Putin Feigns Madness to Frighten West but is a ‘Cowardly Leningrad Hooligan,’ Venclova Says

October 8, 2014
Tomas Venclova. Photo by Marcin Onufryjuk / Agencja Gazeta

Staunton, October 5 – Vladimir Putin feigns madness to intimidate the West, but he is a more rational actor than Hitler and will, if the West stands up to him, stand revealed as ”a cowardly Leningrad hooligan” who seeks to get his way by making threats, according to Tomas Venclova, a leading Lithuanian dissident in Soviet times who now lives in the West.

Venclova told Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza at the end of last week that Putin presents himself as someone who might do anything in order to frighten others but in fact is „a more rational dictator” than many others and carefully calculates what he in fact does depending on its costs and benefits.

“Unpredictability,” the Lithuanian poet says, works to Putin’s benefit, but only if outsiders accept it as genuine rather than an act. Once they recognize that he is using it as a tactic, they can take action in response to him. If they do, then as ugly as the current situation appears to be, “everything will end well.”

According to Venclova, the three Baltic countries are within Putin’s sights, but they are not equally targets. Lithuania has only a few percent of ethnic Russians while Latvia and Estonia have many more. What the latter must do, Venclova says, is continue to “integrate rather than isolate” those communities. Then, they won’t look to Putin.

Venclova said that “if Putin bombed Vilnius, [he] would die on the spot or take up arms to kill. Life would no longer have any meaning for [him].” But he doesn’t expect that to happen because “Putin in the depths of his soul is a cowardly Leningrad hooligan who won’t do that because he knows that as a result, he would die … and lose his money.”

Moreover, he continues, Putin is surrounded by people who may owe their wealth to the Kremlin dictator but who are not fundamentally irrational either. Many of them,Venclova says, are “probably” thinking already that “Putin has gotten into a blind alley,” and they must “do something about it.”

That explains, the poet says, “why Putin is so afraid of poisoning or other misfortunes.” In some respects, the current situation recalls that of the reign of Tsar Paul, who appeared to become “so crazy that he was eventually killed by those around him [when] they no longer could put up with” the results of his statements and actions.