Special Report: Ukraine's Victor Yanukovich

by Ekaterina Egorova, PhD in Political Science & President of Moscow-based Niccolo M Group of Companies, and Elisabeth Egorova, PhD, Political Psychologist, Niccolo M Group of Companies, Washington

Copyright © 2010 Ekaterina Egorova, PhD, and Elisabeth Egorova, PhD. All rights reserved. Additional USA copyright © 2010 Radnor Inc. All rights reserved.

To reach Dr. Ekaterina Egorova, please telephone +7 495 933 4435 (personal assistant: Anastasya Zarubezhnova)

What Kind of President in Ukraine did Medvedev and Obama get?

Both Putin and Medvedev never hid their desire to see Victor Yanukovich in the armchair of Ukraine’s President. They probably believed that he might be an easy president who would solve all problems inconvenient for Russia quickly, without bargaining too much. They also seemed to believe that Yanukovich would be pro-Russian without reserve going firmly by way of rapprochement with Russia, thus leaving Yushchenko’s dreams about the integration of Ukraine with the Western civilization to history.

However, taking into account Yanukovich's personal features, it is possible to assume that all this is unlikely to be so simple and cloudless. There are serious psychological preconditions for this. In many respects, Yanukovich’s life, in particular his childhood, adolescence and young years, shaped his quite a complicated, rather inconvenient, character.

Yanukovich lost his mother at the age of two and found no warmth and love on the part of his father who quickly married for the second time. Neither his father, nor his stepmother and stepsisters wished to have anything to do with him. He lived together with his grandmother in poverty having troubles. Yanukovich recollects these years with bitterness: “I know quite well that poverty always humiliates a human being.”

Nobody took care about his upbringing and cultural education. Therefore he found himself out on the street and in a bad company. In three years, he managed to get two prison sentences, the first for his participation in an armed robbery and the second for a severe fight with physical injuries.

Whether these convictions had been removed from Yanukovich lawfully or unlawfully is still being disputed but this does not change the heart of the matter. The stern school of life passed through the street and prison was bound to leave a trace in the soul of young Yanukovich. It hardened him making him tough and pragmatic. Yanukovich has learnt to solve his problems. If it is necessary, he may be both impudent and cooperative. He prefers to cooperate with those who are stronger than him. In prison, it was the administration. In politics, these are temporary allies capable of helping him in certain situations. He has also adopted the well-known British rule, saying that in politics there are only permanent interests and no permanent allies. It is interesting to look into “his internal mechanism” in order to better understand what is likely to guide him in his foreign policy and how to co-operate with him more effectively.

Yanukovich represents a vivid example of the political leader persistently working toward his goal - to become a president. He had to overcome difficult barriers, humiliation and open hatred. He brands his enemies as liars and calls traitors those who do not share his position. His reaction to criticism is aggressive and very painful. He greatly desires to obtain power over those who do not submit to him. But to rule in the country divided into two is not so simple. If there is no consensus, a politician with such psychological personality structure may operate only by means of compulsion. Will he be successful in his undertaking?

Yanukovich is a classical example of a personality whose self-esteem is low and requires compensation. Its roots are in his unhappy childhood. As any political leader with strongly underestimated self-esteem, Yanukovich considers himself to be a hero in all victories and blames others for defeats. Each foreign policy failure will be attributed to the behavior of the other party, and the process of reflecting his own behavior will be blocked.

Yanukovich’s low self-esteem manifests itself in his aspiration for obtaining a great number of possible academic statuses. He got two higher degrees and a doctor's degree on economy. He is a corresponding member of Ukraine’s Transport Academy and a member of the Californian International Academy of Sciences, Education, Industry and Arts, a full member of Academy of Economic Sciences of Ukraine, and the author of several dozens of scientific works. Although his academic statuses are looked at with a smile not only in the academic circles, it is important for us that these statuses carry out a role of psychological protection for Yanukovich, a protection of his wounded self-esteem.
His acquired statuses should confirm his personal merits and position for the outer world. However, owing to the excessiveness of his aspiration, many people perceive this with a trace of irony. Especially, when Yanukovich writes a word "professor" (профессор) in Russian with a double “ff” “proffessor” (проффессор), it is simply illiterate.

