A war like those seen on CNN, with the same special effects and the same chilling inexorable precision, at least on television screens. Probably when, a few days earlier, Vladimir Putin had commanded the exercises of his strategic troops with a pleased expression, with the launch of all the rich assortment of Russian missiles broadcast on TV, he was already thinking that it would not remain just a simulation, and a display of military might. The spectacle of Russia firing on cities and military bases in Ukraine is not only surreal and impossible, but also closes a whole vein of kremlinology that for years had questioned Putin’s hidden motives and intricate calculations. “If Putin attacks, I’ll have to throw his assumption of rationality, on which I have based my analyzes for 23 years, out the window,” tweeted Leonid Bershidsky, former editor of the Russian liberal daily Vedomosti, Bloomberg’s leading signature. Rationality flies out the window a few minutes later, together with the first missiles raining down and the word “irrational” bounces among the astonished experts, who listen to the speech of the Russian president preceding the departure of the attack.
There is nothing to guess and little to analyze: Putin is far too explicit, categorical, brutal. No allusion, no oblique message: the US and its Western allies are “the empire of lies”, Ukraine is not a sovereign country, occupying “historically Russian territories”, an entity “under external control”, transformed into an “anti-Russia” subservient to NATO. An enemy state, indeed, not even a state, a geographical expression. Just the night before, he had said with a half smile that the crisis could be resolved with Ukraine renouncing NATO on its own, recognizing the annexation of Crimea to Russia, and shedding all the weapons received from the allies. A few hours later, he announced that he would personally “demilitarize” the neighboring country, targeting airports, barracks, military depots and war material factories, for the declared purpose of decimating Ukrainian defenses, while his spokesman confirmed that the goal of the operation is a regime change in Kiev, without specifying what will become of the current government.
A narrative that draws, as well as Putin’s speech two days earlier on the recognition of the Donbass, from a mix of Soviet historiography, the exaltation of the imperial tradition of the tsars, the paranoia of an encircled Russia (it is no coincidence that the USA are accused of intention to “subvert our traditional family values, mixing NATO and LGBT into a single ideology), the obsession with competing with the US and the cult of military power. No opening to negotiations – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a few hours earlier, revealed that he had attempted a last phone call to the Kremlin, where no one has lifted the phone – and many threats: Putin warns any third countries who want to prevent retaliation against the Ukraine of “a reaction like they have never seen it before”. Not reading the atomic threat is difficult, even if the head of the Kremlin, if anything, accuses Kiev of the intention to acquire the bomb.
A political vision not only belonging to another century, but also fundamentally based on erroneous assumptions. Ukraine’s accession to NATO was not even on the horizon, and there was plenty of time to discuss a possible commitment not to place any missiles, bombs or bases, as part of the strategic negotiations offered by Washington. And representing the “Nazi junta” is Zelensky, a Russian-speaker of Jewish origin who has garnered the most votes in the very East that Putin would like to protect from an alleged “genocide”.
But Putin does not seem to want to hear reasons about Ukraine: the hatred with which he strips it of any right to exist except as a Russian colony, the insistence with which he repeats that the Ukrainians are “the same people” as the Russians, and that once “freed” they would return to the fold of Moscow, they seem to ignore the last 30 years of history (not to mention the previous centuries). The suspicion is that Putin believes his own propaganda, and to summarize it a bit brutally is Milos Zeman: «I said that the Russians were not crazy … I admit that I was wrong … The fools must be put in isolation … we must protect us from them, ”declared the Czech president, who has so far been criticized by many for being too pro-Russian.
It is the atrocious doubt that Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman proposed a few days ago, assuming that instead of rational Putin, the great master of political chess that the media likes to tell, there was a “Vlad the Mad”, Vladimir the Fool, alienated from reality after 23 years of unchallenged power, devoured by the paranoia of a plot that takes away his power, convinced that he has the historic mission of rebuilding the Russian empire. A tsar who has a kind of jealousy for his former largest and richest colony that he would rather destroy it than see it happy without him, in Europe. A resentment that makes him lose half the value of his stock exchange in a few minutes, condemns him to international isolation and pits him against an entire country that died on the Maidan for the European choice. It was the price that many analysts considered irrational. But the flaw of diplomacy is precisely this: it is not a discipline capable of abandoning a rational bargaining ground.