At least, it’s worth trying to answer this question. The grotesque actions in Ukraine are an immense magnification of what may be almost nothing at the start ― a cognitive blind spot or misunderstanding.
A false start would be by noting that one cannot understand a madman, or that the whole of Russia must be seen as an immense asylum for madmen. He is not, and neither are they.
Please read first Open Leadership: Listening to Putin, especially the initial and most evident part. Of course, it’s about big money, power, and status. We all know that.
Seen from Moscow, looking at the West
From this viewpoint, if one wants to see it this way, one sees clear danger. One sees ‘the enemy’ and the necessity of a buffer zone.
Does NATO want to attack Russia? ‘Not at all,’ says NATO. Meanwhile, it does act as such, if not directly through bombs and soldiers, at least indirectly through putting pressure on the pot until it blows up. Geopolitically, this provokes a real and mounting tension between the West and how Russia sees itself (still as a possible giant, and a morally promising part of the planet’s future).
With certainty, this is eventually what deeply drives Putin and, with him, many Russians. Money, power, and status are all dependent on not being conquered as a country or even as an idea. So, do we know the answer already? Yes and no.
For one thing, this is profoundly the same enemy from both sides.
This is, as you might guess, the enemy within. Strikingly, again and again, I see people in Western media, politics, and the military who take the occasion to use strongly aggressive language as if they are glad they can finally come out. Hmm. I see in them the enemy inside, showing on the outside ― not always a palatable sight.
It makes the ongoing even sadder, indeed. Both sides are eventually fighting this same enemy. Symbolically, both are fighting against themselves. It hasn’t helped that, for several decades, the West and the USSR have seen each other as the stranger behind an iron curtain. For that long, the enemy inside has been projected to the other side of the curtain. The real curtain is symbolic and inside.
Saying that Mr. Putin is all evil may be politically correct in the West. Of course, everybody finds the present Ukrainian situation horrendous. Yet who is to blame for this is less evident for many even though ‘we’ find no doubt. Meanwhile, many countries may side with the West for economic reasons rather than moral conviction. For sure, Putin’s entourage is finding out how best to communicate with them. There may be big surprises lying ahead.
Does this justify anything about the ongoing war?
Not at all. It only makes it more comprehensible.
Most importantly, it shows what can efficiently be done to ameliorate the situation, and what is counterproductive. Unfortunately, we see much of the latter.
“We are the good ones; they are the bad ones.“
The inside feeling of aggression has no discernible origin if one doesn’t reckon with inner dissociation. So, where is ‘the enemy’ supposed to come from if not from inside? Right, from outside. Without this insight, seeing the enemy anywhere but ‘there’ may seem insane. That is comprehensible.
The summum is that there is not even an enemy-inside except if the perception of one is explicitly created. In reality, such enmity is a ubiquitous illusion. It results from the basic cognitive illusion related to an experience of purely conscious control.
In a pessimistic mood, I see the whole of humanity fall into geopolitical inner dissociation.
What does this mean to someone like Mr. Putin?
As a former KGB officer, he is a man bent on conceptual control, especially vulnerable to the above. If things get dangerous, such a person strives for more control. This pushes him into a negative spiral.
In that sense, Mr. Putin is also the West’s creation, historically and continuously. Two-sided projections enforce each other in mutual perceptions and how these perceptions influence inner mental processing. The vilification of Putin by the West has a strongly negative effect on the man himself.
What drives Putin is this negative energy.
I would ask the whole world to stop stuffing it there. Most notably, saying that armed force is the only way to reach a solution is detrimental, as is saying that “He only understands sheer power; all the rest is weakness.”
This doesn’t mean that Mr. Putin must be treated as Mr. Nice Guy. First of all, not putting the negative energy ‘there’ also means not putting it ‘here.’ Putin’s lesson is that it’s not so much about him as about each of us, including him. This is unmistakably an immense challenge. To win this ‘war’ in the more general sense, firstly, we must look inside ourselves. This does not turn one into an indiscriminate pacifist. It doesn’t weaken anything or anyone. Quite the opposite.
You may feel bad about this and think I am dangerously naïve, someone to be put safely behind yet another iron curtain if possible. This feeling is precisely what I am talking about, the direct consequence of inner dissociation. You do not want to get rid of me but of you.
Meanwhile, one can be a Compassionate soldier. In my view, they are the toughest ones. When they kill, they do so without hesitation, and with no feeling of guilt in-between. This, by the way, also prevents post-traumatic stress.
Then what shall we do with Mr. Putin?
In his kind’s mind, the main thing is force, militarily, economically, etc. Life, to Mr. Putin, is about controlling or being controlled, being ‘strong’ or ‘weak.’ Probably nobody can get him out of that. Everything Putinesque turns around control.
As it does for any living being. Only in specific circumstances does life ask for a diminishment of control.
This is not, at present, a call to stop the Ukrainian war unilaterally or to let Mr. Putin roll his tanks over a large part of Europe. However, to do so without Open communication is equally silly!
Yes, that’s how silly it is ― utterly, while simultaneously as insignificant by itself as a blind spot.
On one occasion, I saw Mr. Putin weep for Russia. He’s definitely not a machine.
This means that he sees ‘control’ as more than a wheel to turn or a button to push. ‘Control’ is meaningful to him. Thus, one should not take it away from him but deepen it. Anything meaningful can be deepened.
But this, again, can only be done through Listening to Putin. There is no algorithm to be used toward this result but a complex, subconceptual communication.
That, of course, is part of Open Leadership.