Gleb Pavlovsky is a former political consultant of the Kremlin. He is 61, almost the same age as the President, a coincidence of which once he used to be very proud. His reception room is decorated with a large portrait in primitivism style of the ancient Russian philosopher of the XIIth century Daniel the Immured, with a quote from Belinsky: “Unfortunately for oneself, one’s too smart, too gifted, knew too much and could not hide one’s superiority.” During Soviet times, he was a dissident, twice investigated on political accusations. He admitted his guilt (he worked in the samizdat (underground press), published the magazine Poisk (Search), so instead of sending him to a colony, the court awarded him an exile to the Komi Republic, where he worked as a carpenter, until his release in 1986. “Gleb Pavlovsky is a dissident, a renegade, and all this determines his position of today. Once in the KGB (Committee for State Security), he successfully cracked and got off easy – just an exile. And then – all the way down according to Dr Freud. The rest of his life he devoted to a vendetta against the democrats. This man is very smart and very base,” wrote a dissident Valeria Novodvorskaya about Pavlovsky. Unfortunately, when approving the text of his interview, Mr Pavlovsky insisted on deleting his response to this assessment by Ms Novodvorskaya, as well as of Elena Bonner, writing that “he’s not ready to discuss it in the context of someone’s wife’s opinion.”
— Who came up with the TV-show Real Politics (broadcast on NTV in 2005–2008), which used to praise Putin’s line of policy so much?
— Kulistikov (General Director of NTV – E.M.) came to me with this idea, but I have no doubt that he did not do it just on his own initiative. I groaned and agreed.
— Praises to Putin there were sometimes becoming almost sickly. Did you do that on purpose?
— Yes, on purpose, consciously, I would even say – lovingly.
— Lovingly to sickliness? That’s just impossible, makes you wanna cringe.
— Well, you know, the madness of love often makes one use the expressions which otherwise make you cringe. I thought it was politically correct — to strengthen the axis of the system of the time, in fact, its generator. Its generator is Putin’s charisma, the massive love for him. I never fought for your love, because I knew that I’d never see love for Putin from there.
— Your TV-show was seen as pure propaganda.
— Yes, but quality and personal, independent (During the interview I didn’t manage to find out precisely what “quality” television propaganda is, since this phrase was inserted by G. Pavlovsky himself when editing the text –E.M.). I can remember only one moment when the administration did interfere, and even that was quite understandable – they insistingly asked not to make a puppet with Putin’s face.
—But I think Putin does love himself. Why not the puppet then?
— He loves himself, but the way you’ll never see him, and the way he isn’t. He loves his perfect face, which is only ever seen by him and who will not be seen by the cameramen.
—But hold on, that’s more characteristic of women – thinking of one’s appearances…
—Here you’re wrong. Narcissism is way more characteristic of men.
—So you’re saying that Putin is a narcissist?
—Well, yes. All in all, all of us, men, are a bit narcissistic.
—Sure, the bigger the tail, the better and more beautiful the peacock believes it is.
— Something along those lines. But Putin’s narcissism takes a more negative form. I don’t know which one of his selves he loves, but almost all portrayals of himself, especially the funny ones, he hates, more or less. So to avoid annoying Mr Putin, we shot the puppet from the back, without showing its face, and it came out even better.
— And even in his real life his face has physically changed in the recent years…
—Well, the biggest change that can happen in the face is the change in the eyes. The expression in the eyes makes the face.
— And what sort of eyes does Putin have now?
—His eyes look shut off from the outside world, even when he wants to charm someone. It’s an overload with something inside. Do you know that politics gives you the biggest overload? An incorrectly assigned task, an overestimated threat. He sees some threats, but, in my opinion, not where they really are, but he is very worried, nonetheless. That turns him over somewhat. After all, he has no direct contact with life, and people around him are both a source of anguish and threats. Apart from the servants, he is surrounded by a fairly dense circle of our “grandees and nobles”, formed over the years. Once it was a small circle – 10-15 people, and now they are hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand people.
— The proverbial “collective Putin”?
— Yes, it’s OK if they are the “collective Putin”… so far. And what if at some point they, or a part of them, decide that they are, maybe still “collective”, but not “Putin” anymore? Someone else. That’s what’s getting to him, I think.
