Sitting alone at a desk in a grand, columned Kremlin room, Vladimir Putin looked across an expanse of parquet floor at his security council and asked if anyone wished to express an alternative opinion.
He was met with silence.
A few hours later, the Russian president appeared on state television to give an angry, rambling lecture about Ukraine, a country that in Putin’s telling had become “a colony with a puppet regime”, and had no historical right to exist.
Putin’s double bill, which was immediately followed by the signing of an agreement on Russian recognition of the two proxy states in east Ukraine as independent entities, is likely to go down in history as one of the major turning points in his 22-years-and-counting rule over Russia.
This was not a politician convening his team for discussions, this was a supreme leader marshalling his minions and ensuring collective responsibility for a decision that, at minimum, will change the security architecture in Europe, and may well lead to a horrific war that consumes Ukraine.
Putin appeared genuinely angry and passionate in his speech, which he almost certainly wrote himself.
In a symbolic sign of his increasing isolation, with no equals who can talk back to him or debate ideas, Putin has recently taken to meeting politicians, including his own ministers, across ostentatiously large tables, apparently as a Covid precaution. But at the security council meeting on Monday, when a long table for once would have seemed appropriate, Putin sat alone, surveying his subordinates from absurdly far away, as they squirmed awkwardly in chairs waiting their turn to be grilled by the boss. [Continue reading…]