פוטין – הצאר האחרון?

פוטין – הצאר האחרון?

חיים  מזר

מאז פירוקה של ברה"מ והיפתחותה למערב, הפכה המלחמה הקרה לנחלת העבר, והחלו להתפתח קשרים כלכליים בין רוסיה למדינות אירופה ולארה"ב. העדות המוצלחת  לכך היא תחנת החלל שנבנתה על ידי ארה"ב, אירופה, רוסיה  ויפן.  אין מדינה שכנגדה נלחמים, גם אם זה מילולית. אף מדינה לא מאוימת ולא חושבת שהיא מאוימת. מה צריך לבקש יותר ביחסים בינלאומיים?

והנה, בשנים האחרונות חל מפנה שאינו מסמן טובות: העימות בין רוסיה לבין אוקראינה, שהייתה בעבר חלק מברה"מ. מה שמוביל זאת, ואפילו בצורה כוחנית, הוא פוטין, נשיאה של רוסיה. הוא משקיע רבות להחזרת מעמדה הבינלאומי של רוסיה בזמן המלחמה הקרה. האם יצליח בכך?  כל הסיכויים שלא. מה שבטוח הוא שהמחיר יהיה כבד, הן בחיי אדם והן מבחינה כלכלית. כשיגיע יומו של פוטין לבטח לא יחנטו אותו, ואת גופתו לא יציבו במאוזליאום  כמו  שעשו לסטלין וללנין.

העימות בין רוסיה לאוקראינה החל כאשר נשיא אוקראינה הפרו רוסי ינוקביץ הודח מהשלטון ב- 22.2.2014, ומצדדי דמוקרטיה בעלי אוריינטציה פרו אירופית הגיעו לשלטון אחרי הבחירות. באותו יום הרוסים פלשו לחצי האי קרים השייך לאוקראינה, הגם שיש בו אוכלוסייה רוסית גדולה. מכיון שעל פי הסקרים  95.5% מהאוכלוסייה .רצו להסתפח לרוסיה, הטיעון של הקרמלין היה שעליו להגן על אינטרסים רוסיים בחצי האי קרים. מאז, העימות בין רוסיה לאוקראינה הלך והחריף והוא הפך גם לאלים. הרוסים החלו לפעול לקראת השתלטות על אוקראינה. רצון לחזור לימי  הזוהר של רוסיה בעברה הקומוניסטי. פוטין,במין אפולוגטיקה הסותרת את עצמה, אמר דבר והיפוכו. בהתבטאות אחת אמר שהצבא האוקראיני בקרים ובמזרח אוקראינה דומה למשטר הנאצי בגרמניה. מאוחר יותר אמר שהרוסים והאוקראינים הם אותו עם, דבר שהיסטורית הוא נכון. יש להם שורשים היסטוריים משותפים, אבל הם שונים אחד משני ולכל אחת ממדינות אלה יש שפה משלה. אם האוקראינים והרוסים הם אותו  עם, הרי שגם הרוסים, ולו בחלקם, הם בעלי צביון נאצי.

מתוך מטרה להפעיל לחץ על רוסיה להוציא את כוחותיה מאוקראינה הופעלו ומופעלים כנגדה סנקציות כלכליות קשות. וכאילו לא די בכך, שש מדינות החברות בנאט"ו הקימו כוח משותף שבו 10,000 חיילים כתגובה למעורבות הצבאית של רוסיה באוקראינה. האם אירופה עומדת בפתחו של מהלך צבאי בלתי הפיך? האם פוטין, בצעדים המיליטנטיים שהוא נוקט בהם, לא מבין או שאינו רוצה להבין  שכולם יפסידו במלחמה? באחת מהצהרותיו האחרונות אמר שרוסיה היא מעצמה גרעינית. זה נכון, אבל בשביל מה היה צריך לומר זאת? הרמזים הם יותר משקופים.

