Does America Want Putin Dead? Russia and the Reverse Pygmalion Effect

In a word, yes. In two words, hell yes.

Please note this is not going to be a commentary trying to be scandalous, libelous, or titillating. Rather, it is an attempt to rationally and objectively analyze the messages (some subtle, some rather unsubtle) being communicated to the everyday American citizen across media sources of varying relevance. Since the nature of modern mass media today makes it relatively easy to miss the forest for the trees, this article tries to analytically step back from the thousands of individual reports over the last half year to determine just what the overall forest looks like. As the title above indicates, that forest puts the situation in a rather dark and potentially ominous place. This is especially so when considering the fact that the clickbait that covers the Ukrainian conflict on a daily basis is creating a reverse Pygmalion Effect that aims to produce the worst outcome for Putin:

“Putin is mentally ill and has been a psychopath since childhood, lacking normal empathy.” International Business Times onJune 26, 2022

“Putin will be dead in two years as he suffers from ‘several grave diseases’.” The Sun on June 27, 2022

“Nurse speculates Putin has symptoms of Parkinson’s.” Newsweek on March 8, 2022

“President Putin suffering from ‘rapidly progressing cancer’.” on May 31, 2022

“Vladimir Putin has…likely survived assassination attempt.” NY Post onJune 2, 2022

“Cancer-riddled Putin surrounded by doctors…” BBC on May 19, 2022

“How Putin has survived FIVE assassination attempts.” The Sun on May 23, 2022

“Russian municipal deputies call for Putin’s resignation.” The Hill on September 12, 2022

“Russian officials demand Putin resign amid Ukraine losses.” Newsweek onSeptember 13, 2022

“Putin coup is underway and impossible to stop.” Yahoo news onSeptember 13, 2022

“Russian resistance is growing against Putin’s war.” NY Post onMarch 2, 2022

“The Russian military should overthrow Putin.” The Hill on March 14, 2022

“Fully-fledged revolt against Putin is near.” Newsweek on September 10, 2022

“As Russians retreat, Putin is criticized by hawks.” NY Times on September 10, 2022

“Russian officers turn against Putin for military incompetence.” Bipartisanreport on May 31, 2022

“Rogue Russian generals should assassinate ‘demented’ Putin.” The Sun on March 5, 2022

“Russian elites planning to overthrow Putin.” NY Post on March 20, 2022

“Sean Hannity suggests Vladimir Putin should be assassinated.” Washington Post March 3, 2022

These lowlights are quite literally a drop in the bucket of incessant news messaging that stays remarkably consistent along a few pointed political lines: Putin is not well, whether mentally, physically, or both; Putin is not a competent military strategist and his decisions are pushing his own military to ultimately move against him; the Russian people, whether that is defined as everyday citizens, politicians, or elites, are universally against Putin and ready to force his removal; things are so bad within the Putin inner circle that he is constantly needing to fend off assassination attempts and is becoming paranoid about future efforts.

In psychology, there is a well-known phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect, in which high expectations lead to an improved performance in a desired area. The effect comes from the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell so much in love with a beautiful statue he made that the sheer force of his desire and will ended up bringing the statue to life. In contemporary experiments, the effect was shown even more powerfully by manipulating the positive impression of experts (in this case, high school teachers). When the educators were given information ahead of the start of the school year about a particular group of students having uniquely high IQs, it ended up altering their overall perception and subsequently changed their actual behavior toward said students. This perceptional and behavioral change resulted in the pre-identified group of students excelling in the class because of the intense support and effort given to them by their preconditioned teachers. In other words, the Pygmalion Effect essentially preordained the desired outcome by influencing the thoughts and actions of the critical actor group.

For the most part, contemporary psychology has focused on this for its ability to positively impact situations and people, bringing about an improvement over the original condition observed. However, this effect is actually “adjective neutral,” in that the end result being positive or negative simply depends on how the actual conditions are manipulated. In this case, it can be clearly seen how American foreign policy messaging for the last six months has been pushing consistently through numerous mass media sources a “reverse Pygmalion effect.” If successful, it would ideally end up with Putin being removed forcibly from office, either by political intrigue, military coup, illness, or assassination. In fact, one could cynically frame this as not even a reversed effect, given that some American strategists might see the end result as the actual best-case scenario, thus maintaining the Pygmalion phenomenon as an innately positive endeavor. Regardless, it is striking how little attention is being paid to what is essentially a media-driven PSYOPS initiative that is technically illegal in formal American law (the United States claims to be against the open endorsement and/or pursuit of forced removal/assassination of the lawful leaders of other countries.)

This is important not just in the abstract, as a treatise against fomenting an emotional and psychological environment that results in assassination. Rather, the ultimate importance in examining this negative Pygmalion Effect within the Ukrainian conflict is that it does not happen in a vacuum: the constant pushing of message to undermine Putin’s authority, leadership, health, and standing also has the additional consequence of influencing how all other subsequent news reports are interpreted. Remember, there is no point in creating a Pygmalion Effect to hurt Putin if it also doesn’t have a pronounced impact on the Ukrainian conflict overall. It is this fact that might finally provide an explanation to a mystery that has plagued the situation for some time: how and why are rational strategic maneuvers conducted by the Russian military always being construed in a highly controversial and inaccurate light?

For example, since the special military operation began, the Russian military pulled back from Kiev but did not shell the city center (with all of its important cultural, historical, and religious places and artifacts) into oblivion. This restraint has been utterly ignored in the West. Russian forces have in a number of instances taken control of and maintained several nuclear facilities, keeping them under stable operating conditions. This has been covered instead as a threat of Russia potentially and insanely creating “several Chernobyls” right on its own doorstep. Russia has openly acknowledged the massive importation of deadly American weapons into Ukraine for the express purpose of killing Russians. Instead of using that as a catalyst to enlarge the war directly to the US, Russia has continued to emphasize diplomatic overtures with the Americans and kept the conflict exclusively regional. Those overtures have been rejected and/or unacknowledged. There are numerous reports by groups like Amnesty International that corroborate evidence of Ukrainian units regularly “hiding in plain sight” (ie, getting rid of all formal military uniforms and taking position in civilian centers, apartment buildings, and hospitals). This reality has been largely sidestepped in Western reporting, instead emphasizing how Russian military units are launching attacks against civilian areas. Despite this supposed Russian strategy, the overall numbers of Ukrainian civilian casualties are incredulously small for a major military like Russia, especially ifsaid military was truly aiming to attack and kill as many civilians as possible. Again, the factual evidence is never pushed or emphasized to Western audiences.

There are many such instances like this since the Ukrainian conflict began, all treated in the same way. None of which made any sense…until one considers the reverse Pygmalion Effect being pushed out to all those operating against Russia. It results in audiences completely missing or misinterpreting legitimate opportunities upon which the two warring sides could have positively built, leading to a rapprochement and, ultimately, a mutually satisfying end to the conflict. But that, unfortunately, shows the crux of the problem: from the American perspective, a mutually satisfying end to the conflict would actually be construed as a loss. This proxy war recreated in America’s image now has an obvious and somewhat vicious objective: what was at first simply an attempt to interfere in the regional projection of Russian power has been transformed into the actual hope of deposing Putin, one way or another. It may come across a bit speculative to argue here that America wants Putin dead. But, given the examination above, only this kind of end to the Putin regime would seemingly make America truly believe the “Putin problem” is solved. But America should be careful what it wishes for: over ten years ago I wrote a popular, but controversial, article titled “How to Make a Russian Demon.” The US better be sure it really wants to deal with one.

Dr. Matthew Crosston
Dr. Matthew Crosston
Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: