Gregory Phifer: Putin, by denying facts, creates an alternative reality

An excerpt from Russia’s new TV show on the weekly activities of Vladimir Putin

Executive Director of the Institute of Contemporary World Relations in Washington – about the press conference of the President of Russia

On December 17, the next annual press conference of Vladimir Putin took place, which this time was combined with elements of his «straight lines»: As a result, a motley mixture of topics of a pandemic, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, corruption, poverty and questions about family happiness and a favorite New Year’s toast came out. However, the main thing that was expected from this appearance of Putin in front of journalists nevertheless happened: the Russian leader was asked a question about the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and about Russia’s relations with the West in general..

Putin said quite irritably that, in comparison with Western countries, Russia, in his opinion, really looks «white and fluffy», he commented with a grin on the assassination attempt on his political opponent and tried to recall, it seems, all the statistical indicators of the Russian economy. However, he admitted for the first time that the Russian special services had been following Navalny for a long time, however, immediately justifying this and accusing the US State Department of «to sweep» To the Kremlin.

Executive Director of the Institute of Contemporary World Relations in Washington Gregory Phifer (Gregory Feifer) at the request of the Russian Service «Voices of America» commented on the press conference of the President of Russia. He believes that Putin’s approach to the country’s problems, expressed at a press conference, does not correspond to the scale of these problems..

Danila Galperovich: You have watched many of Vladimir Putin‘s speeches in the past as a journalist. Was there anything during the four and a half hours of this Putin press conference that you found unusual?

Gregory Phifer: This was a typical speech by Vladimir Putin, and we have seen this many times. He takes credit for saving Russia from violence in the Caucasus, from poverty and from collapse, he considers himself to be the one who brought security to the Russians, and declares that he can think about a new presidential term if the fate of Russia depends on it. A very typical performance for him, perhaps a little sharper than usual, but the time right now is just very atypical. – the coronavirus pandemic has hit Russia, and although Putin talked about the vaccine «Sputnik-V», all his words were, rather, an attempt at PR. Even the questions this time were somewhat different from the usual ones. Even a journalist known for his loyalty to Putin and not criticizing his actions, now asked about the difficulties Russians are experiencing across the country, and especially in the provinces. – where very little is being done to control the spread of the virus and provide financial and economic assistance. The country is in crisis, and Putin seems to be ignoring it.

D.G .: How influenced the situation and the mood of this press conference was the fact that several reports appeared right in front of it, exposing the Kremlin of corruption, and the Russian special services – in an attempt to poison Alexei Navalny?

G.F .: These publications, produced by Russian and foreign journalists, really help to reveal just how malicious the Putin administration is. For example, the investigation into the Putin family, which says that his former son-in-law Kirill Shamalov was simply given a stake in a chemical company worth almost $ 400 million for just a hundred dollars as a wedding present. And Putin scoffed at this as something completely ordinary, saying that this happens all the time. There were also important reports from the United States, indicating that it was during this difficult time of the pandemic that Russia was engaged in hacking the computers of the United States government agencies. How deep these hacker attacks were remains to be understood, but it is already clear that this was caused by serious flaws in the US security system..

Gregory Phifer: Putin, by denying facts, creates an alternative reality

D.G .: What can you say about Putin’s reaction to the investigation of several media outlets into the FSB’s involvement in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny??

G.F .: Yes, this investigation really became «the cherry on the cake» – overwhelming information in a whole series of publications showing how closely they followed Navalny, how difficult it was to conceive the scheme of poisoning him with real chemical weapons. And everything that Putin was capable of – it is about transferring guilt from oneself to others. He dismissed the investigation, claiming that Navalny was in fact working with US intelligence and that Russian intelligence had every right to spy on Navalny if that happened. Putin, in general, blamed the United States for everything and said that his administration did nothing wrong, he still avoided pronouncing Navalny’s name, calling him «a patient in a Berlin clinic». That is, by this all he shows even more strongly that the Russian government – it is a really harmful force on the world stage, and it is rather strange to watch this, it all sounds almost unrealistic for a normal person. We see one of the world’s main kleptocrats, if not the main one, who with might and main inspires the spread of his model of authoritarian kleptocracy around the world, denying all accusations, and generally trying to present himself as a democrat. It’s a pretty depressing sight.

D.G .: Putin claims that journalists’ investigations into Kremlin corruption – it is in fact the revenge of the West, specifically the United States, for Russia’s hacker attacks on the American elections, and at the same time continues to insist that there were no such attacks. This is the motive «revenge of the West» – where do you think it comes from Putin?

G.F .: Putin is constantly playing a zero-sum game in foreign policy, he believes that if someone won, then he lost, and vice versa. We don’t know if he really believes it, I think no one can say for sure. But it is obvious that at least in part he has this view of the world, taken from the KGB textbooks and methodological books of the times «cold war». The same is true for other leaders with a tendency towards autocracy. – at least for the same Trump, who, like Putin, blames others for what he does himself. But Putin is also projecting power into the world by this: he seems to be declaring: «I believe that this and that is true, and whether you believe it or not – it’s up to you». He also creates and defends all this alternative reality, not only to promote it on the world stage, but also to control the Russians inside the country. It’s such a test of loyalty – you are either loyal or not. And part of that loyalty is the belief in this propaganda that Russia and Putin – these are victims, and that everything that Moscow is accused of was done correctly – even in denial that it was ever done. When you begin to analyze his arguments, you see that there is no logic in them, but he does not need logic either. Putin needs others’ blind faith in what he says.