בקרבות שהתנהלו בין אוקראינה לכוחות הרוסיים שפלשו לתוכה  נהרגו חיילים רוסיים רבים. הוריהם של אותם חיילים הרוגים שאלו בדבר גורלם של יקיריהם. תשובות הם לא קיבלו. יתרה מכך,הופעל עליהם לחץ לא לדבר. השתקה מוחלטת לאורך זמן אינה אפשרית. תמיד תתפרסמנה ידיעות לא רשמיות על הלוויות של חיילים רוסיים. למה? מתי? איך? היכן נערכו ההלוויות ומי טיפל בכך? שאלות שעד היום נשארו ללא מענה. מהצהרותיו של פוטין אפשר לראות כי מבחינתו קיימת אפשרות למהלכים צבאיים הרבה יותר גדולים. להסתיר את המהלכים הצבאיים כיום, כבעבר, זהו דבר בלתי אפשרי. התקשורת כיום שונה מאוד מזו שהייתה  ברוב שנותיה של המחצית השנייה של המאה ה-20. האמצעים הטכנולוגיים  כיום מאפשרים לשדר מידע מכל מקום לכל מקום בכל שעה בעולם. הדור הנוכחי ברוסיה שונה מהדורות הקודמים. לרבים מתושביה של רוסיה היו זיכרונות קשים ממלחמת העולם השנייה והם סבלו קשות מנחת זרועו של סטלין. אלה היו דורות מותשים. הדור הצעיר כיום ברוסיה הוא משכיל ובעל אמצעים כלכליים רבים מאלה של קודמיו. בני דור זה לא ירצו לחזור לימי האופל של קודמיו וליטול חלק במלחמות נוסח אפגניסטן וצ'צ'ניה.

אין גם לשכוח שפוטין, עם כל הכוחנות שלו, אינו סטלין. יהיו שישאלו שאלות כמו מה אנחנו עושים באוקראינה? נגד מי אנחנו נלחמים ובשביל מה?  אלה יצאו להפגנות ענק במדינה. יהיו גם מי שירצו לחסל את פוטין.

אפשרות נוספת היא התמרדות של חלקים מהצבא מאותן סיבות. חבירה שלהם לגורמים המתסיסים תיצור כוח פוליטי חדש ורב עוצמה, אשר יביא בסיכומו של דבר להפלתו של פוטין ואפילו לחיסולו.

צריך גם לתת את הדעת למדינות האיסלמיות שהיו בעבר, ולא כל כך מזמן, חלקים מברה"מ. עלול להיווצר מצב שבו גופים איסלמיים ישתלטו על מדינות אלה והן תאיימנה על רוסיה. האם מי שהוא מבין המדינאים הרוסיים או אנשי הצבא הבכירים נותנים על כך את הדעת? בשעתו, פנתה נאט"ו לרוסיה והציעה לה להצטרף לברית. זאת לא הסכימה. חלק מהמדינות  החברות בנאט"ו הקימו כאמור כוח צבאי שייכנס לפעולה אם רוסיה תפלוש לאוקראינה ולשני הצדדיים יהיו אלפי הרוגים. בסבירות יותר מגבוהה אפשר לומר שאצל גורבצ'וב ואצל ילצין זה לא היה קורה. האם פוטין לא השכיל ללמוד לקחים  מהמלחמות באפגניסטן ובצ'צ'ניה? פנייה לאפיק הצבאי מצדו של פוטין מראה שמצעד האיוולת לא פוסח עליו.

ראש הממשלה הרוסי והנשיא לשעבר ולדימיר פוטין במהלך חופשת דיג וציד בסיביר.

באשר לפוטין עצמו , התנהגותו מראה בבירור שהוא חי בעידן של המלחמה הקרה, מלחמה שאינה רלוונטית לעולם של ימינו. התנהגותו הפוליטית של פוטין מראה שהוא אנכרוניסטי לימינו וזאת הטרגדיה האישית שלו. מה שתורם להשערה זו הן התמונות שהוציא לתקשורת, בהן הוא מציג מצ'ואיזם מובהק. יכול להיות שהוא דמות המשחקת עם המריונטה של עצמה. דמות טרגית במלוא עוצמתה. בכל יום שבו הוא יושב בכיסא הנשיאותי הוא מהווה איום קיומי לרוסיה.

