Angela Stent is probably the most renowned American Putin expert. She regularly met the Russian President for dinner until 2019. In an interview with FOCUS Online, she reports how Putin has changed recently and why she believes that Putin is far from suicidal.
“I think Putin’s nuclear threats are primarily attempts at intimidation. He would have to be suicidal if he were serious about it,” says Angela Stent in an interview with FOCUS Online. Stent is one of the most experienced Putin experts in the United States. She believes: “Russian nuclear attacks would inevitably lead to massive retaliatory strikes from NATO. And despite all the speculation about his health, I still think Putin is rational enough to be aware of that.”
The American professor has had dinner with the Russian President fifteen times over the past few years. The table talks with the Kremlin boss usually lasted two to three hours, she says. Their last dinner together with Putin took place in 2019. After the outbreak of the pandemic, Putin put his annual dinners with around twenty selected international guests on hold.
Stent remembers her last encounter with Putin well: “That was three years ago and he made a much more robust impression then than he does today. He had a somewhat strange, very stiff gait. Officials at the time put it down to his back problems. But otherwise he seemed extremely perceptive and seemed willing and willing to give long, detailed answers to our questions.”
Stent goes on to say: During these table talks, the Russian President occasionally expressed an unusual sense of humor. “The atmosphere at the table was never relaxed. But in a way, Putin could be surprisingly funny at times. It was very dark, not to say black, humor. Mostly it was about historical events. He once compared Oliver Cromwell to Lenin. His humor bordered on sarcasm. Then, over the years, Putin became more and more angry.”
Regarding the Kremlin chief’s most recent speech on May 9, the American Putin expert said: “It wasn’t just the brevity of his speech on May 9 that struck me as very atypical of him – otherwise he always liked to give very long and detailed speeches. His tone was also completely unusual: far less aggressive than I had experienced him in all the years before. Somehow his whole performance didn’t seem normal to me.”
In addition, the author of “Putin’s World: Russia against the West and with the Rest” (published in 2019): “Even if you look at Putin at his last official meetings with other heads of state, such as the German Chancellor or the French President: There he made a noticeably weaker impression than before. He almost seems like a different person.”
However, Stent does not want to take part in speculation about Putin’s state of health: “You keep reading rumors about blood cancer or Parkinson’s disease. But I’m not a doctor and can therefore say nothing about it – not even about his possible use of medication. But you can definitely see that his face looks puffed up like a moon.”
Stent spent many years working for the US intelligence community and as a foreign policy adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Today she holds a leadership position at the Brookings Institution, a non-partisan think tank in Washington. The university professor also heads the Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies at Georgetown University in the American capital.
In Putin’s head: the logic and arbitrariness of an autocrat
Stent sees little chance of the Kremlin boss giving in: “At the moment I don’t think Putin would make any concessions. On the contrary: he seems to be becoming more and more committed to his position.”
She believes that the current talks about Finland and Sweden joining NATO could confirm his perseverance. “If he were sensible, he would have to recognize that the applications for membership are the clear result of his war in Ukraine. So this is entirely his fault.”
But Stent doesn’t count on Putin’s insight in this regard: “Over the past few years that I’ve seen him, his criticism of the USA has become increasingly sharp. This development was obvious: Putin was becoming increasingly bitter towards the West, especially America. So I can just as easily imagine him interpreting Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids as a deliberate US conspiracy with a single goal: to destroy Russia.”