Putin Separated from the Country
— So, you believe there is a feeling of losing some levers of power?
— Of course, the main lever – the lever of all levers, the mega-lever – that was love, charisma, the thing with which he could oppose anything, because in case of any assault upon him, he could appeal to the country.
— And when did he begin to lose this charisma?
— Something broke during Medvedev’s presidency. Sometimes, a person yanks up a huge weight, makes one right step, a bit too right, and suddenly recoils from this step and begins to recede. And the further it goes, the worse it gets. Certainly, not going for a third term was the right choice. He had his highest level of support after he left the presidency. Ceasing to be a president, he really became a leader. Then something scared him, alarmed … and he decided he didn’t want to remain the leader. He wanted to return to being the master, master of the situation. And these are two different roles. A leader is the one chosen by others, and a master is a master regardless of whether you choose him or not.
— And does he want to be both a master and a leader?
— I think that once he decided he wants to be the master, he began losing this leader’s touch. And that’s a two-way process, after all – you stop responding to people, and they stop talking to you. That’s very hard to pin down, but when the emotional link is lost – it’s lost.
— What could make people love Putin again? And external threat?
— Repeat love, you know, it’s something second-fresh – it does not happen. It’s not about love anymore. This spring people did elect him, even though with some big doubts beforehand. And after that swap within the Tandem the rating began to plummet, which was quite surprising for him. But for better or worse, at the elections any candidate from outside the current government stood no real chance.
— So what’s important is stability?
— Yes. Not stability in general – but a stable government, because the electorate has forgotten that there might be something other than the government that can guarantee its security. That was, pretty much, the core of Putin’s campaign: no Putin – no stable government. There isn’t such a thing as Putin’s majority, as an emotional power anymore. But there is the very influential Putin’s minority…
— Talking percentage — how much is that?
— Well, if we talk about real emotional trust in him, in the precise meaning of this word – and not as an answer to sociologists’ favourite idiotic question “Who would you vote for if the elections were this Saturday?”… I think, only about 15 percent still really trust in him.
— That’s very little.
— It’s not little, if we look at the levels of emotional trust in other politicians. But it is sad, and I think all this destabilises him. I think he does have a lot of disappointments. Disappointed by voting in St Petersburg. And in Moscow – the capital, he didn’t even win the first round – the first of the presidents! I think, internally he was very angry. Well, that “was no joy in love and separation without sorrow”. Internally he separated, I think, from the country, but he’s not going to be separated from the government. And paradoxically enough, he probably says to himself roughly what those who voted for were saying: if not him, then who else?
We should not forget that his core political experience – in 1999 – was the peaceful handover of power from Yeltsin to him. So he, too, will build some power transfer system and, going from the Yeltsin model, will build his own one.
— Hehas already tried with Medvedev…
—That’s debatable. Maybe he wasn’t trying from the very beginning, or we can assume that he tried, but then got scared. And Medvedev, of course, did not play a strong role either, all the while in fear of something.
Today, I think, Putin has become a psychologically very complicated person, compared to what he was 10 years ago. But this complexity won’t see light, it’s locked in tightly, because he is alone.
Tandem was a Mistake
— I want to return to one of your phrase: “To be frank with these former friends of mine, you disgust me. You disgust me as a person.” Aren’t you afraid for your life after these words? After all, Putin does not forgive traitors.
—I’ve never betrayed Putin. Seriously speaking, he was the one who betrayed me.
— In what way?
— Without going to deep into my personal anxieties, in my opinion Putin didn’t face his challenge – he didn’t set the country he has created free. He didn’t have the courage to have the final fight for the country and got satisfied with returning to his old office.
— And what this final fight was supposed to be like?
— Well, he wasn’t going so bad, I don’t think, until 2010. And you know, even the comeback for the third term could have been done not quite so… not so disrespectfully.
—Towards the people?
— Yes. After all, if he loves this poor people so much, as he likes to repeat, he could have come clean in front of the people, say out-loud: you know, I wanna come back. And talk to them about it.
—So not just an office swap, but a real address to the people.
