Putin’s terrifying psychological traits assessed: ‘Hostility, narcissism, risk-taking’

Putin is a 'phenomenal liar' says former PM David Cameron

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As Ukraine enters its seventeenth day of war with Russia, the spotlight has been placed on Vladimir Putin’s mental state. Many experts claim that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a tendency towards delusion and paranoia — but others maintain that the Russian leader is simply acting on the psychological traits he has possessed his entire life. Putin regularly engages in so-called hypermasculine performances of power: riding bare-chested on horseback through Siberia; quoting song lyrics about rape in his criticism of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; hosting talks with staff and foreign leaders from the end of a massive table.

While his machismo has been satirised around the world, many experts maintain that it offers glimpses of how Putin approaches invasions like Ukraine, interpersonal relationships with domestic and foreign leaders, as well as state conflicts.

Aubrey Immelman, associate professor of psychology at the College of Saint Benedict, Saint John’s University, has spent much of his career profiling the psychological states of world leaders.

In 2017, he published a profile of Putin with data collected from March 2014 — just as Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.

He found that the Russian leader possessed several primary personality patterns: “Dominant/controlling (a measure of aggression or hostility), ambitious/self-serving (a measure of narcissism), and Conscientious/dutiful, with secondary Retiring/reserved (introverted) and Dauntless/adventurous (risk-taking) tendencies and lesser Distrusting/suspicious features”.

Setting out the definitions that apply to each personality trait attributed to Putin, Prof Immelman said: “Dominant individuals enjoy the power to direct others and to evoke obedience and respect; they are tough and unsentimental and often make effective leaders.

“This personality pattern comprises the ‘hostile’ component of Putin’s personality composite.

“Ambitious individuals are bold, competitive, and self-assured; they easily assume leadership roles, expect others to recognise their special qualities, and often act as though entitled.

“This personality pattern delineates the ‘expansionist’ component of Putin’s personality composite.

“Conscientious individuals are dutiful and diligent, with a strong work ethic and careful attention to detail; they are adept at crafting public policy but often lack the retail political skills required to consummate their policy objectives and are more technocratic than visionary.

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“This personality pattern fashions the ‘enforcer’ component of Putin’s personality composite.

“Retiring (introverted) individuals tend not to develop strong ties to others, are somewhat deficient in the ability to recognise the needs or feelings of others, and may lack spontaneity and interpersonal vitality.

“Dauntless individuals are adventurous, individualistic, daring personalities resistant to deterrence and inclined to take calculated risks.”

Concluding his profile of Putin, Prof Immelman states: “The blend of primary patterns in Putin’s profile constitutes a composite personality type aptly described as an expansionist hostile enforcer.”

He told Express.co.uk that Putin’s high-level of narcissism could lead to a degree of humiliation should Ukraine successfully fend off and defeat the Russian army.


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Prof Immelman said: “But I think it’s already humiliating the fact that it did not take the two days he thought it would.

“It’s under those circumstances that maybe some of these paranoid or delusional characteristics might begin to emerge.”

Putin is said to be furious that his intelligence forces have so far failed in their efforts against Ukraine.

Andrei Soldatov, co-founder and editor of Agentura, an investigative website that has monitored the Russian secret services for more than 20 years, said that the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor, “is not a competent organisation”.

He told The Times: “The final reports that they produced on the situation on the ground in the run-up to the invasion were simply not right, which is part of the reason as to why things have gone so badly for Russia.”

Putin was director of the FSB from 1998 to 1999, with its primary responsibilities including monitoring everything from counterterrorism to border security.

In recent years, it has expanded these operations to monitor the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Since 2014, the agency had spent a lot of time and money attempting to stir up unrest in western Ukraine among far-right groups, according to Mr Soldatov, but ultimately failed.

Their assessments of popular support among Ukrainians for a Russian invasion and extent to which the country would resist were also “terribly miscalculated”.

Mr Soldatov said: “We can’t rule out the fact that the intelligence they gathered on the ground was in fact very good.

“The problem is that it is too risky for superiors to tell Putin what he doesn’t want to hear, so they tailor their information.

“The tailoring probably takes place somewhere between the rank of colonel and general in the FSB.”

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