“Who is that man in Dresden?
MASHA GESSEN – Well, he’s an unhappy man.
He has wanted to be a secret agent all of his life, as long as he can remember, and
he was—waited patiently for his foreign posting.
Then he gets posted to East Germany, and not even to Berlin, to Dresden, which is just
such a backwater, and his job in Dresden isn’t even to spy on the East Germans.
His job in Dresden is actually to try to work remotely to get intelligence from the West.
So he’s working with students in Dresden who might have friends who are students in
Berlin, and his big “get” during his entire time in Dresden is buying a 700-page unclassified
U.S. Army manual.
“The Putin Files: Masha Gessen”
“That’s all he’s managed to do.
Another thing that’s happened to him is that he’s experienced envy like I think
he didn’t expect.
The fact that he recounted it nearly 20 years later, when he was already a wealthy man,
but you know, they got to Dresden, and East Germany was not terribly exciting or glamorous
or wealthy place by any means, especially Dresden, which had been, you know, virtually destroyed in the bombings in 1945. So here is this bland city, and still he sees that East Germans, ordinary East Germans live
better than a KGB officer in the Soviet Union.
They all have their own separate apartments. They have washing machines in their apartments.
They have color televisions. All these things are luxury in the Soviet Union.
His parents still live in a communal apartment.
He’s never had a washing machine in the house, an automatic washing machine, that
sort of thing.
So he’s a very unhappy man.
He’s drinking a lot of beer, getting fat and wiling away his time uselessly.
Meanwhile, back home, things start happening as soon as he left the country.
The country started to transform, which is something that no one could have predicted,
because it felt, you know, that era in Soviet history is known as the era of stagnation.
It just felt like time had stopped.
People were living in sort of horizontal time.
There was no future; there was no past.
Things were always going to be the same.
And suddenly Mikhail Gorbachev, who’s the new head of the Central Committee, the
sort of young person—he’s in his 50s—to have that post in generations, he comes out
and says: “We need change. We need transformation. We need perestroika.”
He says that word, and “glasnost.”
“Perestroika” is restructuring, and “glasnost” is transparency.”
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“But people in the Soviet Union are completely caught up in the excitement of change, because
suddenly things can be said, things can be done.
Things that were unthinkable yesterday are entirely normal today, like having a demonstration
in the street, which first people sort of tried gingerly, and then they see that people
aren’t getting arrested, and then all of a sudden, there are thousands and hundreds of
thousands of people in the streets.
All of that excitement and all of that discussion that’s starting to happen out in public,
like “What should the state be like? Should there be one party, or maybe more than one party?,” That’s a radical idea; all
of that is happening back in the Soviet Union, and Putin has no way of knowing about it.”
“The thing about the Russian secret police and the Soviet secret police is that one never
leaves the secret police.
Once a KGB man, always a KGB man.
It seems that probably Putin’s father maintained some connection to the secret police throughout
One sign of that is that they had a telephone, and people didn’t have telephones in the
Soviet Union in the 1950s…and never would somebody have a personal phone inside a communal apartment,
which is what Putin’s dad had.”
“MASHA GESSEN – He’s scrappy, very ambitious, very, very greedy.
This is actually an extraordinary trait of his, something that he has talked about.
He doesn’t call it greed, but the behavior he describes is so atypical for a Soviet boy
or a young man that it really stands out.”