'Everything is PR' has become the favorite phrase of the new Russia; my Moscow peers are filled with a sense that they are both cynical and enlightened. When I ask them about Soviet-era dissidents, like my parents, who fought against communism, they dismiss them as naïve dreamers and my own Western attachment to such vague notions as ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom’ as a blunder.The uselessness of free speech against shameless targets the law cannot touch:
Just as Cherkesov [head of the Russian DEA] was investigating Patrushev [head of the new KGB], so Patrushev supported those who were fighting Cherkesov. So when the FSB heard about Yana's story, they made sure the police didn't close down the demonstrations [for Yana's freedom], that the right newspapers and TV channels covered the protests. This was one of the reasons ‘liberal’ papers and TV channels existed, to give one power broker a weapon to hit another power broker with.
...the new Kremlin won’t make the same mistake the old Soviet Union did: it will never let TV become dull. The task is to synthesise Soviet control with Western entertainment... at the centre of the great show is the President himself - created [out of] a nobody, a grey fuzz via the power of television, morphing... among his roles of soldier, lover, bare-chested hunter, businessman, spy, tsar, superman.
I have been doing some work for a new media house called SNOB... The employees are the children of Soviet intelligentsia, with perfect English, vocal in their criticism of the regime. The deputy editor is a well-known American-Russian activist for LGBT rights, and her articles in glossy Western magazines attack the President vociferously... But for all the opposition posturing of SNOB, it's also clear that there is no way such a high profile project could have been created without the Kremlin's blessing. Is this not just the sort of 'managed' opposition the Kremlin is very comfortable with? On the one hand, allowing liberals to feel they have a free voice and a home, on the other helping the Kremlin define the 'opposition' as hipster Muscovites, out of touch with 'ordinary' Russians, obsessed with 'marginal' issues like gay rights (in a highly homophobic country).
...we never actually do any real investigative journalism, find any hard facts about money stolen from the state budget: in twenty-first century Russia you are allowed to say anything you want as long as you don't follow the corruption trail.
... the office of the presidential administration, where [Vladislav] Surkov would sit behind a desk [with] phones bearing the names of all the “independent” party leaders: calling and directing them at any moment, day or night. The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that, instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with twentieth-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd. One moment Surkov would fund civic forums and human rights NGOs, the next he would quietly support nationalist movements that accuse the NGOs of being tools of the West. With a flourish he sponsored lavish arts festivals for the most provocative modern artists in Moscow, then supported Orthodox fundamentalists, dressed all in black and carrying crosses, who in turn attacked the modern art exhibitions. The Kremlin’s idea is to own all forms of political discourse, to not let any independent movements develop outside of its walls.
Oliona’s playing fields are a constellation of clubs and restaurants designed almost exclusively for the purpose of sponsors [sugar daddies] looking for girls and girls looking for sponsors. The guys are known as "Forbeses"; the girls as "tiolki", cattle. It’s a buyer’s market: there are dozens, no, hundreds, of "cattle" for every "Forbes".
The Soviet Union occupied 20 percent of the world’s land mass; its former states produce 15 per cent of the world’s oil. But over 50 per cent of the models on the catwalks of Paris and Milan are from the former USSR.
I once asked Ivan whether all this was necessary. Couldn’t he just pay his taxes? He laughed. If he did that, he said, there would be no profit at all. No entrepreneurs paid their taxes in full; it wouldn’t occur to them. It wasn’t about morality; Ivan was a religious man and paid a tithe in voluntary charity. But no one thought taxes would ever be spent on schools or roads. And the tax police were much happier taking bribes.
On the corner of Pakrovka three plump women who look like schoolteachers or doctors patrol an art nouveau apartment block, surrounded by their Labradors. They squint aggressively as we approach, then relax and greet Mozhayev when they see him. These little vigilante gangs have become common in Moscow, protecting not from burglars but from developers, who send arsonists to set buildings ablaze, then use the fire as an excuse to evict homeowners by claiming the houses are now fire hazards. The motivation is great: property prices rose by over 400 percent in the first decade after 2000. So these fires have become habitual in Moscow. Muscovites have taken to patrolling their own buildings at night: gangs of doctors, teachers, grannies, and housewives eyeing every passerby as if he were an arsonist. It’s pointless for them to call the police; the largest groups of developers are friends and relatives of the mayor and the government. The mayor’s wife is the biggest of the lot. The near mythical Russian middle class, suddenly finding they have no real rights at all over their property, can be thrown out and relocated like serfs under a feudal whim.
Another director is shooting a film about a man in Ekaterinburg who was beaten nearly to death by traffic cops when he refused to pay a bribe; now he exacts his vengeance by catching traffic cops giving bribes on video and posting them online.
The victims I meet never talk of human rights or democracy; the Kremlin has long learned to use this language and has eaten up all the space within which any opposition could articulate itself. The rage is more inchoate: hatred of cops, the army. Or blame it all on foreigners.