An American Babushka in Moscow:  Putin, Hemingway and Paranoia as True Perception


Frontline has done a series on Vladimir Putin, called The Putin Files. They are available on Youtube and are well worth the watch. In them, a variety of “experts on Putin”, ranging from people who worked with him in Russia, such asGlebPavlovsky ( who helped him with the PR for his first campaign for president, through John Bannon, former head of the CIA.  (  While each person presents a different perspective on the man, and while many are quick to speak of his intelligence and/or cunning, no opinion is particularly positive; this is, after all, a series produced for an American audience. In fact, when one looks at these videos as a whole, one finds that certain stories are retold over and over again, and concepts, terms and phrases continually repeated.  One is Putin’s “paranoia” or “fear”, particularly after the fall of Muammar al – Qaddafiin Libya,and the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The story of how he watched over and over again the video of Quaddafi being murdered is retold by several commentators is evidence of the fact that Putin watching the color revolutions occurring in Egypt, Iraq and Libya thought (irrationally in their eyes) the United States would come for him next.  When the situation unfolded in Ukraine, Putin, once again driven by paranoia, thought that it was the beginning of an attempt to effect a “regime change” in Russia. So too, when the street protests broke out in Russia in 2011 and 2012 , Putin, irrationally enough thought that they were being funded and supported by foreign actors.   Oh, poor paranoid Vladimir.

There was no consideration that it might be his brilliant mind, honed and shaped by years of KGB training, was accurately perceiving the truth of the situation.  NO!!  After all, what a thought, that the United States might actually be engaging in regime change or that it would actually be working for a regime change in Russia.  Anyone who thought so must certainly be paranoid.

I won’t waste my time or yours, listing all the countries in which America has successfully or unsuccessfully tried to bring about regime change.  There are many excellent and comprehensive books, articles and videos which detail CIA efforts to bring about such regime changes.   Here are a few short articles on the subject:  ( (

Ok?   Ah, but not in Russia, right?  I mean no!!!

Finally, I saw today where that the words had already come out of the mouth (or pages) of American magazine, Newsweek(  It is time for a regime change in Russia they proclaimed.

There is a story of Ernest Hemingway, written by a dear long time friend of his, who notes his increasing “paranoia” as he grew older.  How, when they were driving along a road in Idaho, Hemingway thought he was being followed by FBI agents, and so refused to pull over at a local bar for a few drinks.    How he constantly asserted that his phone was being tapped.  Poor Earnest, how he had lost his mind in those last days of his life; those days before he, like his father before him,  committed suicide.  But of course we all knew he was “insane” – after all hadn’t he become increasingly paranoid?  And then the FBI files were released; files which showed that he was right.  He was being followed, he was being watched, his phone was indeed being tapped.

As one of my professors at SUNY Old Westbury, Donald Bluestone, was fond of saying: “Paranoia is very often true perception.  If you think someone is out to get you, then they probably are.”

Mary Metzger is a New Yorker living in Moscow


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