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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin

I once heard Garry Kasparov interviewed on television about what he thought motivates Vladimir Putin. Kasparov gave a very illuminating answer that should be considered by all as we determine how deal with Putin. Kasparov believes that Putin is ultimately at all times motivated to act in a manner that will continue to increase the price of oil. What Putin wants, in Kasparov's view, is to create just enough instability in the world to increase oil, but not so much that the situation is out of control. This view would explain much of Putin's moves geopolitically including his back channeled support for Iran.

Kasparov is in a very unique position. He is of course best known as a grand master chess champion, but more recently, he has become a political activist. In fact, he is by far the most high profile opponent of Putin. Furthermore, he is also in the unique position of being able to speak freely in criticism of Putin. I firmly believe that Kasparov has basically hit the proverbial nail on the head in describing what motivates Putin.

Russia's GDP has grown by leaps and bounds over the last seven years primarily because the price of oil has grown with it. So, in one sense, the increased price of oil translates into greater wealth for his country. That said, ultimately, Putin's main motivation is power. The ever increasing price of oil translates into economic wealth for Russia, and economic wealth translates into power for Russia.

For several years, Putin has been consolidating power internally. For the last few years, he has systematically decimated any and all internal media that dared to be critical of him. At roughly the same time, the Russian Supreme Court moved to eliminate any substantial opposition parties in the legislature. Finally, when his term ended, he installed his crony, Dmitri Medvedev, as President while he maintained the role of Prime Minister. This systematic assault on free speech and Democracy was meant to serve only one purpose, consolidate as much power into his own hands as possible.

Geopolitically, he has many of the same goals. He has a deeply nationalistic view of geopolitics. In other words, he wants to consolidate as much power into the hands of Mother Russia as possible. That's why he wants to see oil prices go as high as possible. That allows his country the economic strength necessary to then mount a power grab, first in the region, then the continent and ultimately the world.

That is at the center of the current conflict he orchestrated with Georgia. This is nothing more than another power play by Putin. The last thing that Putin needs is a plethora of successful democracies right on his border. Georgai, along with most of the former Soviet Republics, represent just such a threat. In Putin's perfect world, he would crush the government, force an overthrow, and orchestrate a puppet government to take over. What Putin really wants is for every former Republic to have nothing more than Russian puppet governments. That's why he so furiously objects to any of them being accepted into either the EU or NATO. NATO's rule is an attack on one is an attack on all. If either Ukraine, Georgia, or any of the former republics were ever a part of NATO, he could no longer threaten any of them without being faced with the threat of the full force of NATO.

In my opinion, Bush's biggest mistake was not recognizing Putin for the evil sociopath that he is. As such, Putin used Bush's good will against him for nearly his entire Presidency. Bush likely thought that Putin would help in removing Saddam and instead Putin lead the charge against the invasion. He has consistently directed Russia to water down each and every UN resolution against Iran. Any and all moves to strengthen European alliances and military cooperation are always viewed by Putin as some sort of saber rattling.

Thus, what Putin will do vis a vis Georgia is push the envelope as far as possible without putting the world community into a position where they have to act. I think he recognizes a complete lack of will on the part of the world community and that has given him an opportunity. Again, in his perfect world the government would be removed and a puppet installed. More likely, and still perfectly acceptable, is a military beating so bruising that the Georgian government is left tattered, humiliated, and with little credibility. As such, this episode does exactly what Putin wants, consolidates more power in his hands.

1 comment:

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