— Yes, precisely. I wanna come back. Then Medvedev would have probably retorted something, or maybe even not… But this whole story would have acquired some human touch. Medvedev would have stepped down, not fallen down like on September 24, and Putin, I think, would have honestly earned his election majority – the very Putin’s majority. And wouldn’t be obliged to a crowd of grey persons who, as we can see, are now queueing at the doors of his office, demanding their repayment. Putin’s comeback could have been a healthy and humane affair.
— But you did advice Putin not to come back.
— Actually, my opinions in this regard have become the reason for my expulsion from the Kremlin. Yes, I advised Putin to remain the leader and help build a strategy of Medvedev’s second presidency. But they both have already descended in their bunker and sealed shut the door from the inside. An absolute tandem – that’s more like a pressure chamber, into which they’ve driven themselves.
— But there is no tandem anymore.
— Yes, the tandem didn’t last. As an original propagator of the tandem, I must confess that this was a bad idea.
— Your idea?
—No, that was Putin’s. Who’s President Medvedev for Super-Premier Putin? Back then, to tell you the truth, I was even for a more harsh form of the tandem, where Putin would retain not only the seat of Prime Minister, but also of the Minister of Defence and of Foreign Affairs.
— In other words, you believed that Medvedevcouldn’t be entrusted with this?
— I believed that this should be entrusted to Putin. Do you understand? We did not know how and what will work out with Medvedev. But we knew that Putin chose a direction. Nobody expected that the tandem would become some sort of managerial sadism. A procedure of some petty, suspicious coordination. The country was about to move forward, but instead it was being stirred, then left to sit and cool down, while Mr Putin was arranging with Mr Medvedev. I felt it almost immediately.
— Was that the level of mistrust to Medvedev or lack of desire to…
— I think both are to blame, it wasn’t a psychological, but a political mistake. Medvedev was afraid to take any actions, even the simplest ones, against which Putin wouldn’t have any objections. But Medvedev didn’t want to take any risks.
— And why is that?
— Just in case. Why? Because he probably thought that he’d sit quiet and pretty until 2012 and then would be made a president again – for good behaviour.
— Do you regret advising Putin not to return to presidency? Because you’ve borne great losses – political, reputation, financial…
— I’ve plenty of regrets. More so I regret that the system turned out to be incapable of discussing the matter of its own survival. I regret that back during Putin’s 2nd presidency we didn’t construct some more correct system for discussing and adjusting the strategies. And as this system was never constructed, as Medvedev entered the stage, it all locked down into two semi-teams: in the Kremlin and the Russian White House. None of these two was a proper, full government team. Both were constructed by one priority – to prevent the other one from gathering all the strong ones into the presidential team 2012. I regret not getting that mechanism we’ve been constructing for a long time and which we called a “controlled democracy”, or rather – politics of “moderate reaction with checks and balances”. That would have been a monopoly, but the one within which Russia had a real chance.
Putin is Zero, a Void
— You said this phrase once: “Putin’s third term is a threat to Russia’s stability.” And what symptoms of this instability, in your opinion, are already there?
— You know, it’s not about Putin any more. We talk about Putin too much. Putin is our zero, a void, a screen where we project our desires, hate, love.
— Is that wrong?
— It’s grossly wrong. It was wrong 10 years ago just as well, but back then there was some sense to it because there was some feedback, some link. Now it has completely lost any sense.
— So Putin is by himself, and the country is by itself? Is that it?
— The country is by itself – that’s been so for a while. The majority thinks that there, on top, someone cares about the country, but it ain’t so. The country is practically abandoned, as well as immobilised. Putin constructed a system where today nobody understands what is it he wants, what is gonna come about tomorrow, you can only guess.
— Is that a result of him not knowing what to do, or was it made so on purpose?
— It turned out that the only way out of the tandem for him was by abandoning his leadership and blowing up the command post of the “controlled democracy”. Blowing up this command post, he found that everything that seemed simple was in fact terribly complicated. Yes, he’s at the centre of it all, he’s in the office, he’s the master, all strings are attached to him, but somehow it still does not work. There is Medvedev’s government, which, I think, he no longer trusts like in 2008. Therefore, just in case, he slows down Medvedev, while slowing down the government. By slowing down the government, you disinhibit the lower levels of the governmental staff. And officials, they are watching this. If I, the president, can tell my prime minister to go eat cake, then I, the civil servant, get my hands untied. I can go do something of my own, the system starts to grind, to stall, Putin gets more and more angry and alienated from everything but his power. But what is his power now, where is it? Here, Putin is irritated by United Russia. It’s pretty clear that it irritates him.
