The promise of college in America is the promise of a clear path to the future, of a reward for all the sleep deprivation and soul-deadening competition of high school, and, most of all, of instant adulthood. This is a stunningly resilient myth. It survived the financial crisis of 2007-08. It persisted even as more and more young people moved home after graduation and never left, because they couldn’t afford to. It has continued to beckon teen-agers even as student debt came to dominate the lives of their older siblings and parents. Every year, more people have competed for spots in colleges and universities, waiting for letters that promised a steady route: arrival at a Disney-Gothic castle; eight semesters, one of them abroad; two or three summer internships; a festive launch of a lucrative, or at least secure, career. They waited, too, for the elaborate succession of celebratory events that precedes college: senior prank, senior skip day, prom, yearbook, graduation, and more. As of April, 2020, none of that is happening: not the celebrations; not, for many, the college; and, most important, not the adulthood—at least not as they imagined it.
As a professor, I see my students on Zoom now, in class or during what now passes for office hours. They are usually sitting on their beds, in their childhood bedrooms or in their dorm rooms on mostly deserted campuses. I know why some of them couldn’t go home: a parent has had a transplant; a sibling has cystic fibrosis; the family kicked them out for coming out as gay. I know some of their worries: a student has been sick with covid-19; another student was living off campus and working full time but has now been laid off; a student stayed at the college while two family members were ill; most summer internships and study programs have been cancelled (and some universities are talking about an online-only fall semester). As a parent, I am sharing a house with one college student and one rising freshman, neither of whom planned to be living with me this spring. As a journalist, in recent weeks I have talked to more than a dozen young people whose future and present have been swallowed up in the fog of the pandemic.
Saminah Haddad, a seventeen-year-old senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, wasn’t expecting her college offers until later in the spring: she runs track, and recruiters look at the spring season, she told me over Zoom. This year, there will be no spring season, which for Haddad means no four-year college. She is considering Long Beach City College, which is free for state residents. She also lost her job at an amusement park. All of the senior-year milestones that Haddad had been looking forward to have been cancelled: prom, graduation, and an event called the “Pursuit of Excellence Awards,” where she would have been recognized for perfect attendance. She doesn’t yet know if she’ll still be working this summer for her father, who was about to open a juice bar in Brooklyn.
In the meantime, Haddad’s school is offering some online instruction, but in her case the course load has dropped to just two classes: A.P. Literature, which meets virtually, and a government class, which consists of written assignments that she receives by e-mail. Her other classes, which were electives, “aren’t really doing anything,” she said. Haddad is planning to take her A.P. exam, though she finds it hard to imagine what the forty-five-minute, cell-phone-friendly version of the test will be like. No one knows how prospective colleges will view it, either.
“Online classes are boring,” she said. The descriptor she used perhaps most often in our conversation, in fact, was “boring.” Life has been drained of content, and the plot is lost. She texts with friends. She argues with her mom and stepdad a lot. “It’s bringing us closer together,” she half joked. “But it’s O.K.”
E.,an eighteen-year-old Barnard freshman, is scared, not bored. E., who is nonbinary and isn’t out to their parents, was adopted at age ten, along with their two siblings; their biological mother had abandoned them, and their biological father was struggling with addiction. At first, Barnard was everything E. needed: a beautiful campus, a sense of community, counselling services, and, through the office of disability services, the academic accommodations that E. needed.
E. went home for winter break but decided to come back early because, they told me over Zoom, their parents were being emotionally abusive. A complicated bureaucratic procedure awaits any Barnard student who attempts to return to their dorm when school is out of session, so E. stayed with an alumna in Brooklyn until the spring semester began. In March, when Columbia, which is affiliated with and adjacent to Barnard, abruptly closed its campus after identifying a member of the community who had been exposed to the coronavirus, E. didn’t ask to stay on campus and never considered going to their parents’ home. Even though E. is financing their education through loans—E.’s parents have no real relationship, financial or otherwise, with the school—e-mail messages about the end of in-person classes and the closure of campus went to all students’ parents. “We are trying to get away from our parents, but, unfortunately, the college system doesn’t really allow dependency overrides,” E. told me. “If your parents make a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year but they are not willing to help you pay for college, there isn’t a lot of sensitivity to that.” E.’s parents wanted to know why E. wasn’t coming home, and E. couldn’t really explain to them that college was supposed to be E.’s way to escape, once and for all, their parents’ homophobic comments and the constant blare of Fox News. “I’d been trying to go to a college far enough away that they wouldn’t visit me,” E. said.
E. has a rent-free place to stay, with a lesbian activist in Harlem, until summer. E. is applying for internships and trying to raise money to rent their own apartment; another summer option they considered was to stay with their biological father, who, E. said, is now clean and sober. Concentrating on coursework, meanwhile, is difficult. All of E.’s four classes are now on Zoom, with additional assignments and recorded lectures. E. hasn’t been able to finish many assignments. “I’m really trying to stay afloat this semester,” E. said, and so are their classmates. “I know a lot of people are having trouble focussing.” E. finally scheduled a Zoom meeting with disability services, more than a month after in-person classes ended and less than a month before the end of the semester.
Many colleges have set up a petitioning process to allow certain students to remain on campus during the shutdown: international students, students who have health conditions or whose family members have health conditions that preclude their travelling home, and students whose home situations are precarious or unsafe. Exemptions are not usually granted to students who ask to stay because they have a job near campus. Cassidy Shannon, a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Emmanuel College in Boston, had a job at a burger joint that synced well with her class schedule. Now she is at her mother’s house in Westborough, Massachusetts, working as a server at a retirement home. “This retirement home is really fancy,” she explained to me over Zoom. Residents used to take their meals in a dining hall, served by high-school students; once the pandemic took hold, the old staff “had to stop because their parents didn’t want them working there,” Shannon said. Now she is one of just three or four young people who deliver meals to the residents’ rooms. Shannon’s mother, a preschool teacher, is also still working— providing child-care services to first responders—and her seventeen-year-old sister, a high-school junior, has kept her job at Chick-fil-A.
Two of Shannon’s classes are now given as pre-recorded lectures, available online, but the other two meet by Zoom at six in the evening, which means that she can’t take as many shifts at the retirement home as she needs to. She is financing her education through student loans: she borrowed twenty-two thousand dollars for her first year and thirteen thousand dollars for her second, when her financial assistance was increased as a reward for good grades. “I’m such an in-person learner,” she said. “I’m paying all this money for something that isn’t the same.”
It’s unclear what Shannon, other students, and their parents are actually paying for. Put another way, what exactly is a four-year college? “It’s a hedge fund that teaches classes as a tax dodge,” one Twitter user posted, after Harvard announced, in mid-April, that it was cutting salaries and other expenses, despite its endowment, which reached more than forty billion dollars in 2019. “And they’re barely even doing the ‘teaches classes’ part anymore now.”
Of course, most smaller colleges have modest endowments, or barely any endowments at all, and depend on income from tuition and student fees to keep going from year to year. Room and board fees make up a large and growing portion of college investments and income. Emmanuel College, where Shannon studies, recently unveiled an eighteen-story residence hall that cost a hundred and forty million dollars to build, or roughly the equivalent of the college’s entire endowment. Most colleges, including those that used to be known as commuter schools, such as Manhattan School of Music, in New York City, now require freshmen and, often, sophomores to live on campus, even if their families live nearby. Colleges might be called landlords of sorts, except that dormitory tenants don’t have leases and can be evicted at will. It might be more accurate to say that colleges are in the hospitality and catering business, except that a hotel that kicked you out of your room or a restaurant that cancelled your reservation would be expected to refund the entirety of your payment. Some colleges have refunded the room and board fees for the unused portion of the semester, others are refunding a portion of that portion, and still others have not yet committed to refunding any money.
Most faculty, students, and administrators don’t actually think of colleges as hedge funds or hoteliers; they think, rather, that colleges charge students for teaching them. Before the coronavirus pandemic, professors would grouse that their students acted like customers who expected faculty to provide services. But it’s impossible to argue that online instruction, even when exceptionally well-executed, delivers the same quality of education as in-person teaching. I’ve been lucky: all of my students have high-speed Internet access, I have relatively small classes, and my students had a chance to get to know one another during the first six weeks of the semester. (Some of my friends who teach on different timetables met their students for the first time online.) I have done my best to compensate for what students have lost: learning by discussion, by engaging with one another and with me in ways that simply cannot be replicated online. Still, they are certainly not learning as much as they would be in person.
Students at some universities have started organizing to demand tuition refunds, and some have sued, arguing that online classes aren’t what they paid for. In an extraordinary step, Southern New Hampshire University has announced full-tuition scholarships for incoming freshmen—but not for returning students—and a sixty-one per cent tuition cut starting in 2021. Most colleges will not take such drastic steps, and many simply cannot afford to without overhauling their entire model. With worries about fall enrollment and a growing understanding that the fall semester, if it happens at all, will likely be taught at least partly online, colleges will have to argue that what they are delivering onscreen is worth as much as what students would have received in the classroom. This, in turn, may force a conversation about what the colleges are actually selling. Although the service they provide is education, the product for which they charge is the college degree—the piece of paper that promises a student will earn eighty-four per cent more in their lifetime than if they had only a high-school diploma. This and similar statistics are what allow so many college students to think of their loans not as astronomical debts but as investments in their future. Now that future is changing in ways none of us can really apprehend.
Those who are graduating this year face the worst job market in nearly a century and, by the time they graduate, possibly the worst job market in recorded history. Emilia Decaudin, a twenty-one-year-old senior at cuny’s Macaulay Honors College and the youngest-ever member of the Democratic State Committee of New York, told me that she had planned to start looking for work at a nonprofit this month. But nonprofits aren’t hiring, she said over Zoom, “and even if one was, what’s the point of finding a job that’s likely not to exist by summer?”
Cameron Wright, a twenty-two-year-old senior at Yale, is the rare college student whose employment plans appear to be on track. He is scheduled to begin working as a legal researcher at a tech company in New York this summer; he was planning to spend a year there before going to law school. But the prospect of actually moving to New York has gone from daunting to incomprehensible. For now, Wright is still in New Haven, one of eleven people who remain in his dorm, out of the usual three hundred. He rarely catches sight of any of the others. Twice a day he goes to the single dining hall that remains open on campus, but only to pick up grab-and-go meals. Wright’s home is in rural Kentucky, with his mother, who has a history of pulmonary illness. “I just couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to my mother,” he told me. For a while, he considered renting a car and driving to Kentucky, but he couldn’t find a place where he could self-quarantine before seeing his mother.
“I’m thinking a lot about the unreliability of things,” Wright told me on the phone the first time we spoke. His father, a state-government employee, died when Wright was ten. After his death, Wright’s mother went back to work as a substitute teacher. “I didn’t necessarily fit in at home in Kentucky,” Wright said in an e-mail, “and I did not want to follow the traditional path of graduating high school, attending an in-state public school, and then moving back home.” A combination of his mother’s support, a few good teachers, and, as Wright put it, “the chance nature of college admissions” got him to Yale with a full-tuition financial-aid package. A job as a residential adviser to freshmen paid for his room and board this year, and, in the second half of March and early April, Wright was spending much of his time trying to clarify Yale’s temporary grading policies for his advisees. Some colleges have eliminated letter grades entirely this spring, switching all courses to a pass-fail system. Others have given students the choice between letter grades and pass-fail grades; meanwhile, some graduate schools, like Harvard Medical School, were warning prospective applicants that pass-fail grades would be viewed neutrally only from colleges that instituted a temporary universal pass-fail system. (Yale made pass-fail optional at first, and Wright and other students lobbied successfully to make the policy universal.)
Wright was finishing his senior thesis, on the Soviet dissident Raisa Orlova. “It’s really hard to think about history when you are living through it,” he told me. He was trying to find a connection to his academic work by thinking about loneliness. Might the loneliness imposed by the pandemic help him understand the loneliness of someone who dared to think differently in a totalitarian society?
When we e-mailed a week and a half later, Wright had completed his thesis and had received his passing grade for the spring. He was still on campus but thinking of relocating to a friend’s empty apartment. I asked Wright if he was still planning to go to law school. “One of the things the pandemic offers is the cruelest reminder that anything is possible,” he e-mailed in response. He wrote:
He went on to say that he would try to write more, perhaps try to publish. “I want my work to be incessant in reminding others of our own precarity,” he wrote. And then, he said, he would probably go to law school.
11:49 They both lie ..
They don’t lie to avoid telling the truth; they lie to assert their power over reality.
Watch author and journalist Masha Gessen’s candid, full interview on Putin and allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election – part of FRONTLINE’s media transparency project for our investigation, “Putin’s Revenge.”