Because of his initial lack of self-confidence, caused by his low self-esteem and the deficiency of his recognition and approval, Yanukovich often smiles unnaturally. His unnatural smile was marked by many journalists time and again. However, a very tough man is concealed beneath this blissful, sometimes a bit ingratiating smile. Once he is humiliated, there appears immediately quite a different Yanukovich, a malicious and hard man, knowing what physical violence and the street law are: “Hit the first and don’t be afraid!” And then his offenders need to think hard where his blow may land. It is quite possible that such weak points may be found.

However, his low self-esteem creates not only problems for Yanukovich. It also carries out a number of "works" useful to his personality. It is low self-esteem that has become a driving belt in all his achievements. Yanukovich quickly reacts to a situation, searching for an exit and, as a rule, has a firm grasp of the inconsistent information. Politicians with a low self-estimation feel their environment more sharply and subtly because surrounded by the hostile world they are not sure of themselves. Yanukovich is rather difficult to be deceived or misled by a partial truth. His intuition is strongly developed and he feels a situation as quickly as he understands it.

Yanukovich’s low self-esteem gave a push to developing his good compensatory mechanisms. He has learnt not simply to survive, struggling with his personal problems, but also to win, doggedly pursuing his goals. However, in some cases compensation turns into overcompensation which may do certain harm to the personality of Yanukovich.

To compensate his low self-esteem, Yanukovich has built an original “ideal self,” in which he is a confident, strong, successful leader recognized by others. The "confidence" theme is important for him personally. Describing an image of Ukraine he would like to see, he has practically described his ideal image: “Ukraine should have its own unique face. And I would like this face to be confident radiating dignity and happiness.”
In his image of “ideal self,” Yanukovich has probably few such characteristics as morals, honesty and ethics because they do not stand high in his hierarchy of values. If other people do not recognize the traits of an ideal image in Yanukovich, he may be seriously affected by the feeling of inadequacy resulting not only in aggression but also in further lowering his self-estimation. This personal feature of Yanukovich should be taken into account by all participants of foreign policy interaction with him. The recognition of his success, power and self-confidence are the major elements of productive interaction with him.

The low self-esteem and lack of confidence in himself, caused by the shortage of love and recognition on the part of his parents, was expressed in his aspiration for occupying a dominating position and his need for power over others. Yanukovich does not hide his understanding of power. In an interview to the newspaper Vzglyad Yanukovich said: "I believe that today Ukraine needs a strict mechanism of power allowing its president to rule not less than ten years."

In his youth, his need for power led him to a criminal grouping and to violence. Such extreme form of power appeared to be not as attractive as a political one because its other side – to be in a correctional facility - is not as pleasant as the armchair of a deputy, a governor or a president with their privileges and possibilities. However, in our opinion, the political power attracted Yanukovich not so much for material possibilities as for power over people, his supporters and, especially, his opponents.

Force for him is the main element of power. Yanukovich believes that to be strong means to cause fear in people. Some time ago, in his conversation with the journalist Dmitry Vydrin he said: “Some people stink with sweat only if they open the door to my office. They sweat because of fear.” Later, Yanukovich noticed that during his trips during the election campaign in 2010 people were convinced that he “was not so terrible.” Even Yanukovich’s concept of “democracy” in his picture of the world is connected with the concept of force: “At present, democratic institutions may hardly be reinforced without the strong political power.”
When Yanukovich comes across a force which defeated him in the past, he launches the protective mechanism of "minimizing" his opponent. He pejoratively calls his political opponents “orange rats” and "goats." From the point of view of psychology it means not only and not so much disrespect as his desire to lower their danger to himself, using a metaphor of small and harmless animals. It does not mean that he is afraid of them. He is apprehensive about them, understanding that they have a big force. He stresses that "the orange prevent us” from good living. When he says "us," Yanukovich means himself and his supporters, forgetting about the division of Ukraine approximately in half. It is easier to struggle with rats and goats than with wolves, bears or leopards.

