Karaganov Shows Pathology of Putin’s Realism
Written by Alexander J. Motyl
Source: World Affairs Journal
Sometimes, Vladimir Putin snarls and reveals his true self to the world. More often than not, one of his minions shows his teeth. This time, it was Sergey Karaganov’s turn to terrify the world with a short interview in the German weekly, Der Spiegel.
Karaganov is no bit player. Here’s how Der Spiegel identifies him: “Sergey Karaganov, 63, is honorary head of the influential Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which develops geopolitical strategy concepts for Russia. … Karaganov is an advisor to Vladimir Putin’s presidential administration and deacon of the elite Moscow college National Research University Higher School of Economics.”
In a word, Karaganov is speaking for Putin. And what he has to say reveals the full and frightening extent of the Putin regime’s chauvinism, imperialism, and paranoia.
Large parts of the interview sound reasonable, even if imbued with fundamental misunderstandings of reality. Thus, Karaganov’s claims about NATO enlargement could easily have been made by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger or University of Chicago political scientist John Mearshimer: “We warned NATO against approaching the borders of Ukraine because that would create a situation that we cannot accept.” Indeed, it’s no accident that the print version of the interview features a photograph of Karaganov standing next to a prominently displayed copy of Kissinger’s Diplomacy. The message should be clear: Karaganov, like his boss, is just a hard-nosed realist.
Fair enough, but, while the realism of Kissinger and Mearshimer is based on logic and a lamentable ignorance of Ukraine and its relationship with Russia, Karaganov’s is based on logic, Russian megalomania and paranoia, and a lamentable ignorance of reality. Scratch beneath the polished surface of Karaganov’s realism and you encounter a crazy Russian nationalism that threatens world peace while propagating world salvation.
If Karaganov restricted his comments to the claim that NATO enlargement was a threat to Russian security, one could let him slide. But he genuinely appears to believe that NATO wants war with Russia. That’s absurd for so many reasons. For starters, that conclusion is based on a profoundly illogical leap—from the claim that NATO is a security threat to the claim that NATO wants war. That’s a non sequitur, as Karaganov should have learned in high school. Moreover, if anybody knows the true condition of NATO, it has to be Karaganov. He has to know that, ever since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been without mission and vision, and that its member states have utterly failed to modernize their armed forces. NATO has about as much ability to mount a war against Russia as Ukraine.
How then is it possible for a hard-nosed realist such as Karaganov to entertain the absurd idea that NATO is ready, willing, and able to embark on war with Russia? Consider in this light Hitler’s views of Jews. There is no way that one can rationally argue that Jews posed a threat to Germany. And yet, it is unquestionably true that Hitler sincerely believed them to be a threat. Why? Because of his peculiar psychology and his crazy ideology. So, too, with Karaganov—as with Putin—fear of NATO is grounded, not in any empirical reality, but in the megalomaniac, paranoid perceptions of the current Russian elite.
Hence such statements by Karaganov: “you have to understand that Russia is very sensitive about defense. We have to be prepared for everything.” (Everything? Really? Including a nuclear attack by France or an invasion by Finland?) And especially this: “we want the status of being a great power: We unfortunately cannot relinquish that. In the last 300 years, this status has become a part of our genetic makeup. We want to be the heart of greater Eurasia, a region of peace and cooperation. The subcontinent of Europe will also belong to this Eurasia.”
Read these lines carefully. On the one hand, Karaganov clearly suffers from a superiority complex, as his talk of great power status being part of the Russian genetic makeup suggests. On the other hand, despite this megalomania, he’s absolutely terrified of the world, as his talk of sensitivity reveals.
Both pathologies are manifestly evident in the following exchange:
SPIEGEL: Russian politicians, including President Vladimir Putin, are trying to convince their population that the West wants war in order to fragment Russia. But that’s absurd.
Karaganov: Certainly there has been some exaggeration. But American politicians have openly said that the sanctions are aimed at bringing about regime change in Russia. That’s aggressive enough.
In Karaganov’s twisted universe, as in Putin’s, mere talk by Westerners of regime change—by ballot, after all, and not by force of arms—in Russia is, evidently, equivalent to a declaration of war against Russia. Note that this equivalence rests on another equivalence: that Putin is Russia.
Small wonder that the West in general and Russia’s neighbors are terrified of Putin, Karaganov, and the psychological and ideological pathologies that define them. In effect, Karaganov is promising to subordinate them to Russia’s will.
After all, what else but subordination could Karaganov have in mind when he says: “We want to be the heart of greater Eurasia, a region of peace and cooperation. The subcontinent of Europe will also belong to this Eurasia.”
Karaganov’s greater Eurasia will be Putin Russia writ large, and the subcontinent of Europe will be transformed into Putin’s fiefdom. That is the peace and cooperation of the Gulag.