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December 5, 2022

When did Putin lose his reason?

When we talk about Ukraine, we often ask, "Why did Putin start that (sort of war)? What was the cause?" To this I would just say, "Wait a moment, Putin used to have reason."

---In 2010, Putin participated in a motor-bike rally with the "Night Wolves" (known for their radical nationalism). During this event, he had a conversation with the leader of the group.

 The bikers leader said, "The Soviet Union won World War II because the country was united." To this nationalistic allegation Putin replied, "Russia was at the center (of the Soviet Union at that time). Indeed, it is natural to mourn the division of the Soviet Union. Those who do not mourn have no heart. But those who want to revive the Soviet Union in its former form have no brain." The same words had already been said by Putin in an interview with a German television station on May 5, 2005. In other words, Putin once had reason.

I believe that he originally lost the balance of mind in February 2014, when the far-right staged a coup in Ukraine and drove President Yanukovych out of the country. I happened to be in Moscow at the time, and I remember a Russian journalist who was an old acquaintance of mine saying at the time, "Putin was informed that the coup was orchestrated by the CIA. He believed it. I have a feeling that this might bring about some disaster for Russia in the future."

I did not fully understand the meaning of these words at the time, but now I understand it all too well. Putin's foray into Crimea was driven by suspicion and fear of the United States. Even if this suspicion was ill-based, he cannot give up Crimea now. If he does so, he will not be able to hold on to his power.

Meanwhile, Ukraine, which lost Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to Russia in 2014, has been expanding its military for vindication. It has created a Western-style army with about 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers trained annually by officers from the U.S. and NATO European countries: an army which is "not overly hierarchical and top-down like the Russians, but leaves many decisions to the commanders in the field".

In 2021, about 150,000 troops became concentrated in the northern part of Eastern Ukraine. It seemed that they were poised to retake Eastern Ukraine. I say "seemed" because only the Russians have pointed this fact, and the Western press has been mostly negligent.

This must have forced Putin to make a choice. "The West will not help us anyway, so we can either suffer the humiliation of having Eastern Ukraine recaptured, or will take control of Ukraine as a whole." The fact that he was confined to his office because of the Corona epidemic, deprived of direct contacts with his subordinates, may have also skewed his mind-set.

 It was originally a mistake to seize control of Crimea in 2014, driven by an undue fear of the U.S. and the CIA. Putin is now on the brink of losing not only Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, but also even his own power. The "regime change", which Putin detests and struggles to avoid so much, may finally come true by his own mistake.