What if Putin really believes his own propaganda?

Over the past few days, western leaders have expressed concern that Vladimir Putin’s regime are making false claims about biological and chemical warfare labs in Ukraine which are allegedly being funded/supported by the US.  The fear is that this is paving the way for Putin to launch his own chemical weapons attack possibly as a false flag action claiming that it was in fact the Ukrainians who were responsible.

Now as we’ve heard the claims of Vladimir Putin and his henchmen that he is acting as a peace maker in Ukraine. that the West are the aggressors and that the Ukrainian government is in need of de-Nazification, we tend to assume that he is cynically presenting propaganda he knows full well to be false. But supposing he is not. Suppose that in fact, Putin firmly believes the things he claims.   

This would not be an unreasonable assumption. Most of us remember the dodgy dossiers about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  I think the lens of time has distorted our memories so we tend to think of Bush and Blair as cynically playing us because they were desperate to go to war in Iraq. However, thinking back to that time, I’m not so sure. Clearly dossiers were manipulated but I suspect that those involved were simply seeking to make more overt what they believed was the reality at the heart of the claims. The Bush and Blair of that time came across as passionate believers in their cause. Maybe they just were brilliant actors who fooled us all. However, I’m not convinced. I think they really did believe that Saddam was an imminent danger to international security. They really did believe that they needed to act then.

It seems possible to me that Putin and his inner circle really do believe their own propaganda, maybe if only because they’ve repeated it often enough.  I’ve observed this tendency in human nature that we can convince ourselves of a lie if we say it enough times.  However, it also possible that they are being fed a diet of propaganda coupled with reading a lot of the same conspiracy theories that seemed to influence Trumpian thinking and rhetoric.  It’s certainly plausible that there are those who see it to their advantage to encourage and push Putin into more aggressive action. They would see themselves in a win-win scenario. If he succeeds, they prepare to inherit a greater Russia from him. If he fails then it gives them a reason to move against him early.

It seems possible because it strikes me as one of the most likely reasons for why he chose to invade. There’s a lot about the invasion that smells of incompetence. The Russian army seem completely unprepared for the conflict, the logistical support was not in place, strategy and communications are a mess and in terms of time of year, cold and mud don’t seem great for moving infantry and tanks across hostile terrain.  I argued early on that invasion was not the best move in terms of a longer term strategy of restoring a greater Russian empire. However, I also said that he might invade if he decided to cut his losses and get what he could while he could.  It was possible that Putin would settle for the bird in the hand (Ukraine) and forgo the two in the bush (Poland and the Baltic states

If Putin believed his own propaganda, then it would make a lot of sense for him to move when he did.

  1. If he believed that Ukraine was developing biological weapons with US support then he would see an imminent threat on his border.  Biological weapons today would mean nuclear weapons tomorrow.
  2. If he believed that Ukraine was on the brink of joining NATO he may have seen the supply of weapons from Britain and others along with the chemical laboratories as preparatory steps towards further military aid as part of the alliance.
  3. If he believed that the Ukrainians were being oppressed by a Nazi government then he would have fully expected his men to be welcomed as liberators without a fight.

From that perspective you can see how Putin might have felt under pressure to act urgently to secure Russian interests.  None of these excuses his horrific genocidal campaign of terror but it might give some clues into what is going on in his head and in the Kremlin.

As I alluded to above, this also fits with how fallen human nature sadly so often works. It’s therefore a reminder to us as well to love and pursue truth. 

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