UPDATE: I must apologize for the lack of activity here in the past few weeks. One of those weeks I was away from the computer, and recently I’ve been busy with my new work. What that means, thankfully, is that very soon there will be no more impediment to the podcast. The third episode will be released, and I’ve talked to some people who will make great editions to our podcasting team. Of course more donors on Patreon or the GoFundMe would certainly help speed things up, but things are generally getting better. All I have to do is avoid getting caught in one of our nation’s near-daily mass shootings.
With that update out of the way, today’s post is about how Vladimir Putin might possibly be losing his mind. You might think this isn’t such a big deal, what with the President of the United States clearly suffering from either dementia or late-stage syphilis, but whereas Trump has minders to keep him somewhat in line with snacks and jingling keys, Putin’s authority is near absolute. In the US, government officials scramble to clean up Trump’s messes and prevent next week’s scandal (often unsuccessfully), whereas in Russia, officials are sycophants all competing to be Putin’s best bootlicker. That’s why it’s a bit of a problem if Putin, now aged 65 with nearly 18 years in power, loses his mind. And lately it looks like that might be the case.
On 30 October, Putin claimed that foreigners were collecting “biomaterial” from Russian citizens. As Meduza reported, Putin asked members of the Presidential Human Rights Council (yes, he has one of those) the following:
“Why are they(foreigners -J.K.) going to different ethnic groups and to people living in different geographical locations across the Russian Federation? That’s the question. Why are they doing this? And they’re doing it purposefully and professionally. We’ve become the subject of such strong interest.”
For their part, the Pentagon apparently does have something to do with collection of biomaterials for some kind of study, but it is not focused solely on Russia and is not nearly as sinister as Putin suggests. Of course this being Russia, it hasn’t stopped the bootlickers in Russia’s government from rapidly developing new legislation to protect Russia’s precious biomaterial from evil foreigners. Also in case you think the president’s words were taken out of context, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed Putin had received the information on biomaterial collection from his intelligence services, and he also claimed that the people involved in this collection were NGOs and other “organs.”
Now all Dr. Strangelove jokes aside, this isn’t exactly an isolated incident with Putin. It is interesting to note that in Mikhail Zygar’s excellent book All The Kremlin’s Men, it notes how right around the time Putin switched to the position of Prime Minister, he seemed to have “become an expert on everything.” He began commenting on and giving advice on all kinds of matters far outside his field.
At his December 2014 annual press conference, Putin dropped this bomb of wisdom on the crowd:
“Sometimes I think, maybe it would be better for our bear to sit quiet, rather than chasing around the forest after piglets. To sit eating berries and honey instead. Maybe they will leave it in peace. They will not. Because they will always try to put him on a chain, and as soon as they succeed in doing so they tear out his fangs and his claws. Once they’ve taken out his claws and his fangs, then the bear is no longer necessary. He’ll become a stuffed animal. The issue is not Crimea, the issue is that we are protecting our sovereignty and our right to exist.”
In the same press conference, Putin referenced an urban legend about how former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright supposedly thought that it was unfair for Russia to own Siberia’s vast mineral wealth. I say thought, because the origin of the legend was a Russian general claiming his operatives read Albright’s mind.
And of course these incidents can all be added to Putin’s rather bizarre behavior ahead of his almost inevitable fourth term in office as president, which seems about six years too early.
Realistically speaking, I don’t think Putin is suffering from dementia or any other specific mental disorder. To me his behavior seems to be the result of so many years of almost uncontested power and being surrounded by sycophants. It’s only natural that after you’ve spent nearly twenty years having everyone, including a massive state media machine, telling you how great you are, you’re going to start believing your own hype. At the same time, knowing that you’re surrounded by sycophants who are almost certainly all lying to you is also going to take its psychological toll. Apart from all that, it seems like Putin is just out of ideas. He’s reinvented himself so many times and now he doesn’t know who to be next. And he’ll have six years to think about it.
It’s unlikely that Putin will take to Twitter and start ranting and raving like his US counterpart, but as he grows more isolated and disconnected from reality, there is cause for concern. Unlike the US, which was designed to go from president to president without a revolution, Putin’s political technologists deliberately manufactured a system based around him personally. In the process they sowed the seeds of paranoia and cynicism among the populace while destroying independent civil society. That means, in so many words, Après Putin, le déluge.
But if life after Putin seems scary, you might be getting ahead of yourself. If Putin retains power while his mental state begins to degenerate, the transition itself is going to get pretty ugly.