Yanukovich’s need for power is very high (9.2). It is considerably higher than those of President Obama and President Medvedev. His inclination to resort to force in interpersonal relations may manifest itself in his decision-making based on force. It is not clear though in what form. It is understandable that he lacks such force in military or economic spheres. However, the natural pragmatism counterbalances the power orientation dictated by a very high need for power. Probably, in the questions not promising any benefit for Yanukovich and the development of Ukraine in his version, he is unlikely to be an easy target for persuasion at negotiations. His power approach may show itself in his unyielding position and obstinacy if he does not see a "carrot.” A potential "stick" will hardly impress him very much. However, real inconveniences may push Yanukovich to cooperation as this had already happened during his first prison term.

Yanukovich perceives a conflict as an integral part of any policy. Therefore politics is a cruel war where all means are good. Hence, in foreign policy he trusts nobody and is not going to relax. All allies are "friends" only for the time being while they are useful. And their usefulness is determined, in the first place, by Yanukovich’s goals. Since Yanukovich is aimed at domination owing to his high need for power and the direct domination over the presidents of larger and strong countries is rather problematic, his domination may take a form of using them pragmatically to suit his own ends. As a result, cunning may well replace force, allowing him to solve his problems.

Yanukovich is rather aggressive. Probably, his aggression is compensatory in the conditions of his low and wounded self-esteem. However, it serves him as a tool of political leadership. He always finds an object for his attack and skillfully uses it in his political rhetoric. This facilitates rallying his adherents around him against the common enemies. It is clear that today such enemies for Yanukovich are all "the orange". But the list of such objects for hatred may be expanded and personalized otherwise than it had been before his presidency when Yushchenko was still in power and Timoshenko was his main opponent in the last general elections.

Yanukovich’s aggression is also shown in interpersonal relations. He shouts at his subordinates, humiliates them and takes no notice of their self-esteem. During his public speech in the Lugansk region before the second round, he declared: “We will find these traitors, these stool-pigeons, very soon. We will find them and fully investigate their activity.”
Yanukovich’s low self-esteem gave a push to the development of another major need, his need for achievement. It has a compensatory character as other needs. Therefore, he probably lives it through more sharply than the people with an adequate self-esteem. Yanukovich always tries to reach his goals, to be guided by the result and is ready to concentrate all his forces for its sake. He said about himself: “I am a man of action. It takes little time between my idea and its realization.” It is an important quality for a political leader.

Having bitter experience of failures and losses, he is anxious to avoid a failure. Yanukovich deeply experienced his defeat in 2004. He admitted this saying: “At first we were not ready for a defeat.” However, he is mainly oriented for a win, concentrates his resources including psychological ones and works out his moves.
In 2004, he lost partly because Russia’s pressure was obviously too high. Such Russia’s attitude irritated not only Yushchenko’s supporters, but also his own. It is impossible to shut the eyes to the fact that many Russian-speaking people in Ukraine are citizens of the sovereign state. They want to have good relations with Russia but they do not like dictatorship. Therefore, some irritation came into being and in many respects was projected onto Yanukovich. As a result, having common sense and being pragmatic, he has come to the logical conclusions.

This time Russia’s support did not look so annoying and Yanukovich’s attitude toward Russia was polite as much as it was required not to lose its support. However, after the election he went first of all to Brussels. In our opinion, this trip fitted well with his practical character.

Pragmatism is a key concept for Yanukovich. He formulates many important messages with its help. For example, he said: “I believe that most deputies in Timoshenko’s block will pragmatically approach to their duties in the parliament and therefore we hope that the parliament will work successfully. In addition, I am sure that the pragmatic majority in the parliament will be formed. They are to solve the problem which I will give them.”

