Roman Kechur, psychiatrist, president of the Ukrainian Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies
Let Putin Go Mad
We must get rid of any illusions: even if a psychopath is calmed, he will never become human.
Western politicians are trying not to escalate, because they believe that when he goes crazy, he will press the red button. And this is the main mistake. For the button to work, Putin’s nuclear order must be carried out by a number of executors. They will obey the order of the psychopath because they are afraid of him, but they will not obey the order of the madman, because they will be less afraid of him than of the consequences of his madness.
In the early days of the Ukrainian-Russian war, we spoke with psychiatrist Roman Kechur, president of the Ukrainian Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies, about Putin’s mental state and what to expect from a mad dictator. The material received great publicity, was reprinted on Internet resources in English, Polish, French, and German. Three weeks later, we decided to continue the conversation in order to understand what threats Putin poses after the failure of his blitzkrieg and how to mitigate those threats.
– Has your impression of Putin changed in these three weeks? Can we say that the world is beginning to better understand this devilish Russian ruler?
– We have seen that the world media published a whole series about his mental state. In addition to funny publications in the popular press, we have many very qualified articles and deep descriptions, many of which are very accurate. At the same time, I must add that all of them have a certain systemic flaw. There are careful descriptions – such as photographs or rich painterly portraits. But all of them lack the most important thing – that is, the changes in the dynamics and clinical development of his mental processes. Because it is by the changes of these dynamics that we can observe the level of stress which he goes through, and the factors that affect this stress. I must admit that during our first conversation, I also did not pay enough attention to the dynamics of Putin’s mental state.
– What is peculiar about Putin’s mental state and the dynamics of his mental processes?
– Putin operates on two levels. One level is psychopathic or sociopathic. He is such a cool macho, a St. Petersburg’s cool guy, a kagebist who “beat everyone,” an antisocial person who is guided by the desire to control everyone. He is vicious, ruthless, but not crazy. But when anxiety escalates, when stress builds up, he finds himself in a completely different state – he falls into paranoia, a direct path to madness. And this is the most important thing.
In the first half of the XXth century, Kurt Schneider and his students described this phenomenon as the actualization of latent radicals. This is a reactive state, when the psychopath loses his protective algorithms, the ways in which he manages the world – total control, conscious manipulation. And then the “substrate,” a latent radical, is actualized. These radicals are different – for example, depressive or hysterical. And in our case – paranoid. This is the fear of persecution, the distrust of everything: poisoned food, viruses, radiation, and so on. This is not madness yet. But it’s pre-madness, it’s a path to madness. When he calms down, he returns to the role of the hero on horseback, who keeps everyone in fear.
Thus, Putin is balancing between these two states – where he himself is terrified and where he terrifies the whole world. And it is this dynamic that I would like to draw your attention to – how he oscillates between different levels depending on his level of stress.
– Is Putin showing any behavior that would allow us to notice this dynamic?
– It’s hard for me to say, because I don’t watch him all the time. I see only some fragments – like all of us. The main debate in the world right now is whether he has gone mad or not. I think that he is on the threshold. Every time his level of anxiety rises, he begins stepping through that door, into the next stage – reactive paranoia, when he will hallucinate and hide under the table from “cosmic rays.”
– And in which condition is he more dangerous for the world?
– This is an important issue, and I see that Western politicians worry about it. They are afraid of the unpredictable paranoid Putin, and – perhaps intuitively – are trying to keep him on a psychopathic level.
I will not comment on their military steps, I am not an expert in this. But as a psychiatrist I can react to what is heard in the information sphere. When NATO declares that the main task is to keep the war within Ukraine, when Biden reiterates that the West will not intervene militarily and there will be no “no-fly zone,” they leave control of the situation in Putin’s hands. As soon as he receives a signal that it is up to him to control the escalation or weaken the tension, he immediately returns to the role of the almighty KGB member. But when he feels that he is losing control, when it is not him who determines the moment and level of exacerbation, then he immediately falls into a paranoid level. And if this continues, then, at the bottom of this level, psychosis is possible.
– Are you saying that he is safer in a state of madness?
– Western politicians are trying not to escalate, they allow him to keep control, because they believe that when he goes crazy, he will press the red button. And this is the main mistake. For the button to work, Putin’s nuclear order must be carried out by a number of executors. They will obey the order of the psychopath because they are afraid of him, but they will not obey the order of the madman, because they will be less afraid of him than of the consequences of his madness.
We must get rid of any illusions: even if a psychopath is calmed, he will never become human. Western politicians read the tale of Pinocchio; in the end, the wooden boy became a living person. Putin did not read Pinocchio – he read Buratino [a Russian version of Pinocchio]. Buratino remained wooden at the end of the tale. To understand him, one needs another cultural code.
We are afraid of his psychosis, because we are afraid that he will press the “red button” and commit the so-called extended suicide – that he will die and drag all of us along with him. We do not take into account one circumstance. Putin’s closest environment is watching him, too. And believe me, they are even more worried than Western analysts.
– What gives you such confidence?