46:38But among his first 10 decrees was a decree reinstating primary military education in46:46high schools, and this was something that was, to me, highly symbolic.46:55When I went to school in the Soviet Union, everybody—all the high school students had47:00to learn elementary military trades.47:06I mean, first of all, we had military games, survival games, from the time—I mean, games.47:12We called them games.47:13They weren’t games.47:14They were training sessions, right?47:16But from the time you’re very little, there are bomb raids, and you learn to recognize47:21chemical burns, and you are drilled on how to respond to chemical burns.47:27The thing is, you know, these classrooms that are—where the walls are covered with posters47:33on how to recognize different kinds of chemical weapons, the effects of different kinds of47:41chemical weapons and how to respond to them.47:45And then in ninth and 10th grade, so in high school, which is just two years, you learn47:54to administer first aid in a military situation and to take apart and clean a Kalashnikov48:03and put it back together again.48:07Anybody my age or older will be able to tell you how long it used to take them to take48:13apart and clean and put back together a Kalashnikov.48:16A good amount of time is around nine or eight seconds.48:24That was eliminated when the Soviet Union fell apart.48:29And we forget now how much the 1990s, even though Russia never really sort of fully entered48:36a post-imperial era, but still, it became a demilitarized country.48:43All of a sudden, there was much less emphasis on how every boy was a future soldier, which48:49is the way I was brought up.48:51You would just see very many fewer people in uniform in the streets.48:57When I was growing up, when I used to go meet my mother at the subway station when she was49:04coming home, I would—to entertain myself, I would count the number of people in uniform49:11coming off the trains as I waited for her.49:14Roughly every 10th person would be wearing a military uniform.49:17All of a sudden, that was no longer the case.49:20And of course children stopped learning how to take apart and put back together a Kalashnikov49:24in school.49:26One of the first things that Putin did, on the day that he became acting president, was49:32set in motion the process of bringing that back.49:36And I was convinced that—go ahead.49:38MICHAEL KIRK – Sorry.49:39MASHA GESSEN – No, I was convinced that he was signaling his intention to remilitarize49:45Russian society, which is exactly what he did.49:47MICHAEL KIRK – What does it do to a society to grow up with that eight-second Kalashnikov49:53rebuild and then have it reintroduced?49:57What’s the signal that that sends to people?50:01MASHA GESSEN – Well, different people receive the same signal differently.50:09It frightened me.50:10I didn’t want to live in a militarized society again, and I thought the militarized Russia50:14would be a dangerous country for the rest of the world.50:20Countries don’t militarize in order to be peaceful.50:26For a lot of people, though, it was a signal that they were going back to something that50:32was familiar and comfortable, both on a private level, which is that you would do the same—their50:39children would be doing the same things that they did as children, right, but much more50:43importantly on a public level, so that they would have a chance to identify with a great50:47country again.50:48He would make Russia great again.50:51For so many people in the 1990s, the instability and discomfort that they experienced became51:00concentrated in this idea of no longer belonging to a great power.51:07So a lot of Putin’s early signals were that he would bring back that wonderful feeling51:17of being part of a great power again.51:19MICHAEL KIRK – In a way, it’s right.51:22He’s merging probably how he felt, having missed glasnost and perestroika, not participating51:27in whatever was great about it, but he comes home, he’s shipwrecked, whatever happens51:35to him, it’s a different world than he probably anticipated finishing his life in.51:41That sort of ethos that he shared with the people was what he decided to employ as his51:51method.51:56In the end of his first year, George W. Bush becomes president of the United States.52:02One of the things we’ve noticed in tracing the arc of this gigantic narrative is how52:09often an American president arrives to a Russian president with hope that all is going to get52:16better, from Gorbachev on; democracy will flower now, and thank God.52:23…52:24MASHA GESSEN – Well, I want to say one more thing about what happened with George W. Bush52:27becoming president in ’99, or in 2000, is that Putin had just become president in a52:34very orderly manner.52:38He was handpicked by the previous president.52:42An election was scheduled.52:43He won it handily.52:46Everything went according to plan in his popularity.52:50His margin of victory was pretty good.52:53It was, I think, 53 percent in his first election.52:57And his popularity was sky-high.52:58Then America goes and has this ridiculous election that isn’t settled for two months53:08or two and a half months, and that just goes to show you how a democracy is such an imperfect53:15system, and probably an outdated and failed system.53:19I’m convinced that that’s the first time that Putin really watched an American presidential53:24election closely.53:25He’d never thought of himself as somebody who existed on that level.53:30Now he’s waiting to see who his counterpart is going to be, and he can’t even know who53:39his counterpart is going to be for two and a half months, because democracy is such a53:42mess.53:43…53:44MICHAEL KIRK – When they meet, the way the stories go, and especially—I’ve just talked53:46to a lot of American diplomats and ambassadors who were there at that first meeting.53:52This is the “I looked in his eyes and saw his soul” meeting.53:57Some people tell the story that here is a KGB guy who’s the president of Russia, who’s54:03studied Bush, knows he’s an evangelical, knows that he has a penchant and a weakness54:07for a religious story, dredges up a religious story out of his own past, the crucifix-in-the-ashes54:14story, and somehow they connect.54:19Tell me what you know about that version of the story.54:23MASHA GESSEN – Actually, I have nothing to add to that version of the story.54:28What I would say is that early on he was a charmer, early on in his term as president.54:34That’s no longer the case.54:37But everyone I’ve talked to [who] had a meeting with him in the first year or two of his becoming54:46acting president and then president came away transformed, at least for the first few minutes.54:51Well, actually, with one exception: one of the journalists who worked on that official54:56biography.54:58But everyone else felt that he sort of, he turned on the recruiter charm, and he was55:06well-briefed, and he always used a little personal anecdote to connect with you on the55:12grounds that he figured would be good for connecting.55:18A few years down the road, he stopped paying attention.55:21He would start mixing people’s names up or the facts of people’s biographies.55:26By the time I met him in 2012, he wasn’t even briefed.55:32He knew almost nothing about me, like he hadn’t bothered.55:37But early on, he was a real recruiter.55:40And I think he certainly worked his charm on George W. Bush, which apparently wasn’t55:46very difficult.55:47MICHAEL KIRK – There’s a lot of hope, of course, that they’ll do all kinds of things.55:54A lot of people have said—we’ll ask them: “What did Putin want from Bush?56:00What did Russia want from Bush?56:02But more importantly, what did Putin want from Bush and America?”56:06What do you think that was?56:07MASHA GESSEN – Well, Putin wanted the return of a bipolar world.56:15That was his agenda from the very beginning.56:17He wanted to be treated with respect.56:19He wanted people back home to see that he was being treated with respect.56:24This was also coming very soon after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, right, which, for the56:35Russian political establishment and for a lot of Russian people, was a really difficult56:40pill to swallow.56:42…56:43The U.S. and its allies decided to bomb Serbia and Kosovo to resolve the Kosovo crisis without56:50consulting with Russia.56:51And to make matters worse, they started bombing, or the U.S. started bombing when Yevgeny Primakov,57:00the then-prime minister, was in the air, on his way to the United States to meet with57:04Vice President Gore.57:07So they didn’t even make a show of informing Russia before starting bombing, never mind57:13consulting Russia, and that was really insulting for the entire Russian establishment and a57:20lot of Russian people.57:23One of the things that Putin wanted to project was that that kind of thing was never going57:28to happen again.57:30MICHAEL KIRK – Then America pulls out of the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, not really57:36consulting.57:37In fact, he begged Bush not to do it.57:41They invade, or we invade Iraq, taking down an authoritarian figure who stands astride57:48a big—somewhat in the sphere of influence of Russia.57:54Russia joins with France and Germany and says: “Please don’t do this.57:57Are you guys going to do this?57:58Are you really going to do this?”58:00And they do it with a certain level of impunity, at least.58:06It seems that the word you used early to describe what he was hoping for, which is respect,58:11was hardly in the air between George W. Bush and the United States of America, and Vladimir58:16Putin and Russia.58:17MASHA GESSEN – And what’s even worse, I think from Putin’s point of view, is the expansion58:22of NATO.58:24It doesn’t ever sort of—in his worldview, it is not a question of these countries asking58:35to be part of NATO.58:36It is merely a question of the United States deciding that NATO should expand to the Russian58:43border.58:44He’s also convinced that the Soviet Union got assurances from the United States that58:52NATO would not be expanded.58:54…58:55The quote that Putin likes to bring up was a quote by the then-NATO commander given during58:59the negotiations about the reunification of Germany.59:05The promise was that there would be no NATO troops stationed on what had been East German59:11territory.59:12That’s the quote.59:13And that was a matter of negotiations.59:16This was, first of all, this was a negotiation with the Soviet Union, and then—and the59:21Soviet Union was pushing for a solution where somehow Germany would be united.59:26But East Germany still wouldn’t be a part of NATO.59:30And the compromise solution was that there would be no troops on what had been East German59:36territory.59:37That has nothing to do with NATO expansion as such, and it also certainly has nothing59:41to do with Russia.59:42I mean, this was being negotiated with the Soviet Union.59:45This was before the demise of the Warsaw Pact.59:50But in 2007, at the security conference in Munich, Putin shocks world leaders by giving59:59a very, very strongly worded speech about how Russia was not going to take it anymore.60:04MICHAEL KIRK – Can you take me there?60:07What has angered him, or what has happened in his world that he can go to Munich and60:12so forcefully declare?60:14It’s not declaring war, but it’s certainly declaring verbal war on, in an unspoken way,60:23the United States of America.60:26MASHA GESSEN – This is the end of his second term, and he has really been transformed.60:32He has already taken over the media in Russia.60:36He’s already canceled gubernatorial elections.60:39He’s canceled elections to the upper house of the Russian parliament.60:44He’s solidified power.60:47He is ruling very much like a dictator.60:50The process of dismantling what democratic mechanisms had existed in Russia was completed60:55in his first term, and this is the end of his second term.60:59Also, Russia has been living for seven years through a period of unprecedented prosperity,61:04because oil prices just keep climbing.61:07Money is just flowing into Russia.61:10Putin has enriched himself.61:12Everyone around him has enriched himself.61:14At the same time, he has emasculated the men who used to be known as the oligarchs.61:20They’ve ceded their political power to him, and a lot of their financial power, in exchange61:25for safety and security of those assets that they’re allowed to keep.61:29He’s really the patriarch of this country.61:34In Russia itself, people perceive him as enjoying the respect of the West, but he doesn’t61:42feel any respect, because the United States has invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq without61:51consulting with Russia, and in fact ignoring Russia’s wishes.61:53The United States has pulled out of the ABM Treaty.61:56And worst of all, NATO has expanded.61:59He’s been saving all of this resentment up because there he is—he feels like he62:07has transformed his country.62:09He’s made it great again, and he still doesn’t get any recognition of that when he meets62:14with world leaders.62:15He is still treated very much like a junior partner by everybody.62:20And so he comes to the security conference in Munich and says, basically: “I don’t62:25have to mince words, do I?62:28I can say what’s on my mind.”62:31And then he just lashes out, and he lists all these resentments, especially the NATO51:56In the end of his first year, George W. Bush becomes president of the United States.52:02One of the things we’ve noticed in tracing the arc of this gigantic narrative is how52:09often an American president arrives to a Russian president with hope that all is going to get52:16better, from Gorbachev on; democracy will flower now, and thank God.52:23…52:24MASHA GESSEN – Well, I want to say one more thing about what happened with George W. Bush52:27becoming president in ’99, or in 2000, is that Putin had just become president in a52:34very orderly manner.52:38He was handpicked by the previous president.52:42An election was scheduled.52:43He won it handily.52:46Everything went according to plan in his popularity.52:50His margin of victory was pretty good.52:53It was, I think, 53 percent in his first election.52:57And his popularity was sky-high.52:58Then America goes and has this ridiculous election that isn’t settled for two months53:08or two and a half months, and that just goes to show you how a democracy is such an imperfect53:15system, and probably an outdated and failed system.53:19I’m convinced that that’s the first time that Putin really watched an American presidential53:24election closely.53:25He’d never thought of himself as somebody who existed on that level.53:30Now he’s waiting to see who his counterpart is going to be, and he can’t even know who53:39his counterpart is going to be for two and a half months, because democracy is such a53:42mess.53:43…53:44MICHAEL KIRK – When they meet, the way the stories go, and especially—I’ve just talked53:46to a lot of American diplomats and ambassadors who were there at that first meeting.53:52This is the “I looked in his eyes and saw his soul” meeting.53:57Some people tell the story that here is a KGB guy who’s the president of Russia, who’s54:03studied Bush, knows he’s an evangelical, knows that he has a penchant and a weakness54:07for a religious story, dredges up a religious story out of his own past, the crucifix-in-the-ashes54:14story, and somehow they connect.54:19Tell me what you know about that version of the story.54:23MASHA GESSEN – Actually, I have nothing to add to that version of the story.54:28What I would say is that early on he was a charmer, early on in his term as president.54:34That’s no longer the case.54:37But everyone I’ve talked to [who] had a meeting with him in the first year or two of his becoming54:46acting president and then president came away transformed, at least for the first few minutes.54:51Well, actually, with one exception: one of the journalists who worked on that official54:56biography.54:58But everyone else felt that he sort of, he turned on the recruiter charm, and he was55:06well-briefed, and he always used a little personal anecdote to connect with you on the55:12grounds that he figured would be good for connecting.55:18A few years down the road, he stopped paying attention.55:21He would start mixing people’s names up or the facts of people’s biographies.55:26By the time I met him in 2012, he wasn’t even briefed.55:32He knew almost nothing about me, like he hadn’t bothered.55:37But early on, he was a real recruiter.55:40And I think he certainly worked his charm on George W. Bush, which apparently wasn’t55:46very difficult.55:47MICHAEL KIRK – There’s a lot of hope, of course, that they’ll do all kinds of things.55:54A lot of people have said—we’ll ask them: “What did Putin want from Bush?56:00What did Russia want from Bush?56:02But more importantly, what did Putin want from Bush and America?”56:06What do you think that was?56:07MASHA GESSEN – Well, Putin wanted the return of a bipolar world.56:15That was his agenda from the very beginning.56:17He wanted to be treated with respect.56:19He wanted people back home to see that he was being treated with respect.56:24This was also coming very soon after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, right, which, for the56:35Russian political establishment and for a lot of Russian people, was a really difficult56:40pill to swallow.56:42…56:43The U.S. and its allies decided to bomb Serbia and Kosovo to resolve the Kosovo crisis without56:50consulting with Russia.56:51And to make matters worse, they started bombing, or the U.S. started