As per his Wikipedia page Ivan Krastev is “is a political scientist, the chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, permanent fellow at the IWM (Institute of Human Sciences) in Vienna, and 2013-14-17 Richard von Weizsäcker fellow at the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Berlin.
He is a founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the board of trustees of the International Crisis Group and is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Der Spiegel introduces him in this interview as “astute observer of Vladimir Putin. From Bulgaria, Krastev is widely seen as one of the most original thinkers in today’s Europe.” In this alarmingly interesting interview (which we would suggest you read in full) Krastev makes three points regarding Putin which should keep all of us awake at night.
Firstly, he says that time & circumstance has turned Putin into an intelligent but isolated megalomaniac: “DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Krastev, have you ever been to the Kremlin?
Krastev: No, but I once met Vladimir Putin in Sochi, on the sidelines of a conference shortly after the annexation of Crimea. The president was hosting a dinner. An American colleague of mine was there, but so too was the Austrian chancellor and the foreign ministers of France and Israel. It quickly became clear that Putin felt like he was completely misunderstood. He spoke about Western chauvinism and its hypocrisy. He said people didn’t understand that Crimea is Russian. They are the same arguments we are hearing today, but I wouldn’t say that Putin back then had this messianism.
DER SPIEGEL: Why is it there now?
Krastev: If you’ve been in power for 20 years in an authoritarian state, nobody dares to contradict you anymore. You have established a system, you have become the system yourself, and you can’t imagine that the entire country doesn’t reflect that. You also can’t imagine there being anybody who could be an adequate successor. So, you have to solve all problems yourself for as long as you are alive. For Putin, Russia has long since ceased being a country in the standard sense; it is a kind of historic, 1,000-year-old body.
DER SPIEGEL: What was your impression of Putin?
Krastev: Very intelligent and quick, forthright, confrontative. Sarcastic when speaking with someone from the West. But it is the small things that reveal the most about people. He held forth about the situation in the Donbas like a foreign service agent who knows how many people live in each village and what the situation is like in each of them. He considered the fact that primarily women were responsible for Russia policy in the Obama administration to be an intentional attempt to humiliate him. The hypocrisy of the West has become an obsession of his, and it is reflected in everything the Russian government does.”
Secondly, Krastev says that Putin is an angry, ruthless man: “DER SPIEGEL: Is Putin an angry individual?
Krastev: He is constantly speaking of betrayal and deceit. From the West. From individual, former Soviet republics. In 2008, during the war against Georgia, he met with Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, which was one of the last critical media outlets in the country until it was shut down last week. Putin asked if Venediktov knew what he, Putin, had done in his previous job. Mr. President, Venediktov replied, we all know where you come from. Do you know, Putin said, what we did with traitors in my previous job? Yes, we know, said Venediktov. And do you know why I am speaking with you? Because you are an enemy and not a traitor! In Putin’s view, Ukraine committed the greatest crime imaginable: It betrayed Russia.”
And thirdly, Krastev says that Putin is NOT a bluffer – he will do exactly what he says that he will do: “DER SPIEGEL: Is Putin so isolated that he could simply push the nuclear button on his own?
Krastev: His isolation could lead him to do anything. On the other hand, the situation is so challenging that he could pursue Nixon’s madman strategy.
DER SPIEGEL: For a time during the Vietnam War, U.S. President Richard Nixon allegedly pursued a strategy of trying to seem so irrational and angry that he would even use nuclear weapons, all in an attempt to force North Vietnam to surrender. As we know, the tactic didn’t work. On the other hand, Nixon may well have been a bit off – depression, insomnia, alcohol.
Krastev: I don’t know if Putin would ever deploy nuclear weapons. I listened to U.S. General David Petraeus at the Munich Security Conference, a man who has led several invasions. I know how it’s done, he said. Military leaders are only interested in capacities. Even if it’s not an approach I agree with, it’s a pretty rational way of thinking. Petraeus said that Putin had all the capacities necessary for an invasion, which is why the likelihood was significant that he would go through with it. Fiona Hill, who wrote a great book about Putin, recently said in an interview: Putin will do what he says he is going to do. That, too, is one of Putin’s messages in the video with the Russian Security Council: Does anyone seriously believe that these people will stop me?”
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