Theories of Putin
I do not know what to think of Putin, exactly.
The view from Western media leans toward interpreting Putin as an evil dark lord, bent on war with the West, and an ex-KGB agent intent on returning to the glory of the old Soviet Union. (Echos of Mordor?)
Maybe he is, or something vaguely of the like. Or not.
If I were in Putin’s position, what would I do?
At the time when Putin took power, Russia was a nation in the middle of an enormous social, political, and economic transformation. That same transformation is continuing today. Russia is not a tame beast. The enormous expanse of Russia is in some ways like the wild-west of America’s past. What works in America today, would not work in that time and place. What works in America may not work in Russia. To advance Russia toward a better form requires action outside what Americans consider normal.
I do not understand Russia and Russians. I know they are a bit different. Over decades have read a well-recommended books that captured the best knowledge of Russians (at the time). So … I do have some clue.
In mind, I have an alternate theory of Russia and Putin. When evaluating Putin’s actions, his main aim might be toward moving Russia forward. If I were in the same role, would I make different choices? Maybe. Or not.
Americans (by this I mean the USA) have a triumphant record in history.
We are good guys! We always win! We like to re-tell the story of our role in World War II, as the bad guys were clearly bad, and … we won!!
(This falls apart a bit when you realize that WWII was in effect an echo of the first World War. The conditions that lead to WWII were created when the United States got involved in the first World War … and there was no reason for the United States to get involved. If the US has not got involved, then it is quite possible that WWII would not have occurred. The sort of alternate history that would have followed … might be a much better story than our history of the last century.)
Russia has a different sort of history.
Oddly, got a clue from playing a computer game. Spent rather a lot of time playing a late 1990’s strategy game with a decent AI. In the game, different countries are pitted against each other, in battles that draw on (roughly realistic) economic activity. As I got better at playing the game, I could win against any of the stock scenarios, and against any single opponent (played by the game’s AI). Needing more of a challenge, played with a random number of other countries, with a random selection of landscape.
If my randomly selected territory was naturally defensible (due to mountains and/or rivers that prevented or slowed attacks), I would always win the game over all my neighbors.
If my randomly selected territory was in the middle of a plain, most of the time, I lost. As neighbor attacked neighbor, the one least attacked in the start would gain enough strength to dominate weaker neighbors, and become strong enough to win, over everyone else.
If your are in the middle of a plain, no matter how well you play, most of the time you are going to lose.
Russia is in the middle of one of the largest plains on the planet.
The Russian people have centuries of experience with invasions and threats from every direction. We tend to see the Russian folk as something like paranoid … but if (near) everyone truly is out to get you, they are justified.
So … we have triumphant Americans, not quite understanding (understandably) wary and defensive Russians.
If Russians are by nature wary and defensive (for reason), and Americans are by nature triumphant (for some reason), then the history of the last century factors out a bit differently.
The alternate theory of Putin, which I cannot discard, is what he does what is needed for our place and time in history. There is a chance he is doing as best he can so his kids and mine do not end up shooting at each other.
Beyond this, I have the sneaking suspicion that Americans in nature have quite a lot in common with Russians, once past confusions of history.
So I have two theories of Putin, and the less usual theory persists…