bombing when Yevgeny Primakov,57:00the then-prime minister, was in the air, on his way to the United States to meet with57:04Vice President Gore.57:07So they didn’t even make a show of informing Russia before starting bombing, never mind57:13consulting Russia, and that was really insulting for the entire Russian establishment and a57:20lot of Russian people.57:23One of the things that Putin wanted to project was that that kind of thing was never going57:28to happen again.57:30MICHAEL KIRK – Then America pulls out of the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, not really57:36consulting.57:37In fact, he begged Bush not to do it.57:41They invade, or we invade Iraq, taking down an authoritarian figure who stands astride57:48a big—somewhat in the sphere of influence of Russia.57:54Russia joins with France and Germany and says: “Please don’t do this.57:57Are you guys going to do this?57:58Are you really going to do this?”58:00And they do it with a certain level of impunity, at least.58:06It seems that the word you used early to describe what he was hoping for, which is respect,58:11was hardly in the air between George W. Bush and the United States of America, and Vladimir58:16Putin and Russia.58:17MASHA GESSEN – And what’s even worse, I think from Putin’s point of view, is the expansion58:22of NATO.58:24It doesn’t ever sort of—in his worldview, it is not a question of these countries asking58:35to be part of NATO.58:36It is merely a question of the United States deciding that NATO should expand to the Russian58:43border.58:44He’s also convinced that the Soviet Union got assurances from the United States that58:52NATO would not be expanded.58:54…58:55The quote that Putin likes to bring up was a quote by the then-NATO commander given during58:59the negotiations about the reunification of Germany.59:05The promise was that there would be no NATO troops stationed on what had been East German59:11territory.59:12That’s the quote.59:13And that was a matter of negotiations.59:16This was, first of all, this was a negotiation with the Soviet Union, and then—and the59:21Soviet Union was pushing for a solution where somehow Germany would be united.59:26But East Germany still wouldn’t be a part of NATO.59:30And the compromise solution was that there would be no troops on what had been East German59:36territory.59:37That has nothing to do with NATO expansion as such, and it also certainly has nothing59:41to do with Russia.59:42I mean, this was being negotiated with the Soviet Union.59:45This was before the demise of the Warsaw Pact.59:50But in 2007, at the security conference in Munich, Putin shocks world leaders by giving59:59a very, very strongly worded speech about how Russia was not going to take it anymore.60:04MICHAEL KIRK – Can you take me there?60:07What has angered him, or what has happened in his world that he can go to Munich and60:12so forcefully declare?60:14It’s not declaring war, but it’s certainly declaring verbal war on, in an unspoken way,60:23the United States of America.60:26MASHA GESSEN – This is the end of his second term, and he has really been transformed.60:32He has already taken over the media in Russia.60:36He’s already canceled gubernatorial elections.60:39He’s canceled elections to the upper house of the Russian parliament.60:44He’s solidified power.60:47He is ruling very much like a dictator.60:50The process of dismantling what democratic mechanisms had existed in Russia was completed60:55in his first term, and this is the end of his second term.60:59Also, Russia has been living for seven years through a period of unprecedented prosperity,61:04because oil prices just keep climbing.61:07Money is just flowing into Russia.61:10Putin has enriched himself.61:12Everyone around him has enriched himself.61:14At the same time, he has emasculated the men who used to be known as the oligarchs.61:20They’ve ceded their political power to him, and a lot of their financial power, in exchange61:25for safety and security of those assets that they’re allowed to keep.61:29He’s really the patriarch of this country.61:34In Russia itself, people perceive him as enjoying the respect of the West, but he doesn’t61:42feel any respect, because the United States has invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq without61:51consulting with Russia, and in fact ignoring Russia’s wishes.61:53The United States has pulled out of the ABM Treaty.61:56And worst of all, NATO has expanded.61:59He’s been saving all of this resentment up because there he is—he feels like he62:07has transformed his country.62:09He’s made it great again, and he still doesn’t get any recognition of that when he meets62:14with world leaders.62:15He is still treated very much like a junior partner by everybody.62:20And so he comes to the security conference in Munich and says, basically: “I don’t62:25have to mince words, do I?62:28I can say what’s on my mind.”62:31And then he just lashes out, and he lists all these resentments, especially the NATO62:37expansion, referring to a nonexistent agreement, a nonexistent promise that NATO would never62:44expand.62:45It’s a total change of tone that comes as a complete surprise to his Western counterparts.62:51MICHAEL KIRK – Then one of the other things we do is we’re tracking the development62:58of military power, including hybrid power and including cyber and information war and63:06hard power.63:13Things begin to happen.63:14Estonia is two months later.63:17Then Georgia 1, or Georgia 2, Ukraine—all of it begins to happen, and all of it feels63:25like a rehearsal for something, or a perfecting of the military might.63:34Help me understand what he’s doing in terms of military power and where that fits into63:40this sense I’m getting from you, that he’s looking for not only making Russia great again,63:45but making people believe Russia is great again.63:48MASHA GESSEN – So he starts increasing military spending.63:55First it’s not extraordinary.63:56Now it’s quite extraordinary, the amount of money that Russia has been spending on64:01the military.64:03But he’s certainly interested in military reform.64:07A lot of people believe that he has militarized the Russian power establishment.64:11There are some counterarguments against that, but I mean, he loves his generals, and he64:18loves talking about how he’s bringing the military back.64:23He’s also investing money in ways of waging hybrid warfare, and an excuse to test some64:34of that presents itself.64:36Really, it’s just—it’s even hard to call it—it’s a pretext.64:41In the spring of 2007, Estonia moves a monument to64:55a Russian soldier, right?64:58When the Soviet Union occupied Eastern and Central Europe in 1945, it erected monuments65:13to the liberation of those countries, in the centers of every capital of those occupied65:21countries.65:23Now, some countries have chosen to look the other way, like Austria, which still has a65:28giant monument to its liberation by the Soviet soldiers in central Vienna.65:38But for some countries, it was much more problematic.65:40And for Estonia, which had been not only under Soviet occupation for half a century, but65:49really based its post-Soviet identity on the idea of occupation, right, to have that monument65:59in the center of town was really problematic.66:03It also became a focal point for both Estonian nationalists who would deface the monument66:13and [for] pro-Russian gatherings.66:19Estonia has a huge ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking population of non-citizens.66:25So this was—it was a problem in town.66:32They decided to solve this problem by moving the monument to a military cemetery.66:36The monument included 12 graves, so they moved the monument to a military cemetery, and Russia66:45really could have reacted in any number of ways, but Russia reacted with outrage.66:49Now, another thing that Putin had been doing is he had been creating these youth movements66:52sort of semi-vigilante, military in style if not—though not armed, basically para-armies67:07of young people to support the Kremlin.67:11So they are unleashed on the Estonian Embassy in Moscow.67:16The Estonian Embassy is essentially occupied for three days, and these so-called activists67:25demand that the Estonian ambassador go home.67:30The ambassador finally went home officially on vacation, but they said, “OK, our job67:35is done,” and left.67:36But at the same time—and Estonia is the most technologically advanced country in the67:45world.67:47Its entire government is electronic.67:49It’s the first country to offer e-citizenship.67:53Everything is on a chip.67:54You get stopped for a traffic violation or you go see a doctor, you use the same ID card67:59with a chip in it.68:00And all of a sudden, the entire Estonian system of government goes down because of pretty68:08primitive but enormous DDoS attack, [Distributed] Denial of Service attack launched on Estonia.68:18At the time, Russia denies that it’s involved.68:20Two years later, the leader of one of those youth movements says, “Yeah, it was an army68:25of volunteer hackers who unleashed that war.”68:31But it really shows Estonia who’s boss, because Estonia may be the most technologically68:38advanced country in the world, and it may have built a great democracy, but it’s just68:401.2 million people, and you unleash 1.2 million hackers on them, and they can’t stand up to68:49it.68:50MICHAEL KIRK – How much of this and the Orange and Rose Revolution responses by Russia are68:58manifestations of Putin’s temper?69:00MASHA GESSEN – I think it’s both his temper and his perception of the world as essentially69:08hostile.69:09He personally perceives the world as essentially hostile, not just hostile to Russia, but hostile69:18to him, hostile to people he loves, just a really dangerous place.69:27So every time something happens, it’s probably a sign of danger, and the revolutions in both69:35Georgia and Ukraine were signs of danger.69:39In fact, in 2004 Ukraine had an election.69:44The election was very clearly rigged.69:46People started protesting in the streets, and eventually the Supreme Court, the Ukrainian69:51Supreme Court, ruled that—invalidated the results of the election and called for a third69:57runoff election to set things right.70:00Now, there were a couple of things that, for Putin, I think, were indications of danger.70:05One is— there’s an obvious one—which is that an independent judiciary is really dangerous70:11for a leader who relies on the rigged elections.70:14But again, people in the streets is a really frightening sight to Putin.70:21People in the streets can make all sorts of things happen, so instead of sort of watching70:25it and thinking, oh, we don’t have an independent judiciary, so people can come out in the streets70:30and then go right back home, because they can’t set in motion any mechanisms, because70:37he’d long since reversed judicial reform in Russia, which didn’t get very far in70:41the first place, instead he sees people in the streets wreaking havoc.70:46But he’s also convinced that people don’t just come out into the streets.70:51They have to be driven by somebody.70:53There has to be a puppet master.70:55Somebody’s funding them, and it’s probably the United States.71:00That’s actually when he started creating these youth armies.71:07There’s a wonderful Australian scholar named Robert Horvath who calls it “Putin’s preventive71:11counterrevolution.”71:14He launched a counterrevolution in his own country without waiting for a revolution to71:18happen, but he was terrified of a revolution like the one in Ukraine or the one in Georgia.71:24The one in Ukraine is known as the Orange Revolution, and the one in Georgia is known71:27as the Rose Revolution.71:29Nothing like that would ever happen in Russia, because there was already an army of young71:33people in place to basically to fight the protesters in the streets if they should come71:37out into the streets.71:39MICHAEL KIRK – By the time Obama comes in—we’re talking about the reset—[Dmitry] Medvedev71:47is in.71:49Is it an obvious fiction—was it an obvious fiction to you what it was going to be, or71:57is it an irrelevant fiction?71:58He [Putin] is still the most powerful guy in the country no matter what?72:01I know to Obama and Hillary, it seems like they—and we’ve talked to lots of people72:07who are around them—they really had high hopes that it was a true reset moment.72:13MASHA GESSEN – … I think at this point I can probably say it.72:22I was able to observe a little bit of that policymaking, and part of it was this idea,72:30this cynical and I think overconfident idea that if the United States empowered Medvedev,72:38then he would become the actual president.72:43I think that there were certainly intelligent people in the State Department at the time72:48who knew perfectly well that it was a fiction, and the basic understanding in the State Department72:53was that yes, it’s a fiction, but maybe we can make it real.72:58MICHAEL KIRK – So what did you witness?73:01What did you see?73:02What can you talk about?73:07MASHA GESSEN – I witnessed some of those, sort of the policymaking, and the idea—I73:15mean, everybody on the team, on the Russia team, I think in the State Department, did73:21realize that Medvedev was a fiction; he was a placeholder.73:26But there was a hope that sometimes these things take on a life of their own.73:32They really do.73:33I don’t think it’s—it’s not a crazy idea.73:36In fact, Putin was very much that kind of phenomenon as well, right?73:41He was sort of a fake accidental president, and then he was a real one.73:47I think that what they underestimated hugely was just how entrenched the clan system that73:56Putin had put in place was by 2008 when he put Medvedev in that chair as a placeholder.74:08I think that’s best described as a mafia state, which is a term invented by a Hungarian74:15scholar named Bálint Magyar, who actually makes a very strong argument that it’s important74:21to understand that it’s not crony capitalism or a kleptocracy; it’s a mafia state.74:27It’s administered by a patriarch, and power is distributed by the patriarch, just as money74:32is distributed by the patriarch.74:34Putin was still the patriarch.74:35It doesn’t matter what title he had.74:38I think they also didn’t realize, and I didn’t realize this until probably a couple74:42of years into the so-called Medvedev administration, that Medvedev just had absolutely no resources.74:51He had a couple of people working for him, a press secretary and an assistant, and like74:56one other guy.74:58Everything was concentrated around Putin.75:01At the same time, Medvedev had—legally, he had the right to fire Putin.75:07The president can fire the prime minister.75:09MICHAEL KIRK – But he’s not going to do that.75:13MASHA GESSEN – Well, one could hope that he would do that.75:16Then it’s very hard to sort of to discuss a counterfactual.75:21Like if the United States had not gone for the reset, would it have worked any better?75:29I don’t know.75:31I think that the fact that the reset came after the war in Georgia, and the war in Georgia75:43was technically fought under the Medvedev administration, and to sort of come to Russia75:52and say, “We’re willing to write it off, you know, write off the annexation of a third—of75:59a neighboring country,” it’s deeply immoral.76:07It also so happens that it was completely ineffective.76:11So the U.S. sacrificed some of its key foreign policy principles for nothing.76:20MICHAEL KIRK – It seems like it all falls apart, really falls apart starting with the76:29Arab Spring, from [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarak to [Libya’s Muammar al-]Qaddafi and the76:37vote Medvedev makes.76:42But when do you think it—what was the tipping point in that sort of false presidential moment?76:49What happens?76:51MASHA GESSEN – The false presidential moment?76:53MICHAEL KIRK – Well, it makes Putin reassert himself actually and say, “I’m going back76:57in.”76:58MASHA GESSEN – Oh, I think he was always planning to go back.77:00MICHAEL KIRK – No matter what?77:02MASHA GESSEN – Yeah, I don’t think that he ever considered the possibility of not77:09running for election again.77:11If he did, it was more of a possibility of changing the constitution to make it basically77:17a parliamentary republic.77:18MICHAEL KIRK – And then he’d have it anyway.77:20MASHA GESSEN – And then he’d have all the power legally.77:22There was no way he was going to stay in a legally less powerful position for more than77:30four years.77:32The fact that the first thing that Medvedev did when he came into office was change the77:36constitution to extend the presidency to six years indicates that, from the very beginning,77:42the plan was for Putin to then come back in for six years.77:46Then it was, you know, it was done right away, and it wasn’t being done for Medvedev’s77:52benefit.77:53MICHAEL KIRK – When the people hit the streets in the midst of the announcement that he’s78:01coming back, and Hillary says, the statement she says around the election, the unfairness78:08of the election, and Putin reacts so negatively, negatively enough that, whether it’s a pretext78:16or not, he seems to remember it, a lot of people are saying it’s a motivation for78:20the attack in 2016.78:22How do you read what was happening with the people on the street?78:26Here we are again, people on the street, Putin; it’s becoming a familiar pattern.78:31But how do you read that, Hillary’s statement and the effect it had on Putin?78:37What did that look like from Putin’s perspective?78:39MASHA GESSEN – Well, so from Putin’s perspective, I mean by 2011-2012, he has