Putin: on the shifting sands of doubt

A recent Kommersant newspaper interview with Putin revealed the extent of his isolation from reality and inability to see things in any way other than his own. This is potentially dangerous, explains Vladimir Pastukhov
Vladimir Pastukhov
7 September 2010

Vladimir Putin’s interview with Kommersant was indeed a milestone, but not in the sense that people are writing about today. When I read it attentively, I realized that this was not for my field of knowledge: it’s a question for a psychoanalyst, rather than a political analyst.

The first thing that stands out is that Putin is tired.

The interview was given by a person in a state of permanent and severe stress.

Putin’s stress is caused by loneliness. His loneliness comes from mistrust and the alienation connected with it.

He is genuinely astonished that everyone is worried by those questions. He is angry that no one asks him about things that seem important to him personally (and in many ways are in fact important) – about the Northern Sea Route, the gigantic tentacles of gas pipelines, the GLONASS satellite system, new destroyers, archaeological digs, and everything else that is discussed so conscientiously and in such detail on state television. So he decided to answer all the other questions in one fell swoop.

"Listen, all our opponents are for a law-governed state. What is a law-governed state? It is compliance with existing legislation. What does existing legislation say about marches? You need to obtain the authorization of the local organs of government. Did you get it? Go and demonstrate. If not -- you do not have the right. If you go out without having the right, you will get it on the noggin with a club. That's all there is to it!" Vladimir Putin in the interview published by Kommersant daily

He finds it difficult to conceal his irritation. The interview was on the lines of “Everything you wanted to know about the opposition in Russia, but were afraid to ask”. There was talk of the dissenters, Khodorkovsky and Shevchuk – literally all the “political bogeymen”.

He was eager to dot all the i’s, but the end result was rather more like three dots at the end of a sentence... He hasn’t heard of Shevchuk, doesn’t know about Khodorkovsky, and the dissenters should invite the television cameras along. Which cameras – from CNN or the BBC? Perhaps Konstantin Ernst is prepared to show interviews with them? If that were the case, they would all be gone from Mayakovsky Square to the Ostankino TV tower in a flash, and OMON would have to clear the road for them.

Most surprisingly, I believe the Prime Minister spoke honestly and himself believed what he was saying. The intelligence officer has learned to believe in his own legend; it has become his second life. This is the mind’s normal defensive reaction against stress.

The stress is intensified by a growing misunderstanding. As Putin genuinely believes what he says, he doesn’t understand why people are so angry, when they have on the whole really begun to live better over the last ten years of abundant oil. Everyone, not just oligarchs and the police. In his heart of hearts, he is offended by the ingratitude.

Vladimir Putin on opposition:

“But here the objective is actually different! Not to obey existing legislation, and say that we want a law-governed state for some other people, but not for ourselves -- we are allowed to do what we want, and we will provoke you so that you give it to us on the noggin with a club. And pouring red paint on yourself, you say that the anti-people's government is behaving improperly and suppressing human rights. If the goal is provocation, you can always achieve success. But if the goal is to inform the public, the world and the Russian public, it makes no sense to provoke the government and break the laws.” Interview with Kommersant daily.

People are always afraid of something they don’t understand. Putin today doesn’t understand what’s going on in the Russian intelligentsia, but is afraid to admit this to himself.

I think he’s genuinely scared – not of the opposition as such (it doesn’t bother him at all), but by the fact that he can’t understand these people’s reasons for acting as they do. He tries simple explanations – acts of provocation, personal ambitions, personal interest – anything but the real explanation: protest against violence. So he feels that for him it’s important to send the opposition a signal – I’m not scared of you.

This is a classic situation: suppressed fear in turn gives rise to unmotivated aggression. Putin looks threatening, and puts everyone down – cultural figures who raise issues, human rights advocates who hold rallies and Americans waiting in ambush. The message for all is very clear – the authorities won’t step down, if you give them a finger they’ll eat your hand. The whole interview was written for the sake of this paragraph. It is obvious that from now on Putin’s slogan will be: “No retreat!”

This requires some thinking over. Putin has finally turned “bronze”. He is no longer a person, but a profile from an anniversary Soviet ruble. The interview clearly indicated that the line of Putin’s connection with reality is “one-track”. It is no coincidence that the stumbling block in the dialogue with Kolesnikov was the question about mistakes.

However, this doesn’t mean specific political mistakes: it is Putin’s personal business whether to admit them or not. Especially as his opponents have not always been manifestly in the right. What we have here is the cultivation of an infallibility complex. Putin is losing the ability to admit mistakes in principle. This is dangerous. It’s the point where politics end and clinical psychology begins.


Vladimir Putin has never shown much tolerance for dissent. Russia Today, pro Kremlin news channel reports on his interview with the Kommersant daily

An inability to see one’s own mistakes, admit them and correct them, sooner or later leads to inadequacy. That is, the person begins to interpret reality to justify the infallibility of the policy chosen. There is a gap between what is actually going on, and what Putin sees and feels. And the wider the gap, the more difficult things will be for Putin, because his incomprehension will grow. As incomprehension grows, fear grows, and as fear grows, decisiveness grows. It’s a vicious circle. How many times has this happened in history, including Russian history?  

The interview was supposed to demonstrate strength, and to a certain extent it was successful. Putin ended up looking like a bronze statue of himself. But in reality, this statue stands on the shifting sands of the doubts, torments and disappointments of a very lonely person.

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