Putin is a male child, not a macho genius
An expert’s point of view on a current event.
June 1, 2021, 4:22 PM
Since its accession, Westerners have been fascinated by the macho image of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The shirtless, horse and karate leader has become a meme. So are the ideas about his power that go with him: a Machiavellian leader and a brilliant strategist, always a step forward.
This idea has always been a myth. But recent efforts by Russian dissidents have shattered it again. Behind closed doors, Putin is no genius in the fight against the bear. He’s a corrupt boy. These revelations sparked anger from Putin himself, including new rounds of arrests and persecution. But they also show the deep rot at the heart of the regime more clearly than any fantasy of an omnipotent, macho foe.
On January 17, after recovering from near-fatal poisoning at the hands of his own government, Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny returned home. He was instantly arrested by the same state apparatus that nearly cost him his life. But Navalny, a step ahead of his enemies, had already finished producing his next anti-corruption brief, A palace for Putin: the story of the biggest bribe, detailing and revealing the story of a colossal palace and estate on the Black Sea coast, near the resort town of Gelendzhik, Russia. His release and Navalny’s arrest sparked protests across Russia. Navalny’s colleagues at the Anti-Corruption Foundation (which Navalny founded in 2011) have continued their struggle without him, even though they strongly advocate for his immediate release.
On April 15, they published The secret of Putin’s Valdai dacha (a Russian term meaning roughly “vacation home”), which details an official but closely guarded and unseen residence by the lake in the Valdai Hills, roughly halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Putin’s state apparatus reacted on April 27 by labeling the foundation as an illegal extremist group.
It’s not hard to see why Putin is enraged by the work of Navalny and his colleagues: both pieces are a deep dive into his appalling flaws as a leader and as a human being.
As A palace for Putin begins, Navalny explicitly declares that this is a “psychological portrait” of Putin, whom he considers a “madman obsessed with wealth and luxury”. He parallels Putin’s nearly 20-year domination of Russia with the botched management of the facility itself, stifling the carefully crafted image of Putin at home as a competent technocrat and abroad as a formidable brain. Under this facade, the two A palace for Putin and the dacha briefing does not reveal a charismatic leader, but a reasonably sneaky, utterly rogue, and incredibly lucky criminal, far away on his skis.
Various details about the Black Sea Palace and neighboring properties owned by Putin made the Russian dictator laugh. Some made fun of a $ 850 toilet brush and a toilet paper holder of almost $ 1,300. Others scoffed at the presence of a prized aqua-disco (a fountain-like device that pours water to produce a chosen melody, located in one of the palace bars), which now plays the ‘object of a satirical rap by Russian artist TMNV, who pleads “Vova, take me to the aqua disco… Put shit in the hookah… [Navalny]. (“Vova” is an informal Russian shorthand for “Vladimir”, similar to an English speaker calling a William “Bubba.”)
The hookah, in this case, is real. In addition to three dedicated bars and two wine tasting rooms, Putin’s Palace apparently has a specialized hookah lounge with plenty of seating, in the center of which is a stage with a dancing pole.
The Valdai dacha is also not devoid of absurd features, such as a “Vladimirskaya” church named after its eponymous owner, a miniature casino and a huge spa complex. The resort is particularly laughable, containing just about all cosmetic facilities except plastic surgery, including a dental office. The funniest of these is a full-body cryochamber, a pseudo-scientific fantasy used by individuals with more money than sense to (supposedly) rejuvenate their skin by subjecting it to temperatures well below. zero. Presumably, Putin finds going shirtless outside in hypothermic temperatures not fancy enough.
After freezing himself in a vain quest for eternal youth, he has the opportunity to visit a “Thai massage” salon, whose four-poster bed suggests that massages are perhaps only one of the services offered. Once he’s sated with this particular hobby, there are two spacious restaurant buildings to provide his dinner, one of which is all about beer.
The titanic palace presents itself as a compromise between the opulence of the palaces of the tsars and the scorching heat of a gangster paradise. These grossly hedonistic installations coexist with an on-stage theater with a two-story auditorium, a reading room (but no library), and expansive gardens.
These are symbolic offerings to the lingering Russian notion that rulers, however brutal their origins, must be cultivated. Nekulturny (“uneducated”) cuts into Russian in a way that has little equivalent in English; not only the respect of Russians for the arts is deep, but also the fear of being seen by others as a peasant. The Soviet leaders were fierce autodidacts. Putin, however, despite being born into an upper-middle-class Soviet family, seems to have none of the learning aspirations and taste of a wealthy and spoiled teenager.
The architecture and decorations produce a classic example of what writer Peter York calls “chic dictator“, A style characterized by” ridiculously oversized “dimensions; extremely excessive use of gold, glass and marble; ubiquitous rococo furniture; and frequent depictions of “macho creatures”, be they lions, eagles or wolves. Double-headed golden eagles of questionable craftsmanship decorate much of the interior, and an inferior imitation of the golden eagle atop the iconic and elaborate doorway of the Winter Palace adorns the front door. much less elaborate (but just as massive) in structure. Gold, glass and marble adorn almost every room, as does furniture from Italian companies whose products are both flamboyant and outrageously expensive. A single sofa and its dressing table together cost more than $ 54,000.
Dacha Valdai places most of the posh dictator in one gaudy location: a Chinese-style pavilion built in marble with a golden roof. Its coarse and excessively gilded interior is equipped with a circular table ideal for drinking in society; the chairs, with comically oversized seats and relatively undersized backrests, are caricatures of Ming dynasty design.
Although previous royal palaces were often cultural and political centers, where members of the elite mingled, Putin’s reclusive palace is a massively oversized playground. The colossal estate on which it stands is closely guarded by the Federal Security Service. Boats must maintain a distance of 2 miles from the shore and a large no-fly zone exists above the house. Its location on the Black Sea coast is far from the seat of government in Moscow, making this imitation of the Winter Palace and Versailles remarkably unsuitable for court dress. Although the Romanovs and Bourbons used their palaces for vast festivities to which much of the ruling class was invited, Putin’s equally colossal edifice is to be appreciated only by himself and a few close collaborators.
This place is also not suitable for Putin’s family reunions. Despite having two known grandchildren (both under the age of 10) and being suspected of having recently fathered two more children out of wedlock, no neighborhood or children’s entertainment facility has been identified. in the palace. Located between a casino and a games room equipped (among other attractions) with several slot machines is a room dedicated to a set of small electric cars and a track to make them run, but the toys are displayed well above the floor in protective cabinets and the track is on a table too high for young children to use. Putin, it seems, is less Emperor Palpatine in Star wars and more Rick Moranis in Space balls.
Valdai’s dacha, at least, has a massively oversized playground, though this oddly coexists with facilities for gambling, drinking, and “massage therapy.” The palace and the dacha also have extensive sports facilities, including an underground ice hockey rink. If Putin’s recent game against some of Russia’s top hockey players is any guide, his guests should play as incompetent as they need to let him win.
The purpose of the palace, however, is much clearer than that of the dacha: Away from government duties, away from family responsibilities, and tasked with at least six separate places to get lost, it is not the abode of a ruler. confident. but the lair of an overgrown male child. In a house with more than three times the floor space of the White House and on a vast estate more than 86 times the size of Camp David, Putin is free to satisfy his heart’s desires as his country crumbles around him, impoverished by the sheer rapacity and incompetence of his president and his accomplices.