The Putin Files: Andrei Soldatov


MICHAEL KIRK – … Define for me the KGB that
Vladimir Putin joins. What’s the mindset? What’s the attitude? Who joins that force? And what do they become? ANDREI SOLDATOV – This is really important
to understand about Soviet society back then. The Soviet society was really rigid, including
the KGB. The KGB back then was about two groups of
people. Either you are a member of an establishment
family, and that’s for you, that’s a family business. So you have some guys, your parents or some
relatives, already in the KGB, and they help you to join, because you need to be actually
advised to join the KGB. You need to have this kind of letter. That actually means that you might end up
at some good position. The second group of people are people with
very humble origins, mostly from provinces, maybe from Moscow or Leningrad, but not part
of [the] Moscow/Leningrad intelligentsia. And that was Putin’s way into the KGB. The problem with this group is, you cannot
actually anticipate that you could reach some high positions until you find a good match
and you marry a daughter of some prominent general. That’s the only way. For many inside of the KGB, it means that
actually it was a very claustrophobic organization. … What happened also, [to join the] KGB
by the most traditional way, was to apply directly after your school to the KGB school,
which means that you have no experience in the outside world. And you understand all those rules of the
system—I’ll call it system—of the KGB. It was sometimes really striking to see these
people, how they talk about the outside world. In many cases, they understand nothing. So they knew how to behave, how to get some
promotion, and that was all. It was a very striking difference with, say,
policemen. … MICHAEL KIRK – And the ambition is to what? ANDREI SOLDATOV – It means that you have all
social guarantees. It means that you, if you have your salary,
the level of the salary would be higher than for ordinary Soviet citizens. If you’re a recruited agent, and you’re still
a guy, and you’re still, say, [a] Soviet engineer, you get some money for being an agent of the
KGB. The same goes for the KGB officers. The salary is higher, and you might get your
apartments quicker. The biggest question for the Soviet citizens’
back then was to get apartments. Sometimes it’s about 15 years for ordinary
people. For the KGB people, this time [to get an apartment]
was shorter. At least you might hope that some sort of
social guarantees are granted for you. And you do not need to think about, say, your
hospital, your pension, your apartment and your children, because the KGB, the system
will take care of them. MICHAEL KIRK – So if you’re Vladimir Putin
and you’re a lieutenant colonel in Dresden, you’re at least out of the country. You’ve got a foreign posting, and the Soviet
Union is sort of coming apart. Who are you in those final days and those
final moments? Where do you stand in the KGB pecking order,
and what are your prospects? ANDREI SOLDATOV – You are a very confused
person—that’s the first thing—because you are trained in the KGB, but your rank
is unsufficient [sic] to ask what your seniors actually are thinking about the situation. You are somewhere not in the center of the
events. You are not in Moscow, and you are even not
in Berlin. You don’t see what actually is going on
in Berlin, so you have no [opportunity] to know, to learn what your KGB management think
of the situation, and you got very confused. You need to think very quickly about what
to do next. You see where the system is falling apart. You see what happened to Stasi. And by all available options, that’s the
same thing might happen to your organization. You are not adventurous enough; because your
rank at the Foreign Intelligence was so low, you were not sent to the West. That means that you lack proper connections
inside of the system, and you are not adventurous enough to get this position by yourself. So you are really confused. MICHAEL KIRK – It comes apart. We’ve had people tell us that, for many, maybe
most of the KGB agents, they’re shipwrecked. It’s over. Who am I? Where do I work? What do I do? Into that void falls Vladimir Putin. What are the prospects for all of them? ANDREI SOLDATOV – I think for people like
him, for people who lacked connections—and for him, the KGB was not a family business,
so he could not rely on some generals who might guarantee his future, which happened
to many KGB people—well, it’s really tricky. Maybe the first thing that he should do [is]
to get back as quickly as possible and to try to understand what’s going on and maybe
to join some force which now could guarantee him his position. And that’s exactly what he did. He got back to Leningrad, St. Petersburg,
and he switched sides. He joined the winning side. He decided that the best position for him
now would be not to completely cut off the KGB, to stay at the KGB, but at the same time
to apply for a position at the local university, as an officer of active reserve, which means
that you are attached to this university. You don’t need to do anything. You are still a KGB officer. But you have some position at this university. Back then, this university was really important,
because there was [the] mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly Sobchak, and he was extremely important. He was very powerful. Everybody understood that, if this side is
winning, well, this guy is the right choice to join and to be on his side. MICHAEL KIRK – [Putin] has a reputation for
being gray and flat and not very impressive. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yes, not very remarkable. MICHAEL KIRK – Is that a pose, or is that
the real thing? ANDREI SOLDATOV – I think it’s a very conscious
position not to be noticed, because from the beginning, when he thought of his career—and
it was quite clear for people like him that you can’t anticipate a lot, but you need to
be very safe; that is the most important thing—you do not need to challenge the status quo or
challenge your seniors. You need to be seen as safe, and for that,
maybe the best option is to be very unremarkable. That would guarantee that you have your midlevel
career. MICHAEL KIRK – So a scant, I think, six or
seven years later, however, that mild-mannered man is the head of the FSB [Federal Security
Service]. How? ANDREI SOLDATOV – … To me it was always
a big surprise. He left the KGB when it was a time, I don’t
know, to take a stand, in a way, if you really believed in the system. Nevertheless, he left the system, and he said
afterward, many years later, that he left because he thought that the system actually
