“Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin”

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

In the abundant corpus of reporting, analyses and – especially – projections over the course of the Ukraine crisis, the expression “in the mind of Vladimir Putin” has cropped up ever so often. It so happens that a book by French journalist, specialist in the history of Russian thought – and editor-in-chief of respected “Philosophie” magazine – Michel Eltchaninoff bears the title “Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin”. It was published in 2015 in French “Dans la tête de Vladimir Poutine”, eds Actes Sud) and soon appeared in English (Hurst Publishers) ; it is also available in Greek (Diametros, 2016). Be it said that Eltchaninoff kept up the mission of guiding readers in the mind of political leaders with “Dans la tête de Marine LePen”. “Inside the mind of Vladimir Putin” was written soon after the Feburary 2014 “Maidan Revolt” in the Ukraine and the March 2014 Crimea annexation by Russia as well as he May 2015 declaration of independence of part of the Donbass region.

The mind-portrait of Putin build by Eltchaninoff speaks of a personality deeply influenced by important philosophers and political thinkers, ranging all the way from Kant to Dostoevsky or Solzenitsyn. His initial flirtation with liberal approaches to power – when he was active in the city administration of St. Petersburg under Anatoly Sobtchak, before accessing the post of Prime Minister of the Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin – was based on political rationalism and economic liberalism, but strongly imbued with strains of a quasi-mystical search for the deeper “essence” of Russian soul.

Closer to Putin’s maturation in power one finds the ideological quest of émigré thinker Ivan Ilyin. Ilyin’s metaphysical/moral justifications of political totalitarianism (“my prayer is like a sword and my sword is like a prayer”) are reflected in Putin’s practice in power, while to his abhorrence of “the weak, damaged self-respect of Russians” one an easily trace Putin’s later moves on the global power chess board on behalf of his country’s self-image. If Hegelian Ilyin enlists violence so as to resist Evil – which augurs ill for the future Putin projection of power in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion – the social/religious mindfulness of Nikolai Berdiaev serves as a foundation for the anti-collectivist reflexes of Putin which see no conflict in using an authoritarian approach while at the sometime condemning the communist past of Soviet Russia.

The practice of power projection in a Eurasian dimension but with a global role in mind complete Putin’s ‘Russian way” for the 21st century and his worldview for Europe. Not easy to digest…