Do YOU think Yevgeniy Primakov will be the next president?
Obshchaya Gazeta, April 1-7, 1999
“A Heavy Locomotive in the Acceleration Phase; a Rough Psychological Sketch
of Yevgeniy Primakov”
By Vladimir Vasilyev, head of Political Psychology Laboratory, St. Petersburg
“Image is nothing, thirst is everything,” the advertising slogan tells us.
Obviously, this does not apply to politicians. In politics everything has
to make the right impression: the face, the clothes…. There are special
firms that can give you any kind of image you want. But what is the organic
basis of the character of a political leader? This is being studied by a
team of psychologists from St. Petersburg State University, working under
the supervision of Vladimir Vasilyev. This is not just a matter of purely
academic interest. When the average citizen has to choose a leader, he should
be able to identify the candidates by their faces instead of their images.
We never planned to study the entire life and career of Yevgeniy Maksimovich
Primakov. The question we were trying to answer was this: “Who is Primakov
We took our information from videotapes of Ye.M. Primakov’s public appearances
between September 1998 and March 1999. We did not use the reports of news
agencies, newspaper articles, and the opinions of various individuals. In
other words, we analyzed only what we observed. (The “we” refers to the author
of the article and his colleagues, doctoral candidate Yuriy Filimonenko and
undergraduate student Aleksey Dvornik.)
A Classic Phlegmatic When Ye.M. Primakov, still only a candidate for the
office of prime minister, addressed the Duma on 11 September last year, he
violated the unwritten rules that other candidates had observed so scrupulously:
Instead of a prepared speech, he had a few notes on a piece of paper, and
instead of a plea for a show of confidence in him, he offered a warning:
“If you have no intention of giving the government resolute support, do not
vote for me!” It was obvious that the candidate had no strong career motive
for seeking this high office.
In this respect, Ye.M. Primakov was the opposite of his predecessor, S.V.
Kiriyenko. Whereas Sergey Vladilenovich’s worries during his candidacy for
the prime minister’s office were connected with a fear of rejection by the
deputies. Yevgeniy Maksimovich was more wary of their approval (because he
realized the magnitude of the problems he would have to solve after taking
This difference between the two prime ministers stems primarily from the
two different psychological types they represent: Whereas S.V. Kiriyenko
could be called sanguine in most respects, Ye.M. Primakov is a typical
phlegmatic. What does this mean? The phlegmatic is distinguished by a combination
of two characteristics. The first is introversion–a person who is emotionally
withdrawn, is detached from others, and is inclined to view himself and others
from a functional and impersonal vantage point.
The second is composure–a person who is inclined only toward calm, balanced,
and moderate displays of emotion. How are these characteristics reflected
in Yevgeniy Maksimovich’s appearance and behavior?
Wait Until He Is Seated Clothing: Like all high-level government officials,
Ye.M. Primakov wears classic suits, with a preference for darker colors.
The main thing that distinguishes him from extroverts, however, is his use
of the buttons on his jacket. If he is standing or walking, the buttons are
always buttoned (with the exception of the lowest button, which is left
unbuttoned by convention). Yevgeniy Maksimovich also keeps his jacket buttoned
while he is standing during public appearances, even though procedural guides
recommend an unbuttoned jacket to signify candor to the audience. The current
Prime Minister unbuttons his jacket only when he sits down.
Posture: Yevgeniy Maksimovich only relaxes when he is sitting down: either
leaning against the back of the chair or leaning forward and resting his
weight on his hands, laid flat on the table in front of him. His pose can
be highly asymmetrical–for the sake of comfort. When Yevgeniy Maksimovich
stands or walks, however, his posture is impeccable, his shoulders are always
thrown back, and his movements are balanced and deliberate. His spine is
always completely straight, even when he greets the President.
To a certain extent, these habits compensate for his short stature. Anyone
wanting something from Yevgeniy Maksimovich should be advised not to approach
the Prime Minister while he is standing, but to wait until he sits down,
unbuttons his jacket, and gets comfortable in his chair.
Leadership Expressed in Gesticulation from Above It would be pointless to
expect intense gesticulation or a variety of expressive movements from a
phlegmatic. He does, however, use exceptionally informative gestures.
Ye.M. Primakov has an extremely distinctive handshake, clearly reflected
in protocol situations–when two people are walking toward one another. Yevgeniy
Maksimovich starts raising his palm up along his body to the level of his
shoulder a few steps before the point of contact and then lowers his hand
to grasp the other person’s hand from above. This gesture, particularly in
combination with the previously mentioned straight spine, reveals the dominance
that is one of Ye.M. Primakov’s main personality features.