על משקל אנכרוניזם זה אפשר לומר שפוטין הוא הצאר האחרון של רוסיה בלי רספוטין ובלי אנסטסיה. הלקח המידי שהרוסים יצטרכו ליישם עם הסתלקותו של פוטין הוא הגבלת  תקופת הנשיאות לשתי קדנציות  בלבד, ללא התחכמויות משפטיות. כאשר פוטין סיים שתי קדנציות הוא הציב את עוזרו מדבד כמועמד לנשיאות ואת עצמו הציב לתפקיד ראש הממשלה. בבחירות שלאחר מכן הציג שוב את מועמדותו לנשיאות. יציאה למלחמה תחייב החלטת רוב בקבינט. הנשיא לא יוכל להחליט על דעת עצמו לנקוט בצעד כזה ויהיה חייב גם להתייעץ עם המטה הבכיר של הצבא. שאלת השאלות לפני יציאה למלחמה היא המחיר.

ראו גם :

אלי אשד על הסוכן החשאי מהקרמלין

חיים מזר על האם מתקרב קץ עידן פוטין ברוסיה ?

ההיגיון של רודן

מרוסיה בשנאה :בוריס ברזובסקי נגד ולדימיר פוטין

רועי רוזן נגד ולדימיר פוטין

המזימה הרוסית נגד ישראל

אודות חיים מזר

בעל B.A במדע המדינה וסוציולוגיה. עורך לשוני של ספרות טכנית. חבר באגודה הישראלית לאסטרונומיה ובאגודה לחקר עב"מים. פרסם מאמרים באתר הידען, באתר של אלי אשד על ניתוח ספרותי, ובכתב העת של האגודה לאסטרונומיה בתחום גיאולוגיה ואטמוספירה של כוכבי לכת. כמו כן כתב על ייעוץ ארגוני, מדע המדינה, היסטוריה עם היבטים ניהוליים, בינה מלאכותית, חישוב מקבילי, מקרא ,סוציולוגיה, מודיעין (בכתב העת של המל"מ), וכלכלה.
הפוסט הזה פורסם בתאריך פוליטיקה. קישור קבוע.

2 תגובות על פוטין – הצאר האחרון?

  1. מאת אלי אשד:‏

    מאמר מעניין על פוטין מניוזויק /שטוען שפוטין הפך בשבועות האחרונים לסוג של "פריה " מנודה בזירה הבינלאומית ,כתוצאה מפעולותיו באוקראינה. המקבילה העכשווית של סאדאם חוסיין קדאפי ובשאר אסד.
    http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/01/putins-ukraine-mistakes-have-made-him-pariah-260303.html

    all it Putin’s Lockerbie moment—the week the world’s attitudes toward Russia’s leader tipped from wary distrust into frank hostility.

    It has been a precipitous descent. Just a few months ago Putin’s international standing was at an all-time high as he presided over the Sochi Olympics and released imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Pussy Riot. But his reputation began its downward slalom with Russia’s occupation of Crimea. And now it has gone off a cliff as Putin’s name has become inextricably linked to the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

    “Politics is about control of the imaginary—and [MH17] has become symbolic of something deeper,” says Mark Galeotti, clinical professor of global affairs at New York University. “It is becoming very difficult not to regard Putin’s Russia as essentially an aggressive, subversive and destabilizing nation.”

    It didn’t have to be like this; the Kremlin didn’t have to own this disaster. Unlike Muammar el-Qaddafi, whose agents knowingly blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 243, Putin apparently didn’t order separatist militiamen near Donetsk to murder civilians. The evidence points to a tragic mistake by ill-trained, ill-disciplined militias to whom Russia rashly supplied deadly surface-to-air missiles.

    Putin could have condemned the Donetsk rebel group responsible, agreed to cooperate with international investigators and called world leaders to share their shock and commitment to bring the guilty to justice.

    Instead, he did the opposite. In the days after the tragedy, the Kremlin obfuscated the facts, blamed Kiev and facilitated the Donetsk separatists’ hasty cover-up operations—from attempting to hide bodies that had telltale shrapnel wounds to hurriedly evacuating the BUK rocket launcher involved in the attack back across the Russian border (a not-so-secret operation snapped by the camera-phones of local residents and Kiev’s spies).

    Putin himself appeared on national television—twice—vaguely blaming the whole incident on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for not making peace with the rebels, a convoluted version of a child’s “he made me do it” argument. As a result of Putin’s KGB-trained instinct to deny everything, the tragedy of MH17 is, in the eyes of much of the world, now seen as Putin’s doing.

