Is Putin mentally ill? Would he press the nuclear button? Interview with top Ukrainian psychoanalyst

Is Putin mentally ill? Would he press the nuclear button? Interview with top Ukrainian psychoanalyst

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin annual press conference in Center of international trade. Credit: depositphotos 

Russian Aggression

Article by: Volodymyr Semkiv,
Translated by: Oksana Muzychuk,
Edited by: A. N.

Editor’s Note

Is Putin really mentally ill? What is his mental “programming” and how it affects his goals and methods? Is he able to press the ‘nuclear button?’ How was he able to consolidate Russians around himself? How one fights a war with people like Putin? Is he able to commit suicide? Dr. Roman Kechur, President of the Ukrainian Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies, answered these and other questions about the Russian dictator in his interview to Zbruc reprinted below.

“He is a colossus on clay feet. Putin will do one or more other evil things. This will kill more people. But the verdict has already been passed. And it will be implemented soon enough.” — Dr. Kechur.

Roman KECHUR, President of the Ukrainian Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies (Sourc:

Roman Kechur (Credit:

Interviewer: I remember various security conferences in Ukraine a few years ago. Each time, when one of the Ukrainians would say that Putin had mental health problems, foreign guests would turn away. Or at best, such appeals were perceived as a metaphor. Instead, the fresh European and American press is now worried: is Putin really sick?

Europeans and Americans are trying to build a rational culture. In general, Western culture itself is rationally oriented, built on a rational perception of the world. It believes that people should choose something good and avoid something bad. It believes that when sanctions are imposed, someone should back down a bit. That is, to react more rationally — as a rational person would do. But Putin does not respond to sanctions. When any agreement is reached with Putin, he signs papers, gives ‘his word,’ looks his counterpart directly in the eye, and shakes hands… But a few seconds later, he proceeds to deceive and humiliate the same counterpart. In the West, normal and rational people may read this as a mental illness. In the nineteenth century, there were attempts to outline such a deviation as ‘moral madness’ — now most experts do not look at it that way.

The West does not understand Putin. Although now they finally have come to understand that he is evil. We have been talking about this for eight years — both our presidents, all our ministers, all our adequate politicians have been telling Westerners that Putin is evil. But we were told that we needed to understand him, his insults, ‘view this from his position,’ that we needed to understand the psychological complexes, trade with him, cooperate and negotiate cheap gas [deals] with him… It is good that we finally understand — Putin is not subject to rational logic, he is guided by something else. It is this other logic that they can read as if he were ‘sick.’

Interviewer: And how is it in reality?

I have been avoiding answering this question for twenty years. In practically every interview on social issues that I was giving, I was asked if Putin was ill and diagnosed. I am a doctor. Therefore, I avoid publicly formulating diagnoses for anyone — neither my patients nor other people, because it is forbidden by medical ethics. But now I want to talk about it because it is extremely important for society. However, I will not speak in the categories of medical diagnosis, but through the prism of how our enemy’s mental programs work and how he is ‘built.’

There is another important ethical issue. I would not like to equate evil with mental illness. I am a psychiatrist, so I always stand by patients. Always. Because it is my job to be on their side. I have hundreds of patients whom I respect and have a very nice relationship with many of them. Therefore, I would not like to equate this scum with a medical diagnosis and these people.

In addition, Putin’s ‘illness’ is such an excuse for many — the Russians believed him, everything was fine, but suddenly he ‘fell ill,’ and ‘everything went wrong.’ Or the Western elites who ‘believed him, but he went mad.’ And that is why no one is to blame, ‘even Putin himself’ — because he is ‘just sick.’

Interviewer: Where does this evil come from in Putin? How is he ‘built?’

Judging by external observations of this man, I can say that his functioning is determined by two levels. I would metaphorically call the first level ‘St. Petersburg Gopnik.’ Gopnik is a man who does not trust anyone. Love is not available to him. He is incapable of attachment, of long-term relationships. He is not able to understand the uniqueness of another and love the other in its entirety. This is a basic drawback.

What follows from this? He is guided by emotions. His main affections are envy, anger, and fear. He has a hell of a life. Try to imagine it. He cannot love anyone, but can only envy, rage and fear. And feel maniac excitement when he has ‘outplayed everyone.’ He lives with complete inner emptiness. Because of this, the main purpose of his life is to control other people. In order to control others, he uses manipulation. Everything he says is aimed at one goal — to control.

Interviewer: What control do you mean? Control of his environment — through pressure, loyalty, some kind of leadership charisma? Or the whole of Russian society — through faith, trust, propaganda, archetypes?

Everything. He wants to control his immediate environment. To control the population. To control the whole world.

This is the type of person who has an unbridled desire for power. Because power is the only thing that calms them down and gives them a sense of control over others. These people cannot imagine themselves outside of power at all, outside of power, they do not exist. In general psychopathology, it is called ‘antisocial psychopath.’ Although I emphasize once again that I am not talking in terms of medical diagnosis, but describing the mental patterns that organize such a psyche.

