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Putin’s obsession with Ukraine has made analysts question his rationality


Russian President Vladimir Putin gesticulates as he attends the annual end-of-2018 news conference held in Moscow, Russia on December 23, 2021.

Evgenia Novozhenina | Reuters

President Vladimir Putin‘s widespread attack on Ukraine, and his accompanying rhetoric, have left a number of political analysts questioning the strongman leader’s rationale — and rationality — for the invasion.

Russian leaders have been obsessed with Ukraine for a long time. He has extolled unity between Russians and Ukrainians while simultaneously praising the pro-Western governments of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

CNBC spoke with political analysts that said Putin’s claims against the government were nonsense. They reflect an unreasonable and unjudged attitude towards the leadership of Kyiv as well as its direction.

Particularly, Putin’s baseless remarks about Ukraine’s leadership being “neo Nazis” or “drug addicts” has prompted analysts and others to conclude that such statements show an irrationality as well as an effort to misinform.

CNBC was told Monday by Max Hess (AKE International’s senior political risk analyst) that Putin recently “challenged all our assumptions regarding his rationality.”

“I have Russian right-wing friends that have messaged me surprised that he has gone in for Ukraine. They are the same people who initially supported the recognition of Donetsk/Luhansk [self-proclaimed republics]Who believed that the Ukrainians wanted to ethnically cleanse Russians?

Hess responded to a question about whether people are now questioning Putin’s intelligence.

Timothy Ash, emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, believes that it is increasingly clear that Putin’s game plan was to encircle major cities Kyiv and Kharkiv — at which point he thought Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would throw in the towel.

In emailed remarks Sunday, he stated that Putin was “spectacularly wrong on all counts” and added that he felt “he can’t help but feel here that Putin has spectacularly miscalculated. He will ultimately pay the price by being removed from office.”

Putin tried to justify the invasion of Ukraine that started last Thursday. He said Russia didn’t want to invade its neighbor, but claimed Russia was aiming to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine. This comment is widely regarded as absurd by international observers.

Ash stated that Ukraine isn’t run by Nazis, but is a vibrant democracy like Russia.

Hess observed that although there are right-wing movements in Ukraine, they do not have any political power. These groups also exist in Russia, which arguably has the right-wing having more political power.

“Some people from the Right Wing in Ukraine have served in militias or done other things.” [like that]I don’t share their beliefs. However, the notion that they can have any political influence over the government in Ukraine (which has a Jewish president) is absurd. [Zelenskyy]Hess said that “…is ridiculous” to CNBC.

He noted that the far right in Russia had gotten more votes in every election than Ukraine’s far right.

FALSE and misleading Narratives

Putin’s speechAn announcement about the invasion provided insight into Putin’s thinking regarding Ukraine. His comments included numerous references to World War II and the fall of the Soviet Union, as well as what he considers the threats NATO poses to Russia’s security.

Essentially, Putin has attempted to justify an attack on Ukraine as Russia protecting its citizens in the country, both in Crimea — which it annexed in 2014 — and in eastern Ukraine in the two pro-Russian “republics” it supports.

Western diplomats and Russian close friends also view Putin’s remarks and his (often revisionist) version of history to be an attempt to fabricate false narratives about Ukraine to justify an invasion by the Russians.

Last week, Putin once again extolled the “unity” of Ukrainians and Russians, just as he was announcing that Russia would recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine — the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk — and would send troops in on a “peacekeeping” mission there, a move that was widely seen as a precursor to larger military action, which has now come to pass.

Putin spoke on television Feb. 21 to stress the links between Russia, Ukraine and stated that Ukraine is “an inalienable aspect of our history, culture, and spiritual space.”

“These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties.”

An analyst has long recognized that Putin’s obsessiveness over Ukraine is rooted in his desire to control and influence former Soviet satellite countries like Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Ukraine refused to cooperate with Putin’s plan. Putin stated last year that Russia had “built a wall” between Ukraine and Russia in order to “save the country from a terrible situation.”

In the 20th century, Ukraine has seen a number of popular rebellions against the government. The first was the “Orange Revolution” which saw massive protests after the election for the presidency. It culminated with pro-Western politicians taking power in 2004.

More recently, there was the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, a more violent uprising that came with a wave of pro-European protests and civil unrest which led to the ousting of the then pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin called this revolt a “coup de etat” during his speech last Thursday.

Putin’s errors

It is not clear how far Putin will go to subjugate Ukraine while Russian forces invade the country. There are fears that the Russian military convoy and large number of soldiers, which is slowly approaching Kyiv the Ukrainian capital, may launch a major offensive on the city.

Russian forces were believed to gradually surround strategic-key cities, such as Kharkiv (or Mariupol), on Wednesday. The Russian military has made slower progress than anticipated and is still facing logistical problems.

CNBC’s veteran strategist David Roche said Monday that the Russian invasion in Ukraine was a failure and that Putin is surrounded with advisors who don’t want to disagree. He has no one to question his view of Ukraine.

Roche stated that Putin, an autocratic leader is becoming more isolated. He believes everything he writes, including the 5,000 words about Ukraine being not a nation or country.

“There is actually no feedback loop which will allow Putin to get himself educated as to what reality is and that is the perfect recipe for major mistakes — military, political and socio-economic and Putin is making them. I believe that Putin is now at the brink of his demise. He has been ill-informed and hallucinatory for a while.