Putin has become hostage to his own rhetoric

By | March 20, 2022

Political scientist, Ivan Krastev, once met Vladimir Putin in Sochi, on the sidelines of a conference shortly after the annexation of Crimea:

DER SPIEGEL: What was your impression of Putin?

Krastev: Very intelligent and quick, forthright, confrontative. Sarcastic when speaking with someone from the West. But it is the small things that reveal the most about people. He held forth about the situation in the Donbas like a foreign service agent who knows how many people live in each village and what the situation is like in each of them. He considered the fact that primarily women were responsible for Russia policy in the Obama administration to be an intentional attempt to humiliate him. The hypocrisy of the West has become an obsession of his, and it is reflected in everything the Russian government does. Did you know that in parts of his declaration on the annexation of Crimea, he took passages almost verbatim from the Kosovo declaration of independence, which was supported by the West? Or that the attack on Kyiv began with the destruction of the television tower just as NATO attacked the television tower in Belgrade in 1999?

DER SPIEGEL: Why does he do such things?

Krastev: Because he wants to teach us a lesson. Because he wants to tell us: I have learned from you. Even if that means doing exactly that for which he hates us. On that evening in Sochi, he expressed outrage that the annexation of the Crimea had been compared with Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. Putin lives in historic analogies and metaphors. Those who are enemies of eternal Russia must be Nazis. And so, he was quick to portray the conflicts in the Donbas as a genocide. Putin’s overstatements became so extreme that they no longer had any connection to reality. He has become hostage to his own rhetoric.

DER SPIEGEL: Is Putin an angry individual?

Krastev: He is constantly speaking of betrayal and deceit. From the West. From individual, former Soviet republics. In 2008, during the war against Georgia, he met with Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, which was one of the last critical media outlets in the country until it was shut down last week. Putin asked if Venediktov knew what he, Putin, had done in his previous job. Mr. President, Venediktov replied, we all know where you come from. Do you know, Putin said, what we did with traitors in my previous job? Yes, we know, said Venediktov. And do you know why I am speaking with you? Because you are an enemy and not a traitor! In Putin’s view, Ukraine committed the greatest crime imaginable: It betrayed Russia. [Continue reading…]

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