BORIS NEMTSOV WORRIED THAT his daughter would not make it in the world. He was convinced that, stern and uncompromising as she was, she would never find a husband. That meant that she would have to be self-sufficient—but as far as he could tell, she lacked ambition. He was right about that: in her lack of ambition, Zhanna was like her mother, but Raisa, unlike Zhanna, was pliant and easy to live with. Boris said that was fine: he did not want his women too smart or too active—except his daughter, who was so headstrong that she needed a Plan B. When she tagged along with him one day to an interview at Echo Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), the big pro-democracy radio station, he had a sudden inspiration.
“Hey,” he said to the editor in chief in the overly familiar tone he assumed when the situation called for underscoring his influence. “Why don’t you take my girl on as an intern here?”
Why not, indeed. The fact that Zhanna was fifteen, too young legally to work full-time, was of little concern. She had a famous name and she knew people—or, more accurately, many people knew her as her father’s daughter. Zhanna was hired. Her job was to call Yeltsin’s press secretary and inquire after the president’s health. Rather than brush her off rudely, as he would have another reporter, the press secretary dutifully allowed her to record a sentence or two to the effect that the president’s health was just fine.
When Zhanna was not calling Yeltsin’s press secretary, she was fetching, xeroxing, and performing other typical intern duties. The point was, she was developing a work ethic that would allow her to survive in spite of her insufferably unaccommodating personality. She started school at nine in the morning, rushed directly from her last class to the radio station to be at work by four, and finished at midnight. It was hell, but she was able to buy herself a black-and-gray cropped cardigan sweater at Benetton. It cost a lot of money, and it was money she had earned.
Then Yeltsin quit—the phone call came on New Year’s Eve, a couple of weeks after Boris had won his parliamentary election, when the family was on vacation at a ski resort in France. Soon after, the leadership of his new party, the Union of Right Forces, gathered to discuss their position on the presidential election. Would they field a candidate? Yeltsin’s resignation had been timed to render such an attempt futile—he had effectively moved the vote up by four months, to March. The traditional New Year’s and Christmas holidays, when no one was in Moscow (except, as it turned out, Yeltsin and Putin), had already bitten another two weeks off the lead time. Putin’s popularity rating was sky-high. The rational thing to do under the circumstances, argued former prime minister Gaidar and two other members of the party’s leadership, was to fall in line behind Putin. Boris argued that as long as the presumptive president had no political platform—which Putin did not—there was nothing to get behind. He was outvoted.
On March 26, 2000, Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia, and Zhanna turned sixteen. She was nearly indifferent to both events. In the preceding months, she had quit her job at Echo Moskvy and found ambition. Her life’s goal now was to gain admission to an American university. This was not at all what Boris had had in mind when he told her that she needed to be self-sufficient. It would not be a good look for a parliament member to have a daughter studying in America. But he said that he would not stand in her way.
He was not helping her either. Zhanna got all the textbooks and study aids and proceeded in a self-sufficient manner. She got the highest possible score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language and very high SAT scores as well. She was accepted to Fordham University in New York City. She was aiming higher, of course, but now she had a plan: a year or two at Fordham, then she would transfer to Columbia and finish up there. In August 2001 she said goodbye to the apartment on the Garden Ring and moved to America.
She could not have imagined what it would feel like to be alone in New York City. She was living near the Manhattan branch of the university, amid the skyscrapers of Midtown and next to the edgy neighborhood she learned was called Hell’s Kitchen. The only person she knew was the daughter of a Russian oligarch who had just graduated from a New York college and was now working for a consulting company. Her work week averaged eighty hours, and she told Zhanna that this was her future too. Then, within two weeks of Zhanna’s arrival, the city’s streets filled with cars with blaring sirens, people in respirator masks, panic. Zhanna walked downtown, as far as she could before hitting a police cordon, and saw the second of the two towers crumple. Then there were flyers everywhere, with addresses where people could go to donate blood. Zhanna walked to one of those addresses.
She called her grandmother, the pediatrician. The call would cost ten dollars, maybe more, so she had to make it fast.
“Grandma, tell me quickly, what’s my blood type?”
Zhanna hung up. On the other end of the line, Dina Yakovlevna imagined unimaginable things happening to her granddaughter in the city seized by terror. In New York, Zhanna stood in line for four hours to give blood. She was told that hers was a precious, much-needed type of blood and the maximum allowable amount would be drawn. She left the hospital woozy, dragged her body to a deli, and sat there for an eternity, eating herself back to her feet.
She asked Boris not to tell anyone about the blood donation—she could tell over the phone that he was bursting to—but he was so proud of her that he told the story anyway. Komsomolskaya Pravda, the propaganda broadsheet turned tabloid, carried the headline “Zhanna Nemtsova Shed Blood for America.”1
After September 11, the solitude of the foreign college freshman in New York proved intolerable. Zhanna managed another month before she asked Boris to book her a ticket back to Moscow. He was thrilled. He also pulled some strings to get Zhanna admitted to the Institute of International Relations, home to the children of the nomenklatura headed for careers in diplomacy and international trade. Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that in the wake of the terrorist attacks Zhanna had been shunned by her classmates for being a foreigner.2
Her first evening at home, an oligarch friend of Boris’s, Mikhail Fridman, was visiting. Father and daughter’s joy at their reunion made him furious. “Idiots,” he sputtered. “You are insane.” Meaning, anyone who forfeited the chance at an American future in favor of a Russian one had to be crazy.