We should clarify that the highly dominant individual is aloof and is certain
that his way of doing things is the only right way. It is particularly important
that this feature is clearly displayed, regardless of the rank of the other
person–all the way up to the President. Yes, it is true that the Chairman
of the Government also demonstrates this quality in some of his statements,
but the unconscious gesture, by virtue of its “motive candor,” is much more
informative than verbal expression.
We know that the second palm, the left one, is sometimes involved in a handshake.
It is usually placed lightly on the shoulder of the other person or grips
the other person’s elbow slightly. Ye.M. Primakov also uses his left hand
occasionally. How? As another means of expressing dominance: It is lowered,
again from above, onto the right forearm of the other person. In the language
of gestures, this means: “I like you, but I intend to get my own way.” That
is exactly how Yevgeniy Maksimovich greeted U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright and IMF Director Michel Camdessus.
Politicians usually start gesticulating 3-4 minutes into their speeches.
This is an indication that the initial psychological tension has subsided.
Public appearances are always highly stressful for an introvert, and that
is why it takes longer to surmount this tension: It takes Ye.M. Primakov
In general, downward movements of the right hand are common among Yevgeniy
Maksimovich’s gestures: slapping the table top, making “stabbing” motions
with his index finger, etc.
His right hand is much more active than the left, and this is a clear sign
that the left side of his brain is dominant–i.e., in simpler terms, this
means that his emotions are controlled by his intellect. The Prime Minister’s
left hand sometimes begins gesticulating vigorously during discussions of
matters with a stronger emotional impact on him–discussions of economics
and the news media.
“Yes” in the Sense of “No” We know from early childhood that agreement or
disagreement can be expressed by a movement of the head. These gestures are
so habitual that we usually do not control them. Apparently, Yevgeniy Maksimovich
does not notice them either, and this “motive candor” reveals amazingly frequent
disagreement between the positive implications of his words and the negative
connotations of the movements of his head while he is speaking.
At the very least, this suggests that the speaker has doubts about what he
is saying. Here are some examples of statements Ye.M. Primakov made while
he was shaking his head in a negative manner: “I have the highest respect
for the President”; “We agree on this point” (the transfer of the Ministry
of Justice and the Tax Police to the President’s jurisdiction); “Of course
reform is necessary”; “This is a man of unquestionable decency … and an
admirable professional” (about Yuriy Maslyukov); “A united team will be working
in the government”; “Today many of our young people are extremely sensible”;
“I will endorse this, I fully endorse it” (about economic support for the
media); “Well, how do I feel about him? I have positive feelings” (about
his relationship with Aleksandr Lebed). We can assume that these are statements
the Prime Minister made for the sake of decorum–acting in line with this
principle: “I gave the proper answer, but the intelligent person will
The Prime Minister Has the Proper Blink Reflex Facial expressions: His most
characteristic expression is a look of intense concentration, reflecting
his ability to focus on the matter at hand. The deviations from this “norm”
take three basic forms: “implacability,” “resentment,” and a smile–each
of these is a true reflection of the emotions he is feeling.
Yevgeniy Maksimovich proved in several interviews that he could use his smile
effectively: The more difficult and uncomfortable the questions became, the
more frequently a smile would appear on his face. In these situations, the
smile seems to say “I have nothing to worry about” and it also enhances the
emotional state of the smiling person.
The Prime Minister’s mouth reveals his introversion just as eloquently as
his buttoned jacket does: The space between his upper and lower lips while
he speaks is usually no more than half a centimeter and only occasionally
a whole centimeter (for the sake of comparison, the figures for Zhirinovskiy
are 2-3 centimeters).
Involuntary facial expressions are extremely rare for Primakov, but there
were some involuntary horizontal movements of his jaw, for example, during
a pause in a speech, suggesting that he was having difficulty formulating
the government’s stance on the continuation of reform.
The average person blinks approximately once every eight seconds under normal
conditions. The frequency increases in response to unfavorable psychological
and physiological changes (fatigue, irritation, anxiety, fear, etc.). The
ability to hold a direct gaze without blinking for a long time is logically
associated with certainty, power, and strength. Yevgeniy Maksimovich passes
the blink test with flying colors: He blinks only half as often as the average
person at the most, even in uncomfortable situations. During conversations,
however, he looks down or to the side and only occasionally looks directly
at the other person.
Trial by Speech Speech: Public speaking is just as difficult for an introvert
as silence is for a verbose individual. Academician Primakov’s superior
intellectual qualities are indisputable. We also know that these qualities
are not only resistant to the aging process in the intellectually and
artistically active person, but can also compensate to some extent for the
negative effects of aging on the other subsystems of the human organism.
