Task Forces


Dr Dušan Janjić: Putin – A Tragic Hero

Russia's military aggression against Ukraine (first in 2014 and second in 2022) can be characterized as a “tragedy”. The word tragedy is a compound noun which derives from two Greek words: “tragos”, meaning goat and “oide”, meaning song or ode, specifically “a solemn song when sacrificing a goat” or when offering sacrifice. The tragic hero of this tragedy is Vladimir Putin.

Putin is a victim of his destiny, in the deepest sense of the word. This destiny was mythically determined by the will and action of Gods, that is, the powerful Russian deep state.

The core of Putin's mythical commitment is his belief that he was called upon to be the “Savior of Russia” and the creator of new principles of authoritarian rule. Against this background, a collection of lessons are intended as propaganda to entice the masses (“Putinka”), including historiographical writings by which the reality is being changed and the past rewritten. Difficult periods for Russia and the Russians include: the end of the Cold War (the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989), the collapse of the USSR (March 11, 1990 - December 25, 1991), the dissolution of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance - CMEA (June 28, 1991) in Budapest, and the disestablishment of the Warsaw Treaty (July 1, 1991). The goal of the present reorganization is to go back to the period before the reformist policies (Glasnost and Perestroika) led by Gorbachev (from 1987 to December 25, 1991). That should enable Putin to construct a virtual reality and future for Russia and the Russians. Putin’s virtual future revives the values and principles of the past, such as: the Tsarist union of the state and Russian Orthodoxy; sacrificing tens of millions of Russians and other people to realize Stalin's elusive vision; principles of the Brezhnev's doctrine of “limited sovereignty” of other states and peoples. This shows the relativization of all principles, especially the right to self-determination and non-violent violation of territorial integrity. The principles are respected to the extent that they allow the Kremlin to determine the fate of others, and for the sake of realizing the old dream of Great and powerful Russia (Peter the Great) as well as Stalin's mantra: “Catch-up with and surpass America.”

In his ascension to power, Putin was shaped by the tastes of the powerful “Russian Deep State”. He is the Leader and his rule is authoritarian. Such governing is a constant fight against the “enemy” (both foreign and domestic).

Putin's life and political destiny are determined by his joining the KGB. Putin had been a member of the KGB since the end of his studies (1975) and his intelligence operations and other “necessary” activities in East Germany (from 1985 until the unification of Germany in 1989) were of particular importance for his career. The KGB “recalled” Putin because of the failed coup against Gorbachev in 1990. From then until 1996, he served in the office of the mayor of St. Petersburg, where he became directly acquainted and closer to the phenomenon of Russian “oligarchs”. He returned to Moscow in 1996 where he served until 1998 as the head of the Federal Security Service - FSB (successor to the KGB). In the summer of 1999, Boris Yeltsin promoted him to Prime Minister. Many at the time believed that Putin, as a person without charisma, popularity and a firm political base would not last long. But the “gods” of the Russian Deep State made him the hero they needed. During the Second Chechen War, they forced Yeltsin to resign and brought Putin to the very top of Russia's government. Since then, Putin's three-decade tenure in power have been marked by wars (military aggression against Georgia in 2008, in which Russia supported the creation and later recognized the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and aggression against Ukraine in 2014 and the creation of two new secessionist entities).

Putin himself has repeatedly proved his “heroism” (in East Germany and in the fight against Chechen terrorism). The following events are extremely important in the character formation of this hero, “the savior of Russia”: in September 1999, a bomb blast in an apartment building claimed 94 lives and injuring 290; four days later, an eight-story building was demolished killing 118; in October 2002, during the “Moscow theater hostage crisis” (40 Chechen terrorists took 923 hostages in the Dubrovka Theater, when in a “controversial” liberation operation, carried out by FSB special forces, 130 were killed and 70 wounded). After that, the FSB informed the public about several occasions when Chechen terrorist acts were “prevented”. The birth of the “Savior of Russia” and the fallen victims were honored both by wide public support for Putin and by votes in the elections.

Putin's “reckoning with the oligarchs” (the newly rich, who emerged from the same nest as Putin and under Yeltsin became more powerful than the state itself) secured this “Savior of Russia” an even broader support from the impoverished masses. The main result of this reckoning was the establishment of a state monopoly over energy exploitation and trade, as well as the decisive power of the government in the redistribution of wealth, both among the oligarchs and in society. Russia was built as a "Petrol state" that enabled significant economic growth and higher living standards. At the same time, Russia has grown into a real energy power, strengthened by the development of nuclear energy programs. This was accompanied by the strengthening of the high-tech and defense industries as well as a huge inflow of foreign investments. Russia's economic development declined under imposed international sanctions due to the first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, and the negative effects of the global crisis intensified in Russia during the COVID 19 pandemic. 

Putin's character and power have a significant foothold in the violence, which is why he has carried out extensive police and military reforms and invested great efforts and money in strengthening the police and modernizing the army. At the same time, Putin was guided by the vision of Russia as a world power.

The military aggression on Ukraine has set the scene for the tragic end of this tragic hero. The prologue to the tragedy lasted for eight years. In that period, everything that will happen has been announced. The column “Competition of Great Powers and Options of Small States", published by Pamlfeti two weeks ago, is dedicated to the prologue.

The military aggression that began on February 24, 2022, is the beginning of a part of the tragedy called “episode” (Greek “episodion”). All the actors (hero, gods and choir), with or without masks, are on stage. They speak and sing in a sublime style and their speeches, dialogues and songs are accompanied by the roar of weapons. At this moment, all predictions on how many episodes there will be, i.e. how many conflicts or negotiations will take their turn over the following months or years are unreliable. But it is evident that Putin is in the full splendor of a tragic hero and in his struggle to avoid his fate he has forced Ukraine and the whole world to face a war. The resistance and hardship of Ukraine, the decisions of the powerful of the modern world, especially the USA, UK and the EU, as well as the gods of the Russian deep state will decide when this hero’s final moment has come, and the choir (people) will perform the act of “sacrifice”.

(5 March, 2022)