THERE WAS SOMETHING DISTURBING in the way Russians were reacting to the terrorist attacks in America. Gudkov had long been thinking about the way Russia’s self-concept was reflected in its attitudes toward the United States, and now he watched all the resentments and anxieties about America come to the surface. The wave of intense hatred with which Russians had reacted to NATO’s Kosovo bombing campaign of 1999 had died down within a few months, returning the country to a sort of baseline level of anti-American sentiment, but now Gudkov was seeing it return, incongruously, in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Initially, the polls showed, Russians had reacted with sympathy and compassion, but very soon those feelings gave way to something else: the search for a way to blame the Americans themselves for the tragedy.
Part of this surely had to do with a sort of habitual insensitivity Russians as a society had developed in response to the wars, the terror, the violence, and poverty of its own twentieth century. This insensitivity, in turn, was tied, as both cause and effect, to the lack of social or cultural institutions that help process feelings. All of this was equally true of the ways Russians reacted to their own grief: they dulled it and moved on. But the resentment coming to the fore now was specific to the way Russians felt about Americans.
The Soviet Union had historically defined itself in opposition to the United States. The century of identification consisted of several distinct periods. First, early Soviet Russia based its revolutionary push to industrialize on the American model and on American machinery. During the Great Depression, American-made industrial equipment became affordable—American tragedy worked in synergy with Russian need. Stalin said, “Dogonim i peregonim Ameriku” (“We shall catch up to America and overtake it”) and Soviet factory machines were often inscribed with the letters DIPin honor of this aspirational slogan.
During the Second World War the competition was set aside in favor of military cooperation. The two countries were allies. But with the beginning of the Cold War the United States had ceased being a partner or even a rival: it became the enemy—indeed, an existential threat. This image had shaped the final four decades of the Soviet Union’s existence, had been the bedrock of its system of mobilization and control.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russians did not stop looking into the American mirror. What they saw now was humiliating: the United States was giving Russians handouts, sending them “Legs of Bush” and other food that Americans themselves did not want to eat. America was not just wealthier than Russia—so were many other countries, and some of them, like Switzerland or Saudi Arabia, were wealthier than the United States itself. But unlike an old European country, America did not apportion its wealth according to an entrenched class structure: it was a country of achievement and possibility for all—or so it claimed, and Russians believed this part. Nor was it a tiny oil dictatorship like the Saudis. America was the very definition of modernity; it was the country that Russia had failed to become. Here was a sterling example of Soviet-style doublethink: America was attractive and threatening at the same time, worth emulating and eminently hateable.
Hatred for the United States had become a Soviet political and social tradition. And now Russia’s search for its own traditions infused this hatred with new potency. “I hate, therefore I am,” Gudkov wrote, trying to describe the driving force behind this new anti-Americanism. September 11 fueled the hatred because it engendered anxiety. Surveys were showing that Russians feared that a third world war would result from the attacks, though there was no consensus as to who the parties in this war might be. It was nonetheless—or all the more—a terrifying prospect, and it was America’s fault.
More than half the respondents said that the time had come to increase defense spending, even if this meant that cuts had to be made elsewhere. For a country that was barely—almost imperceptibly for most people in 2001—climbing out of a deep economic depression, this seemed a bizarre result. But then this aggressive anti-American stance was most pronounced among the better-educated, more-well-off respondents. This was the position of the newly emergent elite—the men in uniform and the neotraditionalists whom the Putin presidency had elevated.3
IN THE ABSENCE of political institutions such as parties or established electoral preferences, and in the absence, too, of political experience, the new elite came to rely heavily on people who called themselves “political technologists.” They were like Western political consultants magnified to the point of caricature. They created presidents, parties, and platforms from scratch. They employed small armies of people who produced logos and websites, photo ops and miles of political jargon. Many, though not all, of the soldiers and officers of these armies were very young—often still at university. Together and separately, they made a lot of money.
Neither the political technologists nor the politicians they represented had many—or sometimes any—ideas of their own, and part of the technologists’ task was to find and incorporate ideas generated by others. The top political technologist of them all, Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Moscow editor who manufactured Putin’s public persona in advance of his election, found Dugin and promoted his ideas. Dugin had a knack for putting the generalized anxiety of the elite into words, and these words sounded smart. After September 11, he said on television, where he was part of a political round table with six other men:
A deep crisis of the liberal democratic system has been exposed, a crisis of values. The liberal-democratic complex consists of two components: liberalism and democracy. We usually perceive them as synonyms. But if we look at the history of the West, we will see that the democratic component was used actively in the battle against the Soviet Bloc, as a tool of opposition to totalitarianism. But when the Soviet system collapsed, democracy lost its fundamental strategic function. Liberalism retained its function. I believe that liberalism does not have to be combined with democracy. It can mean simply free trade, market mechanisms, which, as we know, can exist perfectly well in the strictest of authoritarian regimes, even in almost totalitarian ones.
