Four Myths About Putin

In the Russo-Ukrainian war, US propaganda has exploited a time tested syllogistic sophistry. First you identify the nation at war with the individual who leads the nation. It is not Russia’s war on Ukraine, it is Putin’s war on Ukraine. Then you identify the individual with Hitler. At various times, Hilary Clinton, John McCain, Lindasy Graham, Marco Rubio and Zbigniew Brzezinski have all compared Putin to Hitler, as have James Clapper, Kevin McCarthy, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and others. What powerfully follows psychologically, is that, since the war is a war against “a second Hitler,” any method used to stop him is morally and militarily justified.

A corollary of the Hitler strategy is the madman strategy. By labeling a leader a madman, you render him incapable of reason or, therefore, of negotiation in the public imagination. If he can’t be negotiated with, he can only be defeated on the battlefield. Like the Hitler strategy, the madman strategy is not new. Leading up to the 1953 coup in Iran, while officials privately compared Mohammad Mossadeq to Gandhi, they publicly painted him as unstable, irrational, hysterical and crazy. Putin has been painted as an irrational actor who cannot be reasoned with, trusted or negotiated with.

Putin is no Gandhi. Russia’s pounding assault on Ukraine has disqualified him as a nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize. But Putin is no Hitler.

Myth #1: Putin Wants to Wipe Ukraine Off the Map

The US has consistently accused Putin of seeking to annex Ukraine, end its sovereignty and erase it from the map.

But eliminating the state of Ukraine has never been a stated goal of the Russian military operation. Russia has several times listed their grievances and goals and that goal has never been among them. A guarantee that Ukraine will remain neutral and not join NATO, a guarantee that NATO won’t turn Ukraine into an armed anti-Russian bridgehead on its border, and assurances of protection of the rights of Russian speaking Ukrainians have all been consistently on that list. But wiping Ukraine off the face of the map has not.

John Mearsheimer has pointed out that “There is no evidence in the public record that Putin was contemplating, much less intending to put an end to Ukraine as an independent state and make it part of greater Russia when he sent his troops into Ukraine on February 24th.” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov recently reminded that Russia “recognized the sovereignty of Ukraine back in 1991, on the basis of the Declaration of Independence, which Ukraine adopted when it withdrew from the Soviet Union.” That Declaration of Independence says that Ukraine “solemnly declares its intention of becoming a permanently neutral state that does not participate in military blocs. . ..” That was “one of the main points for Russia,” Lavrov said before saying clearly, “In that version, on those conditions, we support Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

Russia does not desire to erase a neutral Ukraine from the map; Russia does desire to erase NATO from Ukraine.

Myth #2: Putin Wants to Reestablish the Russian Empire

“The Ukraine crisis is not a territorial conflict, and I want to make that clear…[W]e have no interest in conquering additional territory,” Putin recently told an audience of scholars and diplomats. The war, he explained, is a war over a future security arrangement, over “the principles underlying the new international order,” not over acquiring more territory.

US president Joe Biden has claimed from the first day of the war that Putin “has much larger ambitions than Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about.” Reading from the same script, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Putin has “made clear that he’d like to reconstitute the Soviet empire.”

But if Putin had wanted to reestablish the Soviet empire, he wouldn’t have waited until the 2014 coup that aimed to pull Ukraine into the Western sphere to act. He wouldn’t have resisted the mandate from parliament to use military force, not just in Crimea, but in all of Ukraine. At that time, that would have been an easy military feat. He would not have tried to prevent referendums in the Donbas that sought to leave Ukraine and follow Crimea to Russia, and he would have accepted them when they were held.

If Putin had wanted to reestablish the Soviet empire, he would have completed the conquest of Georgia when Russian troops defended South Ossetia from Georgian shelling in 2008. He would have marched the advancing Russian troops all the way to the capitol of Tbilisi and reclaimed Georgia. As in the Donbas, Putin would have recognized the declarations of independence by the ethnic Russian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And when he finally did recognize their autonomy following the Georgian invasion, he would have annexed them to Russia and not just recognized their autonomy.

There is no evidence in the historical record that Putin has sought to reestablish the Soviet empire.

Myth #3: Putin Has Not Been Serious About Negotiating Peace

Putin has always been serious about negotiating peace. In 2014, he did not annex the Donbas because he remained committed to solving the problems of the region by negotiating its autonomy within Ukraine through the Minsk Accords. It was the Political West that was not serious about negotiating for peace. It is now clear, because of their own testimony, that Germany, France and Ukraine used the Minsk negotiations as a deception to buy time for Ukraine to build an armed forces capable of achieving a military solution to the Donbas. Europe never intended to negotiate a peaceful solution. And the US never pressured them to do so nor gave Ukraine the support it needed to do so.

Putin, though, always remained committed to negotiating peace through the Minsk Accords. In 2014, he “believed that we would manage to come to terms, and Lugansk and Donetsk would be able to reunify with Ukraine somehow under the agreements – the Minsk agreements.” And on the eve of the war in 2022, he was “convinced” that there was “still . . . no alternative.” In the days leading up to the war, Putin continued to push for the implementation of the Minsk Accords. Geoffrey Roberts, professor emeritus of history at University College Cork, reports that Putin spoke with Macron on February 12 and complained of the West’s failure to prompt Kiev to implement the agreements and that the next day he told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that he believed a solution within the Minsk agreements was still possible but that Germany and France had to pressure Ukraine.

In December 2021, Putin pressed the US and NATO to negotiate mutual security guarantees, but the US was not interested in negotiating, and Russia’s central demand, not expanding NATO to Ukraine, was never on the table.

Once the war began, it was the US that was not serious about negotiating a peace, not Putin. Putin demonstrated his seriousness in several sets of talks, starting in Belarus in the first days of the war. According to Naftali Bennett, who was at the time prime minister of Israel and who was mediating negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, Putin made “huge concessions,” and “there was a good chance of reaching a ceasefire,” but the US “blocked it.” Weeks later, Russia would again engage in sincere and promising negotiations in Istanbul. Those negotiations would produce an initialed tentative agreement. But, according to several sources who were present at the talks, the US blocked those talks too. It was not Putin who was not serious about negotiating a peace.

Myth #4: Putin is a Thug Who Murders His Opponents

A constant claim of the Political West is that Putin deals with political threats and opposition by having the opposition killed. “There is,” however, according to the late Stephen Cohen, who was professor emeritus of politics and director of Russian Studies at Princeton, “no actual evidence . . . to support” this claim.

Putin biographer Philip Short concedes that Putin may have “allowed a climate to develop” in which powerful people could order killings. But, he says, “contrary to widespread belief in the West,” Putin “did not” authorize the killings. Short argues that in a list of ten suspicious deaths of Putin critics compiled by The Washington Post in 2017, “only the death of Alexandr Litvinenko can be laid firmly at Putin’s door. All the others appear to have been killed for reasons unconnected with the Kremlin.”

Cohen argued that, even for that one death, despite the verdict that Putin was “probably” responsible for Litvinenko, “there is still no conclusive proof.” “Not a shred of actual proof,” he says, “points to Putin.”

None of this establishes Putin as the protagonist in history. But the many myths written in the west to paint him as the arch-antagonist – as the “second Hitler” – do not stand up under analysis.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.  To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at