J. Soedradjad Djiwandono: Trying to Read President Putin’s Mind


Trying to Read President Putin’s Mind

by: Prof. J. Soedradjad Djiwandono, Ph.D., Is an Indonesian economist who was Governor of Bank Indonesia, the nation’s central bank, in 1993. Djiwandono received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Gadjah Mada University in 1963 and went on to receive a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1980. He is a professor at S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University since 2002 until today


Introduction and Caveats

As the public knows, I start by stating that I am neither a political scientist nor an expert in Communism or International Relations.

However, following what has been developing from news about the invasion of Russia into Ukraine via rocket fre, artillery and sending thousands of troops from different directions across the Ukraine border with Russia and Belarus, in the last four days it was reported that more than 1500 civilians have died, among whom 14 were children. I think that reading this tragedy, every normal human being would respond by condemning the invasion and feeling sorry for Ukrainians. This has been how I feel and how I would like to share with readers of developments, in the hope to come to a common understanding in interpreting what has been going on, including how I decide to write about what I read President’s Putin mind. As I said I am no expert in all these matters, my only basis in my feeling as a human being, thinking and using common sense.

Keeping old grandeur alive

It is not diffcult to guess that President Putin still thinks of the past when Soviet Union was a superpower competing strongly against the US and its allies, in other words the world immediately after the end of WW II.

Of course, this could only happen in a dream, since the real world has developed differently, whereby the Soviet Union was dissolved and some of its former members, such as Poland, Hungary, Check and Slovenia Republics, and of course Ukraine became independent countries.

This seems to be what President Putin would like to see restored again: Russia as a superpower at par with the US, and of course China today. President Putin claims that his invasion is to protect areas like Donbas and Donets, aspiring to return them to Russia, exactly as he did in 2014 for Crimea. With that in mind, he was certainly surprised that the US and its allies made such a big fuss about the invasion.

An additional explanation of this attitude could be drawn from a writing by a Ukrainian journalist about Putin’s life when he was young. He came from poor worker parents, living in poverty without much of a family life generally. With this background it seemed he would become tough, and may also mean that he became powerful as a KGB boss. This is an effort to explain his background, hypothesizing that when he came to power as President, he did not trust anyone, and everyone was afraid to say anything against him. Ok, these are assessments as a layman, which is for sure open to be questioned. At least common sense would agree with this analysis.

Other assessments

I feel sorry for President Biden who has been criticized from all directions, as he did not handle the crisis wisely, and did not fast enough to act or to help Ukraine.

I beg to differ from those criticisms. In my take, President Biden has been doing his utmost, listening to the advice of his staff and assessing well the developments in the feld. True, he did not handle the Democratic Party well, meaning he did not take over the leadership of the party. But why should he? From the beginning he said that his priority is to unite the country that was so divided under the leadership of his predecessor. He has been known as a consensus builder for a long time in the Senate. But from the start, he has had to deal with diffcult colleagues in the Senate: Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Sinema (Arizona), types that frankly are hard to tell what they want except putting up hurdles and not being helpful. With that, I could understand that President Biden did not want to waste time paying too much attention to them. Of course, at a high cost. Some do not seem to be willing to give the beneft of the doubt to President Biden. I feel sorry for him. It is costly, he lost the voting rights bill for instance. But people easily forget his infrastructure investment bill, his current nominee of a black woman, DC Appellate judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, to fll the seat that Justice Stephen Breyer will soon leave. As usual, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, I guess.

So, back to Ukraine. President Biden in my take has done his utmost. He read very well from the beginning President Putin’s intentions, he reminded President Zelensky of this in his phone conversation. And now when President Putin clearly invaded Ukraine he decided to act in coordination with his allies to execute severe economic sanctions on Russia and its oligarch, complete with a list. What more decisive action do you want?

Ok, now with this action, another criticism popping out, for example from Prof. Mearsheimer who wrote a message, reminding President Biden and his allies that it is dangerous to corner a superpower. Well, I guess President Biden very well understands that; don’t you?

Final note

A bad example sometime draws attention for others to imitate. In our region there has been a perennial headache with Taiwan. In the Security Council China (and India) abstain in the voting on the Ukraine problem. Let us cross our fngers and pray to the Lord that President Xi does not have an inkling about starting to do something about Taiwan. Please don’t.


Source: Independent Observer. Edition: Friday, March 11 th-17th 2022. Rubric Opinion. Page 6.