The structure of his experiences — ‘I do not love anyone; I do not trust anyone. I feel jealousy, fear, and anger when something fails, and excitement when I successfully hunt the victim. My only goal is to control others. I manipulate them — scare them, bribe them. I do my best to make them behave the way I want them to.’ But this is only the first level, superficial.

The second (lower) level is absolute distrust. And fear. He is afraid. That is why he needs all those missiles, bombs, special services, and the whole army. He needs this to protect himself — a small, unhappy, offended and neglected boy.

The first level falls when he fails to maintain the image of a ruler who ‘outplayed everyone.’ There are grown-up men who tell him — ‘listen, boy, go and stay there in the corner with your rockets.’ Then he decompensates and falls to the lower level. This level is paranoia. He does not trust anyone in his paranoia. That is why his chef is a billionaire. Imagine a billionaire(!) being responsible for his food — he trusts only that food. ~

The first level falls when he fails to maintain the image of a ruler who ‘outplayed everyone.’ There are grown-up men who tell him — ‘listen, boy, go and stay there in the corner with your rockets.’ Then he decompensates and falls to the lower level. This level is paranoia. He does not trust anyone in his paranoia. That is why his chef is a billionaire. Imagine a billionaire(!) being responsible for his food — he trusts only that food.

Interviewer: That is why he has that long table.

The table, too. But there is another point. He asked for this long table so that [French President] Macron, [German Chancellor] Scholz, or anyone else would not infect him. Meaning so that they themselves do not purposefully get infected with the coronavirus in order to infect him. This means that his paranoia also has a hypochondriac dimension — a painful fear for his health.

Barack Obama once made a brief, brilliant description of Putin: ‘He is such a tough guy with thin skin.’ This ‘tough guy’ is the first level. ‘Thin skin’ is the second one.

We need to understand well the logic of the enemy who attacked us and who he is. If we understand these things, we will know how to deal with him.

Interviewer: So, you predicted that Putin would not hesitate to decide on the war?

Yes, I foresaw this — if he were sure that he would succeed and that he would not be punished for it. The main mistake of Western countries and Western democracies is that they have not previously armed us and have not spoken to him in the language of force. The only language that such people understand is the language of force. Force that he has no influence over, that he does not control.

Western leaders mistakenly saw him as a weirdo — a little weird, not very healthy and slightly vulnerable. They tried to negotiate with him, to make concessions — they behaved like rational people. Western presidents or chancellors work in their offices from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. — they just go to work. While he thinks of himself as a ruler. The owner of one-sixth of the world, he is not a political manager, but an emperor. So, the only argument for him is force. In St. Petersburg streets, the only argument was a punch to the face or a very convincing threat of its use.

Interviewer: How do you assess Putin’s statements about his readiness to use the nuclear button? Is he able to go to the end?

The threat of nuclear weapons is the last argument in attempts to control people. ‘If you do not do what I want, if you do not obey me, I will blow everything up, I will destroy everyone, everyone will die!’ It is just a threat — to make others afraid of him.

It seems to me that world leaders have responded to these threats correctly. China has advised Putin to be more restrained. Biden said that we do not see any movement in the preparation of nuclear weapons after that statement. Putin is not feared, his blackmail is not taken seriously. I think that his next step will be the actual introduction of nuclear weapons into combat readiness. And he will continue to threaten.

There is such a phenomenon — projective identification. Or, as they say in Russia, ‘self-actualizing prophecy.’ A prophecy that actualizes itself. If someone thinks that everyone around him wants to attack him, and therefore treats everyone around him in a corresponding way, that is, hostile — then in a very short time, these others will feel real hostile feelings toward him. And he will defend himself. But he will read it as if they want to attack him. This is how projections materialize. And there is nothing mystical here.

Interviewer: But the bearer of this evil still shifts all the blame on his ‘actualized’ enemy?

We are dealing with people like Putin who are not capable of experiencing guilt and responsibility. These people are not capable of feeling guilty, because there are always others for them to blame.

That is, in Putin’s case, NATO, Ukrainians, and the ‘fascists’ are to ‘be blamed.’ All but Russians. For Putin, ‘Russians were simply framed, forced, provoked. They were defending themselves against a planned attack against them, they were not bombarding Ukrainian cities. They are not guilty. They are always for peace.’

Interviewer: So, how should one deal with such people? Or to ask more directly, how to fight a war with them?

With such people, you need a minimum of emotional investment. One should not try to understand Putin or put oneself in his place … This is the worst, the last thing. We need to spit deeply on the trauma of his early childhood. We don’t care what he thinks or says there, how he slept, how he looks, where he sits, whether he is sick or healthy — this is not our problem at all. Our problem is to get the animal into a cage. With cold-blooded unconditional force.

I understand that, for normal people, it is difficult to understand. A normal person is always capable of empathy, compassion, love. But people like Putin don’t share these feelings. They view goodness as a weakness. Agreements are understood as a way to cheat. Words are used to control others, not to communicate one’s experiences, thoughts, or intentions. We need to understand well who we are dealing with. Such people don’t even deserve our hatred. We need for them only cold contempt and strong force.

