In the spirit of reconciliation Sohn Hearts & Minds acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

‘He doesn’t negotiate’: Russia’s foreign enemy No.1 on what makes Putin tick

There are many descriptors for Browder, including Russia’s anti-corruption crusader, and its most dogged oligarch hunter. But it’s his title as Putin’s No.1 foreign enemy that bestows on him another label - consummate survivor.
Elizabeth Knight
The Sydney Morning Herald
Oct 13, 2022

Few have the intimate understanding of Vladimir Putin’s playbook and psychopathy like financier and Russia’s one-time largest foreign investor Bill Browder, who has an estimated worth of $US100 million ($160 million).

There are many descriptors for Browder, including Russia’s anti-corruption crusader, and its most dogged oligarch hunter. But it’s his title as Putin’s No.1 foreign enemy that bestows on him another label - consummate survivor.

American-born Browder, co-founder of investment fund Hermitage Capital, was the biggest foreign investor in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed, before he was expelled and named a “threat to national security” in 2005 after highlighting corruption.

He ascribes his successful avoidance of joining the long list of other fallen Russian critics to a studious regimen of precautions - and the stupidity of his enemies.

As a former insider - turned outsider - Browder is a member of the rarified breed of people who understand what makes Putin tick.

From his early days as a major and highly successful investor/fortune hunter in the chaotic post-Soviet Russia of the 1990s, Browder scored a front-row seat to Putin and his regime. Now Browder is using this insider intelligence to provide insight into how the war with Ukraine will play out.

Browder’s decision to campaign against the corruption cancer embedded in the upper echelons of Russia’s political and business elite provided him with the additional understanding that comes with being an enemy of the state.

His prognosis is unpleasant to digest for energy markets, the world economy that the war has disrupted, and for those involved in the relentless fighting.

“My vantage point on Russia is different from what you would hear from 90 per cent of what I call the ‘experts’, the political scientists,” he says.

Browder predicts it could be a long, drawn-out conflict, which he says “finishes one of two ways - either Ukraine wins or Russia wins. That’s it. There is no middle ground. I know Putin - he doesn’t negotiate.”

“The political scientists are all in the business of agreements, negotiations, summits but this is all based on their dealings with countries that play by some set of rules.

“They [the experts] say that he is upset about NATO expansion or that he is trying to build a legacy for himself by stretching the Russian empire,” says Browder, who describes these views as nonsense.

As he sees it, the “experts” are addicted to the notion this conflict can be negotiated to a close.

“If we give him some promise about NATO, we give him some piece of territory then all problems will be solved,” is how the experts see the resolution, according to Browder.

“What I have learned about Vladimir Putin in my own personal struggle with him is that his motivations are so different than what others could imagine. He doesn’t play by any set of rules.”

Browder believes that for Putin, the war is an existential bet.

“The reason he is at war in Ukraine - and it is not well accepted as a reason - is he is scared of his own people because he has stolen too much money from them over a long period of time.

“He is doing this because he wants a war of distraction, this is all for internal consumption; it is a war designed to ensure that his people are not mad at him, that they are mad at a foreign enemy.”

Browder describes Putin as a psychopath: “Someone who doesn’t have any boundaries, any conscience or any empathy. All he cares about is his own well-being, his own survival.

“He is not like some raving lunatic who is behaving irrationally. He is rational. Everything he does is for his own set of really twisted goals. His goal is to stay alive, and in order to stay alive he’s got to stay in power, and in order to stay in power he has to ensure the Russian people don’t rise against him.”

Thus Putin’s end game is war, according to Browder who has firsthand knowledge of being in his own battle with Putin.

“I bring a personal perspective of what it’s like to have a personal conflict with Putin for the past 13 years and I know how he behaves. He never negotiates, he never shows any weakness, he never compromises. All he knows how to do is escalate.”

Based on these insights, Browder suspects Russia will continue to throw everything it has at the war. But contrary to much commentary he doesn’t believe that either side has an overwhelming military advantage sufficient to win.

“I think the Ukrainians are doing a good job of preventing themselves from losing the war and they are pushing Russia back in certain places, but they don’t have the overwhelming military advantage to win the war. And on the other side, Putin doesn’t have the overwhelming military advantage either.”

But Putin has plenty of motivation.

“You can’t be a dictator and lose a war, so my feeling is that the Russian people will take care of him pretty quickly,” Browder said.

This article was originally posted by The Sydney Morning Herald here.

Licensed by Copyright Agency. You must not copy this work without permission.

Further Reading