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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Amending Views on Putin

President Vladimir Putin recently hosted a number of newspaper editors at the Kremlin. At this meeting, there was a minor sensation: It was the first time that representatives of the left radical press had been invited, including Sovietskaya Rossiya editor Valentin Chikin and Zavtra editor Alexander Prokhanov. The latter shared his impressions on the meeting.

All these years we have been a thorn in the side of the Kremlin and the liberal-democratic public. We didn’t spare our opponents and didn’t mince words. And, naturally, there could be no contact with the authorities. I’m surprised that Boris Yeltsin spared us and didn’t close us down altogether.

But then a new president appeared on the scene, and there fell from his lips words that were not the usual ones emanating from the Kremlin, words from our patriotic lexicon — such as motherland, power, strong government, army — terms that had won us the labels "fascists" and "militarists."

Both Valentin Chikin and I had the idea of trying to establish contact with the Kremlin. We wrote an open letter to President Vladimir Putin in which we suggested the lifting of a decade long blockade. We did not expect that we would immediately receive an answer. We were promised that a meeting would be held shortly after Putin’s return from the summit in Okinawa, Japan, and the meeting did in fact occur.

Putin was slightly late, and he was visibly bothered by that. He apologized profusely, pressing his hand to his heart and looking in general like a guilty young man. This was very touching. While waiting for the president, we had managed to drink coffee twice and eat almost all the Kremlin pastries, which looked like white, fried mice. The president, who apparently was hungry, did not hold back and immediately went for one of the remaining pastries. I noticed that he took a pastry without sweet filling. Like an athlete, Putin is probably watching his diet.

We immediately agreed not to divulge the content of our conversation, because it had not been arranged according to the usual protocol. I can only say that this conversation touched upon all the key problems in this nation, both internal and external. The president was very open, improvised a lot and was not particularly shy in expressing himself. He struck me as a person who is very fervent, animated, goal-oriented, in short, something like a flying javelin.

I liked his mind: flexible, quick, lively, reacting greedily to any topic. He freely moved from problems of animal husbandry to problems of terrorism and military reform, talked about geostrategy and political science, about ethics and national philosophy. We had become unused to this during Yeltsin’s tenure. And even Mikhail Gorbachev, for all his chattiness, did not shine as an intellectual.

Putin is an intellectual, and for me, as a writer, it was interesting to follow his language, his ability to use words. He does this rather with virtuosity. He can instantly skip from highfalutin political terminology to some "secret service" word combinations with which he is familiar because of his former job, and then to expressions of common parlance, which decorate his speech and simplify the tone of the conversation.

I went into this meeting with a certain prejudice, but during the course of the conversation it dissipated. I saw before me the young leader of the nation, full of enthusiasm, with a fresh consciousness. I in no way agreed with everything he said, and I allowed myself to disagree. But that did not elicit his irritation: Putin gets into a conversation without overwhelming his interlocutor with either his gaze or his intonation. There is no tsarist condescension; on the contrary, he is very masterful. Furthermore, he clearly uses his mastery and plays the part of a sincere, open, even slightly embarrassed and retiring person. But behind this role, it seems to me, there always lies a certain nucleus that remains inaccessible to the interlocutor’s comprehension. And the effects that he uses help him close off this nucleus from outside eyes and ears.

After we took our leave, I walked out onto Ivanov Square, got into my car and slowly started to drive out of the Kremlin, which was almost devoid of people. It was a wonderful night. I drove by the Tsar’s Cannon, the Tsar’s Bell. … And I had the sense that, for the 10 years that Yeltsin was president, the Kremlin was foreign to me, vanquished; I always looked at its towers and cupolas with a sense of melancholy. And now for the first time I felt that the Kremlin was once again mine, once again part of the family.

Alexander Prokhanov is editor in chief of the newspaper Zavtra. This comment first appeared in Argumenty i Fakty.