to think that Putin is acting on impulse.  He has been preparing since at least 2014.

Remember that his ultimatum was not limited to Ukraine.  He called for missile launchers to be removed from Poland and Rumania, and he called for NATO troops to be pulled back to their 1997 positions

Putin did not commit all of Russia’s troops to Ukraine.  He is holding some of them back, presumably to carry out the rest of his plan.

The rhetoric coming out of Washington gives him every reason to think he does not dare back down.

President Biden has called for regime change in Russia.  He says Putin needs to be removed from power and tried as a war criminal.  Many compare Putin to Hitler.  A U.S. Senator called for Putin’s assassination.

I don’t know that the Biden administration actually thinks it can bring about regime change in Russia.  I do know that when American presidents have used that kind of language, death and destruction have followed.

We Americans are used to our politicians shooting off their mouths off.  We don’t take them seriously or literally.  But that’s not how they seem from abroad.

The U.S. government murdered General Qasem Soliemani, the Iranian military leader, with a drone strike while he was on a diplomatic mission.

Two Middle East rulers, Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Bashir al-Assad of Syria, did their utmost to appease the United States.  But the U.S. government backed a proxy war against Libya that resulted in the grisly killing of Qaddafi.  It tried to do the same with Syria, but was blocked by Iran and Russia.

Vladimir Putin used to tell an anecdote about how, when he was growing up, he and other small boys in his apartment building liked to hunt rats.  Once they trapped a rat in a corner.  The rat leaped at one boy’s face, and he and the other boys scattered.

Even if you think Putin is equivalent to a rat, it’s not a good idea to make a ruler of a country with 6,257 nuclear weapons think he’s cornered.


So we’re in a situation now where the best likely outcome is a protracted conflict that ruins Ukraine and leaves both the USA and Russia weaker and poorer.  The worst possible outcome is World War Three.

The United States is in a position where there are no good choices.  It would be dishonorable to abandon Ukraine after encouraging its leaders to think we Americans would fight on their behalf.  But there’s nothing very noble about fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian, either.  The least our government can do is to back up Zelensky in negotiating a truce.  That doesn’t seem likely, though.

Vladimir Putin is the authoritarian ruler of a society of corrupt oligarchs.  His invasion of Ukraine is illegal and, from Russia’s point of view, possibly a grave mistake.  But it is not the result of an irrational impulse.  He has reasons for what he is doing, and he has been explaining those reasons for years.


Putin’s Speech and Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Police on Feb. 17, 2007.  From the horse’s mouth.

“Russia cannot afford to lose, so we need a kind of victory”: Sergey Karagamov on what Putin wants for New Statesman.

Biden’s Reckless Words Underscore the Dangers of the U.S.’s Use of Ukraine as a Proxy War by Glenn Greenwald.

Biden Means What He Says by Margaret Kimberley for Black Agenda Report.

Depicting Putin as ‘Madman’ Eliminates the Need for Diplomacy by Joshua Cho for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

The Crackpot Realism of America, Russia and Ukraine by Ross Barkan for Political Currents.

On U.S. Imperialism’s Proxy War with Russia in Ukraine by Jack Rasmus.


Political scientist John Mearsheimer predicted years ago that if the USA attempted to draw Ukraine into NATO, it would result in a war that would wreck Ukraine.  Here is is take on the present situation.

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5 Responses to “Vladimir Putin is not a madman”

  1. wtfbuddy1 Says:

    Phil – one small correction, James Baker said East not West. Here is the question that needs to be discussed – What will be Putin’s legacy and how will he be remembered and compared to other Russian leaders? Cheers and stay safe.


  2. Susan Pfeiffer Says:

    Well researched and well said.


  3. libbaxgmailcom Says:

    I agreed with your article. I’m wondering about another aspect of the problem: Ukraine being the “bread basket” for Russia? Has this been discussed and brought into the equation? Also, I’m wondering about “nuclear” war in this context….doesn’t a nuclear blast make all the soil poisonous and unusable for agriculture?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Putin has about 400K soldiers and 2800 tanks at his disposal. Every estimate I have seen indicates he’s dedicated about half of that to Ukraine. He does have substantial reserves but reserves take time to activate and train. New conscripts take even longer. To do this he’d have to admit there’s a real war going on.

    Ukraine also has a large infantry reserve which is currently in training with the assistance of NATO. The low estimates of Russia’s tank losses are 4-500. Troops retreating from Kiev can’t just turn around and go into battle again. They are all tired and many units are combat ineffective. Takes time to regroup and refit.

    His reserve tank force is huge but it is all cold war era equipment that has been mothballed for decades. It too will take a while to bring up to snuff and train people to use. If half his military is in Ukraine and he is genuinely worried about NATO incursions, he can’t send much more. There’s a border with the Baltics and Japan and China to worry about and maybe Finland will join NATO, not to mention a need to keep forces in the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, and other hotspots within the Russian Federation.

    I think Putin did not understand the weakness of his military. He really thought he was a conventional near-peer of the US – not just a nuclear one. He was misled, both by his own sycophants and by US pro-military propaganda. The people of Ukraine generally like their government and rallied behind it. His decapitation attempt failed miserably and now he has to settle for the fight of his life in Eastern Ukraine.


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