collapsed, and there is no future for the KGB. Nevertheless, some years passed, and everybody
understood that actually, the FSB is the direct successor of the KGB. By 1998, Vladimir Putin was appointed a chief
of the FSB. The FSB even got back some things they [had]
lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For example, they got back the powers of political
prosecution; they got back their prisons; they got back investigative powers. So it was absolutely clear that it’s a resurgent
power still in a way modeled after KGB, with many things are, while very similar to what
it was in KGB time, in their minds it was almost the same. Well, they have some element of corruption. So to lead this organization, that was a very
strange thing. For me it was quite clear that he just wanted
to find someplace in Moscow, and then he was given this chance. He immediately accepted it as a chance to
promote his career. MICHAEL KIRK – But it is surprising that that
guy is the head of the FSB by ‘98? With him, or accompanying him, are a number
of former KGB people as well, surrounding him, friends, acquaintances, people from the
old city. How does that work? ANDREI SOLDATOV – First of all, his crowd
is people he trusted and people he recruited to get back to the FSB and then who stayed
with him. All of them are midlevel officers of the KGB,
with only one exception. There was only one KGB general. All of them, all the other guys, they had
some positions, but they were very unremarkable. Many of them served in St. Petersburg, which
means that they failed to be moved to Moscow. Everybody understood that, for the KGB people,
the only real career could be Moscow. We are talking about people with some provincial
mindset that actually never took part in the real spy game. They never took part in anything really important,
like, I don’t know, a game with political dissidents or spies or on a recruitment of
new guys. It was absolutely—it was something different. It was about provincial tasks to keep safe
and secure this particular town, St. Petersburg. That’s all. For me, it was not a sign that we see the
resurgence of the KGB, or maybe it’s a result of a big plot or conspiracy of the KGB. But what we have is a guy—and we always
have this problem in Russian bureaucracy: Where to find new people? Where to find people who are loyal to you? Loyalty is a very important quality for the
Russian bureaucracy. It is most important. Nobody talk about efficiency; everybody talks
about loyalty. So the only group of people he could rely
on was actually his friends, and it happens to be KGB guys. … MICHAEL KIRK – What does the phrase “new
nobility” mean? ANDREI SOLDATOV – …This phrase, the “new
nobility,” was coined by Nikolai Patrushev, successor to chief of the FSB who took over
after Vladimir Putin, who was appointed by Vladimir Putin. That means that now the KGB people and FSB
people are seen by the Kremlin as a new Russian elite, new Russian aristocracy. This is a force that could deliver results,
which means reforms—as a management of the country, security, all kind of means. Traditionally, in the Russian society, in
the czarist Russia, it was about aristocracies. Now we have new people, new aristocracy, and
all of them are from the Russian-Soviet secret services. MICHAEL KIRK – He becomes prime minister. The buildings, the apartment buildings are
bombed. He takes an aggressive Second Chechen War
and really demonstrates that he’s a strongman. We’ve not heard about that part of his character
at all ever in his life, coming up to that moment. How does that happen? ANDREI SOLDATOV – … We have his narrative
of a strongman, but actually, it’s not that simple. The idea that something should be done with
Chechnya was not invented by Putin. Boris Yeltsin, who was still the president,
he wanted to do something about Chechnya. That’s why he changed his team in the course
of 1998, and he tried three guys as prime ministers. All of them had some background in secret
services. There was Yevgeny Primakov, and he used to
be a chief of Foreign Intelligence; there was Sergei Stepashin, and he was a chief of
the FSB in the middle 1990s; and finally Vladimir Putin. So he was not the first choice. There’s a war, and first it was in Dagestan,
in the north Caucasian republic neighboring Chechnya, already started. They already had a war in the summer. And Stepashin, Vladimir Putin’s predecessor
as prime minister, started this war. So for Putin, something really [for] Putin
is his brutal language, how he said that we’ll find these terrorists even in the closet. It was a very PR thing. Also, he was seen as a tough guy because he
was significantly younger. His predecessors, like Stepashin and Primakov,
are quite old, [and] especially Primakov could not be seen as a tough guy. But this idea of toughness was always there. Remember, in 1998 and 1999, when we had these
Belgrade bombings, Primakov changed the course of his plane. There was this very famous story in Russian
media that NATO started bombing South Belgrade, and Primakov, as prime minister, was on his
plane heading to the United States. And when he heard, when he was actually in
air, that the bombing started, he ordered it to change the course of his plane and to
get back. The idea was we need to be tough, we need
to be brutal, we need to respond very brutally to the Western conspiracy and double standards,
was already in the air. Vladimir Putin just exploited something [that]
everybody sensed. I remember that back then, I worked for some
liberal newspapers, but even there, people started talking about Russian Pinochet. But to bring some order into the country,
you need Pinochet. You need something really tough. It’s better that this guy should have some
military or KGB background. So we already have this demand back then. Vladimir Putin was a projection of this demand. MICHAEL KIRK – Did you know, could you tell,
when he was made president, first appointed and then elected, who he would become? ANDREI SOLDATOV – I was really, really skeptical—and
not just skeptical. The problem was that all we did—well, this
all started, actually, in August 1998. That was a moment where Moscow was hit by
[an] enormous economic crisis. The first victims of this crisis are the middle
classes. What happened next—the middle classes are
the most Westernized part of the society, [and they] became extremely aggressive, anti-Western,
because we started blaming the West. The idea was that you promised us democracy
and prosperity, and you failed. We tried to deliver. We even learned English. We started doing things in the Western way. We launched newspapers, enterprises, buying
