There’s book smarts and degrees, and then there’s the smarts that really count—street smarts. It looks like Vladimir Putin has the latter, in spades. From Ted Snider at antiwar.com:
As a child growing up in Leningrad, Vladimir Putin lived in a run-down five-story building. He and his parents shared an apartment with two other families. The yard was filled with garbage, and the garbage was filled with rats.
“Putin and his friends used to chase after them with sticks, until one day a large rat, which he had cornered, turned and attacked him, giving him the fright of his life. The memory stayed with him, and years later he would draw the lesson: ‘No one should be cornered. No one should be put in a situation where they have no way out.”
The story is recounted in Philip Short’s biography, Putin. Several lessons from childhood can be found in the biography that seem to have been formative for Putin. Three of them stand out.
No One Should be Cornered
Despite the repeated promises of the US, Germany, the UK and NATO that NATO would not move further east, NATO kept moving east. NATO kept encroaching, moving closer and closer to a Russia that had been explicitly left out of the European Union and now saw the US led military alliance devouring territory as it moved right up to its borders. Russia was being cornered.
As early as 2008, when NATO first announced at the Bucharest summit that Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO, the Russian leadership made clear that they saw this decision as an existential threat. Putin warned that NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine was “a direct threat” to Russian security. John Mearsheimer quotes a Russian journalist who reported that Putin “flew into a rage” and warned that “if Ukraine joins NATO, it will do so without Crimea and the eastern regions. It will simply fall apart.”