Understanding Putin

Tatyana Deryugina
3 min readFeb 29, 2024


Let’s be clear: I do not claim to fully understand Putin. Anyone who claims to do so is either deluded or lying. It is hard enough to completely understand anyone, even people closest to us, much less a guarded dictator who shares his true inner thoughts with almost no one (maybe even literally no one). But it’s also wrong to say that Putin is completely unpredictable. Over the years he has ruled Russia, Putin has exhibited some consistent patterns, and these are important to understand.

First, Putin harbors ambitious goals extending well beyond governing a country of 140+ million people. He seeks to elevate Russia to the status of a global superpower. Putin views Eastern Europe as Russia’s backyard, asserting influence and control over neighboring countries. His actions, such as the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and continued interference in Moldova, reflect this perspective. Furthermore, Russia’s historical legacy of imperialism continues under Putin’s leadership, and there is no evidence that he has abandoned his ambition for Russian greatness.

Second, Putin does not compromise when he wants something (I challenge you to find a real example of him backing down voluntarily). While Russia engages in diplomatic negotiations and treaty discussions, these interactions are primarily strategic. Russia pretends to compromise when advantageous, but if a treaty becomes inconvenient or loses its utility, Russia will not hesitate to breach it. There was a lot of talk about providing Putin with a ‘face-saving’ exit strategy in the initial stages of the full-scale war. But Putin had ample means to save face if he chose. With absolute control over the country and its media, he could have declared his “special military operation” a success at any point. His failure to do so following a clear miscalculation of the challenges in conquering Ukraine underscores his resolve to see the war through to its conclusion. The only viable means to halt his agenda now is through force.

Third, Putin is a fantastic gaslighter who can say literally anything with a straight face. He claimed there were no Russian troops in Crimea in 2014, even when there was no other plausible source of soldiers in unmarked uniforms. He claims that voting in Russia is free and fair, even as he disqualifies, jails or kills remotely viable political opponents and manipulates voting results. He claims Russia has press freedom even as journalists are labeled “foreign agents”, attacked, arrested, or killed. He claims Russia has free speech even as political activists are intimidated or jailed and demonstrations are banned. He claims Russia doesn’t meddle in other countries’ elections despite ample evidence to the contrary. He claims that Russia is a peaceful country even as it bombs civilians in Ukraine and Syria. The examples are endless, demonstrating a pattern of deception and manipulation that some unfortunately fall for.

Some argue that conceding to Putin’s ambitions and avoiding confrontation is the best approach. However, this perspective fails to grasp the scope of Putin’s aspirations. His objectives extend far beyond Ukraine; he seeks to exert influence on a global scale. Through years of propaganda, Putin has cultivated a narrative of Russian superiority, manipulating perceptions of every stratum of society. Claims of responding to NATO expansion and protecting Russian speakers in Ukraine serve as gaslighting tactics to pressure the US and Europe into acquiescence. Yet, history reminds us of the perils of appeasement. The West has employed this strategy with Russia for over two decades, only to witness Putin’s emboldenment. Surrendering ground merely strengthens his resolve, echoing the grave mistakes made in dealing with Hitler.

Originally published at https://ukraineinsights.substack.com.