Impact of Personal Characteristics of President Obama, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin on the U.S.-Russian Relations
by Ekaterina Egorova, PhD in Political Science and President of Moscow-based Niccolo M Group of Companies, and Elisabeth Egorova, PhD, Political Psychologist, Niccolo M Group of Companies, Washington
Copyright © 2009 Ekaterina Egorova, PhD, and Elisabeth Egorova, PhD. All rights reserved. Additional USA copyright © 2009 Radnor Inc. All rights reserved.
To reach Dr. Ekaterina Egorova, please telephone +7 495 933 4435 (personal assistant: Anastasya Zarubezhnova)
The foreign policy of the states is influenced by many important factors, including political, economic, social, military and cultural ones. However, the personality of the political leaders of these states is one of the most influential factors. At times, the personality factor changes cardinally the process of making foreign policy decisions, the foreign policy style and the behavior of the state in the system of the international relations. Time and again, we came across it in the history of the international relations. Today, we are trying to predict the development of the U.S.-Russian relations when two new, young and ambitious presidents, Barrack Obama and Dimitry Medvedev, appeared on the scene.
However, the situation in the U.S.-Russian relations has become complicated by the fact that today President Obama has an unusual foreign policy partner to deal with. By a twist of fate, the Russian two-headed eagle has turned out to be indeed the two-headed one. The Medvedev-Putin tandem with its long history of relationships is now Obama’s foreign policy partner. Medvedev and Putin have been working well together for a long time and are quick in the uptake of each other. So far, Obama’s foreign policy experience is less that of the tandem. Moreover, his relations with his foreign policy strategist, State Secretary Hillary Clinton, have not been so simple.
Therefore, we shall examine the personal features of all three leaders from the point of view of their possible influence on the foreign policy behavior and interaction of the United States and Russia.
And what kind of the personal relations between President Obama, on the one hand, and the tandem of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, on the other, are to be expected? The study conducted by the method of the computer psychosemantic analysis of the spontaneous answers of these political leaders in their personal interviews (VAAL) has given us food for thought.
First, we have revealed a striking similarity in the personal characteristics of Putin and Medvedev. Medvedev's "profile" represents somewhat strengthened “profile” of Putin’s characteristics. Many indexes of Medvedev’s characteristics is greater than that of Putin.
Secondly, our other finding has become no less interesting. The values of many major characteristics of all three political leaders coincide, thus making them related among themselves. In this respect, it is important to understand what the psychological similarity and difference of the personal characteristics of President Obama and the Russian Tandem may give for the development of the relations between the United States and Russia.
We shall examine some important blocks of the personal characteristics of these political leaders. In the beginning, let us consider the motives of these politicians as they strongly influence the process of decision-making.
Motivation for Power
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Desire for power4.46,85,4
The results obtained in our study show the similarity between all three politicians regarding their high motivation for power which is much higher than that of an average citizen. And it is not without reason that all three are political leaders. Thus, Obama’s motivation for power is slightly higher (6.7) than that of Putin (6.5). But Medvedev is a little ahead of them here (7.6). Medvedev has the strongest desire for power (6.8) among them. Putin’s such index is 5.4 and Obama’s - 4.4. However, Medvedev (1.1) and Putin (0.3) have little fear of power and Obama’s such index (-0.6) is even lower than that of a common citizen.
In the personal relations between Obama, on the one hand, and Medvedev or Putin, on the other, their strong motives for power may lead to their competitive behavior, their desire to prove the personal superiority, their orientation to solving problems, relying on force, but not necessarily a military one, and their tough behavior in negotiations.
Power for each of them is not only an armchair, or the status, or the pleasure of having the authority. For each of them, the power is an important foreign policy tool by means of which they are ready to solve the problems facing their country. Each of them understands his power and the power of the state on the international scene. The theme of “respecting” their own country and maintaining its status on the international scene is the most important for all three leaders to assert their identity as political leaders of their states. The respect to their own country on the part of other international subjects is highly valued in their hierarchy of values. Therefore, they will sensitively perceive any display of disrespect for their own country and toughly react to it.
At all distinctions in their political rhetoric, we shall see these political leaders surrounded by the supporters of a strong line in the international relations when the authority of the state is at stake. It is natural that if the security of the country is under threat, the strong line will be clear and tough despite possible risks.
A propensity to risk will be present in the foreign policy decisions of all three leaders, especially in the situations which they will perceive in the context of a threat for the national self-appraisal. Taking into account the highly dangerous strain of the U.S.-Russian relations in the context of the specificity of the personalities of their leaders, it is important, that they, understanding each other’s features, “do not touch on a raw spot” of their foreign policy partner and do not hurt each other country’s pride.
