Fear of Death and the War for Ukraine
Putin’s invasion may well be driven by dread of his own mortality
Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Two days later, blasts could be heard in Kyiv, the capital city. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed his people: “This night they will begin to storm. We all have to know what awaits us, and we have to withstand. The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.” The reports have come in daily ever since; Kyiv has not (yet) fallen, but reports suggest up to 2,000 civilians have already been killed along with soldiers on both sides — and there is every indication that this land war will be devastating and brutal. To what end? Why is it happening at all?
We have the words of Putin, himself, of course; he gave a predawn address on the 24th claiming Russia could not feel “safe, develop and exist” because of the constant “threat” from Ukraine. The claim is patently false, but he followed it up with even stranger ones, claiming his forces were coming to “de-Nazify” the country (despite the fact that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is Jewish and a descendant of WWII concentration camp survivors). Putin’s reasoning has been condemned by all but his firmest allies and the sycophants with which he surrounds himself in the Moscow bubble. His real motivation, is, as it has always been, the reunification of the Soviet empire.
But Putin’s war is also a dance with death: his death. Crouching in the shadows of other guiding concerns is the same phantom that haunts all dictators (defacto and declared).
“Seven years ago I was an interesting person. Now I am a corpse.” — Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini
Seth Davin Norrholm, PhD, and Samuel Hunley, PhD, write about the psychology of long-reigning dictators, from Hitler to Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin to Pol Pot. In common with their cruelties are their anxieties. Crippled with paranoia about loss of power and/or loss of life, they develop increasingly bizarre avoidance behaviors, especially as they age. Saddam Hussein would have multiple meals prepared for him across Iraq each day so no one knew where he was eating (Norrholm and Hunley also describe his use of surgically altered body…