companies. But everything collapsed in August. The country was bankrupt, and all these middle
classes were bankrupt completely. It was a moment when everybody started talking
about patriotism. We need something to do in a Russian way. It was a moment when we got some films, some
books, with a very strong patriotic message. Vladimir Putin was a development of this idea,
which was always evident in August, September 1998. That’s why I was really, really disappointed,
and what started next was [an] offensive on media freedoms. That was really clear and was clear even before
Putin. That this is a new course, new direction for
the Kremlin. The newspaper I worked for was under big pressure,
immense pressure. When we started seeing lots of FSB people
in surprising places everywhere, and they brought with them a very strange culture of
talking to journalists, actually, they started shutting down all doors. They brought with them this very suspicious
culture, like you start asking some questions, and immediately you are asked, “Who pays
you to ask these questions?” It’s a very strange atmosphere, and it’s
a very strange mindset. So you see that everything changed, very,
very quickly. The problem was that a lot of people in the
middle classes, our audience actually, supported this thing. They turned against journalists. It was very evident. When I was really young, 22 years old, everybody
thought, wow, to be a journalist, it’s such a great thing. Already in 2000, when I was 25 years old,
when I went to the room, with some unknown people, [if] I say, “Look, I’m a journalist,”
people might turn and say: “Oh, OK. You are all corrupt. Maybe I can give you $200.” It was such a big and crucial change, and
it was so evident. That’s why I had no hopes. I thought that something very bad could happen. MICHAEL KIRK – … Can you tell
me the Estonia story? Then we’ll back up and [talk about] how
whatever the Kremlin did in Estonia or didn’t do was created. So first tell me, from Estonia’s point of
view, what happened. ANDREI SOLDATOV – It was a big surprise for
Estonians especially for the Estonia president [Toomas Hendrik] Ilves, who was known to be
very Internet-savvy. He brought lots of online things to Estonia. He completely re-invented the idea of Estonia
as a state. Then to be hit by these cyberattacks, which
actually shut down a lot of services. It was not only government service, but service
of the media. It was a huge thing. And of course it was quite clear that it was
directed from Russia, because it was an immediate aftermath of a big scuffle in the capital
of Estonia, in Tallinn, when the local authorities decided to move the monument to the Soviet
soldier—it’s a Second World War monument—from the center [of the city] to some suburbs. … It was—well, constantly, incessantly
on Russian TV. So everybody thought that something could
happen. And then you had an attack. It was not very surprising for the Russian
viewers, because by 2007, we already knew that this kind of thing could happen, because
while it was a new story for the West, it was hardly [a] new story for people inside
of Russia. They already had some similar attacks against
Russian opposition, against Russian media, inside of the country. These tactics were proved before, and probed
before. Actually, what we saw, we saw the same logic,
the same policy as the Kremlin has been using for all these years, this idea of outsourcing. It’s my belief it’s risky to use the government
institutions to attack when you have some other guys, informal actors, people who might
be directed by the Kremlin, but we are not part of the government institution to attack. And you always can say, no, it’s not about
us. It’s about some people outraged by, say,
the activities of Estonian authorities. This trick was played against Estonia, but
actually the very first time it was played, it was 1999-2000. And that was the moment these tactics [were]
invented. The interesting thing, to me, a very fascinating
thing, [is] that it was invented by chance, purely by chance. What actually happened was that by 1999, when
the Kremlin was in the war, in the Second Chechen War, this war also posed a big challenge
for the Kremlin, because what the Kremlin wanted to do [was] it wanted to silence all
the independent sources of information about the war. People in the Kremlin sincerely believed that
we lost the First Chechen War because of journalists. They spoke of this very clearly and very openly
that it was because of journalists and foreign media; and they actually, they forced us to
lose and to stop the war. Now everything would be completely different. And actually, it was different. When they introduced the very [strict] censorship,
it was almost impossible to get to Chechnya and to report. It also introduced some restrictions. For example, you cannot court so-called terrorists. And actually, it was not a war. They said it’s not a war but a counterterrorist
operation, which means that you cannot talk to the other side. You cannot report the other side. You cannot talk even to the relatives of the
other side. … So what we did, we launched websites,
a lot of websites. These websites started publishing independent
information, maybe mixed with disinformation, but these websites were, and very quickly
became, very crucial sources of information even for the Moscow journalists, not only
for foreign journalists. And the Kremlin was not very happy. … FSB and FAGC [Federal Agency for Government
Communications and Information; generally known as FAPSI] were tasked to do something
about these websites, and they failed, because their idea of cyber back then was to protect
Russia against American penetration. They really believed that the biggest challenge,
the biggest threat to the Kremlin, was supposedly by the NSA [National Security Agency] trying
to penetrate Russian government communications. And it was very profitable, very understandable. You force everybody to buy special equipment
to protect your communications, but it couldn’t help you to shut down Chechen websites. So what happened next, in the town of Donetsk,
in Siberia, a group of students decided to launch an attack on Chechen websites on their
own, and they succeeded. This operation was immediately picked up by
local FSB officers. They issued a special statement like: “We
think it’s a patriotic duty of these people. We support them. It’s not a crime.” And that was the moment they found this trick. … It’s not about us as government; it’s
about some other guys. In 2007, in Estonia, that was exactly what
we got. We got the Kremlin; we got some intermediary;
and in this case, it was a pro-Kremlin youth movement. Then you got some real hackers who helped
