A Pentagon think tank conducted a study in 2008 that concluded that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has Asperger’s syndrome, “an autistic disorder which affects all of his decisions.”
The study report, obtained by USA Today, was written by Brenda Connors, an expert in movement pattern analysis (MPA). It suggested that “the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality” and that his “neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy.”
However, the researchers admitted they could not prove their theory that Putin has Asperger’s syndrome because they were unable to perform brain scans on him. But the study cites other experts in the field, including Dr. Stephen Porges, a psychiatry professor at the University of North Carolina, who concluded that “Putin carries a form of autism.”
But when USA Today contacted Porges on Wednesday, he said he never saw the finished report and declined to say that Putin has Asperger’s. However, he noted that Putin appears to be “defensive in large social gatherings.”
Porges thus recommended that U.S. officials should try to deal with Putin in more private or “quieter” circumstances, rather than in large gatherings.
“If you need to do things with him, you don’t want to be in a big state affair but more of one-on-one situation someplace somewhere quiet.”
The 2008 study was one of several studies on Putin that Connors and her research team have conducted over several years for the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), which operates within the Pentagon as a think tank that helps formulate Pentagon’s military strategy.
“Today, project neurologists confirm this research project’s earlier hypothesis that very early in life perhaps, even in utero, Putin suffered a huge hemispheric event to the left temporal lobe of the prefrontal cortex, which involves both central and peripheral nervous systems, gross motor functioning on his right side (head, rib cage, arm and leg) and his micro facial expression, eye gaze, hearing and voice and general affect.”
However, since the team’s 2008 tentative diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger Disorder (AD) in Putin, the condition, characterized by difficulties in social interaction, repetitive patterns of behavior, and narrow interests, has ceased to be an official diagnosis in clinical psychology.
In the 2013 fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the condition was grouped under the broader category of “autism spectrum disorders.”
The 2008 report and a 2011 study by the Pentagon think tank, which USA Today obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, was reportedly not seen by the former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel or his predecessor.
The 2011 study by Connors and her team included an analysis of the former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his interactions with Putin. The report characterized Medvedev as an “action man” who was “inclined to size up situations quickly and to do so in black and white terms, shunning subtler shades of gray,” while describing Putin as a leader with “very different predilections” who “methodically cycles back to aspects of the problem facing him, continuing revising data to verify his research and confirm his priorities.”
Both studies emphasized that Putin’s physical condition shaped his decision making as president. The 2011 study recommended that officials dealing with him should present him with “meaty policy research and white papers” because he is “information craving.”
The report warned that “Putin the private decision maker cannot be expected to enter into public exchanges with others on information interpretation or a final course of action.”
It recommended that Medvedev should be presented with “priorities that both resonate with his values and declared objectives and contain a timeline for commitment, the stage where he is most at home.”
“His [Putin’s] primary form of compensation is extreme control… reflected in his decision style and how he governs.”
However, it remains uncertain that Pentagon and state department officials acted on or used the recommendations of the study.
According to USA Today, U.S. experts have taken greater interest in studying Putin since he ordered the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Connors said that experts first noticed Putin’s peculiar movement patterns in Jan. 1, 2000, “in the first television footage ever seen of the then newly appointed president of Russia.”
Movement pattern analysis, which attempts to use an individual’s peculiar and characteristic patterns of movement to gain an insight into the individual’s decision-making process, originated from the 1940s studies of a Hungarian dance instructor Rudolf Laban, and was established as a field of study by the pioneering work of Warren Lamb.
U.S. officials were forced to rely on movement pattern analysis due to difficulty in obtaining accurate and timely information about Russia’s leaders.