completely lost78:49the ability to distinguish himself from his regime, his regime from the country—from78:55the state, and the state from the country.78:57When he sees people coming out into the streets to protest him and his regime, he sees them79:05protesting Russia itself.79:07I think that’s a sincere view of the world.79:11He knows what’s best for Russia.79:13They want to destroy Russia.79:15If they want to destroy Russia, then obviously they’re not Russians.79:19So they must be—their puppet master—and he’s always been convinced that there are79:24puppet masters behind any protest—but their puppet master has to be whoever is opposed79:30to Russia.79:31Well, obviously, what’s the only thing that’s powerful enough to oppose Russia and to incite79:42these protests?79:43It has to be the U.S. State Department, because it would be insulting to think that it was79:46anything else, anything less than that.79:50And Hillary is the secretary of state, so obviously it’s her fault, personally.79:56MICHAEL KIRK – Let’s address Sochi, Crimea, Ukraine, all in a kind of moment, if you can.80:06What does Sochi mean?80:09It’s been going on since late November, early December , down in Ukraine.80:12I don’t really need to know the details since I know about [Ukrainian President Viktor]80:17Yanukovych and all the rest.80:19But it’s to Putin this glorious moment.80:22This other thing is happening.80:24He hates it for all the reasons you’ve just articulated, and he’s got a kind of plan,80:28I guess, to go after Crimea and then down into Ukraine, using his new hybrid forces,80:34I suppose.80:35MASHA GESSEN – I think that by 2014, really military buildup has become his number one80:43priority, and there are a few reasons for this.80:46One is that he loves the military.80:49He sees it as Russia’s ultimate greatness.80:51But the other thing is that he has to become a mobilizational leader.80:57The bargain that he had with the population, which is basically exchanging sort of a sense81:08of overwhelming prosperity that he was giving them for unlimited power that they were giving81:14him, that’s not working anymore, because the Russian economy is becoming stagnant.81:20Oil prices haven’t started dropping yet, but because of corruption and because of the overreliance81:27on extractive economy, the economic growth has basically slowed to a crawl by 2013, by81:37the end of 2013.81:41He still has to throw this big party, which he’s been planning for many years.81:45He went to Guatemala City personally to lobby for the Olympics.81:51Not only that, he gave a speech in English, which he’d never done before.81:55I think it was—or was it French?81:58Anyway, it was a language that he doesn’t usually use.82:05So he has been planning for this great moment.82:10And the Olympics—remember, the last Olympics in Russia were the Moscow Olympics in 1980,82:19which were supposed to also be a symbol of greatness, and turned into something entirely82:24different because the United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics over the invasion of Afghanistan.82:31So it’s also partly taking revenge for that humiliation of 1980.82:40All of that is on one pile.82:41And then in the fall of 2013, it turns out that a lot of Western countries aren’t sending82:51their luminaries, the first—I think it was the president of Germany [Joachim Gauck] who82:59said he wasn’t coming, then Belgium, then someone else.83:03Then finally Obama announces his delegation, which doesn’t include an elected official.83:14The highest placed official that it includes is a deputy assistant secretary of state,83:18which is just an insult.83:20And, to add more insult, there are two openly gay former Olympians in the delegation.83:29This is about a year and a half into Putin’s anti-gay campaign, because the way that he83:34ended up dealing with the protesters was by queer-baiting them and by sort of focusing83:40Russia’s ire on the LGBT population.83:44There are no good photo ops in Sochi.83:48It’s basically, instead of a party, it’s a disaster.83:52At the last minute, Putin tried to clean up his act by releasing [Mikhail] Khodorkovsy,83:57the former oligarch, who had been a political prisoner for 10 years; releasing the members84:02of Pussy Riot, who had been in jail for nearly two years; releasing the 30—I think [thirty]84:08two members of Greenpeace who were in a ship that Russia had hijacked in neutral waters,84:15in international waters in September, a ship flying the Dutch flag.84:22So they release all of those people.84:24But it’s too late to save Sochi.84:27That adds more resentment to his feelings around Sochi.84:32Meanwhile, Ukraine, which is not just Russia’s closest neighbor but very much sort of the84:39country that Russia identifies with, and really, really identifies with, right—I mean, Russians84:44of all kinds look at Ukraine to understand their own country, and Putin is no exception.84:50In Ukraine, there have been these protests going on for now several months, and it’s84:56because Ukrainians want a closer association with Western Europe rather than [with] Russia.85:06He interprets those protests as anti-Russian.85:10But they’ve thrown the country into absolute turmoil.85:14Now, so all of that is in place.85:16And his military buildup is in place.85:19I don’t think it’s a matter of having plans for the Crimea in place.85:23It’s a matter of having plans for everything in place.85:27It’s like Chekhov’s gun hanging on the wall, except that they have a plan for invading85:32every country on the wall, right?85:35That’s what a lot of the investment of the military has been, is making plans for how85:39are we going to fight this war and this other war?85:41How are we going to re-annex parts of Finland, and how are we going to re-annex the Baltic85:48states and Moldova and Ukraine?85:51So here is the moment to take Crimea.85:55And it’s clear, from the way that the Crimean operation was carried out, that it was indeed86:00a well-planned operation.86:01It was carried out on the spur of the moment when he saw the opportunity, but the plans86:07for the operation had long since been designed.86:13It was just a matter of implementation.86:16Then there are a lot of people around him who want to go further, who want to go into86:22Ukraine, and he has nothing to lose by going into Ukraine—not that he actually thinks86:27about his losses.86:28He’s a brilliant opportunist and not a planner.86:32Actually, Sochi is a perfect example of how little he plans.86:36Usually, the Olympics aren’t very often held in dictatorships, and dictatorships usually86:43clean up their act a year or two before the Olympics, and then do things like arrest all86:49the political dissidents and reinstate the death penalty like China did the day after86:54the Olympics ends.86:55But not Russia.86:56Russia didn’t clean up its act because Putin is not a planner, right?86:59Putin realized that he had to do something six weeks before the actual Olympics and released87:04everybody, but it was too late.87:05It’s not like he’s looking ahead to what’s going to happen if he invades Ukraine.87:10He invades Ukraine because he can, and because it’s good for mobilization, and it’s worked87:17really well for him.87:19If you look at his popularity curve, it goes up vertically again, just like it did in September-October87:301999, when he promised to hunt down the terrorists.87:33It goes up vertically again, just as the economic expectations curve goes down.87:45You never actually see that in a normal country.87:48You never see a leader whose popularity is up and holding while people’s subjective87:54economic well-being is down, drops down precipitously and holds.88:02Sociologists will tell you that those lines have to meet.88:05In fact, they have to cross in opposite direction.88:08But that doesn’t happen in Russia.88:12And I think the reason it doesn’t happen in Russia is because ultimately, Russia has88:17reverted to this state of mobilization identification with the state.88:24He has delivered what he promised, which is to bring back to people the feeling of identifying88:30with something great.88:31MICHAEL KIRK – And when they’re hammered with sanctions, does that diminish him in some88:41way?88:42Does it diminish him with his people?88:43MASHA GESSEN – Well, did something really interesting with the sanctions.88:51The U.S. and the European Union and Australia and I think a couple other countries introduced88:57sanctions, which were designed to—they were based on a ridiculous premise that comes from89:14a basic misunderstanding of the way that Russia works, that if they squeezed him economically89:22a little bit, his popularity would suffer, people would protest, and then he would have89:33to change his behavior.89:34First of all, Putin had been power, by that point, for 15 years.89:44He had never shown an ability to change course.89:49He had never shown that he reacts to pressure with anything but aggression.89:55But also, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how his dialog with his people was working.90:01By this time, he had cracked down in the wake of the protests, so Russia was two years into90:06a full-fledged political crackdown.90:09It’s not like he was worried about feedback, and it’s not like protests were a real option.90:18But they also clearly weren’t looking at how much more popular he had become because90:23of the invasion.90:26So sanctions—I’m not opposed to sanctions.90:29I just think that sanctions should be based on moral considerations and values, not on90:35the idea that they could squeeze him into changing his behavior.90:40But after sanctions went into effect, Putin did something extraordinary, which is he made90:45the sanctions worse.90:47He introduced countersanctions, banned the import of food products from all the countries90:57that had joined the sanctions, with the exception of Switzerland.91:04That actually was a huge blow to the Russian economy, but especially to sort of individual91:11economy, because at the time, nearly all Russian food was imported, partly because it’s an91:19extractive economy.91:20The ruble had been very strong for many years.91:23There was no reason for Russians to make their own food.91:27They were importing it.91:31The saner rationale for those countersanctions was to jumpstart Russian food production,91:38but of course, that’s not how it works, right?91:42Prices went through the roof.91:44People really felt the squeeze.91:46But that actually made the sense of being at war stronger.91:49Even though people suffered, Putin’s popularity didn’t suffer, and it still hasn’t suffered.91:58The reason that he hates the sanctions is not because they put the squeeze on the Russian92:03economy.92:04He is concerned about a different set of sanctions.92:08He’s concerned about personal sanctions against that—that really make things difficult92:15for him and his friends who are banned from entry to this country, who are banned from92:20having assets in this country, and who are essentially banned from doing any business92:25involving U.S. currency, which really hampers their style.92:30MICHAEL KIRK – So let’s take ourselves to the summer of 2016.92:37Why does Vladimir Putin, really in 2015 and in the spring of 2016, initiate, unleash the92:48hounds if that’s what he did, decide to go in to, invade the presidential election92:57in the United States of America in 2016?93:00MASHA GESSEN – A couple of things.93:02One is that Russia has actually made a habit of being a disruptive force in Western elections93:14for a few years now.93:15It didn’t begin with the American presidential election.93:22A better way to ask the question might be, why wouldn’t Russia try to meddle in American93:28elections when it’s made a habit of meddling in democratic elections?93:32Now, the reasons for meddling in elections are obvious, and I would actually begin with93:40psychological reasons rather than strategic reasons.93:43The psychological reason is that Putin is really and truly convinced, and the people93:48around him are really and truly convinced, that democracy is an unsound way of running93:52things.93:54It is messy.93:56It is, as he saw with Bush and Gore, doesn’t run very well, and it also probably isn’t94:06as honest as everybody says, right?94:10In fact, when you ask a Russian official or a Russian patriot about rigged Russian elections,94:21they will always say, “You think your elections are so honest?”94:24That’s a sense of relief.94:27It’s not, you know, this bit of—it’s not hypocritical “What about-ism?”94:30It’s sincere “What about-ism?”94:32They’re really arguments that democratic elections are rigged.94:34Well, if their democratic elections are rigged, why wouldn’t you want a part of the rigging94:40if you have an interest in the outcome?94:42Of course Russia has an interest in the outcome of American elections.94:47It also has an even deeper interest in proving that democracy is as rotten as they say it94:53is.94:55To prove that democracy is as rotten as they say it is, it is good to help it along in95:01becoming more rotten.95:05The other thing is that I think in this country, we’ve come to imagine the Russian system95:11of meddling as a well-oiled machine or a well-commanded army.95:21That’s not what it is at all.95:23There are a lot of technically savvy and not so savvy people who want to get federal grants,95:32and the Kremlin throws a lot of money at organizations that will sell a good pitch of being able95:42to meddle in something or wreak some sort of havoc somewhere, where havoc ought to be95:48wreaked, right?95:50It’s not so much that Putin sends out an army of hackers; it’s that there are groups95:55of hackers who want to take the initiative of doing something really awesome, which is,96:00of course, how we get two different groups hacking the Democratic National Committee96:06at roughly the same time, without apparently being aware of each other.96:09MICHAEL KIRK – Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear.96:12MASHA GESSEN – Right, Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear.96:17The whole thing is self-perpetuating and messy in different sorts of ways.96:23But of course there’s also the element of his personal hatred for Hillary Clinton, and96:27it’s not just hate her.96:28I think it’s like Hillary Clinton was impossible as a U.S. president.96:33To imagine that he would have to deal with her as a senior partner, a woman—I mean,96:38he already has to deal with [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel.96:44The lengths that he has gone to to assert his masculine dominance over Merkel is amazing.96:52He literally sicced dogs on her.96:57He has made indecent jokes in front of her, just to try to discomfort her.97:07He hates dealing with a strong woman, and one as president of the United States would97:13be just awful.97:14I don’t think he ever believed that he was going to be able to help get Trump into office.97:19I think in that sense, the people who prepared his briefs read all the same sources as we97:28do.97:29They were just as convinced that Hillary Clinton was going to win the American election as97:35The New York Times was convinced that she was going to win the American election.97:41MICHAEL KIRK – So in 2008 and other times, it was obviously espionage, and everybody97:48steals everything from everybody.97:49It’s when it’s activated through WikiLeaks and others that it changes into pure politics?97:56MASHA GESSEN – Well, that’s where it gets really—I mean, we don’t know, right?98:05I think that Julian Assange has his own megalomaniacal views of his role in the world.98:16He’s certainly alone against the entire world.98:22Who made the decision to release the products of the leaks at that particular time?98:27I think there’s actually every indication it was Assange.98:31How long had he been sitting on that material?98:33Did he get it on the eve of the leak, or months and months before?98:38We actually don’t know.98:42MICHAEL KIRK – One question in passing.98:49Nobody’s actually reached out and tried to stop Putin along this long narrative we’ve98:55been discussing, that we know of.98:59When Ukraine happens, we don’t fire back cyber stuff or close a bank.99:04…99:05With the lethal arming of Ukrainian rebels or Ukrainian soldiers, one might have said,99:12“Well, we’ve stepped up to him and stood up to him,” but maybe not.99:15And, as you have articulated, it might have pissed him off, and off we go again further99:20and further along.99:21We get here, we know it.99:22[Then-Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper knows it.99:25Eventually the FBI knows it.99:26Certainly Obama knows it.99:28And there were certainly arguments: “We’ve got to push back here.99:31We’ve got to let him know.”99:33From what you know about Putin, and what you’ve been talking about this afternoon, how would99:38Putin have reacted if there would have been pushback?99:41MASHA GESSEN – Again, it’s very hard to argue a counterfactual, and I don’t think99:49that Putin’s reaction should be the consideration.99:53I think we have known for a very, very long time that Putin is dead set on a particular99:59course, and he’s going to pursue it.100:01When he gets very strong pushback, he steps back, and then he comes back again in the100:06exact same direction, doing the exact same thing.100:11The question should not be, what does Putin do?100:14Obviously it’s responsible to consider it, but it’s not terribly complicated to predict100:20what he is going to do.100:21The question should be, what are our values, and what do we do in accordance with our values100:29in this situation?100:30The sanctions, I think, are a very