Masha Gessen

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How Putin Seduced Oliver Stone

Watching four hours of Oliver Stone interviewing President Vladimir Putin of Russia is not a lesson in journalism. Mr. Stone is an inept interviewer, and he does not get Mr. Putin to say anything the world hasn’t heard from him before. Watching the interviews for entertainment is a questionable proposition, too: The four-part series contains many dull exchanges and even more filler, like footage of the two men watching “Dr. Strangelove” together.

Still, “The Putin Interviews,” which were released this month by Showtime, may be worth watching for the view they provide of a particular kind of relationship.

Many Americans have been looking for an explanation for Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Images. Protesters in downtown Moscow, June 12, 2017

The new face of Russian protest is barely pubescent. Reports from the June 12 demonstrations, which brought hundreds and sometimes thousands of people into the streets of just about every Russian city, feature teenagers: a boy in shorts being tackled by police in riot gear, a girl charging a police line, and a paddy wagon full of adolescents. One Russian Facebook user posted a photograph of the teenagers in the paddy wagon with the caption, “Russia has a future.” He posited that “every mass arrest of young people strengthens youth protest,” which, in turn, is sure to bring about the end of the regime.…  Seguir leyendo »

Illustration by Abner Dean of George Orwell’s 1984 for Life magazine, July 4, 1949. Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library / Rauner Special Collections

I had visitors from Moscow the other day, and the conversation, naturally, turned to what all of Moscow seems to be talking about these days: a vast urban renewal project that aims to raze all the five-story apartment buildings constructed during the residential construction push of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The thing is, though, that virtually all of those buildings have long since been demolished. The Moscow project of razing five-story buildings from the 1950s and 1960s will bring down four- and seven-story modernist buildings constructed in the early twentieth century—really, anything that occupies land that may be redeveloped.…  Seguir leyendo »

Among the things that unite President Trump and his cabinet picks is their propensity for lying. ProPublica recently offered a list of lies made by Trump nominees in confirmation hearings in Congress, mostly under oath. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt lied when he claimed not to have used a private email account as Oklahoma attorney general (Vice President Mike Pence used one too, as governor of Indiana); Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price lied about a suspect stock purchase; Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin lied about his firm’s history of profiting from the housing crisis; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lied that she was not involved in her family foundation, which has supported anti-LGBT causes and funded a variety of conservative think tanks and colleges, though tax filings show she has been its vice president for seventeen years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Anna Politkovskaya. ITAR-TASS Agency

On Thursday, February 2, the young Russian journalist and pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza was at his in-laws’ apartment in Moscow when he suddenly felt ill. He appeared confused and disoriented. His parents-in-law rushed him into a taxi and to a hospital. By the time they arrived, Kara-Murza was experiencing organ failure. Fortunately, the doctor who admitted him was the same one who had treated Kara-Murza’s previous multiple-organ-failure episode, in May 2015. The doctor wasted no time starting treatment, beginning with dialysis.

Kara-Murza, who is thirty-five, is normally in good health. He is also a longtime opponent of the Putin regime. He divides his time between Washington, D.C.,…  Seguir leyendo »

Representative John Lewis, Selma, Alabama, February 14, 2015

Moscow, June 1989. A stooped, bespectacled old man named Andrei Sakharov is at a podium, making an urgent appeal to the Congress of People’s Deputies about respect for the rule of law. Another man, the most powerful in the Soviet Union, is sitting at a presidium that towers over the podium and tells him he is out of time. “Don’t you respect this congress?” he asks. Sakharov continues speaking and gesticulating, but he can no longer be heard: his microphone has been cut off. Only the other man’s voice is audible: “That’s it,” he keeps saying. “That’s it.” Sakharov finally turns around, scooping up his speech, steps up to the presidium, still stooped, and tries to hand his sheets of paper to the other man.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lessons From Russia

The year was 2006. A reporter for an independent Moscow newspaper who had uncommonly good access to President Vladimir V. Putin had written an article about the president’s affair with a famous athlete. I was the editor of a monthly magazine and wanted the journalist to expand his report for my publication.