In this context, only Ye.M. Primakov’s introversion can explain the comparatively
high number of logical, terminological, lexical, stylistic, and phonetic
errors in his speech. This is confirmed by the mounting frequency of those
errors toward the end of a speech, when the ordeal of public speaking becomes
intolerable for the introvert. This is not a case of mere exhaustion: Judging
by the main observable characteristics, the Prime Minister’s psychological
and physiological state as a whole stays within the normal limits.
A common tendency in most of his speeches is the repetition of the first
word of the sentence two or three times (“This, this, this…” and so forth),
indicating an unconscious effort to postpone the moment of final formulation.
He frequently uses the parasitical phrase “so to speak.” When he addresses
matters that are subjectively difficult, he uses phrases that are ambiguous,
contradictory, or even mutually exclusive. Here are some examples.
“I…, I would not say (pause) absolutely that…, that Yavlinskiy…, that
Yavlinskiy is pro-American.” Does the qualifier “absolutely” apply to
“pro-American” or to “would not say”?
In reference to Yu.D. Maslyukov’s appointment, he said this: “I think this
is absolutely the best possible decision, I think it is acceptable.” There
is a world of difference between “best” and “acceptable.”
He had this to say about V.V. Gerashchenko: “This was not only a presidential
nomination, so to speak, but also had my support from the beginning….”
(11 September 1998). “This nomination was conceived in the banking
community…and was later supported by a whole group of extremely prominent
bankers here” (13 September 1998).
When he addressed the Duma, Y.M. Primakov underscored his superior economic
qualifications, but right after that, when he was discussing the economy,
he mistakenly used the term “destructuring” instead of “restructuring” twice.
During the whole time he has headed the government, its Chairman has always
experienced obvious terminological difficulties in public statements on economic
subjects, particularly in statements pertaining to wages and pensions.
Sometimes the public vocabulary of the usually reserved Prime Minister exceeds
conventional bounds: “Why do you listen to the delirious ravings of some
of the news media?!” There are also some regrettable slips of the tongue:
“The government does not plan to prohibit the circulation of the ruble…,
excuse me, the dollar.”
When he discusses some subjectively difficult topics, he smacks his lips
and exhibits some rare and brief changes in intonation–to the point of sounding
hoarse. With the passage of time, as the Prime Minister has adapted to his
role, the overall frequency of verbal mistakes has decreased gradually.
Subjective stress factors: The main one is his relationship with the President.
Apparently, the problem is not so much that the President’s existence threatens
the professional status of the Prime Minister, as it is that the relationship
has developed in the presence of the worst possible conditions for a
phlegmatic–uncertainty, unpredictability, and inexplicability. Displays
of deference and loyalty to the President are essentially lacking in the
Prime Minister’s behavior. It is indicative that during meetings with the
President, Yevgeniy Maksimovich takes his seat at the same time as the President
(instead of after him), drops his briefcase on the table with a bang (others
lay their binders down silently), and leans back in his chair without restraint,
taking up the whole seat, instead of perching on the edge and leaning forward.
Incidentally, the first time the Cabinet Chief was asked about his future
career plans, he was composed and reserved. Later the topic of his possible
run for the presidency began to arouse lively displays of favorable emotions
(smiles, more vigorous hand gestures, and an inclination to say more about
Other obvious stress factors for Ye.M. Primakov are the composition of the
government (the key figures in which are not subject to the Prime Minister’s
will), the issue of reform (the “policy line” warrants simultaneous continuation
and adjustment), and relations with the media, which force the introvert
to perform the unnatural role of a public politician.
Slow Preparations Are Followed by Quick Action Conclusion: The activities
of Ye.M. Primakov, as a dominant phlegmatic, would be most effective in an
orderly environment with the possibility of short-term and strategic planning,
the absolute clarity of the rights and obligations of all “players,” and
the strict observance of the rules. Yevgeniy Maksimovich has been busy
establishing these conditions from the first days of his term in office,
although he must have realized that some of them would be impossible under
present conditions. After learning this through experience, the dominant
phlegmatic had to consider–by virtue of his psychological nature–how he
could attain all of his objectives in their entirety–i.e., how he could
settle the issue of authority.
The Prime Minister has already been standing at the helm of government
approximately twice as long as his young predecessor. For the phlegmatic
Prime Minister, however, seven months constitute only the initial planning
stage. Whereas S.V. Kiriyenko was like a sports car in the psychological
sense, Ye.M. Primakov is like a heavy locomotive, slow to accelerate and
still building up speed for a long trip along a straight and direct route.
Will he be able to move ahead at full speed? This is not a question a
psychologist can answer.