Opinion: Is Putin dying? Is he mentally ill? The emerging field of ‘Putinology’

Vladimir Putin sits alone at the end of a long table, talking to military leaders from a distance
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to his military leaders last month about the war in Ukraine.
(Alexei Nikolsky / Associated Press)

“Kreminology” is one of those terms that dates a person who uses it. It was the practice in the U.S. and western Europe of distilling the statements, policies and palace intrigue at Moscow’s Kremlin, the seat of power of the Soviet Union, into practical, actionable information. For as much as the Soviet Union was a repressive, authoritarian country prior to its dissolution in 1991 into more than a dozen separate states (including Russia and Ukraine), its leadership was collectivized after the 1950s.

Today, with political control so heavily concentrated in a single person inside the Kremlin, perhaps the equivalent is “Putinology,” and we’re seeing it in abundance among analysts and, yes, our letter writers after Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Almost nothing uttered by Russian leader Vladimir Putin about his war — that it’s an action to keep the peace or to de-Nazify a country led by drug-addicts — is remotely believable, so we’re left to read between the lines and look for signs that Putin might be mentally unstable, physically unwell or paranoid from pandemic isolation.

It is this practice of divining information from Putin’s odd behavior — from the logorrhea spilled on subordinates at the end of menacingly long conference tables or in bunker-like solitude — in a desperate attempt to answer the question “what’s next?” that we can call Putinology.



To the editor: All these experts who can’t even psychoanalyze why humans depend on food and water to survive are wound up in contradicted analysis on whether Putin is unhinged or not. Really?

If one day I wake up and decided to take my neighbor’s home, knock his fence down, kill his dog and try to kill him, his children or anyone who got in the way, would that not qualify me as slightly mentally deranged? Is that not what is going on here?

Homer Alba, Glendale


To the editor: If my 50 years in the entertainment industry taught me anything, it is that crazy-like-a-fox types end up the winners.

Far from mentally impaired, Putin is an immensely clever, shrewd, ruthless opponent whose strategic calculus places him in a league of his own, far beyond Western leaders, whose response is hamstrung by our modern culture’s kinder and gentler dictates.

Jeff Denker, Malibu



To the editor: I don’t mean this as a compliment, but there was only one Hitler, and while there are valid parallels between him and Putin, a more recent and comparable figure who saw his power ending and wanted to take down as many “enemies” as possible with him was our own ex-president, Donald Trump.

As for the Russian president’s motives and behavior, I do not discount serious illness. Putin’s visibly swollen face and stiff gait have been mentioned a lot.

In 1995, my first spouse (there was no gay marriage then) had AIDS and lymphoma. When the cancer returned and my loved one couldn’t tolerate another round of chemotherapy, he was prescribed a powerful steroid to reduce swelling and inflammation in his lymph nodes. Within a week, his face swelled and he began retaining fluids.

I’ve seen Putin seated in a slouching posture at a long table, distanced far from his advisors. Someone who is immunocompromised would need to shield himself from even minor infections.

John Kluge, North Hollywood


To the editor: One has to wonder about Putin’s childhood and what has turned him into the ruthless cold-blooded killer that he is today. Perhaps he is still getting even with all of those who bullied him for his small stature.


No doubt, this barbarous calculating savage would be a good subject for the analyst’s couch.

But in the meantime, he is doing his best to destroy a nation, only to satisfy his insatiable appetite to dominate Europe, and is intentionally targeting civilian areas in Ukraine. This global threat must be stopped now.

JoAnn Lee Frank, Clearwater, Fla.


To the editor: Putin’s stuck his foot in it, and the entire world can see that. Is he looking for an exit ramp yet? Probably not.

Times are desperate, and when they are I seek guidance from Shakespeare.

In “Julius Caesar”: “Such men as he be never at heart’s ease, whiles they behold a greater than themselves, and therefore are they very dangerous.”

Also in “Julius Caesar”: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”


In “Macbeth”: “I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

Putin is in too deep. He can’t see a way out. He’s caught like a rat in a trap of his own making. Such men are fearfully dangerous.

May the good people of Ukraine resist mightily.

Bill Arnerich, Solvang


To the editor: Putin must have thought that the “NATO expansion threat” was a weak justification for war. He added the claim that the Ukraine “Nazi regime” was committing genocide.

Could the aging brain of Putin be desperately seeking to leave an unforgettable legacy? Such a goal would make Putin very dangerous, making it impossible to negotiate a peaceful resolution.

Ronald Paulinski, Santa Barbara



To the editor: In his op-ed article, Benjamin Carter Hett writes that “we see the same desperation in other dictators when they face the reality of failure... Dictators are psychologically fragile: They need adulation and a sense of mastery, and they cannot tolerate loss.”

Hm, this reminds me of another leader who needed to feel manly.

Geoff Kuenning, Claremont