launch an attack. So you have already some people in between,
and you can always say, “Look, it’s about some patriotic youth.” That’s exactly what actually happened. When we got some real information about who
was behind these attacks, well, it was not a big surprise that we got commissars of the
Nashi, pro-Kremlin youth movement. They actually admitted that they were behind
this. MICHAEL KIRK – So that’s how it worked in
the beginning and even up to, as you say, 2014? ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yes. It was a very important and very useful scheme. You have some informal actors. You outsource your cyber operations, which
means that yes, you have some formal actors. You have your security services. They are officially in charge of cyber. You have all kinds of Western experts trying
to talk to them about some rules, about some limits, but they are the wrong people to talk
to, because they, in most cases, have nothing to do with cyberattacks. They also have to talk about trolls. You are in a very strange room with people
who are supposed to be in charge of cyber, but they have nothing to do with real stuff. And the real people, the people who actually
do stuff, they are not in the room. You cannot talk to them because they are protected
by the Kremlin. It’s a very Russian idea. It’s a Byzantine idea of doing things. But it’s very effective. MICHAEL KIRK – So when the protests in 2011
rise up in response to the election rigging— ANDREI SOLDATOV – No, it was not a response
to the election rigging. MICHAEL KIRK – OK, so tell me. ANDREI SOLDATOV – The thing is that in 2011,
a lot of people, especially among liberal intelligentsia, they started believing that
maybe [Dmitry] Medvedev is a good choice and he might get rid of Putin. A lot of people actually believed in this
idea. In the summer, when the situation was very
unclear, and both guys, Putin and Medvedev, are very silent about their plans, and they
decided not to disclose their plans until September, it was a very strange period when
a lot of people started changing their loyalties. I was told that even FSB generals were asked
to. Some of them rushed to Medvedev and said:
“Look, we can be loyal to you. We are ready to help you and to support you.” It was a very strange moment in Russian history. But things looked very unstable and very uncertain. So the creative class, the middle classes. Of course they believed that—well, they
didn’t believe that Medvedev was a good guy, but [he] was a good guy to get rid of
Putin. Then, in September, we got at a big gathering
of the ruling party of Russia, Yedinaya Rossiya, United Russia, and Medvedev said that he is
happy with Vladimir Putin, and that Vladimir Putin should be the next president, should
get back to the Kremlin. This news just hit Moscow. It was awful. I remember that it was just awful. Everybody started talking about these things
on Facebook. They got some gatherings in Moscow. The climate in Moscow was just angry and disappointment
and the feeling that another 12 years would be completely lost. Everybody started counting how old they will
be in 12 years, or maybe 16 years. Some people started saying: “Look, maybe
it’s about Brezhnev again, or maybe it’s about a Stalin again. It’s just such a long term, we just lose
our future.” It was very visible. It was—you can sense this. But people wanted to do something about it. So what they did was they started launching
these groups to watch the elections. That was the very first time in the Russian
history when we got lots of people actually watching the elections. That’s why all this was actually discovered,
because we already had thousands of people very close to voting machines, and they actually
saw what happened. They started to video these things and post
them, posting comments. There were some videos, and that actually
triggered the whole thing, because we already had lots of people, thousands of them, seeing
what was going on during the elections. MICHAEL KIRK – Using their cameras as investigative
reporters, almost. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yes, yes. Actually, we got some real journalists. But also we got lots of people who were just
so angry, because we saw these things by their, well on their own. It was a very important thing, because by
then, people didn’t trust journalists. Unfortunately, the [authenticity] of journalism
as [an] idea was completely compromised in Russia. The audience for this kind of reporting was
very small. But this time, it was not about journalists
telling the truth. It was about citizens telling the truth. Maybe it was not very good footage, but that
was the point. MICHAEL KIRK – They were seeing the carousels. They knew what was happening. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Absolutely, yes. And because everybody was connected, especially
in Moscow, everybody knows everybody. You know this guy. Maybe you don’t know him personally, but
you know his crowd, so you trust him. This is a moment [when] trust was very important. That was a moment when the Kremlin project
completely lost credibility, because that was about trust. It was not a big surprise [when] everybody
started talking about honest Russians; honest party; honest, fair elections. Fairness was the word. Of course it has reflected [the] political
naivete of people. They completely forgot about what it’s all
about. They wanted to trust someone, and they trusted
only themselves. MICHAEL KIRK – Fabulous, Andrei. The name we’ve left out of this discussion
so far from Estonia here is Putin. I’ve talked to people who say Putin is not
computer-savvy; he doesn’t understand anything about it. So from Estonia, all the way up to 2011-2012
and the protests and Facebook and Twitter and everything, what is Putin thinking? What does he know about this new mechanical
menace, the Web, that could, I guess, vanquish him? I know that he knows that Arab Spring has
happened. He’s seen [Muammar] Qaddafi murdered on
iPhone footage. It must be a weird world for him right through
there. ANDREI SOLDATOV – That’s a very important
thing, actually, because it’s not only about his mindset; it’s about the mindset of people
in the Kremlin. These people, for years, believed that we
are in a race with the State Department, and this race is about political technologies,
how to mobilize people, how to get people to the streets, when you are out of traditional
means of mobilizing people, which is opposition parties or trade unions. It had three stages. So firstly, it was Putin, what he did actually,
back in the 2000s, he put trade unions under control, just to completely rule out any possibility
