…Gorbachev was not what he seemed. Because he understood his dependent position … he deliberately demonstrated his distance, and he was afraid of fighting with the Party apparat….Lev Timofeyev [i]
[You will be part of a] new clandestine structure where you will work with the best of the best. Your personnel files will be removed from the archives. No one will ever know your past. You will become a clandestine agent; you will begin to work for the Fatherland against those who want to destroy it…. I agreed…. I worked directly on cleaning up the archives of the KGB. Together with my files, hundreds of others were removed, including that of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.Nikolay (Anonymous KGB Official) [ii]
The criminal nature of Russia’s ruling structures is well known. The criminal nature of Marxism-Leninism is also known, but often ignored. Today the outward trappings of communism in Russia have been papered over – but not entirely. In Red Square, near the Kremlin, we see communist superstar Vladimir Lenin lying in state, after nearly 100 years, mummified in his mausoleum. The music of the Soviet anthem remains, with different words. Instead of “Leningrad” we have “St. Petersburg.” The tricolor flies over the Kremlin instead of the red banner with its hammer and sickle. The Nomenklatura controls the economy, with dolled-up Jewish oligarchs as front men. The KGB and GRU still function as before. The nuclear arsenal and nuclear defenses are new and improved. The army, however, is still the army of Stalin, the Army of 22 June 1941, the Army that lost a quarter of a million men in Finland during the Winter War, etc. And, for reasons unknown, Moscow has attempted to use this army – this Soviet artifact – to force Ukraine back into Moscow’s fold.
– Oops! –
If you missed the war in Ukraine, here is a recap: The Russian land forces have failed to capture Kiev, have failed to take Odessa and Kharkiv, and they have failed to break the Ukrainian battle line. Russia has lost generals, admirals, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, over 330 fixed wing aircraft, 2,300 armored fighting vehicles, hundreds of helicopters with more than 40,000 soldiers killed, wounded and missing. Out of the invader’s 120 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), the Ukrainian Army claims to have destroyed the combat effectiveness of 60.[iii] Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have more tanks in action than the Russians.
For years we have heard that the Russians play chess while the Americans play checkers. But now we see that the Russians have been playing Russian roulette. President Vladimir Putin was said to have only one positive trait; namely, that he was competent. But now we see his bungling. In fact, Putin’s “vertical of power,” modeled on Stalin’s “vertical of power,” has taken a nose-dive. Can Putin pull up at the last moment and save his regime? Some experts say he cannot mobilize a large enough army to save the situation in Ukraine because Russia’s tanks have not been properly stored, Russia’s artillery shells are duds, and Russia’s new arms factories are imaginary. What happened to all the money that was poured into Putin’s celebrated arms buildup? Did that money end up in secret bank accounts in Cyprus and Switzerland?
Putin’s kleptocracy is, after all, a kleptocracy. A criminal regime, having a criminal mentality, cannot do anything straight or proper. Everyone is crooked, and everything is made crooked – from tanks to artillery to missiles to bombs. As ever, war is a moment of truth. Your weapons either work or they don’t. Your troops either know how to fight or they don’t. Your generals understand strategy or they don’t.
And in Russia they don’t.
The Kremlin has painted itself into a corner. Putin is now an international pariah. The homage he previously received owed to a belief in his competence. Who now believes he is competent? Putin is now despised not merely on account of his wickedness, but on account of his foolishness. Everyone is free to pile on.
It does not matter that Putin has nuclear weapons. He cannot kill everyone and he dares not try. In the eyes of a cynical world, Putin’s nuclear threats are therefore contemptible; for nobody is taking his threats seriously. One only has to see the way President Joseph Biden dismissively waves his hand at the mere suggestion of Putin starting a nuclear war. What Putin has failed to realize, at the outset, is that Western leaders have been long conditioned by Soviet active measures to disregard nuclear threats. They were taught that nuclear war is the end of the world, the end of civilization, the end of humanity. You cannot threaten people with the end of everything. They won’t believe you. Such threats have only succeeded in making Putin appear deranged – which is even more contemptible.
