Over the past couple of days, I’ve read dozens of articles by our pundits and Russian opposition figures. I’ve also watched countless video clips and a live stream from a Russian anti-Putin group called the Forum of Free Russia.
All the people involved have turned out to be keen amateur psychiatrists with a highly developed knack for diagnostics. They analysed Putin’s mental health and pronounced him insane.
They only differed in their chosen terminology, with a whole thesaurus of synonyms for ‘insane’ seeing the light of day. Putin, according to them, is mad, deranged, maniacal, crazy, unhinged, paranoidal, senile – just find a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and try to find a synonym that hasn’t figured in those reports.
Now let’s backtrack to the previous century and identify its greatest villains. Different people may put forth different nominees, but Lenin, Stalin and Hitler are likely to make most lists.
And what do you know, exactly the same things were said about them. Lenin went mad because tertiary syphilis destroyed his brain. Stalin had paranoidal delusions. Hitler was a homicidal maniac suffering from fits of hysteria.
Many commentators, especially those inspired by the Freudian afflatus, traced those chaps’ conditions back to their childhood traumas. Lenin’s brother was hanged for trying to murder the tsar. Stalin’s father was a violent alcoholic. Hitler was raised by a standoffish stepfather. The last two also suspected they were illegitimate.
One gets the impression that those gentlemen would have turned out positively angelic had they not been cheated out of the requisite number of parental hugs in childhood. At it was, they were mad, deranged, insane, maniacal and so forth, all the way down the thesaurus entry.
Of all the unpleasant traits widely shared by modern people, their obsession with cracker-barrel psychology erupting in a torrent of psychobabble is among the most risible. Every little problem of life has to be medicalised and explained by the onset of some mental disorder.
The old, true, understanding of man’s nature has given way to a new, false, one. Hence, having expanded no end their psychobabble lexicon, people have expunged one word that alone explains most of human beastliness. EVIL.
Having discarded the notion of original sin, they have been led astray by Rousseau’s presumption of human goodness. Everyone is born good, and if some people demonstrably grow up bad, why, it’s all society’s fault, m’lord.
It’s society that drove them to a life of crime by setting a limit on their welfare cheques. It’s society that made them play truant at school. And, especially, it’s society that failed to treat their emotional disorder, thereby leaving them to their own awful devices.
Punish them? God forbid, even though everyone knows God doesn’t exist. Those lost lambs must be found, rehabilitated and helped to rediscover their innate virtue.
Nobody is evil. The word doesn’t appear in any decent person’s vocabulary – unless used to describe a wretch who dares to apply it to criminals. I’m speaking from personal experience, having twice appeared on BBC panel discussions of crime and punishment. Both times I uttered the E-word, only to be shouted down by my fellow panellists and thenceforth ignored by the show host.
The general assumption is that evil doesn’t exist, a view easily disproved by even a cursory look at human behaviour. We refuse to accept that evil takes permanent residence in some people’s souls – as a result of evil choices they freely make over a lifetime.
Rousseauian folly takes human out of beings. People are no longer seen as autonomous agents endowed with free will and thus the power to choose between good and evil. Instead they are equated to automata whose actions are dictated by either external circumstances or faults in their own cerebral wiring.
That way the whole complexity of man’s motives can be reduced to a glossary of ready-made shibboleths. When this approach is applied to personages who steer history, it leads to a woeful misunderstanding of geopolitics, current events and indeed history.
Putin isn’t mad. He is evil. Evil people do evil things, which equation also works in reverse: evil things are done by evil people – as a rule deliberately, purposefully and rationally.
Those who accuse Putin of emotional instability simply don’t understand the amount of animal cunning and coldblooded calculation it takes to rise through the ranks of the KGB all the way to the top of government.
Putin’s whole life is a fabric woven out of evil deeds inspired by evil choices. As a youngster, he was a self-described “common street thug”, a member of a gang terrorising his neighbourhood. He, like me and most other inner-city Russians, had to choose between running with or from the gangs. I chose the latter; Putin, the former.
To paraphrase Mao, a journey of a thousand evil miles starts with one evil step. Becoming a street thug was the first such step Putin took, and all his subsequent life has been made of longer and longer strides.
As a schoolboy, he developed a lifelong ambition to become an officer in the KGB, an organisation that by then had murdered 60 million of his countrymen. Five gets you ten he trained for that career not only by developing a lifelong obsession with martial arts, but also by informing on his classmates and teachers.
As a young man, Putin realised his ambition by joining the KGB. Before becoming a spy-runner, he first made his bones in the Fifth Chief Directorate, responsible for suppressing dissent.
Putin’s zeal in that career bought him a transfer to the First Chief Directorate, foreign intelligence. His posting to Dresden was inauspicious, but he did the KGB’s bidding with alacrity. The Dresden station was mainly responsible for stealing West German technologies, especially those usable in the Soviet growth industry, military.
When what he describes as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” (collapse of the Soviet Union) occurred, he was transferred to the KGB Active Reserve, whose members were assigned as overseers, in effect case officers, to politicians and businessmen.
Putin’s charge was Sobchak, the mayor of Petersburg. As deputy mayor responsible for foreign trade relations, Putin stole the starving city blind, cheating it out of food supplies. He made his first millions running scams on an ever-increasing scale, even pilfering and flogging submarines. It was then that he formed lasting links with organised crime figures.
When at that time he ran into an old KGB colleague who harboured political ambitions, Putin exclaimed: “Are you nuts or what? You’ve got to make dosh!”
However, the KGB made it possible for him to do both, politics and thievery. Putin was transferred to Moscow, where he was used as a front man for the Collegium, KGB governing body. It moved him to a succession of top jobs, including FSB head, prime minister and eventually Yeltsyn’s successor.
To make sure no rivals blocked his rise, the FSB blew up several apartment blocks, together with their residents. That false-flag atrocity was blamed on the Chechens, and Putin started the Second Chechen War that produced enough corpses to establish his bona fides as the strong leader the Russians craved. He started as he meant to go on.
His crimes as Russia’s president are well-documented. They include larceny on a global scale and unrestrained brutality towards both his own citizens and foreign nationals. And every one of his crimes showed a rational, logical mind at work, however warped his logic may look to decent people.
It took thousands of logical steps for Putin to climb from his starting position as a puppet of a shadowy group of wirepullers up to his present status of national leader able to slay his enemies domestically and internationally, while scaring off their potential supporters with well-calculated blackmail.
The on-going rape of the Ukraine is another upward swing on Putin’s evil trajectory. He learned as a small boy that he could only survive as a gang member by making the bigger and older boys respect him and everyone else fear him. That mentality has stood Putin in good stead every step of the way, and he has successfully applied it to international relations.
The self-described “common street thug” of yesterday has become the evil global thug of today. Same principle, different scale.
P.S. Joe Biden gets top marks for honesty. He admitted, with his usual vacuous smile, that the sanctions he imposed on Russia weren’t going to stop anything or deter anybody. Their effect was only going to be felt in the future, perhaps in years. I’m sure that was music to the Ukrainians’ ears, who are being murdered en masse at the moment.