Managing Putin


As we all now know, Vladimir Putin has turned out to be a tough guy to manage.

The Russian president has repossessed Crimea, throwing a huge scare into Europe and much of the rest of the world, and is getting along especially poorly with his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama. But relations have been tense between Putin and Obama’s predecessors, too. As Peter Baker observed this week in the New York Times, For 15 years, Putin “has confounded American presidents as they tried to figure him out, only to misjudge him time and again.”

The trouble? Essentially, U.S. leaders have been guilty of what intelligence experts call “mirror imaging”—using one’s own worldview in order to try to understand the motivations and intentions of others. They imagined Putin “to be something he was not or assumed they could manage a man who refuses to be managed,” Baker explained. “They saw him through their own lens, believing he viewed Russia’s interests as they thought he should.”

The increasingly tense relationship between Russia and the United States wouldn’t have surprised Peter Drucker. “There are going to be horrendous foreign policy decisions and dilemmas as the Russian Empire decays,” he warned in The New Realities.

Nor would he have been terribly surprised that Obama and those who occupied the Oval Office before him—George Bush and Bill Clinton—had all banked on the idea that Putin would eventually come to see things as they do, only to be foiled in the end. “What A sees so vividly, B does not see at all,” Drucker wrote. “And, therefore, what A argues has no pertinence to B’s concerns, and vice versa.”

In fact, Drucker cautioned, if communication to someone “goes against his aspirations, his values, his motivations, it is likely not to be received at all, or, at best, to be resisted.”

For Putin, resistance certainly seems the order of the day.

How do you think Vladimir Putin could be better “managed” by the United States going forward?