Publisher’s note: Douglas London is the author of “The Recruiter: Espionage and the Lost Art of American Intelligence”. He is Professor of Intelligence Studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and is a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute. London served in the CIA Clandestine Service for more than 34 years, primarily in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Africa, including three assignments as station chief. Follow him on Twitter at @DouglasLondon5. The opinions expressed in this comment belong to the author. Read more opinion on CNNEE.
(CNN) — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is among those warning of a “new stage” in the Ukraine war which is likely to include more intense fighting. This message portends the need to increase the quantity and quality of war supplies to Ukraine.
And more tellingly, Western leaders are bracing for a protracted conflict, given the slim chance that Russian President Vladimir Putin will rush out, despite his battlefield losses and growing challenges in your country.
The fact that Putin is going to redouble his efforts in the short term with a scorched earth strategy targeting the civilian population does not mean that he can bear the mounting costs in the long term. The West must recognize that Putin is not a fan of maintaining the status quo or following other people’s rules. But he, too, is not the suicidal type if mounting pressure is exerted.
The future depends on accurately gauging Putin’s intentions through his mindset and worldview, not ours, a capability the West—particularly the United States—has historically lacked.
Putin is a former KGB officer who came of age during the Cold War. Intelligence officers, especially those who run operations abroad, are risk takers, but they are not gamblers. In espionage, there are rarely desperate moves.
Try to make this conflict un existential clash of civilizations it was neither an emotional excess nor out of character for Putin, given his background, which includes a predisposition to use terrorism as a tool.
Catherine Belton, author of “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West” wrote that during her KGB assignment in Dresden—then East Germany— Putin worked in support of members of the Red Army Faction, far left terrorist group Responsible for bombings, kidnappings, and murders throughout West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.
Putin is not stopped by the post-World War II global order nor the rules of sportsmanship of the Marquess of Queensberry. He believes that the United States and its allies established those rules to promote their own values and interests at the expense of Russia. That experience came from witnessing the collapse of the Soviet Union and, with it, the bipolar world order he had known.
Therefore, the grade Putin’s subsequent career should come as no surprise when looking back over the past 20 years, as long as we don’t try to understand him from anything other than his own perspective.
It is important that we demystify his decisions by understanding that his mentality is the product of a racist, elitist and xenophobic experience of the KGB in the Cold War era, in which force did good.
I spent a lifetime in the espionage trenches running intelligence operations against the likes of Putin and his brethren in the KGB, FSB and SVR. My encounters offered different insights due to their varied circumstances.
Some were well-timed two-way exchanges that resembled a cross between a Seinfeldian grievance and an evangelical proselytizing.
As a CIA station chief, I occasionally had to deal with aggressive Russian intelligence officers who had set their sights on a member of the American community. But what was most gratifying were the revealing vignettes I got beyond the public eye and from the underground.
In one of my first experiences, I got a ride from a Russian intelligence officer who had been farming. He would be a contemporary of Putin, older and older than me at the time. He was very polite, friendly and adept at adjusting his demeanor to suit the room: like I said, a spy. The KGB officer presented himself in public as a polished, learned and diplomatic man.
Relaxed alone with me in his car, he was also a bit shaky after a night of drinking. Perhaps because of that status, he gave me a long speech in which he explained centuries of legitimate Russian privileges and Western-imposed humiliations.
The exasperated KGB officer argued that the white races of Russia and the United States should live and let live politically and focus instead on “the fifth column threats we share from the mixed races” and the north-south challenges of “the least civilized people who had to be put in check”.
His narrative dealt with “the historical ravages of the marauding Mongol hordes”, code for China, to “the barbarian Turks through the ‘stans of Central Asia”. Thoroughly lucid, though admittedly inebriated, he mixed his remarks with misogyny, ethnic slurs and comments on American decadence, ranging from homosexuality to fast food and, ironically, substance abuse.
In the end, the KGB officer, who behaved almost like a professor when he perhaps started to sober up, made a scholarly defense of his country’s system. Moscow’s authoritarian model, he explained, rewarded conformity and loyalty and benefited the elite. The proletariat benefited simply in exchange for loyal and unquestioning service.
The veteran spy described a structure that was curiously outlined along the lines of a trickle-down social and economic distribution system. His system, he argued, was more efficient and fair than that of the corrupt and chaotic West.
Putin is the embodiment of a lifetime of this kind of conditioning, whose actions illustrate a firm belief in the more grotesque and literal sayings of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli that the end justifies the means. He believes that the Ukraine, like other former Soviet states, are historically conquered parts of Russia because that is what he has been conditioned to believe.
The population of these territories, although in their eyes ethnically and socially inferior to the Russians of their own upper caste, are rightfully their citizens and serfs. Dehumanizing them, as well as alleging threats from within, allows the use of purges, starvation and concentration camps like the ones Josef Stalin used without hesitation. And it also explains the perspective behind Putin’s comments about a “self-purification of society” and his brutal strategy in the Ukraine.
Scarily, Putin’s ability to dehumanize people like “mosquitoes“Traitors who must adapt, be re-educated or forcibly eliminated is not crazy or something unique to him.
At our own peril, we regard this behavior as an aberration, the fog of war, or an undisciplined military. We should recognize his attitude as reflecting a mindset rooted in the historical wrongs to which he and his generation believe Russia has been subjected. Knowing this, the West should be determined not to allow the Ukraine conflict to drag on indefinitely with Putin entrenched in a war of attrition.
Though not consciously reckless, Putin suffers from the arrogance of the powerful. If he’s like other Russian intelligence officers I’ve met, Putin is likely to be naturally defensive when challenged, believing his conclusions to be the product of intensive study, experience and his own tests. exhaustive.
Alternative viewpoints are disrespectful disparages. He will have to come to the conclusion that he needs to cut his losses himself, but Putin will have already realized that the intelligence, estimates and ground truth on which he made his calculations and plans to invade were wrong.
To limit Putin, it is necessary to be vigilant and take calculated risks to continue increasing the pressure aimed at forcing his hand. The more he threatens, the weaker that hand will be. When Putin is in a position of strength, he does not need to bluff, but simply acts to take advantage of him. If the negotiations offer the possibility of reaching an agreement, it will only be as binding as the prevailing circumstances, which requires a long-term campaign to maintain the right amount of pressure to limit it.
The cyclical danger, however, will come from the public exhaustion and political complacency that could ensue when Ukraine fades from the headlines. Keeping Putin in check is remembering that the past is prologue.
Peace will require vigilance and coherence to harness the tangible consequences of aggression. Putin will climb if he can, he will test our limits, he will dig in if he is allowed, but he will compromise out of necessity if he cannot. What Putin will not do is reform or abandon his vision, so it is imperative that we understand that vision through his eyes.