— And how does United Russia irritate him?
—Through the fact that, from his point of view, they are freeloaders, who in the new situation are of no use to his power. The “controlled democracy” implied a certain sector of democracy, where elections were supposed to mean something. This sort of children’s bingo for a penny, but at least a penny there would have been. Now, there is no penny, there is this group of friends who are doing nobody knows what, but each has his own interests, which they are diligently serving. They are loyal, but what to do with them? Yes, you can shower them with a draft law after a draft law, and they’d sit there and stamp and sign them. It pleases Putin and it scares him. In fact, what is the system engaged in now? It didn’t manage to scare anyone but itself. So they are engaged in useless self-frightening. They were all shaking, these businessmen, these high officials. They don’t even know why they are shaking. But they aren’t working.
— Are they shaking for themselves, for their hides?
— Yes, for themselves. In 2000, everyone was asking: Who is Mr Putin? Who is that man? Some obscure person, but it did not stop anyone at all, everyone was working. And when, during the period of tandem, the first tremors began, the engine began to stutter and grumble, the tandem turned out to be just a bad management scheme that did not handle the job. But everything was getting more and more complicated: the economy was getting more difficult, and the international situation, and the society. And all of this wasn’t in any way tracked or reflected in the system, and now it’s turning out even funnier. Instead of this “controlled democracy”, rough and in need of modernization, we are left with Putin and his secretariat, and what can they handle in the country today? And then through them run individual signals, which are not adjusted. Moreover, as I understand it, wars are encouraged: both within the government and between the government and the administration.
— Encouraged by whom?
— Well, by Putin.
— So pretty much divide and rule?
— First rule, then watch that others do not unite. But you see it’s very difficult to watch over it all.
— Too many people to watch over?
— Yes, too many of them. You know, the guy chose the most inconvenient way to scratch, because this spring Putin held all the aces. The street opposition has already shown its capabilities. And he was clearly winning the election. Everyone, including the oscillating part of the establishment, was ready to link up around him, like around the new centre. Because they did get tired of Medvedev, what to hide, tired of his slurred ways. All were waiting … Putin came out with a programme, all in all a good programme, stated in his articles. Some sort of a coalition force needed to be created for this programme. How to make it – that’s the second question. And then go forward. That was a chance to get him his leadership back. And if he were to return to his leadership, in the sense of moving forward, which the whole country was waiting, he would have regained the love as well. Do you understand? He once again would have been admired.
— And what mistakes did Putin commit now, in your opinion?
— Beg your pardon, has he done anything at all? He hasn’t committed any special mistakes, because he has just blatantly not done anything at all.
— Well, yea, apart from publishing repressive laws one after another.
— Yes. These repressive laws showered down in bulk and adopted in an inevitably demonstrative way, because there isn’t such repressive, centralized unit on the scale of a whole country. And just letting these units go, saying: go, grab anyone – not even Putin will dare, because there will be some grabbing then. And then, this is an opportunity, in a sense, to become an odd man out in his own system. I think Putin’s greatest fear is being left out. I think Putin is stuck in this pause. I wish he’d get out of it, but I do not see any easy way out. Maybe a government crisis could offer him a chance.
— Meaning, dismissing Medvedev?
— Yea, dismissing Medvedev, which, of course, would be a horrible scandal, and would probably violate a whole bunch of some internal agreements, which he values so much. They are his principle. So he’ll have to change yet another aspect of rules. He does not like this. But even the most ardent supporters of Medvedev understand that a situation where this government and this Medvedev in this form would last until 2018 is inconceivable, and then Medvedev would move as a presidential candidate. This scheme does not work. You cannot convincingly map out this scenario, no one can. Still, they’ll have to create the country’s leadership. The Government, in its current form, will not be a part of such leadership.
— I think that the right policy for Putin would be encouraging people with ambitions. And initially it was so – more ambitions, good and different ones. The most amazing thing, the most incomprehensible, is what the people in Kremlin are actually afraid of. And these are amazing fears, they are just as inexplicable as children’s.
— What are the main points of fears, in your opinion?
