The Putin Files: Masha Gessen

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.”

 

46:38
But among his first 10 decrees was a decree reinstating primary military education in
46:46
high schools, and this was something that was, to me, highly symbolic.
46:55
When I went to school in the Soviet Union, everybody—all the high school students had
47:00
to learn elementary military trades.
47:06
I mean, first of all, we had military games, survival games, from the time—I mean, games.
47:12
We called them games.
47:13
They weren’t games.
47:14
They were training sessions, right?
47:16
But from the time you’re very little, there are bomb raids, and you learn to recognize
47:21
chemical burns, and you are drilled on how to respond to chemical burns.
47:27
The thing is, you know, these classrooms that are—where the walls are covered with posters
47:33
on how to recognize different kinds of chemical weapons, the effects of different kinds of
47:41
chemical weapons and how to respond to them.
47:45
And then in ninth and 10th grade, so in high school, which is just two years, you learn
47:54
to administer first aid in a military situation and to take apart and clean a Kalashnikov
48:03
and put it back together again.
48:07
Anybody my age or older will be able to tell you how long it used to take them to take
48:13
apart and clean and put back together a Kalashnikov.
48:16
A good amount of time is around nine or eight seconds.
48:24
That was eliminated when the Soviet Union fell apart.
48:29
And we forget now how much the 1990s, even though Russia never really sort of fully entered
48:36
a post-imperial era, but still, it became a demilitarized country.
48:43
All of a sudden, there was much less emphasis on how every boy was a future soldier, which
48:49
is the way I was brought up.
48:51
You would just see very many fewer people in uniform in the streets.
48:57
When I was growing up, when I used to go meet my mother at the subway station when she was
49:04
coming home, I would—to entertain myself, I would count the number of people in uniform
49:11
coming off the trains as I waited for her.
49:14
Roughly every 10th person would be wearing a military uniform.
49:17
All of a sudden, that was no longer the case.
49:20
And of course children stopped learning how to take apart and put back together a Kalashnikov
49:24
in school.
49:26
One of the first things that Putin did, on the day that he became acting president, was
49:32
set in motion the process of bringing that back.
49:36
And I was convinced that—go ahead.
49:38
MICHAEL KIRK – Sorry.
49:39
MASHA GESSEN – No, I was convinced that he was signaling his intention to remilitarize
49:45
Russian society, which is exactly what he did.
49:47
MICHAEL KIRK – What does it do to a society to grow up with that eight-second Kalashnikov
49:53
rebuild and then have it reintroduced?
49:57
What’s the signal that that sends to people?
50:01
MASHA GESSEN – Well, different people receive the same signal differently.
50:09
It frightened me.
50:10
I didn’t want to live in a militarized society again, and I thought the militarized Russia
50:14
would be a dangerous country for the rest of the world.
50:20
Countries don’t militarize in order to be peaceful.
50:26
For a lot of people, though, it was a signal that they were going back to something that
50:32
was familiar and comfortable, both on a private level, which is that you would do the same—their
50:39
children would be doing the same things that they did as children, right, but much more
50:43
importantly on a public level, so that they would have a chance to identify with a great
50:47
country again.
50:48
He would make Russia great again.
50:51
For so many people in the 1990s, the instability and discomfort that they experienced became
51:00
concentrated in this idea of no longer belonging to a great power.
51:07
So a lot of Putin’s early signals were that he would bring back that wonderful feeling
51:17
of being part of a great power again.
51:19
MICHAEL KIRK – In a way, it’s right.
51:22
He’s merging probably how he felt, having missed glasnost and perestroika, not participating
51:27
in whatever was great about it, but he comes home, he’s shipwrecked, whatever happens
51:35
to him, it’s a different world than he probably anticipated finishing his life in.
51:41
That sort of ethos that he shared with the people was what he decided to employ as his
51:51
method.
51:56
In the end of his first year, George W. Bush becomes president of the United States.
52:02
One of the things we’ve noticed in tracing the arc of this gigantic narrative is how
52:09
often an American president arrives to a Russian president with hope that all is going to get
52:16
better, from Gorbachev on; democracy will flower now, and thank God.
52:23
52:24
MASHA GESSEN – Well, I want to say one more thing about what happened with George W. Bush
52:27
becoming president in ’99, or in 2000, is that Putin had just become president in a
52:34
very orderly manner.
52:38
He was handpicked by the previous president.
52:42
An election was scheduled.
52:43
He won it handily.
52:46
Everything went according to plan in his popularity.
52:50
His margin of victory was pretty good.
52:53
It was, I think, 53 percent in his first election.
52:57
And his popularity was sky-high.
52:58
Then America goes and has this ridiculous election that isn’t settled for two months
53:08
or two and a half months, and that just goes to show you how a democracy is such an imperfect
53:15
system, and probably an outdated and failed system.
53:19
I’m convinced that that’s the first time that Putin really watched an American presidential
53:24
election closely.
53:25
He’d never thought of himself as somebody who existed on that level.
53:30
Now he’s waiting to see who his counterpart is going to be, and he can’t even know who
53:39
his counterpart is going to be for two and a half months, because democracy is such a
53:42
mess.
53:43
53:44
MICHAEL KIRK – When they meet, the way the stories go, and especially—I’ve just talked
53:46
to a lot of American diplomats and ambassadors who were there at that first meeting.
53:52
This is the “I looked in his eyes and saw his soul” meeting.
53:57
Some people tell the story that here is a KGB guy who’s the president of Russia, who’s
54:03
studied Bush, knows he’s an evangelical, knows that he has a penchant and a weakness
54:07
for a religious story, dredges up a religious story out of his own past, the crucifix-in-the-ashes
54:14
story, and somehow they connect.
54:19
Tell me what you know about that version of the story.
54:23
MASHA GESSEN – Actually, I have nothing to add to that version of the story.
54:28
What I would say is that early on he was a charmer, early on in his term as president.
54:34
That’s no longer the case.
54:37
But everyone I’ve talked to [who] had a meeting with him in the first year or two of his becoming
54:46
acting president and then president came away transformed, at least for the first few minutes.
54:51
Well, actually, with one exception: one of the journalists who worked on that official
54:56
biography.
54:58
But everyone else felt that he sort of, he turned on the recruiter charm, and he was
55:06
well-briefed, and he always used a little personal anecdote to connect with you on the
55:12
grounds that he figured would be good for connecting.
55:18
A few years down the road, he stopped paying attention.
55:21
He would start mixing people’s names up or the facts of people’s biographies.
55:26
By the time I met him in 2012, he wasn’t even briefed.
55:32
He knew almost nothing about me, like he hadn’t bothered.
55:37
But early on, he was a real recruiter.
55:40
And I think he certainly worked his charm on George W. Bush, which apparently wasn’t
55:46
very difficult.
55:47
MICHAEL KIRK – There’s a lot of hope, of course, that they’ll do all kinds of things.
55:54
A lot of people have said—we’ll ask them: “What did Putin want from Bush?
56:00
What did Russia want from Bush?
56:02
But more importantly, what did Putin want from Bush and America?”
56:06
What do you think that was?
56:07
MASHA GESSEN – Well, Putin wanted the return of a bipolar world.
56:15
That was his agenda from the very beginning.
56:17
He wanted to be treated with respect.
56:19
He wanted people back home to see that he was being treated with respect.
56:24
This was also coming very soon after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, right, which, for the
56:35
Russian political establishment and for a lot of Russian people, was a really difficult
56:40
pill to swallow.
56:42
56:43
The U.S. and its allies decided to bomb Serbia and Kosovo to resolve the Kosovo crisis without
56:50
consulting with Russia.
56:51
And to make matters worse, they started bombing, or the U.S. started bombing when Yevgeny Primakov,
57:00
the then-prime minister, was in the air, on his way to the United States to meet with
57:04
Vice President Gore.
57:07
So they didn’t even make a show of informing Russia before starting bombing, never mind
57:13
consulting Russia, and that was really insulting for the entire Russian establishment and a
57:20
lot of Russian people.
57:23
One of the things that Putin wanted to project was that that kind of thing was never going
57:28
to happen again.
57:30
MICHAEL KIRK – Then America pulls out of the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, not really
57:36
consulting.
57:37
In fact, he begged Bush not to do it.
57:41
They invade, or we invade Iraq, taking down an authoritarian figure who stands astride
57:48
a big—somewhat in the sphere of influence of Russia.
57:54
Russia joins with France and Germany and says: “Please don’t do this.
57:57
Are you guys going to do this?
57:58
Are you really going to do this?”
58:00
And they do it with a certain level of impunity, at least.
58:06
It seems that the word you used early to describe what he was hoping for, which is respect,
58:11
was hardly in the air between George W. Bush and the United States of America, and Vladimir
58:16
Putin and Russia.
58:17
MASHA GESSEN – And what’s even worse, I think from Putin’s point of view, is the expansion
58:22
of NATO.
58:24
It doesn’t ever sort of—in his worldview, it is not a question of these countries asking
58:35
to be part of NATO.
58:36
It is merely a question of the United States deciding that NATO should expand to the Russian
58:43
border.
58:44
He’s also convinced that the Soviet Union got assurances from the United States that
58:52
NATO would not be expanded.
58:54
58:55
The quote that Putin likes to bring up was a quote by the then-NATO commander given during
58:59
the negotiations about the reunification of Germany.
59:05
The promise was that there would be no NATO troops stationed on what had been East German
59:11
territory.
59:12
That’s the quote.
59:13
And that was a matter of negotiations.
59:16
This was, first of all, this was a negotiation with the Soviet Union, and then—and the
59:21
Soviet Union was pushing for a solution where somehow Germany would be united.
59:26
But East Germany still wouldn’t be a part of NATO.
59:30
And the compromise solution was that there would be no troops on what had been East German
59:36
territory.
59:37
That has nothing to do with NATO expansion as such, and it also certainly has nothing
59:41
to do with Russia.
59:42
I mean, this was being negotiated with the Soviet Union.
59:45
This was before the demise of the Warsaw Pact.
59:50
But in 2007, at the security conference in Munich, Putin shocks world leaders by giving
59:59
a very, very strongly worded speech about how Russia was not going to take it anymore.
60:04
MICHAEL KIRK – Can you take me there?
60:07
What has angered him, or what has happened in his world that he can go to Munich and
60:12
so forcefully declare?
60:14
It’s not declaring war, but it’s certainly declaring verbal war on, in an unspoken way,
60:23
the United States of America.
60:26
MASHA GESSEN – This is the end of his second term, and he has really been transformed.
60:32
He has already taken over the media in Russia.
60:36
He’s already canceled gubernatorial elections.
60:39
He’s canceled elections to the upper house of the Russian parliament.
60:44
He’s solidified power.
60:47
He is ruling very much like a dictator.
60:50
The process of dismantling what democratic mechanisms had existed in Russia was completed
60:55
in his first term, and this is the end of his second term.
60:59
Also, Russia has been living for seven years through a period of unprecedented prosperity,
61:04
because oil prices just keep climbing.
61:07
Money is just flowing into Russia.
61:10
Putin has enriched himself.
61:12
Everyone around him has enriched himself.
61:14
At the same time, he has emasculated the men who used to be known as the oligarchs.
61:20
They’ve ceded their political power to him, and a lot of their financial power, in exchange
61:25
for safety and security of those assets that they’re allowed to keep.
61:29
He’s really the patriarch of this country.
61:34
In Russia itself, people perceive him as enjoying the respect of the West, but he doesn’t
61:42
feel any respect, because the United States has invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq without
61:51
consulting with Russia, and in fact ignoring Russia’s wishes.
61:53
The United States has pulled out of the ABM Treaty.
61:56
And worst of all, NATO has expanded.
61:59
He’s been saving all of this resentment up because there he is—he feels like he
62:07
has transformed his country.
62:09
He’s made it great again, and he still doesn’t get any recognition of that when he meets
62:14
with world leaders.
62:15
He is still treated very much like a junior partner by everybody.
62:20
And so he comes to the security conference in Munich and says, basically: “I don’t
62:25
have to mince words, do I?
62:28
I can say what’s on my mind.”
62:31
And then he just lashes out, and he lists all these resentments, especially the NATO

51:56
In the end of his first year, George W. Bush becomes president of the United States.
52:02
One of the things we’ve noticed in tracing the arc of this gigantic narrative is how
52:09
often an American president arrives to a Russian president with hope that all is going to get
52:16
better, from Gorbachev on; democracy will flower now, and thank God.
52:23
52:24
MASHA GESSEN – Well, I want to say one more thing about what happened with George W. Bush
52:27
becoming president in ’99, or in 2000, is that Putin had just become president in a
52:34
very orderly manner.
52:38
He was handpicked by the previous president.
52:42
An election was scheduled.
52:43
He won it handily.
52:46
Everything went according to plan in his popularity.
52:50
His margin of victory was pretty good.
52:53
It was, I think, 53 percent in his first election.
