“This is the speech of a delusional person who is no longer connected with the surrounding reality,” Gleb Pavlovsky told Fox News.
The National Security Council Meeting that played out before TV cameras earlier in the day for Pavlovsky was another disappointing spectacle made worse by the simple fact nobody dared challenge Putin on his plans to redraw the map of Europe and to potentially start a full-blown war.
“If you compare the decision of the Politburo with Brezhnev about Afghanistan and the introduction of troops back then, there were more discussions. Then people argued and expressed doubts, and here you’ve got a bunch of mannequins and these are the people responsible for security. It’s disgusting.” Pavlovsky says he blames the security chiefs as much as Putin for taking a path that may in fact make Russia much less secure when the argument has been all along that Russia simply needs its security concerns properly addressed, and if that is sorted out, then all will be alright.
Pavlovsky said “nobody would have been killed” for questioning Putin about his controversial and provocative decision to recognize parts of Ukraine as independent entities or playing devil’s advocate. He sensed that some of them, in fact, the real security men in the room, had serious reservations.
This is Pavlovsky’s sense, and admittedly he has been out of the inner circle for a decade. But he is far from alone in his conclusions.
Putin’s speech to the nation is remarkable, many say, for its tone and content. Subsequent statements and movements equally have shaken people in Russia into wondering what tomorrow may bring. Many of them are afraid.
Russia is a vast country and it is hard to know how these latest moves are going down overall. No doubt a significant share of the 68% or so Russians who polls here say give the president their approval would have also approved of his speech and perhaps also his plan, but others are openly questioning what is to be gained for Russia.
Oleg Ignatov has worked with Putin’s political party United Russia. He points to the contradictions in Putin’s argument about the need to protect Russia and Russians by recognizing the two breakaway republics and making Russians safer at home.
“Ukraine will move more toward the West and the Western countries will give more support to Ukraine, in terms of military cooperation and economic too. So Ukraine will look like an enemy for us. And for Russia this looks like a grave risk,” Ignatov says. “I don’t think Russia is getting more secure.”
Ignatov admits it will be hard to tell if Russians could turn on their president should the situation escalates into full-blown conflict.
“The media here is under control of the government and the election process is under control of the government and frankly speaking, we don’t have a good understanding of Russian society, because, for example, we don’t have good polls. Yes. And that’s a big problem here.”
Nobody claims to know Putin’s endgame. Pavlovsky worries his steps so far have been taken with little objective input. He says Putin’s been increasingly cloistered and the pandemic just exacerbated that.
“His isolation is some kind of change, a profound personality change. Everything in the Kremlin used to be built on constant communication, on conversation,” Pavlovsky says.
“He’s in some kind of abnormal situation now, but I think that even if we compare it the situation of recent years with Stalin, Stalin also isolated himself. He almost never came to the Kremlin, he lived in his dacha, but still members of the Politburo came to him, children came and so on, that is, there was some kind of normality. Putin, in my opinion, has this quarantine system that he has surrounded himself with – it somehow destroys him.”
And there is one particular interlocutor whose presence is particularly missed.
“Angela Merkel spoke with him (Putin) often,” Pavlovsky posits. “She was almost like therapy or something like that for him. She may have balanced him psychologically. It’s hard to prove, of course, but it seems to me that her way of communicating was somehow medicinal for him, some kind of psychological medicine.”
Pavlovsky’s parting words are a push for further dialogue with the man he suggests is cut off from reality, and for that, Pavlovsky concludes, dialogue is now more important than ever.
“This is not a question of treating Putin well or badly. This is a crisis issue that we all want to get out of except for a small batch of crazy people. So we need to talk. It is necessary to talk. That is what he (Putin) himself is afraid of. He is afraid to discuss problems.”