“We know for sure that Putin’s empire will not last long.”

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“If Putin wins, it will be dark inside the country,” says Boris Akunin. Supporters of the Russian president on May 9, 2022 in Red Square. © AFP

Author Boris Akunin in a French interview with Ekaterina Vinkina about the views of the Russian opposition, the indifference of book burning in the 21st century and Germany’s hesitant attitude toward prolonging the Ukraine war.

Recently, the Cultural Committee of the Russian Parliament proposed banning the sale of books by Boris Akunin (Grigory Chkartishvili) in Russia. Reason: “his aggressive anti-Russian and anti-state stance.” Georgia-born Akunin, who left Russia shortly after the annexation of Crimea and lives in London, spoke out against the war in Ukraine: “It’s a shame to be on the side of evil.” In an interview with FR, the writer talks about the dangers Russia poses to Europe as a “camp under siege” and what new book the war in Ukraine has made him write.

Mr. Akunin, has the book industry in Russia really responded to the call of the Culture Committee? Do you expect a ban?

Yes, that will come. If not now, then later. Not only against me, but also against other writers who speak out against the dictatorship. I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. What makes me sadder is that Stephen King, Joanne K. Rowling, and many other authors have banned themselves from selling their work in Russia. Such reprisals against Russian readers only benefit Putin. They reinforce the myth promoted by his propaganda machine that the whole world is against Russia and that the people should rally around the “leader”. I will not voluntarily give up on Russian readers. Putin may ban me. I want my readers to know: it was he who took something from them, not me.

In 1933, Erich Maria Remarque’s books were burned in Berlin. Do you feel like some kind of recycled figure of Russian culture today?

No, I will not do that. German writers who emigrated at that time were in a much worse situation. The Nazis were simply immeasurably stronger than today’s Putin supporters. Many who emigrated believed that the empire would in fact last for a thousand years. Stefan Zweig committed suicide out of desperation. On the other hand, we know for sure that Putin’s “empire” will not last long. Moreover, it is stupid to burn books in the twenty-first century. Most of my Russian readers use e-books and audiobooks anyway.

You yourself left Russia in 2014. What is the significance of this year for Russia?

That was the point of no return. It became clear that Putin had set the course for life. After the annexation of Crimea, he could no longer go in peace.

How do you think the West should respond to Putin after the attack on Ukraine and the nuclear threats?

Under no circumstances should you give in to him. Thankfully, everyone remembers how Neville Chamberlain declared “peace” at the expense of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Accords – and what happened next. The West must be firm. The most effective blow would be an agreement with China to separate from Putin. The Kremlin’s entire calculations are based solely on its relations with Beijing.

The Russian people are already suffering from sanctions, and they also have to reckon with the intensification of repression. What does this mean for the Putin regime?

It depends on whether he can convince the Russians that he is their only backbone and protect them from external hostilities. If he fails, there will be a revolution. If he succeeds, Russia will become a camp under siege. Thus it becomes possible to “Iranianize”, and even “North Korea” for a long time. Russia will jump behind the Iron Curtain, threaten rusty missiles, and endlessly terrorize the planet with nuclear war. Darkness and a “gulag system” will reign within the country.

The media reported the head of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, as a possible successor to Putin. How do you rate it?

Judging by his public statements, Patrushev has very limited information. If he came to power, he wouldn’t last long. But anyone who replaces Putin, no matter how obnoxious he may be, will have a chance to blame all the flaws on the former ruler in order to somehow get out of the current hole. It will be better than the current situation.

But does the assumption of power by the former FSB chief mean that the security services have finally strengthened their position in the country?

The problem is Vladimir Putin. This war is of his own making. Anyone else in his place, even Patrushev, would be better. I mean: better for Ukraine and Europe. For Russia and the Russians, of course, it would be a very bad option.

You are one of the founders of the association “Real Russia”. What role can this club play in shaping a post-Putin Russia?

I don’t know how successful this project will be. Even if you fail, others will appear. There are too many Russians in the world today who want to contribute to the fight against dictatorship and the creation of another free and democratic state instead of the Russian Federation. For sure, a new beginning for Russia will be ready.

for someone

Boris Akunin Born in 1956 in Zestaphoni, Georgia, Grigori Tschchartishwili was raised in Moscow, where he studied History and Japanese Studies. In 1998 he published his first crime novel. He is one of the most widely read authors in Russia, receiving the title of Writer of the Year in 2001. His books have been translated into 30 languages, among them German (during creation).

After the 2011 Duma elections Akunin became the spokesman for the “Fair Elections Movement”. In 2014, he immigrated to London.

Akunin is the co-founder The “Real Russia” organization, which raises funds for Ukrainian refugees, among other things.

What is the club’s political message?

The role of “real Russia” is not intended to be political. The Assembly is not a partisan nor a revolutionary headquarters. It’s about getting involved in the form of cultural and humanitarian initiatives, and recruiting experts to help shape the vision of a new Russia.

Could there not be unrest in Russia in the near future?

For now and in the near future I think this is unlikely. The regime tightens its grip on Moscow and Saint Petersburg. But the government does not have enough power to control the parties. If the standard of living deteriorates significantly and unemployment increases, riots are possible in the districts where the poor and the most vulnerable live. The common scenario we know from history is the emergence of a spontaneous popular leader to lead the protests.

Could there be uncontrollable chaos in Russia, a country of 144 million people?

I can imagine there are fears that a region of great chaos may emerge in Russia after the fall of the regime. The Yugoslav scenario on a larger scale, in addition to the nuclear arsenal, is a bad prospect. But there is also no prospect of maintaining this dictatorship for a long time and becoming a constant threat to neighboring Ukraine, Europe and even the whole world. I am very afraid that the West will artificially prolong the life of Putin’s dictatorship in Russia because it considers it the lesser of two evils. The revolution, with all its risks, would be better.

Do you think the Olaf Schultz Counselor course in Ukraine is the right course?

This is a question for Germany. But I think anything that calls for an early end to the war is a good thing. Anything that prolongs it is bad. As long as Putin believes he can win militarily, he will fight. Ask yourself: Will the federal government’s path end or slow the war?

What do you think?

Isn’t it obvious that the faster Putin bites his teeth, the faster the war will end? Since Germany was initially reluctant to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons, the war may have been extended by a few weeks. This means unnecessary sacrifices.

It seems that your series of books on the history of Russia is very popular with Russian readers. But didn’t you also serve Putin’s understanding of history by your historical portrayal of Russia as “ultra-wealthy”?

Had the regime benefited from “the history of the Russian state,” it would not have been so attacked by Putin’s advocates over the years. In the seventh volume, she wrote that there were two periods when Russia was “obscenely wealthy” and claimed world domination.

In fact?

The first period between 1814 and 1855 ended in collapse. I wrote about how and why this happened. The second period, between 1945 and 1989, ended in collapse. But in my series, I’m not far away yet. In the conclusion of the last volume, which appeared in 2021, I wrote that Russia needs to move from a “vertical” authoritarian structure to a “horizontal” one. “When this will happen and at what cost, only time will tell. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future,” she said at the end. We are now seeing the future unfold before our eyes.

How do you face current events?

The writer is a strange animal. Every emotion becomes fuel for the text. After the dramatic developments, I became paralyzed. I lost interest in the book I was working on. But then a new book began to take shape, one that was completely unexpected. Now I dive into it when I want to distract myself from terrible events.

Can you tell me what’s going on?

Around 1968, how did society in the Soviet Union react to the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But not only because of that.

Interview: Ekaterina Vinkina

Boris Akunin.
Boris Akunin. © Imago Images / Zuma Wire

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