If he communicates with subordinates at a five-meter table, if he made his chef a billionaire, if he lives in a bunker, if he requires a two-week quarantine before visitors can see him – it cannot help but raise alarms for people who do not live in a bunker, who realistically assess the danger of the virus, and who are not afraid to eat in a restaurant. I assure you that as soon as he falls into psychosis and in this state gives the command to press the “nuclear button” – at that moment no one will execute it. Because he will demonstrate obvious signs of madness.
Putin is under suspicion. His mental health is in question. His environment is also afraid of this. And this is sort of a safeguard.
What gives me such a confidence? You need to be a psychiatrist to understand what I am saying. You need to have experience talking to people who are in psychosis. Western politicians lack this. And not just politicians. Modern psychiatry is criterion-like. About twenty years ago, the West moved from clinical psychiatry to criterion diagnosis – they make a diagnosis on the basis of certain criteria. This means that more doctors diagnosing more patients will make fewer mistakes. But in each case, despite the existing criteria, the diagnosis remains schematic. Refusal from clinical understanding does not provide an opportunity to better understanding the clinical and individual patterns of the disease.
Therefore, it is better to look at Putin through clinical dynamics. Then we will see that when we give him control over the escalation, we continue the tradition of 'Putin-verstehers.' We try to keep him in mental balance. And in mental balance he behaves sociopathically, rationally in terms of his beliefs and illusions. And we, the whole world, need to knock him out into a state of psychosis. As soon as he loses control, you will see – everyone will see, including his environment – the Fuhrer in his final phase, at the finish line.
– Was Putin’s appearance at Luzhniki an attempt to convince everyone (and himself) that everything was under control?
– Yes. In terms of social dynamics, this was not only a correct but necessary move. He had to show that the government is stronger than ever, that he is not afraid in the bunker, that he is able to maintain this situation. Maybe he is helped not only by Western politicians, but also by medicine…
– Do his colleagues have suspicions about his diagnosis, about the treatment he receives?
– I don’t know how his environment is built. But the medical eye may suspect: he is taking certain medications, possibly some hormones. It also weakens his mental ground. He is an elderly man. He must be receiving some additional treatment. This certainly affects the functional abilities of his brain – it is becoming less stress-resistant.
– What should the climax look like, this flight into madness, after which even the closest environment would refuse to carry out his commands? Is this spectacle scary, disgusting, funny?
Reactive paranoid cannot be hidden. A person who is in this state actively hallucinates and actively expresses delusional ideas. The secretaries can see it, the assistants can see it, the defense minister can see it, all the secret services can see it.
The attention of the whole environment is sharpened. Until now, they looked at him like a small child looks at his mother – they saw how the mother assessed the situation. But now there is a nuance – every time they listen to his orders, they look at the expression on his face. No less than Western elites, they are afraid to fall into the hands of a madman. No one wants to die because of someone else’s madness.
Putin has stopped fulfilling the main condition of leadership – the so-called secure leadership. In order to be effective, leadership must create more security for the one who obeys it than for the one who resists it. Putin is on the verge of his leadership doing more harm than good to his subordinates. It is better for them to resist than to obey. Because a madman is not able to effectively protect them but is able to put everyone at risk of external attack. They are well aware that a nuclear missile is an extended suicide. They do not want to die.
– Can the state of psychosis be collective? Maybe the environment is not able to see the deviation, because they are also in some kind of dizziness?
– In theory, one or two or three people could be the bearers of this phenomenon. This is called induced psychosis. But en masse – no, it’s impossible.
– Can Putin imitate control in a situation when paranoia has already begun, and deceive his subordinates with a poker face?
– It is possible only to some, very insignificant, extent even for a trained KGB member. This is the depletion of neurotransmitter systems in the brain. That is, it’s something material, physical. This is not just a phenomenon that occurs in mental reality – it is a stress that directly, physiologically affects the brain, creating organic, biological changes.
– And what if the intelligence comes and says: “Psychiatrists have understood your psychological portrait, here are the steps that they will use to scare you”?
Putin’s problem is that he considers himself the smartest of all in the world. He is impossible to get through. You can write this interview of mine on his door – it won’t help. In order to understand this, one must have an honest view of oneself, one must have an observing eye. Neither the culture to which he belongs nor the pathology he has presuppose such an ability.
– If we can talk about it directly, then what should be done to push him to the obvious madness?
I’m not talking about what to do. I think Western military experts know this much better than I do. I can only express my opinion on how to talk to him.
We must take away Putin’s sense of control over the escalation. I am not saying that we should deliberately aggravate the situation but we shouldn’t exclude such a possibility in our public statements. We should calmly show readiness for any twists of fate. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility of NATO troops entering Ukraine, or the no-fly zone, or the emergency admission of Ukraine to NATO, nuclear confrontation, and so on. I can understand Western politicians. They want to help Ukraine in a way that does not threaten their citizens with World War III or nuclear war. But I think in order to prevent the third World War, a Western voter might demonstrate a little patience. After all, the greater is the fear of this war, the greater is the happiness of avoiding it and gratitude to the politicians.