Leaders, like all other people, typically go through a process whenever confronted with a radical change in the situation around them.
The first stage is denial, an effort to convince themselves and others that nothing has really changed and that the approaches they had used can still work.
The second stage is a search for an analogy, for some event or events in the past which can provide guidance on what they should do.
And only latter, and quite often after the crisis has crested, do leaders and individuals move on to an empirical approach, one in which they seek to find the specific features of the new environment in which they find themselves.
In large measure, the challenges Vladimir Putin has posed to the world were initially met by denial, especially on the part of those Western leaders who felt that if they admitted there was a problem, they would have to come up with a solution – and not having an obvious solution, they tried as best they could to deny there was a problem.
Now, they are in the time of the search for analogies, with some viewing what Putin has done as like Hitler’s actions in 1939 when he led a mobilized Germany to war against the rest of the world, with only Stalin as his temporary ally and others arguing the world is either going back to a new Cold War with its Cuban missile crisis or stumbling toward a hot one a la 1914.
Obviously, the analogies leaders choose matter, because they will inevitably select from the flood of information those “facts” which confirm their point of view; and consequently, it is terribly important not only to consider the limits of the analogies on offer – Putin isn’t Hitler, Russia isn’t the USSR, and no archduke is traveling to Sarajevo – but to examine others as well.
“The situation is very reminiscent of the last months of Stalin’s life (the winter of 1952-1953). Then, Stalin was completely seriously preparing for a nuclear war.”
As in 1952-1953 with regard to Stalin’s plans, most of Putin’s entourage are “disappointed in Putin” and in his break with the West, which undermines their personal wealth and goals, he continues. There are exceptions, of course, like Nikolai Patrushev who has called for making use of nuclear weapons as a threat, something Putin has accepted.
There is thus an objective basis for an elite move against Putin, “but there is no institutional mechanism or decisive group of people capable of taking a step so needed for the survival of Russia and possibly the entire world,” Piontkovsky says.
At least at the end of Stalin’s time, there was a Politburo whose “task above all was putting limits on the possibilities of the power of the first person.” Its members pushed out Lenin, dispatched Stalin, and removed Khrushchev. In short, it “was a defense mechanism against the insanity of the top man.”
Tragically, in Putin’s Russia, “there is no such mechanism.”
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