29 August 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Source: Radio Svoboda
Putin has quite a few friends both in Russia and around the world. They include friends who are aware, who understand everything and are cynical, and also friends who are unaware, the kind once called “useful idiots.” I must admit there are more of the latter than the former.
Putin’s main friend, his bulwark and support, is in Russian law enforcement, the man prepared to do anything at all for the sake of his good salary and solid social status. He is amoral in principle, and there is no Putin order he would refuse to carry out.
Putin’s second friend is the ordinary Russian crushed by his own insignificance and used to relying on a superior, a leader, a boss, and higher powers for everything. He feels a chronic lack of self-respect and tries to compensate for that feeling by being part of grandiose events and people he considers great. He prefers not to think, doesn’t absorb arguments, and only learns the information he is served up daily on the Kremlin television plate.
Putin’s third friend isn’t as big but he is influential. He belongs to the political fraternity of state figures, and this membership determines his conduct. He looks into Putin’s eyes and sees his soul there, he calls him “my friend Vladimir,” he accepts flowers from him and even dances with him at parties. Above and beyond any reports, he is happy to embrace him in front of TV cameras and demonstrate his friendly feelings and business-like closeness. When his term runs out, he is not averse to taking a nice warm seat on the board of directors of some Russian corporation where he will legally receive millions of stolen budget funds for work done prior.
Putin’s fourth friend is cold and calculating. He is the businessman, and he doesn’t care whose friend or enemy he is, he’s only interested in profit. Every day he pays Putin a billion or so dollars for gas, which Putin spends on the war in Ukraine. That’s now in Ukraine, but later the war will go further until it consumes the businessman and his successful business lock, stock, and barrel. But he’s not thinking about the future. All that’s important to him is today’s quotes. He’s bewildered by the companies leaving the Russian market. He doesn’t understand them. For him, it’s just business, nothing personal. He sincerely believes he has the right to make a profit from anything by any means, damn the consequences.
Putin’s fifth friend considers himself his enemy. He publicly decries Putin but in so doing unashamedly reproduces the vilest postulates of Kremlin propaganda: the people chose Putin, Putin is supported by 86 percent of Russia’s population, the majority in Russia welcome the war against Ukraine. If you ask this fifth friend about the sources of his information, he’ll either hem and haw, or declare it a well-known fact, or refer to acquaintances’ stories and Russian sociological research. The most naive will ask, wide-eyed, “You mean it’s not true?” And will stand firm in his (Kremlin) opinion regardless of what is in fact going on today in Russia.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is sitting in a Moscow remand centre on a political charge, sent me a letter in which he writes, in part: “I get lots and lots of letters, packets of them every day. People write from all over the country, mainly people I don’t know. I’m convinced yet again how false the official propaganda is about ‘nationwide support’ and how naive many people in the West are who repeat it.”
Putin’s sixth friend is cousin to the Fifth. He has many faces and is old-fashioned and as dumb as a rock. He reduces all the problems of the modern world to the question of nationality. His analysis goes no further than ethnic characteristics. In Russia, he talks contemptuously about Ukrainians as an inferior nation in an inferior state. In Ukraine, he brands the Russians as a nation of slaves and oppressors. For him, nationality explains everything. Putin probably never dared dream of a friend like this. Understanding the futility of attempts to enflame national hatred in Russia toward Ukrainians, Putin made the military aggression ideological: he declared Ukraine a nazi state. In Russia, this foolish idea hasn’t had much success due to its obvious absurdity, but Putin’s sixth friend latched onto it and added nazism to the bouquet of Ukrainian national characteristics. In Ukraine, he behaved exactly the same way, adding fascism to the qualities of the Russian national character. Friendly support like this is valuable for Putin because it explains the war not as a civilizational conflict between authoritarianism and democracy but as garden variety national hostility. This may be as old as the world, but it’s familiar and understandable. Given this situation, Putin will, at worst, be considered a victim of national prejudices rather than the ideologue of a new totalitarianism and organizer of crimes against humanity.
Putin’s seventh friend is another story altogether. He lives in the West and enjoys all the blessings of democracy and would not trade his freedom for anything, but at the same time he extols the Russian dictatorship. What’s going on in his mind no one is likely to understand, but it remains a fact. He flies from the United States to Russia in order to interview him and then shoot a thoroughly mendacious film about him. He lets Putin give him a Russian passport and accepts as a gift an apartment somewhere in Mordovia but nonetheless still lives in Europe. He may be somewhat mercantile and for licking the master’s boots may get his treat, but I don’t think that’s his main motive in worshipping the Russian knout. He would like a little socialism not so much for himself as to spite Western democracy, which he has a serious grudge against for certain reasons.
This entire “magnificent seven” is ensuring relative stability for President Putin and his authoritarian regime. Putin may, in fact, have even more friends. These are just the ones we can see.
Translated by Marian Schwartz