Putin’s “vertical of power” has become a comedy. Russia’s dictator is hopping painfully on one foot, holding a stubbed toe. He blusters, he curses, he threatens. His television toadies talk of eradicating whole cities and countries with radioactive tsunami bombs. But all the while, the angry dictator yelps and hops because Ukraine was in the way.
To underscore the point again: Putin has ever had only one leg to stand on – the one he is hopping on. And it will not support him much longer. Competence was his all-in-all. But now we see him, at long last. He is a fraud. His legacy consists of rigged elections, assassinated journalists, poisoned political rivals and the city of Mariupol in ruins. To what end? – for another month of slaughtering and demoralizing his own soldiers? All those lies, and all that thievery – for what? A military clown show featuring an enraged Kremlin clown!
Everyone can see through him. His regime is at the end of its tether. Even if he wins a battlefield victory he is going to lose the war. He is, in brief, a hollow man; an enemy of true law and right reason. He has stolen Russia’s wealth. He has swindled Russia’s people, and now he stands naked before the world. And the world is not afraid. Even if he unleashes his nukes, he cannot win. He is nothing. The “Z’ in Operation Z signifies more than the end of the alphabet. It signifies the end of Putin.
In his Republic, Cicero wrote that true law and right reason are “of universal application, unchanging and everlasting….” It does not, he wrote, “lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain,” though it has no effect on the wicked. Everyone now sees that Putin is wicked. He has trampled true law and right reason. He refuses to acknowledge the “one eternal and unchangeable law” which is, as Cicero said, “valid for all nations and all times….” Putin’s alleged Christianity is now exposed as a lie; for true law and right reason have “one master and ruler, that is, God…. Whoever is disobedient [to it] is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment….”[iv]
In his book, Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin, John Mosier explained that the ultimate cause of Moscow’s military blunders in World War II “was Stalin.”[v] Might we say, under the present circumstances, that the ultimate cause of Russia’s failed Ukraine invasion is Putin? Mosier characterized Stalin’s military leadership with the following words:
Surrounded by sycophants and lackeys, few of whom possessed more than a grade school education, he continued on, serene in his estimate of himself, punishing those who were blamed for his mistakes, and creating a well nigh total paralysis of the state at every level. [vi]
Putin’s sycophants and lackeys may be better educated than Stalin’s, yet the outcome is going to be much worse for Putin. If these men – these generals and statesmen – were so well-educated and clever, why didn’t they warn Putin of the risk he was taking by launching the Ukraine invasion? Why didn’t they warn him about the Turkish drones, or Ukraine’s determination to fight, or the West’s willingness to send weapons? We all saw how Putin rolled his eyes when his chief diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, spoke about peace talks. “Oh no,” Putin’s face seemed to be saying. “Don’t bore me with your diplomatic nonsense!”
No one knows what was going on in Stalin’s mind, and for each mistake, a charitable explanation can be found. However, when considered as a whole, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that his decisions were usually wrong and his judgment faulty.” [vii]
And so it is with Putin. His decisions have been wrong and his judgment has been faulty. Does not power, after all, make stupid? The dictator is soon spoiled by his dictatorship; for who is he accountable to? Who dares contradict him? Better, indeed, to flatter a dictator and win his favor. And that is exactly what a sycophant does!