He went on to predict that the United States, in the wake of September 11, would abandon its democratic experiment.4 Dugin was misusing the term “liberalism”—as though it existed solely to denote the opposite of a command economy—and it was not clear what he meant by “democracy” when he claimed that America was on the verge of disposing of it. But his statement perfectly encapsulated the worldview Gudkov’s surveys were reflecting. In this picture, the United States defined itself by its relationship to Russia, just as Russia defined itself in opposition to and in comparison with America. In this picture, it made sense for America to give up on democracy now that the Soviet Union was no more. Most important, this picture affirmed the idea that building a market economy and an authoritarian—“almost totalitarian”—regime at the same time was not just possible but also right.
A few months earlier, in April 2001, Dugin had held the founding congress of a new political movement. He had long since split with the National Bolshevik Party; as a political technologist he had helped to shape Putin’s Unity Party and a short-lived Kremlin-backed spoiler party called Russia, but now he decided to start a movement of his own. The congress was held at a supper-club-like establishment called Honor and Dignity, which belonged to the counterterrorism shock-troop arm of the FSB, called Alpha. Several Alpha veterans were elected to the new movement’s board, and many more men from the uniformed services were in attendance at the congress.
Dugin called the new movement Eurasia, and the event stressed its ties to the Kremlin. There were two large banners in the room. One said, “Russia Is a Eurasian Country. V. V. Putin.” The other said, “Eurasia Above All.” Predictably, one of the newspaper reports on the congress—all the papers wrote about it—was called “Eurasia über Alles.”
“Eurasia above all,” repeated Dugin at the conclusion of his address to the congress. His speech had been devoted to the idea that the world, or at least Russia, was being pulled apart by opposing forces: Eurasian and Atlanticist. Even Yeltsin had started to see the futility of the Atlanticist way back in the 1990s, said Dugin, but “it was the rule of Putin that spelled the true victory of Eurasianist ideas.” For that reason, he said, “We support the president totally, radically. That places us at the total and radical center.”
It was an incomprehensible and mesmerizing phrase, like the “violets blooming on the lips” line he had used on Evgenia a decade and a half earlier. The new movement’s youngest member, Igor Nikolaev, from remote Yakutia, spelled out the Eurasian self-perception more clearly in his presentation, which he said had started out as a high school essay. “Individualism and the independence of opinion are traits characteristic of Europe, where we don’t belong,” he said. “Obedience and love for one’s leader are the traits of the Russian people.”5
“CAN EURASIANISM SAVE RUSSIA?” was the title of a political round table that aired on television in June 2002. Dugin had graduated from discussant to headliner, and Eurasianism from a fringe political movement to a universal solution. It offered an alternative view of Russian history, in which a century and a half of Mongol-Tatar rule had been not an age of destruction but, on the contrary, a vital cultural infusion that set Russia on a special path, distinct from Europe’s. Explaining Eurasianism to the broad public, Dugin referred to a 1920 book by Nikolai Trubetskoy, a Russian prince in exile. Trubetskoy, a linguist (he was one of the founders of structural linguistics), focused on what he called “the magic of words.” He argued that by using words like “humanity,” “universality,” “civilization,” and “progress,” Europeans—or, more precisely, Germans—had fooled the world—or, more precisely, Slavic nations—into buying the cosmopolitan idea. In fact, argued Trubetskoy, by “humanity” Germans meant themselves and those who were like them, and their concepts of “universality,” “civilization,” and “progress” were equally solipsistic—or, as Trubetskoy put it, “egocentric.” By buying into the cosmopolitan idea, therefore, Slavs risked losing their identity and culture.6
Trubetskoy’s book was called Europe and Humanity, and summarizing it for a television audience eighty-two years later, Dugin said that the prince had deemed Europe a threat to humanity. Since then, he explained, things had changed: Europe was not a threat to humanity any longer, but the United States was. “The Western-society project is being forced onto all other nations,” said Dugin. “The Eurasianists will continue to oppose the West as long as the West persists in its pretensions to the universality of its own values, in forcing those values onto people, and in attempting to dominate, whether by means of colonization or by means of neo-colonization, which is what globalization is.”7
This rang true to the broad television audience. The West was expanding. Even as Russia grew disillusioned with all things American, its neighbors began, unexpectedly, to edge westward. In 2003, a bloodless revolution led by young Western-oriented political activists brought down the government of Georgia. There was no love lost between Putin’s Kremlin and the ousted Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, who had once served as Gorbachev’s foreign minister, but the revolution was nonetheless disturbing for Moscow. Putin dispatched his foreign minister to the Georgian capital to help negotiate the transfer of power, but he, and the Russian media, insisted on calling the events there a “coup” rather than a revolution. Speaking to his cabinet, Putin issued an indirect warning to the new Georgian leadership by stressing, “Russia has had a brotherly relationship with the people of Georgia for many centuries.”8 In fact, Georgia had been a part of the Russian Empire for centuries, except for three years of independence between 1917 and 1920, and the dozen years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The phrase “brotherly relationship” harked back to the Soviet “friendship of the peoples” rhetoric, as it was meant to. It was also meant to remind the Georgians that Russia was still “first among equals” on its old stomping ground.
