We publish an interview with Roman Kechur, president of the Ukrainian confederation of psychoanalytic therapies, where he analyzes Vladimir Putin’s behavior from a psychological perspective. “Putin is a colossus on clay feet”, says Kechur. “He will still do one or more evil things. People will still continue to die. But judgment has been rendered. And it will be carried out rather swiftly.”
Interview by Volodymyr Semkiv, Lviv, Ukraine
I recall various security conferences in Ukraine a few years back. Each time one of the Ukrainians would say that Putin had mental health problems, foreign guests would turn away. Or, at best, such declarations were taken to be a metaphor. But now, the latest European and American newspapers are worried: Is Putin really ill?
Europeans and Americans seek to build a rational culture. In general, Western culture is rationally oriented, built on a rational perception of the world. It believes that people should choose the good and avoid the bad. It believes that when sanctions are imposed, someone should back down a bit. That is, react more rationally, as a rational person would. But Putin is not responding. People negotiate with Putin, he signs papers, gives them his “honest word”, they look into his eyes, shake hands. And a second later, he deceives and humiliates them. In the West, normal and rational people may read this as mental illness. In the nineteenth century, there were attempts to define such deviation as “moral insanity”; now most experts do not look at it this way.
The West does not understand Putin. Although now they finally have come to understand that he is Evil. We have been talking about this for eight years — two of our Presidents, all our ministers, all our reasonable politicians have been telling Westerners that Putin is evil. But we were told we needed to understand him, his grievances, “put yourself in his shoes”, we needed to understand his psychological complexes. Why don’t we instead trade with him, cooperate and negotiate cheap gas with him. It’s great that the West has finally understood: Putin is not subject to rational logic, he is guided by something else. It is this other logic that they read as if he were “sick”.
So, what is he actually?
I have been avoiding answering this question for twenty years. In practically every interview on social issues that I have given, I was asked if Putin was ill and what’s the diagnosis. I am a doctor. Therefore, I avoid formulating publicly diagnoses for anyone — either for my patients or for other people, because this is forbidden by medical ethics. But now I want to talk about this because it is extremely important for society. However, I will not be speaking in categories of medical diagnosis but through the prism of how the mental programs of our adversary work and how he is “constructed”.
There is yet another important ethical issue. I would not like to equate evil with mental illness. I am a psychiatrist, so I always take the side of patients. I have hundreds of patients whom I respect and I have a very good relationship with many of them. Therefore, I would under no circumstances equate this scum with medical diagnosis and these people.
Moreover, Putin’s “illness” is a kind of excuse for many. Russians believed him. Everything was fine. But suddenly he fell ill and “everything went wrong”. Or take the Western elites, they “believed him, but he went mad.” And so, no one is to blame, “even Putin himself” — because he is “just sick”.
Where does this evil come from in Putin? What are his mental programs and how is he “constructed”?
Judging this man by external observations, I can say that his functioning is determined by two levels. I would metaphorically call the first level the “Petersburg Bully” [Gopnik]. The Gopnik is a man who does not trust anyone. Love is not available to him. He is incapable of attachment, of long-term relationships. He is not able to understand the uniqueness of another and love the other in his totality. This is a fundamental defect.
What follows from this? He is guided by emotions. His main affects are envy, anger, and fear. His life is hell. Try to imagine it. He cannot love anyone, but can only envy, rage and fear. And feel manic excitement when he has “outplayed everyone”. He lives with complete inner emptiness. Because of this, the main purpose of his life is to control other people. In order to control others, he manipulates. Everything he says is aimed at one goal — control. He wants to control his immediate environment. Control the population. Control the whole world.
This is a type of person who has an unbridled desire for power. Because power is the only thing that calms him down and gives him a sense of control over others. People like him cannot imagine themselves outside of power at all; outside of power, they do not exist. In general psychopathology, this is called “antisocial psychopath”. Although I emphasize once again that I am not talking in terms of a medical diagnosis but describing mental patterns that organize such a psyche.
This is the structure of his experiences: “I do not love anyone; I do not trust anyone. I feel jealousy, fear, and anger when something fails, and excitement when I successfully persecute a victim. My only goal is to control others. I manipulate them; I scare, bribe, flatter. I do my best to make them behave the way I want them to.”