good example, right?100:34The sanctions, as a strategic move, are a failure, and a predictable failure.100:40The sanctions, as an expression of American values, wouldn’t have been a failure if100:45they had been framed and implemented that way, right?100:48It is wrong to do business with a dictator.100:51It is wrong to do business with a head of state or with a state that carries out the100:55first forcible annexation of land in Europe since World War II.101:00In accordance with those considerations, what does the United States do?101:03It probably introduces similar sanctions.101:05Doesn’t do it step by step the way it was done, because it is not gradually more and101:13more wrong to do business with that kind of state.101:15It is instantly wrong to do business with that kind of state.101:18So you introduce sanctions all at once, and perhaps in somewhat different areas, or perhaps101:24not.101:25But you don’t do it step by step, because the step-by-step process was intended to show101:28Putin that we mean business, and he has to stop.101:31Like hell he’s going to stop, right?101:33That’s not the kind of pushback that will make him stop.101:37You know, again, there’s also basic misunderstanding that he thinks that making life worse for101:42his people—I mean, we think that making life worse for Russians is going to make Putin101:47stop.101:48He has been making life worse for Russians for years, and it certainly hasn’t made101:54him stop.101:56MICHAEL KIRK – So what do you think Trump—what do you think Putin thinks of Trump?102:04…102:05MASHA GESSEN – Oh, he very clearly sees Trump as a buffoon.102:10Trump is, in some ways, the expression of everything that Putin disdains.102:14He disdains lack of control.102:18One thing that he also has cultivated as part of his image is his never betraying emotions.102:25That’s not true.102:26He actually betrays emotions quite a lot, but his idea of himself is somebody who has102:33a flat affect and purposefully never shows any emotions and is always calculated in everything102:42he does and says.102:43Also not true, but that’s how he thinks of himself.102:46Trump is the exact opposite of that.102:49I mean, I think that that kind of lack of control over his words and actions and emotions102:58and reactions makes Putin look down on him.103:03And I think, at this point, Putin feels also a little bit betrayed, because along with103:09much of the media establishment, and certainly much of Russian media, he has bought the idea103:14that he elected Trump.103:16He loves that idea.103:17He took a couple of victory laps after the election.103:21And now Trump hasn’t delivered.103:26In a way, Russia is worse off with Trump in office than it was with Obama in office.103:33MICHAEL KIRK – Because?103:34MASHA GESSEN – Sanctions remain in place.103:36There’s no sign that they will ever be removed.103:38Trump is less predictable.103:40Obama was always—you could basically easily predict that he was going to go for the least103:45engagement possible in any given situation.103:48It’s not true of Trump.103:51Trump liked firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria.103:55Trump loved dropping the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan.103:58It looks really good on television.104:00As Trump gets pushed into a corner, what is he going to do to make himself to look good104:07on television again?104:09Putin understands that kind of thinking very, very well.104:14As we speak, things are getting pretty rocky in Syria between Russia and the U.S.104:22I was just in Moscow recently, and Russian television is talking about how Trump hasn’t104:30sort of made good on his promises.104:32Russian television is also spending a lot of time on Syria, on how Russia is waging104:38a heroic war against ISIS and Syria, and American-backed terrorist forces are pushing back.104:48That’s the narrative.104:50America is backing terrorist forces in Syria, and Russia is waging war against them.104:57It’s hard to get Russians mobilized behind the Syrian effort.105:02It hasn’t been nearly as popular as Ukraine.105:05But it’s important to Putin personally.105:08And he will not step back from it.105:10MIKE WISER – So one of the questions is by 2016 election, there’s a lot of talk of Russian105:18botnets, propaganda, influence on social media.105:22How does that happen?105:28Going back to 2011 and 2012, the Russian government, what does Putin see when, at that point, it’s105:34Facebook and social media seem to be driving protests, change and the Arab Spring?105:40Is there a moment where they’re reconsidering tactics, are realizing the power and the danger105:46of social media after 2012?105:49MASHA GESSEN – I wouldn’t overemphasize it.105:53I was just talking recently to Adrian Chen, who did that wonderful story on the Russian105:59troll factory, and he said, “If I had known that the intelligence agencies were going106:04to use my article so prominently in their report, I would have emphasized how incompetent106:10they are.”106:12It’s not all that we imagine it to be.106:18They did catch onto social media.106:19They caught onto social media late, and not every agency has even figured out that social106:27media exists.106:28When the political crackdown began, they didn’t employ social media at all in their investigations.106:35They would go through people’s printed out photographs and handwritten notes to try to106:43figure out context.106:44They never went online to try to figure out how to crack down on people’s actual networks.106:50So it’s—they have a lot of money to throw around.106:54They are interested in increasing their electronic influence around the world.107:00This is true.107:01And there are some companies that are enterprising in sort of absorbing that money and doing107:06stuff for that money, and they have no scruples about what they do.107:10But to imagine it as a concerted effort and as sort of an all-out war on Western democracy107:16through high-tech means gives them a little bit too much credit.107:20MIKE WISER – But does he change his approach even inside Russia after those protests?107:26How does Putin change once he sees all those people in the street?107:29MASHA GESSEN – Oh, well, no, what changed when he saw people in the streets was actually107:34much more conventional.107:36They started arresting people.107:38They changed the laws.107:40They changed the laws to enable them to prosecute anybody for perceived violations of public107:49assembly laws.107:50So it used to be that—I mean, the laws were very restrictive in the first place, right?107:58You had to get a permit to hold a demonstration, and on that permit you had to indicate how108:04many people were coming to the demonstration, and if the number of people who came to the108:07demonstration exceeded the number of people on the permit, then you went to jail for 15108:13days.108:14But that still only hit the organizers of these protests, right?108:18So that’s what happened, for example, after the first protest, the first large protest.108:22People had a permit for 300 people because that’s how many people used to show up,108:27and 10,000 people showed up.108:29So the people whose names were on the permit application went to jail for 15 days for all108:36those people who showed up.108:37What they did, when Putin cracked down, is they changed those laws to be able to prosecute108:43anybody who participated in the protests for violations.108:49That is a basic instrument of state terror.108:54You have to create the mechanism of random prosecutions, because by definition, you can’t109:00apply a law like that uniformly.109:04If 50,000 people come to a protest, you can’t arrest 50,000 people.109:10You can only arrest some of them.109:11You certainly can’t send 50,000 people without reinstating the Gulag.109:15You can’t send 50,000 people to prison colonies, put them through the courts, etc., etc., so109:19you have to pick out a few to make the threat credible to the many.109:23But they can’t be the leaders, right?109:26They have to be ordinary people.109:28So they did that.109:30And they prosecuted—at this point, the number of people who have been prosecuted in connection109:33with the 2012 protests is over 30, and most of them have gone to jail for three or four109:40years.109:41These are just ordinary people, right, going to jail for peaceful protests.109:47They’re picked out at random, and they’re picked out at random times.109:50It can be two years after the protest.109:52They say, “We found videotape of you beating up an officer,” and then that person is109:59picked up.110:00So that’s one thing they did.110:01Another thing they did is the “foreign agents law,” which creates unbearable burdens for110:12functioning of any NGO [nongovernmental organization] that receives foreign funding.110:17Basically they’ve decimated civil society through doing this, and they’ve prosecuted110:22a lot of people from various organizations for failing to register as foreign agents.110:31They’ve paralyzed the work of many organizations, basically, with these prosecutions.110:37Let me just finish.110:41The third thing they did is the anti-gay campaign.110:44The anti-gay campaign is, it’s much more of a sort of standard scapegoating campaign.110:51But queer is a perfect stand-in for everything that Putin perceives the protesters to be.110:56They’re foreign; they’re other; they are something that didn’t exist in the Soviet Union.111:01We’ve only had queers since the Soviet Union collapsed.111:06They’re a stand-in for everything Western and everything imported.111:12And it gets traction with sort of this desire to return to an imaginary past with the traditional111:18values, whatever they were.111:20That’s also unleashed a lot of violence on people who are perceived to be gay.111:26So that channels a lot of the violent impulses in the population.111:31MIKE WISER – So what does Putin want now?111:35He started wanting respect from Bush.111:37But where are we at this point?111:38What’s his approach to the West?111:40MASHA GESSEN – Oh, he still wants the same thing.111:42He still wants a bipolar world.111:45The Syria story is actually a perfect example of how this unfolded.111:49You know, Putin’s happiest moment came in September 2013, when he hijacked Syria.111:55If you recall, Obama said there was a red line, and then he couldn’t get congressional112:02support for intervention in Syria.112:04Then he decided not to do it without congressional support, and he basically was losing face.112:11Putin stepped in and allowed him to save face and said that he was going to negotiate a112:19chemical disarmament with [Bashar al-]Assad.112:22He wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, which the Times published, that was just perfect112:30Soviet use of American rhetoric against the United States, calling out the U.S. for its112:39willingness to violate international law.112:41I mean, this is the man who annexed huge chunks of neighboring countries.112:50So that was—he was on top of the world then.112:54And then, a year later, suddenly he is an international pariah.112:59Nobody comes to his party.113:03He’s under sanctions.113:05I mean, Ukraine, he could have anticipated that there would be a strong reaction.113:09But the anti-gay campaign, he certainly never anticipated that there would be an international113:14outrage over it.113:16So he comes back to the U.S. for the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, Sept. 20,113:212015, with a proposal.113:28He spoke at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and he basically articulated his113:31proposal.113:32His proposal was that a new international coalition, an anti-ISIS coalition modeled113:38after the anti-Hitler coalition should be formed.113:45What he means is, because the Soviet Union was part of the anti-Hitler coalition, the113:51Soviet Union got to be a superpower and got to have Eastern Europe.113:58He wants the same thing.114:01He wants to enter into this coalition with the United States and get to be a superpower114:05again, and also take parts of the world that he wants, which is not necessarily former114:11Soviet territories, but certainly what he’s already taken and some more.114:15Obama didn’t even meet with him.114:19He was completely snubbed.114:24He went back to Moscow humiliated, untended to.114:32Russia started bombing Syria a week later, and has been ever since.114:36The war, Russia’s participation in the war in Syria, is basically an attempt to blackmail114:44the United States into giving Russia its superpower status back.114:49JIM GILMORE – I think you missed the back in September of 2004, Beslan and what it represented,114:57and why it was important to understand about what was going on there.115:11MASHA GESSEN – Beslan was, if you could imagine, an even more shocking terrorist attack than115:17the explosions that killed people in their sleep.115:19That was Beslan, the siege of a school in the south of Russia, where nearly 1,000 people115:29were taken hostage.115:31Then more than 300 people died, most of them children.115:37As we learned, thanks to an independent investigation carried out over the next couple years, the115:46deaths of those children were really the FSB’s doing, the federal troops’ fault.115:55They shelled the school at point-blank range.116:00They fired at it from tanks.116:04A lot of the children who burned alive because of a fire that raged, because the school was116:13shelled at point blank range.116:19I think that they were trying to do everything to maximize the number of casualties, to maximize116:23the shock effect.116:24It’s also possible that they were just so inhumane that they would just do it without116:33even having that goal in mind.116:37But Putin used Beslan as a pretext for canceling gubernatorial elections.116:46He framed it as an antiterrorism measure.116:52It was a cynical move, because clearly his very detailed decree in canceling gubernatorial116:57elections had been prepared before Beslan happened.117:03But at the same time, it also expresses, I think, his basic belief that anything democratic117:10is always messy, and the way to respond to extreme violence and to extreme disorder is117:17to create more dictatorial powers.117:20MICHAEL KIRK – So now my last question, which is, are we at war?117:25Is he at war with us?117:27MASHA GESSEN – He is.117:30Putin has portrayed and the Kremlin-controlled Russian media have portrayed both the wars117:36in Ukraine and the wars here as proxy wars against the United States.117:41Russia does not perceive itself as being at war with Ukraine.117:47It perceives itself as being at war with the United States by proxy of Ukraine.117:53And it certainly doesn’t perceive itself as being at war with ISIS, even though it117:58says that it’s firing at ISIS fighters.118:01It perceives itself as being at war with forces that are backed by the United States in Syria.118:09They’re quite open about it, on television.118:14It would be beneath Russia’s station to go to war with Syria or to go to war with118:19Ukraine.118:20Only the United States is big enough to go to war against, and only the United States118:24is grand enough to mobilize people enough to have the kind of popularity that Putin118:32has come to depend upon. …