Motivation for Achievement
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Achieving success0.89,68,2 Failure avoidance-0.3-0,1-0,1
The motives for achievement of Putin (7.6) and Medvedev (8.9) are similar in their strength, though that of the latter is even higher. The motives for achievement of the Russian political leaders are more than 10 times stronger than that of President Obama (0.7). This correlation is maintained for the motivation of achieving success: Obama’s index is 0.8, Putin’s one is 8.2, and Medvedev’s - 9.6. The practical absence of the motive for avoiding failure (-0.3,-0.1,-0.1) brings all three leaders near together.
The high motivation for achieving the goal will push Putin and Medvedev into making pragmatic decisions, more likely beneficial from their point of view, rather than "ideological" ones. In their foreign policy, Medvedev and Putin will be trying to a greater degree to find the real, from their point of view, ways of achieving results rather than rhetorical victories. Real benefits for Russia in the foreign policy and economy, as they understand them, are their motive in many respects in creating the political, economic and military unions.
However, Putin’s inclination for practical solutions is complemented by his habit to follow the rules that he agreed with or set himself. It is important for him that both parties in bilateral international relations should observe these rules. When these rules are accepted, he is not inclined to change them for the sake of some pragmatic considerations and a certain benefit.
It seems that Obama’s adherence to his principles and values, i.e. his "ideological" factors, may prevail over the pragmatic ones in making serious foreign policy decisions. However, it is not worth making a principle of these distinctions in psychological characteristics and considering the leaders as the representatives of the polar types, “ideological romantics” and “cynical pragmatists,” because the elements of romanticism and cynicism, this way or the other, are always present practically in the system of beliefs of all political leaders.
Obama, Putin and Medvedev do not consider the version of a failure at all, to say nothing of a defeat, and do not try to avoid it. It is practically non-existent in their picture of the world. A victory or a real result is the only possible goal. On the one hand, it is a useful characteristic, allowing not only to concentrate on searching and implementing the way leading to the goal but also to save energy. On the other, political leaders, not considering the possibility of a failure at all, sometimes experience the hard stress when facing it because such failure may become destructive for their identity of “the winner.” The difference among the three political leaders is not in the strength of their desire for success but in the strength and energy they are ready or psychologically able to use to achieve this success.
Usually, politicians with a high need for achievement use competency as the main criterion in choosing their advisers. Personal loyalty and the experience of interaction in the past come only second. However, the need for power of Obama, Putin and Medvedev is also high and this substantially complements the criteria, putting forward loyalty as the most important criterion while selecting their advisers.
By making Hillary Clinton the State Secretary, President Obama, however, has shown his capability to overcome the natural desire of political leaders with a high need for power to lean on a loyal and habitual member of his close circle. His system of beliefs has corrected the influence of his high need for power.
The attitude to the experts’ advice depends in many respects on the personal style of the political leader to make foreign policy decisions. Putin requires concrete information for the analysis and making a foreign policy decision. A fact has a far greater value for him than its interpretation and estimation. He got used to believe in facts only and in his own evaluations. He takes into account his experts’ evaluations but does not fully rely on them.
Both Obama and Medvedev make high demands of the competency on their advisers and analysts. One of the main demands is system thinking and the ability to comprehend the complex ties between the separate phenomena. Analysts should be able to discern the deep processes in the development. Otherwise, their evaluations cease to be interesting for both presidents. It is possible that the similar requirements are caused not only by their psychological personal pattern but also by their legal education and experience.
Special Features of Goal-Setting
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Movement from-0.7-1,4-1,0
Such characteristics as the vision of “the movement to a goal” or “avoiding a problem” are the most important for understanding the process of goal setting. And here our findings came as a complete surprise. President Obama has a rather clear-cut division of these directions. “The movement to a goal” (2.2) is more characteristic of Obama than “avoiding a problem (-0.7).” Goal setting of Russian political leaders is built up in a different context rather than in the continuum of the vectors of “the movement to a goal” and “avoiding a problem.” Their indices are considerably lower than those of an average citizen are.
What may it mean for the foreign policy behavior, especially in the context of their high motivation for achievement? The most complicated for the process of decision-making may become the situations when foreign policy decisions and the corresponding foreign policy strategy are not yet fully formulated and are in the state of active dynamics. Therefore, in some foreign policy situations, the goal setting may depend to a greater degree on the temporary and short-term "stimuli," or on the tactical rather than strategic plans. In other words, in the absence of the completely formulated strategy, this process is likely to be rather reactive than proactive.
Owing to their personal characteristics, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin react quickly to the events. At this, they are not inclined to act aggressively on their own initiative. However, even stimuli of average strength may well become irritative, producing a sharp reaction on their part. If this takes places in the situation when a long-term strategy is absent, then the tough answer on their part will have no limits of strategic character.
President Obama has a prevailing positive goal setting, i.e. “a movement to the positively formulated goal” or to a result. Usually, when a political leader is psychologically inclined to thinking out and formulating a desirable result precisely, possibly in details, such mental picture in memory "launches" a mechanism of searching positive algorithms for achieving goals in the personal experience of this political leader. In other words, if we think in categories of a "task" we shall come to a decision. If we think in categories of a "problem" we shall remain with a problem. The foreign policy goal-setting of President Obama may well be proactive in those cases where it will be clear to him what the positive strategic result for the United States should be.
Motivation for Affiliation
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Hopes for support2.91,60,7 Fear of rejection-0.4-0,8-0,8
These indices of all three political leaders are close enough. Their need for affiliation is rather average. Obama’s index is 2.1 while Putin’s and Medvedev’s indices are the same, amounting to 1.7. Obama requires support (2.9) a bit more than Medvedev (1.6) but Putin’s hope for support is the least among them (0.7). Practically, all three leaders have no fear of rejection.
The low need for affiliation makes these leaders highly selective in the foreign policy relations, especially in establishing personal relations with the leadership of other countries. These relations are not the goal in itself for them but the means of solving foreign policy problems. They will not abandon their goals for the sake of approval or for the sake of recognition, nor will they make an unreasonable compromise or an alliance that are not mathematically calculated. All three leaders are unlikely to be embarrassed with the threats of isolation if they consider their political behavior relevant to achieving their foreign policy, economic or military goals.
However, if the personal relations are not their goal in itself, it is very important for each of them to be respected. Any display of personal disrespect will put up a barrier for ever in the relations with the politician who has shown discourtesy. In each alliance with the political leader of the other country made by Obama, Putin or Medvedev, it is necessary to look for the practical benefit that gives this particular alliance. How pleasant these personal relations may be is of secondary importance. It may well be assumed that the model of constructive relations without too much of emotional affinity is the most comfortable for all three leaders.
Why will the emotional intimacy hardly come about between President Obama, on the one hand, and President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, on the other? The answer is not in their being aware of the rivalry, though not hostile, between Russia and the United States. It is because of their orientations toward the outer world that are entirely different. Obama is an extravert, effectively communicating and emotionally affecting other people with his energy. Medvedev and Putin are introverts who do not really care what impression they make on other people. Owing to different vectors of such characteristics, it is unlikely that they will have emotionally tinged friendly relations. However, they may come to a creative partnership based on accepting general rules of interaction. If such rules are established, all three leaders will follow them.
Orientation of Motivation
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Outer “I have to”3.77,84,2
Analyzing the motivation of political leaders, it is important to understand a ratio of the motives “I have to” and “I wish.” The commitment motivation brings Obama (3.7) and Putin (4.2) near together. However, Medvedev (7.8) is far ahead of them. “I wish” motivation of all three leaders is similar and rather low. Obama’s index is 1.7 while Putin’s and Medvedev’s ones are 2.0 and 1.5 respectively.
It means that in their decisions and foreign policy behavior, all three political leaders are likely to be guided by a feeling of duty, subordinating their own desires to it. Medvedev is the easiest to do it because his motivation “I have to” is five times stronger than his motive of realizing his own desires – “I wish.” It is worth remembering the differences in the motivation for achievements. The “I have to” motive of the Russian political leaders is likely to be tied up with pragmatic expediency whereas the same motive of President Obama is likely to be more connected with the "ideological" system of principles and values as well as with the system of foreign policy beliefs.
Approach to Information
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin
Foreign policy decisions are made on the basis of the information perceived by the leader. His personal features of searching, perceiving and mastering the information define the quality of his decisions. It is interesting that of all the channels available to people for perceiving information – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – President Obama and President Medvedev as well as Prime Minister Putin like many other political leaders prefer the kinesthetic channel of perceiving information rather than the visual and auditory ones. It is easier to all three leaders to perceive the world and their partners by means of a touch.
But it does not mean that reading or listening to reports of the advisers, the so-called “working with the documents,” is not their pet subject. They are well prepared for this type of activity and have their own enormous experience. However, their capability to perceive verbal speech is likely to weaken under strong stress. Their capability to read texts will suffer somewhat less. However, these difficulties will hardly seriously affect their decision-making in the crises.
