Finally, after all these days wondering how the cuddly bear we saw in the Sochi Olympics presiding over the ridiculously sanitized history of his nation in the ceremonies could suddenly turn back into a Soviet beast bent on world domination, someone comes up with an answer:
Vladimir Putin is just plain crazy, suggests German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After an apparently awkward phone call with the Russian boss she couldn’t wait to dial up President Obama to report that the dude is nuts.
“Out of touch with reality” is how Merkel put it. Of course, in the masonic tongues of diplomacy things are generally understated. For instance, “a frank exchange of views” describes a meeting where the participants lathered up with bear grease and clawed each other’s ears off. Or “please pass the cream” actually means “your mother is a dog.”
So, in this context we can see that Merkel’s “out of touch with reality” means Putin is stark raving mad, holed up in the Kremlin wearing chain-link bikinis and cursing the furniture.
The year had started so well for Russians who rightly suspect that the rest of the world thinks they’re nothing but drunks with nukes and fur hats. There was Putin, though never smiling in what we now know was a clear sign he was plotting something, looking fairly benign in the opening and closing ceremonies. Relentlessly cute bear balloons with batty eyes floated around persuading us all that the new Russia wants nothing more than to be the world’s Mister Rogers.
We even could coo to the warm and cozy tributes for Russian novelists and poets, and forget what was left out — several were eventually murdered, exiled or deported by the government. Suddenly it was like Stalin never existed, or, if he did exist he was just some hapless bit villain in a Groucho Marx movie.
Then comes Crimea. Russian troops disguised as well-armed grocery clerks marching about refusing to talk to reporters because Putin is pretending they aren’t there. Trouble is they forgot to change out their Russian license plates, the first order of business when trying to secretly take over another country.
When someone, such as the stunned and occupied residents of Crimea, point out that his troops now control the place, Putin says, “Oh, I meant to send them to Croatia, for a vacation. Sorry, got our signals crossed.”
As if things aren’t unsettling enough Putin launches a few intercontinental nuclear test missiles before breakfast.
Merkel’s insanity claim makes more sense than thinking Putin actually has a strategy, something we should never assume about anyone. Sometimes all-powerful egomaniacal dictators do stuff just because they can.