    “For the Western public, Putin has come to occupy the same place as Muammar el-Qaddafi or Saddam Hussein,” says Russian commentator Oleg Kashin. “He’s become a kind of Doctor Evil who shoots down planes.”

    And it’s not just the public. Western leaders—especially U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s newly appointed cabinet—have been lining up to blast Putin in terms hitherto reserved for the likes of Bashar Assad and Qaddafi. U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon accused Putin of “sponsoring terrorism” and told him bluntly to “get out of Ukraine.” His colleague Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned that “Russia risks becoming a pariah state if it does not behave properly.” And Cameron himself wrote that it was time the West must “fundamentally change our approach” to Russia. Even Germany’s Angela Merkel, whose country is both Russia’s biggest business partner and most dependent on Gazprom’s oil, called Putin to urge him to use his influence to rein in pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

    Before MH17, Putin’s reputation was, in much of the West, still a matter of debate. For liberals who thought Russia could do much better, he was an autocrat who killed free speech and the godfather of a pyramid of thieving bureaucrats who had bled Russia dry, strangled small businesses and robbed the country of a bright economic future.

    HBut for plenty of others—our colleagues over at Time magazine, for instance, who named Putin their “Person of the Year” in 2007—he was a strong leader who rebuilt Russia from its post-Soviet collapse. Social conservatives like former U.S. presidential hopeful Patrick Buchanan admired his stand against gays and Western liberalism, as did European ultraconservative leaders like France’s Marine Le Pen and Britain’s Nigel Farage—who in May named Putin as his most admired international leader whose handling of the Syrian crisis was, in Farage’s view, “brilliant.”

    Now, that legion of what the Germans call Putin-versteher—literally “Putin-understanders”—are notable by their silence. “Putin apologists are finding it harder to hold their head up or to be held as credible people,” says Galeotti.

    And there’s plenty of opprobrium to go around. Hollywood and the fashion world already turned against the Kremlin in the aftermath of his new laws earlier this year criminalizing gay “propaganda.” But now even Putin’s personal friends in show business are feeling the heat: The 1980s action star Steven Seagal has been disinvited from an event in Estonia for his pro-Putin stance.

    Putin affects a tough, independent demeanor. But everything he has done in his 14 years in power has been about building up Russia and Russia’s image in the eyes of the world. From the lavish G8 summit in St. Petersburg in 2006 (unlikely to be repeated as Russia was kicked out of the club of leading democratic nations earlier this year), to the $50 billion Sochi Olympics, to the 2018 World Cup, Putin has lavished billions on raising Russia’s profile.

    He has funded institutes in Paris and Washington to boost Russia’s influence on policy-making circles, and he has sponsored no-expense-spared annual conferences for foreign experts on Russia from around the world to convince academics and commentators of the wisdom of the Kremlin’s line. MH17—or, rather, the Kremlin’s handing of its aftermath—has ruined years of careful soft-power building at a stroke. For someone as status-obsessed as Putin, that must hurt.

    Unfortunately for Russia, public relations disasters on this scale have real-world consequences. Just hours before MH17 was blown out of the sky, the U.S. announced a new round of economic sanctions, this time targeting Russian oil companies’ ability to raise financing on international markets. After MH17, pressure has grown exponentially to tighten sanctions even more—a move that could bring Russia’s economy to its knees in short order.

    “The threat of sanctions against entire sectors of the economy is now very real, and there are serious grounds for business to be afraid,” Putin’s first prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, told Bloomberg on July 21. “If there will be sanctions against the entire financial sector, the economy will collapse in six months.”

    The European Union will likely announce a further tightening of sanctions on the assets of Putin cronies and their companies—less severe than Washington has been pushing for, but which will nonetheless increase the pressure on Russia’s faltering economy.

    Realistically, though, there’s no way that Europe can economically disengage from Russia—especially as the continent relies on the Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom for 25 percent of its energy needs. If only for pragmatic reasons, Europe will have to continue to deal with Putin. But long-term, it’s clear that the MH17 disaster will accelerate the search of non-Russian energy sources and harden opposition to Gazprom superprojects like the South Stream pipeline from Russia to Central Europe.