Yanukovich’s pragmatism is focused on the main question: “What shall I get from it?” This question suggests various benefits like political and economic gain, support and recognition, power and influence, status and prestige. The clear understanding of what he may receive in various situations of foreign policy interaction will help Yanukovich to work out his line of behavior. However, the understanding of what he can lose or receive only partly may also facilitate making the right decision.

In respect of foreign policy Yanukovich formulated his thought rather clearly: “We will pursue a pragmatic and balanced foreign policy.” For instance, his approach to the negotiations with Russia on gas is rather practical. He underlined that he did not favor any political haggling: “We have known each other for a long time. We have been used to build up pragmatic mutually advantageous relations for a long time. And these principles will be the basis for our negotiations.”

Yanukovich is a good fighter with little fear. He was always ready to get involved in a dangerous situation and to risk. Having passed his childhood in an unfavorable atmosphere, he remembered a street truth: “The one who is more courageous and stronger becomes the leader.” Yanukovich risked many times, breaking the criminal law. Rules and laws have value for him only if they ensure his own rights. In all other cases, they are only obstacles that should be skillfully bypassed.
His attitude to rules is worth remembering at the time of reaching agreements with Yanukovich and "ensuring" their observance. To establish "game rules" with Yanukovich will be only a part of the work. The main thing is to induce him to follow these rules set for both parties. Yanukovich’s pragmatism allows him to change his position depending on his personal benefit, departing from previous arrangements. If some agreements are unfavorable to him, he simply ignores them. Therefore, the agreement reached as a result of the negotiations may be easily torpedoed, most likely silently. As a pragmatist, Yanukovich is always ready to reorient himself in his alliances, to trim his sails to the wind and capable of maneuvering in the changed conditions.

His position on Ukraine’s joining NATO sounds rather typical of him: “Now we do not see an urgent need in joining NATO and remain neutral." The keywords are "now" and "an urgent need." They make his message absolutely transparent: “We enter when we need it.” Russia should be well aware of this unambiguous statement.
Yanukovich’s answers in an interview to Die Presse, an Austrian newspaper, on January 6, 2010, are rather curious. When Die Presse said that some EU states considered Russia to be “an unpredictable bear,” he underlined: “I was always a heavyweight in sports. One should respect force, show consideration for it and not fear.” He also added that the EU membership was Ukraine’s “goal.” Thus, Yanukovich shows that he is not going to relax in Ukraine’s relations with Russia, carefully studying the situation and reacting accordingly. Once Ukraine is an EU member, he will be in a safer position to do it.

Yanukovich’s need for affiliation (5.7) is almost three times higher than those of President Medvedev and President Obama. It is compensatory by nature and also has its roots in Yanukovich’s childhood deficient in love. However, in his youth he learnt to use the support from other people for solving his vital problems. For example, the support on the part of Cosmonaut George Beregovogoi, one his father acquaintances, allowed him to reduce his prison term and then to remove all previous convictions. Rendering some support to Yanukovich may seem to be a good stimulus in strengthening relations with him. However, owing to his pragmatism and little emotional generosity, any support is likely to be accepted and used for its proper purpose, without showing strong emotions on his part. In other words, his reaction will be rather functional.

Yanukovich cannot put up with a situation when he is treated with indifference. He constantly provokes people into saying words of approval and support in respect of him. Indifference hurts his vanity even more than criticism that he perceives extremely painfully. The following Yanukovich’s statement in which he underlines voters’ attention to him is typical of him: “And I am sure that the people in Western Ukraine have also heard me. I have noticed that they show interest both in me personally and in the program which I have offered to the Ukrainian people.”

The attention paid personally to Yanukovich is required in dealing with him. This is a prerequisite. However, this is unlikely to bring about his emotional reaction. It is the lack of such attention that is bound to cause a rather strong emotional reaction. In this case, he will be hardly interacting effectively. In this respect, his feelings were probably really hurt that his strategic partners from Russia, both Medvedev and Putin, failed to show up at his inauguration. No matter what were the reasons of their absence, it was a hard blow to Yanukovich’s self-esteem.

