In association with the Blog-Carnival : Russian Media, my rather modest contribution is published below. The article is also available to download in (PDF) format in case it is too long to read in a blog post. Please visit Krusenstern for more information on the Blog Carnival as well as articles by other authors (available in English and German) about the state of the Russian Media.
The presence of Russian president Vladimir Putin on national television is large, to say the least. Russian federal channels in their news segments talk exclusively about those in power. By some estimates the president, the cabinet, the parliament and the pro-Kremlin party United Russia together capture over 91% of news time. More intriguing is the fact that 71% of those 91% is positively inclined news, 28% is judged to be neutral and only 2% is clearly negative. Without looking at the objectiveness of these estimates, a glance at the 8-o’clock news on Rossiya or the 9-o’clock news on Perviy Kanal will convince even the casual observer of the truth in those surveys.
It is also fair to say that most of those reports are usually dull and purely factual, unless something extraordinary happens, like Mr. Putin’s speech in
Kolesnikov’s articles are not the usual reports one might expect from a journalist traveling with a head of state, especially one traveling with Mr. Putin, who is now labeled as the “head of a gangster state” by some conservative reporters in the West. His reports are neither purely informational, nor entirely opinion pieces; they are not simply anecdotal stories, satirical observations, or unbiased studies. Instead they are narratives presented in fact to be “articles” but in essence being all of the above. Kolesnikov's reports, written in the as-it-happened narrative style, pay a lot of attention to details such as facial expressions and gestures, and poke fun at Putin and other leading politicians. "I wanted to prove that this can be a human interest genre," he once said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times. Asked why he wasn't expelled from the Kremlin pool, he said, "If you don't lie, it's difficult to find a reason."
The chief editor of Kommersant, Andrei Vasiliev, recalls that people always ask him how come Kolesnikov is still working in the Kremlin, and has not yet been kicked out? The only response of Mr. Vasiliev is that “Putin really likes it (the work of Kolesnikov)”. This may be surprising since Mr. Kolesnikov sometimes approaches the line and on rare occasions crosses it outright. It was Mr. Kolesnikov who spread the word of President Putin’s sarcastic remark to the Israeli prime-minister regarding the criminal case brought against the Israeli president, which later turned into quite a scandal:
Vladimir Putin next, probably thinking that the microphones were off, (the press was already leaving the auditorium) said the following:
- Say hello to your president! He turned out to be a powerful man! Raped ten women! I would never have expected this! It was a surprise to all of us! We are all jealous!
This was a time when one does not believe what he hears. Mr. Putin, obviously wanted to show support for Mr. Olmert, who was in a difficult position, due to the proceedings against
’s President Moshe Katsav. Even more so, Putin wanted to show support for Mr. Katsav, but the latter was not at the negotiating table – even in the role of translator Israel
Andrei Kolesnikov began his journalistic career in sixth grade when he published an article in the regional newspaper “The Road to Communism”. After graduating with the country’s top degree in journalism from the
He is a very secretive person in all aspects. Closed in a way he was taught in the KGB, and closed in a way a person is closed based on his natural instincts. I cannot say I know this person. Once I heard a remark from one documentary movie director, making a movie on Putin. He said: “when I see Putin, I think I know what he is really thinking about; moreover I feel he is thinking of what I am really thinking of all of this.” This is a man, a director, who seriously lives with such an idea. It lightens up his entire life. He switches on the television, and a drama unfolds in front of him: Putin is saying something and in his mind seeks advice from him. And that is it, you can easily set up an appointment with a psychiatrist after that.Andrei Kolesnikov does not hesitate to make satirical remarks about President Putin answering questions about
All that I know of Putin, I tell. I have nothing to hide because I don’t really know that much. Once a trendy magazine asked me about Putin, and then they were afraid to publish it after I told them everything. I was very surprised. I write about people I see every day and am not worried there will be any problems. If I were worried, I would have probably not written a single article.
When the journalists were leaving the negotiating room, Vladimir Putin reached for his handkerchief, used it, and then could not restrain himself, and out of the best intentions offered it to Chirac. Chirac politely declined, and showed that he too had a handkerchief.
Jokingly, Mr. Kolesnikov explains that because the wives of top Kremlin officials enjoy opening up Kommersant every day to find out what has been said about their husbands in Mr. Kolesnikov’s articles, that he does not have any censorship problems. It may seem that the journalist is simply successfully playing a game of pleasing most officials and singling out a minority, so as to not get the blame from the entire state apparatus; by constantly shifting around the minority everyone gets to laugh at everyone else at some point in time.
But Mr. Kolesnikov’s credibility and reputation is not only solid among the heroes of his reports, but also among his colleagues, something that suggests professional work. On a recent visit of the Russian president to
Yet the articles of Andrei Kolesnikov speak louder than any of his interviews and reports about him (including this one). My personal favorites are illustrated below, and focus on the Russian President’s two interactions with a journalist from Le Monde. As an end note, Mr. Kolesnikov recalls arguing to President Putin that he (Kolesnikov) had lost a feeling of living in a free country. He added that he also did not have a sense of fear one would have when living in a dictatorship. President Putin responded by saying: “you don’t think that maybe this is what I was aiming to achieve – that one feeling would disappear and the other would not yet be born?”
Excerpt from article on Russia-EU summit in
At this point the question of the French journalist surfaced. He asked why Russian troops in Chechnya use anti-personnel mines and whether Putin thinks that while fighting terrorism in Chechnya he is actually destroying the Chechen people.
The Russian president began approaching the issue from afar: he stated that no one could blame
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin was already answering another question, when the French journalist, who just received a risky offer from the Russian president, stormed out of the assembly hall. Where could he have gone after the Russian President just communicated to him that there is no safe place for him to be?
Excerpt from article on a press conference of EU members and
- Do the EU and
- No! – said Vladimir Putin firmly.
- No! – even more firmly, as if getting more air in his lungs, he said.
And at this moment the heavy hand of Silvio Berlusconi landed on that of the Russian president. Instinctively, Mr. Putin attempted to drag his hand back, but the Italian prime-minister, it appears was ready for this and did not let it occur.
NOTE: The author of the article is the author of “
The excerpts of Andrei Kolesnikov’s articles from Kommersant are available in open access at the Kommersant Library website only in Russian. For the purposes of this article they have been translated by the author.
Material used in preparation of this article, apart from excerpts from Andrei Kolesnikov’s books “I Saw Putin” and “Putin Saw Me”, include: Andrei Kolesnikov’s interview with “Sreda”, Andrei Kolesnikov’s interview with “BelGazeta”; Andrei Kolesnikov’s interview in the