Community: How Far Will Putin Go?

There’s lots of buzz about the Ukrainian-Russia war. I’m not sure how much of the twitter chatter is true, but one story that has been circulating is that Putin is getting increasingly desperate. The war isn’t going as fast as he expected and he is losing ground in some areas of the country. How far is Putin willing to go to win this war? Some have pointed to yet another rumor that his mistress and children have left Switzerland and are now hiding in an underground concrete city in Siberia. They think that this is not a good sign for a calm end to the war, and that Putin is going to start to bring out the biological, chemical, and even nuclear weapons soon.

What do you think? Where on the scale from 0-10 are you on the “Putin is a raving lunatic and is capable of anything” scale?

20 thoughts on “Community: How Far Will Putin Go?

  1. I’m not an expert. I’ve just been reading things online, including newspapers and think tanks. However.
    1) Putin has stepped over multiple “red lines,” to the point that people who have spent their lives studying Eastern Europe and Putin in particular are not comfortable predicting how far he will go.
    2) Putin has control over Russian media, to the point that Russians without access to dissenting voices are reportedly in favor of this “special operation.” (You can’t call it a war in Russia. It’s legally forbidden.)
    3) Putin is isolated from others. The downside of being a dictator is that no one wants to be the bearer of bad news.
    4) Putin has imprisoned the FSB guy in charge of intelligence on Ukraine.
    5) NATO estimates Russia has lost 20% of its armed forces in the last month. (
    6) Russia is pulling in troops from Syria, as well as recruiting mercenaries.
    7) Much of Russia’s armed forces are conscripts, i.e., teenagers serving for a year. They are not supposed to be sent outside of Russia. Oh well. (I feel very sorry for the conscripts and their parents.)
    8) Russia is reportedly sending 17 year olds to the front. (
    9) Russia does not have the manpower to hold a conquered population. (See: Afghanistan)
    10) Putin has made speeches looking back to Tsarist Russia. (
    11) Military experts have been stunned by the basic errors made by Russian forces. A good summary:

    So, I don’t know. Putin does not have military training, which raises the odds of him doing really stupid things. The Russians apparently have a pattern of wiping out cities, and oppressing populations en masse. After the fall of the Soviet Union, plans came to light calling for invading Europe, following waves of nuclear bombs.

    To emphasize, this was a REAL plan. Remember, Putin would have known of this plan, as a KGB officer.

    Any competent military officer would presumably be a threat to Putin, so there may not be any officers brave enough to point out the problems with using nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

    It is a perilous time. I do not think Putin is a raving lunatic. I think he is a cold blooded killer, who believes he is doing the best thing for Russia.


    1. Perhaps it might reassure you and show you that Putin is just in the ordinary range of behavior for a leader, to know that Churchill ordered plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union in May 1945.

      This plan, “Operational Unthinkable” was a secret “real” plan (the plan was not made public until 1998).

      The plan was to march through Poland to attack the Soviet Union and to use rearmed Nazi German troops along with Allied troops.


      1. Sorry, if it doesn’t include NUCLEAR BOMBS, it doesn’t measure up.

        Threatening to use such weapons puts Putin outside the range of civilization.


  2. Definitely have no ability to engage on what Putin might do. I usually think that about everyone anyway, but this one is definitely beyond my imagination.

    I do know that I’ve lost the ability to be generally optimistic about how things will go. In 2016, after Trump’s election, a friend an I chatted. She was in distress, personally, but also because her 14 year old was blaming our Gen Z for having f****** up the world. My reassurances were to cite the moral arc of justice and to say, well, it can’t get as bad as Trevor Noah’s dystopian joke future:

    But then, the world got worse than I could imagine, with a pandemic, a fractioning of every collective action, and the 1/6 invasion of the Capitol. War in Europe was not on anywhere on my radar and certainly not nuclear war.

    From Anne Helen Petersen’s substack (which I encountered at least partially by following Laura’s substack adventures):

    “In many cases — including the current one — we don’t actually leave the previous crisis behind; it just wanes in urgency, with a promise that it will certainly wax again. It demands a sort of cyclical vigilance — and it’s been the norm for the last two pandemic years, with their ongoing waves of high-alert anxiety, but it’s also characteristic of the ongoing . . . .”


  3. Two areas where I can maybe claim to have insight here: one is being 72, and seeing that every year coming I can expect a little less agency and strength than the last. So if the guy does have hopes of reclaiming the Glory Of Mother Russia, he could think at 68 he had better roll the dice now.