“I made it up,” he said breezily when I called him.

That could mean several things. He could indeed have made the story up. Alternatively, he could have been lying when he said he had made it up. Maybe he had gotten in trouble for publishing it and had to promise to deny it in order to maintain access to the president.…  Seguir leyendo »

US Defense Under Secretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers testifying before the Senate, Washington, D.C., January 5, 2017. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

After months of anticipation, speculation, and hand-wringing by politicians and journalists, American intelligence agencies have finally released a declassified version of a report on the part they believe Russia played in the US presidential election. On Friday, when the report appeared, the major newspapers came out with virtually identical headlines highlighting the agencies’ finding that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to help Donald Trump win the presidency—a finding the agencies say they hold “with high confidence.”

A close reading of the report shows that it barely supports such a conclusion. Indeed, it barely supports any conclusion. There is not much to read: the declassified version is twenty-five pages, of which two are blank, four are decorative, one contains an explanation of terms, one a table of contents, and seven are a previously published unclassified report by the CIA’s Open Source division.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mode of public communication is the very opposite of Donald Trump’s: rather than Tweet 140-character bursts, he stages elaborate, laboriously choreographed affairs that far outlast anyone’s attention span. He holds one press conference and one televised call-in show a year. Participants are pre-screened, question topics are pre-cleared, and many are pre-scripted. Each event usually lasts more than four hours. Each usually contains a memorable and informative passage that summarizes Putin’s current vision of himself in the world. There have been times when he positioned himself as the savior of a country on the brink of catastrophe, a conqueror, a victor.…  Seguir leyendo »

Over the last few days, concerns about some kind of a hidden alliance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have exploded. There is the president-elect with his apparently fawning regard for the Russian leader. There are Trump’s top cabinet picks, with their unusual Russian ties: as national security advisor, Lt. General Mike Flynn, who has met Putin and done paid events for a Kremlin-sponsored TV station; and as secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has done billions of dollars of business in Russia and received an award from Putin. And then there is the revelation, from the CIA, that Russia may have actively interfered in the US election to get Trump elected.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters outside Trump Tower the day after the election, New York City, November 9, 2016. Andrew Kelly TPX/Reuters

“Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you. We have lost. We have lost, and this is the last day of my political career, so I will say what must be said. We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half. The president-elect has made his intentions clear, and it would be immoral to pretend otherwise. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based.”

That, or something like that, is what Hillary Clinton should have said on Wednesday.…  Seguir leyendo »

Servicemen in historic uniforms wait before a military parade this month in Red Square in Moscow. Credit Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

If only because nothing lasts forever, because no one lives forever, the Putin era in Russia will eventually end. President Vladimir V. Putin is 64 years old, and those who oppose his regime are focusing their attention on imagining what will happen after him — especially since his government’s ongoing crackdown makes it so difficult to focus on the present.

Many anti-Putin activists have been forced into exile in the last few years. Two prominent ones among them, the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who now lives in New York, and the former oil tycoon and political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who now lives in London, have started organizations that set their sights on the political after.…  Seguir leyendo »

Moscow, September 2008. Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

The second act of the Trump-Putin farce seems to be playing out faster than the first act, but following the same general trajectory: apparent revelations followed by exaggerated interpretation followed by a subdued debunking, all of it somehow giving weight to what, in the end, has never been much more than a matter of speculation. The theory is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is actively trying to bring Donald Trump to office and in fact has direct ties to the onsandidate. The evidence is scant, but the assumption is strong. The reality-based world view is further weakened and American political culture is the loser.…  Seguir leyendo »

Long before the Russian state declared the Levada Center, Russia’s only reputable independent polling organization, to be a “foreign agent” in September, its director, Lev D. Gudkov, knew this was going to happen.

For the last four years, Russia has required nonprofit organizations to register as “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad and engage in “political activity.” The law requires an organization to identify itself as a “foreign agent” in all public communications and imposes stringent financial reporting requirements.