— You can see them. I do not want to go into deconstructing the Kremlin. To be honest, I am afraid that these people have completely gone off the bend. That’s what we have to fear. Be afraid of the fact that in this case, no millions of protesters will flow into the streets. And some new people will just pop up in the Kremlin, out of nowhere. Strictly speaking, they never left it at all.
— More reactionary?
— Yes, more reactionary, with strong nerves, and probably more sane. We’ve got some very strange ostentatious tyranny, which controls some virtual military-and-sports state, where you at the same time pledge allegiance to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Sport, which was quite comically put down in the Patriarch’s book in Japan (this book And an Eternal Fightwas written by the Patriarch in collaboration with a judo master A. Khlopetsky — Е.М.). And in this condition we are hoping to roll into 2013. This is terrible. What if they all go mad there, just finally completely bonkers? They have fears all the time. How can you be afraid of Pussy Riot to the extend of actually creating an opportunity for the expansion of the Islamic lobby in the regions? This is a significant problem. Now they have to bring troops into Dagestan. And they (the Kremlin) do not see the connection? There is such an obvious connection here. If you are building a virtual, non-existing theocracy, but the fact is that none of this exists, it’s all there in the picture on TV, then in Dagestan they can be building something else. But where are you going to send the troops afterwards? This is a loss of political intuition. They’re all praying to Stalin, and dear Joseph would not have approved of it.
— Talking of Stalin. You said that “we are sliding towards a system close to Stalinism”…
— It is the fear that they want to spread among the elite. Stalin updated elite, in a way controlled the elite, keeping them in the animal, subconscious fear. But at the same time, he was changing them. Not all of them were executed, some of them were appointed. And those who were appointed, tried to do it well.
— But Putin isn’t changing, he’s keeping the same ones in fear.
— He keeps them, and he keeps scaring them. That’s a very bad method of taming. That’s the kind of tamer who’s standing in the cage, waving his whip.
— You have to pull out a sugar cube as well.
— What he thinks is that their sugar they’d get by themselves. They get their sugar cube, and not one. But here again, what’s underestimated is the sense of atmosphere, radiation of absurd, when the Kremlin has created a centralized system in only one respect. It is not centralized in the sense of transmitting the control signal, but it is centralized in the distribution and dispersal of characters, images, memes. And now it works, it just radiates weakness, uncertainty and fear. Because Putin’s system today is the tyranny of weakness. But this does not mean that it cannot commit even more terrible things. But again, because of its weakness, fear. I cannot imagine that Putin suddenly would want to implement someone else’s programme. Imagine, here they bring to him a great programme written by someone else. He won’t be able to make anything from it. If it never touches upon the interests of some powerful groups, they will not do anything, they will smile at Mr Putin, and he will continue making them even more scared, but then he’d be risking his place.
— Is the situation right now worse than what it was in the late Brezhnev times?
—It’s different. Stagnation in the establishment, stagnation in the national control. And this is one of the most dangerous types of stagnation.
Genius Idea, if Putin Leaves
— The problem today is that our Russia is in a really dangerous condition, because of its mental state. The thing I’ve heard a thousand times from the government and the opposition: come on, that’s all rubbish, shit question, leave these, and we – oh-ho-ho! – we’ll see.
— So no real plan of action?
— Worse. You can be without a plan, but if you’re a sensible man, you can make your way without a plan, and then think of it as you’re going along.
— No strategy, no culture of thinking about complex things. Everyone thinks that Russia is very simple. What’s of it: the government, the elite, the raw and moaning people. I would honestly rather see where we are, locate the coordinates. Of course, Putin would have done brilliantly if he had gone. And now any option would not be brilliant. But it is bad that they are not brilliant, and not only for him.
— What do you think today Putin is afraid for his person, or, for example, afraid of getting arrested?
— I think the images from the Middle East did make him a bit concerned. He generally is such a misanthrope, he does not like people, it’s not as fond of life as the people of the Soviet Central Committee, all of them in the clubs, brandy, girls. He is not like that. But whatever happened in Libya did, of course, intensify his misanthropy. Again, the precedent – in 1999, when he was pulled into this project “Successor”, there was always certain amount of physical fear for the existence of the family.