    But the most important short-term consequence will be to crystallize another Iron Curtain between Europe and Russia that has been forming ever since Russia’s brief invasion of Georgia in 2008. “There will be a much clearer sense of a borderline and the need to defend that border—from the Baltics to Ukraine,” says Galeotti. In practical terms, that means Europe will have to help Ukraine defeat pro-Russian rebels. “The explosion of [MH17] propelled Kiev into the bosom of Europe. The best way to show Putin that aggression doesn’t pay will be to support Poroshenko,” he says.

    On the ground, it’s also likely that the pro-Russian rebels’ MH17 screw-up will hasten their defeat. Kiev will be emboldened to pile in and finish them off—and, with the world’s eyes on the conflict zone, it will be much harder for Russia to continue to supply the kind of heavy weaponry such as planes and rocket systems that the rebels need to make a real tactical difference.

    That in turn puts Russia in a trap of its own making. If Putin allows the Ukrainian separatists to be defeated he stands to lose massive face domestically. “The popular view [of the Donetsk separatists] is that Putin has let a genie out of its bottle which will eventually eat him,” writes Kashin. When they are eventually defeated by Ukrainian forces, he says, “Russian volunteers will come back from Donbass and knock on the doors of the Kremlin itself.” Yet if Putin continues to support the rebels he faces worse international sanctions.

    For most of his reign, Putin has been lucky. He was plucked out of obscurity by the Yeltsin family and appointed the old president’s successor without having to fight for it. Early in his tenure oil—Russia’s biggest export—jumped from $19 a barrel to $100 and stayed there. Chechen rebels turned on each other and brought their longstanding insurgency to a bloody end. Political opponents realized it was far better to join the oil-rich Kremlin gravy train rather than fight it.

    But now his luck has run out, and he’s floundering. “Bad things happen”—as former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma feebly responded when his forces accidentally shot down a Russian civilian airliner in 2001. They do. But Putin in Ukraine has allowed himself become a hostage to bad stuff happening—and that is just bad politics.

    Cover-ups rarely work—and often blow up in your face. As the U.S. found in the aftermath of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, for instance, or the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf in 1988, just five months before Lockerbie, the smartest way to deal with such as disaster is to accept, apologize and conspicuously punish the guilty.

    This year Putin gained Crimea—but also irrevocably lost Ukraine, which is far more strategically important. And after his mishandling of MH17 he’s blundered into losing the last shreds of international respect, too. That was an unnecessary mistake which will cost him—and Russia—dearly.

  2. מאת אלי אשד:‏

    באותו גיליון של ניוזויק שבו פורסם המאמר הקודם יש גם את המאמר המצויין הזה אחד הטובים שנכתבו עליו אי פעם ( אם לא הטוב ביותר ) שמתאר את האיש כפי שהוא חי היום ,מעין אסיר בודד בכלוב של זהב.
    http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/01/behind-scenes-putins-court-private-habits-latter-day-dictator-260640.html:
    Behind the Scenes in Putin's Court: The Private Habits of a Latter-Day Dictator
    By Ben Judah / July 23, 2014 7:00 AM EDT
    Filed Under: World, Russia, Putin

    The President wakes late and eats shortly after noon. He begins with the simplest of breakfasts. There is always cottage cheese. His cooked portion is always substantial; omelette or occasionally porridge. He likes quails’ eggs. He drinks fruit juice. The food is forever fresh: baskets of his favourites dispatched regularly from the farmland estates of the Patriarch Kirill, Russia’s religious leader.

    He is then served coffee. His courtiers have been summoned but these first two hours are taken up with swimming. The President enjoys this solitary time in the water. He wears goggles and throws himself into a vigorous front crawl. This is where the political assistants suggest he gets much of Russia’s thinking done.

    The courtiers joke and idle and cross their legs in the lacquered wood waiting rooms. He rarely comes to them quickly. They say three, perhaps four hours is the normal wait for a minister. He likes to spend some time in the gym where Russian rolling news is switched on. There he enjoys the weights much more than the exercise bikes.

    He sometimes reads after the sweat. This is because he likes to work late into the night. He summons his men at the hours that suit his mental clarity – the cold hours where everything is clearer. The books he finds most interesting, are history books. He reads these attentively. Heavy, respectable tomes: about Ivan the Terrible, Catherine II, Peter the Great.

    But there sometimes fly rumours: that he has read a novel. In 2006, the President is said to have read a thriller in which working class men beat up Chechens and cops and seize the governor’s office from corrupt thieves with machine guns – Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin.

