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Putin: The New Tsar

Aired recently on BBC 2, Putin: The New Tsar tracks the extraordinary rise of an ex-KGB colonel to Boris Yeltsin’s successor. The documentary contains commentary throughout by Professor Ian Robertson, Founding Director of Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and member of the Advisory Group for the Daedalus Trust, on the effects of power on the Russian president’s personality.

Here are some of the points raised by Robertson on Putin throughout the documentary:

“From being a grey faced KGB agent, just a servant of the state, he becomes a personality so the ego starts to grow. The human brain has a single reward network that gets switched on whenever we get paid a compliment, whenever we have sex, whenever we take cocaine and whenever we have power and great success.

“What happens is you get a surge of intense pleasure and satisfaction from the stimulus but as you repeat that at high level the brain needs more and more to achieve the same effects – that’s called tolerance. It’s an insatiable appetite. I don’t think Putin was born to be an emperor. His brain was profoundly changed by the power he managed to get”

“One of the features of unlimited power is the acquired narcissism that occurs, and …[this] leads to an enormously inflated ego…..If you inflate an ego enough the vulnerability of it increases proportionately.”

“Psychological and the personal now plays a much bigger role in international politics because ..the old certainties – the old tectonic plates of ideology and of interests between blocks – they’ve all gone and we’re now in a system where individual human psychology and personality plays much more of a role”

“One of the key features of extreme narcissism…is you lose the ability to distinguish your interest from the interest of the country and so you and your nation’s interest become identical.”

“This is why democracy was invented – take anyone who is given that power for more than say 8 or 10 years, that will inevitably distort their behaviour in ways that can be very dangerous…Almost all people who hold great power for a long time begin to feel so special…”

The documentary is available to watch via the BBC iPlayer, until 11 April 2018.

Putin: The New Tsar

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