— Yes. Maybe back then, internally, he was sceptical about all that, but now, probably, not anymore. Now there is this fear. But I think that this is something with which he can cope with.
— And is there something he can’t cope with?
— He’s a very complicated man. He has always been very complicated, from the time when he got summoned, it’s just that his complexity was underestimated. For better and for worse. He has become too complicated for himself, and, in my opinion, he is unable to cope with it. But the way he’s wired, he’s made – that’s the main secret that he will not open to anybody. He is different. It became clear very fast in 1999, it became clear to me pretty quickly – the fact that he is very different from the people of this environment, from there.
I Tried to Scan Putin
— How is he so different? He has never had any particular notable successes in the KGB?
— No big successes, no. But he was different. He was very different. Even certain memoirs of those times sat that he was a bit of a black sheep. In no way, an internal opposition, just a black sheep. He was inwardly laughing over the place where he was working. He is this voluminous figure. Whereas others from the same environment when, so to say, more like cut from the cardboard, so two-dimensional, flat. And he’s not flat. But what sort of war goes on in there, in this 3D?!
— Haven’t you scanned him?
— I tried. First of all, Putin is not very suitable for scanning. He is an amalgamation of these characteristics unusual for a Russian character. He is both very lonely, and in love with life. An extrovert, a profound introvert at the same time. This is a very complex internal stress.
— In other words, not a show-off?
— No, not a show-off. I think that he has a problem in that we’re all from the Soviet Union and Soviet culture – it is also a complex culture. It gave specific tools for handling it. Literature, Soviet cinema, etc. We knew how to deal with our feelings. This knowledge, which he received, apparently, was not enough, he has exhausted it over his two Presidencies, and now he’s a different man, though recognizable.
— You mean that he has just stopped and certain characteristics got deeper?
—There ain’t nothing surprising when a car stops when it ran out of petrol. He, I think, has run out of his stock of Soviet imagery, which he had, and which has served him so brilliantly in the past decade. And here comes another world, more complex, and here he already feels like a black sheep, he does not understand what it is, what these people want. He wouldn’t even mind saying something good about the demonstrators, I don’t know how sincere, but he still does not resist, to say something crude about these condoms, or whatever else. It’s all understandable and human, but he is the president…
— So he’s not supposed to allow himself these things?
— Yes, these are signals, such indicators of so very deeply penetrated misanthropy, terribly deeply. A person who controls and leads people cannot be a complete misanthrope, otherwise you have to change your profession.
— That’s some sort of a sad future.
— I wasn’t, actually, saying anything about the future.
Orthodoxy as an Experiment
— Maybe Putin decided to unite the nation under what is called political Orthodoxy? It is being actively implanted these days.
— No, these are all just random experiments. See, it’s an improvisation, it is not bad, when behind it stands a certain agenda. Putin is probably slightly deceived by the fact that 10–12 years ago his team was operated by improvisations. But these improvisations were backed by a consensus of various groups of the political class. It was clear what was necessary to do: we need the unity of following the instructions in the entire country, a system of tax collection to the state treasury…
—So, there were some precise objectives?
— Formulated differently, but, from left to right, the first five points were understood about the same. No wonder that the reform of the Federation Council was backed by all – from the Communists to the SPS (Union of Right Forces Party) and Yavlinsky. And so it was not dangerous to improvise. Now these improvisations … Someone said: what do we lack? No base. “Mr Putin, let’s restore the base. Look, we have the Orthodox church”. “Oh, what can it ever do?” probably sighs Mr Putin quietly. “Here, look how many people had gathered for the belt of the Virgin. And how many people had gathered at the prayer standing. Look, people are going all by themselves. It’s not us, not the president’s administration who gathered them”. “Well, do try.” I think that’s more or less how these things go.
— But as for religion – that’ all very dangerous.
— Of course, after the Russian Orthodox Church, the Muslim regions felt a slack as well. Where, perhaps, Putin saw an opportunity to gain, everybody else saw a weakness. He is looking for props. But any prop, which he has found now, would immediately invoice him and want something for “propping” him. I’m not saying that Putin here is destroying an important element of his same consensus – a non-ideological, secular state: you are not pestering me, I am not pestering you; I am not imposing on you, you are not imposing on me. And when these begin to get a bit ahead of themselves, begin to interfere and pester and what not… Oh, that’s one thing more revolutionary than a hundred of Udaltsovs together.