that trade unions or opposition political parties could mobilize people and get them
to the streets to protest. He thought back then that it’s a kind of
guarantee that everything would be absolutely quiet. When we got color revolutions, for the Kremlin,
[the] color revolutions presented a formidable technological challenge. It was about technology. It was not about political meaning. It was not about ideology, but about technology. The Kremlin decided that now the State Department
found a way how to get people to the streets without trade unions, without opposition parties,
just building some youth movement very quickly out of scratch. And they thought, look, we need to do something
about it. And they came up with their own ideas. They launched their own pro-Kremlin youth
movements to have someone to send to the streets, to counter with threat of color revolutions. So it was a technological race. What we saw, given all this background in
2011, they saw that the State Department seems to [have] found a new trick, technological
trick. You can now mobilize people to get them to
the streets without traditional means, and even without a youth movement. You can use technology; you can use social
media. Of course it didn’t help when Alec Ross,
an assistant to Hillary Clinton famously declared that, “Now we have new Che Guevara.” Immediately this message was taken by the
Kremlin as a proof that it was all about the State Department conspiracy, that the State
Department found this new trick. … The thing that was important for the Kremlin
[is] that they saw these things as a part of a bigger plot, all arranged by the West,
and namely by the U.S. State Department. That was why they really believed that they’re
under real attack, and the threat is real. MICHAEL KIRK – That’s why, when Hillary
Clinton records an announcement on the Internet that goes out, Putin comprehends or sees a
bigger game being played. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Absolutely, yes. For him it’s a bigger game, yes. For him it was something—finally he understood
the game. He finally understood that it’s not about
social media; it’s about new technology, and the problem with this concept is that
it was really frightening for the Russian secret services, because it clashed with the
FSB idea how to prevent these things from happening. What does it mean? It means that there is a scheme, a very traditional
scheme. Actually, it was invented by the KGB many
years ago, how to see any kind of event, any kind of crisis. In any kind of crisis, from the KGB point
of view, you need to look for three elements. You need to look for an organization, a leader,
and a channel which actually helps to get help from outside, either by money—it might
be money; it might be some organizational support. It doesn’t matter. But these three elements should be in place. So every KGB guy, every KGB officer, including
Putin, is trained to look for these three elements. The problem with social media, you don’t
have these elements. You don’t have any organization. For example, when we have had protests in
Moscow, [Alexei] Navalny was mostly in jail. When we got the biggest protests on the Sakharov
Prospect, he was in jail. When we got the next big protests, we had
no leader, we had no organization, and we had no money. I mean, nobody tried to channel covertly some
money to Moscow to help protesters, and that posed a formidable challenge for the FSB,
how to prevent these things. … The FSB, actually some FSB generals, they
admitted in the spring of 2011, even before the protests started, they said they had no
means to deal with social media. “We do not know what to do.” It was really frightening. MICHAEL KIRK – … Help me understand what
then is created, if anything. ANDREI SOLDATOV – First of all, it was very
chaotic. He tried many things. He tried things beginning in the summer of
2012 and right after he was elected. First they tried with technology. For example, they got the system of Internet
filtering. They got the system for online surveillance
significantly updated. But nothing actually worked. That was the problem. Very quickly the Kremlin found out that when
you have the Internet in the country, developing for so many years without any restrictions,
it’s very difficult to try to add an element of surveillance and control. You cannot do this. It’s not China [where] the things like control
were meant to be in the system from the very beginning. In Russia it was completely different. You have this thriving society. You have millions of users. You have Internet businesses. You have IT companies, very successful IT
companies, Russian IT companies. All of these people are very reluctant to
work for the government. And first of all, you have users. These people are already in social media;
mostly they are in the Western-based social media like Facebook and Twitter. You do not have technology to put them under
control. They [the Kremlin] tried; they failed. … What happened next is the Kremlin did
what they always did. They turned into informal actors. They turned to some people who officially
are not part of the government, but they enjoy direct access to the Kremlin, and these people
are tasked to deal with the new threat. That was a moment when we got these trolls,
troll factories, lots of people who started, contaminating the space of public debate. We tried to change the public opinion of social
media. Most of these activities, once again, [were]
done by informal actors, people who officially were not part of the government. This time it was not only because of the urge
to deny responsibility; it was also because formal institutions failed, and informal institutions
were much more adventurous and effective in a way. That was a tricky moment in 2014, when it
looked like the Kremlin finally found the solution [for] how to deal with the problem
of the Internet—not to try to control it, because it doesn’t work really. They try; they keep trying. Sometimes they have some successes, but on
the whole, it’s not a big success. But just try to contaminate the whole thing,
try to inspire the feeling of mistrust in the Russian society, try to confuse everybody. For this particular task, informal actors
are much more efficient. MICHAEL KIRK – … They literally go to individual
actors who go to work for them, doing what the people have been doing, except they’re
really creating a kind of miasma or an opacity or something in the society. And that’s how it gets started. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Exactly. What is also important to understand [is]
that these trolls were also instrumental inside the country to completely change the deal. We have a kind of deal between the Kremlin
