The prevailing consensus among Russia experts and apparently among scientists in the Western intelligence community is that President Vladimir Putin has become irrational. There are various explanations that are put forward such as autism, megalomania, personality disorders (psychopathy or narcissism), two years of Covid isolation and the alleged and/or actual influence of various historical and contemporary reactionary Russian intellectuals.
Let us first examine the irrationality theory. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused tremendous harm to Russian national interests due the extensive Western economic sanctions against the Russian Federation. Russia was repeatedly warned that unprecedented sanctions would be imposed should Russia invade Ukraine and so the ensuing economic calamity must have been largely anticipated by the highly sophisticated Russian intelligence community. Russia nevertheless invaded Ukraine. There are no rational reasons for Russia conquering ethnically and linguistically Ukrainian parts of Ukraine. Ukrainian, Belarusian, Rusyn and Russian are closely related, yet distinctive East Slavic languages, but the lexical similarity between Russian and Ukrainian is only 50%. The unreason paradigm is therefore understandable.
I have put forward a dissenting explanation. Namely that Russia intends to conquer the entire Europe from Poland to Ireland in order to once more become a superpower so as to be able to resist China’s planned future military aggression against Siberia and Central Asia. As far as I know this is the only explanation of those put forward that rationalizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is true that Moscow and Beijing maintain smiling faces vis-a-vis each for now – each for their own reasons – something which is completely understandable since the Chinese invasion of Siberia is far from imminent, in fact it is most likely still some 20 years away.
The notion that Russia or only its president have become irrational is dangerous primarily because the theory itself is itself irrational and divorced from reality. All evidence points to the invasion of Ukraine having been long planned and prepared, including the elaborate present Russian propaganda campaign. Russia’s occupations of parts of Moldova, Georgia and finally in 2014 Ukraine were certainly not irrational and merely because the 2022 invasion is not turning out as expected does not mean that it is irrational. Mind you that all Western observers also expected a quick and resounding military victory for Russia and comprehensive defeat for Ukraine as the consensus was that Ukraine had no chance in the face of overwhelming Russian numerical military superiority. Surely, if Putin was irrational, then so was the Western consensus as well. It is just that ground wars often do not turn out as expected.
The West suffers from what is known in Hebrew as a “conceptzia”, a strategic misconception with disastrous military implications. The demonization of Vladimir Putin is entirely divorced from reality when there should instead be concerted US diplomatic efforts to avoid WWIII in Europe as undoubtedly planned by Russia in order to become able to defensively win a future WWIV against China. There needs to be far greater efforts at arming Ukraine in order to ensure Russian defeat and at the same time must the United States open sustained diplomatic dialogue with the Russian Federation about creating a US-led Asian defense alliance that would encircle China as an alternative to Russia’s planned conquest of Europe. The sanctions regime against Russia unfortunately makes it much less likely that diplomatic efforts will succeed, therefore instead exacerbating the existing paranoia on the Russian side. This is one of two reasons why the sanctions are so ill-advised with the other reason being that the sanctions will certainly not impact the course of war.
The Western intelligence community must urgently shift the paradigm on Russia and Putin. It is true that they are very dangerous but they are far from irrational, on the contrary so, their behaviors are as virtually always extremely rational and highly predictable by game theory.