«Bipolar Disorder in Politics. Why Bad News Is To Be Expected»

Перевод на английский язык статьи, написанной для «Слона»

Oleg Kashin wrote that 2016 is entirely dissimilar to 2014 and 2015. No more news, Putin has lost. «The continuously increasing neurotization of society through the efforts of the authorities and the television which they control has suddenly been interrupted. Spring, which no one is calling Russian, has arrived in Russia.

But if we analyze the nature of Putin’s behavior in recent years, we may easily note that his rule is divided into rounds, as it were, with the maximum mobilization and acute fixation on specific problems. When this round ends, a period of devastation, which, as a rule, does not last all that long, ensues for Putin. May we now speak of the latest devastation, which will inevitably subsequently be replaced by a new wave of mobilization?

Psychology has the manic-depressive psychosis description — this is an endogenous disorder, which is manifested in the form of emotive states — manic and depressive, when a rapid switch of the symptoms of mania and depression is observed. This is further called bipolar personality disorder. Russian policy somehow all too easily lends itself to description with precisely this conceptual apparatus. We would emphasize that we are not talking about a description of Putin’s psychological state. We refer to the particular features of the functioning of the system of Russian power, where Putin is the center of the shaping of the political will. And he is merely part of this entire complex hierarchy.

The bipolar nature of Russian policy has been observed since Putin’s second term, with a break for the Medvedev presidency. It is manifested both in political actions and in the confusion of value reference points. In periods when things take a turn for the worse, Russia is literally mired in the solution of one specific problem assuming universal proportions and explaining by its presence all Russia’s troubles. Its significance is elevated to a degree, all state and political resources are mobilized for its solution. This becomes a state idee fixe. In 2004-2005 this was the revolution in Ukraine: literally everything happening in Russia was explained by defense against «color» revolutions. In 2006, the anti-Georgian hysteria. In 2007-2008, NATO expansion.

Following the Medvedev thaw in 2012-2013, the authorities maniacally set about restoring the vertical chain of command: the conservative wave covered everything politically «living» beneath a sauce of anti-American hysteria. At the start of 2014 Russia convulsively took Crimea, throwing its entire energy into the conflict with the «Kyiv junta». In the bursts of passion we came to the «Novorossiya» project, which was a clear exaggeration. In 2015 it was the Russian aircraft downed by Turkey: Turkey was to blame for everything. Maniacal periods of exacerbation occur when the Russian authorities feel particularly vulnerable, cheated, humiliated, deceived. The West deceived us, Yanukovych is a weakling, Erdogan is a traitor. All this, as per the classic psychology textbooks, is accompanied by inordinate emotional strain. It is sufficient to watch the Dmitriy Kiselev roundups, where nuclear ash is the best illustration of the state of the Russian authorities: irrationality, spite, emotions, aggressiveness, and alarm.

Bipolar nature is expressed also in the fact that Russia wants the accomplishment of mutually exclusive objectives simultaneously: to compel the West to love us, having done everything to ensure that it distrust us. The West is for us both an enemy and a partner. We are very much afraid of it, but very much want to make friends and to trade with it. When the strategic objective of the building of equal partnership (and this means for Putin the right of veto) is unattainable, room is left only for tactical fluctuations, reactionary policy. Syria was a kind of exception in this respect: this was the first instance in Putin’s Russia of the Kremlin resolving to display an initiative far beyond its «traditional field of influence». And there’s no hysteria here.

The Ukrainian round as part of the latest maniacal exacerbation concluded last fall, with the start of the Syrian campaign. The new idee fixe is to outperform the West in the Middle East. But this is a road game. This is why Syria has not become the cause of domestic political and foreign political hysteria. The addresses here are international players, in respect to whom Putin is organizing a complex system of geopolitical bargaining — cold, rational bargaining. Maniacal propaganda, on the other hand, and hysterics are addressed to those with whom bargaining is impossible: either the Russian people as the resource in a war against «enemies» or the «enemies» themselves, with whom bargaining is obviously a losing proposition.

When the hysterics have to end, hoping for bargaining success, the phase of a state of depression, characterized by heightened anxiety, a weakening of the overall mental tone, a lowering of mood and the mental and physical capacity for work ensues. Putin’s big news conference last December showed how the rhetoric of the leader of the state is becoming apathetic, indifferent. He is unmoved, it seems, by crisis, social problems, or the criticism of the elite. He has less of a grasp of problems’ nuances, he knows less and has less of an inclination to speak.

«Things had not worked out with Russia’s historical mission,» and Putin knew this, Kashin writes. But it was rather a more particular issue: emotional exhaustion following the Ukrainian crisis, in which there occurred some balanced state, which will never now be better, was achieved. But worse — easily and for a long time. The Syrian campaign has not been a magic fast-acting resource for an escape from the Ukrainian impasse, although it has worked pretty well. But it requires lengthy, plan-based efforts, extremely risky for the country, the diplomatic dividends from which have already been derived. Imagine that you have become tied up in an extremely long and complicated conflict for years, having obtained and spent the capital for participation right at the start of it.

The depression will increase, the phases of its intensity will come and go, until Putin finds a new idee fixe. This could be yet another attempt to halt NATO expansion or, which happens more often, an external provocation which is regarded as a blow to Russia’s national security. Putin is frozen in expectation of the latest betrayal from outside. And even if it does not happen, he will necessarily invent it. Because the system no longer knows how to live otherwise. There will be news, and most likely bad. For mania is not constructive

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