Twelve years after the end of the USSR, Russia still perceived its former subjects as parts of itself. Unlike clearly distinct foreign countries, former Soviet republics were referred to as the “near abroad” (Helsinki and Vienna are closer to Moscow than Kiev and Tbilisi, but the designation referred to psychic and political rather than physical distance). Relations with the “near abroad” were not even part of the foreign ministry’s purview: they were handled by the presidential administration itself. This was perhaps the most striking example of a Soviet institution that had been claimed by Russia in 1991 and preserved against the logic of time and space. “In essence, this maintained the Soviet system in which the Union republics reported to the Central Committee of the Communist Party,” Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar has written. “And since the presidential administration occupied the very same building in Staraya Square as the Central Committee of the Communist Party had, it so happened that the tradition had been maintained for decades, even though the Soviet Union no longer existed.”9 The tradition was one of exerting control over the nominally independent constituent republics (which were no longer constituent) and of appointing their leadership from Moscow.
In 2004, the year after the Georgian revolution, Moscow firmly took control of elections in Ukraine. Russian political technologists flooded Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Their job was to prevent the election of the pro-Western challenger to the current regime, which Moscow had found agreeable. Three days before the election, the pro-Moscow government staged a parade to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Kiev’s liberation in the Second World War (the actual anniversary was nine days later, but they could not wait that long). Putin came, and took his place in the stands next to Leonid Kuchma, the outgoing president, and Viktor Yanukovych, his handpicked successor, whom Moscow was backing. The Victory Flag—the red flag that Soviet soldiers had placed on the Reichstag in 1945—was brought to Kiev for the occasion.10 Putin was lending the pro-Moscow Ukrainian candidate his own authority, Russia’s chief national myth, and the most important physical symbol of the myth.
None of it worked. Yanukovych lost at the polls. He still claimed victory, but this did not work either: Ukrainians took to the streets. They set up camp in Kiev’s central square and refused to disperse, braving the November cold and then the December cold until Ukraine’s supreme court stepped in and ordered a revote. Viktor Yushchenko, who positioned himself as pro-Western and entirely independent from Moscow—and who was even married to a Canadian woman—was elected president.
MASHA FOUND YUSHCHENKO UNLIKABLE and his anti-Moscow rhetoric personally insulting. She was surprised to discover that she cared so much. “Darn, this is the first time I’ve been so worked up about other people’s elections,” she wrote on her blog in November 2004. “I’ll say more. This is the first time I’ve been worked up about any election anywhere.”
“It’s just that in Russia and in Moscow all the elections of our age have had a foregone conclusion,” a friend wrote in the comments.11
This was true. At twenty, Masha had been old enough to vote in just one local, one parliamentary, and one presidential election, and the outcome had been known each time. Putin could not have lost his bid for reelection in 2004; Moscow’s mayor, who had been in office since Masha was in primary school, was similarly entrenched; and Putin’s United Russia party would, it seemed, be in control of parliament forever. Masha did not even know that she or anyone she knew could be passionate about elections these days—until Ukraine showed her.
All Russia was transfixed by the spectacle in Kiev. The year before, the Georgian revolution had drawn relatively little attention here, but now the Ukrainian revolution made people suspect—or hope for—a pattern. Could it happen in Russia too? The imagination ignored key differences between the two countries. In Ukraine, for example, electoral institutions had been developing while Putin had eviscerated Russian ones during his first term in office. And in Ukraine there was a functional, independent supreme court to step in to resolve the standoff, whereas the Russian equivalent, the Constitutional Court, had been effectively subsumed by the executive branch.
Boris Nemtsov was inspired by the turn of events in Ukraine. Since losing his parliamentary seat in December 2003, he had been at loose ends. It was the first time he had been defeated in an election since he entered politics in 1990—indeed, he had once been used to landslide victories. He had taken an executive-level job at a bank, well-paying and dull. But now there was Ukraine, with real political battles and actual high-stakes activism. He started shuttling back and forth to Kiev. He took a volunteer position as an adviser to Yushchenko. He wore a scarf the color of the revolution—orange—and spoke in the square on the first day of the protests. A few days later, in a television interview in Moscow, he held up Ukraine as an example for Russia:
In the past, people in Kiev used to look to Moscow. And now an awful lot of Muscovites, and not only Muscovites, Russians in general, will probably be looking to Kiev to see how people are fighting for their rights, fighting for truth and freedom.12
The political technologists who had been dispatched to deal with Ukraine returned to Moscow and explained their failure: it was the Americans’ fault. The Americans—by which they generally meant the United States government and George Soros—had been financing and organizing Eastern European revolutions beginning with the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia in 2000, the story went. Then they hit Georgia, followed by Ukraine. Here it was: every fear of the American expansion was confirmed.