    Now those that claim to know his bedside, say he has much enjoyed The Third Empire, a fantasy about an imaginary Latin American historian from 2054, who recounts the exploits of Tsar Vladimir II, the in-gatherer of all Russian lands. But his courtiers are at pains to make it clear – the President is no reader.

    He spends time completing his cleanse. He immerses himself into both hot and cold baths. Then the President dresses. He chooses to wear only ­tailored, bespoke suits in conservative colours. His choice of ties is usually dour.

    And now power begins. The early afternoon is about briefing notes. This mostly takes place at his heavy wooden desk. These are offices without screens. The President uses only the most secure technologies: red folders with paper documents, and fixed-line Soviet Warera telephones.

    The master begins his work day by reading three thick leather-bound folders. The first – his report on the home front compiled by the FSB, his domestic intelligence service. The second – his report on international affairs compiled by the SVR, his foreign intelligence. The third – his report on the court complied by the FSO, his army of close protection.

    He is obsessed with information. The thickest, fattest folders at his request are not intelligence reports: they are press clippings. His hands first open the Russian press digest. The most important papers come at the front: the obsequious national tabloids – such as Komsomolskaya Pravda and Moskovsky Komsomolets. These matter most, with their millions of readers. Their headlines, their gossip columns, their reactions to the latest Siberian train wreck affect the workers’ mood.

    Then he moves onto Russia’s quality press: the lightly censored broadsheets, Vedomosti and Kommersant. These matter in the Kremlin court: this is their gossip, their columnists, their analysis. He pays particular attention to the regular columns about Vladimir Putin written by Andrey Kolesnikov in ­Kommersant. His courtiers say he enjoys this one greatly and always reads right to the end.

    Then the least important folders: his foreign press. These are clippings compiled both in the presidential administration, and his Foreign Ministry. The departments do not hide from him the bad news. They like to make a point: the President must know how far these foreigners demonise him. But to please him, they also dutifully include materials in German in the original, the language in which his long-ago KGB posting in Dresden, left him fluent.

    The courtiers wait at the door and by video-link he likes to watch them ­gossip and writhe in boredom, or play with their electronic gadgets. But he ignores them and works his way through the reports.

    The President rarely uses the internet. He finds the screens within screens and the bars building up with messages confusing. However, from time to time, his advisers have shown some satirical online videos: he must know how they mock him. His life has become ceremonial: an endless procession of gilded rooms. His routine is parcelled up into thousands of units of 15 minutes and planned for months, if not years ahead. Following his morning review the schedule folders embossed with the eagle are presented to him. After glancing at them, he follows the plan: without a smile or a joy.

    Mostly, these meetings are meaningless. There are those who come to pay homage to him: receiving the crown Prince of Bahrain, awarding bronze medals to Udmurt Heroes of Labour, or reviewing promotions in the management of the federal space industry.

    He does not live in Moscow. He dislikes the place: the traffic, the pollution, the human congestion. The President has chosen the palace at Novo-Ogaryovo as his residence. Home is out there, to the west of the city, away from the red walls, the mega-estates, the mega-malls – out in his parkland.

    It is 24km from the palace to the ­castle. The route is closed and cleared of all traffic when the President chooses to commute. He can reach the Kremlin in less than 25 minutes, while Moscow sits in gridlock.

    He dislikes coming to the Kremlin. He prefers working on his estate. He has cut down his meetings in Moscow since 2012 to a strict minimum: to meeting dignitaries that need to be impressed, or the formal gatherings that require those extravagant halls, with crystal-cut cut chandeliers and the mirrors as high as birch trees.

    He finds the commute irritating.

    The President keeps busy, even on Saturday and Sunday. At weekends, his schedule becomes more haphazard: but there are sometimes study sessions in the afternoon. Mostly, English language. His teacher helps him learn difficult words – singing songs together. There are times on Sundays he is said to pray or make a confession. But courtiers familiar with the office of the Patriarch are at pains to clarify – though not an atheist, perhaps a believer – his life is not that of a Christian.

    The President loves ice hockey. This is his favourite sport. He thinks it is graceful and manly and fun. The President practices ice hockey as much as he can. He loves putting on that thick comfy helmet and picking up his agile hockey stick. This is what the court most feverishly covets: every few weeks, the President organises a game of ice-hockey.

