On mind-reading, Putin, and not so fuzzy goals

A comment posted in response to Sam Greene’s 11 February 2023 newsletter.

I feel there is good reason why Simonyan would want her audiences to believe that those goals were so fuzzy as to have no actual meaning, and hence part of a genius strategy that leaves adversaries clueless.

These goals may have been “purposefully vague”, but they still had a discernible meaning, and it’s now convenient to pretend they didn’t for obvious reasons. Removing “anti-Russian” elements from Ukraine’s political system and de-militarising Ukraine were substantive goals… but there’s really no way to spin the reality and pretend they have been achieved or may be achieved to any meaningful extent. Much better to pretend they never meant anything.

As for the mind-reading, since everybody has a theory, I’ll take this occasion to share my own. In brief, it goes like this: rather than think of Putin as a strategist concealing his true goals, I feel it is much more useful to think of him as a chronic procrastinator who likes to make choices as late as possible, and, even then, express them in a way that leaves leeway for adapting course and to shift responsibility. Delaying decisions may give the illusion of keeping all doors open, but in practice it often reduces room for manoeuvre, limits options, and eventually forces more unpleasant choices.

I think this perspective is particularly helpful in giving context to events in the Donbas in 2014 and later, as I argued in this review of the latest book by Anna Arutunyan - https://giorgiocomai.eu/post/2022-11-hybrid-warriors-review/ - but it also gives some sort of explanation to lots of things since the invasion.

But of course, no matter how tempting, one shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from putative “mind-reading” exercises, so much better to get back to the more serious questions you suggest.

Giorgio Comai
Researcher, data analyst