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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Putin’s COVID War: Facing His Mortality

Putin's strawberries (Reuters / Centers for Disease Control)

Why now? Why invade the Ukraine now? The previous post (Putin’s Last Rodeo: It’s Now or Never) explored his rationale for the invasion, such as there is one. The issue here is why did Putin choose this particular moment to act on that rationale no matter how farfetched and delusional it may appear to be?

Here we may have been misled by the Hollywood image of our Russian adversary. In the movies 007 always confronts a highly rational and disciplined foe with clear-cut objectives. We see the KGB operative as coolly collected. Move and counter move. Three dimensional chess. A battle of wits.

The model seems to be derailed in the current crisis. If one examined the invasion rationally, on paper, Putin could have chosen better.


On paper, the most opportune time for Putin to invade the Ukraine occurred when the American President was a Russian asset. Drawing on the analysis of niece Mary Trump, it is easy to put the Putin-Trump dynamic in family terms that do not reflect well on the immature child president craving alpha-male approval. As I wrote (Putin’s Pence: What Does He Get from the Relationship?):

How long would it have taken a skilled KGB operator like Putin to realize that he didn’t need to put the alpha male wannabee on the Russian payroll? Putin’s Pence would be a Russian asset all on his own, so pathetic was the American President’s need for Putin’s approval. The alpha male dominated the child inside the body of an adult.

On Putin’s side, it is relatively easy to determine what he gets or wants from his relationship with his American asset.

End of the sanctions
Restoration of the G8
Approval for the invasion of the Ukraine
Approval for Russia’s actions abroad including in Afghanistan, Africa, Libya, and Syria
Permission to violate the American elections in 2020 as he did in 2016
Approval for invading the Baltics should he decide to do so.

Historians analyzing this invasion will have easy points of comparison between the previous administration when Putin did not invade and the current one when he did.

The Russian-asset President would have praised the invasion as a work of genius.
The Russian-asset President would not have sanctioned Putin or the oligarchs – They are his customers.
The Russian-asset President would not have sent arms to a country that did not do him a favor – He resisted sending the arms he was legally obligated to send anyway.
The Russian-asset President would not have organized a global alliance against Russia – He spent his administration undermining NATO.

I suspect that the secret closed-door meetings included discussions about invasions.

In short, the ideal time for Putin to have invaded the Ukraine was in the previous administration. Yet he did not do it. That attests that cool calm reasoning by a mastermind was not a factor in this invasion. Other considerations are relevant.


For several years, Foxhub has disseminated a consistent portrayal of Joe Biden. If he was not already dead, then he was on the verge of death. If he was awake then it was only for a few moments before he went back to sleep. If he spoke it was nonsense babble.

Foxhub and the Trumpican-media apparatus was persistent in presenting Joe Biden as too weak for the job … especially in contrast with President Rambo, the most masculine President in American history. And then there was the Afghanistan withdrawal.

We know how popular Foxhub is in Russia. It is quite possible that Putin drank the Kool Aid and sees Biden as a weak figure whom he could dominate. If so he erred.

This mistake in judgement was not Putin’s only error.

He appears to have misjudged the Ukrainian reaction to the prospect of being freed by their Russian brothers. They were supposed to welcome the Russians. He did not anticipate the exponential growth in Ukrainian nationalism as directly result of his invasion.

He appears to have no long term plan for the occupation of the Ukraine once (if?) his military imposes Russian rule on the country. How exactly does he plan to govern the country? If his presumption of a welcome was in error, then his failure to anticipate the challenge of governing compounds that error. He did not think this through in part due to his false assumption that the Ukrainians were supposed to be happy about being liberated. Did he create his own Afghanistan?

He appears to have misjudged the reaction of the Russian people. Why are they attacking and killing their literal brothers and sisters given the intermarriages? Even with his control of the media, Putin’s explanations seem farfetched to many Russians … especially those with access to non-Russian news sources.

He appears to have misjudged how much the Russian people also see themselves as part of the West just as the Ukrainians do. Russian athletes, Russian artists, Russian oligarchs and their children are all used to travelling in the West and buying goods there. Western soft power should not be underestimated in either Russia or the Ukraine. The simple-minded former American President who equated taking over a country with $2 of sanctions missed the mark too. Not only has Putin accelerated the development of Ukrainian nationalism, he is bringing to the surface the Russian desire to part of the West (and not a vassal to China) too. He seems to forget that his hero Peter the Great opened Russia to the West.


The terms commentators are using to describe Putin’s state of mind are truly frightening. He is unhinged. He is delusional. He is isolated. He is isolated. He is isolated.

By now, Westerners have seen the strange table meeting between Putin and Macron. We are aware of the seven-hour in advance appearance demanded in exchange for a photo-op with Russian doctors and not French doctors administering the required testing. We are aware of Putin’s public putdown of his own spy chief. He sure seems to be behaving more like Donald Trump than Joe Biden!

As to the cause of this aberrant behavior, may I suggest that COVID has caused Putin to confront his own mortality and failure to achieve his life goals? The virus has not been kind to Russia. The vaccination prowess of the country is suspect.

The result has been a leader who has erected a ring of barriers to separate himself from direct human contact. True he is an aging dictator as commentators have pointed, but his behavior suggests special circumstances. He is deathly afraid of catching the disease and succumbing to it. He is taking every precaution he can to minimize the possibility of this premature death. It is as if he is watching the sands of his lifetime continually dripping down leaving with little time left to make his mark in history as he understands it. One commentator compared Putin to Captain Queeg and his strawberries. How do you think he will react if the war drags on and he cannot even claim victory? The longer the war lasts the more his grip on reality will be tested. How will the Russian oligarchs, the Russian military, and the Russian people react then?