    The other is that Chernenko is in his memory: he saw the Soviet Union go adrift when they had a drooling senile at the helm – I’m going to make a WAG that he sees us with our Chernenko and thought, well, this is the moment to pounce. And, USA is different from USSR, so this was a miscalculation on his part. Yes, Biden is a doddering fool, and yes, as Obama said, “never underestimate Joe’s ability to fuck things up” but, even with one hand tied behind our backs – in the US people are not afraid of being jailed if they bring to the leader’s attention problems with the situation, unlike the Duma the Congress has actual power.

    We have much better ability to self correct. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said “he thought Russian forces on the ground in Ukraine had “essentially stalled.” Austin shared his assessment during an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” that aired on Sunday. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Austin said the situation “had the effect of him moving his forces into a wood chipper.” “The Ukrainians have continued to attrit his forces, and they’ve been very effective using the equipment that we provided them, and armor weapons and aircraft weapons. And again, significant resolve on the part of the Ukrainian people,” he added.” This is what happens when nobody dares tell the Big Guy something he doesn’t want to hear.


    1. dave s wrote, “I’m going to make a WAG that he sees us with our Chernenko and thought, well, this is the moment to pounce. And, USA is different from USSR, so this was a miscalculation on his part.”

      The Euros/UK have been very impressive, too.

      I give us and the EU/UK really high marks for what we’ve done post-invasion, but there was a lot of wobbliness in the pre-invasion months and I’m not surprised that Putin got the wrong idea about what they could get away with, especially after getting away with the Crimea annexation in 2014. There was a lot of talk about severe consequences before this invasion, but it would have been easy to believe that that didn’t mean much. Also, as I’ve been reading, Putin was told that the Russian economy had been recession-proofed, and that ain’t so.

      I think Putin made a huge mistake in not just stopping with the Donetsk/Luhansk annexation. He really could have gotten away with that.

      I also think that it’s a pretty big mistake to go with the “we’re fighting Nazism” option in Ukraine. On the one hand, they seem to be whipping up enthusiasm in some quarters, but if you’re supposedly fighting WWII pt. II, it’s going to look pretty shabby if Russia signs a peace treaty with the “Nazis” in Kyiv and just winds up with a strip of eastern Ukraine, especially with 10,000+ young Russians dead.

      One wild card is that I don’t think that most pro-war Russians have any idea how bad the casualties in Ukraine have been. Russia does a spring and fall military draft, and it’s going to be really interesting to see how that goes this year. The spring 2022 Russian draft starts up April 1…just enough time for people to start noticing. The draft boards would be a very natural flash point for protests, even with the threats of substantial prison terms that have been thrown around recently for opposing the war.

      I was talking to my auntie this morning, and a Russian mutual friend’s brother packed his bags and fled to Uzbekistan with his family. His American employer was pulling out of Russia and things were getting weird. The family has relatives in Ukraine, and the Russian police is going door to door grilling people about their Ukraine contacts…even in an area of Russia thousands of miles from the Russia-Ukraine border.

      There’s getting to be an incredible brain drain of middle class educated Russians who don’t want to LARP the Soviet Union.


      1. ds wrote, “Here we have an instance where the widely held belief that Biden is a bumbling senile is actually, maybe, useful to the country.”



  4. Laura wrote:

    “How far is Putin willing to go to win this war? Some have pointed to yet another rumor that his mistress and children have left Switzerland and are now hiding in an underground concrete city in Siberia. They think that this is not a good sign for a calm end to the war, and that Putin is going to start to bring out the biological, chemical, and even nuclear weapons soon.
    What do you think? Where on the scale from 0-10 are you on the “Putin is a raving lunatic and is capable of anything” scale?”

    It is a problem that he’s so isolated that we have no idea what he does or doesn’t know about how the war is going. Top officials may still be spinning fairy tales to him to protect themselves.

    A bunch of Russian generals in Ukraine have gone to their eternal reward, Minister of Defense Shoigu has been oddly absent from view since March 11 (heart trouble, they say), some defense and security heads are under house arrest, so who knows who Putin is talking to or believes at this point.

    I don’t think Putin is a raving lunatic…but I think he believes a lot of things that aren’t so.,

    The truth is that Putin could nuke Kyiv and still lose Ukraine–but I don’t think he realizes that.


  5. Cranberry: You have a point about threatening use of nuclear bombs–it should put anyone outside the range of civilization.

    Like Nixon in 1972 with Vietnam:

    Nixon: I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that ready?
    Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
    Nixon: A nuclear bomb, does that bother you?… I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christ’s sake! The only place where you and I disagree is with regard to the bombing. You’re so goddamned concerned about civilians, and I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.

    According to some, Nixon was pretending to be crazy enough to use nuclear weapons to make Hanoi and the Kremlin too scared to fight.