    A mark of intimacy, the treasured invite, the most bragged about occasion in oligarchic society, is watching one of the President’s hockey matches. These are his intimates – most, like him, from St Petersburg, the old associates, the ones he trusts. They are mostly businessmen; and on the US-sanctions list. Men like the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg or Gennady Timchenko. They play and they lose. The teams are filled out with bodyguards.

    The Presidential bodyguards wear his shirt and shout his name. The bodyguards of Dmitry Medvedev, his little Prime Minister, fill up the opposing, entertaining team. Despite his bodyguards being compulsory at the Presidential games, the Prime Minister himself is rarely present.

    These men are the inner circle. The ones that rose with him out of the swamps of St Petersburg. He was only then a deputy mayor. They shared electricity wires between their dachas and ate cheap meat together. They feel they deserve this. They used to call him: the “Boss”. But over recent years they have come to call him the “Tsar”.

    There are no stories of extravagance: only of loneliness. The President has no family life. His mother is dead. So is his father. His wife suffered nervous disorders, and after a long separation, there has been a divorce. There are two daughters. But they are a state secret and no longer live in Russia. There are rumours of models, photographers, or gymnasts that come to him at night. But there is a hollow tick to these stories, which no courtier can quite explain.

    The President loves animals. He smiles at the sight of creatures that refuse to obey him. The President finds solace in the company of a black Labrador, who is not afraid of him. He enjoys the hunting parties. He enjoys the helicopter rides with camera-crews over the grey-white tundra looking for tigers and bears – the beauty of Russia.

    Putin loves animals and smiles at the sight of creatures that refuse to obey him. Alexsey Druginyn/Reuters

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    The court interpreter says his life is monotonous. The meaningless meetings. The pedantic clip of presidential protocol. The repetitive routine these schedules have year after year. His motorcade goes in two directions: either to the Kremlin or to the airport. The President says that he works harder than any leader since Stalin.

    None of them travelled, negotiated, or saw as much of Russia as him. His planes leave from the Presidential terminal: Vnukovo-2. For a while there were memorandums to move the Russian administration to these forested edgelands; half filled with housing estates coloured like giant Lego blocks. Build over the woods and scattered rubbish was their imagined aerotropolis: a Kremlin city built into jet-engine addiction. But he thought it too ambitious.

    His planes travel in threes. One carries his motorcade; one, his delegation; the third that flies ahead for him. The fleet leaves Vnukovo-2 more than five times a month. His wish is to be everywhere: the industrial fair in Omsk, the inspections of Karelia, the summit in Astana, or the state visit to South Korea.

    But in Russian time-zones his provincial governors, with their micro-garchs and their sallow police chiefs, use little tricks to deceive him. Recently, they were ashamed in Suzdal of their city of rotting wooden hutches so they covered them in tarpaulin facades of freshly painted cottages. They were ashamed in the factories and the military installations – hiding everything broken.

    The visits abroad are conducted differently: the intelligence service plans ahead. The pilot group comes a month before the President to the capital in question. The luxury hotel his administration will occupy is inspected. The FSB and the SVR cooperate in this delicate matter. How secure is that room? How bio-contaminable is this bathroom?

    The court has established itself on ­foreign soil a week before he arrives. The hotel becomes the Kremlin. They have booked and sealed 200 rooms. There is a special lift uniquely prepared for the presidential use. Diplomats cluck and confer with pot-bellied FSO inspectors and clammy-handed protocol ­officers.

    His room is sealed: no one is allowed access to it. This is the work of the ­special security team. The hotel sheets and toiletries are removed and replaced. Their places filled with wash stuffs and fresh fruit under special Kremlin anti-contamination seals.

    Meanwhile everything he will need arrives by the planeload: Russian cooks, Russian cleaners, Russian waiters. Russian lorries bleep and dock with two tons of Russian food. He will sleep on this soil one night. Meanwhile, teams of diplomats engage in multi-session food negotiations with the host.

    Russia's President Vladimir Putin poses for a picture as he fishes in the Krasnoyarsk territory in Siberia Alexei Nikolskyi/Reuters

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    The President cannot be served milk products, though that is contradicted by orders of Russian security services. The President cannot be offered food by the host – including the head of state or government. The embassy finds itself negotiating a tough position in countries with a rich culinary heritage: the President cannot consume foreign foodstuffs that have not been cleared by the Kremlin.