Those who criticized Stalin by disagreeing with him often faced imprisonment, torture, or execution. Mosier shows how Stalin lashed out at his best and brightest. Here is a moral disease, an ego-driven cancer of the intellect. The political scientist, Eric Voegelin, had the idea that totalitarian dictators suffer from what he called pneumopathology or “a disturbance in the life of the spirit.” Life is full of suffering and uncertainty, said Voegelin. The pneumopath overcomes suffering and uncertainty by adopting make-believe certainties. “Hence, pneumopathology consists of … derailment from the regular perception of reality and of the creation of a second realty, also called ‘dream reality.’”[viii]
According to Voegelin,
Man cannot transform himself into a superman; the attempt to create a superman is an attempt to murder man. Historically, the murder of God is not followed by the superman, but by the murder of man: the deicide of the gnostic theoreticians is followed by the homicide of the revolutionary practitioners.[ix]
Stalin, “the man of steel,” became a mass murderer. This was inevitable, says Voegelin. The introduction to Mosier’s book is titled, “Pseudo-Reality and the Soviet Union.” Mosier pointed to the rosy Soviet picture Stalin preferred to paint. “[The Soviet state] was a state in which there were, for instance, no airline accidents, no missing persons, and no crime.” Mosier further noted, “When, in the decade before the collapse, curious foreigners were allowed to experience Soviet reality with somewhat more freedom, the shock was considerable.”[x]
Of course, the military disasters under Stalin in 1941 were greater than those of Putin today; but Putin is just getting started. Some say he is going to announce a massive mobilization on Monday. That would be crazy, of course. But there is method in this kind of madness. More men, more numbers, more people to blame; more cities knocked down, more killed and wounded, more atrocities. Maybe Ukraine will succumb to a larger horde of poorly trained, poorly led, looters. Or maybe he just pushes the button.
Madness vs. Evil: Analyzing Putin’s character
More than a decade ago, a book appeared which claimed that totalitarian regimes were, in essence, run by psychopaths and other psychologically abnormal types. The book was titled Political Ponerology: A Science of the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, by Andrew M. Lobaczewski. According to the author, psychopaths see normal people as prospective victims even as they see other psychopaths as partners in crime.
Lobaczewski suggested that large-scale evil originates in “persons with various psychological defects and anomalies”[xi] who enter politics. His theory is that historical periods marked by hysteria facilitate the rise of psychopaths into positions of power. This results in the degeneration of social structures in a way that facilitates society’s worst disease; that is, “pathocracy,” which is government of, by, and for the psychopaths.[xii]
This phenomenon, says Lobaczewski, “has its own characteristic process of genesis … only partially conditioned by, and hidden within, the maximal hysterical intensity of the [hysteroidal] … cycle.” In a political emergency, a psychologically healthy person called to high office “normally experiences doubts as to whether he can meet the demands expected of him and seeks the assistance of others whose opinions he values. At the same time, he feels nostalgia for his old life, freer and less burdensome….” The pathological individual, however, dreams of power as something alluring and even comforting.
In Putin’s autobiography, First Person, which consists of interviews, the Russian president depicts himself as a democrat who does not intend to stay in power long. He also pretends to be an outsider, with no clear idea how he got into the Kremlin. There is a grandiosity in his self-depiction which is unmistakable. He even says, at one point, that he was not ready to be president. But then, he likes the responsibility. He likes making decisions. He admits that Napoleon Bonaparte interests him more than anyone else in history.[xiii] He feels no qualms about being Yeltsin’s successor because, after all, he has an “historical mission” to carry out.[xiv] Toward the end of the book, Putin admits how satisfying high office is, and how he enjoys “making decisions independently” (as opposed to Lobaczewski’s healthy person who seeks advice because he is filled with doubts).[xv]
The thing that is hardest to understand about Putin is the man’s solipsism. He sees himself as possessing everything he needs. Therefore, he does not need to be briefed. Masha Gesson, whose writings are highly critical of Putin, met the Russian dictator only to discover that he did not know anything about her: “He had clearly not been briefed,” she explained. “He had no idea who I was….” Putin did not even know she had written a hostile biography. He only took an interest because he was acquiring the magazine she had been working for. According to Gesson, “he had grown isolated and solipsistic as only a dictator can.” She had met her nemesis, but he regarded her as another faceless member of his vast staff. Putin was, she wrote, “shallow, self-involved, not terribly perceptive, and apparently very poorly informed….”[xvi]
Is Putin psychologically abnormal? Sifting Putin’s biography there is plenty to show that he has schizoid traits. Described by one source as a “depressed loner” who “often pours his anger out on those close to him,”[xvii] Putin’s foreign policy has long been based on paranoid thinking. By common report he is emotionally cold and humorless. He is also contemptuous and dismissive. He has delusions, especially about fighting Ukrainian Nazis. If I am not mistaken, these are all schizoid traits.
