The ‘old man in the bunker’ may be losing the plot

The ‘old man in the bunker’ may be losing the plot. By Marc Bennetts.

Has Vladimir Putin lost his mind? It’s the question on the lips of millions and has now been articulated by a leading American senator who has come close to suggesting that the Russian despot — dubbed “the old man in the bunker” by his main domestic rival Alexei Navalny — is mentally unwell.

Marco Rubio, a former presidential candidate whose position as vice-chairman of the US Senate’s select committee on intelligence gives him extensive access to secret information, tweeted: “I wish I could share more, but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with Putin. He has always been a killer, but his problem now is different and significant. It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have five years ago.”

Rubio did not expand on his theory but seasoned Kremlin watchers say that the Russian leader has largely been a recluse for the past two years, retreating into paranoid exile from the world.

Ultra-strict measures to protect Putin from coronavirus mean that the majority of his meetings take place either across absurdly long tables or by video link. …

Putin’s recent meeting with Macron

“He has withdrawn into himself a lot. He has become distanced from the bureaucratic machinery, from the establishment, from the elite. He spends a lot of time alone stewing in his own fears and thoughts,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “He doesn’t ask for advice. He sets tasks and demands they are implemented.”

Andrey Kortunov, of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank with close ties to the foreign ministry, revealed yesterday (Saturday) that he had not advised Russian officials to launch an invasion – and that the decision stunned officials. …

“Putin’s only contact with the world is through his inner circle. He can’t stand it if any of them have their own stance. For him, this would be a catastrophe,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor, said. Pavlovsky, dismissed in 2011 for opposing Putin’s return to the presidency for a third term, said the Russian leader was now almost unrecognisable from the man he once advised.

“He was inclined then to discuss things with advisers and he was more open to alternative opinions,” he said. Describing the attack on Ukraine as “a very serious blow” to Russia’s own security, he added: “The previous Putin would not have done this. He was a very sane-thinking person. But this has all vanished now. He has an obsession about Ukraine that he didn’t previously have. He is reacting now to the pictures in his own head.”

Pavlovsky declined to say whether he thought Putin had lost his mind. “I’m not a doctor,” he said. Others, shocked by the sight of the Russian president’s hate-filled lectures about Ukraine on television, have no such qualms. “Putin is insane and dangerous,” Leonid Volkov, an exiled ally of Navalny, said on social media. …

Stanovaya, the political analyst, does not expect a change of leadership soon. “The elite is in shock. None of them were warned,” she said. “There are many who are against this but there is almost no one who is ready to challenge him. There can be and there will be no coup.”

All information during a war is suspect, but perhaps there’s something to this. Like most observers, we were surprised that Putin launched a purely military attack to take all of Ukraine — rather than a very limited operation to take the small Russian held part of the Donbass. Full-scale invasion seemed irrational. The costs and risks don’t appear to justify the possible gain — as indeed appears to be eventuating.