The latest amendments to the law, proposed by the justice ministry in February and passed in May, added polling to the list of activities considered political.…  Seguir leyendo »

Waving a Russian flag in Moscow for victims of the failed coup in August 1991 — a Russian version of a velvet revolution — that has been memorialized as the end of the Soviet Union

Aug. 22 is a holiday in Russia: It’s Flag Day. But it ranks low in the hierarchy of holidays. There will be no parade, like there is on Victory Day. Russians will not get a day off, like they do on May Day, Russia Day, International Women’s Day, Defenders of the Fatherland Day and a half-dozen other holidays. A visitor to the country would be unlikely to notice that this month Russia is marking the 25th anniversary of a historical milestone.

What happened a quarter-century ago? On Aug. 18, 1991, four top Soviet officials flew to Crimea, where President Mikhail S.…  Seguir leyendo »

When a perfect metaphor is born, the world comes into focus.

It happened in Moscow last week during a meeting between the staff of the news organization RBK, also sometimes called RBC, and its newly appointed bosses, Igor Trosnikov and Elizaveta Golikova. Within days, transcripts of the conversation in both Russian and English — presumably obtained through a leak by a staffer — were published by Meduza, a Russian online publication with editorial offices in Latvia, out of the Kremlin’s reach.

Ms. Golikova: “Look, do you drive a car? Do you?”

Staff journalist: “Yes.”

Ms. Golikova: “Have you got a license?”…  Seguir leyendo »

A monument to Lenin was found desecrated in Moscow on June 7. Mikhail Tereshchenko\TASS, via Getty Images

The quiet courtyard in central Moscow had been cleared of any sign of what had happened there. A few young people in the playground, rocking two old-fashioned baby carriages, acknowledged that I was in the right place.

“They already took it away,” said one of the mothers.

“How?” I asked.

“They used an excavator. Scooped him up. He was heavy.” She made it clear she did not want to talk further. Her friends, too, turned their backs to me.

The body in question belonged to Lenin. The Bolshevik leader had stood in this courtyard for nearly 100 years. Back in the 1920s, residents of the two apartment buildings nearby had taken up a collection to erect the monument.…  Seguir leyendo »

The two presumptive presidential nominees have reacted to the massacre in Orlando—the deadliest shooting in US history—in predictable ways: Donald Trump was narcissistic and hateful, and Hillary Clinton was reasonable and resolved. Their responses define the borders of the public conversation about attacks such as this, and these borders are off. This is the conversation about terrorism that America has been having for nearly fifteen years, and it is the wrong conversation because it confuses cause and effect and, consequently, proposes the wrong solutions.

In her statement on Orlando, Clinton listed “defeating international terror groups” as the first line of response (the second paragraph of her statement addressed homophobia and the third, the need for gun control).…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin and the Night Wolves vs. Poland

The Night Wolves isn’t just any motorcycle club; it’s the motorcycle club that’s shaping Russia’s foreign policy.

Late last month, after Poland banned the Night Wolves from riding across the country, Moscow summoned the Polish ambassador to inform her that the Kremlin was interpreting the denial of entry as a hostile act that will have consequences for which Poland will bear sole responsibility.

An official note from the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Poland’s position was particularly egregious for two reasons: because it was an “insult to the memory of those who fell fighting against Nazism,” and because a couple of weeks earlier Russia had allowed Polish officials to enter the country to honor the site where Polish leaders had died in a 2010 plane crash.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin: The Rule of the Family

Is Russia a fascist state? A totalitarian one? A dictatorship? A cult of personality? A system? An autocracy? An ideocracy? A kleptocracy? For two days last week, some of the best Russian minds (and a few non-Russians) met in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, to debate the nature of the Putin regime and what it may turn into when Putin is no longer in power, whenever and however that may come to pass. The gathering was convened by chess champion and politician Garry Kasparov, who, like the overwhelming majority of the roughly four hundred participants, is living in exile. People came from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Malta, and the Baltic states, but Vilnius was chosen for its geographic and symbolic proximity to Russia.…  Seguir leyendo »