Putin had long been speaking about an external threat to Russia. Most recently he had mentioned it in the wake of the siege of a school in Beslan, a town in the Russian Caucasus, where more than three hundred people—most of them children—had died in September 2004. Less than two weeks after the attack, for which Chechen terrorists were held responsible, Putin announced new sweeping changes to Russia’s political system. Governors would from now on be appointed rather than elected. All the seats in the lower house of parliament would from now on be apportioned to political parties based on their percentage of the vote nationwide (before the announcement, half the seats had been distributed among parties while the other half went to popularly elected representatives of 225 territorial districts). Putin explained that these measures would consolidate political institutions, creating the cohesion needed to protect the country from external threat—of which the school siege was the unlikely example. Like most of his earlier reforms, these measures affected formal political institutions and had consolidation as their aim. But to counter the perceived threat of an American-run, Soros-sponsored popular revolution, the Kremlin needed to focus on the public sphere, which it needed to mobilize for the preservation of the regime. A few years later, Australian political scientist Robert Horvath coined a term to describe this process: “preventive counter-revolution.”13
AS IF TO AFFIRM the Kremlin’s fear of a revolution, mass protests broke out in cities across Russia in the winter of 2005. Tens of thousands of people were protesting a new series of measures called the “monetization of entitlements,” whereby people who received public assistance—women over fifty-five, men over sixty, early retirees, and the disabled—would no longer have access to unlimited public transportation and other in-kind benefits but would receive fixed sums of money instead. This was a cost-cutting measure, and aid recipients perceived, accurately, that despite what they were told, the money was not equivalent to the value of their old benefits. They were losing assistance that, for many, was essential for survival.
The Kremlin had not expected this backlash. The protests were the stuff of nightmares. The protesters were the elderly and the feeble, and the state could not use force against them even when they were blocking roadways, as they did in cities across the country, or when they set up tents in the streets, as happened in St. Petersburg.
Nor were the retirees the only people protesting. A slew of youth organizations seemed to appear out of nowhere. Some were radical, like the National Bolshevik Party, which had been rejuvenated by an influx of young people all over the country; they were demonstrating alongside or on behalf of the pensioners. Others were youth spin-offs or splinter groups of conventional political parties; these tended to model themselves, aesthetically, on Otpor (“Resistance”), the Yugoslav youth movement that had been instrumental in toppling Milošević. They staged small guerrilla-theater actions.
Finally, chess champion Garry Kasparov, one of the best-known people in the entire country, announced that he was quitting the sport to devote himself to political struggle. He formed an organization called the United Civic Front, an umbrella coalition that could unite the pensioners, the Otpor imitators, and the National Bolsheviks and their ilk, simply because they all opposed Putin and the authoritarian regime he was building. Together, they staged marches, which they called the Marches of the Dissenters.
It was during the Ukrainian elections that Masha had started blogging on livejournal.com, a platform that in America was popular among teenagers but in Russia was spontaneously repurposed to become a rudimentary social network (though the term was not yet in use). By spring 2005, Masha had her bearings on the network and was reading and talking to several people involved with the youth political groups. She went to a couple of meetings of Oborona (“Defense”), a group formed by a young man named Ilya Yashin. Oborona was designed to resemble Otpor in every way, including the sound of its name. Then Sergei objected: he did not want his wife involved with political hoodlums. By the end of the year, Masha was pregnant, and she complied.
Only a small number of people took part in the protests or even knew about them. With the exception of the National Bolsheviks, who had created a wide network of local activists, each of the youth groups counted just a handful of active members. The protesting pensioners were relatively numerous. But Russians who did not desperately need state assistance were mostly occupied with their own lives, which were very, very good. Thanks to skyrocketing oil prices, in 2005 Russia entered its sixth year of unprecedented economic prosperity.
Money was what the Kremlin used to defuse the protests of the disenfranchised: pensions were raised dramatically, and Putin declared a new commitment to social-program spending. Then the government cracked down on the young protest organizers, and on civil society in general. A law placing onerous registration and reporting requirements on nongovernmental organizations was passed. Civil society groups fought the law as well as they could, and the United States Congress even expressed concern about the law, in a nonbinding resolution—thereby affirming the Kremlin’s view that Russian nongovernmental organizations were agents of Western subversion. In response to the push-back, the legislation was softened slightly: provisions that would have made it impossible for foreign organizations, such as USAID or Soros’s Open Society Foundations, to function in Russia were removed. Still, the bill that Putin signed in January 2007 condemned nongovernmental organizations to useless paperwork designed to sap their resources.