13:55remember I’m not sure if you were youwere still in Moscow and then probablyat the time but when in Azerbaijan oneof the former Soviet republics theSoviet era leader Illya Haydar Ilievdied and he saw to pass his country onto his son which in fact he succeeded at14:15doing and I went down for the electionand you know his son was not popular atall he was sort of seen as a playboy hewas Western educated he was you know asort of a worldly sort but not at allseen as you know fit to lead a countryand so there was unhappiness that wasgenuine and that even you know thereading people would tell you went tothis election it was a totally riggedelection and there was protesting thestreets you know people’s heads werecracked right in front of me but withthe the lesson that I took away from itwas on the plane going back and therewere some Western election observers andsome Russian election observers on theplane back to Moscow and the Europeanssaid we don’t understand I mean you knowwhy were they so greedywhy did Elliot have to give himself 85for some of the vote nobody thinks thathe really kind of 85 percent you knowcouldn’t may have done 55 and he saidthis to the Russian he said you don’tunderstand the 85 percent was the pointthe the fact that people knew he wasn’tvery popular and that this had to be youknow an orchestrated result the higherthe percentage the better I’m amazedthey didn’t go for 90% and it was thisvery revealing moment to me where Irealized that you know the things thatare necessary to dictate the survival ofan authoritarian government are verydifferent than you know certainly thatproduct of the United States is is usedto thinking and and Putin has alreadystruck me as playing more by alliums lawthan then we realize sobased on this book I know every singleperson here is gonna stand up and askyou this question so I’ll just ask you16:04for you anyways16:05you know why why do you think Putin has16:09taken what appears to be such an16:11aggressive outward turn you know not16:13just focusing on cracking down inside16:15Russia and you know making sure no more16:18below Tenaya protests break out but16:20focusing on the United States to a16:23degree that clearly has shocked many16:24people here in Washington this Saturday16:29it will be the one-year anniversary16:31not only of the Access Hollywood tape16:33which I’m sure everyone here remembers16:35but it will also be the one-year16:38anniversary of when the US government16:40said Russia had done the packing of the16:44dnc the one-year anniversary of the week16:47of Tom Podesta’s emails and it’s a lot16:50of effort since birthday and the 11th16:56anniversary of the murder of Anna16:58Politkovskaya17:00so I think that actually in it echoing17:06what you were just saying about I leaves17:07election the outward turn was the point17:10right17:11I believe and and I discussed this at17:16length in the book I believe that the17:17nature of the regime changed after the17:20crackdown it went from being an17:22authoritarian regime to a kind of17:24totalitarian regime right when I say17:26kind of totalitarian I don’t mean that17:28he was establishing a new totalitarian17:30regime right that would involve terror17:33and just all sorts of unimaginable17:35horror but he was calling forth the17:38habits and customs of Soviet17:42totalitarian society and one of the17:45differences between an authoritarian and17:48totalitarian regime that I think is key17:51here is mobilization and in in an17:56authoritarian regime17:57nothing is political the authoritarian18:00leader wants people to stay home tend to18:03their private lives and not pay18:05attention while he ponders the country18:08consolidate spur or whatever it is18:10history18:11at two teletraan leader wants the exact18:14opposite everything is political there18:18is no private realm and the totalitarian18:21leader wants people out in the public18:23square rallying for a victory right the18:28to tell the population has to be18:30mobilized and there are lots of reasons18:33why it has two immobilized but the18:35question is how does it get mobilized18:37and it only can get mobilized against an18:39enemy and they only Menna me that is big18:43enough and glorious enough to be18:45mobilized against is the United States18:47and I think that’s something that the18:51foreign policy establishment in this18:52country really failed to understand was18:54that was the nature of the war in18:55Ukraine the Russians believe that they18:58were fighting a proxy war with the18:59United States in Ukraine and in Syria19:02and so in that sense the intense19:06interest and participation in the19:10American election he’s just completely19:13logical it’s not you know it’s not a19:15break with the narrative it’s part of19:17the narrative especially because Russia19:20believes that the United States has19:22meddled in its own politics has19:24organized that Hillary Clinton19:26personally organized protests in the19:28streets in 2011-2012 and so why19:31shouldn’t Russia do the same here okay19:33so you brought up the t word as in19:35totalitarianism which is the subtitle of19:38your book how totalitarianism reclaimed19:41Russia you know you had to have done19:43that recognizing that some people would19:46would get in an argument over19:47definitions with you and that no19:50Lattimore printed as many things you19:52described them well in your previous19:54book but he has not killed millions of19:57people but so um that’s why I wrote a20:00whole chapter on the definition of20:02totalitarianism chapter 14 but so here’s20:10my theory of the case I I think that20:13Putin certainly did not set out to be a20:17totalitarian leader in fact the regime20:20that he was trying to build as a mafia20:22state and20:24this is I think this is the best20:26definition again there have been many20:27oligarchy kleptocracy crony capitalism20:30the liberal democracy20:32I think that they’re all flawed and the20:37best one is mafia state and this is a20:39definition put forward by a Hungarian20:42political scientist named Balan major20:45who describes it as a clan a family run20:50by patriarch the patriarch distributes20:53money and power and you know the amazing20:58thing since the people are going to ask21:00about this as well I’ll just go ahead21:02and say it21:04the amazing thing of course is when I21:06was writing the book in writing about21:08mafia States the whole the concept of21:10family was a metaphor right I was21:14talking about the other T word I wasn’t21:18thinking that you know would be21:19observing the formation of a mafia State21:22with a literal family at the home but so21:27he he was building office T his goal21:30continues to be to to retain power in21:35perpetuity and to continue in the chisa21:39but because to do that he had to crack21:42down in 2012 and because he cracked down21:46on the ruins of a totalitarian society21:50the response he got was the survival21:53response of a totalitarian society it’s21:56very much like you know a person who has22:00been in an abusive situation developed22:04survival skills that are suited to that22:07situation and those are the skills that22:10that person is going to use throughout22:12their life unless something22:15extraordinary like really great therapy22:16happens to this person but as Susan over22:19dimensioned Russia didn’t really Russia22:21need a lot of therapy didn’t get a lot22:22of therapy the survival skills of a22:25totalitarian society were perfectly22:26suited for the period of state terror22:28and the thing that that I think we have22:31discovered in the last 20 years is that22:35they have been made22:36and in response to put subscribe down22:39that’s what came forward so I know we22:43are gonna want to turn back to the other22:44t word in a second but let’s stick with22:46the book for right now you have these22:49sort of four main characters these young22:50people but you you also these sort of22:52three intellectual protagonists and one22:55of them is Alexander Dugan who has22:58become in innocence the chief ideologist23:01behind putinism even though it’s he23:04wasn’t like personally close to Putin as23:07far as we understand it tell us what you23:09think about this debate and there is a23:12debate about whether there really is an23:14ideology of putinism beyond just23:17maintaining power for Putin you know23:20this is one of the big arguments in our23:22sort of world of Russia Watchers and the23:24reason I think it’s particularly23:26relevant right now is this question of23:30what kind of a conflict are we facing23:33between Russia and the West between23:35Russia and the United States it actually23:37depends a little bit on how you assess23:39their ideology whether they have an23:41ideology and if so you know how it plays23:44out so tell us a little bit about your23:46study of Alexander Dugan he didn’t23:48cooperate unlike the other characters in23:49this book well he cooperated in a very23:52peculiar way he sent me stuff and he23:55sent me his right right-hand person to23:58talk to me so I talked to I interviewed24:00him by proxy but he also has a vast24:04written record that and actually I want24:09to just give a shout out to unconscious24:11cops of who’s here who knows so much24:13more about Alexandra Dugan than I ever24:15will and he was a new book out on Russia24:20and the European far-right so the24:27ideology question actually I’m not sure24:29is the right question and I’ll explain24:33ideology is also something that looks24:36coherent usually in hindsight when you24:39read contemporary accounts of say24:42Hitler’s Germany which we imagine to24:43have had a very clear idea gee24:48victor klemper talks about how they are24:51opportunists and they just pick up24:53whatever whatever is handy to make a24:55particular argument erich fromm writes24:58that they have no ideology whatsoever25:00and the very idea that Hitler has an25:02ideology is misguided Hannah Arendt25:05writes later than from that that one of25:10the reasons that the West was that that25:12the the other Western countries were so25:16slow to understand what was going on in25:19Germany and in the Soviet Union was that25:22the ideology on the face of it seemed25:24preposterous that if you tell somebody25:27that they’re going to kill millions of25:29people because they are because of their25:33ethnicity it sounds preposterous if you25:35told them somebody that their ideology25:37is to eliminate eradicate entire classes25:42of people to the tune of millions of25:44people it sounds preposterous only once25:47it’s happened does it become believable25:49even if it’s still unimaginable and then25:52it starts to add up to coherent ideology25:54so I think that you know once you’ve25:57immersed herself in those accounts you26:00actually think this guy doesn’t have26:03less of an ideology than any of those he26:07is um I think he has struck a couple of26:11themes that are consistent and one has a26:14lot of traction and that’s traditional26:16values right26:18it began in part with queerbaiting the26:22protesters and because that turned out26:25to be so effective it’s it’s turned into26:29this full-fledged sort of idea of a26:31traditional value civilization that’s26:32Duggan’s idea and a russian world and26:35russia as the center of a civilization26:38based on traditional values um that’s26:41that’s just a heron does it get well I26:44know the audience has a lot of questions26:46and I’m gonna look for our microphone so26:49that you can raise your hands and do it26:51while you’re getting your questions26:52ready I’ll throw a coin on when – Masha26:55before turning it over to you the26:56audience back to the other T word26:59you know you’ve written in27:01sure many people here are familiar with27:02your very powerful essay in the New York27:05Review books suggesting that you know27:07the threat of Trump has to really do27:10with the question of27:13the kind of society we have here in the27:15United States so now that it’s 250 days27:18230 days in to the Trump presidency what27:22is your own progress report on the state27:24of American democracy under Trump do you27:28fear do you feel that your predictions27:30are coming true I do unfortunately I27:34think that and if you recall or you27:39don’t have to recall I recall that I27:44actually in the in that essay but also27:47later this was more vividly when27:50Samantha bee asked me what my greatest27:51fear was and I said nuclear holocaust27:53and you know back in January it seemed27:57like a kind of nutty thing to say we’re28:02in September in October now and we’ve28:04been living with the specter of a28:07nuclear holocaust for a month you know28:13that’s that’s how fast it has advanced28:16and I think that he is Trump’s attack on28:21American institutions and even more28:24significantly to my mind on American28:26political culture has been as unceasing28:29as it could possibly have been I didn’t28:33actually imagine that it would be this28:34cacophonous but I think the cacophony28:36makes it that much more effective28:39you mean cacophonous from inside the28:41Trump administration which clearly is28:43not yet singing with one voice I mean28:46that but I also mean you know the the28:48just endless barrage of news I mean I’m28:53boots hidden when he came to power in28:55the you know all of us have again our28:58own heuristics right my Putin came to28:59power he set in motion a kind of29:01authoritarian crawl right he was very29:05methodical about taking over power but29:09every step was was measured and I think29:13that that’s part of what made it so29:14effective in his case was that every29:17single thing he did it on its face29:20wasn’t that awful you know until 200429:24when he cancelled the Burnet or election29:26but basically up until that point29:28everything he did was kind of horrible29:31but not not it was difficult actually to29:36make the argument in the Western media I29:38know I tried that he was establishing an29:41authoritarian regime and you know Trump29:44has been acting like a bull in the china29:46shop from day one29:49there has been no crawl there’s like29:50this constant artillery attack and on29:57that note who wants to be the first to29:59jump in with Suzanne um can you talk30:04about food as well and how he came by30:07that and the oligarchs and Russia and30:09how did the people feel about the failed30:13attempt at you know an actual kind of30:16democracy thank you that’s at least30:19three questions so I’m going to focus on30:24the last of those three questions30:25because it actually has to do with30:27what’s what’s in this book as opposed to30:29a much earlier book about Putin so how30:33do people feel about the failed attempt30:35at democracy well we no longer know30:38that’s how profound the transformation30:42of Russian society has been there’s30:45there’s a moment in the book that’s very30:46important to me when they have good30:48coffee30:49the sociologist he has taken a piece of30:52paper and he has graft his superimposed30:56two graphs the graph of Putin’s30:59popularity which skyrocketed after the31:02invasion of Ukraine and held at 86% so31:06it looks like a vertical line up from 5031:08something to 86 and then it just holds31:10it plateaus and the graph of consumer31:15confidence which is a actually sort of31:18more broadly a sense of economic31:22well-being which plummeted around the31:25same time just as the Russian economy31:27tanked and stayed and plateaued at the31:30bottom and so it looks like this and he31:34held us up and said this can’t happen31:37this is impossible right these two lines31:42have to meet31:44either this goes up where this goes down31:46most likely both of them one goes up and31:48the other one goes down the fact that it31:50hasn’t means that it’s no longer a31:53society in which you can meaningfully31:55measure public opinion because there’s31:57no public and there’s no opinion since32:00we’re also coming up on the anniversary32:03of the Bolshevik Revolution I was32:06wondering how much you feel that Putin32:08the KGB agent is influenced by the32:11Soviet political culture and structure32:14and how much he represents a break from32:16that oh I think his he is a KGB agent32:19through the truth that’s uh that’s the32:23nature of the beast and what I think is32:26it is important and what you know what32:29this book is about is is how much he has32:32been able to tap into a nostalgia for an32:37imaginary Soviet Union and recreate32:42aspects of that culture okay my name is32:51Ruth and given the different histories32:54and different political cultures of32:56Russia and the US and given what you’ve33:00termed the assault on American political33:03culture by Trump how successful do you33:07think he will be in establishing a33:10clause like totalitarian regime here if33:13at all and what would be the best33:15resistance that you would suggest for33:18the American population so I mean I33:23don’t think that there’s a danger of33:26totalitarianism in this country to Talat33:29arianism does require state terror the33:33reason that Putin has been able to tap33:35into totalitarian culture is that there33:39was state terror in the Soviet Union for33:42at least three decades and the memory of33:47that terror has shaped the society that33:49Russia has today I think that Trump is33:54an aspiring autocrat33:56he wants to he wants to rule like a33:59tyrant and that’s a real risk and it’s a34:03real risk you know not in the sense that34:05that Americans will forfeit as many34:07liberties as Russian supported but it34:10certainly it will I think there’s a real34:13risk to institutions in there there’s a34:15real risk to two political culture and I34:20think the way to resist it I mean34:23obviously I’m in a great position to34:25give advice on this because I had to34:28flee my own country that’s one way yeah34:34I mean34:35New Zealand seems like a nice place but34:39but I think that in this country we have34:43to be really aware of what we have right34:45I mean there have been aspiring tyrants34:51aspiring autocrats as long as there have34:53been democracies right there have been34:54people who wanted to destroy them and34:57never actually have they confronted a35:00civil society this strong and a public35:04sphere this healthy and that’s an35:06strange thing to say because you know35:07we’ve all been bemoaning but good reason35:09sort of the the the the polarization in35:12this country and the crisis of trust in35:16in the media all that is true and still35:20I think a majority of people in this35:24country are routinely exposed to35:26opinions that they don’t share a35:28majority of people get their news from35:30different sources that don’t speak with35:34one voice35:36we have an absolutely extraordinarily35:38wealthy and broad civil society and we35:43saw how it can act when the travel ban35:46happened and how a civil society35:49motivates institutions to act we have to35:52be really aware of that and importantly35:53we have to be aware of it because we we35:55need to know that institutions don’t35:58actually function without civil society36:02institutions will absolutely not save us36:05only civil society puts pressure on them36:08and supports them well we have some hope36:12of of protecting what we have but we all36:15see you know we also have to understand36:16that what we have is very much worth36:18protecting hi my name is Jason and my36:24question relates to how Russia sort of36:26interacts with the broader world I’ve36:29sort of noticed a pattern kind of in36:31Russian history where you don’t like36:33some sort of catastrophic war for36:35example will happen like Napoleon36:36attacks and as a response there’s a push36:39back to the West so Alexander then sees36:42as much of Poland or after World War two36:45yo you see Stalin setting up this36:47network of various satellite states in36:50Central Europe36:51do you see Putin as kind of actively36:55following in that that’s sort of pattern36:58um I actually would disagree with your37:02narrative a bit you’ve just told a story37:06that that actually Russia really loves37:08to tell of how Russia is always under37:10attack and encounter attacks I think I’m37:15probably more accurate way of looking at37:17it is to say that Russia has been an37:20empire and it has had an expansive37:22vector for most of its history37:25and it’s not because it’s under attack37:27from the West and that’s that’s very37:30much in play now I think that one of the37:33missed opportunities and I do talk about37:35this in the book is is sort of the37:38opportunity to develop a post Imperial37:41identity okay the Soviet Union was an37:43empire it was an empire that didn’t they37:46denied that it was an empire but but it37:50broke apart like empires do but there is37:53still an empire left and thus Empire had37:59the opportunity to to start thinking of38:03itself in a different way and perhaps to38:07not base its identity on greatness38:10and that didn’t happen and under Putin38:14it’s very much back to a great Russia38:16the the the the single great myth of38:21Russian history now is World War two38:24which as live both again the sociologist38:27says is the perfect myth because it38:29shines it slides backwards and forwards38:31backwards because it justifies all the38:34terror that came before and for is38:36because it explains how the Soviet Union38:38became a superpower and that’s sort of38:42that’s that’s at this point the source38:44of Russian identity and then in large38:48part dictates you know it’s it’s outside38:50ambition it’s superpower scale ambition38:53and it’s expensive expansive motion38:58my name is my name is Jacob and I had a39:01question that I think is sort of a39:02follow on to the the preceding one and39:05it has to do with Turkey and it seems to39:09me that air Dewan in Turkey is really39:12following a very similar strategy as39:15Putin did in Russia and it seems like39:17Putin has offered him very close support39:19in that process since the coup oh sorry39:24since the coup in July of I guess 201639:27and I was wondering if you could talk39:30about that relationship from from your39:32perspective and and what you see is its39:34future um I don’t judge me I’m not at39:38all an expert on Turkey like not at all39:40so I’d really hesitate to talk about39:43Turkey one thing that I would say about39:46that relationship is that has been quite39:48volatile I mean there was a moment but39:52about six months before the coup when it39:55looked like there might be a war between39:56Russia and Turkey and that’s actually an39:59important lesson for Americans I think40:02right the here we have a president now40:05has promised a wonderful relationship40:07with Russia and the u.s. relationship40:10with Russia is at its lowest point40:12possibly since world war two right at40:16the point of you know mutually expelling40:17diplomats at a point when the US Embassy40:21in in in Russia has stopped issuing40:24visas because they no longer have the40:26the people power to to issue visas Trump40:30has suggested closing the consulate in40:32San Francisco I mean it’s just it’s just40:34spiraling and I think that’s the serve40:40the erdowan Putin example is a good40:42example of how unreliable autocratic40:46friendships are and how volatile they40:49can be hi my name is Tina I have a40:54question about the protests that were40:56going on earlier this year so it seems40:58that people like Navalny really41:00capitalized on discontent with the lack41:04of economic growth for the middle41:05classes so the rich who were getting a41:08lot richer and then there was a41:09stagnation or41:10a loss of economic power in the middle41:13classes and the the people that were41:14less well-off and it seems like there is41:18continued interest in going out and41:20doing something or protesting on the41:21streets at least in the bigger cities41:22and then of course the money was41:24arrested but do you see that that41:26discontent is going away or are they41:28neutralizing it in some way or is it41:30still there and just not finding41:31expression in any kind of systemic41:34organized fashion so the question41:40concerns protests that there have been –41:43two waves of protests this year and41:46probably one more coming in the spring41:49and then in June when called upon by41:55Alexei Navalny who started out as an41:58anti-corruption blogger and has become42:00sort of a leading light for for a lot of42:02people in Russia people came out into42:05the streets to protest corruption all42:07over Russia in June people came out in42:10over 100 cities and towns so the most42:13geographically spread out protests in42:18Russian history I believe and the regime42:21responded by arresting 1725 people in42:25one day so the largest wave of arrests42:27in a single day in decades I think that42:32gives us a pretty good indication of of42:36how this is going to play out but to me42:39the saddest thing about those protests42:41as much as I you know as much as I have42:45I have lots of problems with my Balinese42:46politics but I admire his inventiveness42:50and his urge immensely and as much as I42:55admire the people who came out to42:58protest there was something really43:01tragic to me about those protests and43:03that was how both the number of very43:06very young people in them but even more43:09so the the way that older people and by43:13older people I mean anybody over 2543:16interpreted them all over Russian social43:21networks43:23in what little independent media there43:25is there was the sentiment oh this is43:27the new generation that’s finally going43:30to make change and they’re talking about43:33seventeen year olds and a lot of the43:36people who are talking about the 17 year43:38olds in it and the 15 year olds are43:40people in their mid-30s who were the43:43young faces of protest five years ago43:46and who have already given up on43:48themselves and on their entire43:50generation and are passing the baton to43:52the next generation to me that was43:55especially painful because I had just43:57finished writing this book a lot of44:01which is about this idea of generational44:05change and ultimately whether44:07generational change is stronger than44:09injured intergenerational trauma the44:16sociologists who think I keep mentioning44:19him more than the other characters but44:21he is he offers incredible analysis and44:23and he and the team that he worked for44:27in 198944:29went out to do survey based on the sizes44:32that the Soviet man Hamas of a circus44:36was bound to be a dying breed because it44:40had been decades more than a generation44:42since Stalin’s terror ended and so44:45people with the living memory of terror44:47were dying off and that would mean that44:51a Soviet man was dying off and that44:54would mean that Soviet institutions that44:55rested on Soviet man would crumble and44:58that would mean that would bring the44:59Soviet Union down so they had this45:01optimistic hypothesis they went out they45:04did a survey they concluded that they45:05were right two years later the Soviet45:09Union collapsed right on schedule45:11and in another three years they went45:13back to do that survey again and got45:15really weird results that suggested that45:18Hamas of a Turkish was not dying off was45:23surviving and five years after that they45:25did it again and concluded and I quote45:28that’s Hamas of a circus is not only45:30thriving but reproducing45:34and they keep getting results that45:36affirm that theory in there they don’t45:37see that person that that that that45:43traumatized survivor of totalitarian45:46society going anywhere and so the way45:49that one generation sort of looked at45:51the next and said okay let the let the45:53school children do it just to depress45:56the hell out of me46:00hi my name is Sophie and I studied China46:05oh sorry46:07where there’s also been absurd in46:10nationalism and also a crackdown on not46:13democracy because they don’t have that46:14but on civil society within roughly the46:17same period of time and in connection46:20with that there’s also been a real46:22upsurge I think in a propaganda about46:25traditional gender rules and so I was46:28wondering if you had any thoughts about46:30the impact of increasing46:31authoritarianism in Russia on gender46:34equality and and then also separately46:41you’ve spoken about the connection46:43between trauma as a sort of collective46:46national experience and how that can be46:49exploited by governments for to46:54implement totalitarianism and I wonder46:57if you think that it also works perhaps47:00in the opposite direction that repairing47:03trauma on an individual level47:05um can have a revolutionary impact47:08should the National Endowment for47:10democracy be adding a line item for47:14therapy for this I hope the grants that47:17they asked people to apply for oh my god47:19that is such a great idea47:21I I think the answer is no one has tried47:26that but that sounds like such an47:28amazing project and and you know you47:30can’t go wrong with the project like47:31that like you can’t fail at least on the47:33individual level you will help people47:35which is more than you can say for a lot47:37of you know democracy advancement47:41projects so gender roles you know it47:46Evan it’s it always gets really47:47complicated when we talk about gender47:49roles in in Russia because it seems so47:53contradictory within women equally47:56represented in the work place and and47:59and and a lot of female-headed48:03households and all of that but so that48:06said and that the complication48:08acknowledged48:10there’s been both I think rhetorically48:13and and really socially a real sort of48:17reversion in the last under Putin48:21I mean Putin there’s the great anecdote48:25that Hillary Clinton told to Putin told48:29to David Remnick in one when he was48:31interviewing her but her book where she48:34asked Putin and I haven’t gotten to that48:37place in the book I don’t know if it’s48:38in the book as well but she she was48:42looking for something that she could48:43discuss with Putin and he’s very48:47interested in nature conservation which48:49is also something I know a little bit48:51about and and so she said to him she48:56asked me a question about that and he48:58just lit her up and started talking to49:00her and he said in fact I’m about to go49:01to Chukotka to place a satellite collar49:03on a polar bear maybe Bill wants to come49:06with me he says to the secretary of49:10state of the United States and she says49:12well bill might be busy I could come49:15with you and he just ignores it and49:20that’s sort of you know that’s that’s49:22the culture very very much the reigning49:28culture and when Putin has also been49:30known to be to respond to a question49:33asked by a woman journalist you know and49:35how many children have you had and a lot49:39of the rhetoric underlying the anti-gay49:42campaign has actually had to do with49:44reproduction and demographics and I49:46think part of the reason that has been49:47so successful is because it does tap49:49into a real demographic panic so all of49:53that has not been great for for for49:59gender equality and more equal gender50:03roles and and they you know the50:06incredible emphasis now on traditional50:08values or whatever that might mean and50:11sort of the imaginary past when we had50:13those traditional values ultimately you50:16know it’s just going to exacerbate that50:18situation50:21hi my name is Lia I just wanted to thank50:24you for being here um sorry um so my50:29question was that in other revolutions50:33like for example in the Arab Spring50:35social media has been a really effective50:38tool for mass mobilization of50:42opposition’s50:43I was just wondering if you could talk a50:47little bit more about how why you think50:49that given how unregulated social media50:52and the Internet are generally why you50:55think the opposition hasn’t really50:57effectively used it – yes right so yeah51:04I wouldn’t say that the opposition51:05hasn’t effectively use social networks51:09or social media here’s what I would say51:12first of all I would say that there is51:14no opposition in Russia right and what I51:18mean is that opposition is a word that51:21suggests access to public sphere access51:24to media access to electoral51:27institutions none of that exists right51:30so their opponents to Putin who51:36publicize who spread information and who51:40sometimes organize protests it’s very51:42different from saying that there’s an51:43opposition and it has a lot to do with51:46why the potential of how the potential51:49of social media is limited right social51:52media cannot create connections that51:55don’t exist offline it cannot create51:58public space that really doesn’t exist52:00offline it can speed up communication52:04and it can amplify messages but only52:08within the confines of what already52:09exists offline okay and so when protests52:15broke out people were able to spread the52:19message very very quickly within52:21existing networks using social media52:24among other things it was as often52:28happens the impact of social media was52:30overestimated polls actually52:33that about half the people who52:35participated in purchase in 2011-201252:38learned about them from social media and52:40about half from other sources great but52:43it played an important role but it’s not52:45you know social media as we have now52:47finally learned in this country as well52:48it’s not inherently anything it’s not52:52inherently democratic it’s not it52:54doesn’t inherently it’s not inherently a52:57force for good and it doesn’t inherently53:02it doesn’t create things that aren’t53:04already there it just makes them more53:06efficient so I’m originally from Moscow53:10my name is Natasha emigrated about 20 it53:13was the last year of the Soviet Union53:15I have a personal question actually two53:19interrelated personal questions one is53:23you have been living in Moscow after you53:26came back from the US for quite some53:30time and now you are back in the US I53:33wanted to find out how you’re finding53:36this adjustment back so the US and the53:42second question there is one of your53:43books which is not political which I53:45really love I read it a long time ago53:48it’s called blood matters and it’s about53:52genetics and your personal journey and53:54right now I understand that it’s very53:56important to write political books but53:59I’m wondering whether you are thinking54:01about writing in non political book54:04again Wow54:07great question so54:10to the question of how the adjustment54:12has been coming back here so I first54:16came here as a teenager in 1981 and then54:19I went back to the Soviet Union actually54:22is a correspondent in 1991 and stayed54:27until December 2013 and then came back54:31here but all along I was writing in both54:34English and Russian and writing books in54:37English so for me coming back was54:41actually it has actually been great it’s54:46it’s it’s been a homecoming in a way I54:49live in New York City which I love I’ve54:53had a very rewarding career for the last54:56four years I’ve yeah I mean it’s it’s55:02it’s it’s been wonderful what has been55:04and and I have to say that emigrating55:08when you have a choice about it is55:10definitely I mean even though I didn’t55:13have much of a choice about the timing55:15of leaving Russia we had to get out in a55:18hurry but but I made that decision55:20myself unlike the first time when my55:22parents made the decision for me and I55:24was just resentful and miserable and but55:30this time I brought my teenage children55:32very resentful and miserable and I can’t55:38blame them because I know exactly what55:40it feels like and and I have to say that55:43there’s a peculiar difficulty actually55:45to have to have a family in which four55:47people emigrate it my partner and my55:51three kids and I came home and it’s55:55that’s that’s really been a struggle55:57because I think for at least for for56:01people who emigrate as difficult as it56:03is there’s also kind of a rewards ladder56:06right because you go from you know56:08working illegally under the table to56:10actually having a regular job to them56:11finding a job in your field there’s a56:14Rapids kind of growth that compensates56:16for that loss of social networks and56:19social status that that people56:22inevitably Experion56:23when they emigrate and and I deprived my56:27family of that because we came here56:29quite comfortably bought a house and I56:32moved in56:32but the misery of this location is still56:36there and there’s nothing you can do56:37about it and to answer your your56:41question about whether I’m thinking of56:42writing a personal book I am thinking of56:44writing a personal book and but it’s56:49like years down the road if I do write56:52it it will be a book about emigration56:57and gender57:01hi um thank you for coming my question57:06is I was wondering if you were able to57:07get outside of Moscow and to some of the57:09other cities and whether you were able57:10to talk with some of the various other57:12ethnic groups in Russia and what were57:14your experiences things well I mean in57:18in my work as a journalist in Russia I I57:22was mostly a roving reporter and I57:25traveled all over the country and and57:28did a lot of reporting on from different57:32cities including a lot of reporting on57:34[Music]57:36non-russian ethnic groups and non57:39Orthodox Christians this book is built57:43around seven particular people one of57:47whom two of whom are not from Moscow and57:51the rest of whom are from Moscow they57:55said one of them grew up in a provincial57:58well a large but but you know I58:02shouldn’t know he didn’t start out in a58:03large city he started out in a very58:05small town provincial town then moved to58:07a larger provincial city and I had to58:10actually flee Russia all together and he58:13is I think he’s an absolutely58:15extraordinary character a young young58:18academic who was very hopeful just just58:21a few years ago started the first Gender58:24Studies Centre at a Russian University58:26and and had really found himself in58:29academia and then a couple years later58:32but later was running for his life and58:34now lives in New York and another of the58:37characters has burst himselves daughter58:39who grew up also in a provincial city58:41but a very large one usually Nova cadets58:43Jean Anjum Silva and she also has had to58:46leave the country58:48following her father’s assassination we58:51have time for three more quick questions58:55I am Julie I’m trying to figure out58:57exactly how to word this but I work for58:59LGBT rights and it’s been really59:01shocking for me I did not expect Trump59:03to come after the LGBT community the way59:04he has and then you know but the release59:07of the D the Department of Health and59:09Human Services plan which is basically a59:11fundamentalist plan yesterday I’m59:14wondering with both Putin and Trump how59:18core you think misogyny and homophobia59:21is to their how they function and how it59:26ties in with their political worldview59:27or not is it kind of coincidental I mean59:30you talked a lot about traditional59:31values but a little more about that role59:34the role those blue you know that’s a59:37really interesting question because I’m59:39and I’ve I’ve actually puzzled over this59:43American obsession with core values like59:48why do we care if somebody is deeply59:52racist if they behave like a racist why59:55do we care if somebody is deeply59:57homophobic if they if they’re president60:00and they encourage homophobic policies60:02you know or launched an anti-gay60:04campaign it doesn’t matter you know what60:07matters is what they actually do and60:10what becomes our observed reality our60:12observed reality is that this president60:14is the Trump I mean but they are the one60:19in Russia to is is going after LGBT60:25people in a fairly conservative manner60:27right I have my ideas about why he’s60:31doing it I think because for someone60:34like him and this was calculable and60:36actually I wrote about this very early60:39on in July of 2016 I wrote that he was60:42going to reverse progress on LGBT rights60:45because for someone like him it makes60:51sense to reverse the most pronounced60:54most recent most rapid social change in60:57this country and that concerns LGBT60:59rights and it doesn’t matter how he61:01feels about LGBT people and whether all61:03of his best friends are gay it really61:05makes no difference right61:07his power is largely based on his61:11ability to demonstrate that he is61:14serious about taking people to the past61:17and that will necessarily involve61:21reversing progress on LGBT rights and I61:23think we should expect a lot more61:25attacks on that front hi my name is61:30Nancy oops61:34have the economic sanctions that the61:37West has imposed and/or the Magnitsky61:39Act provided any constraints on Putin61:45and his regime and those around him I61:50think so and I also I I’m trying to be61:55like a broken record and saying I don’t61:56think this is a great question but this61:59is this is the way we normally pose the62:01question right we normally ask but the62:03sanctions are effective and you know62:08it’s a perfectly reasonable question of62:09course but I also think that when we62:12when you deal with someone like Putin62:13who’s basically intractable right that62:17question can also lead to to illogical62:20dead-end right because if there is no62:23way to influence his behavior then62:25there’s no way to influence his behavior62:26so what’s the point of sanctions well62:28the point of sanctions is that they’re62:30the right thing to do because it is the62:33wrong thing to do to do business with62:35with the bloody dictator it is the wrong62:38thing to do to allow you know him and62:42his people to to invest their money here62:48and to launder their money here so62:51whether or not we can see that we can62:54observe the strategic results from62:56sanctions sanctions are the right thing62:58to do63:01my name is George just one question what63:04happens after Putin oh well that’s63:10that’s an easy one um I have no idea but63:18um but actually there’s there’s a63:21wonderful book that’s just out in63:22paperback that is weirdly relevant to63:26that question and the book is called the63:28last days of Stalin have you read it it63:31was great63:32and it’s Joshua Rubinstein it says it’s63:35a slim book and it’s amazing you read it63:39and and I mean the part that that that63:42has to do with how the US foreign policy63:45establishment was worried that after63:47Stalin died the hardliners might come to63:49power that really I thought that was63:53really amazing and so it really puts63:57into perspective similar fears that have63:59been voiced repeatedly in this country64:03but I also the other thing that that has64:06direct implications for today is that he64:10is documented in how much disarray the64:12Soviet Union was and how Americans64:16looking at it couldn’t believe that it64:18was in that much disarray and kept64:19looking for sort of hidden meanings and64:21hidden strategies and actually what had64:24happened was that Stalin had planned to64:25live forever64:26there was no succession plan nobody knew64:30what was happening and how they should64:31act and anything was possible and I64:35think something similar is going to64:37happen after Putin Dyke’s he definitely64:39planned plans to live forever64:43there will be no succession plan I mean64:45I’m assuming that there will be his64:47death that that will end putinism if64:50it’s something else it will not be64:51dissimilar it will also we’ll know when64:53it happens right it’s a closed system64:54but but there will be disarray one64:57prediction that I feel confident enough64:58making is that I don’t think that Russia65:01will stay in its current borders when65:03after Putin it’s there’s so much sort of65:10outward tension at this point Huson has65:12managed to put so much pressure65:13on various constituent members of the65:16Russian Federation and pumped them for65:19money and/or to the opposite of money65:25into supporting friendly dictators and65:28in in various places once he is gone so65:31the those tensions will come to the65:34surface and various places will various65:37parts of Russia will break up so we’ll65:40we’ll see major rearrangement mom he’s65:42done all right65:44thank you so much for coming65:55you66:04you
The Russian journalist Ivan Golunov is still trying to grasp what happened to him. Some things are clear enough: on Thursday, June 6th, Golunov, on his way to lunch in central Moscow, was stopped by the police, who took him into custody, beat him, planted drugs in his backpack, and then took him to his own apartment and planted drugs there, until he was finally arraigned on drug-trafficking charges. As shocking an experience as this was for Golunov, it was easy enough to understand: people are framed on drug charges in Russia all the time, and Golunov, who is an investigative journalist, had made many powerful people unhappy. What followed the arrest, however, was nearly unfathomable: Russian journalists, including those who are loyal to the Kremlin, mobilized to defend him. People protested in the streets, in print, and even, eventually, on the air. The case against Golunov was dropped. Five days after his arrest, Golunov emerged a free man—and a sudden, unlikely celebrity.
“I’m not used to people coming up to me in the street and saying thank you,” Golunov told me on the phone on Sunday. “I tell them that I should be the one giving thanks: I was just on my way to lunch, and everything else is what other people did. This is a difficult point for me,” he said. “Every time I talk about the people who helped me, I start crying.” The first footage of Golunov that emerged after his arrest—late in the evening on June 8th—was of him in a steel cage in a Moscow courtroom, crying, saying, “Thank you. I never thought I’d get a chance to be present at my own wake.”
Following his court hearing, Golunov was placed under house arrest; two days later, all charges against him were dropped. He granted his first appearance to Ksenia Sobchak, one of the country’s biggest media personalities, who hosts a professionally produced talk show on her YouTube channel. In the interview, filmed in his apartment, Golunov showed how the police planted drugs during the search: officers stood on either side of a wardrobe, and one reached up and told the other one to look on top of the wardrobe—sure enough, a packet of what they said was cocaine and a plastic pharmacist’s scale were there. At this point, Golunov told me, he dissociated and stopped being scared. “I could no longer grasp that this was about me,” he said. This helped him act in a way that appeared almost calculated: whenever he knew that he was in view of security cameras, he tried to create as much of a commotion as possible, screaming and demanding that he be allowed to speak to his lawyer. The rest of the time he was calmer. “My answer to everything, though, was ‘in the presence of my lawyer,’ ” he said. “Like, they’d ask me if I wanted a drink of water, and I’d respond, ‘In the presence of my lawyer, I’ll want a drink of water.’ ” Only fifteen hours after Golunov was detained was he finally able to see a lawyer, he told me. In another couple of hours—early on Friday morning—the detective who had been questioning him started getting calls. One of the first came from Sobchak, followed by other Russian celebrities, officials, businessmen, and investigative journalists calling from as far away as Brazil.
At first, the people who called, wrote, or took to the streets to support Golunov could only imagine what was happening to him. They knew that he had been arrested and would face drug-trafficking charges, which carry a sentence of up to twenty years behind bars. Those who knew him personally feared what might happen to him as a gay man in a Russian prison, where violence and rape are common. Golunov said that the police used homophobic insults and made reference to the violence that awaited him behind bars, though, by then, he told me, the threats failed to elicit an emotional reaction in him. Meanwhile, the protests continued. In Moscow, hundreds came to police headquarters and to the courthouse where Golunov was arraigned. Golunov’s employer, the Latvia-based Russian-language online publication Meduza, called on other media to reprint his investigative reports, and dozens (and probably more) did. Three of Russia’s leading business dailies, all of which are generally loyal to the Kremlin, came out with a single front page with a giant headline that read, “I Am/We Are Ivan Golunov.” The Russian edition of Elle, among many others, called on its readers to join the protest.
The solidarity in the media was unprecedented, as was the resilience of the protesters who were willing to risk arrest to stand up for Golunov. In a country where public opinion has long seemed an outdated concept—there hasn’t been a public in years, and few people have dared to have opinions—a nationwide outcry was taking root. The system, which has been impervious to law, elections, international sanctions, and other known forms of pressure, suddenly seemed to cave, or at least to take a step back, in the apparent hope that the protests would abate. But people continued protesting—Golunov’s case became a symbol of uncounted similar cases. “The first thing I saw when I opened my computer [the day after charges were dropped] was an online live broadcast of the protest,” Golunov told me. He started getting ready to go there—it seemed to him that he had a duty to join—but his lawyers advised against it. The protesters didn’t have a permit and were claiming that they were simply taking a walk in central Moscow with hundreds of their friends. If Golunov showed up, his lawyers suggested, his appearance might cause something that would indisputably be an assembly—an illegal one, in the eyes of the regime. Golunov stayed home, and the police arrested more than five hundred people anyway.
As he struggles to process what has happened to him, Golunov has to contend with the competing truths that his predicament was entirely typical but that the outcome of his case was exceptional. The ordinary part, he feels, is what brought people together. “I think it was a cumulative effect,” he told me. “People want to be able to go about their lives, and here it turns out that they can plant drugs on anyone and put them away for twenty years.” Sure, Golunov was a journalist, but he was not famous, and he maintained decent relations even with many of the people he had written about. He suspects that his arrest was connected to his current project, an investigation into the connections between the Federal Security Service and the lucrative funeral business in Moscow. But, then again, for every person in Russia, there is someone more powerful who can decide to have them put away.
Golunov is now a witness in what was a criminal case against him. “The charges against me have been dropped, but the drugs remain,” he explained. “And drugs are illegal. So the police have to figure out where they came from.” He said that he feels a responsibility both to pursue the case—to expose the people who planted the drugs, and perhaps even those who ordered them to plant the drugs—and also to learn how drug laws are enforced in Russia. At the same time, he feels intensely uncomfortable in the role of an activist, a celebrity, and a witness in a high-profile case. He has a security detail but is reluctant to trouble its members, so he has found himself staying home more than he otherwise might. “I would just like to go back to the way things were before that Thursday,” he told me. “I’d like to write articles and ride the subway.”
One can hardly begrudge Golunov the desire to go back to life as it was. But his arrest gave Russia a glimpse of things that many young people there have only read about in books—solidarity, the power of collective action, and justice. What if, by some miracle, Russian society didn’t now return to the way things were before Thursday, June 6th? Russians would have a lot to thank Golunov for.
But having this state of affairs described in print further establishes that an unelected body, or bodies, are overruling and actively undermining the elected leader. While this may be the country’s salvation in the short run, it also plainly signals the demise of some of its most cherished ideals and constitutional norms. An anonymous person or persons cannot govern for the people, because the people do not know who is governing.
.. The thing about autocracies, or budding autocracies, is that they present citizens with only bad choices. At a certain point, one has to stop trying to find the right solution and has to look, instead, for a course of action that avoids complicity. By publishing the anonymous Op-Ed, the Times became complicit in its own corruption.
.. The way in which the news media are being corrupted—even an outlet like the Times, which continues to publish remarkable investigative work throughout this era—is one of the most insidious, pronounced, and likely long-lasting effects of the Trump Administration. The media are being corrupted every time they engage with a nonsensical, false, or hateful Trump tweet (although not engaging with these tweets is not an option). They are being corrupted every time journalists act polite while the President, his press secretary, or other Administration officials lie to them. They are being corrupted every time a Trumpian lie is referred to as a “falsehood,” a “factually incorrect statement,” or as anything other than a lie. They are being corrupted every time journalists allow the Administration to frame an issue, like when they engage in a discussion about whether the separation of children from their parents at the border is an effective deterrent against illegal immigration. They are being corrupted every time they use the phrase “illegal immigration.”
.. The problem here is with the term “unsung heroes,” which usually refers to people who are hidden from the public eye, not to public persons who intentionally conceal the substance of their actions.
.. A lack of transparency in government is a constitutional crisis in the making, not an unrecognized feat of heroism.
.. We are, as a nation, grateful that James Mattis actively muffles Trump’s outbursts, but we should also be aware that he is laying the groundwork for Defense Secretaries to act against the wishes and possibly even the orders of future Presidents. This is part of the degradation that the author describes in this passage, while failing to acknowledge that he has been an active perpetrator of that degradation, not a passive victim... A person who works for probably the most aggressively partisan Administration in American history has no business asking anyone to reach across the aisle, and his implied claim of common cause with bipartisanship is a lie. His other lie is juxtaposing “common ground” and politics. Politics is not the opposite of common ground; politics is the very process of finding common ground and making it inhabitable. Trump has been waging war on politics itself for more than two years.