The invasion of Ukraine caught many analysts of Russia off guard. Russian President Vladimir Putin had long been thought of as rough, tough, and brutal—but also calculating and cautious. The wild and reckless Ukrainian adventure seemed out of character.
Some observers believe Putin has changed as a result of his deep isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic or that he has some secret illness that renders him irrational. Both U.S. President Joe Biden’s former press secretary, Jen Psaki, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio have observed that Putin seems different since the pandemic, and rumors about a hidden illness are circulating in Russia and among Russian émigrés. But Putin’s personal history reveals that his decision to go to war is entirely in character—and that he is very likely to continue it indefinitely.