Putin image from
Gosende/Pepper contribution on Russian President Vladimir Putin
Introduction – Ambassador Robert Gosende:
Many have written about Russian President Vladimir Putin trying to analyze his behavior and seeking to foresee what next steps he might have in mind. Most of the writers have been political scientists, economists and journalists. And much of what they have written is convincing but certainly no one can know with any certainty what President Putin has in mind.
The author of the following piece is one of our country’s most experienced and distinguished psychiatrists. Dr. Bert Pepper has held senior positions in his field in some of our country’s most prominent institutions. His analysis of President Putin’s behavior should be kept in mind now by American leaders as they seek to work with the President of the Russian Federation.
Dr. Bert Pepper:
I have spent much of the last 30 years thinking about why men act as they do, so often in conflict with what they say.
Men seem to be of two minds:
In their modern mind, men speak of their concern for fellow humans, the planet, and all living things. They modestly proclaim themselves to be charitable and generous. And sometimes they act in accord with those words.
But when a man is in his primitive, hunter–gatherer, fearful– angry mind, he may act selfishly, dishonestly, and even violently.
Between six and 8 million years ago our primate ancestor, somewhere in Africa, began evolving away from the chimpanzee. Perhaps because of the cooling of the planet, the fruit–laden dense jungles thinned at the edges, opening up into forests and grasslands. That may be why our ancestor gave up being a quadruped and modified, with the help of evolution, into a biped. Now the forelimbs were free to become hands that could make and use tools and weapons.
Like the chimpanzee, this primitive ancestor probably hunted in a band, with the development of speech enhancing the process of socialization. And the hunting band required a leader.
Humans lived as hunter–gatherers for millions of years, until the development of farming, just 10,000 years ago. Farming led to an abundance of food, which led to people having time to do more than feed themselves. We lived in settled communities, in close contact with many others, and this led to the need for new rules of social behavior.
We would like to think that we gave up the old, primitive rules, but I maintain that they survive in the unconscious of men, and when a man is frightened, they may take over.
The leader of a hunter–gatherer band of perhaps 50 people had the special privileges and great responsibilities that come with being the leader of Russia, or any other nation, today.
What might be Mr. Putin's psychological/emotional state today?
1. Fear from within
The leader has the respect and admiration of the members of his band–but only as long as he can defeat any other who might challenge him.
The constant motivating emotion of the leader is fear. Leadership has been attained by climbing the ladder of power, which often means stepping on people as you ascend. (Think KGB). You must therefore be wary of those below you. National elections are dangerous, which is why Hitler abolished them, and why every potential challenger to Putin ends up in exile or in jail.
2. Fear from outside
The lifestyle of the hunter–gatherer required a large territory, for hunting and gathering edible fruits, nuts, and roots. There was always a danger that a neighboring group might encroach upon his group's territory: it was the responsibility of the leader to defend the borders and, when possible, expand by defeating neighboring groups.
For a comparison, observe the reaction to Pres. Obama's style of leadership, which is decidedly NOT that of a primitive chieftain. For the first six years of his presidency he tried to negotiate, conciliate, and compromise, and this earned him the contempt of the Republicans. It even dismays many Democrats, who would like him to be more Putin– like.
Who in Russia can Mr. Putin trust? Who can he trust outside of Russia? And what about the fact that Russia, as the core of the USSR for 70 years, depended on tribute from its vassal states to maintain its wealth, power, and standard of living?
The leader of a hunter–gatherer band needed to be capable of winning wars against neighboring territories or nations. But he also needed to be cunning, and capable of lying, cheating, stealing, threatening, and deceiving in order to get his way, short of war.
Behind all of these thrusts and parries there must be the willingness to wage war. For the ultimate behavior necessary for a fearful leader is courage, defined as action in the face of fear.
My concern is that if Mr. Putin is overcome by fear of losing his power, he may define himself as courageous by declaring war. But against whom? Perhaps a small, formerly vassal state. Would this not strengthen his hand within Russia?
This worked for Hitler, who took Europe piecemeal, with the West complaining, but unwilling to stop him.