Administration of the President is no Partner
— And if they were to call you back now?
— Don’t even finish – no. And what does it even mean – back? Where?
— Political consultant at the President’s Administration.
— Well, this administration, the way it’s today – it’s no partner, as far as I see it. I can’t take it as a state-oriented political person.
— Meaning that they don’t keep their word, or they are just weak?
— You see, here no consultant would be able to correct the situation, when a powerful, in fact, a central organization so rudely misunderstands the country, does not understand its nearest objectives and take such insane actions. What will even a dozen of consultants do, what? Well, they would write…
— What do you find particularly insane under this administration?
— Well, all these extreme laws from this May – this textbook insanity, it goes on. They just can’t settle down. Every day we hear something else they are going to ban in Russia. Minister of Communications doesn’t seem to be a complete idiot, and Mr Nikiforov isn’t such an old man, a competent professional, but if he comes up with things like: “If needs be, we’ll disconnect Google and YouTube,” what am I supposed to think of a person who’s ready to unplug the civilisation’s infrastructure at the first whistle? Enemies are communicating using phones – so let’s cut off all telephones. Is that it? It’s just profound lack of any understanding of the modern world. The top tier is completely out of sync with the real modern Russia.
Endorphins for Putin
— Was that you who advised Putin, when the Kursk submarine sank, not to go to the place of this accident, not to come back to Moscow from Sochi and not to react in any particular way?
— No, but I really thought he did not need to go there, the president could not help anything. And Putin, I believe, was thinking quite rationally, but then the uproar came and he quickly reoriented. And then he himself realized that actions can be substituted with words. It was then, I think, they’ve taken the final direction towards image, to creating an image. And much followed. If you need is an image, a picture, you need to plan it, outline subjects.
—And that’s why we are diving and swimming and what not?
—Yes. Well, partially… There is also a personal aspect…
—Some kind of a machismo, isn’t it?
—Yes, Putin is into that. Helps him produce endorphins, I think. You don’t get many endorphins at 60, trust me. You get less and less.
— I do realise, it’s less and less as the years go by. But still, the flight with Siberian cranes…
— The flight with Siberian Cranes, which was heavily ridiculed, it is also not so absurd in itself. It is absurd as a surprise, you know? It would not be absurd if it were an open public issue, to which the President said: Behold, I will personally fly…
— And what would this discussion be about?
— About rescuing the cranes. And not about how to mount the image of Putin somewhere else… It’s a real problem – wild animals, it is a real environmental problem.
— Yes, but before that we had the amphora.
— What’s the issue with all of these? The fact that these are all TV-surprises, and the whole politics is politics of children’s surprises. “And now on stage Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin! He will show you something new, something you have truly never seen!” “Oh, what, what might it be?” “You just take your place and you’ll see…” Do you follow? That’s the horror of it … Indeed, what a challenge to bring the cranes into top topics, to make the whole country discuss, who will fly? And then – why not Putin: if so, the president is willing to risk. But if you talk about it, then not only Mr Putin will be talking, and not only press secretary Peskov. No – the horror of horrors! – other real people might come out and join as well. We have a lot of young guys who work with wild animals and birds, which are more naturally fit for this role and would do it much more effectively. But then where would the round arena with the sole lion-tamer in the middle be? Where is this lion, in whose mouth we regularly stick our head, and then this cardboard lion is dragged back to the warehouse, for storage? You see, these tags would have been good for a year or two 10 years ago. To freeze up Russia a little.
— Freeze up?
— Freeze up — like anaesthetic, while back peddling. By late 90′s any political goal in our country was turning into “yes, full speed ahead” and “down with impeachment”. In that situation there wasn’t any more you could do, anywhere you could move. And, finally, comes the leader, everybody loves him, everybody listens to him, you can move ahead. But what I want to say is that practically everyone participated in this mistake, and including people who liked to watch it and people who were actually involved themselves, like me. The new real political leader was turned into a protagonist of a never-ending soap, and not the other way around. Do you see? The leader went to the movies and never came back.
— The TV-President.
— He didn’t actually start as a TV-President, he was made one. And his court is the one with a lion’s share of responsibility for that. And by now, the protagonist himself likes the show, too.
