Pomerantsev recounted how he witnessed the Russian “miracle turning into a nightmare” during his time working as a documentary producer in Moscow. A sophisticated form of authoritarianism, which claimed to be above values grounded in ideology, emerged in the 21st century. He noticed the increasing interference of the Kremlin in television, which meant news reporting became a “scripted reality show”. Pluralism in Russia is, in fact, an illusion: everything is controlled by political technologists. Today, Pomerantsev argued, Russia is bewitched by the power of its propaganda and uses information as a weapon in its foreign policy. “Putin has created the notion of a liquid ideology”, and will take allies anywhere he can get them, he warned.
Mount and Pomerantsev discussed Russia’s ‘new elite’ (who emerged during the oil boom after the collapse of the USSR) and their place in British society. The oligarchs of London, Pomerantsev explained, ‘offshore’ their nationality, and the same lack of values in the Kremlin is mirrored by the super-rich. Mount compared the new Russian elite with the golden age of oil and commodity elites in Britain. The difference between the two, he surmised, is that the super-rich of Britain were, at least in theory, restrained by a tax system, independent judiciary and strong rule of law, whilst Russia today is a weak state with weak institutions.
There are two paradoxical impressions that the superrich have of London, Pomerantsev continued. The first is that Britain has a reputation for honesty, transparency and regulation. But secondly, however, the City is a place where the super wealthy can go to bend the rules. “The West, particularly the UK, is seen as a place for Russian elites to play with their new toys”, he explained. Keeping the super-rich visible in London obscures how poor the country really is. Their children don’t want to assume an English identity, neither do they want to return to Russia. This perpetuates the feeling of “offshore identities” where the subjects of Nothing is True do not fit into the traditional concept of nationality.
Touching on Putin’s foreign policy agenda, Pomerantsev predicted that the 21st century will be remembered as the century of the “contactless” war, where perception is everything and maskirovka—military strategy of deception—rules.
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Podcast—Peter Pomerantsev and Anne Applebaum
About the Speakers
Peter Pomerantsev is a Senior Fellow to the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum. He is also an author and documentary producer. His writing features regularly in the London Review of Books,Atlantic, Financial Times, Foreign Policy and elsewhere, focusing largely though not exclusively, on 21st century propaganda. Previously, Pomerantsev worked as a consultant on EU and World Bank development projects in the former USSR. His book about working as a TV producer in Putin’s Russia, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, is published by Faber in 2015.
Ferdinand Mount is a political journalist and novelist. He was editor of the Times Literary Supplementfrom 1991 to 2002 and head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit from 1982 to 1984. He has been a columnist for The Spectator and The Sunday Time. His novels include Of Love and Asthma, which won the Hawthornden Prize for 1992. His last book was The New Few: A Very British Oligarchy. His new book on British India, The Tears of the Rajas, will be published in February 2015 by Simon & Schuster.
Anne Applebaum leads the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum. She is also a columnist for theWashington Post and Slate, and the author of several books, including Gulag: A History, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Her most recent book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1946, won the 2013 Cundill Prize for Historical Literature and was nominated for a national book award in the US.
The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.