When a few Russians began to arrive in Washington soon after Gorbachev had come to power, one of the most interesting and attractive I met was a youngish man whom I shall call Petrovsky. He had been a dissident who spent some time in prison and during Perestroika edited a little journal which went about as far as one could go within the borders of glasnost. His English was very limited but he was highly intelligent and very enterprising. He wanted to know above all how to set up a research center and how to finance it.
Over the years I met him a few times in Washington and Moscow and watched with admiration his rise from critical dissident to leading spin doctor. What impressed me most was the fact that he established within a few years a substantial center with many employees. I do not know where the money had come from, certainly not from the US or Europe. More impressive yet was his indestructibility; the people in the Kremlin changed but Petrovsky became a permanent fixture, apparently as tenured as the cooks and the physicians in the Kremlin- the man who gave Putin the ideas. .
Last week a conference took place in the Kremlin about of all things multiculturalism. Petrovsky, not surprisingly gave one of the central presentations. He upbraided Washington for being beastly towards Byelorussia “our closest political-military ally”. Speakers at this conference pointed out that while Russia was ;practicing multiculturalism neighbors such as Georgia and the Baltic republics did not.
Reading about this conference it occurred to me that the transformation of my friend Petrovsky was in many ways not the story of one person but that . of large sections of the new Russian political elite. Where will it lead Russia? I shall return to this subject in a day or two