The leading position in his party and high posts in the state have allowed Yanukovich to feel support and recognition he needed so much and the acute shortage of which he experienced in his childhood and adolescence. The political power has allowed him to satisfy his high need for affiliation much stronger and safer than his attachment to a criminal grouping, a typical way for unhappy teenagers to satisfy such need.

The strong need for affiliation has one unpleasant consequence. A person with such need usually concentrates on the search and punishment of his traitors. At that, open enemies draw his attention much less because everything is clear with them. But the former colleagues bring about sharp negative emotions. The treachery theme becomes urgent and even haunting. Yanukovich has already mentioned it in his public speeches.

Yanukovich’s motivational nucleus of his personality is typical for successful political leaders. His need for power (9.2) prevails over other motives relevant to political activity. His need for achievement (7.6) comes next in his hierarchy of needs. His need for affiliation (5.7) occupies the third place. Such combination of motives usually allows the political leader to achieve success in pursuing his goals. Success of political leaders is often calculated by the following formula: (the need for power plus the need for achievement minus the need for affiliation). Yanukovich has an impressing result amounting to 11.1 (9.2+7.6-5.7).
Yanukovich is vigorous in his actions that should satisfy his need for anything. This applies to power, achievements and affiliation. This gives him a good chance for success. He has a high external need “I should” (7.8) which is especially important in public and political activity where the leader has a responsibility toward his followers. But Yanukovich has a rather high internal need “I want” (3.4). It means that where his personal purposes coincide directly or indirectly with the public and political ones, his motivation for achievement is unusually high and his aspiration for success has the pronounced personal coloring. In these cases, he acts not so much under pressure of circumstances or the third parties as owing to his own high motivation and his call of duty.

Yanukovich is quite capable of strategic planning in his ventures aimed at achieving his goals. He is well aware of the situations around him, skillfully estimating his resources and possibilities. Focused on achieving success, he competently finds out and estimates every possibility that will lead him to the necessary result. He is also able to estimate his obstacles properly and to find a way to bypass them skillfully, maneuvering tactically at that.

His indices of positive valency are rather high (3.3); they characterize his ability to find an algorithm of achieving the set goal. His negative valency (-3.9), indicating the lack of fixation on barriers, shows that Yanukovich does not give in to difficulties and despite the obstacles strives for implementing the thought out strategic plan.

It is typical of Yanukovich to formulate his goals in positive terms that facilitates getting results. In other words, he avoids negative phrasing like: “The main thing is not to give in at the negotiations about the price for gas.” His wording would be different: “The main thing is to reach an agreement so that the price for gas would be suitable for us.” His indices of negation, i.e. formulating his goals in the negative form like "not to give in," "not to allow" or "not to fail," are low (-2.2).

In Yanukovich’s system of values, his pragmatism is rated 7.8, far higher than the other values. Among them, ethical values amount only to1.0, morals to1.3 and kindness to1.8. Yanukovich considers a chance to be an important element of success. He tries to use even the slightest possibility to get a result. His readiness for the compromise is caused by his pragmatic beliefs. Yanukovich is ready to give in until the result remains favorable for him and his personality is respected. Any humiliation leads to strong aggression on his part. This is connected with his internal need for keeping his loosed self-esteem balanced. Any humiliation, criticism or failure may strongly destabilize his personality. Therefore, his aggression falls upon anyone who dares to hurt his feelings.

In interpersonal relations, Yanukovich is highly distrustful and has a strong paranoid accentuation (11.4). If he comes across any counteraction on the part of those with whom he co-operates, it only makes him insist on his own approach even more, moving to the set goal. These features may create major inconveniences for those who interact with Yanukovich. In other words, the disagreement with his offers or refusal of them is likely to force him even more to implement his plan.

Yanukovich does not feel strong emotions in social interaction with others. It is useless to communicate with him emotionally. Even the emotional recognition of his merits is likely to arouse suspicion in him. He understands recognition as the agreement with its ideas, plans and offers.

