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Vladimir Putin and the Parable of the ‘Cornered Rat’

By Uri Friedman

02 Aug 2023 · 9 min read

informed Summary

  1. A story from Russian President Vladimir Putin's childhood about a cornered rat lashing around in self-defense has been used as a metaphor to explain his actions and inform Western policy decisions. The story suggests that when cornered, Putin could lash out aggressively, even with weapons of mass destruction.

Rarely have so few, seemingly inconsequential words generated so many consequential ones.

In a mere 109-word paragraph tucked away in an autobiographical collection of interviews published in 2000, just as he ascended to power in Russia, Vladimir Putin tells a nightmarish tale: Once, when he and his friends were chasing rats with sticks in the dilapidated apartment building in St. Petersburg where he grew up, a “huge rat” he’d cornered suddenly “lashed around and threw itself at” him, chasing the “surprised and frightened” Putin to his door before he slammed it shut in the rodent’s face. For Putin, it’s a parable: “I got a quick and lasting lesson in the meaning of the word cornered.”

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