I’m no expert in…well the list is too long to leave here, but military matters and deep insights into despots number among them. But I think people who believe Putin has gone crazy do so at their peril.
I mean, he is clearly a sociopath, which is a kind of insanity. But that’s not new. I think most people mean “irrational,” and I don’t think he’s been so. He gravely, gravely misjudged the mood of Ukrainians towards Russian annexation, perhaps because of how Crimeans reaction to his invasion in 2014. Perhaps because no one is willing to tell him any unpleasant truth. That’s certainly the case in his miscalculation about Russia’s military readiness.
But given his info, invading Ukraine was totally rational. Evil and murderous, yes, but not “crazy.” He has always wanted Ukraine for various strategic, pragmatic, and nostalgic reasons. And it was a great way to dip a toe in the water to see how NATO would react. If they reacted as he had every reason to believe they would, that is to say, fractionally and loaded with internecine squabbles, it would clear the way to take on the NATO Baltic states.
He must be shocked to see NATO this unified, because, let’s face it, NATO is a little shocked to see NATO this.
Now he’s stuck in a war he knows he absolutely cannot win long term. This makes him very dangerous. But still, attacking NATO now would be the height of irrational thinking, and moreover, radically different than every other war he’s fought. Like all bullies, he generally goes after targets a lot less imposing than he is. NATO isn’t only every bit Russia’s size and bigger, but infinitely better equipped and trained (many Russian soldiers have been issued rations that expired in 2002).
I’ve no idea what will happen next, but the talk about Puting being irrational, well, I don’t see it. I see horrible planning and intelligence, and a surprisingly resilient Ukraine and United West, and God knows I see evil, but I think dismissing him as crazy is a serious misreading.