According to Lobaczewski, “Schizoid characters aim to impose their own conceptual world upon other people or social groups, using relatively controlled pathological egotism and the exceptional tenacity derived from their persistent nature.” Lobaczewski added that Schizoids “become zealots for some ideology … or adherents of an ideology with satanic features.” Even more curious, according to Lobaczewski, “Karl Marx is the best-known” schizoid figure in history. “Frostig, a psychiatrist of the old school, included Engels and others into a category he called ‘bearded schizoidal fanatics.’”[xviii]
And why would anyone follow a schizoidal fanatic? Lobaczewski says that their oversimplified pattern of ideas, “tends to exert an intense attracting influence on individuals who are insufficiently critical, frequently frustrated as result of downward social adjustment … or characterized by psychological deficiencies of their own.”[xix]
Is Lobaczewski psychologizing evil? Maybe. Yet his narrative curiously fits with Voegelin’s notion of pneumapathology (i.e, spiritual sickness). According to Voegelin, there are those who knowingly falsify reality “for purposes of enlisting others in a ruinous project of world transformation….”[xx] This statement is remarkably similar to Lobaczewski’s explanation for political evil. In fact, it seems to me that Voegelin and Lobaczewski are using different language to describe the same thing. On the one hand, Voegelin sees the spiritually sick person empowering himself with delusions of “certainty.” On the other hand, Lobaczewski sees deluded ideologues as one of the primary threats to our contemporary world.
If we accept the idea that “schizoidia” has played an essential role in our political evils, then perhaps the terrible events unfolding in Ukraine belong to one man. I am not inclined to think so; but if this is true, what will Putin do next? Will he extend the war and mobilize more forces? Will he use nuclear weapons? Or will he declare victory and negotiate a ceasefire?
Lobaczewski warns that a pathological process, once underway, “tends to intensify with time.” Early on, initiatives are undertaken in such a regime by persons whose characteropathic features are better hidden. Later on, paranoid individuals come more into play. “Toward the end of the process,” wrote Lobaczewski, “an individual with frontal characteropathy and the highest degree of pathological egotism can easily take over leadership.”[xxi]
A GRU defector once told me that Russia is led by psychopaths. He said to me, “These are not normal human beings. These are crazy persons.” According to Lobaczewski: “Such a situation eventually engenders a wholesale showdown.”
Some sources in the former Soviet Union, like former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, say that Putin is not as important as we think. Kravchuk has described Putin as a front man for others. A former KGB officer described Putin to me as “a person who has agreed to publicly take responsibility for the generals.” In his First Person autobiography, Putin underscores this idea himself: “The responsibility was on me. Yes, I took pleasure in feeling responsible.”[xxii]
One of my correspondents in Eastern Europe is Dr. Anca Maria Cernea, a Romanian doctor whose political diagnoses are always interesting. On March 1, during the first week of Russia’s invasion, Dr. Cernea shared her thoughts. She began by saying that “Russia is losing.” Whatever the bigger plan behind the invasion, “this particular operation of theirs is a failure.”
Previously Dr. Cernea assumed that Russia could defeat Ukraine in an all-out-invasion. After consulting sources in Ukraine, she came to a different conclusion. “The Russians cannot win this war,” she explained. “They will get so entangled in Ukraine, it will be worse than Afghanistan was for the USSR.”
The war in Ukraine, she predicted, will destroy Russia. The cost to Ukraine, she added, will “be monstrous.” Tragically, Ukraine will have to bear that cost. “The [Russian] plan was probably a blitzkrieg. They thought they would take Kiev in the first 1-2 days, that Zelensky would run away, and they would put a puppet government in there … and then they would deal with the ‘international community.’ Given the obvious cowardice, stupidity and incapacity of most current Western leaders, Putin thought he would soon return to business-as-usual with them. It didn’t work.”
