Prime Minister Putin's interview on CNN, as reported by the BBC, exposes a mind not fully in touch with reality. He has in effect blamed American provocateurs inside South Ossetia for provoking the crisis that led to Russian military intervention in Georgia. I don't doubt that Americans were in there, probably belonging to NGOs, and I don't doubt that, being Americans, they confronted Russians and their friends with big chips on their shoulders. But Putin goes too far, I think, to accuse these alleged provocateurs of acting on direct orders from the U.S. government, and he shoots out of orbit by suggesting that the main motive behind it all was to influence the presidential election. That would require President Bush and his colleagues to give a rat's patoot about the prospects of Senator McCain, and I doubt Bush could care less. Even neutral news sources, for the most part, have suggested that the Americans were trying to keep President Saakashvili from lashing out at South Ossetia -- in vain, of course. In any event, Putin's contention that "It should be admitted that [Americans] would [be in South Ossetia] only following direct orders from their leaders" shows a misunderstanding of how America works, even if the results are the same from his perspective.
I fear that McCain's enmity has gone to Putin's head, perhaps intensifying a paranoia about encirclement that is characteristically if not distinctively Russian. Readers of this blog will recall that I think that Georgia is none of America's business, and that remains my opinion. But that doesn't require me to think that everything the Russians say on the issue is right. It definitely doesn't require me to portray Putin as a good guy, or to ignore evidence that the de facto ruler of a superpower is a little bit nutty. It's been bad enough having our guy be screwy for the last seven years, but that doesn't mean Putin gets a pass when his opinions could affect the chances for peace in the future.