Much of the media coverage of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner, has described him as being “outspoken,” or “harsh,” but assumes that he is of sound mind. What if he is not?
What if his videos, showing him unhinged and screaming at Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is not a demonstration of “passion” but the result of him being in the midst of a manic episode of bipolar disorder?
A person with bipolar tendencies displays tedious periods of dysphoria and depression which can be followed by short and dynamic manic episodes lasting for as much as three to five days. During such periods they can do things that other “normal” people can hardly comprehend. Manic episodes are characterized by extreme talkativeness, extolling grandiose plans, impulsivity, reckless decisions, extraordinary stamina, decreased need for sleep, etc.
It may be a factor for Prigozhin that, if he has bipolar tendencies, these can also be heightened by psychoactive drugs, particularly stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines.
Looking into the underlying psychological factors that motivate leaders has become a popular topic in recent years. Previously wars were largely analyzed in terms of the battles that took place, or how the leaders rose to power. However, in recent years, the range and number of drugs that Hitler was taking, some of which were also being prescribed to German soldiers, has become a greater source of attention as it might explain some of his decisions as not being “brave” but a symptom of his delusions.
In the case of Russian President Vladimir Putin, we should consider that he is 70 and aging, which brings with it a process of physical and mental “wear and tear” which can play a huge role in an individual’s ability to make decision. Minor irritations in the mind of a young person can become serious liabilities when they persist into old age: extreme stubbornness, suspiciousness of others, unwillingness to accept new information, obsessive ideas. These and other mindsets can become the sort of psychological factors that affect important policy decisions.
In the case of Putin, for example, there are numerous reports that he has secluded himself from the public and interacts with few people. The information he receives is likely cherry-picked, so that he does not “see,” or does not want to see, anything that contradicts his vision of the country or the world. He sincerely believes he is the savior of Russia, which is constantly reinforced by his inner circle, and so he remains absolutely certain that things are working out well for him and for Russia.
In the cases of both Putin and Prigozhin, individual factors, such as emotionality, intra- or extra-version, openness or resistance to new experience can all affect individual decisions. Sadistic tendencies and psychopathy, which is associated with a gross disregard for other people’s lives, often allow leaders to wage war easily and regard soldiers simply as cannon fodder. A person’s behavioral and emotional style is generally shaped in his mid-20s and is unlikely to change much later on. The habits, the way of thinking and feeling in older politicians are likely to be rooted in their earlier, formative years.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today behaves like the consummate diplomat, Putin has habits and ways of thinking that he acquired as a spy, Prigozhin has constantly shown criminal proclivities, and Valery Gerasimov needs to be a lifelong soldier: Each one of them perhaps feels comfortable in these roles due to not only lifetime experience, but as they also match their underlying psychological profiles.
A political leader, be it a Prigozhin, a Putin, a Stalin, or a Saddam Hussein, has psychological traits that can be seen as assets as well as liabilities. Even though leaders act on national and geopolitical scenes, they run rather similar odds as anyone else of developing psychological problems which affect their decision-making. The difference, however, is that the decisions they make have outcomes that can change world history.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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