And so, we are left with the question of what comes next. One of the things that troubles Dr. Cernea is that Alexei Navalny, currently imprisoned in Russia for opposing Putin, “has sent a message on twitter to the Russian people, saying something like ‘Putin is not Russia,’ etc.” As Dr. Cernea observed, “It sounds incredible that Navalny may have the possibility to communicate ‘with the nation’ by twitter from a Russian labor camp.” She further noted that her father, who had spent 17 years in various communist prisons, “could only send a message to his parents and to his fiancé once, thanks to the help of a benevolent (and very brave) guard. For most of the 17 years, those who were waiting for my father outside couldn’t even be sure he was still alive.”
What is also disturbing for Dr. Cernea is that anti-Western persons and organizations are now opposing Putin, like the hacker group known as Anonymous. “I used to think Anonymous was connected to Russia,” wrote Cernea – “if you judge by its targets … [and] by its support for things like Occupy Wall Street…. Could their [present] activity [against Putin] now be interpreted as an expression of some faction of the Russian secret services fighting Putin’s faction?”
I share Dr. Cernea’s reservations about certain Ukrainian well-wishers of the moment. She wrote, “Please, don’t take this as an optimistic message. Everything is far from over. Things are very close to a world war, a nuclear war, God only knows. Things are horrible already, as they are now in Ukraine.”
Nuclear war is one of Putin’s options. But another scenario may be contemplated. There is a scenario being discussed in Romania that Americans might find surprising. “Maybe Putin gets suicided down in his bunker,” wrote Cernea, “and then a new Russian leader comes along on a white horse and makes peace with the West, and the entire world will be happy … and may relax and go back to sleep. Navalny may be a good candidate for this role. The West will hurry to offer him support, we don’t want to humiliate Russia, do we, [and] we don’t want the hardliners to win. We have to give this reformer, this new Gorbachev, a hand, sign deals with him, buy gas from him, etc. etc. We should be prepared for such a possibility, a new perestroika-like deception.”
This scenario is plausible because it has happened before. And what happened before can happen again. The communist movement is a worldwide movement. Strictly speaking it does not need Russia to win in Ukraine. Communism has made such inroads in the West, that we are in danger of succumbing to it without Russian bombs or missiles. Addressing me directly, Dr. Cernea said that I have been right about Russia and communism – “that the Russian communist system has been building its entire structure all over the world, that they have managed to erode Western society up to a critical degree, that the American people cannot perceive the nature of this system, the West-Europeans even less. The Russians are very good at this. But they also have their weaknesses, some of which are deadly to them. Putin himself is not stupid, but he is far from the subtle Mephistopheles Andropov was. The same can be said for the siloviki and the oligarchs around Putin. Their system is deeply corrupt, their society is incomparably more rotten than the West. The communist system is satanic in the sense that it is entropic. They do set in motion all kinds of plans, they are able to sustain them long-term, and conceal those plans. They cause a lot of destruction. But things don’t always work out for them. I think I have told you about the 1989 Romanian Revolution – that it was partly planned, but it went out of control from the Russian perspective. Another example could be the Arab Spring – which was intended for Egypt and other Western allies in the region, but it spread to Syria, which was not part of the plan…. Even the greater plan to demoralize the West, started by Lenin and continued over the last century has backfired on Russia. If you think the American youth are superficial and ignorant and lack moral values, you should see the young Russians!”
The Russians, she noted, “are capable of diabolical atrocities of incredible dimensions,” but on the other hand “they are chaotic, they run out of supplies, they carelessly expose their soldiers to enemy fire, they don’t mind human losses, their equipment is antique, their tank drivers surrender and offer to sell their gas to locals in exchange for vodka. It’s a terribly messy and savage horde, which reminds me what my father used to tell us from his WW2 experience. The problem with Russia is that it’s very very big.”
