Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's meeting with Russian writers revealed that the former's answers were a bit mistaken, that Gennady Timchenko, the billionaire oil trader, couldn't have dual citizenship, because Finland prohibits it, and that the state owns 78.1% of Transneft, the monopoly oil transporter, so if any stealing is going on, then what's being stolen is ours, and not the company's.
I don't have any explanation for having yet again been invited to meet with Mr Putin. To be exact, this is the third time now that I have been invited. Each time, of course, as part of a writers' delegation.
I first saw then President Putin in 2007 at his country home in Novo-Ogarevo. I asked him to give amnesty to the members of the National Bolsheviks being held as political prisoners. Putin answered me with a counter question, “Amnesty is good, but it would be better if you talk about what you don’t like in Russia.” So I spent ten minutes talking about what I don’t like in Russia, and there’s a lot I don’t like.
No one was given amnesty after the meeting, although I was told confidentially that the person from the presidential administration who organised the meeting was fired.
There were some bloggers who, after the meeting took place, really let me have it: “What did you meet with Putin for?”, “You should be ashamed of yourself” and “What can guys like you do with him at the same table?”
I skipped the second meeting with Putin. I figured that someone would get fired again, and that if things would keep going like that, then the administration wouldn’t have any good people left.
I had hoped that everything would fly under the radar; nonetheless, another uproar let out. This time, some bloggers were raging a bit differently: “Why didn’t you go meet with Putin? Don’t you have anything to say to him? How could you blow off the chance to tell him the truth right to his face?”
What’s more, the president’s press service, in order to defuse any outcry (the boss sends out an invitation and those mettlesome writers turn it down), told the writers who came to the meeting that Prilepin had mistakenly not be invited.
All in all, a number of writers, who unlike me went to the meeting with Putin, talked less about Putin and more about their having gone and my not having gone. And not because I am all proud and such, but rather because no one invited me. Yea, right. The editor for a certain literary newspaper especially went all out on this. Apparently, he thought it important that he was invited and I was not.
Then the third meeting came along. Mr Putin looked good, smiled incessantly and was more than placable.
Mikhail Veller, Sergei Minayev, Pavel Sanayev, Herman Sadulayev, Tatyana Ustinova, Alisa Ganiyeva, Daria Dontsova, Aleksandra Marinina, Sergei Lukyanenko and a number of other pleasant faces among publishers were all seated around an oval table.
Veller spoke first, talking about the Russian language becoming infested with English words and, incidentally, about how it’s not at all necessary to say “Ukraine” to please the Ukrainians when we have become accustomed to saying “the Ukraine”. Putin agreed with him, although he did not specify just how much he agreed with him regarding Ukraine.
After a bit of a pause, I was the second to go, asking just two questions, but first saying that Russia has at least two important things: literature and oil.
I more or less understand what’s going on with literature. We need to put together a system for getting books out to the public, because when I was growing up (which was in a small village, Ryazan region), all the settlements, and especially small towns, had great bookstores. Now, however, you cannot find good books even in large cities, while settlements and villages don’t sell books at all anymore. Oil, nonetheless, interests me a whole lot more, since I understand less about it.
My first question: there’s this guy named Gennady Timchenko, who just so happens to be a good friend of Mr Putin’s. Timchenko trades Russian oil through an offshore company, and not too long ago became a Finnish citizen. Is there nothing fishy about this?
My second question: there’s this company called Transneft, where, the Russian Audit Chamber announced last year, billions had been embezzled; however, the guilty parties haven’t been brought to justice, suspects haven’t been named and not even a criminal case has been opened up. “Does this not raise any suspicion?” I asked again.
A little befuddled at first, but then becoming more lively and confident, Putin answered by saying that Timchenko was forced to get Finnish citizenship because he had to spend a lot of time in Finland and there are visa regulations between Russia and Finland. He, however, kept his Russian citizenship as well. Overall, he is a private businessman and he deals with his own personal business.
As for Transneft, Putin said that, by all accounts, this was not your run-of-the-mill embezzlement, but rather the inappropriate use of funds, which is unfortunate, of course, but it’s no tragedy. Putin used an example to explain just what the “inappropriate use of funds” means. Take, for example, a governor who wanted to build a kindergarden, but wound up building a railway. Nothing was stolen, but rather it was just mixed up where the money was supposed to go. Especially since Transneft is a private company and the people there know what they are doing.
Putin somehow forgot about my remark about a system for making books more popular.
It’s not that I was satisfied with the answers I got. I just wanted to give my colleagues time to speak as well, which they did. They talked about the fate of Russia and literature. The atmosphere was all very congenial, not counting Pavel Sanayev’s question on why you can legally buy drugs on the Internet. Putin answered that this is “a big, intricate problem”, and then left, while the writers went to swing back some cognac. Well, at least Sadulayev and I did.
It turns out, however, that Putin’s answers were a bit misguided.
Timchenko cannot have dual citizenship, because this is prohibited in Finland, and Transneft, with 78.1% of it belonging to the state, is stealing not from itself, but from us, the taxpayers. There are many more interesting tidbits that Putin chose not to address. But that is something for a whole different conversation.
Here’s how the evening ended:
The day before the writers’ meeting with the prime minister, Moskva 24 television station invited me to come on the air after the meeting.
When the meeting wrapped up, I hurried off to the Moskva 24 studio to appear on one of their programmes. As I was pulling up in a taxi, I got a text message from the people at the station: “For technical reasons, your appearance has been called off.” Can you imagine? No one even said sorry.
I walked around the entire building: the lights were on and there were no signs of smoke. I don’t know what could have broken. I do fathom what.