Vladimir Putin has maintained the risible claim for over a year that Russia, compelled by circumstances beyond its control, rushed to the rescue of Russian-speaking Ukrainians when Moscow invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
When a Russian news outlet obtained the details of a Kremlin report that indicated that Moscow had planned to invade and dismember Ukraine even before the collapse of Viktor Yanukovych’s government, it put the lie to Putin’s claim.
“Muratov said the Russian document appears to have been drafted between Feb. 4 and Feb. 15 last year,” read a McClatchy report on the Novaya Gazeta scoop. “He said the overall strategy included plans on how to break Ukraine into autonomous sectors, immediately attaching now war-torn southeastern Ukraine to Moscow’s tax union, with a longer term plan for annexation.”
Still, the Kremlin stuck to its story. The Russian government insisted that the operation to protect Crimea from the chaos unfolding in the rest of Ukraine was a spontaneous reaction to the crisis precipitated by Yanukovych’s ouster. Russian officials insisted further that the decision to annex the Crimean Peninsula into the Russian Federation was an organic reaction to the results of a hastily organized referendum on secession.
Apparently, Putin isn’t even pretending anymore. In a televised interview, the Russian president revealed that he called an emergency meeting in February of last year just following Yanukovych’s flight from Ukraine. It was then that Putin made the determination to reintegrate Crimea back into Russia.
“He would have been just killed … We got ready to get him out of Donetsk by land, by sea and by air,” Putin said about his meeting in the Kremlin with commanders of Russian special forces and Defense Ministry officials.
Yanukovych later resurfaced in the southern Russian city of Rostov and has not been back to Ukraine since his ouster.
“This was on the night of Feb. 22 through to Feb. 23. We finished around 7 in the morning. And, while saying goodbye, I told all the colleagues: ‘We have to start the work on Crimea’s return into Russia,’” Putin said.
This brazenness is behavior that the world has come to expect from Vladimir Putin, and observers are starting to awake to the terrifying reality that the strongman in command of a powerful army, the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and nearly 12 percent of the earth’s total landmass is no democrat. What’s worse, the militarism and quasi-fascism embraced by the Kremlin, Mikhail Iampolski opined in Newsweek, is being embraced by the average Russian.
The ego is crushed by an idealized, narcissistic leader, any attempt on whose authority is understood as an attack on the entire group and all its members. The leader deprives the group of reflexive thought, responsibility, a sense of guilty, and so on. A member of the work group is ready to accept his or her own limits and the difference of the Other, while a member of the basic assumption group aggressively denies both.
Such groups are infantile and regressive, and their ideal is total homogeneity, the removal of all difference, and, as the French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu wrote, the lost paradise of El Dorado. They are often highly destructive and completely subordinate to their leader, and easily move from panic to aggressive messianism.
Such a quasi-fascist consciousness, which has taken hold of the masses in Russia, is difficult to reconcile with the growing historical significance of victims, each of whom slowly takes on more and more individual features. The victims are individuated, as Gilbert Simondon would say, while the narcissistic “hero” of the paranoid/schizoid type becomes more and more savage in the eyes of the world, losing his individual characteristics.
Where once this loss of individuality was not always significant, where homogeneity could be considered a virtue, now, in the Era of the Witness, the “victors” find themselves erased from history due to their very facelessness. The crowd’s homogeneity ceases to be aesthetically appealing.
The fruits of Putin’s effort to transform his country into an aggressive and paranoid state are ripening. Russian lawmakers are inculcating a sense of fear and aggression toward the West, and the United States in particular. Today, The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum noted, anti-Americanism is more pronounced in Russia than at any point during the Cold War.
These are dangerous times.