Simply their tactile channel of perceiving information is the strongest one. If it is blocked, the quality and quantity of the received information will seriously suffer. For example, if each of them is denied an opportunity of touching his new communication partner, it will be more difficult for them to analyze the personality of this partner, to understand him deeply or to feel him. A hand shake, an embrace, patting on the shoulder are an important information resource for each of them which they perfectly use.
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Underestimation-1.10,30,9 Accurate definiton3.00,50,2 Analyzing and transferring the information, President Obama does not tend to exaggerate it (-2.0), whereas President Medvedev (1.8) and Prime Minister Putin (2.4) are often inclined to do this. Underestimation is not inherent to Obama either (-1.1) while Putin is sometimes inclined to underestimate some events (0.9). Underestimation is also inherent to Medvedev (0.3), though to a lesser degree. The propensity to clarify the received information is important and useful to the quality of its perceiving and analyzing. Obama’s such propensity is high (3.0). Putin (0.2) and Medvedev (0.5) tend to clarify the received information to a lesser degree. However, Medvedev is nevertheless more inclined to clarifying the information than to its underestimating. Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Comparing and analyzing objects such as people, phenomena and situations, Obama (0.4) tends to search for their generalities but likening objects (-1.2) is not inherent to him. In searching for differences, he is the same as all ordinary citizens (0.0). In searching for generalities, similarities and differences, Putin (0.8,-0.9, and 0.4) is comparable with Obama. It is characteristic for Medvedev to focus his attention on differences of objects (1.0) rather than on their generalities (-0.1). He is practically not interested in them, nor he uses analogies either (-1.1).
It means that all three political leaders are not inclined to decision-making based on historical analogies, equating a current situation to the one happened in the past. None of them would consider a modern situation like "the Munich Crisis” or a today's politician, even the most dangerous one, as “Hitler.” Obama, Medvedev and Putin are inclined to analyze an object, considering it more as a unique one with its own characteristics. Their conclusions and decisions will be based on the analysis of a concrete foreign policy object in a concrete foreign policy situation. Even under strong stress, it is unlikely that their decision will be influenced by such protective psychological mechanism as “decision-making by analogy.” This is an important and useful quality for foreign policy decisions.
The processes of decision-making of Obama, Medvedev and Putin are similar in many respects. All three are inclined to logical thinking, rational analysis and to calculating consequences of each alternative they consider.
Their attitudes to details are different. Details are very important for Putin. He always analyzes them thoroughly. In the first place, he analyzes them in the context of their practical use, i.e. how, when and in what circumstances these details may affect the achievement of a result. As a typical introvert, Putin needs to be alone to reflect on the steps to undertake and their consequences. For Putin, his planning is a process purely internal and in a sense even “intimate.”
For Medvedev and Obama, the details are far less interesting. They may even ignore the details, paying more attention to creating a conception or to systematizing ideas. However, if the details are important for the process of strategic planning, then both Obama and Medvedev will carefully work on them. Their attention to details is likely to grow when they are under stress. During the international crisis, they will not only concentrate on the details but also spend more time on them than these details require.
Obama, Medvedev and Putin will seek to acquire the full information in order to compare many factors. This complicated thinking operation is typical of them while many other people often come across a simple comparison of alternative pairs. Although the presidents have to face sudden and unexpected situations in foreign policy more often than not and despite the effort of their intelligence services and experts, it is not typical of Obama, Medvedev and Putin to give in to their internal impulses and make instant decisions as a result of an emotional impulse. In all three presidents, logic in making foreign policy decisions is always likely to prevail over emotions.
The strongly developed intuition and the need for generalizing and interpreting separate factors bring Obama and Medvedev near together. The process of analysis itself is of great interest for them. Reconstructing the entire picture from out of separate mosaic elements extends, on the one hand, the process of taking foreign policy decisions in time and, on the other, allows taking into account all details and recreating a stereoscopic picture of the situation.
Systematizing ideas, knowledge and facts is an important value for Medvedev and Obama. As soon as they bring them into a system, they see at once new and additional possibilities that come out not only of odd and separate ideas but also of their new system ties. It is important for Medvedev to implement a good idea, believing that the distance between an idea and a result should be the shortest.
There is a similarity between Obama and Putin in their approach to implementing the decisions adopted by them. Both are concerned with the quality of the decisions adopted by them and with their control. They like the process of implementing the strategy. They are ready at that to be unbelievably flexible, thus being able to do fast tactical maneuvers, keeping the main strategic course overall intact.