The Marches of the Dissenters faced a physical crackdown rather than a paper one. Police began rounding up activists hours or days before a planned march. Those who managed to attend were first beaten by baton-wielding riot police and then detained. Activists braved these battles for a couple of years, but in early 2008 the marches ceased.
As the Kremlin forced out of the public sphere those people and organizations that it saw as threatening, it stuffed the empty space with supporters. Back in the Soviet era, public space had been monolithic, filled with the Communist Party and its age-appropriate subsidiaries. Instead of nongovernmental organizations, it had entities like trade unions run by the state trade union authority. Now political technologists began manufacturing organizations that created an illusion of plurality. The Kremlin instituted its own foundation, which would give grants to organizations of its choosing. In itself, a system of government grants is not necessarily an instrument of repression—many European countries have civil-society sectors that are primarily funded by the state—but the explicit assumption here was that Kremlin-funded groups would do the Kremlin’s bidding. Political technologists cranked out youth groups designed to protect the Kremlin, including fighting for it in the streets if it came to that. They had names like Nashi (“Us,” as opposed, clearly, to “Them”) and the Young Guard, a name borrowed from a mythologized group of Soviet teenage anti-Hitler guerrillas. A group of students in Moscow put out a few issues of a newspaper called Aktsiya (“Action”); the new manufactured groups responded with a newspaper that had offices, a well-paid staff, and a regular print schedule. They called it Reaktsiya (“Reaction”). The new groups had training camps and cool T-shirts, and in some smaller cities they organized dances and other leisure activities for young people where none had been available. They staged street actions, including an unironically named March of the Consenters to counter the March of the Dissenters. Fifteen years earlier, a prominent perestroika politician, historian Yuri Afanasyev, had called this “the aggressively obedient majority.”
In this context, Dugin’s promise of creating a “total and radical center” began to make sense. He now positioned himself as a leader in the fight against the “orange menace,” which he described as part of the Atlanticist plot against Eurasia and even an American jihad against Russia. The Eurasian movement spawned a youth wing, the Eurasian Youth Union, which placed itself in the vanguard of the Anti-Orange Front, an entity that Dugin claimed included twenty-five thousand people. What Russia really needed to prevent an orange revolution, said Dugin, was a new oprichnina, the reign of terror for which Czar Ivan IV was remembered as the Terrible.
In the process of reengineering the public sphere, the Kremlin changed the calendar. One of the four big public holidays of the year—along with New Year’s Eve, May Day, and Victory Day—had been November 7, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Yeltsin had renamed it Reconciliation and Agreement Day. Now Putin, apparently concerned that revolutionary organizations might be tempted to use the day to stage protests, abolished the holiday. Russians would still get a day off in November, but it would now be on the fourth of the month and it would mark an event that had not been part of Russia’s historical imagination: the expulsion of Polish occupiers from Moscow in 1612. As the intellectual and the historian among the leaders of the “preventive counter-revolution,” Dugin took ownership of the new holiday. On November 4, 2005, the Eurasian Youth Union led a march through central Moscow. They called it the Russian March. Eurasian Youth activists walked in the vanguard, carrying a banner emblazoned with the words “Russia Against the Occupiers!” The Eurasianists were joined by several other groups, whose slogans were explicitly racist: “We need a Russian Russia!” one speech concluded. “Glory to Russia!” Another declaimed: “How long are we going to put up with this vermin, with all these ‘Latvias,’ ‘Polands,’ and ‘Georgias’? We declare this the day of the people’s anger. Russians, rise up!”14
“By giving a green light to the [Eurasian Youth Union’s] anti-Western xenophobia, the authorities had created opportunities for adherents of more extreme variants of ultranationalism,” writes Horvath. “As the moderate opposition was driven to the margins, ultranationalists gained admission to Russia’s public sphere.”15
“I HAVE A BRILLIANT IDEA!” Boris shouted into the phone when he called Zhanna in Portugal in the summer of 2005. “You should run for office.” His logic was simple: he had met Oborona activists, and the events of that year so far had convinced him that young—very young—people were the future of politics. His daughter had a leg up on everyone else because she carried his famous last name, to which he now referred as a brand.
Zhanna was not interested. She was not interested in much, frankly: she still, or once again, lacked ambition. She had just graduated from the Institute of International Relations, where she had done well enough, despite minimal engagement either with her studies or with fellow students. For much of her time in college her social life had revolved around a group of slightly older gay men—the people who had the best time at the best new clubs in town. Then, during the winter of her last year of studying, she got a call from a friend of her mother’s: “Come on over, I’ll introduce you to a very cute banker.” The banker’s name was Dmitry, he was indeed very cute, but he was also fifteen years older than Zhanna and on his second marriage. By spring, though, he was separated and he and Zhanna were living together. Dmitry was worldly, attentive, a good cook, and a great entertainer. Zhanna’s friends loved him, and so did her parents—Dmitry had a way of making people feel important. The only wrinkle in their relationship was Dmitry’s love of all things glamorous—he wished to see Zhanna in expensive dresses and imposing high heels at all times. But he had a trait that far outweighed her discomfort in high heels: he liked all Zhanna’s ideas. This was why they were in Portugal now. Zhanna had taken Portuguese as her second foreign language at the Institute, and she wanted to spend the summer after graduation practicing it among native speakers. It was the best place and the best summer, and Boris was intruding with his insane suggestion.