and the population, and this deal for many years was if you keep quiet, you get granted
your private freedoms; you have your salaries; you have your guarantees; you have your apartments;
you can travel abroad. There’s a quality of life [that] is growing
constantly because of oil prices, so everything is fine. Just forget about politics. Leave this business to the Kremlin. That was the deal. And after the protests it was absolutely clear
for everybody, including the Kremlin, [that] people started thinking politically. Maybe now it’s naive. Maybe it’s stupid. But still, it’s the beginning of the new
process. So what the Kremlin started to think—well,
what actually they did, they decided to take over this new development and to propose a
new idea, very strong idea, to these people who now started to think about politics. … Putin proposed an idea of a great Russia. It was an idea that we might get back. We deserve our place in the world. We’re a great superpower. We were betrayed by the West. That was a very appealing idea for lots of
people. It was very evident during the Olympic Games. I remember that very vividly. Everybody was happy in Moscow. Everybody talked only about the Olympic Games,
how great they are. [They inspired] such great big feelings shared
by so many people. MICHAEL KIRK – Why? ANDREI SOLDATOV – Just because it’s a feeling
that, for many years, you were deprived of your standing in the world, and finally, everybody
understood you are important. You are treated as equal by all of these big
countries. Finally you get back. That was a very important feeling. And the second feeling, which was also exploited
by the Kremlin, was a feeling of fear. … Especially in Russia, when we all have
these memories of the Soviet past, and everybody thinks about the revolution when everybody
was just thrown out of the apartments, and some killed and sent to jail, and you have
this feeling of unsecurity all your life, it’s a very important Russian feeling of
unsecurity. So you need to get this sense of security. So the Kremlin played with this trick. When the Arab Spring started, the Kremlin
started playing this trick, saying: “Look, do you really want some changes? But remember, you can get bloody revolution
on these streets.” That actually turned a lot of people among
middle classes, among the most advanced part of the society, against opposition. And the opposition started losing its edge,
because you cannot counter these very powerful message with words, and with some ideas about
fighting corruption. OK, maybe these people are corrupt, but they
guarantee me my security. That was a very important thing. These two tricks: the idea of greatness of
Russia and of security [have] been played by the Kremlin for the last six, or five,
years, and even now, it’s a very powerful message. MICHAEL KIRK – You’ve already alluded to
the fact that the “little green men” were sending Facebook posts holding weapons and
saying, “Hi, Mom. Guess where I am? I’m in the Donbas,” or whatever. But let’s talk about what the Kremlin and
Putin used, how they used it in very practical terms, whether it’s calling in false artillery
strikes or whatever it is through first Crimea and then down into eastern Ukraine. What was the nature of the information aspect
of this war? ANDREI SOLDATOV – First of all, it completely
changed in comparison with 2007 in Estonia. When we got “[little] green men” in Crimea
and then the crisis in Ukraine, everybody expected a big DDoS [Distributed Denial of
Service] attack hit in Ukraine, which never happened, actually. What we got instead of DDoS attacks, we got
this information campaign. It actually started even before Crimea. It started during the Maidan crisis, when
we got some intercepted phone calls leaked to YouTube and then promoted by Russian trolls. MICHAEL KIRK – Well, wait. That’s the [Victoria] Nuland phone call. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Exactly. MICHAEL KIRK – … What was the deal with
that? Why did it matter, and why was it different,
and what did it augur for the future? ANDREI SOLDATOV – There actually was a concept
for the Russian—for the Kremlin, dealing with the opposition. It was not to say, to show people or to prove
that Putin and the Kremlin are the bravest, the smartest people in the world. The idea is to send a very strong message
that everybody is corrupt, including the opposition, so there is no sense, actually, to try to
choose someone else, to elect someone else, because inevitably, this [other] guy [is also]
corrupt. Stability is better, because at least you
have already some people who are already experienced, they already have some money, so there is
no point to change the team. That message was exploited inside of Russia
for many years. That’s why we got so many interceptions,
a special kind of technique, when you have phone calls intercepted by the authorities
then leaked to pro-Kremlin media. The idea of these leaks is to expose supposed
corruption of the opposition leaders or independent journalists. This trick has been played for many, many
years, and finally it got to Ukraine. The idea was the same: You think that people
in Maidan, they are all saints? No. They are all corrupt, and we can prove that. The idea of this tape is to show that Americans
are not sincere about the Maidan events, where actually they [the Americans] are kingmakers,
and they try very secretly to arrange things for the new government and to control. And they are actually in control, not some
protesters. So actually, the whole idea was to compromise
completely the protesters on Maidan. That was the basic idea. And the second idea, which was a bit more
practical, was to try to create a split between European diplomats and American diplomats
and to spread some confusion. Maybe that would slow down the protesters
and the Western reaction to the protests. That was a very basic and very practical idea. MICHAEL KIRK – It really mattered to the Americans. They were shocked that it would be what they
called “weaponized.” They didn’t mind that the Russians were
always recording and wiretapping. Everybody knew that. But it was for intelligence-gathering purposes
or whatever. But to use it in an information-war sense,
to damage [their] credibility was, it seems like it was the breaking of a rule of war. Or it’s almost like a game they were playing,
it was now the rules were suddenly, fundamentally changed. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yeah, but it was hardly
new for Russia. We had these things from the late 1990s. It was kind of the special term; it’s called
