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David Rivera Discusses “Putin’s Psyche” in Workshop


David Rivera
David Rivera

Visiting Assistant Professor of Government David Rivera recently participated in a workshop organized by the Russia Maritime Studies Institute of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Scholars from around the world, as well as military officers from U.S. European Command, attended “Russian Military and Security Affairs 2018.”

Rivera’s presentation, titled “The Impact of Putin’s Psyche on Western-Russian Relations and the War in Ukraine,” is part of a larger project on the evolution of Western-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War.

After a review of major sources of Russian estrangement from the West, Rivera delved deeper into three underappreciated factors. In addition to discussing Western criticism of the pronounced democratic backsliding that has occurred during Vladimir Putin’s tenure in office, Rivera also explored Putin’s psychological inability to tolerate criticism of either himself or Russia, and his intolerance of disrespectful behavior and proclivity to respond with violence toward anyone that he considers to be behaving in a rude or insulting manner.

Rivera discussed the many manifestations of these psychological traits throughout Putin’s lifetime, including in his careers as a KGB officer and a politician.

Rivera concluded his remarks by observing that “the failure of the academic literature to notice the impact of Putin’s various psychological idiosyncrasies represents a major gap in our understanding of the troubled state of Western-Russian relations.”

The main message, Rivera said, is that “whereas security-based explanations generally portray Kremlin decision-making as the product of cold, passionless, and rational calculations on a geopolitical chessboard, the reality is that Putin’s personality and individual psychology have played major roles in generating both Western-Russian discord and Moscow’s bellicose reaction to the Ukrainian revolution of 2014.”

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