OPINION: Savagery always is Putin’s default position

Evidence mounts in massive proportions that Russia has committed and continues to commit war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.

As investigators and medical personnel uncover both bodies and proof that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has become something resembling a genocidal campaign, observers around the globe ask similar questions.

Is there a level below which Putin will not sink?

Is there a line he will not cross?

Does he care at all about the suffering he’s inflicting on innocent people?

When will he realize he’s made a horrible mistake?

The answers to those questions are:




He never will.

The problem people who believe in principles of self-government and human autonomy have in understanding someone such as Putin is that they simply don’t think the way he does. Because we who support democratic government and value the human spirit place constraints upon the things we will do to impose our will, particularly on others, we too often think that everyone else does, too.

That’s not the case.

Particularly not with someone such as Putin.

The things upon which we place the highest values—truth, the right of human beings to live as they wish, peace—are at best luxuries to Putin. At worst—and we are approaching the worst now—he sees these democratic virtues as weaknesses to be exploited, ways to sow confusion, doubt and hesitation among those who would oppose him and his will.

Truth doesn’t mean anything to him unless telling or acknowledging it allows him to achieve his end goal.

That is why Putin can say, without shame or embarrassment, that Volodymyr Zelenskyy—the descendant of Jews who perished in the Holocaust—is a modern-day Nazi. It is also why he can accuse Ukrainians of slaughtering their own children just to make Russians look bad.

The means don’t matter.

The end does.

We also should not be surprised that Putin is bothered not at all by the carnage his campaign against Ukraine has uncaged. That he would turn savage and murderous when his will was thwarted was predictable, as inevitable as night following day.

Because Putin and others like him see the world in purely binary terms—one is either with them all the way or against them entirely—their responses to setbacks are always the same.

They do not retreat, withdraw or pull back.

They lash out. They strike harder. They attack with even greater fury.

There is method to this madness.

Because they see the world only in “us-against-them” terms, they always want to send a message when they are thwarted or threatened. That message is a brutal one.

It says that, even when they don’t win, everyone loses.

That is why it is no accident that Putin and the Russians have opted to wage war on children, the elderly and the defenseless. Putin wants to send a signal to other nations that might see his inability to conquer a nation one-quarter Russia’s size as a sign of weakness.

He wants to say that even those towns, cities and countries that he cannot conquer he can destroy.

This is, in the end, always the autocrat’s message to the rest of us.

For men such as Vladimir Putin, it is only their will and their wants that matter. All other human beings are but accessories, toys and doll-like furniture in the dark playhouse of their ambitions.

When they don’t get what they want, they’re more than willing to burn the whole house down.

Hopes that such a man will see reason are futile.

He is and always will be a danger to humanity because he doesn’t respect human life as anything more than a means to an autocratic end.

For that reason, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is right.

His country’s war with Russia is not just Ukraine’s fight.

It is humanity’s.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].