Is Vladimir Putin using 'madman theory'? US intel agencies 'debating' over Russian leader's mental faculties

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Mar 01, 2022, 10:38 PM IST

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

Several reports cited Western analysts who assumed that Putin had been bluffing. But the previous speculations proved to be wrong when he announced a "military operation" in Ukraine on February 24. 

Disclaimer: A number of claims and counterclaims are being made on the Ukraine-Russia conflict on the ground and online. While WION takes utmost care to accurately report this developing news story, we cannot independently verify the authenticity of all statements, photos and videos. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday (February 27) had ordered his military command to put Russia's deterrence forces - a reference to units that include nuclear arms - on high alert. 

Putin cited aggressive statements by NATO leaders and multiple economic sanctions against Moscow and the order created a panic amid escalating crisis and loss of lives. 

The recent announcements and decisions by Putin have forced the intelligence agencies to debate urgently the possibility that the Russian leader has lost touch with reality, The New York Times reported on Sunday. 

Apart from the mention of Russian deterrence forces, Putin's behaviour was noticed when he berated his foreign intelligence chief, Sergey Naryshkin in a televised meet. 

There are several other incidents as media reports in this context also mentioned the giant table, that eventually became meme material, when French President Emmanuel Macron visited Russia to meet Putin. But what's behind this? 

As per the media report, some experts have said that his isolation during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic might have affected his sense of reality. During the isolation, he was said to be kept under strict measures with limited interactions with the world. 

In a Sunday appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press", former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said: "He's out at his compound, doesn't come into town very much, and, under COVID, he's been more isolated." 

In a CNN interview, James Clapper, who is the former director of national intelligence, said: "I personally think he's unhinged. I worry about his acuity and balance." 

As per The Times report, US intelligence officials might think that Putin's behaviour is an elaborate bluff, which means he is acting the part of the "madman" in order to confuse and disconcert the West. 

Such media reports remind 'madman theory' that is a political theory commonly associated with US President Richard Nixon's foreign policy. 

Nixon and his administration tried to make the leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations think he was irrational and volatile. 

Michael Horowitz, who is an analyst at the security consultancy Le Beck International, tweeted: "There is a 'Madman theory' in international relations, which is basically to intentionally appear irrational. If this is what Putin is doing then he is frighteningly good at it." 

Several reports cited Western analysts who assumed that Putin had been bluffing. But the previous speculations proved to be wrong when he announced a "military operation" in Ukraine on February 24. 


Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told reporters on Tuesday that Russia will strike at the information warfare and psychological operations centre of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and technological facilities of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in Kyiv. He called on citizens living nearby to leave their homes. 

Konashenkov said, "In order to suppress information attacks against Russia, the technological facilities of the SBU and the 72nd main PSYOPS center in Kiev will be hit with high-precision weapons. We call on Ukrainian citizens attracted by Ukrainian nationalists to carry out provocations against Russia, as well as residents of Kiev living near relay centers, to leave their homes." 

He noted that with the start of the special military operation, the number of cyberattacks on various state institutions of Russia had increased many-fold. 

WATCH | US and Europe sanctions Putin but where are his assets?