But this is only the first, surface level. The second level is absolute distrust. And fear. He is afraid. That’s why he needs all those missiles, bombs, special services, and the whole army. He needs this to protect himself: a small, unhappy, offended, and neglected boy.
The surface disintegrates when he fails to maintain the image of a ruler who “outplayed everyone”. There are grown-up uncles who tell him: listen, boy, stay there in the corner with your rockets. Then he decompensates and falls to a lower level. And this level is paranoia. He does not trust anyone in his paranoia. That’s why his chef is a billionaire. Imagine a billionaire being responsible for his food because he trusts only that food.
And that’s why he has that long table…
The table, too. But there is another point. He asked for this long table so that Macron, Scholz, or someone else might not infect him. This means that his paranoia also has a hypochondriac dimension — a painful fear for his health.
Barack Obama once gave a brief, beautiful description of Putin: “He’s such a tough guy with thin skin.” This “tough guy” is the first level. And the “thin skin” is the second.
We need to understand well the mind of the adversary who attacked us, who he is. If we understand this, we will know how to deal with him.
So, you had been foreseeing that Putin would not hesitate to choose war?
Yes, I foresaw this. Because he was sure he would succeed and that there would be no consequences for him. The big mistake of Western countries and Western democracies is that they did not arm us beforehand and have not spoken to him in the language of force. The only language that such people understand is the language of force. A force that is not subject to him, that he does not control.
Western leaders mistakenly saw him as a weirdo — a little weird, a little unhealthy, a bit sensitive. They tried to negotiate with him, to make concessions: they behaved like rational people. Western Presidents or Chancellors work in their offices from 9 am. to 6 pm. They just go to work. But he imagines himself as a potentate: he is the Owner of one-sixth of the world. He is not a political manager but an emperor. And so, the only argument he understands is force.
How do you assess Putin’s statements about his readiness to use the nuclear button? Is he likely to go to the end?
The threat of nuclear weapons is the last argument in attempts to control people. If you don’t do what I want, if you don’t obey me, I will blow everything up, I will destroy everyone, everyone will die! It’s just a threat to make others afraid of him.
It seems to me that world leaders have responded to these threats correctly. China has advised Putin to be more restrained. And Biden said there is no preparation to a nuclear attack after that order. Putin is not feared, his blackmail is not taken seriously. I think that his next step will be to actually place nuclear weapons on combat readiness. And he will continue to threaten.
There is a phenomenon called projective identification. As they say in Russia, it is a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. If a person thinks that everyone wants to attack him and treats everyone around him with hostility, then in a very short time, he will feel a real hostility towards himself. And he will defend himself. But he will read it as if others wanted to attack him. This is how projections materialize.
But the bearer of this evil still shifts all the blame on his “enemy”?
We are dealing with people that are not capable of experiencing guilt and responsibility. These people are not capable of feeling guilty because there are always others they can blame. John Dillinger was a gangster in the United States in the 1930s. He killed more than forty people. When it came to court, the trial had to deal with the following episode. He was stopped by two policemen. They just wanted to check his documents. But he was in a bad mood, he pulled out a gun and killed them. There was a long public trial. In the end, according to one biography, he said: “You have said so many bad things about me. But you must know that an honest and good heart is beating in this breast.”
In our case, the “guilty” ones are NATO, Ukrainians, and “fascists”. Everyone but the Russians. Russians are simply being provoked and forced. They are defending themselves against a planned attack against them, they are not hurling bombs. They are not guilty. They are always for peace.
How should one deal with such people? Or to ask more directly, how do you wage a war with them?
With these people, you need a minimum of emotional investment. One should not try to understand Putin or put oneself in his place. This is the worst, the last thing one should do. We need to turn a deaf ear to the trauma of his early childhood. It should not matter to us what he thinks or says, how he slept, how he looks, where he sits, whether he is sick or healthy. This is not our problem. Our problem is to drive the animal into a cage using cold-bloodedly an unconditional force.
I understand that normal people have a hard time doing this. A normal person is always capable of empathy, compassion, love. But these people don’t understand such feelings. They perceive them as a weakness. Contracts are understood as a means to cheat. Words are used to control others, not to communicate one’s experiences, thoughts or intentions. We need to understand thoroughly whom we are dealing with. Such people don’t even deserve our hatred but cold contempt.
How does a person with such qualities manage to consolidate so many elites and businesses around him, to have such popular support? What is the magic of that image?