    Sometimes I think It’s a a miracle that nuclear weapons haven’t been used since Japan.


    1. The Ukrainian ombudsman has accused the Russians of (already) forcibly deporting 400,000 Ukrainian citizens to Russia:

      She claims they may be used as hostages. I’m not convinced, as Ukraine is not agreeing to become a Russian client state in the face of cities being leveled. More interesting is the supposition that they may be being resettled in distant Russian cities: Ukrainian officials said that the Russians were taking people’s passports and moving them to “filtration camps” in Ukraine’s separatist-held east before sending them to various distant, economically depressed areas in Russia.

      If true, the forcible deportation of civilians is a war crime: (The article is worth reading.)

      What worries me, over and above all that, is this. You deport someone to a distant city. How do you propose that they stay put? It would require a repressive police state (which the Soviets managed), active monitoring of hundreds of thousands of people, and cutting Russia’s telephone and internet from the rest of the world.

      If you look at reports on Russian demographics, they are on track to become a much smaller country. Given Putin’s nostalgia for Tsarist Russia, outright kidnapping of people he regards as Russians would make a certain amount of sense, wouldn’t it? I’m not saying that it makes any sense at all, just that it could make sense to an aging dictator.

      This article from 2014 is interesting in this context:


  6. Just to highlight this–it is a pretty big deal that General Shoigu (the Russian Minister of Defense) has been missing since March 11. He supposedly appeared on a Putin internet conference call since then, but it would be laughably easy to fake that or use an old clip.

    Shoigu is a civil engineer by training, and I expect he was in waaaay over his head with regard to planning a major invasion.

    Who is there left with the stature and the relationship to tell Putin, boss, this is going really poorly, we need to declare victory as soon as possible and get while the getting’s good?

    As I mentioned previously, there’s the potential for the Russian spring military draft to be a disaster for them. They want 130,000 conscripts–will they get them? Will it turn into a public relations fiasco? From what I’ve been seeing lately, the Russian government has been looking everywhere for warm bodies to throw at Ukraine.


  7. The Ukrainians seem to have killed a 7th Russian general in Ukraine.

    I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.

    I know people say that a coup in Russia is extremely unlikely given culture, but man, how many friends and colleagues do you have to see die before you go full von Stauffenberg?


  8. I don’t know if anybody has made this point yet, but nationalist in Russian is “natsionalist” and Nazi is “natsist,” which sounds very similar, with the idea that it’s somehow illegitimate to be a Ukrainian nationalist. At the moment, the war in Ukraine is being sold to the Russian public as a war (or at least “special operation”) against Nazism.

    I believe that the Russian government has been using the Nazi/nationalist as synonyms to fuzz up the distinction between Ukrainian Nazis (a very small group of people) and Ukrainian nationalists (a very large group of people) and to license their program of murder in the Ukrainian civilian populations.

    Right now I’m reading this thread, which is a translation of an April 3 official Russian news article calling for the de-Ukrainization of Ukraine.


    1. Here are translated quotes from the same article from a BBC guy:

      “Denazification is a set of measures aimed at the nazified mass of the population, which technically cannot be subjected to direct punishment as war criminals”

      “”However, besides the elite, a significant part of the masses of the people, who are passive nazis, are accomplices to Nazism. They have supported the Nazi authorities and indulged them…”

      “”…The just punishment for this part of the population is possible only as the bearing of the inevitable hardships of a just war against the Nazi system”

      I’ll note here that that article says that no Western-funded “Marshall Plan” is to be allowed in Russian-occupied territories.

      “”The name Ukraine can seemingly not be retained as the title of any fully denazified state formation on the territory liberated from the Nazi regime”

      “Denazification is inevitably also deukrainisation – a rejection of the large-scale artificial inflation of the ethnic element of self-identification of the population of the territories of the historical Malorossiya and Novorossiya begun by the Soviet authorities”

      That seems to mean that they want to dissolve the Ukrainian state and absorb it into Russia.

      “”Unlike, let’s say, Georgia or the Baltics, Ukraine, as history has shown, is unviable as a national state, and attempts to ‘build’ one logically lead to Nazism”

      “”The Banderite elite must be liquidated, its reeducation is impossible. The social ‘swamp’ which actively and passively supports it must undergo the hardships of war and digest the experience as a historical lesson and atonement.”

      Stepan Bandera was a Nazi-allied WWII Ukrainian nationalist partisan leader. The Russians have been using the term “banderovtsy” for their Ukrainian opposition throughout the current war.

      This peace is more or less a signed confession of genocide–because the plan is explicitly to liquidate Ukrainians as a people.


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