But the Ukrainians, according to my correspondent, “are very tough. They are motivated, unlike the Russians. The Ukrainians have changed since 2014. They hate Russia now. It’s a historical turn that has taken place, that has religious and cultural reasons. And Ukraine is also rather big. The Russians cannot do to them what they did to the Chechens. Ukraine is much bigger and the whole world is looking now. Stalin could kill millions because nobody in the West knew or was interested. Rather, they looked the other way. Putin would like to do the same as Stalin, but he can’t.”
Dr. Cernea does not think Putin is “mad in the clinical sense of the word,” though the entire Kremlin is a playground full of psychopaths. “They do threaten the world rather explicitly with a general nuclear holocaust,” she wrote. “Of course, they are able to commit any crime, no matter how monstrous. But there is also another interpretation. They know the West is frightened, that Western leaders faint when they see blood, that they are now in a panic, and still could give up to Russia. The Russians are, of course, partly right to get such an impression. Putin may decide to just nuke Kiev, when he sees he can’t win with the invasion.”
Who would stop him in that case? Do the leaders of NATO and the U.S. have nerves of steel? It seems to me, as well, that none of our leaders take nuclear war seriously. They certainly have not budgeted for it. So why is Europe standing up to Russia? According to Dr. Cernea, Poland was the real game changer. “We owe to the Polish conservative government the radical change in the attitude of the West – most spectacular in the case of Germany.”
The Polish government’s diplomatic leadership and courage in the crisis is worth a closer look. Dr. Cernea wrote, “I think it may be explained by this very state of panic which most of the leaders of Western Europe felt when Russia invaded Ukraine. Maybe with the exception of Boris Johnson, the others were pale and desperate and had no idea what to do. They are psychologically rather weak. Polish PM Morawiecki talked to them, was confident, knew what needed to be done, had a plan, made them feel safer in his presence, as he showed leadership, organization, determination.”
According to Dr. Cernea, public opinion was another factor. European voters were no longer willing to tolerate their leaders’ complicity with Putin. Cernea wrote, “The truth is that Germany, France, and the EU, have all appeased and thus emboldened Putin who thought it was time to get what he wanted from the West. Biden’s disastrous retreat from Afghanistan and his approval for Nordstream 2 didn’t help either.”
Indeed, if we try to look beyond Putin we are still left with the West’s feckless and cowardly leaders. Therefore we must not mistake a future Ukrainian victory for something that the West has done. If the war is widened, and Ukraine is defeated, it will be on account of America’s weakness and NATO’s weakness. It is a mistake to think that Putin is provoked by our strength and unity. Not at all. Putin is provoked by the appearance of weakness.
Thank God for Poland. Thank God for Ukraine.
Notes and Links
[i] Lev Timofeyev, Russia’s Secret Rulers: How the Government and Criminal Mafia Exercise Their Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), pp. 78-79.
[ii] Bonini and D’Avanzo, “I Cekisti al Poetere.” (As quoted by Karen Dawisha in Putin’s Kleptocracy.)
[iv] Cicero trans. Clinton Walker Keyes, The Republic, III, xxiii.
[v] John Mosier, Deathride: Hitler v. Stalin – The Eastern Front, 1941-1945 (Kindle Edition), p. 103.
[vi] Ibid, p. 84.
[x] Mosier, p. 6.
[xi] Andrew Lobaczewski, Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes (Kindle Edition), Location 619.
[xii] Ibid, Location 3070-3077.
[xiii] Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait (New York: Public Affairs, 2000), p. 194.
[xiv] Ibid, p. 139.
[xv] Ibid, p. 206.
[xvi] Masha Gesson, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012)m pp. 302-304,
[xviii] Lobaczewski, Location 3108.
[xix] Ibid, Location 3124.
[xx] Michael Franz, Eric Voegelin and the Politics of Spiritual Revolt (Baton Rouge: Louisiana state University Press, 1992), p. 125.
[xxi] Lobaczewski, Location 3164.
[xxii] Putin, p. 206.
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