Largely, Medvedev is focused on the result that is the main thing of his attention. However, he is also flexible and ready to get rid of ineffective plans for the sake of new ones that seem to be more effective.
All three lawyers have a rather interesting attitude to laws and rules in the course of implementing their own decisions. They use them skillfully knowing well how to find the way to reach their goals without breaking the rules. Internally, they consider such skillful management of the situation without breaking the law but almost on the brink of manipulation as right since they stay within the limits. In other words, the law is not a dogma but guidance to action.
Characteristics of PersonalityObama MedvedevPutin Demonstrativeness -2.9-7,9-7,2 Depressiveness-1.9-4,3-3,7
Such quality as excitability is present in Obama’s character to a minimal degree (0.1). And it is not inherent to Putin (-4.4) and Medvedev (-5.1). All three political leaders are cool and reserved in dialogue. Their emotional rhetoric is not connected with their state of excitement. It is natural that strong stimuli cause their natural emotional reaction. However, average and light stimuli are likely to leave them internally imperturbable. The absence of propensity to excitability helps Obama, Putin and Medvedev to make decisions with a cold head, without drowning in streams of adrenaline in the stressful situations. They are unlikely to panic in complicated international crisis situations.
High suspiciousness (paranoidness) and difficulty of switching from a theme of their interest to others are inherent to all three political leaders. Medvedev (9.2) is leading in this characteristic. Putin (6.2) is following him. Obama (5.3) here is in the third place. These indices, though different, are rather high and influence the process of foreign policy decision-making and the style of relations with other leaders and countries. High suspiciousness never facilitates the objectivity in estimating the information and people. It makes the leaders search for numerous confirmations of the safety of their decisions and personal relations with other people.
Suspiciousness does not facilitates the qualitative choice among available alternatives either because it is not simple for the leader to make a choice without complete understanding of the consequences of each decision and the search for new information demands time and efforts. In routine situations of foreign policy decisions, suspiciousness it is not so dangerous but in crisis, demanding decision-making during a limited time as well as in stressful situations, suspiciousness may not only reduce the quality of decision-making but also lead to the possible failures in health.
To a greater degree, Obama is inclined to hyperthymia, i.e. high energy and a propensity to good mood (0.7). Putin’s hyperthymia is much lower (0.1). It is almost not inherent to Medvedev. This does not mean slackness and a propensity to a fast fatigue. Probably, Putin and Medvedev “do a hard work” which demands efforts and a great deal of concentration, thus making them feel the burden of their responsibility.
All three leaders are not prone to demonstrativeness in their behavior, i.e. they do not try to draw attention to themselves. In this respect, Obama’s index is (-2.9), Putin’s index - (-7.2) and that of Medvedev - (-7.9). This characteristic correlates with the low need for affiliation.
The lack of natural propensity to demonstrativeness is the reason for analyzing their actions which may seem demonstrative at first sight. In such cases, it is important to find the real motive of these actions and understand the true “message” sent to a target audience.
Obama, Putin and Medvedev are not inclined to depression either (-1.9,-3.7,-4.3). This is a major quality for state political leaders. Having such leaders, the United States and Russia are insured from the situations when instead of making the timely decision in crisis or emergency situations, political leaders will run into a stupor, in depression, or in psychosomatic diseases serving as protective mechanisms of “avoiding the situation.” They will not disappear, like Stalin, from the public eyes for two weeks if someone suddenly attacks their native land. Each of these three political leaders will surely know what to tell his people and how to counter attack the opponent. Taking into account the results of the conducted analysis, it may well be assumed that owing to psychological features of their personalities, President Obama, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have a good chance for constructive interaction. However, such interaction is possible if they show mutual respect of their personal features and mutual tactfulness. It is the similarity of their many personal characteristics that may be both the keystone and the danger to the success of their foreign policy interaction. Identical ambitions and leading qualities often prevent any constructive interaction. But the goals set correctly and cool decisions often help leaders to receive the mutually advantageous result. Let us hope for the best!
Table of Indices
Characteristics of PersonalityObamaMedvedevPutin Achievement of success0.89,68,2 Failure avoidance-0.3-0,1-0,1 Hopes for support2.91,60,7 Fear of rejection-0.4- 0,8-0,8 Desire for power4.46,85,4 Outer “I have to”3.77,84,2 Demonstrativeness -2.9-7,9-7,2 Depressiveness-1.9-4,3-3,7 Underestimation-1.10,30,9 Accurate definiton3.00,50,2 Movement from-0.7-1,4-1,0