Grandiosity and fantasy worlds will trip up these poisonous authoritarians. Neither man has a democratic bone in his body. And both think they know better than anyone else.
“When you have an autocrat who’s been in power for too long, they don’t listen to people anymore, and this war was afflicted by very bad decision making,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian who teaches at New York University, said on MSNBC. This has left Putin vulnerable and humiliated before Russian elites and the world, she said. But it has also, parlously, left him without an offramp “because autocrats don’t negotiate.”
Stephen Kotkin, a professor of history and international affairs at Princeton, told The New Yorker’s David Remnick that the Russians have a fractured identity. Culturally and scientifically, they are a world-class power. But economically and politically, they have a hard time matching the West, so “they resort to coercion.”
“The worst part of this dynamic in Russian history is the conflation of the Russian state with some personal ruler,” Kotkin said. “Instead of getting the strong state that they want to manage the gulf with the West, they instead get a personalist regime. They get a dictatorship, which usually becomes a despotism.”
Zelensky spoke to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, comparing the terror in Ukrainian skies to the death hailed down from the skies on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and on New York and Washington on 9/11. He also showed a devastating video that brought tears to lawmakers’ eyes.
Underlining his role as David to Putin’s Goliath, Zelensky said, “Strong doesn’t mean big.” Strong means supporting human rights and freedom and demanding the right to die when “your time comes and not when it’s wanted by someone else, by your neighbor.”