Due to the fact that almost all key foreign policy decisions of Russian Federation seems to be made my its president, thus, an individual level analysis will focus only on Vladimir Putin’s personality, physical and mental health, ego and ambitions, understanding of history, personal experiences, and perceptions
Personality of Vladimir Putin
According to the famous author Elizabeth Wagele two key types of personality exists among the world leaders: a counter-phobic Questioner and an Asserter,
“The counter-phobic Questioners I know act tough but sit on a base of fear or insecurity, which they try to hide, they build themselves up, often literally by working out or playing a sport and they are interested in intrigue, such as conspiracy theories or what the CIA is up to” (Wagele, E., 2011)
On the other hand, Asserters do not seem as fear based or as interested in proving something. They migh walk away from conflict because someone is not worth the trouble or because the issue does not interest them.
Asserters are good at enforcement and make good bouncers as they are naturally commanding. Questioners are interested in all kinds of security, from Homeland Security to safe food production to international spy rings to the earthquake-safe of buildings. As Elizabeth concludes Putin is a Questioner ,who tries to prove he is “a tough guy”.
“He does it by demonstrating his physical abilities and taking part in dangerous acts, such as extreme sports and interacting with wild animals”(Wagele, E., 2011).
Bloomsberg Businessweek says Putin’s background in intelligence “has reinforced his innate love of order, hierarchy, and organization. ‘His character and personality are definitely not those of a dictator. But he is a perfectionist and a controller,’ says Alexander Rahr, director of the Koerber Institute on Russia & the CIS in Berlin and a biographer of Putin.
As scholar Arthur Cassidy points out while studying personality types and their impact on policy, behavioral patterns and attitudes are important. The most well known scheme which places political personality is an active-passive scale and a positive-negative scale(Barber,1985). Active leaders are policy innovators; passive leaders are reactors. Positive personalities have egos strong enough to enjoy (or at least accept) the contentious political environment; negative personalities are apt to feel burdened, even abused, by political criticism. Many scholars favor active-positive presidents, but all four types have drawbacks. The more active a leader, the more criticism he or she encounters. Positive personalities take such criticism in stride, but negative personalities are prone to assume that opponents are enemies. This causes negative personalities to withdraw into an inner circle of subordinates who are supportive and who give an unreal, groupthink view of events and domestic and international opinion. Active-negative scale might seem proper for Vladimir Putin, due to his active involvement in any political process in the country and out of it as well, and at the same time his negative attitude towards the critics and encounters (Levels of Analysis and Foreign Policy).
Physical and Mental Health
A leader’s physical and mental health can be important factors in decision making. For example, Franklin Roosevelt was so ill from hypertension in 1945 that one historian concludes that he was “in no condition to govern the republic” (Farrell, 1998).
Occasionally, leaders also suffer from psychological problems. Alcohol abuse can also lead to problems. Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin was often inebriated. As for Vladimir Putin, he was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1952, eight years after a siege of Leningrad that caused physical and emotional scars for decades afterward. Putin’s parents had survived the siege, but his father was severely disabled. His mother nearly died of starvation. Thus, Vladimir was born into this atmosphere of hunger, disability, and profound grief. Putin passed an increasingly large part of his time in the communal courtyard below. With an explosive temper and thin skin, Putin regularly took offense, instantly lashing out with violence. According to Gessen, one childhood friend recalls that if anyone dared to insult Putin, he “would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump — do anything at all never to allow anyone to humiliate him in any way.”
His entire personality expresses an ongoing, relentless battle agains unconscious shame and a sense of internal defect, which accounts for his inability to take criticism or tolerate the smallest of slight. Now, Putin’s contempt for others is spreading far beyond his surroundings. Number of scholars also point out about the narcissism traits of Putin’s behavior. Narcissism is a psychological disorder that always takes root in childhood, where family life is marked by trauma and emotional chaos and a child grows up with a painful feeling of internal defect. He may grow up feeling that he is a “loser.” And so he develops a defensive identity to hide his unconscious shame and to “prove” that he is a winner instead. According to the analysists, the Russian leader comes from a background similar to what one might find in a narcissist’s history.
Ego and Ambition
A leader’s ego and personal ambitions can also inﬂuence policy. One thing that arguably drove Saddam Hussein was his grandiose vision of himself. According to one intelligence report, the Iraqi leader saw himself in “larger than life terms comparable to Nebuchadnezzar and Saladin .” The ego of the ﬁrst President Bush also may have inﬂuenced policy. Putin is also among those leaders. We all know the importance of empathy and respect is meaningful dialogue and conflict resolution. However, his self obsession with egocentricity and narcissism like Trump is vivid, and find a way to compromise and working together for the benefit of the human race becomes way too hard.
Perceptions and Operational Reality
Perceptions play a key role in policy because they form an operational reality. That is, policy makers tend to act based on perceptions, whether they are accurate or not. For example, research shows that supposedly “rogue states” are no more likely than any other country to start a war (Caprioli, Trumbore, 2005). There are social perceptions that Putin fears who his successor might be and if he is up to the mark so to speak. Merkel has made it known many times that she is bewildered by Putin. Once, she told to Obama that she felt he lived “in another world”. The fear factor is central to his overall personality as Putin knows that his regime would be vulnerable to prosecution if a successor government took control. There is an ideological aspect to his reasoning , he is consistent in his love of his Motherland, its culture and people and he aspires to protecting its ideology at all costs.
To summarize, personality, perceptions, values and mentality of the political leader hugely influences foreign policy decisions of the country, especially, if such process does not involve political elites, population, interest groups, media, etc. In case of Russian Foreign policy, major part of the decisions are taken by the president and no matter how rational they might be, always exists the threat of over subjectivity.