52:57
And his popularity was sky-high.
52:58
Then America goes and has this ridiculous election that isn’t settled for two months
53:08
or two and a half months, and that just goes to show you how a democracy is such an imperfect
53:15
system, and probably an outdated and failed system.
53:19
I’m convinced that that’s the first time that Putin really watched an American presidential
53:24
election closely.
53:25
He’d never thought of himself as somebody who existed on that level.
53:30
Now he’s waiting to see who his counterpart is going to be, and he can’t even know who
53:39
his counterpart is going to be for two and a half months, because democracy is such a
53:42
mess.
53:43
53:44
MICHAEL KIRK – When they meet, the way the stories go, and especially—I’ve just talked
53:46
to a lot of American diplomats and ambassadors who were there at that first meeting.
53:52
This is the “I looked in his eyes and saw his soul” meeting.
53:57
Some people tell the story that here is a KGB guy who’s the president of Russia, who’s
54:03
studied Bush, knows he’s an evangelical, knows that he has a penchant and a weakness
54:07
for a religious story, dredges up a religious story out of his own past, the crucifix-in-the-ashes
54:14
story, and somehow they connect.
54:19
Tell me what you know about that version of the story.
54:23
MASHA GESSEN – Actually, I have nothing to add to that version of the story.
54:28
What I would say is that early on he was a charmer, early on in his term as president.
54:34
That’s no longer the case.
54:37
But everyone I’ve talked to [who] had a meeting with him in the first year or two of his becoming
54:46
acting president and then president came away transformed, at least for the first few minutes.
54:51
Well, actually, with one exception: one of the journalists who worked on that official
54:56
biography.
54:58
But everyone else felt that he sort of, he turned on the recruiter charm, and he was
55:06
well-briefed, and he always used a little personal anecdote to connect with you on the
55:12
grounds that he figured would be good for connecting.
55:18
A few years down the road, he stopped paying attention.
55:21
He would start mixing people’s names up or the facts of people’s biographies.
55:26
By the time I met him in 2012, he wasn’t even briefed.
55:32
He knew almost nothing about me, like he hadn’t bothered.
55:37
But early on, he was a real recruiter.
55:40
And I think he certainly worked his charm on George W. Bush, which apparently wasn’t
55:46
very difficult.
55:47
MICHAEL KIRK – There’s a lot of hope, of course, that they’ll do all kinds of things.
55:54
A lot of people have said—we’ll ask them: “What did Putin want from Bush?
56:00
What did Russia want from Bush?
56:02
But more importantly, what did Putin want from Bush and America?”
56:06
What do you think that was?
56:07
MASHA GESSEN – Well, Putin wanted the return of a bipolar world.
56:15
That was his agenda from the very beginning.
56:17
He wanted to be treated with respect.
56:19
He wanted people back home to see that he was being treated with respect.
56:24
This was also coming very soon after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, right, which, for the
56:35
Russian political establishment and for a lot of Russian people, was a really difficult
56:40
pill to swallow.
56:42
56:43
The U.S. and its allies decided to bomb Serbia and Kosovo to resolve the Kosovo crisis without
56:50
consulting with Russia.
56:51
And to make matters worse, they started bombing, or the U.S. started bombing when Yevgeny Primakov,
57:00
the then-prime minister, was in the air, on his way to the United States to meet with
57:04
Vice President Gore.
57:07
So they didn’t even make a show of informing Russia before starting bombing, never mind
57:13
consulting Russia, and that was really insulting for the entire Russian establishment and a
57:20
lot of Russian people.
57:23
One of the things that Putin wanted to project was that that kind of thing was never going
57:28
to happen again.
57:30
MICHAEL KIRK – Then America pulls out of the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, not really
57:36
consulting.
57:37
In fact, he begged Bush not to do it.
57:41
They invade, or we invade Iraq, taking down an authoritarian figure who stands astride
57:48
a big—somewhat in the sphere of influence of Russia.
57:54
Russia joins with France and Germany and says: “Please don’t do this.
57:57
Are you guys going to do this?
57:58
Are you really going to do this?”
58:00
And they do it with a certain level of impunity, at least.
58:06
It seems that the word you used early to describe what he was hoping for, which is respect,
58:11
was hardly in the air between George W. Bush and the United States of America, and Vladimir
58:16
Putin and Russia.
58:17
MASHA GESSEN – And what’s even worse, I think from Putin’s point of view, is the expansion
58:22
of NATO.
58:24
It doesn’t ever sort of—in his worldview, it is not a question of these countries asking
58:35
to be part of NATO.
58:36
It is merely a question of the United States deciding that NATO should expand to the Russian
58:43
border.
58:44
He’s also convinced that the Soviet Union got assurances from the United States that
58:52
NATO would not be expanded.
58:54
58:55
The quote that Putin likes to bring up was a quote by the then-NATO commander given during
58:59
the negotiations about the reunification of Germany.
59:05
The promise was that there would be no NATO troops stationed on what had been East German
59:11
territory.
59:12
That’s the quote.
59:13
And that was a matter of negotiations.
59:16
This was, first of all, this was a negotiation with the Soviet Union, and then—and the
59:21
Soviet Union was pushing for a solution where somehow Germany would be united.
59:26
But East Germany still wouldn’t be a part of NATO.
59:30
And the compromise solution was that there would be no troops on what had been East German
59:36
territory.
59:37
That has nothing to do with NATO expansion as such, and it also certainly has nothing
59:41
to do with Russia.
59:42
I mean, this was being negotiated with the Soviet Union.
59:45
This was before the demise of the Warsaw Pact.
59:50
But in 2007, at the security conference in Munich, Putin shocks world leaders by giving
59:59
a very, very strongly worded speech about how Russia was not going to take it anymore.
60:04
MICHAEL KIRK – Can you take me there?
60:07
What has angered him, or what has happened in his world that he can go to Munich and
60:12
so forcefully declare?
60:14
It’s not declaring war, but it’s certainly declaring verbal war on, in an unspoken way,
60:23
the United States of America.
60:26
MASHA GESSEN – This is the end of his second term, and he has really been transformed.
60:32
He has already taken over the media in Russia.
60:36
He’s already canceled gubernatorial elections.
60:39
He’s canceled elections to the upper house of the Russian parliament.
60:44
He’s solidified power.
60:47
He is ruling very much like a dictator.
60:50
The process of dismantling what democratic mechanisms had existed in Russia was completed
60:55
in his first term, and this is the end of his second term.
60:59
Also, Russia has been living for seven years through a period of unprecedented prosperity,
61:04
because oil prices just keep climbing.
61:07
Money is just flowing into Russia.
61:10
Putin has enriched himself.
61:12
Everyone around him has enriched himself.
61:14
At the same time, he has emasculated the men who used to be known as the oligarchs.
61:20
They’ve ceded their political power to him, and a lot of their financial power, in exchange
61:25
for safety and security of those assets that they’re allowed to keep.
61:29
He’s really the patriarch of this country.
61:34
In Russia itself, people perceive him as enjoying the respect of the West, but he doesn’t
61:42
feel any respect, because the United States has invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq without
61:51
consulting with Russia, and in fact ignoring Russia’s wishes.
61:53
The United States has pulled out of the ABM Treaty.
61:56
And worst of all, NATO has expanded.
61:59
He’s been saving all of this resentment up because there he is—he feels like he
62:07
has transformed his country.
62:09
He’s made it great again, and he still doesn’t get any recognition of that when he meets
62:14
with world leaders.
62:15
He is still treated very much like a junior partner by everybody.
62:20
And so he comes to the security conference in Munich and says, basically: “I don’t
62:25
have to mince words, do I?
62:28
I can say what’s on my mind.”
62:31
And then he just lashes out, and he lists all these resentments, especially the NATO
62:37
expansion, referring to a nonexistent agreement, a nonexistent promise that NATO would never
62:44
expand.
62:45
It’s a total change of tone that comes as a complete surprise to his Western counterparts.
62:51
MICHAEL KIRK – Then one of the other things we do is we’re tracking the development
62:58
of military power, including hybrid power and including cyber and information war and
63:06
hard power.
63:13
Things begin to happen.
63:14
Estonia is two months later.
63:17
Then Georgia 1, or Georgia 2, Ukraine—all of it begins to happen, and all of it feels
63:25
like a rehearsal for something, or a perfecting of the military might.
63:34
Help me understand what he’s doing in terms of military power and where that fits into
63:40
this sense I’m getting from you, that he’s looking for not only making Russia great again,
63:45
but making people believe Russia is great again.
63:48
MASHA GESSEN – So he starts increasing military spending.
63:55
First it’s not extraordinary.
63:56
Now it’s quite extraordinary, the amount of money that Russia has been spending on
64:01
the military.
64:03
But he’s certainly interested in military reform.
64:07
A lot of people believe that he has militarized the Russian power establishment.
64:11
There are some counterarguments against that, but I mean, he loves his generals, and he
64:18
loves talking about how he’s bringing the military back.
64:23
He’s also investing money in ways of waging hybrid warfare, and an excuse to test some
64:34
of that presents itself.
64:36
Really, it’s just—it’s even hard to call it—it’s a pretext.
64:41
In the spring of 2007, Estonia moves a monument to
64:55
a Russian soldier, right?
64:58
When the Soviet Union occupied Eastern and Central Europe in 1945, it erected monuments
65:13
to the liberation of those countries, in the centers of every capital of those occupied
65:21
countries.
65:23
Now, some countries have chosen to look the other way, like Austria, which still has a
65:28
giant monument to its liberation by the Soviet soldiers in central Vienna.
65:38
But for some countries, it was much more problematic.
65:40
And for Estonia, which had been not only under Soviet occupation for half a century, but
65:49
really based its post-Soviet identity on the idea of occupation, right, to have that monument
65:59
in the center of town was really problematic.
66:03
It also became a focal point for both Estonian nationalists who would deface the monument
66:13
and [for] pro-Russian gatherings.
66:19
Estonia has a huge ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking population of non-citizens.
66:25
So this was—it was a problem in town.
66:32
They decided to solve this problem by moving the monument to a military cemetery.
66:36
The monument included 12 graves, so they moved the monument to a military cemetery, and Russia
66:45
really could have reacted in any number of ways, but Russia reacted with outrage.
66:49
Now, another thing that Putin had been doing is he had been creating these youth movements
66:52
sort of semi-vigilante, military in style if not—though not armed, basically para-armies
67:07
of young people to support the Kremlin.
67:11
So they are unleashed on the Estonian Embassy in Moscow.
67:16
The Estonian Embassy is essentially occupied for three days, and these so-called activists
67:25
demand that the Estonian ambassador go home.
67:30
The ambassador finally went home officially on vacation, but they said, “OK, our job
67:35
is done,” and left.
67:36
But at the same time—and Estonia is the most technologically advanced country in the
67:45
world.
67:47
Its entire government is electronic.
67:49
It’s the first country to offer e-citizenship.
67:53
Everything is on a chip.
67:54
You get stopped for a traffic violation or you go see a doctor, you use the same ID card
67:59
with a chip in it.
68:00
And all of a sudden, the entire Estonian system of government goes down because of pretty
68:08
primitive but enormous DDoS attack, [Distributed] Denial of Service attack launched on Estonia.
68:18
At the time, Russia denies that it’s involved.
68:20
Two years later, the leader of one of those youth movements says, “Yeah, it was an army
68:25
of volunteer hackers who unleashed that war.”
68:31
But it really shows Estonia who’s boss, because Estonia may be the most technologically
68:38
advanced country in the world, and it may have built a great democracy, but it’s just
68:40
1.2 million people, and you unleash 1.2 million hackers on them, and they can’t stand up to
68:49
it.
68:50
MICHAEL KIRK – How much of this and the Orange and Rose Revolution responses by Russia are
68:58
manifestations of Putin’s temper?
69:00
MASHA GESSEN – I think it’s both his temper and his perception of the world as essentially
69:08
hostile.
69:09
He personally perceives the world as essentially hostile, not just hostile to Russia, but hostile
69:18
to him, hostile to people he loves, just a really dangerous place.
69:27
So every time something happens, it’s probably a sign of danger, and the revolutions in both
69:35
Georgia and Ukraine were signs of danger.
69:39
In fact, in 2004 Ukraine had an election.
69:44
The election was very clearly rigged.
69:46
People started protesting in the streets, and eventually the Supreme Court, the Ukrainian
69:51
Supreme Court, ruled that—invalidated the results of the election and called for a third
69:57
runoff election to set things right.
70:00
Now, there were a couple of things that, for Putin, I think, were indications of danger.
70:05
One is— there’s an obvious one—which is that an independent judiciary is really dangerous
70:11
for a leader who relies on the rigged elections.
70:14
But again, people in the streets is a really frightening sight to Putin.
70:21
People in the streets can make all sorts of things happen, so instead of sort of watching
70:25
it and thinking, oh, we don’t have an independent judiciary, so people can come out in the streets
70:30
and then go right back home, because they can’t set in motion any mechanisms, because
70:37
he’d long since reversed judicial reform in Russia, which didn’t get very far in
70:41
the first place, instead he sees people in the streets wreaking havoc.
70:46
But he’s also convinced that people don’t just come out into the streets.
70:51
They have to be driven by somebody.
70:53
There has to be a puppet master.
70:55
Somebody’s funding them, and it’s probably the United States.
71:00
That’s actually when he started creating these youth armies.
71:07
There’s a wonderful Australian scholar named Robert Horvath who calls it “Putin’s preventive
71:11
counterrevolution.”
71:14
He launched a counterrevolution in his own country without waiting for a revolution to
71:18
happen, but he was terrified of a revolution like the one in Ukraine or the one in Georgia.
71:24
The one in Ukraine is known as the Orange Revolution, and the one in Georgia is known
71:27
as the Rose Revolution.
71:29
Nothing like that would ever happen in Russia, because there was already an army of young
71:33
people in place to basically to fight the protesters in the streets if they should come
71:37
out into the streets.
71:39
MICHAEL KIRK – By the time Obama comes in—we’re talking about the reset—[Dmitry] Medvedev
71:47
is in.
71:49
Is it an obvious fiction—was it an obvious fiction to you what it was going to be, or
71:57
is it an irrelevant fiction?
71:58
He [Putin] is still the most powerful guy in the country no matter what?
72:01
I know to Obama and Hillary, it seems like they—and we’ve talked to lots of people
72:07
who are around them—they really had high hopes that it was a true reset moment.
72:13
MASHA GESSEN – … I think at this point I can probably say it.
72:22
I was able to observe a little bit of that policymaking, and part of it was this idea,
72:30
this cynical and I think overconfident idea that if the United States empowered Medvedev,
72:38
then he would become the actual president.
72:43
I think that there were certainly intelligent people in the State Department at the time
72:48
who knew perfectly well that it was a fiction, and the basic understanding in the State Department
72:53
was that yes, it’s a fiction, but maybe we can make it real.
72:58
MICHAEL KIRK – So what did you witness?
73:01
What did you see?
73:02
What can you talk about?
73:07
MASHA GESSEN – I witnessed some of those, sort of the policymaking, and the idea—I
73:15
mean, everybody on the team, on the Russia team, I think in the State Department, did
73:21
realize that Medvedev was a fiction; he was a placeholder.
73:26
But there was a hope that sometimes these things take on a life of their own.
73:32
They really do.
73:33
I don’t think it’s—it’s not a crazy idea.
73:36
In fact, Putin was very much that kind of phenomenon as well, right?
73:41
He was sort of a fake accidental president, and then he was a real one.
73:47
I think that what they underestimated hugely was just how entrenched the clan system that
73:56
Putin had put in place was by 2008 when he put Medvedev in that chair as a placeholder.
74:08
I think that’s best described as a mafia state, which is a term invented by a Hungarian
74:15
scholar named Bálint Magyar, who actually makes a very strong argument that it’s important
74:21
to understand that it’s not crony capitalism or a kleptocracy; it’s a mafia state.
74:27
It’s administered by a patriarch, and power is distributed by the patriarch, just as money
74:32
is distributed by the patriarch.
74:34
Putin was still the patriarch.
74:35
It doesn’t matter what title he had.
74:38
I think they also didn’t realize, and I didn’t realize this until probably a couple
74:42
of years into the so-called Medvedev administration, that Medvedev just had absolutely no resources.
74:51
He had a couple of people working for him, a press secretary and an assistant, and like
74:56
one other guy.
74:58
Everything was concentrated around Putin.
75:01
At the same time, Medvedev had—legally, he had the right to fire Putin.
75:07
The president can fire the prime minister.
75:09
MICHAEL KIRK – But he’s not going to do that.
75:13
MASHA GESSEN – Well, one could hope that he would do that.
75:16
Then it’s very hard to sort of to discuss a counterfactual.
75:21
Like if the United States had not gone for the reset, would it have worked any better?
75:29
I don’t know.
75:31
I think that the fact that the reset came after the war in Georgia, and the war in Georgia
75:43
was technically fought under the Medvedev administration, and to sort of come to Russia
75:52
and say, “We’re willing to write it off, you know, write off the annexation of a third—of
75:59
a neighboring country,” it’s deeply immoral.
76:07
It also so happens that it was completely ineffective.
76:11
So the U.S. sacrificed some of its key foreign policy principles for nothing.
76:20
MICHAEL KIRK – It seems like it all falls apart, really falls apart starting with the
76:29
Arab Spring, from [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarak to [Libya’s Muammar al-]Qaddafi and the
76:37
vote Medvedev makes.
76:42
But when do you think it—what was the tipping point in that sort of false presidential moment?
76:49
What happens?
76:51
MASHA GESSEN – The false presidential moment?
76:53
MICHAEL KIRK – Well, it makes Putin reassert himself actually and say, “I’m going back
76:57
in.”
76:58
MASHA GESSEN – Oh, I think he was always planning to go back.
77:00
MICHAEL KIRK – No matter what?
77:02
MASHA GESSEN – Yeah, I don’t think that he ever considered the possibility of not
77:09
running for election again.
77:11
If he did, it was more of a possibility of changing the constitution to make it basically
77:17
a parliamentary republic.
77:18
MICHAEL KIRK – And then he’d have it anyway.
77:20
MASHA GESSEN – And then he’d have all the power legally.
77:22
There was no way he was going to stay in a legally less powerful position for more than
77:30
four years.
77:32
The fact that the first thing that Medvedev did when he came into office was change the
77:36
constitution to extend the presidency to six years indicates that, from the very beginning,
77:42
the plan was for Putin to then come back in for six years.
77:46
Then it was, you know, it was done right away, and it wasn’t being done for Medvedev’s
77:52
benefit.
77:53
MICHAEL KIRK – When the people hit the streets in the midst of the announcement that he’s
78:01
coming back, and Hillary says, the statement she says around the election, the unfairness
78:08
of the election, and Putin reacts so negatively, negatively enough that, whether it’s a pretext
78:16
or not, he seems to remember it, a lot of people are saying it’s a motivation for
78:20
the attack in 2016.
78:22
How do you read what was happening with the people on the street?
78:26
Here we are again, people on the street, Putin; it’s becoming a familiar pattern.
78:31
But how do you read that, Hillary’s statement and the effect it had on Putin?
78:37
What did that look like from Putin’s perspective?
78:39
MASHA GESSEN – Well, so from Putin’s perspective, I mean by 2011-2012, he has completely lost
78:49
the ability to distinguish himself from his regime, his regime from the country—from
78:55
the state, and the state from the country.
78:57
When he sees people coming out into the streets to protest him and his regime, he sees them
79:05
protesting Russia itself.
79:07
I think that’s a sincere view of the world.
79:11
He knows what’s best for Russia.
79:13
They want to destroy Russia.
79:15
If they want to destroy Russia, then obviously they’re not Russians.
79:19
So they must be—their puppet master—and he’s always been convinced that there are
79:24
puppet masters behind any protest—but their puppet master has to be whoever is opposed
79:30
to Russia.
79:31
Well, obviously, what’s the only thing that’s powerful enough to oppose Russia and to incite
79:42
these protests?
79:43
It has to be the U.S. State Department, because it would be insulting to think that it was
79:46
anything else, anything less than that.
79:50
And Hillary is the secretary of state, so obviously it’s her fault, personally.
79:56
MICHAEL KIRK – Let’s address Sochi, Crimea, Ukraine, all in a kind of moment, if you can.
80:06
What does Sochi mean?
80:09
It’s been going on since late November, early December [2014], down in Ukraine.
80:12
I don’t really need to know the details since I know about [Ukrainian President Viktor]
80:17
Yanukovych and all the rest.
80:19
But it’s to Putin this glorious moment.
80:22
This other thing is happening.
80:24
He hates it for all the reasons you’ve just articulated, and he’s got a kind of plan,
80:28
I guess, to go after Crimea and then down into Ukraine, using his new hybrid forces,
80:34
I suppose.
80:35
MASHA GESSEN – I think that by 2014, really military buildup has become his number one
80:43
priority, and there are a few reasons for this.
80:46
One is that he loves the military.
80:49
He sees it as Russia’s ultimate greatness.
80:51
But the other thing is that he has to become a mobilizational leader.
80:57
The bargain that he had with the population, which is basically exchanging sort of a sense
81:08
of overwhelming prosperity that he was giving them for unlimited power that they were giving
81:14
him, that’s not working anymore, because the Russian economy is becoming stagnant.
81:20
Oil prices haven’t started dropping yet, but because of corruption and because of the overreliance
81:27
on extractive economy, the economic growth has basically slowed to a crawl by 2013, by
81:37
the end of 2013.
81:41
He still has to throw this big party, which he’s been planning for many years.
81:45
He went to Guatemala City personally to lobby for the Olympics.
81:51
Not only that, he gave a speech in English, which he’d never done before.
81:55
I think it was—or was it French?
81:58
Anyway, it was a language that he doesn’t usually use.
82:05
So he has been planning for this great moment.
82:10
And the Olympics—remember, the last Olympics in Russia were the Moscow Olympics in 1980,
82:19
which were supposed to also be a symbol of greatness, and turned into something entirely
82:24
different because the United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics over the invasion of Afghanistan.
82:31
So it’s also partly taking revenge for that humiliation of 1980.
82:40
All of that is on one pile.
82:41
And then in the fall of 2013, it turns out that a lot of Western countries aren’t sending
82:51
their luminaries, the first—I think it was the president of Germany [Joachim Gauck] who
82:59
said he wasn’t coming, then Belgium, then someone else.
83:03
Then finally Obama announces his delegation, which doesn’t include an elected official.
83:14
The highest placed official that it includes is a deputy assistant secretary of state,
83:18
which is just an insult.
83:20
And, to add more insult, there are two openly gay former Olympians in the delegation.
83:29
This is about a year and a half into Putin’s anti-gay campaign, because the way that he
83:34
ended up dealing with the protesters was by queer-baiting them and by sort of focusing
83:40
Russia’s ire on the LGBT population.
83:44
There are no good photo ops in Sochi.
83:48
It’s basically, instead of a party, it’s a disaster.
83:52
At the last minute, Putin tried to clean up his act by releasing [Mikhail] Khodorkovsy,
83:57
the former oligarch, who had been a political prisoner for 10 years; releasing the members
84:02
of Pussy Riot, who had been in jail for nearly two years; releasing the 30—I think [thirty]
84:08
two members of Greenpeace who were in a ship that Russia had hijacked in neutral waters,
84:15
in international waters in September, a ship flying the Dutch flag.
84:22
So they release all of those people.
84:24
But it’s too late to save Sochi.
84:27
That adds more resentment to his feelings around Sochi.
84:32
Meanwhile, Ukraine, which is not just Russia’s closest neighbor but very much sort of the
84:39
country that Russia identifies with, and really, really identifies with, right—I mean, Russians
84:44
of all kinds look at Ukraine to understand their own country, and Putin is no exception.
84:50
In Ukraine, there have been these protests going on for now several months, and it’s
84:56
because Ukrainians want a closer association with Western Europe rather than [with] Russia.
85:06
He interprets those protests as anti-Russian.
85:10
But they’ve thrown the country into absolute turmoil.
85:14
Now, so all of that is in place.
85:16
And his military buildup is in place.
85:19
I don’t think it’s a matter of having plans for the Crimea in place.
85:23
It’s a matter of having plans for everything in place.
85:27
It’s like Chekhov’s gun hanging on the wall, except that they have a plan for invading
85:32
every country on the wall, right?
85:35
That’s what a lot of the investment of the military has been, is making plans for how
85:39
are we going to fight this war and this other war?
85:41
How are we going to re-annex parts of Finland, and how are we going to re-annex the Baltic
85:48
states and Moldova and Ukraine?
85:51
So here is the moment to take Crimea.
85:55
And it’s clear, from the way that the Crimean operation was carried out, that it was indeed
86:00
a well-planned operation.
86:01
It was carried out on the spur of the moment when he saw the opportunity, but the plans
86:07
for the operation had long since been designed.
86:13
It was just a matter of implementation.
86:16
Then there are a lot of people around him who want to go further, who want to go into
86:22
Ukraine, and he has nothing to lose by going into Ukraine—not that he actually thinks
86:27
about his losses.
86:28
He’s a brilliant opportunist and not a planner.
86:32
Actually, Sochi is a perfect example of how little he plans.
86:36
Usually, the Olympics aren’t very often held in dictatorships, and dictatorships usually
86:43
clean up their act a year or two before the Olympics, and then do things like arrest all
86:49
the political dissidents and reinstate the death penalty like China did the day after
86:54
the Olympics ends.
86:55
But not Russia.
86:56
Russia didn’t clean up its act because Putin is not a planner, right?
86:59
Putin realized that he had to do something six weeks before the actual Olympics and released
87:04
everybody, but it was too late.
87:05
It’s not like he’s looking ahead to what’s going to happen if he invades Ukraine.
87:10
He invades Ukraine because he can, and because it’s good for mobilization, and it’s worked
87:17
really well for him.
87:19
If you look at his popularity curve, it goes up vertically again, just like it did in September-October
87:30
1999, when he promised to hunt down the terrorists.
87:33
It goes up vertically again, just as the economic expectations curve goes down.
87:45
You never actually see that in a normal country.
87:48
You never see a leader whose popularity is up and holding while people’s subjective
87:54
economic well-being is down, drops down precipitously and holds.
88:02
Sociologists will tell you that those lines have to meet.
88:05
In fact, they have to cross in opposite direction.
88:08
But that doesn’t happen in Russia.
88:12
And I think the reason it doesn’t happen in Russia is because ultimately, Russia has
88:17
reverted to this state of mobilization identification with the state.
88:24
He has delivered what he promised, which is to bring back to people the feeling of identifying
88:30
with something great.
88:31
MICHAEL KIRK – And when they’re hammered with sanctions, does that diminish him in some
88:41
way?
88:42
Does it diminish him with his people?
88:43
MASHA GESSEN – Well, did something really interesting with the sanctions.
88:51
The U.S. and the European Union and Australia and I think a couple other countries introduced
88:57
sanctions, which were designed to—they were based on a ridiculous premise that comes from
89:14
a basic misunderstanding of the way that Russia works, that if they squeezed him economically
89:22
a little bit, his popularity would suffer, people would protest, and then he would have
89:33
to change his behavior.
89:34
First of all, Putin had been power, by that point, for 15 years.
89:44
He had never shown an ability to change course.
89:49
He had never shown that he reacts to pressure with anything but aggression.
89:55
But also, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how his dialog with his people was working.
90:01
By this time, he had cracked down in the wake of the protests, so Russia was two years into
90:06
a full-fledged political crackdown.
90:09
It’s not like he was worried about feedback, and it’s not like protests were a real option.
90:18
But they also clearly weren’t looking at how much more popular he had become because
90:23
of the invasion.
90:26
So sanctions—I’m not opposed to sanctions.
90:29
I just think that sanctions should be based on moral considerations and values, not on
90:35
the idea that they could squeeze him into changing his behavior.
90:40
But after sanctions went into effect, Putin did something extraordinary, which is he made
90:45
the sanctions worse.
90:47
He introduced countersanctions, banned the import of food products from all the countries
90:57
that had joined the sanctions, with the exception of Switzerland.
91:04
That actually was a huge blow to the Russian economy, but especially to sort of individual
91:11
economy, because at the time, nearly all Russian food was imported, partly because it’s an
91:19
extractive economy.
91:20
The ruble had been very strong for many years.
91:23
There was no reason for Russians to make their own food.
91:27
They were importing it.
91:31
The saner rationale for those countersanctions was to jumpstart Russian food production,
91:38
but of course, that’s not how it works, right?
91:42
Prices went through the roof.
91:44
People really felt the squeeze.
91:46
But that actually made the sense of being at war stronger.
91:49
Even though people suffered, Putin’s popularity didn’t suffer, and it still hasn’t suffered.
91:58
The reason that he hates the sanctions is not because they put the squeeze on the Russian
92:03
economy.
92:04
He is concerned about a different set of sanctions.
92:08
He’s concerned about personal sanctions against that—that really make things difficult
92:15
for him and his friends who are banned from entry to this country, who are banned from
92:20
having assets in this country, and who are essentially banned from doing any business
92:25
involving U.S. currency, which really hampers their style.
92:30
MICHAEL KIRK – So let’s take ourselves to the summer of 2016.
92:37
Why does Vladimir Putin, really in 2015 and in the spring of 2016, initiate, unleash the
92:48
hounds if that’s what he did, decide to go in to, invade the presidential election
92:57
in the United States of America in 2016?
93:00
MASHA GESSEN – A couple of things.
93:02
One is that Russia has actually made a habit of being a disruptive force in Western elections
93:14
for a few years now.
93:15
It didn’t begin with the American presidential election.
93:22
A better way to ask the question might be, why wouldn’t Russia try to meddle in American
93:28
elections when it’s made a habit of meddling in democratic elections?
93:32
Now, the reasons for meddling in elections are obvious, and I would actually begin with
93:40
psychological reasons rather than strategic reasons.
93:43
The psychological reason is that Putin is really and truly convinced, and the people
93:48
around him are really and truly convinced, that democracy is an unsound way of running
93:52
things.
93:54
It is messy.
93:56
It is, as he saw with Bush and Gore, doesn’t run very well, and it also probably isn’t
94:06
as honest as everybody says, right?
94:10
In fact, when you ask a Russian official or a Russian patriot about rigged Russian elections,
94:21
they will always say, “You think your elections are so honest?”
94:24
That’s a sense of relief.
94:27
It’s not, you know, this bit of—it’s not hypocritical “What about-ism?”
94:30
It’s sincere “What about-ism?”
94:32
They’re really arguments that democratic elections are rigged.
94:34
Well, if their democratic elections are rigged, why wouldn’t you want a part of the rigging
94:40
if you have an interest in the outcome?
94:42
Of course Russia has an interest in the outcome of American elections.
94:47
It also has an even deeper interest in proving that democracy is as rotten as they say it
94:53
is.
94:55
To prove that democracy is as rotten as they say it is, it is good to help it along in
95:01
becoming more rotten.
95:05
The other thing is that I think in this country, we’ve come to imagine the Russian system
95:11
of meddling as a well-oiled machine or a well-commanded army.
95:21
That’s not what it is at all.
95:23
There are a lot of technically savvy and not so savvy people who want to get federal grants,
95:32
and the Kremlin throws a lot of money at organizations that will sell a good pitch of being able
95:42
to meddle in something or wreak some sort of havoc somewhere, where havoc ought to be
95:48
wreaked, right?
95:50
It’s not so much that Putin sends out an army of hackers; it’s that there are groups
95:55
of hackers who want to take the initiative of doing something really awesome, which is,
96:00
of course, how we get two different groups hacking the Democratic National Committee
96:06
at roughly the same time, without apparently being aware of each other.
96:09
MICHAEL KIRK – Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear.
96:12
MASHA GESSEN – Right, Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear.
96:17
The whole thing is self-perpetuating and messy in different sorts of ways.
96:23
But of course there’s also the element of his personal hatred for Hillary Clinton, and
96:27
it’s not just hate her.
96:28
I think it’s like Hillary Clinton was impossible as a U.S. president.
96:33
To imagine that he would have to deal with her as a senior partner, a woman—I mean,
96:38
he already has to deal with [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel.
96:44
The lengths that he has gone to to assert his masculine dominance over Merkel is amazing.
96:52
He literally sicced dogs on her.
96:57
He has made indecent jokes in front of her, just to try to discomfort her.
97:07
He hates dealing with a strong woman, and one as president of the United States would
97:13
be just awful.
97:14
I don’t think he ever believed that he was going to be able to help get Trump into office.
97:19
I think in that sense, the people who prepared his briefs read all the same sources as we
97:28
do.
97:29
They were just as convinced that Hillary Clinton was going to win the American election as
97:35
The New York Times was convinced that she was going to win the American election.
97:41
MICHAEL KIRK – So in 2008 and other times, it was obviously espionage, and everybody
97:48
steals everything from everybody.
97:49
It’s when it’s activated through WikiLeaks and others that it changes into pure politics?
97:56
MASHA GESSEN – Well, that’s where it gets really—I mean, we don’t know, right?
98:05
I think that Julian Assange has his own megalomaniacal views of his role in the world.
98:16
He’s certainly alone against the entire world.
98:22
Who made the decision to release the products of the leaks at that particular time?
98:27
I think there’s actually every indication it was Assange.
98:31
How long had he been sitting on that material?
98:33
Did he get it on the eve of the leak, or months and months before?
98:38
We actually don’t know.
98:42
MICHAEL KIRK – One question in passing.
98:49
Nobody’s actually reached out and tried to stop Putin along this long narrative we’ve
98:55
been discussing, that we know of.
98:59
When Ukraine happens, we don’t fire back cyber stuff or close a bank.
99:04
99:05
With 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.
99:15
And, as you have articulated, it might have pissed him off, and off we go again further
99:20
and further along.
99:21
We get here, we know it.
99:22
[Then-Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper knows it.
99:25
Eventually the FBI knows it.
99:26
Certainly Obama knows it.
99:28
And there were certainly arguments: “We’ve got to push back here.
99:31
We’ve got to let him know.”
99:33
From what you know about Putin, and what you’ve been talking about this afternoon, how would
99:38
Putin have reacted if there would have been pushback?
99:41
MASHA GESSEN – Again, it’s very hard to argue a counterfactual, and I don’t think
99:49
that Putin’s reaction should be the consideration.
99:53
I think we have known for a very, very long time that Putin is dead set on a particular
99:59
course, and he’s going to pursue it.
100:01
When he gets very strong pushback, he steps back, and then he comes back again in the
100:06
exact same direction, doing the exact same thing.
100:11
The question should not be, what does Putin do?
100:14
Obviously it’s responsible to consider it, but it’s not terribly complicated to predict
100:20
what he is going to do.
100:21
The question should be, what are our values, and what do we do in accordance with our values
100:29
in this situation?
100:30
The sanctions, I think, are a very good example, right?
100:34
The sanctions, as a strategic move, are a failure, and a predictable failure.
100:40
The sanctions, as an expression of American values, wouldn’t have been a failure if
100:45
they had been framed and implemented that way, right?
100:48
It is wrong to do business with a dictator.
100:51
It is wrong to do business with a head of state or with a state that carries out the
100:55
first forcible annexation of land in Europe since World War II.
101:00
In accordance with those considerations, what does the United States do?
101:03
It probably introduces similar sanctions.
101:05
Doesn’t do it step by step the way it was done, because it is not gradually more and
101:13
more wrong to do business with that kind of state.
101:15
It is instantly wrong to do business with that kind of state.
101:18
So you introduce sanctions all at once, and perhaps in somewhat different areas, or perhaps
101:24
not.
101:25
But you don’t do it step by step, because the step-by-step process was intended to show
101:28
Putin that we mean business, and he has to stop.
101:31
Like hell he’s going to stop, right?
101:33
That’s not the kind of pushback that will make him stop.
101:37
You know, again, there’s also basic misunderstanding that he thinks that making life worse for
101:42
his people—I mean, we think that making life worse for Russians is going to make Putin
101:47
stop.
101:48
He has been making life worse for Russians for years, and it certainly hasn’t made
101:54
him stop.
101:56
MICHAEL KIRK – So what do you think Trump—what do you think Putin thinks of Trump?
102:04
102:05
MASHA GESSEN – Oh, he very clearly sees Trump as a buffoon.
102:10
Trump is, in some ways, the expression of everything that Putin disdains.
102:14
He disdains lack of control.
102:18
One thing that he also has cultivated as part of his image is his never betraying emotions.
102:25
That’s not true.
102:26
He actually betrays emotions quite a lot, but his idea of himself is somebody who has
102:33
a flat affect and purposefully never shows any emotions and is always calculated in everything
102:42
he does and says.
102:43
Also not true, but that’s how he thinks of himself.
102:46
Trump is the exact opposite of that.
102:49
I mean, I think that that kind of lack of control over his words and actions and emotions
102:58
and reactions makes Putin look down on him.
103:03
And I think, at this point, Putin feels also a little bit betrayed, because along with
103:09
much of the media establishment, and certainly much of Russian media, he has bought the idea
103:14
that he elected Trump.
103:16
He loves that idea.
103:17
He took a couple of victory laps after the election.
103:21
And now Trump hasn’t delivered.
103:26
In a way, Russia is worse off with Trump in office than it was with Obama in office.
103:33
MICHAEL KIRK – Because?
103:34
MASHA GESSEN – Sanctions remain in place.
103:36
There’s no sign that they will ever be removed.
103:38
Trump is less predictable.
103:40
Obama was always—you could basically easily predict that he was going to go for the least
103:45
engagement possible in any given situation.
103:48
It’s not true of Trump.
103:51
Trump liked firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria.
103:55
Trump loved dropping the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan.
103:58
It looks really good on television.
104:00
As Trump gets pushed into a corner, what is he going to do to make himself to look good
104:07
on television again?
104:09
Putin understands that kind of thinking very, very well.
104:14
As we speak, things are getting pretty rocky in Syria between Russia and the U.S.
104:22
I was just in Moscow recently, and Russian television is talking about how Trump hasn’t
104:30
sort of made good on his promises.
104:32
Russian television is also spending a lot of time on Syria, on how Russia is waging
104:38
a heroic war against ISIS and Syria, and American-backed terrorist forces are pushing back.
104:48
That’s the narrative.
104:50
America is backing terrorist forces in Syria, and Russia is waging war against them.
104:57
It’s hard to get Russians mobilized behind the Syrian effort.
105:02
It hasn’t been nearly as popular as Ukraine.
105:05
But it’s important to Putin personally.
105:08
And he will not step back from it.
105:10
MIKE WISER – So one of the questions is by 2016 election, there’s a lot of talk of Russian
105:18
botnets, propaganda, influence on social media.
105:22
How does that happen?
105:28
Going back to 2011 and 2012, the Russian government, what does Putin see when, at that point, it’s
105:34
Facebook and social media seem to be driving protests, change and the Arab Spring?
105:40
Is there a moment where they’re reconsidering tactics, are realizing the power and the danger
105:46
of social media after 2012?
105:49
MASHA GESSEN – I wouldn’t overemphasize it.
105:53
I was just talking recently to Adrian Chen, who did that wonderful story on the Russian
105:59
troll factory, and he said, “If I had known that the intelligence agencies were going
106:04
to use my article so prominently in their report, I would have emphasized how incompetent
106:10
they are.”
106:12
It’s not all that we imagine it to be.
106:18
They did catch onto social media.
106:19
They caught onto social media late, and not every agency has even figured out that social
106:27
media exists.
106:28
When the political crackdown began, they didn’t employ social media at all in their investigations.
106:35
They would go through people’s printed out photographs and handwritten notes to try to
106:43
figure out context.
106:44
They never went online to try to figure out how to crack down on people’s actual networks.
106:50
So it’s—they have a lot of money to throw around.
106:54
They are interested in increasing their electronic influence around the world.
107:00
This is true.
107:01
And there are some companies that are enterprising in sort of absorbing that money and doing
107:06
stuff for that money, and they have no scruples about what they do.
107:10
But to imagine it as a concerted effort and as sort of an all-out war on Western democracy
107:16
through high-tech means gives them a little bit too much credit.
107:20
MIKE WISER – But does he change his approach even inside Russia after those protests?
107:26
How does Putin change once he sees all those people in the street?
107:29
MASHA GESSEN – Oh, well, no, what changed when he saw people in the streets was actually
107:34
much more conventional.
107:36
They started arresting people.
107:38
They changed the laws.
107:40
They changed the laws to enable them to prosecute anybody for perceived violations of public
107:49
assembly laws.
107:50
So it used to be that—I mean, the laws were very restrictive in the first place, right?
107:58
You had to get a permit to hold a demonstration, and on that permit you had to indicate how
108:04
many people were coming to the demonstration, and if the number of people who came to the
108:07
demonstration exceeded the number of people on the permit, then you went to jail for 15
108:13
days.
108:14
But that still only hit the organizers of these protests, right?
108:18
So that’s what happened, for example, after the first protest, the first large protest.
108:22
People had a permit for 300 people because that’s how many people used to show up,
108:27
and 10,000 people showed up.
108:29
So the people whose names were on the permit application went to jail for 15 days for all
108:36
those people who showed up.
108:37
What they did, when Putin cracked down, is they changed those laws to be able to prosecute
108:43
anybody who participated in the protests for violations.
108:49
That is a basic instrument of state terror.
108:54
You have to create the mechanism of random prosecutions, because by definition, you can’t
109:00
apply a law like that uniformly.
109:04
If 50,000 people come to a protest, you can’t arrest 50,000 people.
109:10
You can only arrest some of them.
109:11
You certainly can’t send 50,000 people without reinstating the Gulag.
109:15
You can’t send 50,000 people to prison colonies, put them through the courts, etc., etc., so
109:19
you have to pick out a few to make the threat credible to the many.
109:23
But they can’t be the leaders, right?
109:26
They have to be ordinary people.
109:28
So they did that.
109:30
And they prosecuted—at this point, the number of people who have been prosecuted in connection
109:33
with the 2012 protests is over 30, and most of them have gone to jail for three or four
109:40
years.
109:41
These are just ordinary people, right, going to jail for peaceful protests.
109:47
They’re picked out at random, and they’re picked out at random times.
109:50
It can be two years after the protest.
109:52
They say, “We found videotape of you beating up an officer,” and then that person is
109:59
picked up.
110:00
So that’s one thing they did.
110:01
Another thing they did is the “foreign agents law,” which creates unbearable burdens for
110:12
functioning of any NGO [nongovernmental organization] that receives foreign funding.
110:17
Basically they’ve decimated civil society through doing this, and they’ve prosecuted
110:22
a lot of people from various organizations for failing to register as foreign agents.
110:31
They’ve paralyzed the work of many organizations, basically, with these prosecutions.
110:37
Let me just finish.
110:41
The third thing they did is the anti-gay campaign.
110:44
The anti-gay campaign is, it’s much more of a sort of standard scapegoating campaign.
110:51
But queer is a perfect stand-in for everything that Putin perceives the protesters to be.
110:56
They’re foreign; they’re other; they are something that didn’t exist in the Soviet Union.
111:01
We’ve only had queers since the Soviet Union collapsed.
111:06
They’re a stand-in for everything Western and everything imported.
111:12
And it gets traction with sort of this desire to return to an imaginary past with the traditional
111:18
values, whatever they were.
111:20
That’s also unleashed a lot of violence on people who are perceived to be gay.
111:26
So that channels a lot of the violent impulses in the population.
111:31
MIKE WISER – So what does Putin want now?
111:35
He started wanting respect from Bush.
111:37
But where are we at this point?
111:38
What’s his approach to the West?
111:40
MASHA GESSEN – Oh, he still wants the same thing.
111:42
He still wants a bipolar world.
111:45
The Syria story is actually a perfect example of how this unfolded.
111:49
You know, Putin’s happiest moment came in September 2013, when he hijacked Syria.
111:55
If you recall, Obama said there was a red line, and then he couldn’t get congressional
112:02
support for intervention in Syria.
112:04
Then he decided not to do it without congressional support, and he basically was losing face.
112:11
Putin stepped in and allowed him to save face and said that he was going to negotiate a
112:19
chemical disarmament with [Bashar al-]Assad.
112:22
He wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, which the Times published, that was just perfect
112:30
Soviet use of American rhetoric against the United States, calling out the U.S. for its
112:39
willingness to violate international law.
112:41
I mean, this is the man who annexed huge chunks of neighboring countries.
112:50
So that was—he was on top of the world then.
112:54
And then, a year later, suddenly he is an international pariah.
112:59
Nobody comes to his party.
113:03
He’s under sanctions.
113:05
I mean, Ukraine, he could have anticipated that there would be a strong reaction.
113:09
But the anti-gay campaign, he certainly never anticipated that there would be an international
113:14
outrage over it.
113:16
So he comes back to the U.S. for the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, Sept. 20,
113:21
2015, with a proposal.
113:28
He spoke at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and he basically articulated his
113:31
proposal.
113:32
His proposal was that a new international coalition, an anti-ISIS coalition modeled
113:38
after the anti-Hitler coalition should be formed.
113:45
What he means is, because the Soviet Union was part of the anti-Hitler coalition, the
113:51
Soviet Union got to be a superpower and got to have Eastern Europe.
113:58
He wants the same thing.
114:01
He wants to enter into this coalition with the United States and get to be a superpower
114:05
again, and also take parts of the world that he wants, which is not necessarily former
114:11
Soviet territories, but certainly what he’s already taken and some more.
114:15
Obama didn’t even meet with him.
114:19
He was completely snubbed.
114:24
He went back to Moscow humiliated, untended to.
114:32
Russia started bombing Syria a week later, and has been ever since.
114:36
The war, Russia’s participation in the war in Syria, is basically an attempt to blackmail
114:44
the United States into giving Russia its superpower status back.
114:49
JIM GILMORE – I think you missed the back in September of 2004, Beslan and what it represented,
114:57
and why it was important to understand about what was going on there.
115:11
MASHA GESSEN – Beslan was, if you could imagine, an even more shocking terrorist attack than
115:17
the explosions that killed people in their sleep.
115:19
That was Beslan, the siege of a school in the south of Russia, where nearly 1,000 people
115:29
were taken hostage.
115:31
Then more than 300 people died, most of them children.
115:37
As we learned, thanks to an independent investigation carried out over the next couple years, the
115:46
deaths of those children were really the FSB’s doing, the federal troops’ fault.
115:55
They shelled the school at point-blank range.
116:00
They fired at it from tanks.
116:04
A lot of the children who burned alive because of a fire that raged, because the school was
116:13
shelled at point blank range.
116:19
I think that they were trying to do everything to maximize the number of casualties, to maximize
116:23
the shock effect.
116:24
It’s also possible that they were just so inhumane that they would just do it without
116:33
even having that goal in mind.
116:37
But Putin used Beslan as a pretext for canceling gubernatorial elections.
116:46
He framed it as an antiterrorism measure.
116:52
It was a cynical move, because clearly his very detailed decree in canceling gubernatorial
116:57
elections had been prepared before Beslan happened.
117:03
But at the same time, it also expresses, I think, his basic belief that anything democratic
117:10
is always messy, and the way to respond to extreme violence and to extreme disorder is
117:17
to create more dictatorial powers.
117:20
MICHAEL KIRK – So now my last question, which is, are we at war?
117:25
Is he at war with us?
117:27
MASHA GESSEN – He is.
117:30
Putin has portrayed and the Kremlin-controlled Russian media have portrayed both the wars
117:36
in Ukraine and the wars here as proxy wars against the United States.
117:41
Russia does not perceive itself as being at war with Ukraine.
117:47
It perceives itself as being at war with the United States by proxy of Ukraine.
117:53
And it certainly doesn’t perceive itself as being at war with ISIS, even though it
117:58
says that it’s firing at ISIS fighters.
118:01
It perceives itself as being at war with forces that are backed by the United States in Syria.
118:09
They’re quite open about it, on television.
118:14
It would be beneath Russia’s station to go to war with Syria or to go to war with
118:19
Ukraine.
118:20
Only the United States is big enough to go to war against, and only the United States
118:24
is grand enough to mobilize people enough to have the kind of popularity that Putin
118:32
has come to depend upon. …

Masha Gessen, “The Future Is History”

13:55
remember I’m not sure if you were you
were still in Moscow and then probably
at the time but when in Azerbaijan one
of the former Soviet republics the
Soviet era leader Illya Haydar Iliev
died and he saw to pass his country on
to his son which in fact he succeeded at
14:15
doing and I went down for the election
and you know his son was not popular at
all he was sort of seen as a playboy he
was Western educated he was you know a
sort of a worldly sort but not at all
seen as you know fit to lead a country
and so there was unhappiness that was
genuine and that even you know the
reading people would tell you went to
this election it was a totally rigged
election and there was protesting the
streets you know people’s heads were
cracked right in front of me but with
the the lesson that I took away from it
was on the plane going back and there
were some Western election observers and
some Russian election observers on the
plane back to Moscow and the Europeans
said we don’t understand I mean you know
why were they so greedy
why did Elliot have to give himself 85
for some of the vote nobody thinks that
he really kind of 85 percent you know
couldn’t may have done 55 and he said
this to the Russian he said you don’t
understand the 85 percent was the point
the the fact that people knew he wasn’t
very popular and that this had to be you
know an orchestrated result the higher
the percentage the better I’m amazed
they didn’t go for 90% and it was this
very revealing moment to me where I
realized that you know the things that
are necessary to dictate the survival of
an authoritarian government are very
different than you know certainly that
product of the United States is is used
to thinking and and Putin has already
struck me as playing more by alliums law
than then we realize so
based on this book I know every single
person here is gonna stand up and ask
you this question so I’ll just ask you
16:04
for you anyways
16:05
you know why why do you think Putin has
16:09
taken what appears to be such an
16:11
aggressive outward turn you know not
16:13
just focusing on cracking down inside
16:15
Russia and you know making sure no more
16:18
below Tenaya protests break out but
16:20
focusing on the United States to a
16:23
degree that clearly has shocked many
16:24
people here in Washington this Saturday
16:29
it will be the one-year anniversary
16:31
not only of the Access Hollywood tape
16:33
which I’m sure everyone here remembers
16:35
but it will also be the one-year
16:38
anniversary of when the US government
16:40
said Russia had done the packing of the
16:44
dnc the one-year anniversary of the week
16:47
of Tom Podesta’s emails and it’s a lot
16:50
of effort since birthday and the 11th
16:56
anniversary of the murder of Anna
16:58
Politkovskaya
17:00
so I think that actually in it echoing
17:06
what you were just saying about I leaves
17:07
election the outward turn was the point
17:10
right
17:11
I believe and and I discussed this at
17:16
length in the book I believe that the
17:17
nature of the regime changed after the
17:20
crackdown it went from being an
17:22
authoritarian regime to a kind of
17:24
totalitarian regime right when I say
17:26
kind of totalitarian I don’t mean that
17:28
he was establishing a new totalitarian
17:30
regime right that would involve terror
17:33
and just all sorts of unimaginable
17:35
horror but he was calling forth the
17:38
habits and customs of Soviet
17:42
totalitarian society and one of the
17:45
differences between an authoritarian and
17:48
totalitarian regime that I think is key
17:51
here is mobilization and in in an
17:56
authoritarian regime
17:57
nothing is political the authoritarian
18:00
leader wants people to stay home tend to
18:03
their private lives and not pay
18:05
attention while he ponders the country
18:08
consolidate spur or whatever it is
18:10
history
18:11
at two teletraan leader wants the exact
18:14
opposite everything is political there
18:18
is no private realm and the totalitarian
18:21
leader wants people out in the public
18:23
square rallying for a victory right the
18:28
to tell the population has to be
18:30
mobilized and there are lots of reasons
18:33
why it has two immobilized but the
18:35
question is how does it get mobilized
18:37
and it only can get mobilized against an
18:39
enemy and they only Menna me that is big
18:43
enough and glorious enough to be
18:45
mobilized against is the United States
18:47
and I think that’s something that the
18:51
foreign policy establishment in this
18:52
country really failed to understand was
18:54
that was the nature of the war in
18:55
Ukraine the Russians believe that they
18:58
were fighting a proxy war with the
18:59
United States in Ukraine and in Syria
19:02
and so in that sense the intense
19:06
interest and participation in the
19:10
American election he’s just completely
19:13
logical it’s not you know it’s not a
19:15
break with the narrative it’s part of
19:17
the narrative especially because Russia
19:20
believes that the United States has
19:22
meddled in its own politics has
19:24
organized that Hillary Clinton
19:26
personally organized protests in the
19:28
streets in 2011-2012 and so why
19:31
shouldn’t Russia do the same here okay
19:33
so you brought up the t word as in
19:35
totalitarianism which is the subtitle of
19:38
your book how totalitarianism reclaimed
19:41
Russia you know you had to have done
19:43
that recognizing that some people would
19:46
would get in an argument over
19:47
definitions with you and that no
19:50
Lattimore printed as many things you
19:52
described them well in your previous
19:54
book but he has not killed millions of
19:57
people but so um that’s why I wrote a
20:00
whole chapter on the definition of
20:02
totalitarianism chapter 14 but so here’s
20:10
my theory of the case I I think that
20:13
Putin certainly did not set out to be a
20:17
totalitarian leader in fact the regime
20:20
that he was trying to build as a mafia
20:22
state and
20:24
this is I think this is the best
20:26
definition again there have been many
20:27
oligarchy kleptocracy crony capitalism
20:30
the liberal democracy
20:32
I think that they’re all flawed and the
20:37
best one is mafia state and this is a
20:39
definition put forward by a Hungarian
20:42
political scientist named Balan major
20:45
who describes it as a clan a family run
20:50
by patriarch the patriarch distributes
20:53
money and power and you know the amazing
20:58
thing since the people are going to ask
21:00
about this as well I’ll just go ahead
21:02
and say it
21:04
the amazing thing of course is when I
21:06
was writing the book in writing about
21:08
mafia States the whole the concept of
21:10
family was a metaphor right I was
21:14
talking about the other T word I wasn’t
21:18
thinking that you know would be
21:19
observing the formation of a mafia State
21:22
with a literal family at the home but so
21:27
he he was building office T his goal
21:30
continues to be to to retain power in
21:35
perpetuity and to continue in the chisa
21:39
but because to do that he had to crack
21:42
down in 2012 and because he cracked down
21:46
on the ruins of a totalitarian society
21:50
the response he got was the survival
21:53
response of a totalitarian society it’s
21:56
very much like you know a person who has
22:00
been in an abusive situation developed
22:04
survival skills that are suited to that
22:07
situation and those are the skills that
22:10
that person is going to use throughout
22:12
their life unless something
22:15
extraordinary like really great therapy
22:16
happens to this person but as Susan over
22:19
dimensioned Russia didn’t really Russia
22:21
need a lot of therapy didn’t get a lot
22:22
of therapy the survival skills of a
22:25
totalitarian society were perfectly
22:26
suited for the period of state terror
22:28
and the thing that that I think we have
22:31
discovered in the last 20 years is that
22:35
they have been made
22:36
and in response to put subscribe down
22:39
that’s what came forward so I know we
22:43
are gonna want to turn back to the other
22:44
t word in a second but let’s stick with
22:46
the book for right now you have these
22:49
sort of four main characters these young
22:50
people but you you also these sort of
22:52
three intellectual protagonists and one
22:55
of them is Alexander Dugan who has
22:58
become in innocence the chief ideologist
23:01
behind putinism even though it’s he
23:04
wasn’t like personally close to Putin as
23:07
far as we understand it tell us what you
23:09
think about this debate and there is a
23:12
debate about whether there really is an
23:14
ideology of putinism beyond just
23:17
maintaining power for Putin you know
23:20
this is one of the big arguments in our
23:22
sort of world of Russia Watchers and the
23:24
reason I think it’s particularly
23:26
relevant right now is this question of
23:30
what kind of a conflict are we facing
23:33
between Russia and the West between
23:35
Russia and the United States it actually
23:37
depends a little bit on how you assess
23:39
their ideology whether they have an
23:41
ideology and if so you know how it plays
23:44
out so tell us a little bit about your
23:46
study of Alexander Dugan he didn’t
23:48
cooperate unlike the other characters in
23:49
this book well he cooperated in a very
23:52
peculiar way he sent me stuff and he
23:55
sent me his right right-hand person to
23:58
talk to me so I talked to I interviewed
24:00
him by proxy but he also has a vast
24:04
written record that and actually I want
24:09
to just give a shout out to unconscious
24:11
cops of who’s here who knows so much
24:13
more about Alexandra Dugan than I ever
24:15
will and he was a new book out on Russia
24:20
and the European far-right so the
24:27
ideology question actually I’m not sure
24:29
is the right question and I’ll explain
24:33
ideology is also something that looks
24:36
coherent usually in hindsight when you
24:39
read contemporary accounts of say
24:42
Hitler’s Germany which we imagine to
24:43
have had a very clear idea gee
24:48
victor klemper talks about how they are
24:51
opportunists and they just pick up
24:53
whatever whatever is handy to make a
24:55
particular argument erich fromm writes
24:58
that they have no ideology whatsoever
25:00
and the very idea that Hitler has an
25:02
ideology is misguided Hannah Arendt
25:05
writes later than from that that one of
25:10
the reasons that the West was that that
25:12
the the other Western countries were so
25:16
slow to understand what was going on in
25:19
Germany and in the Soviet Union was that
25:22
the ideology on the face of it seemed
25:24
preposterous that if you tell somebody
25:27
that they’re going to kill millions of
25:29
people because they are because of their
25:33
ethnicity it sounds preposterous if you
25:35
told them somebody that their ideology
25:37
is to eliminate eradicate entire classes
25:42
of people to the tune of millions of
25:44
people it sounds preposterous only once
25:47
it’s happened does it become believable
25:49
even if it’s still unimaginable and then
25:52
it starts to add up to coherent ideology
25:54
so I think that you know once you’ve
25:57
immersed herself in those accounts you
26:00
actually think this guy doesn’t have
26:03
less of an ideology than any of those he
26:07
is um I think he has struck a couple of
26:11
themes that are consistent and one has a
26:14
lot of traction and that’s traditional
26:16
values right
26:18
it began in part with queerbaiting the
26:22
protesters and because that turned out
26:25
to be so effective it’s it’s turned into
26:29
this full-fledged sort of idea of a
26:31
traditional value civilization that’s
26:32
Duggan’s idea and a russian world and
26:35
russia as the center of a civilization
26:38
based on traditional values um that’s
26:41
that’s just a heron does it get well I
26:44
know the audience has a lot of questions
26:46
and I’m gonna look for our microphone so
26:49
that you can raise your hands and do it
26:51
while you’re getting your questions
26:52
ready I’ll throw a coin on when – Masha
26:55
before turning it over to you the
26:56
audience back to the other T word
26:59
you know you’ve written in
27:01
sure many people here are familiar with
27:02
your very powerful essay in the New York
27:05
Review books suggesting that you know
27:07
the threat of Trump has to really do
27:10
with the question of
27:13
the kind of society we have here in the
27:15
United States so now that it’s 250 days
27:18
230 days in to the Trump presidency what
27:22
is your own progress report on the state
27:24
of American democracy under Trump do you
27:28
fear do you feel that your predictions
27:30
are coming true I do unfortunately I
27:34
think that and if you recall or you
27:39
don’t have to recall I recall that I
27:44
actually in the in that essay but also
27:47
later this was more vividly when
27:50
Samantha bee asked me what my greatest
27:51
fear was and I said nuclear holocaust
27:53
and you know back in January it seemed
27:57
like a kind of nutty thing to say we’re
28:02
in September in October now and we’ve
28:04
been living with the specter of a
28:07
nuclear holocaust for a month you know
28:13
that’s that’s how fast it has advanced
28:16
and I think that he is Trump’s attack on
28:21
American institutions and even more
28:24
significantly to my mind on American
28:26
political culture has been as unceasing
28:29
as it could possibly have been I didn’t
28:33
actually imagine that it would be this
28:34
cacophonous but I think the cacophony
28:36
makes it that much more effective
28:39
you mean cacophonous from inside the
28:41
Trump administration which clearly is
28:43
not yet singing with one voice I mean
28:46
that but I also mean you know the the
28:48
just endless barrage of news I mean I’m
28:53
boots hidden when he came to power in
28:55
the you know all of us have again our
28:58
own heuristics right my Putin came to
28:59
power he set in motion a kind of
29:01
authoritarian crawl right he was very
29:05
methodical about taking over power but
29:09
every step was was measured and I think
29:13
that that’s part of what made it so
29:14
effective in his case was that every
29:17
single thing he did it on its face
29:20
wasn’t that awful you know until 2004
29:24
when he cancelled the Burnet or election
29:26
but basically up until that point
29:28
everything he did was kind of horrible
29:31
but not not it was difficult actually to
29:36
make the argument in the Western media I
29:38
know I tried that he was establishing an
29:41
authoritarian regime and you know Trump
29:44
has been acting like a bull in the china
29:46
shop from day one
29:49
there has been no crawl there’s like
29:50
this constant artillery attack and on
29:57
that note who wants to be the first to
29:59
jump in with Suzanne um can you talk
30:04
about food as well and how he came by
30:07
that and the oligarchs and Russia and
30:09
how did the people feel about the failed
30:13
attempt at you know an actual kind of
30:16
democracy thank you that’s at least
30:19
three questions so I’m going to focus on
30:24
the last of those three questions
30:25
because it actually has to do with
30:27
what’s what’s in this book as opposed to
30:29
a much earlier book about Putin so how
30:33
do people feel about the failed attempt
30:35
at democracy well we no longer know
30:38
that’s how profound the transformation
30:42
of Russian society has been there’s
30:45
there’s a moment in the book that’s very
30:46
important to me when they have good
30:48
coffee
30:49
the sociologist he has taken a piece of
30:52
paper and he has graft his superimposed
30:56
two graphs the graph of Putin’s
30:59
popularity which skyrocketed after the
31:02
invasion of Ukraine and held at 86% so
31:06
it looks like a vertical line up from 50
31:08
something to 86 and then it just holds
31:10
it plateaus and the graph of consumer
31:15
confidence which is a actually sort of
31:18
more broadly a sense of economic
31:22
well-being which plummeted around the
31:25
same time just as the Russian economy
31:27
tanked and stayed and plateaued at the
31:30
bottom and so it looks like this and he
31:34
held us up and said this can’t happen
31:37
this is impossible right these two lines
31:42
have to meet
31:44
either this goes up where this goes down
31:46
most likely both of them one goes up and
31:48
the other one goes down the fact that it
31:50
hasn’t means that it’s no longer a
31:53
society in which you can meaningfully
31:55
measure public opinion because there’s
31:57
no public and there’s no opinion since
32:00
we’re also coming up on the anniversary
32:03
of the Bolshevik Revolution I was
32:06
wondering how much you feel that Putin
32:08
the KGB agent is influenced by the
32:11
Soviet political culture and structure
32:14
and how much he represents a break from
32:16
that oh I think his he is a KGB agent
32:19
through the truth that’s uh that’s the
32:23
nature of the beast and what I think is
32:26
it is important and what you know what
32:29
this book is about is is how much he has
32:32
been able to tap into a nostalgia for an
32:37
imaginary Soviet Union and recreate
32:42
aspects of that culture okay my name is
32:51
Ruth and given the different histories
32:54
and different political cultures of
32:56
Russia and the US and given what you’ve
33:00
termed the assault on American political
33:03
culture by Trump how successful do you
33:07
think he will be in establishing a
33:10
clause like totalitarian regime here if
33:13
at all and what would be the best
33:15
resistance that you would suggest for
33:18
the American population so I mean I
33:23
don’t think that there’s a danger of
33:26
totalitarianism in this country to Talat
33:29
arianism does require state terror the
33:33
reason that Putin has been able to tap
33:35
into totalitarian culture is that there
33:39
was state terror in the Soviet Union for
33:42
at least three decades and the memory of
33:47
that terror has shaped the society that
33:49
Russia has today I think that Trump is
33:54
an aspiring autocrat
33:56
he wants to he wants to rule like a
33:59
tyrant and that’s a real risk and it’s a
34:03
real risk you know not in the sense that
34:05
that Americans will forfeit as many
34:07
liberties as Russian supported but it
34:10
certainly it will I think there’s a real
34:13
risk to institutions in there there’s a
34:15
real risk to two political culture and I
34:20
think the way to resist it I mean
34:23
obviously I’m in a great position to
34:25
give advice on this because I had to
34:28
flee my own country that’s one way yeah
34:34
I mean
34:35
New Zealand seems like a nice place but
34:39
but I think that in this country we have
34:43
to be really aware of what we have right
34:45
I mean there have been aspiring tyrants
34:51
aspiring autocrats as long as there have
34:53
been democracies right there have been
34:54
people who wanted to destroy them and
34:57
never actually have they confronted a
35:00
civil society this strong and a public
35:04
sphere this healthy and that’s an
35:06
strange thing to say because you know
35:07
we’ve all been bemoaning but good reason
35:09
sort of the the the the polarization in
35:12
this country and the crisis of trust in
35:16
in the media all that is true and still
35:20
I think a majority of people in this
35:24
country are routinely exposed to
35:26
opinions that they don’t share a
35:28
majority of people get their news from
35:30
different sources that don’t speak with
35:34
one voice
35:36
we have an absolutely extraordinarily
35:38
wealthy and broad civil society and we
35:43
saw how it can act when the travel ban
35:46
happened and how a civil society
35:49
motivates institutions to act we have to
35:52
be really aware of that and importantly
35:53
we have to be aware of it because we we
35:55
need to know that institutions don’t
35:58
actually function without civil society
36:02
institutions will absolutely not save us
36:05
only civil society puts pressure on them
36:08
and supports them well we have some hope
36:12
of of protecting what we have but we all
36:15
see you know we also have to understand
36:16
that what we have is very much worth
36:18
protecting hi my name is Jason and my
36:24
question relates to how Russia sort of
36:26
interacts with the broader world I’ve
36:29
sort of noticed a pattern kind of in
36:31
Russian history where you don’t like
36:33
some sort of catastrophic war for
36:35
example will happen like Napoleon
36:36
attacks and as a response there’s a push
36:39
back to the West so Alexander then sees
36:42
as much of Poland or after World War two
36:45
yo you see Stalin setting up this
36:47
network of various satellite states in
36:50
Central Europe
36:51
do you see Putin as kind of actively
36:55
following in that that’s sort of pattern
36:58
um I actually would disagree with your
37:02
narrative a bit you’ve just told a story
37:06
that that actually Russia really loves
37:08
to tell of how Russia is always under
37:10
attack and encounter attacks I think I’m
37:15
probably more accurate way of looking at
37:17
it is to say that Russia has been an
37:20
empire and it has had an expansive
37:22
vector for most of its history
37:25
and it’s not because it’s under attack
37:27
from the West and that’s that’s very
37:30
much in play now I think that one of the
37:33
missed opportunities and I do talk about
37:35
this in the book is is sort of the
37:38
opportunity to develop a post Imperial
37:41
identity okay the Soviet Union was an
37:43
empire it was an empire that didn’t they
37:46
denied that it was an empire but but it
37:50
broke apart like empires do but there is
37:53
still an empire left and thus Empire had
37:59
the opportunity to to start thinking of
38:03
itself in a different way and perhaps to
38:07
not base its identity on greatness
38:10
and that didn’t happen and under Putin
38:14
it’s very much back to a great Russia
38:16
the the the the single great myth of
38:21
Russian history now is World War two
38:24
which as live both again the sociologist
38:27
says is the perfect myth because it
38:29
shines it slides backwards and forwards
38:31
backwards because it justifies all the
38:34
terror that came before and for is
38:36
because it explains how the Soviet Union
38:38
became a superpower and that’s sort of
38:42
that’s that’s at this point the source
38:44
of Russian identity and then in large
38:48
part dictates you know it’s it’s outside
38:50
ambition it’s superpower scale ambition
38:53
and it’s expensive expansive motion
38:58
my name is my name is Jacob and I had a
39:01
question that I think is sort of a
39:02
follow on to the the preceding one and
39:05
it has to do with Turkey and it seems to
39:09
me that air Dewan in Turkey is really
39:12
following a very similar strategy as
39:15
Putin did in Russia and it seems like
39:17
Putin has offered him very close support
39:19
in that process since the coup oh sorry
39:24
since the coup in July of I guess 2016
39:27
and I was wondering if you could talk
39:30
about that relationship from from your
39:32
perspective and and what you see is its
39:34
future um I don’t judge me I’m not at
39:38
all an expert on Turkey like not at all
39:40
so I’d really hesitate to talk about
39:43
Turkey one thing that I would say about
39:46
that relationship is that has been quite
39:48
volatile I mean there was a moment but
39:52
about six months before the coup when it
39:55
looked like there might be a war between
39:56
Russia and Turkey and that’s actually an
39:59
important lesson for Americans I think
40:02
right the here we have a president now
40:05
has promised a wonderful relationship
40:07
with Russia and the u.s. relationship
40:10
with Russia is at its lowest point
40:12
possibly since world war two right at
40:16
the point of you know mutually expelling
40:17
diplomats at a point when the US Embassy
40:21
in in in Russia has stopped issuing
40:24
visas because they no longer have the
40:26
the people power to to issue visas Trump
40:30
has suggested closing the consulate in
40:32
San Francisco I mean it’s just it’s just
40:34
spiraling and I think that’s the serve
40:40
the erdowan Putin example is a good
40:42
example of how unreliable autocratic
40:46
friendships are and how volatile they
40:49
can be hi my name is Tina I have a
40:54
question about the protests that were
40:56
going on earlier this year so it seems
40:58
that people like Navalny really
41:00
capitalized on discontent with the lack
41:04
of economic growth for the middle
41:05
classes so the rich who were getting a
41:08
lot richer and then there was a
41:09
stagnation or
41:10
a loss of economic power in the middle
41:13
classes and the the people that were
41:14
less well-off and it seems like there is
41:18
continued interest in going out and
41:20
doing something or protesting on the
41:21
streets at least in the bigger cities
41:22
and then of course the money was
41:24
arrested but do you see that that
41:26
discontent is going away or are they
41:28
neutralizing it in some way or is it
41:30
still there and just not finding
41:31
expression in any kind of systemic
41:34
organized fashion so the question
41:40
concerns protests that there have been –
41:43
two waves of protests this year and
41:46
probably one more coming in the spring
41:49
and then in June when called upon by
41:55
Alexei Navalny who started out as an
41:58
anti-corruption blogger and has become
42:00
sort of a leading light for for a lot of
42:02
people in Russia people came out into
42:05
the streets to protest corruption all
42:07
over Russia in June people came out in
42:10
over 100 cities and towns so the most
42:13
geographically spread out protests in
42:18
Russian history I believe and the regime
42:21
responded by arresting 1725 people in
42:25
one day so the largest wave of arrests
42:27
in a single day in decades I think that
42:32
gives us a pretty good indication of of
42:36
how this is going to play out but to me
42:39
the saddest thing about those protests
42:41
as much as I you know as much as I have
42:45
I have lots of problems with my Balinese
42:46
politics but I admire his inventiveness
42:50
and his urge immensely and as much as I
42:55
admire the people who came out to
42:58
protest there was something really
43:01
tragic to me about those protests and
43:03
that was how both the number of very
43:06
very young people in them but even more
43:09
so the the way that older people and by
43:13
older people I mean anybody over 25
43:16
interpreted them all over Russian social
43:21
networks
43:23
in what little independent media there
43:25
is there was the sentiment oh this is
43:27
the new generation that’s finally going
43:30
to make change and they’re talking about
43:33
seventeen year olds and a lot of the
43:36
people who are talking about the 17 year
43:38
olds in it and the 15 year olds are
43:40
people in their mid-30s who were the
43:43
young faces of protest five years ago
43:46
and who have already given up on
43:48
themselves and on their entire
43:50
generation and are passing the baton to
43:52
the next generation to me that was
43:55
especially painful because I had just
43:57
finished writing this book a lot of
44:01
which is about this idea of generational
44:05
change and ultimately whether
44:07
generational change is stronger than
44:09
injured intergenerational trauma the
44:16
sociologists who think I keep mentioning
44:19
him more than the other characters but
44:21
he is he offers incredible analysis and
44:23
and he and the team that he worked for
44:27
in 1989
44:29
went out to do survey based on the sizes
44:32
that the Soviet man Hamas of a circus
44:36
was bound to be a dying breed because it
44:40
had been decades more than a generation
44:42
since Stalin’s terror ended and so
44:45
people with the living memory of terror
44:47
were dying off and that would mean that
44:51
a Soviet man was dying off and that
44:54
would mean that Soviet institutions that
44:55
rested on Soviet man would crumble and
44:58
that would mean that would bring the
44:59
Soviet Union down so they had this
45:01
optimistic hypothesis they went out they
45:04
did a survey they concluded that they
45:05
were right two years later the Soviet
45:09
Union collapsed right on schedule
45:11
and in another three years they went
45:13
back to do that survey again and got
45:15
really weird results that suggested that
45:18
Hamas of a Turkish was not dying off was
45:23
surviving and five years after that they
45:25
did it again and concluded and I quote
45:28
that’s Hamas of a circus is not only
45:30
thriving but reproducing
45:34
and they keep getting results that
45:36
affirm that theory in there they don’t
45:37
see that person that that that that
45:43
traumatized survivor of totalitarian
45:46
society going anywhere and so the way
45:49
that one generation sort of looked at
45:51
the next and said okay let the let the
45:53
school children do it just to depress
45:56
the hell out of me
46:00
hi my name is Sophie and I studied China
46:05
oh sorry
46:07
where there’s also been absurd in
46:10
nationalism and also a crackdown on not
46:13
democracy because they don’t have that
46:14
but on civil society within roughly the
46:17
same period of time and in connection
46:20
with that there’s also been a real
46:22
upsurge I think in a propaganda about
46:25
traditional gender rules and so I was
46:28
wondering if you had any thoughts about
46:30
the impact of increasing
46:31
authoritarianism in Russia on gender
46:34
equality and and then also separately
46:41
you’ve spoken about the connection
46:43
between trauma as a sort of collective
46:46
national experience and how that can be
46:49
exploited by governments for to
46:54
implement totalitarianism and I wonder
46:57
if you think that it also works perhaps
47:00
in the opposite direction that repairing
47:03
trauma on an individual level
47:05
um can have a revolutionary impact
47:08
should the National Endowment for
47:10
democracy be adding a line item for
47:14
therapy for this I hope the grants that
47:17
they asked people to apply for oh my god
47:19
that is such a great idea
47:21
I I think the answer is no one has tried
47:26
that but that sounds like such an
47:28
amazing project and and you know you
47:30
can’t go wrong with the project like
47:31
that like you can’t fail at least on the
47:33
individual level you will help people
47:35
which is more than you can say for a lot
47:37
of you know democracy advancement
47:41
projects so gender roles you know it
47:46
Evan it’s it always gets really
47:47
complicated when we talk about gender
47:49
roles in in Russia because it seems so
47:53
contradictory within women equally
47:56
represented in the work place and and
47:59
and and a lot of female-headed
48:03
households and all of that but so that
48:06
said and that the complication
48:08
acknowledged
48:10
there’s been both I think rhetorically
48:13
and and really socially a real sort of
48:17
reversion in the last under Putin
48:21
I mean Putin there’s the great anecdote
48:25
that Hillary Clinton told to Putin told
48:29
to David Remnick in one when he was
48:31
interviewing her but her book where she
48:34
asked Putin and I haven’t gotten to that
48:37
place in the book I don’t know if it’s
48:38
in the book as well but she she was
48:42
looking for something that she could
48:43
discuss with Putin and he’s very
48:47
interested in nature conservation which
48:49
is also something I know a little bit
48:51
about and and so she said to him she
48:56
asked me a question about that and he
48:58
just lit her up and started talking to
49:00
her and he said in fact I’m about to go
49:01
to Chukotka to place a satellite collar
49:03
on a polar bear maybe Bill wants to come
49:06
with me he says to the secretary of
49:10
state of the United States and she says
49:12
well bill might be busy I could come
49:15
with you and he just ignores it and
49:20
that’s sort of you know that’s that’s
49:22
the culture very very much the reigning
49:28
culture and when Putin has also been
49:30
known to be to respond to a question
49:33
asked by a woman journalist you know and
49:35
how many children have you had and a lot
49:39
of the rhetoric underlying the anti-gay
49:42
campaign has actually had to do with
49:44
reproduction and demographics and I
49:46
think part of the reason that has been
49:47
so successful is because it does tap
49:49
into a real demographic panic so all of
49:53
that has not been great for for for
49:59
gender equality and more equal gender
50:03
roles and and they you know the
50:06
incredible emphasis now on traditional
50:08
values or whatever that might mean and
50:11
sort of the imaginary past when we had
50:13
those traditional values ultimately you
50:16
know it’s just going to exacerbate that
50:18
situation
50:21
hi my name is Lia I just wanted to thank
50:24
you for being here um sorry um so my
50:29
question was that in other revolutions
50:33
like for example in the Arab Spring
50:35
social media has been a really effective
50:38
tool for mass mobilization of
50:42
opposition’s
50:43
I was just wondering if you could talk a
50:47
little bit more about how why you think
50:49
that given how unregulated social media
50:52
and the Internet are generally why you
50:55
think the opposition hasn’t really
50:57
effectively used it – yes right so yeah
51:04
I wouldn’t say that the opposition
51:05
hasn’t effectively use social networks
51:09
or social media here’s what I would say
51:12
first of all I would say that there is
51:14
no opposition in Russia right and what I
51:18
mean is that opposition is a word that
51:21
suggests access to public sphere access
51:24
to media access to electoral
51:27
institutions none of that exists right
51:30
so their opponents to Putin who
51:36
publicize who spread information and who
51:40
sometimes organize protests it’s very
51:42
different from saying that there’s an
51:43
opposition and it has a lot to do with
51:46
why the potential of how the potential
51:49
of social media is limited right social
51:52
media cannot create connections that
51:55
don’t exist offline it cannot create
51:58
public space that really doesn’t exist
52:00
offline it can speed up communication
52:04
and it can amplify messages but only
52:08
within the confines of what already
52:09
exists offline okay and so when protests
52:15
broke out people were able to spread the
52:19
message very very quickly within
52:21
existing networks using social media
52:24
among other things it was as often
52:28
happens the impact of social media was
52:30
overestimated polls actually
52:33
that about half the people who
52:35
participated in purchase in 2011-2012
52:38
learned about them from social media and
52:40
about half from other sources great but
52:43
it played an important role but it’s not
52:45
you know social media as we have now
52:47
finally learned in this country as well
52:48
it’s not inherently anything it’s not
52:52
inherently democratic it’s not it
52:54
doesn’t inherently it’s not inherently a
52:57
force for good and it doesn’t inherently
53:02
it doesn’t create things that aren’t
53:04
already there it just makes them more
53:06
efficient so I’m originally from Moscow
53:10
my name is Natasha emigrated about 20 it
53:13
was the last year of the Soviet Union
53:15
I have a personal question actually two
53:19
interrelated personal questions one is
53:23
you have been living in Moscow after you
53:26
came back from the US for quite some
53:30
time and now you are back in the US I
53:33
wanted to find out how you’re finding
53:36
this adjustment back so the US and the
53:42
second question there is one of your
53:43
books which is not political which I
53:45
really love I read it a long time ago
53:48
it’s called blood matters and it’s about
53:52
genetics and your personal journey and
53:54
right now I understand that it’s very
53:56
important to write political books but
53:59
I’m wondering whether you are thinking
54:01
about writing in non political book
54:04
again Wow
54:07
great question so
54:10
to the question of how the adjustment
54:12
has been coming back here so I first
54:16
came here as a teenager in 1981 and then
54:19
I went back to the Soviet Union actually
54:22
is a correspondent in 1991 and stayed
54:27
until December 2013 and then came back
54:31
here but all along I was writing in both
54:34
English and Russian and writing books in
54:37
English so for me coming back was
54:41
actually it has actually been great it’s
54:46
it’s it’s been a homecoming in a way I
54:49
live in New York City which I love I’ve
54:53
had a very rewarding career for the last
54:56
four years I’ve yeah I mean it’s it’s
55:02
it’s it’s been wonderful what has been
55:04
and and I have to say that emigrating
55:08
when you have a choice about it is
55:10
definitely I mean even though I didn’t
55:13
have much of a choice about the timing
55:15
of leaving Russia we had to get out in a
55:18
hurry but but I made that decision
55:20
myself unlike the first time when my
55:22
parents made the decision for me and I
55:24
was just resentful and miserable and but
55:30
this time I brought my teenage children
55:32
very resentful and miserable and I can’t
55:38
blame them because I know exactly what
55:40
it feels like and and I have to say that
55:43
there’s a peculiar difficulty actually
55:45
to have to have a family in which four
55:47
people emigrate it my partner and my
55:51
three kids and I came home and it’s
55:55
that’s that’s really been a struggle
55:57
because I think for at least for for
56:01
people who emigrate as difficult as it
56:03
is there’s also kind of a rewards ladder
56:06
right because you go from you know
56:08
working illegally under the table to
56:10
actually having a regular job to them
56:11
finding a job in your field there’s a
56:14
Rapids kind of growth that compensates
56:16
for that loss of social networks and
56:19
social status that that people
56:22
inevitably Experion
56:23
when they emigrate and and I deprived my
56:27
family of that because we came here
56:29
quite comfortably bought a house and I
56:32
moved in
56:32
but the misery of this location is still
56:36
there and there’s nothing you can do
56:37
about it and to answer your your
56:41
question about whether I’m thinking of
56:42
writing a personal book I am thinking of
56:44
writing a personal book and but it’s
56:49
like years down the road if I do write
56:52
it it will be a book about emigration
56:57
and gender
57:01
hi um thank you for coming my question
57:06
is I was wondering if you were able to
57:07
get outside of Moscow and to some of the
57:09
other cities and whether you were able
57:10
to talk with some of the various other
57:12
ethnic groups in Russia and what were
57:14
your experiences things well I mean in
57:18
in my work as a journalist in Russia I I
57:22
was mostly a roving reporter and I
57:25
traveled all over the country and and
57:28
did a lot of reporting on from different
57:32
cities including a lot of reporting on
57:34
[Music]
57:36
non-russian ethnic groups and non
57:39
Orthodox Christians this book is built
57:43
around seven particular people one of
57:47
whom two of whom are not from Moscow and
57:51
the rest of whom are from Moscow they
57:55
said one of them grew up in a provincial
57:58
well a large but but you know I
58:02
shouldn’t know he didn’t start out in a
58:03
large city he started out in a very
58:05
small town provincial town then moved to
58:07
a larger provincial city and I had to
58:10
actually flee Russia all together and he
58:13
is I think he’s an absolutely
58:15
extraordinary character a young young
58:18
academic who was very hopeful just just
58:21
a few years ago started the first Gender
58:24
Studies Centre at a Russian University
58:26
and and had really found himself in
58:29
academia and then a couple years later
58:32
but later was running for his life and
58:34
now lives in New York and another of the
58:37
characters has burst himselves daughter
58:39
who grew up also in a provincial city
58:41
but a very large one usually Nova cadets
58:43
Jean Anjum Silva and she also has had to
58:46
leave the country
58:48
following her father’s assassination we
58:51
have time for three more quick questions
58:55
I am Julie I’m trying to figure out
58:57
exactly how to word this but I work for
58:59
LGBT rights and it’s been really
59:01
shocking for me I did not expect Trump
59:03
to come after the LGBT community the way
59:04
he has and then you know but the release
59:07
of the D the Department of Health and
59:09
Human Services plan which is basically a
59:11
fundamentalist plan yesterday I’m
59:14
wondering with both Putin and Trump how
59:18
core you think misogyny and homophobia
59:21
is to their how they function and how it
59:26
ties in with their political worldview
59:27
or not is it kind of coincidental I mean
59:30
you talked a lot about traditional
59:31
values but a little more about that role
59:34
the role those blue you know that’s a
59:37
really interesting question because I’m
59:39
and I’ve I’ve actually puzzled over this
59:43
American obsession with core values like
59:48
why do we care if somebody is deeply
59:52
racist if they behave like a racist why
59:55
do we care if somebody is deeply
59:57
homophobic if they if they’re president
60:00
and they encourage homophobic policies
60:02
you know or launched an anti-gay
60:04
campaign it doesn’t matter you know what
60:07
matters is what they actually do and
60:10
what becomes our observed reality our
60:12
observed reality is that this president
60:14
is the Trump I mean but they are the one
60:19
in Russia to is is going after LGBT
60:25
people in a fairly conservative manner
60:27
right I have my ideas about why he’s
60:31
doing it I think because for someone
60:34
like him and this was calculable and
60:36
actually I wrote about this very early
60:39
on in July of 2016 I wrote that he was
60:42
going to reverse progress on LGBT rights
60:45
because for someone like him it makes
60:51
sense to reverse the most pronounced
60:54
most recent most rapid social change in
60:57
this country and that concerns LGBT
60:59
rights and it doesn’t matter how he
61:01
feels about LGBT people and whether all
61:03
of his best friends are gay it really
61:05
makes no difference right
61:07
his power is largely based on his
61:11
ability to demonstrate that he is
61:14
serious about taking people to the past
61:17
and that will necessarily involve
61:21
reversing progress on LGBT rights and I
61:23
think we should expect a lot more
61:25
attacks on that front hi my name is
61:30
Nancy oops
61:34
have the economic sanctions that the
61:37
West has imposed and/or the Magnitsky
61:39
Act provided any constraints on Putin
61:45
and his regime and those around him I
61:50
think so and I also I I’m trying to be
61:55
like a broken record and saying I don’t
61:56
think this is a great question but this
61:59
is this is the way we normally pose the
62:01
question right we normally ask but the
62:03
sanctions are effective and you know
62:08
it’s a perfectly reasonable question of
62:09
course but I also think that when we
62:12
when you deal with someone like Putin
62:13
who’s basically intractable right that
62:17
question can also lead to to illogical
62:20
dead-end right because if there is no
62:23
way to influence his behavior then
62:25
there’s no way to influence his behavior
62:26
so what’s the point of sanctions well
62:28
the point of sanctions is that they’re
62:30
the right thing to do because it is the
62:33
wrong thing to do to do business with
62:35
with the bloody dictator it is the wrong
62:38
thing to do to allow you know him and
62:42
his people to to invest their money here
62:48
and to launder their money here so
62:51
whether or not we can see that we can
62:54
observe the strategic results from
62:56
sanctions sanctions are the right thing
62:58
to do
63:01
my name is George just one question what
63:04
happens after Putin oh well that’s
63:10
that’s an easy one um I have no idea but
63:18
um but actually there’s there’s a
63:21
wonderful book that’s just out in
63:22
paperback that is weirdly relevant to
63:26
that question and the book is called the
63:28
last days of Stalin have you read it it
63:31
was great
63:32
and it’s Joshua Rubinstein it says it’s
63:35
a slim book and it’s amazing you read it
63:39
and and I mean the part that that that
63:42
has to do with how the US foreign policy
63:45
establishment was worried that after
63:47
Stalin died the hardliners might come to
63:49
power that really I thought that was
63:53
really amazing and so it really puts
63:57
into perspective similar fears that have
63:59
been voiced repeatedly in this country
64:03
but I also the other thing that that has
64:06
direct implications for today is that he
64:10
is documented in how much disarray the
64:12
Soviet Union was and how Americans
64:16
looking at it couldn’t believe that it
64:18
was in that much disarray and kept
64:19
looking for sort of hidden meanings and
64:21
hidden strategies and actually what had
64:24
happened was that Stalin had planned to
64:25
live forever
64:26
there was no succession plan nobody knew
64:30
what was happening and how they should
64:31
act and anything was possible and I
64:35
think something similar is going to
64:37
happen after Putin Dyke’s he definitely
64:39
planned plans to live forever
64:43
there will be no succession plan I mean
64:45
I’m assuming that there will be his
64:47
death that that will end putinism if
64:50
it’s something else it will not be
64:51
dissimilar it will also we’ll know when
64:53
it happens right it’s a closed system
64:54
but but there will be disarray one
64:57
prediction that I feel confident enough
64:58
making is that I don’t think that Russia
65:01
will stay in its current borders when
65:03
after Putin it’s there’s so much sort of
65:10
outward tension at this point Huson has
65:12
managed to put so much pressure
65:13
on various constituent members of the
65:16
Russian Federation and pumped them for
65:19
money and/or to the opposite of money
65:25
into supporting friendly dictators and
65:28
in in various places once he is gone so
65:31
the those tensions will come to the
65:34
surface and various places will various
65:37
parts of Russia will break up so we’ll
65:40
we’ll see major rearrangement mom he’s
65:42
done all right
65:44
thank you so much for coming
65:55
you
66:04
you

The Release of Ivan Golunov and the Power of Collective Action in Russia

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.