Interviewer: What the Armed Forces of Ukraine are doing, is it a blow to the head of the St. Petersburg street thug? How does Putin feel when he sees that his troops are not feared and that Ukrainians are aggressively resisting them?

That’s exactly what they are doing. And they are doing it well. It seems that Western elites have already understood this as well. It is a pity that it is so late — but it is good that it is not too late.

Interviewer: How does a person with such qualities manage to consolidate so many elites and businesses around him, to have such popular support? What is the magic of that image?

It all stems from the problem of weakness. Russia is experiencing trauma. It is an imperial nation that has lost its empire. They dream of lost imperial territories and perceive this loss as their weakness and their humiliation. Germany was once reformed through the Marshall Plan and through a policy of denazification. Then evil was clearly defined as evil. It was identified, named, punished. And this is obvious to German psychology. In Russia, however, evil was not named and was not punished. Stalin is still a national hero. At the same time, the loss of territories and the collapse of the empire cause powerlessness and fear. The nation is afraid of its very disappearance.

Russia could have been developed as a national project. But it is weak. They do not have a national project, only an imperial one, because a national one would mean that they have to give up territories, let their colonial possessions go away. Their whole national idea is focused on ‘collecting Russian lands.’ They need revenge because they feel weak. Their group matrix puts forward a leader who talks about ‘Russia getting up from its knees’ and about ‘we can repeat’ [i.e. to fight European countries like the Soviet Union fought Nazi Germany in WW2]. Which is expressed by mystical and magical metaphors, mythologies, and built on historical fantasies.

And they like it. They have fabricated history and they need such a leader. This is anesthesia for their affected selfishness — instead of hard work to understand themselves and the world around them. It is a mental drug. Instead of working to heal their trauma, instead of working out a rational, organized, constructive, humanistic project, they still live in a myth.

Interviewer: Can the sanctions have an effect on the level of Russian support for their leader?

Ordinary Russians can do little. Their position has some influence on the overall tone but means little. Elites decide. As we can see from the sentiments of the elites, sanctions are working. The problem with previous sanctions is that they were too sham and weak. They were an imitation. The goal of sanctions should be drawing pain. They should hurt a beast to drive it into a cage. Although I understand that may sound unkind.

If sanctions are harsh enough, Russia’s elites will see Putin as toxic. And it’s already beginning. [Russian billionaire oligarch] Deripaska says that ‘this state capitalism’ must end. [Russian billionaire oligarch] Abramovich proposes himself as a mediator. [Russian billionaire oligarch] Friedman says he does not know Putin and has nothing to do with him. Just two weeks ago, he would have been beheaded for such words! However, this is just the beginning. They must be really badly hurt. And only then any involvement with Putin will be truly toxic. The farther you are from [Putin’s] bunker in the Urals, the better for you. It will be safer for you not when you are close to the ruler — but when you are far away. And this is the beginning of the finale of any tyrant.

The tyrant is supposed to be always on top of the mountain, he unites, he gathers — like Hitler — millions of people at rallies, he says he defeats  everyone; he is a leader, a god, and a messiah. This is his top point. And then unthinkable happens — he has missed. He makes one mistake, then the next mistake. But with each mistake, he tries to raise the degree [of confrontation]. He intensifies the intensity of the threats and searches for the ‘secret weapon of the Fuhrer’ to reverse the course of the war. This time it’s a nuclear button.

This is the finish line. He will raise the degree because there is no other way out. Nobody believes him anymore; nobody will agree with him. If the Russian elites want real agreements, they will put forward a new candidate for negotiations. The one who will tell about a new Russia, about new policies. It is likely that [their new leader] will lie too, but that will be a different story.

All dictators who did not die of natural causes followed a similar spiral path. They raised the degree of confrontation. And [as a result] more people died. In turn the dictator’s reaction became more violent. The number of his supporters would shrink with every turn of the spiral. Usually, the dictator meets his last day with some random people — with on officer on duty or a stenographer. All the elites who earlier used to live in his waiting room or sit in quarantine for two weeks for a chance to talk to him no longer want to see him.

Interviewer: Can he — is he able to — commit suicide?

I do not know. I do not really know. My opinion on this, like most of my judgments, is only my subjective reflection. But that is all I can afford to say in public.

So, I think, he will resist to the end, and when ‘insurmountable circumstances’ come, he will try to drag us with him into his hell. But in such circumstances, usually the Minister of Defense’s phone ‘stops working’ or the nuclear button ‘breaks.’ Or something else. In any case, this has always been the case. And we can believe that it will be the same this time too.

Interviewer: Will the Russian people realize his crookedness after the fall of Putin, or perhaps yet during his presidency?

No, I do not believe that this could happen before the fall of the empire. I am convinced that the empire will fall due to external pressure and internal weakness. Well, Putin has been driving his rusty tanks to the Ukrainian border for three months. In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders reached Jerusalem faster than they reached Ukraine. It is a colossus on clay feet. He will fall under the pressure of the civilized world. Putin yet will do one or more other evil things. People will still die from this — we do not know who among us will not live to see the end of the war. But the verdict has already been passed. And it will be implemented pretty fast.

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Translated by: Oksana Muzychuk,
Edited by: A. N.
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