“Margaret Thatcher ran for office for the first time at age twenty-two,” was Boris’s ultimate argument, and, unreasonably, it succeeded in convincing Zhanna. She returned to Moscow and declared her candidacy for the city legislature. She and Boris told everyone that the idea was hers and that her father had misgivings about seeing her seek office. Zhanna told reporters that she was “more moderate” than Boris, which journalists generally took to mean that she was not a die-hard opponent of Putin.16 It seemed that Boris believed the legend himself: he told Zhanna that she had to raise her own money. He did lend her about $20,000 to cover the “electoral collateral”—money that went into escrow pending election results. If she got less than 5 percent of the vote, the state would keep it.
Zhanna talked a college classmate into being her campaign manager. A friend of her mother’s, Olga, joined too. Olga was very good at talking to people. Dmitry, supportive as ever, paid for a photo shoot. The photo of Zhanna in a wholesome white blouse, airbrushed to make the candidate look not quite so ridiculously young, went up on billboards. Her tagline was “Zhanna Nemtsova: The United Candidate.” The billboards listed five political organizations that had lent Zhanna their support. All of them were pro-democracy groups at some stage of the transition from the mainstream to the margins.
It was not much of a political platform. Her father was fond of talking about what he called “democratic values,” but this seemed hopelessly old-fashioned to Zhanna. Nor did “democratic values” seem to be what concerned the residents of her district in northern Moscow. Zhanna studied conscientiously, meeting with residents and the single long-term local politician who had not been washed out by the wave of Putin’s new nomenklatura. Chief concerns here were transportation—the Metro did not reach this far north, and buses were unreliable—and housing stock. Thousands of people were living in dilapidated buildings that had once been planned as temporary.
Boris connected Zhanna with Mikhail Prokhorov, co-owner of the metals giant Norilsk Nickel. Maybe he would want to contribute to the campaign. Prokhorov spent an hour bombarding Zhanna with quiz-like questions designed to draw out her political views. Then he said that he would be willing to give her money if she changed districts. He was bankrolling a ruling-party candidate in southern Moscow, and he would pay for Zhanna to challenge him. He wanted to be entertained. She was indignant. He called Boris and said, laughing, “Your daughter is a socialist.”
There was no single moment when Zhanna realized that the game was fixed. By the time the vote came about, she felt like she had always known it. The incumbent, a nondescript man with an unmemorable name, would win because he belonged to Putin’s party, United Russia. On election day Olga observed the vote at one of the precincts and saw soldiers bused in to stuff the ballot boxes. This was one way it was done. Another was saturation: the United Russia candidate’s name and likeness were everywhere, even if no one really knew who he was. If it had been an honest contest, Zhanna figured she probably would have lost to the Communist Party candidate. As it was, the Communist came in second and Zhanna was third—with 10 percent of the vote, enough to recover her “electoral collateral.” Zhanna was proud of this, especially because Boris was. But he said that he had now realized something else: “A name is not enough—a politician has to have a biography. You’ve got to work.”
This is all nothing but strange games, an imitation of democracy. The candidates are copying each other’s platforms. You can tell ahead of time what they are going to say. What they are really doing is creating a one-party system, which is the road to authoritarianism. We’ll probably see parties that will pretend they are the opposition, or the quasi-opposition, and they will by turn kowtow to the government and criticize it. But their true function will be to prop up the one-party system. If the Bolsheviks had been smarter, they would have done this themselves—created a dozen such little bedbugs that will run up and down the body of society.
ALEXANDER NIKOLAEVICH YAKOVLEV had never before let himself sound so testy in public. But in April 2005 he had just finished a lecture tour that had taken him across Russia, sapping his will and his wish to sound civil. “We are laying down a nationalist future for ourselves,” he told a journalist. The word “nationalist” remained one of the most damning in his vocabulary. “I am seeing Stalin’s mug displayed everywhere, every day, and people are eating it up. It is the face of a nationalist, a chauvinist, a murderer. But we are being told that if we look into it, he wasn’t so bad.”
“Are you sorry that you and Gorbachev did not disband the secret police?” asked the journalist.
Back in the day in the Central Committee we used to pretend that we were in charge. But it was the CheKa,* the KGB who were always really in command. We couldn’t even go abroad without their permission. Take me—I was a member of the Politburo. I was watched over by fifteen KGB agents. Two cooks and the housekeeper had the rank of officers. . . .
Has the center of power moved from the Kremlin to the FSB?
It was there all along. . . .
Why do so many people idealize the past?