As a rule, Yanukovich is tough with his opponents and able to build up interaction with his followers and allies, taking into account, however, only his own interests. This was fully shown in his behavior, both in Ukraine and in relations with the outside allies needed to him.
His relations with allies are defined by their pragmatic value during the given historical period. Allies for Yanukovich are a good means for achieving his personal goals. Such allies may be the administration of a labor camp, a cosmonaut Beregovoy and presidents in Russia or the United States. If only they were useful in achieving his personal goals.

Outward signs of thinking process of Yanukovich produce a deceptive impression. During his speeches, he often gesticulates making short fumbling movements. He chooses words with difficulty and sometimes formulates his ideas clumsily. This often misleads people and they jump at a wrong conclusion taking him for a fool. Yanukovich really needs some time to look round. However, after he has carefully examined a situation and weighed up the alternatives, he makes a decision quickly. Judging by his successful experience his decisions are of high quality. A question is how modern and innovative his decisions are. It depends on their compliance with his personal goals.

Yanukovich is conservative by nature. But it does not mean that he is not ready for sudden turns. If a turn is necessary, he will carry it out without any hesitation. Yanukovich mentioned many times that during the 2004 election campaign it was necessary to make quick decisions and sudden changes in the strategy of the election headquarters.

Yanukovich’s decision-making style is characterized by careful consideration and readiness to run risks calculating the possible consequences well. He used to take part in motor races and can take decisions in risky situations quickly when there is a serious danger to life. Building up his hierarchy of priorities, he is well aware of his strategic goal. Estimating alternatives, he is not “stuck" on one of them, calmly weighing up all pros and cons on the basis of pragmatic criteria. He is not influenced by emotions in the course of his decision-making because pragmatism suggests a rational and calculated evaluation rather than an affective one.

Yanukovich has the developed practical intelligence allowing him to calculate his means and resources and to find ways of achieving his goals in difficult and ambiguous situations. And no matter how low his cultural and literacy level may be, this practical intelligence allows him to solve those problems which he should solve as a political leader. Whether he is suitable for such activity as the presidency in Ukraine will show time and the course of events.

Yanukovich’s self-restraint is good and he is quite able to control his emotions. His resistance to stress is high. Therefore he is inclined neither to excitability (-6.1) nor to depression (-3.3). He has good physical and mental stamina. This allows him to save up energy in difficult times which he had in his life quite a few. In the difficult negotiations he feels himself in good spirits and in a crisis he feels himself even comfortable.

Yanukovich produces an impression of a man brought from the different historical epoch. He would have fitted well for the job of the First Secretary of the CPSU Donetsk Regional Committee. It was not accidentally when he answered a question about his previous convictions: "I was found innocent of two prison sentences in 1978 and accepted to the Communist Party.” The reference to the CPSU had been put forward as the main argument in his answer to an inconvenient question.

His "Soviet" stylistics are underlined not only by his general lack of culture typical of the Soviet regional and republican first secretaries and by the fact that he considers the Russian prose writer and playwright Chekhov as a Ukrainian poet. Yanukovich has become notorious for his errors both in the Russian and Ukrainian languages, for his pearls of illiteracy in the field of culture, for his inability to use modern devices as well as for his demonstrative piety.
However, all this should not mislead us about Yanukovich’s apparent simplicity. Yanukovich has perfectly adapted to the post-Soviet period and has made his vital steps just at that time. He is able to act in the conditions of serious struggle on the political scene of Ukraine and this gives him a great advantage as a political leader.

On the whole, Yanukovich is a tough, ambitious politician with the experience of victories and defeats. It is important to remember about his ability to pursue the set goals and to survive in difficult situations. His road to the presidential armchair was not simple and covered with roses. Having occupied it, Yanukovich will defend this armchair by all possible means. And the most important thing is that he will defend his self-esteem, a self-esteem of the person who has achieved the highest success in his career. As a former race driver, Yanukovich understands pretty well what prize he has won in the race.