‘It’s not rational’: Putin’s bizarre speech wrecks his once pragmatic image

Analysis: President makes appeal to Ukraine’s military to abandon its ‘drug-addicted, neo-Nazi’ leaders.

Russia-Ukraine crisis: live news

Putin references neo-Nazis and drug addicts in bizarre speech to Russian security council – video

Looking dead-eyed into the camera on Friday, Vladimir Putin gave one of the most bizarre speeches of his 22 years as Russia’s leader, a directive that managed to sound alarming even in a week when he has ordered tanks into Ukraine and missile strikes on Kyiv.

“Once again I speak to the Ukrainian soldiers,” he said, addressing his enemy. “Do not allow neo-Nazis and Banderites to use your children, your wives and the elderly as a human shield. Take power into your own hands. It seems that it will be easier for us to come to an agreement than with this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.”

The speech seemed to be ripped from an alternate reality – or from the second world war, where Putin appears to be spending more of his time as he launches the kind of broad military offensive not seen in Europe for nearly 70 years.

All this week, Putin’s megalomaniacal tendencies have been on display like never before. He has summoned his aides for a surreal national security council that resembled a television reality show and launched tirades about Lenin and decisions made nearly 100 years ago.

He has also, for the first time, spoken about his maximalist goals in this war: regime change in Kyiv, toppling the government of Volodymyr Zelenskiy and replacing it with a more pliant leadership. Putin’s call for a coup in Kyiv indicates that if Russia wins this war, Zelenskiy will almost certainly not remain in power. How he achieves that is anyone’s guess.

A number of analysts predicted this as Russia deployed more than 60% of its ground forces to Ukraine’s borders and demanded concessions that could never be granted.

But Putin’s unhinged appearances and apparent drive to war have raised questions of whether he remains a rational leader.

“Despite Crimea and everything else, Putin had always seemed an extremely pragmatic leader to me,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, the founder of R.Politik. “But now when he’s gone in this war against Ukraine, the logic in the decision is all about emotions, it’s not rational.”

What’s going on inside Putin’s mind? His own words give us a disturbing clue

Michel Eltchaninoff

Those emotions are deeply rooted in history and the historical injustices suffered by Russia. Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, said he saw Putin as a man with “a historical map in his mind and a plan to use his military to achieve it”.

Central to that map is Ukraine, which he has described as an artificial state. “Modern Ukraine was wholly and fully created by Russia,” Putin said in a historical sleight-of-hand, “namely Bolshevik, communist Russia.”

To help picture it, state TV ran a map earlier this week showing Ukraine cut up to represent which parts were “presents” from various leaders, including Stalin, Lenin and Khrushchev. Some commentators said it represents the partition that Putin himself might be imagining if he gets his way.

While once the map may have been viewed as fantasies or media trolling, a western diplomat based in Ukraine on Friday pointed to his speeches and to that map as a serious sign that Putin was weighing up a dismantling of the country.

“He is not pretending anymore. For the first time I think he’s revealing who he really is,” the diplomat wrote.

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