It’s the “leader principle.”* It’s a disease. It’s a Russian tradition. We had our czars, our princes, our secretaries-general, our collective-farm chairmen, and so on. We live in fear of the boss. Think about it: we are not afraid of earthquakes, floods, fires, wars, or terrorist attacks. We are afraid of freedom. We don’t know what to do with it. . . . That’s where the fascist groups come from, too—the shock troops of tomorrow.
Is the orange revolution possible here?
We are not going to be like Ukraine. . . . We still live with a simple trinity. The state is on top, and we keep making it stronger. Society is suspended somewhere beneath the state. If the state so wishes, the society will be civil, or semicivil, or nothing but a herd. Look to Orwell for a good description of this. And the little tiny individual is running around somewhere down at the bottom.17
This was Alexander Nikolaevich’s last major interview. He died in October 2005, a few weeks short of his eighty-second birthday. His son continued to work with the documents Alexander Nikolaevich had been publishing. Forty-three books had come out, but many more remained to be compiled and edited. This project, too, had become a source of frustration for Alexander Nikolaevich, because a new kind of response had become prevalent: people were writing letters saying that the stories told by these documents could not possibly be true. But the books had to continue coming out, especially because many of the documents had once again been made inaccessible in the archives.
Seryozha, though, felt that he no longer had an obligation to help. With his grandfather gone, he was free to go anywhere he wanted. He picked Ukraine. There was a girl there, and Kiev happened to be the place everyone wanted to live now.
AFTER LOSING HER ELECTION, Zhanna reverted to the state of having no ambition. This was fine: she was newly married, and with Dmitry’s income she did not need to work.
Everyone around her was making money and then more money with that money. Her father and her mother, separately, had started playing the market; her mother proved particularly good at it. Dmitry was the vice-president of a bank, and most of his friends were in finance. After watching them for about a year, Zhanna decided to try for herself. She got a job at an investment firm, and learned to buy and sell. Making money was the easiest thing in the world. All the Russian market did was grow, and finding the stocks that would grow fastest was a fun game.
Starting in 1999, the growth curve of oil and gas prices had roughly the same shape as the curve of Putin’s popularity rating in fall 1999: a vertical straight line. The Russian economy did not become more efficient—in fact, if anything, it became less efficient—but it grew sharply nonetheless. The “virtual economy” problem described by Clifford Gaddy was not solved: about half of Russian industry continued to lose value. But these companies were not represented on Russia’s tiny stock market, which was dominated by oil and gas companies—so the stock market grew and grew. By 2005, the oil and gas rents far exceeded the needs of the federal budget, which allowed money to be deposited in a reserve fund, which, in turn, could be used in an emergency—like when the fires of the pensioners’ protest had to be put out.18
MASHA GAVE BIRTH to a boy in September 2006. They named him Alexander, Sasha for short. When the baby was five days old, Masha started hemorrhaging. She was taken to a hospital by ambulance. A burly nurse examined her—it hurt more than giving birth had, and Masha screamed.
“I bet it didn’t hurt when you were fucking!” shouted the nurse.
Masha spent the next two weeks in one of the worst hospitals in a city full of bad hospitals. Her roommates numbered between three and five, placed on sagging metal cots in a room with no dividers. The hospital had only the most rudimentary medicines and equipment that dated back to the middle of the twentieth century. One of Masha’s roommates had a pregnancy that had become nonviable at twenty-six weeks, but the drugs used to induce labor were ineffective or insufficient and she lay in the room for days, struggling to give birth to her dead baby.
After a few days, Masha figured out that she was part of the hospital’s corrupt survival strategy. Russia had instituted a system of mandatory health insurance, a state-run policy that reimbursed hospitals. But this was a facility that no one would voluntarily choose, so at night, ambulances would deliver policyholders to this hospital in exchange for kickbacks. This was what had happened to Masha. Once she was hospitalized, the doctors placed her under an infectious-diseases quarantine, making it impossible to transfer to another facility.
Back at home, something strange happened to Sergei. Instead of doing what any normal husband would do in this situation—asking his mother or Masha’s grandmother to come and take care of the baby—he bonded with his son. When Masha came home, she got the sense that Sergei was now more of a parent than she was. He let her join in, and they stayed home for the next year, mothering their baby and running their website.
After that Masha went to work for a distribution company. This was a bit of a misnomer: the line of business she entered probably should have been called “corruption facilitation.”
Putin had responded to the pensioners’ protests by announcing mammoth government investment in social services. The investment was divided into four different “priority national projects.” The first year, Russia invested about $2 billion in the four projects, and the following year the amount went up. The largest share of the money went to National Project Health. It was designed to radically modernize Russian medicine.19
Health care and research institutions began importing vast amounts of medical equipment and the chemicals and parts required for it to function. Because the funds were federal, all purchases had to go through the health ministry, where kickbacks accounted for 80 to 90 percent of the expenditures. But foreign suppliers, bound by their national laws, could not accommodate the kickback schemes or pay the bribes at customs. This was where the “distribution company” stepped in. It was Masha’s job to ensure that the corruption premiums were paid but the paperwork looked clean. She got an excellent salary.