Former State Dept. Psychologist Provides Political Psychological Profile of Putin; Denial & Projection: Gabor Mate Provides Psychological Analysis of Russiagate

“Crimea.Russia.Forever.” Billboard of Putin in Crimea. Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, October 2015.

The theme of today’s post is psychology. It’s a subject I’ve had a life-long interest in – I almost majored in it at college, but didn’t. It’s a good subject for any writer to have knowledge in. Understanding human motivations and the various ways they manifest themselves can help a fiction writer create authentic and compelling characters. It can also assist non-fiction writers in analyzing politics and international relations. It’s a great tool for serious diplomats as well.

Dr. Kenneth Dekleva is a psychologist who worked in the Obama-era State Department. He has written a political psychological profile of Putin in which, among other things, he notes that successful diplomacy with Putin would be helped by amiable personal relations from an American leader and that this is partly what undermined Obama’s efforts for the reset. While, I’m sure that amiable personal relations would certainly help grease the wheels of effective diplomacy, it must be pointed out that George W. Bush’s personal rapport with Putin did not stop him from unilaterally pulling the U.S. out of the ABM Treaty or expanding NATO by seven more nations up to Russia’s border.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting and insightful nuggets offered by Dekleva, such as:

Putin’s background as a KGB intelligence officer has colored his entire professional life.  The KGB shaped his ethos and his sense of identity—the embodiment of a boyhood dream.  Less useful commentary – either vilifying his KGB service or downplaying it – misses a more important question, having to do with how Putin’s skills (“I am a specialist in human relations”) manifest themselves.  Many have tended to see Putin as merely tactical, rather than strategic, but such a view is mistaken.  Seeing such labels as dichotomous, rather than as two sides of the same coin, loses sight of Putin’s adaptability regarding foreign-policy challenges, such as the Ukraine, Georgia, Syria, China, India, the U.S., and Europe.  At times, Putin has shown masterful flexibility, often reversing course and shifting priorities, while not deviating from key strategic concerns and his sense of Russia’s national interest.  A different concern has to do with Putin’s inner circle of advisors – many of whom he has known and worked with for decades – and the question of whom does he trust and listen to?  How do strategic decisions get made?  The recent changes in personnel within the Kremlin and key ministries bear careful study in this regard.


Martial arts and the study of Judo has likely shaped Putin’s personality as much as any other activity.  A student of Judo since age 10, Putin eloquently spoke (in a video made by him in 2008) of its virtues of discipline, respect for one’s teachers and fellow students, and humility.  Holder of an 8th-dan rank, Putin is the highest-ranking non-Japanese judoka in the world and a true ambassador of the art.  Videos of Putin demonstrating Judo showcase not only his immense talent, but also a flexible, playful, and competitive style, which for Putin – for whom Judo is a way of life – colors his political behavior as well. 

Overall, it’s refreshing to hear a public psychologist provide an analysis of Putin that reflects an intelligent, sophisticated and complicated person who largely acts based on rational interests, rather than simply writing him off with out-of-context images as suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, psychopathy, gun-slinger gait, Asperger’s Syndrome or some other cartoonish defamation.

Next, is a very timely and perceptive interview from the Grayzone Project – an independent media outlet founded by Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton that I highly recommend.

Aaron Mate, who has done a tremendous job of debunking the Russiagate scandal by conducting actual journalism, is the son of famous psychologist Gabor Mate, who specializes in the study of trauma.

In this 30-minute video, Aaron prompts his father to explain how Russiagate gained such a foothold in the American political landscape and why it won’t die easily.

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