Plot against Putin
— In your opinion, how real is the possibility of a plot against Putin among the Russian elite today?
— Plots will begin to come up as they slowly realise that there is no real coalition, and never will be. Conspiracy will be at the top, not at the bottom. For lack of a better term, I call this group our premium class, the few thousand people who are in fact the only true proprietors in this country. They remain the only free citizens in the country, people with protected rights – big business, the top tier officials, governors. And soon they will begin to ask: this guy promised us security of ownership and its transfer to our children, and now it turns out that we must guarantee him his six years as president? Then either pay us for it, or give us another guy.
— He didn’t settle accounts?
— Well, he thinks that he did, and they think that he didn’t. More importantly, they all want a guaranteed personal salvation. Yesterday Putin was their big insurance, tomorrow it could be… Putin just as well. But tied (I didn’t get a chance to find out more precisely with or by whom would he be “tied” during this interview, as this phrase was inserted by G. Pavlovsky later, when editing the text — Е. М.).
—In your opinion, when could this situation come about?
— What would accelerate the onset of this situation? I think it’s the under-appreciated by Putin, and by the Kremlin, role of weak interactions in society and minds. They scare, but do they notice whom precisely? After all, in essence, what’s this expulsion or Gudkov or the law on demonstrations? These are all weak interactions. But they create sustainable centres of excitation and panic among the Russian neurotic premium class. And then these new overexcited ones are popping up. One famous thinker called them “HR excrements”. It’s this barely able part of the staff who just sits there, grudging that the piece they got is too small. They want blood. They’re overexcited right now. There are people like deputy Milonov, five years ago he would have been just a clown, and now he is a newsmaker at the federal level, and these people are flooding in from everywhere. It’s them and not the Siberian cranes that are now making Putin’s PR. Putin underestimates the importance of the black myth which he is actually pumping all around the Kremlin. Using pretty little pumps like NTV.
— So maybe he won’t even hold up until the end of his 6-year term?
— Maybe he won’t, what’s so unbelievable about that?
— Revolutionaries are definitely Putin’s most insignificant threat.
— So, rather in the quiet offices…
— Yes, it is a coalition of offices and Swiss chalets, where they go on Fridays. And meanwhile we are here discussing the “mystery of Putin” and watching this beautiful, children’s show with the elections to the Coordinating Council of the opposition. It’s so exciting that the nationwide October elections weren’t noticed by anyone.
I’m also Marching
— Did you attend the march?
— Yea, we’re marching.
— And what for?
— I’d say, out of some residual self-respect.
— You go there for your heart’s calling, of for your profession?
— What profession?
— Political consultant.
— God forbid. Of course, not. Who needs any consultants, apart from the financial ones? The opposition doesn’t have a thinking organ. And now not in the Kremlin either (I didn’t get a chance to find out more precisely about the “thinking organ” during this interview, as this phrase was inserted by G.Pavlovsky later, when editing the text. — Е. М.).
— By the way, did the opposition ever come to you for help?
— Who can come on behalf of the people strolling along the Bulvarnoe Ring? Who has such a right?
— They’ve just finished the elections into the CC, 45 people were elected, and, say, they come to you with an offer to help them…
— You can’t help 45 people. And help with what?
— Let’s say, as to a specialist in colour revolutions.
— Ah, for a chat. You don’t need a profession for that. And why am I suddenly a colour revolutions specialist?
— Well, Ukraine, it didn’t just float above your head.
— My specialisation is the construction and protection of the government. If anyone is working their way towards a colour revolution, this would be the Kremlin. The Kremlin has gone so far that it can intimidate its premium audience into a coup. They are so active and bitter, I would say, with their subversion. Why have radicals, if you have NTV with control of domestic policy? They’ll do it all themselves. I do not want to participate in this carnival of destruction.
— In other words, you don’t believe that this CC can overtime become…
— Coordinating Council … You just need to hear how the people who join this council are talking about its tasks. I was watching the debate, and there some girl says: governmental power is a state of mind. The Coordinating Council is needed so that it can be elected, and everyone else can go home, and the council will enter into a dialogue with the government… Putin probably finds these ignorant kids funny, but they are, in fact, his political followers. And heirs, alas