[Column] Putin’s ‘Star Wars leadership’ tested

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

[Column] Putin’s ‘Star Wars leadership’ tested

Chae Byung-gun

The author is the international, diplomatic and security news director of the JoongAng Ilbo

Why on earth would Russian President Vladimir Putin start such a reckless war of invasion in the 21st century? Some passages from the New York Times’ report on “Putin’s War” might help understand Putin’s thoughts.

“He went 16 months without meeting a single Western leader in person. He held just about all his meetings by videoconference from nondescript rooms that left his exact location a mystery,” the report said.

The report also said a guest “had spent three days in quarantine before meeting with Mr. Putin at a distance of roughly 15 feet.” It seems that Putin was sensitive to having face-to-face meetings due to fear of Covid-19 infections.

Whether it was forced or voluntary, isolation demands a price. Isolation helps consolidate distorted beliefs. The more you avoid communication with the outside world, the more your own world becomes everything and only your beliefs becomes the truth, and prejudice and stubbornness penetrate your mind.

In the meantime, a handful of confidantes control all affairs outside your room, bypassing the official system.

The world inside the head of Putin, who chose isolation, can be called “a universe created by Putin.” The first pillar of this universe was the threat from outside.

Putin believed that NATO planned to deploy mid-range nuclear missiles in Ukraine and attack Moscow. In July 2021, he wrote an article — “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” — six months before the war. In the article, he claimed that an anti-Russia project was ongoing in Ukraine.

“And the most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy,” wrote Putin. He also said Ukraine’s plan to join the NATO amounts to the West’s aggression against — and siege of — Russia.

The second pillar was “pure unity.” In the same article, he described the relations between Russia and Ukraine from the perspective of “spiritual unity.” “Our spiritual unity has also been attacked,“ he wrote. From his perspective, the Western world was morally corrupt. According to the NYT report, Putin often complained about modern-day gender politics, in which “Mom and Dad are being replaced by ‘Parent No. 1 and Parent No. 2’.”

The third pillar of Putin universe is a righteous war akin to a crusade to protect the spiritual unity against outside evil forces. He argued that if the Soviet Union fought a war against the evil forces of Nazi Germany in the past, Russia must fight neo-Nazis who are trying to control Ukraine today.

“Radicals and neo-Nazis were open and more and more insolent about their ambitions,” he wrote in the article. “They were indulged by both the official authorities and local oligarchs.”

In October 2021, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Putin and told him that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was interested in having a summit with Putin. According to the Times, Putin rejected the proposal. “I have nothing to discuss with this person,” Putin was quoted as saying. “What kind of Jew is he? He’s an enabler of Nazism.”

Putin was revealing his rage at “a Jew collaborating with the Nazis.” Is Zelensky really a Jewish collaborator of the Nazis?

Putin’s universe reminds us of a Hollywood movie. He uses the dichotomy between the good versus evil in a confrontation. But the real world is complex. It’s true that the West’s promise of “not expanding an inch into Eastern Europe” was broken when the former Soviet satellite countries joined NATO, but Western Europe’s advance into the east was triggered because the Western club is more attractive than the Russian one.

The most dangerous thing in politics is “Star Wars leadership.” Leaders who divide the world between the evil Empire and the Rebel Alliance and seek justice by defeating lawless, corrupt enemies often mass-produce blind support. Good and evil, purity and corruption must be left to the domain of religion.

For Putin and his followers, the invasion of Ukraine may be a solemn war, but the world is suffering as a result. It is unclear if Russia will really gain anything from this war. It will be Russia’s failure if the war ends with an anti-Russian regime remaining intact even after Russia advances to the capital of Ukraine by mobilizing its ground forces.

Furthermore, even though Russia poured its national power into its war on Ukraine — the latter backed by the United States — it is more likely that China will be the party that benefits. It is possible that China, which can use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a justification to invade Taiwan, will have a head-on clash with an America exhausted after using its power in the European theater.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)