Michael Gove has said it is “unhelpful” to think Russian president Vladimir Putin is going “mad”.
The levelling up and housing secretary said it was more important to recognise “ruthless” Putin as someone in a different “moral sphere” amid the Ukraine crisis.
Since launching Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, various experts have questioned Putin’s mental state.
Marco Rubio, a US senator who has access to secret information on Russia as vice-chair of the Senate’s intelligence committee, suggested last month “something is off with Putin” and that he is reacting in a different way than “he would have five years ago”.
Analysts have also said Putin has increasingly isolated himself since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. He has been pictured holding meetings at long tables, apparently to avoid COVID infection.
Meanwhile, he is reported to be furious at the slow progress of Russia’s invasion, which has been hampered by logistical issues and Ukraine’s strong resistance.
Gove, appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, said people shouldn’t subscribe to the “mad” theory.
“I think there are different ways in which you can describe how Vladimir Putin is operating,” he said.
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“I think he’s operating according to a set of criteria totally detached from those which you or I would consider to be reasonable or rational.
“But by his own lights, what he is doing is pursuing a conflict which he believes he has to win. We have to make sure that he loses.
“There are people who are even now calibrating what our response should be to that – the defence, security and intelligence experts in our own country and elsewhere.
“But, yes, I don’t think it’s helpful to think of Putin as mad. I think what we do need to think of him as, and indeed we do need to recognise, is someone whose ruthlessness takes them into a moral sphere that the rest of us would find almost impossible to conceive of.”
The message was at odds with that of Russian opposition politician Leonid Volkov, who told the same programme Putin is “crazy”.
Volkov, the former chief of staff for Alexei Navalny’s campaign for the 2018 presidential election, said: “It is now very clear that enormous cost has to be paid to stop this war.
“There are all the [economic] sanctions, of course, they also create a burden on the European economy - that is quite clear. But this cost has to be paid because otherwise Putin will just destroy the world.”
Asked if Putin would use nuclear weapons, Volkov replied: “As he is crazy enough, we can expect, unfortunately, everything.”