My new column for Russia Magazein, “Infantilizing Putin.” Here’s an excerpt:
Last week, The New York Times lamented the dearth of Russian specialists to comment on the crisis in Crimea. “As a result, Russia experts say, there has been less internal resistance to American presidents seeking to superimpose their notions on a large and complex nation of 140 million people led by a former K.G.B. operative with a zero-sum view of the world,” writes Jason Horowitz. Presidents aren’t the only ones making superimposition upon superimposition. The persistent caricature of Russia, and in particular, its president Vladimir Putin is alive and well. Since Russia’s occupation of Crimea, entering Putin’s mind, let alone understanding his logic, has become a booming industry. Everyone, it seems, has some sort of inner insight into Putin’s psychology. Even pop-psychologist Keith Ablow diagnosed Putin’s being as “inseparable from the manifest destiny of the country he leads.” For Ablow, Putin’s psychology is “one part nationalism, one part narcissism.”
Some of this armchair psychoanalysis comes from the fact that Putin seems unclear as to what his endgame is. The over the top propaganda coming out of Russia coupled with Putin’s own contradictory and confused press conference has people asking: Is he insane? Simply out of touch? Suffers from a Napoleon complex? Or is Putin increasingly isolated from the world around him, a kind of cloistered and lonely Tsar surrounded by a diminishing circle of confidants? An excellent article in the Times suggested just that. Putin’s Crimea move was made with the council of only a few officials and born of frustration and anger rather than a well thought out plan.
One main thread in these psychoanalytical portraits of Putin is to infantilize him and his behavior.