Ben Judah, in Newsweek, has an intriguing profile describing the private life, work habits, and outlook of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The President behaves as though he is made of bronze, as if he shines. He seems to know that they will flinch when meeting his eye. There is a silence around him. The voices of grown men change when they speak to him. They make their voices as low as possible. Their faces become solemn, almost stiffened. They look down: worried, Ânervous, alert.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t talk,â€ the interpreter says. â€œHe feels no need to smile. He doesnâ€™t want to go for a walk. He doesnâ€™t want to drink… At anyone time there are 10 people around him… You cannot get more than 3m close to him because the space is guarded so carefully. He is endlessly surrounded by whispering aides, cameramen, bodyguards.
â€œThe politicians whisper when he is in the room. They stay very attentive. There is next to nobody close enough to joke with him. When he enters a room the sound level drops. There was a time when I spoke loudly â€“ â€˜ladies and gentlemen of the delegation we must move to the next room for the signatureâ€™ â€“ and a minister grabbed my hand. â€˜Shut up,â€™ he hissed. â€˜He is here.â€™â€
The President has no time to think. He goes from gold room, to gold room, in an endless sequence of ceremonial fanfare, with the lightest ballast of political content. The photoshoot. The reception. The formalities that enthrall those new to the summit of power, but irritate those long enchained to it. He thinks very little on his feet: the speeches are all pre-written, the positions all pre-conceived, the negotiations mostly commercial in nature.
The ministers have arrived with him. There are very few close enough to address him directly, fewer still able to joke in his presence. But he takes little interest in them and the moment he can he retires to the sealed and secured bedroom. Because he has seen all this before.
The ministers like to imitate the ÂPresident. They like to imitate his gestures and affect that world-weary air. They like to pretend they too disdain technology. They like to imitate his tone and parrot his scoffing remarks. But, unlike him, the ministers laugh and drink with the night. Their half-shadowed faces become puffy and garrulous. But he is nowhere to be seen.
â€œHe looks emotionless, as if nothing really touches him,â€ the interpreter remembers. â€œAs if he is hardly aware of what happens around him. As if he is paying little attention to these people. As if he is worn out… He has spent so long as an icon he is not used to anyone penetrating… He is not used to anything not being so perfectly controlled for him. He is isolated, trapped.â€
â€œThe impression… you get from being close to him is that he would have been quite happy to step down. But he knows he has failed to rule Russia in anything else but a feudal way. And the moment his grip falters… it will all come crashing down and he will go to jail… and Moscow will burn like Kiev.â€
There are courtiers who claim to have heard him speak frankly. There was one who remembers one warm summer evening where he began to talk openly about the fate of his country. The President asked those, whose business it was to be with him that night at Nov-Ogaryovo, who were the greatest Russian traitors.
But he did not wait for them to answer: the greatest criminals in our history were those weaklings who threw the power on the floor â€“ Nicholas II and Mikhail Gorbachev â€“ who allowed the power to be picked up by the hysterics and the madmen, he told them.
Those courtiers then present, claim, that the President vowed never to do the same.
Read the whole thing.