Is President Putin a Rational Actor? Yes, Of Course
The rationality debate in IR theory applies mostly to horrific examples in human history. For example, we used to ask “Is Bin Laden a rational actor?”.
But irrationality shouldn't be conflated with horrific impacts and human suffering. Rational does not mean good or just.
Right now, the discourse likens Putin to Hitler, judging Putin as irrational and erratic when it comes to his actions in Ukraine.
The claim that President Putin used to be rational but is no longer acting as such also appeared in Western mainstream media.
But Putin's goal is not suffering first. He is after a very specific view of Russian goals and interests – Putin is not after death and suffering as a political goal. War instead is a means to an end -- his view of Russia in the 21st century.
The rationality debate is most often pushed and used as a sign of support for Ukrainians and to denounce Putin's actions and the way his Ukraine strategy is unfolding. Evil, inhumane and harsh do not equal irrational, however. Putin's Ukraine plan is rather rational and strategic, in fact. He follows and closes in on several points. The Ukraine map, alignments, forces, negotiations, laws, restrictions, suppression, and the resources game, as well as the international map and alignments, play out remarkably well for President Putin right now. Human suffering is a factor with regard to opening the humanitarian corridors – Putin is not after the refugees. He sees the human factor as collateral damage, a necessary evil, and as a side effect of his military strategy.
War is quite common throughout history. The highlight of Western media right now is precisely the human suffering angle and it revolves around denouncing Russia's actions but that doesn't make President Putin irrational. The definition of rationality is when something is made in accordance with reason or logic. As far as chess play goes, Putin is winning right now, which remarkably means that suffering would end sooner rather than later, as long as Putin gets what he wants. The way energy and resources play out, the way Putin receives the international sanctions, the pronouncement of the independent republics, the UN process, the pronouncement of the list of unfriendly countries, and the disinformation strategy follow each other in a rational sequence. Putin as a rational player who is after his goals means that the war will end sooner rather than later. He is after political goals, and not after suffering as an evil master plan. We all have a stake in President Putin being rational.
Iveta Cherneva is an Amazon best-selling author, political commentator and human rights activist. Her latest book is “Trump, European security and Turkey”. Cherneva’s career includes Congress and the UN; she was a top finalist for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech in 2020. Iveta’s opinions appear in Euronews, New York Times, Salon, The Guardian, Jurist, Washington Examiner, Modern Diplomacy, Emerging Europe, EurActiv, The Fletcher Forum, LSE, Daily Express.
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