(The Hill) – The White House and other observers are increasingly sounding the alarm over the mindset of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears poised to escalate his country’s war on Ukraine .
Experts, analysts, lawmakers and even administration officials have speculated that Putin’s isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened his paranoia. They pointed to decisions he made such as the invasion itself and his decision on Sunday to put his nuclear forces on high alert as suggesting he is not making rational decisions.
“I’m not going to make an assessment of his mental stability, but I will tell you that the rhetoric, the actions, the justification he makes for his actions is certainly of deep concern to us,” the press secretary said. White House, Jen Psaki. said Monday on ABC News.
US intelligence agencies are said to be watching Putin and his behavior closely, fearing the Russian leader may order even more devastating violence against fierce resistance from Ukraine, which has successfully held off the advancing Russian military for nearly five days. .
While some analysts say Putin has yet to unleash the full might of the Russian military, the ordered assaults on Ukraine have increased in violence and devastation in recent days.
Russia appeared to send a rocket crashing down outside an administrative building in Kharkiv on Tuesday, killing seven people.
According to a group of Ukrainian journalists who organized a fact-checking service for journalists not on the ground in the country, attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, have become the norm for the Russian invaders. They said shelling on densely populated areas of Kharkiv had killed dozens and injured many more. Children were among the victims, the group said, both in Kharkiv and the city of Mariupol.
“We are convinced that the strategy of bombing the homes and streets of civilians was consciously chosen by the Russians to create chaos and bring communities to despair and panic,” the group wrote in a daily summary sent Tuesday morning. at The Hill. “None of this is happening, the communities are strong and more determined to fight back.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, told lawmakers on Monday evening that Kiev believed Putin had used explosives banned by the Geneva Convention against civilians in Kharkiv, so-called vacuum bombs and fragmentation.
The UN human rights coordinator has estimated that more than 400 civilians have been killed in less than a week of fighting, and the International Criminal Court announced on Monday it is opening a war crimes investigation and alleged Russian crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), vice chairman of the select committee on intelligence, said he watches with concern Putin’s public videos in which he openly expresses his frustration and anger, signaling a stark change for someone he describes as “cold-blooded”. but calculating killer.
“The one thing that Vladimir Putin has always enjoyed is emotional control, it’s the ability to never show emotion and watch a video of him the other night and those flashes of anger, it’s very unusual” , Rubio told reporters Monday night.
“We have to understand that whatever we think he might have done, or assume he would do in response to actions 10 or 15 years ago, is not what he might do today, and that’s an important thing to take in. It’s a very dangerous time, in my opinion, because of that.
Russian experts have also sounded the alarm over Putin’s justification for the assault on Ukraine, dismissing the country’s inherent and legal sovereignty and ethnic history, slandering Ukraine’s Jewish president as a Nazi and propagandizing the Russia as a liberator.
“I’m nervous that Mr. Putin believed his propaganda for decades,” Michael McFaul, who served as US ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, said in an interview with NBC News on Sunday.
“I sat in the room with him for five years when I worked in the Obama administration. I speak Russian. I listened to him and I know what he’s saying, he’s getting more and more unhinged… »
Observers say Putin’s tight grip on power and his virtual isolation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic – when he was largely sequestered in a ‘bunker’ with strict regulations limiting visitors – have broken almost all the connections he had with the outside world and an understanding of reality.
Putin’s demeanor and personality raised red flags for the delegation traveling with French President Emmanuel Macron when they met the Russian leader in Moscow on February 10.
A source familiar with the content of the Putin-Macron discussion told Reuters at the time that more than five hours of talks between the two leaders “made us realize how different the Putin of today is from that of ‘three years ago”.
Russia’s leader could still fall into the abyss as the country’s economy begins to soar amid an unprecedented global sanctions campaign – with Russia’s currency, the ruble, crashing to a low on Monday. less than one cent against the dollar.
The free fall of the Russian economy poses one of the most serious risks to Putin’s power and legitimacy with the Russian people, said Daniel Fried, who served as ambassador to Poland during the Bush administration and a prominent member of the Atlantic Council.
“The social pact that Putin made with the Russians in the early 2000s was, ‘I’ll be an authoritarian but I’ll give you stability and a better standard of living, and a lot of people bought that,'” Fried said. .
“Putin’s promise was the basis of his reign, now he is again in financial turmoil and it’s all up to him, it’s all up to him.”
Russians have taken to the streets in dozens of cities to protest Putin’s war on Ukraine, and thousands have reportedly been arrested, an extraordinary event in a country where public opposition is rapidly and with reduced force in the silence.
Anne Appelbaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian for her work on the Soviet Union, said a key and deep-seated fear for Putin is the power of popular protests to overthrow authoritarian governments, an experience that solidified for him in as a young KGB officer in Dresden. fend off pro-democracy protests in 1989 with the fall of East Germany.
“He had this angst that this would happen to him, that the end of his power would be exactly that, some kind of street protest. I think that obsession is exactly what explains his obsession, in turn, with Ukraine,” she said during a Monday panel hosted by Johns Hopkins SAIS, where she is a senior researcher.
In rambling speeches revising history, Putin has sought to present as a threat to Russia’s security Ukraine’s closer ties to the West and democratic reforms – and which overturned in a popular revolution in 2014 the pro-Russian and anti-Western government in Kiev.
“He had a line in one of his paranoid TV appearances about ‘Western influence coming to us from Ukraine,'” Appelbaum continued, “and what he means is the influences democratic ideas, ideas about transparency, about the rule of law, which could potentially damage his autocratic and kleptocratic political system, which keeps him in power.
The United States, its allies and partners are challenged to develop an exit strategy to contain Putin.
Talks between Ukraine’s defense minister and Russian officials on the border with Belarus on Monday yielded no breakthrough, and the Kremlin even stepped up devastating attacks on Ukrainian towns amid talks.
The White House has said President Biden should not speak with Putin. The Russian leader last spoke with Macron on Monday.
“The French president suggested to the Russian president to stay in touch in the coming days to prevent the situation from getting worse,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement. “President Putin agreed.”
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