“kompromat.” You have some compromising materials. When you post these things online, it’s
better not to give it to pro-Kremlin media, just to put somewhere. When you send a link to media, you can say:
“It’s not about us; it’s about some hackers, some activists. They did this, and now we enjoy the show.” MICHAEL KIRK – OK. So now let’s get back on the bigger story,
when you were describing the force and dimension of the Kremlin response to Crimea and Ukraine. ANDREI SOLDATOV – The thing is that this Nuland
tape was only part of the strategy. In this case, it looks like there was a decision
not to use DDoS attacks and not to compromise critical infrastructure of Ukraine. Instead, the idea was to try to win the public
opinion in Ukraine. It was a very difficult challenge, but not
that difficult. The problem is that the countries and people
living in the former Soviet Union, and maybe even broader in the Eastern bloc, we have
some similarities; we share some grievances. We’ve all been promised prosperity and a
proper place in Europe, and most of us failed, so that adds to the feeling that maybe we
were betrayed or played by the West. If you can find some proof to prove this point,
well, you can get a big audience. The second thing, which is really important
for the countries of the former Soviet Union, is the legacy of the Second World War, because
that is the source of a sense of superiority. We won this war for the world, and the world,
especially the West, forgot to be grateful… because it’s actually [that] this war was
so awful that there is no family untouched by the war. We have some victims in almost every family,
from the Baltic countries to Kazakhstan. It means that if you can appeal to the feeling,
to the memory, to the legacy of this war, you can get a very emotional response. And these two things are being played by the
Kremlin almost from the beginning. And a third element was added: playing of
the feeling of unsecurity. Actually, the message was, we are once again
in Ukraine betrayed by the West. … We are not just betrayed by the West,
but this time, the West supports fascists, the direct successors of the Hitler armies. Now the West supports these guys in Ukraine
as a third element, and these guys, they organize a bloody revolution where everybody gets killed. So you have these three elements, and these
three elements were incessantly exploited by trolls, by Russian propagandists on Russian
TV, and this message was I’ll say understandable for many people, not only in Russia, but in
Ukraine, because both of us, we share this legacy. It’s immediately understandable. … So maybe the propaganda was not that skillful,
not that sophisticated in terms of technology, but the message was so strong, it brings some
very good results. And it’s still very powerful. … In Ukraine, in countries like Poland,
Hungary, Baltic countries, you can use these tricks, and you can get a very good result. MICHAEL KIRK – … Let’s talk about 2016
now in America, really going back maybe to 2015, with Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear and what
they find and who they are and whether they’re directed or accidentally doing things. Just help me understand what you know happened
with the American election. ANDREI SOLDATOV – … It was partly tactical
game, partly strategical game, because this operation has several stages. It looks like it started as a conventional
espionage operation, because the first group of hackers were already in the system in the
summer of 2015. But it looks like their task, in the beginning,
was just to collect intelligence, to do a conventional espionage, just to collect stuff. Then in the spring of 2016, something happened. We got not only the second team in the system,
but we also got that it looks like there was a political decision taken to weaponize this
information, to use this information publicly, to make everything public. That was a very surprising development for
everybody, including—I think that lots of people were surprised in Russia. And I do not think that that was a plan from
the beginning. The next thing, which also started, I think,
quite surprisingly— MICHAEL KIRK – But before you move on, let’s
just go back and dissect that a little bit. … Let’s start with the first incursion. In there I guess just was pure espionage;
it’s just gathering. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yeah, it was absolutely
conventional espionage. … MICHAEL KIRK – And what did they get, or where
did they get into? ANDREI SOLDATOV – I think they got some emails. It was not that crucial, because the most
crucial part, [the] [Clinton campaign chair ] John Podesta email account was hacked only
in March. Two weeks later, it looks like there was a
decision taken to weaponize this information. But do not believe that this decision was
prompted by what we actually found in these emails. It looks like the idea that now it’s time
to weaponize this information was a direct result of another exposé, another revelation,
this time targeting Putin. And this was Panama Papers investigation. It was published in early April. It was a big personal thing for Putin, because
his personal friend was attacked. His personal friend, and one of the most trusted
people, was exposed, and exposed everywhere. Everybody talked about this story, about this
guy [Sergei] Roldugin that— MICHAEL KIRK – —the cello player. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yes. And nobody could understand why this guy was
made a billionaire, with all his millions of dollars. That was a very sensitive thing for Putin,
because for many years, everybody knows in Moscow that you might talk and write something
about corporations and government institutions in Russia, but you cannot touch Putin’s
family. It’s a kind of off-limits area. This time it was quite clear that the West—and
of course conspiracy mindset of people in the Kremlin, the Panama Papers investigation
was a Western conspiracy—this time the West came after his family, his immediate friends,
his immediate entourage. And that triggered a very personal and very
emotional reaction of Putin. Publicly, he kept talking about this story. He kept talking about Roldugin, that his friend
is absolutely clean, etc. It’s very unusual for the Russian president,
because the usual way is to never comment on any investigation to help to kill the story. That’s the way we got used to. We know that’s the usual way of Russian
bureaucracy: Never talk about any journalistic investigations, because in this case, nobody
would support the story, and it would kill the story. In this case, it was absolutely different. Putin was talking and talking about this story,