It all stems from the problem of weakness. Russia is in the midst of a trauma. It is an imperial nation that has lost its empire. They dream of lost imperial territories and perceive this loss as their weakness and their humiliation. Germany was at one time reformed through the Marshall Plan and through a policy of denazification. Evil was clearly defined as evil. It was identified, named, punished. And this is clear to the German psyche. In Russia, however, evil was not named and was not punished. Stalin is still a national hero. At the same time, the loss of territories and the collapse of the empire produce a sense of powerlessness and fear. The nation is afraid for its very existence.
Russians do not have a national project, only an imperial one, because a national one would mean that they have to give up territories, whereas their whole national idea is focused on “collecting Russian lands”. They need revenge because they feel weak. Their group matrix puts forward a leader who talks about “getting up from your knees” and “we can do it again.” He utilizes fictions, magical metaphors, and myths built on historical fantasies.
And they like it. They have a made-up history and they need such a leader. This is balm for an injured pride that takes the place of hard work to understand yourself and the world around you. It is a mental drug. Instead of working on their traumas, instead of working out a rational, organized, constructive, humanistic project, they still live a myth.
Can the sanctions have an impact on the level of Russian support for their leader?
Ordinary Russians decide very little. Their attitudes have little weight. The elites decide. We can see from the sentiments of the elites that sanctions are having an impact. The problem with previous sanctions was that they were shambolic and weak. The goal of sanctions must be pain. One must hurt the beast to drive him into a cage.
If sanctions are punitive enough, Russia’s elites will see Putin as toxic. It’s already beginning. Deripaska says that “this state capitalism” must end. Abramovich is already asking to be a mediator. Friedman says he does not know Putin and has nothing to do with him. Two weeks ago, he would have been beheaded for such words! However, this is just the beginning. The Russians must really feel pain. And then any collaboration with Putin will be truly toxic. The farther you are from the bunker in the Urals, the better for you. You will be safer not when you are close to the ruler but when you are far away. This is the beginning of the end of any tyrant.
A tyrant is always on top of the mountain, he unites, he gathers, like Hitler, millions of people at rallies, he is a leader, a god, and a messiah. Suddenly he makes one mistake, then the next mistake. But with each mistake, he tries to raise the stakes. He increases the intensity of his threats and looks for the “secret weapon of the Führer” to reverse the course of war. This time it’s the nuclear button.
We are in the final stretch. All the dictators who do not die a natural death follow the same path. They raise the stakes and the reaction in turn becomes more and more violent. At the same time, the dictator has fewer and fewer supporters. The dictator’s last day is spent with unexpected people — an officer on duty, a stenographer. All of those who just yesterday stood in his waiting room or were quarantined for two weeks to talk to the leader will no longer want to see him.
All of us — Ukrainian society, the government, the state — need to wage war, we need to fight back with all possible methods, we need to appeal to the world for the world to intervene. Time is in our favour. Time is on our side every day. The dynamics are such that he is already in the drainage pipe. He has no way out.
Canadian natives have a saying: if you are sailing down the Niagara and hear the waterfall — it’s too late. There is no chance of avoiding a catastrophe. Putin has already heard the sounds of Niagara Falls. We must show resolve, comradeship, and fight, defend ourselves to achieve this victory.
Can he commit, is he capable of, suicide?
I think, in a hopeless situation, he will resist to the end, and when “insurmountable circumstances” arrive, he will try to drag us into his hell. But in such circumstances, the phone of the Minister of Defence will stop working or the nuclear button will “break”. Or something else happens. In any case, that’s the way it always was in the past. And we can only hope that this will be the case this time.
Will the Russian people come to their senses after the fall of Putin or perhaps still during his presidency?
No, I do not believe that this will occur before the fall of the empire. I am convinced that the empire will fall due to external pressure and internal weakness. Look, Putin has been moving his rusty tanks to the Ukrainian border for three months. In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders made it to Jerusalem faster than the Russians made it to Ukraine. This is a colossus on clay feet. He will fall under the pressure of the civilized world. Putin will still do one or more evil things. People will still die from this. We do not know who among us will die before we see the end of the war. But judgment has been rendered. And it will be carried out rather swiftly.
Translated from Ukrainian Путін уже почув звук Ніагари by Oksana Muzychuk and Oleh Ilnytzkyj