I’m on “snow day” duty today, but check out this great piece by Julia Ioffe on the subject of Vlad’s press conference yesterday and what it showed about his grip on reality:
Gone was the old Putin, the one who loves these kinds of press events. He’d come a long way from the painfully awkward gray FSB officer on Larry King, a year into his tenure. He had grown to become the master of public speaking, who had turned his churlish, prison-inflected slang to his benefit. A salty guy in utter command of a crowd. That Putin was not the Putin we saw today. Today’s Putin was nervous, angry, cornered, and paranoid, periodically illuminated by flashes of his own righteousness. Here was an authoritarian dancing uncomfortably in his new dictator shoes, squirming in his throne.
For the last few years, it has become something like conventional knowledge in Moscow journalistic circles that Putin was no longer getting good information, that he was surrounded by yes-men who created for him a parallel informational universe. “They’re beginning to believe their own propaganda,” Gleb Pavlovsky told me when I was in Moscow in December. Pavlovsky had been a close advisor to the early Putin, helping him win his first presidential election in 2000. (When, in 2011, Putin decided to return for a third term as president, Pavlovsky declared the old Putin dead.) And still, it wasn’t fully vetted information. We were like astronomers, studying refractions of light that reached us from great distances, and used them to draw our conclusions.
Today’s performance, though, put all that speculation to rest. Merkel was absolutely right: Putin has lost it. Unfortunately, it makes him that much harder to deal with.
When I argue that Putin doesn’t strike me as being all that astonishingly brilliant, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t make serious trouble for everybody anyway. But I don’t think he’s done himself any long-term favors with what he’s doing in Crimea, and I certainly see no evidence that he’s brilliantly thinking 20 moves ahead of the rest of the world. What’s saving him from serious reprisal right now is corrupt European fecklessness, and it’s not like you have to be Nostradamus to predict that.