    There is uncertainty here amongst the negotiators. Perhaps the President is secretly lactose intolerant? More likely, he is merely paranoid about poisoning. Russian materials are shipped in advance for the Presidential platter, where local cooks will be supervised by the FSB, SVR, FSO and their team of tasters. The President has refused to even touch food at foreign banquets.

    The President is indifferent to the offence of the host nation. The interpreter talks about the plane landing on the hot tarmac. Excitement, fear and uncertainty tingle in the Russian embassy staff: he has arrived.

    The President behaves as though he is made of bronze, as if he shines. He seems to know that they will flinch when meeting his eye. There is a silence around him. The voices of grown men change when they speak to him. They make their voices as low as possible. Their faces become solemn, almost stiffened. They look down: worried, ­nervous, alert.

    “He doesn’t talk,” the interpreter says. “He feels no need to smile. He doesn’t want to go for a walk. He doesn’t want to drink… At anyone time there are 10 people around him… You cannot get more than 3m close to him because the space is guarded so carefully. He is endlessly surrounded by whispering aides, cameramen, bodyguards.

    “The politicians whisper when he is in the room. They stay very attentive. There is next to nobody close enough to joke with him. When he enters a room the sound level drops. There was a time when I spoke loudly – ‘ladies and gentlemen of the delegation we must move to the next room for the signature’ – and a minister grabbed my hand. ‘Shut up,’ he hissed. ‘He is here.’”

    The President has no time to think. He goes from gold room, to gold room, in an endless sequence of ceremonial fanfare, with the lightest ballast of political content. The photoshoot. The reception. The formalities that enthrall those new to the summit of power, but irritate those long enchained to it. He thinks very little on his feet: the speeches are all pre-written, the positions all pre-conceived, the negotiations mostly commercial in nature.

    The ministers have arrived with him. There are very few close enough to address him directly, fewer still able to joke in his presence. But he takes little interest in them and the moment he can he retires to the sealed and secured bedroom. Because he has seen all this before.

    The ministers like to imitate the ­President. They like to imitate his gestures and affect that world-weary air. They like to pretend they too disdain technology. They like to imitate his tone and parrot his scoffing remarks. But, unlike him, the ministers laugh and drink with the night. Their half-shadowed faces become puffy and garrulous. But he is nowhere to be seen.

    “He looks emotionless, as if nothing really touches him,” the interpreter remembers. “As if he is hardly aware of what happens around him. As if he is paying little attention to these people. As if he is worn out… He has spent so long as an icon he is not used to anyone penetrating… He is not used to anything not being so perfectly controlled for him. He is isolated, trapped.”

    “The impression… you get from being close to him is that he would have been quite happy to step down. But he knows he has failed to rule Russia in anything else but a feudal way. And the moment his grip falters… it will all come crashing down and he will go to jail… and Moscow will burn like Kiev.”

    There are courtiers who claim to have heard him speak frankly. There was one who remembers one warm summer evening where he began to talk openly about the fate of his country. The President asked those, whose business it was to be with him that night at Nov-Ogaryovo, who were the greatest Russian traitors.

    But he did not wait for them to answer: the greatest criminals in our history were those weaklings who threw the power on the floor – Nicholas II and Mikhail Gorbachev – who allowed the power to be picked up by the hysterics and the madmen, he told them.

    Those courtiers then present, claim, that the President vowed never to do the same.

    Author’s note: This piece of journalism is an amalgamation of more than three years of interviews, for my book Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (Yale). In the course of my research I had the chance to interview everyone from former prime ministers, to Putin’s current ministers and regional governors, down to senior bureaucrats, close advisers, personal aides and ordinary people. Using information from these interviews, I have pieced together the private habits and routines of this latter-day dictator. The quotes here are from Russian officials, whose identities need to be protected. In the current climate of Russian politics, the punishment for revealing personal information is extremely severe and so it is impossible even to hint at the identities or occupations of my sources. The result is an example of what many call “new journalism” using the techniques of fiction to relay facts. While this article may read like a piece of imaginative writing, every detail has been carefully reported.

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