so a lot of people in Moscow told us that maybe that was a moment that decision was
taken to retaliate, to do something about [Hillary] Clinton, to fight back. MICHAEL KIRK – This is a revenge moment. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yes, it was a tactical move,
and it was meant to be revenge. It was meant to be a punishment. … MICHAEL KIRK – … They decide to weaponize. They’ll use DCLeaks, Guccifer and WikiLeaks
to spread the word. How does that work? ANDREI SOLDATOV – I think that in the beginning
the plan was quite modest, because a special website was launched to publish this information. It was a very small thing. I mean, DCLeaks.com, nobody heard of this
site before. Nobody expected that it would be such a huge
thing. My guess is that maybe the launching of this
website was meant to be a kind of message to the Americans like: “See what we have. Just remember what we have is this stuff. Respect us.” All of a sudden, the whole story became much
more public, because very quickly it was not only about DCLeaks but about WikiLeaks. And then Trump’s people picked up a lot
of this stuff and started talking about what they read on WikiLeaks. So very, very suddenly, in two months’ time,
it became a big story. It was not anymore a story about Trump or
Hillary Clinton or how corrupt she is or supposed to be; it was a story about Russia. Of course, this surprising result pleased
a lot of people in the Kremlin, because it was very emotional, the idea that we are back
on the world stage; we can do something about the election in the most powerful country
in the world. That was a very appealing thought for many
people, shared by a lot of people in Moscow. I think it was a moment when things slightly
went out of control. People who were behind this, it provoked [them]
to think they can achieve surprising results with almost no cost. Remember, there was a big confusion in the
summer. Nobody knows, and nobody knew how to react
to these things, what to do about Russia. Okay, everybody started to talk about Russia. Some questions were asked. Vladimir Putin clearly enjoyed himself when
he was asked of these questions in the beginning of September, he gave some, well, conventional
answers with some wink. And—but that was all. It looked, for me, as someone based in Moscow,
that the United States were out of, say, means, or maybe out of strategy how to react to this
thing. It looks like everybody got confused. And everybody talked about Russia. MICHAEL KIRK – As we know now, there was a
debate going on in the White House. The intelligence agencies, between and among
themselves, were arguing about who it was and how substantial it was. The president didn’t know what to do about
it. Should he push back? Should there be a cyber counterstrike? In the end, one of the things he does is walk
up at the G-20 to Vladimir Putin, and what happens? ANDREI SOLDATOV – It was a very short conversation. Reportedly Obama said, “Well, you need to
cut it out, you need to cut this off and to stop, because we have some other means.” But Putin said—well, he didn’t admit his
role and just said, “Look, you interfered in our elections.” Once again, he used this opportunity to attack. Obviously this conversation didn’t stop
[it] and didn’t have a desired effect. Some other things were also probed. We already had in place for two years, almost
three years, a special hotline between Washington and Moscow. It was part of so-called Cyber CBM, Cyber
Confidence-Building Measures. The idea was a very Cold War idea, actually. You have a hotline, and if something happens,
you can pick up a phone, or you can send a message, asking, “Are you serious?” The problem is that this idea could be workable
if you are dealing with a nuclear strike, because the other side cannot deny that there
is this a missile launch. We cannot say, “No, no, it’s not about
us; it’s about someone else.” But in this case, given the long history of
Russian denials, and of course the result was not a big surprise when the Russians said:
“Look, it’s not about us. We do not know who these hackers are.” It was absolutely pointless to use this hotline. It was used, but it didn’t get any result. It was absolutely pointless. MICHAEL KIRK – But is it your sense, Andrei,
that Putin, [then-Putin’s Chief of Staff Sergei] Ivanov, anybody inside there, was
actually running this at some moment, able to control it, direct it, or even had fairly
specific knowledge of who it was doing it from the Russian end? ANDREI SOLDATOV – I think this kind of operation
could not be run without an approval from the very top level of the Kremlin. MICHAEL KIRK – Had to be? ANDREI SOLDATOV – Hmm? MICHAEL KIRK – It had to be? ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yes, it had to be. It had to have an approval from the very high
level of—from the very top of the Kremlin. MICHAEL KIRK – OK, I’m just trying to get
the order right. By the summer, by August, certainly Putin
knew, certainly Putin was, if not directing it, knew enough to— ANDREI SOLDATOV – He was in the know, but
he was also under the impression that hackers could not be identified, and we are dealing
here with a very strange misconception. The problem was that by the spring of the
2016, there was an agreement among cyber experts in the West that the level of digital forensic
we can get right now, thanks to technical means, is already enough to identify a country
which is behind cyberattack and to say whether it’s a state-backed effort. You cannot go farther. You cannot say what agency or what people
exactly are doing this, but at least you can say, with 90 percent [certainty], that it’s
about this country, and it’s a state-backed effort. That’s why in the spring we got so many statements
made by so many governments claiming that, “We believe that this country or that country
is behind this attack or that attack,” because the level of digital forensics [can] achieve
that level. And it looks like, apparently, the Kremlin’s
people were not aware of this new agreement, and they were under the impression that still
you can play this game of deniability. You can always say, “No, it’s about some
other hackers or some other people.” Actually that’s what Putin said during his
interview to Bloomberg in September. He said—I may be misquoting, but the general
sense of his words was, “Look, these hackers, they are so sophisticated that it’s almost
impossible to catch them and to identify them.” Clearly he enjoyed himself. But that was a mistake. In the West, it was already known that it’s
Russia, and [that] it is a state-backed effort, that was a problem. There’s a credibility [to] his claims this
year was much higher than, say, two years or three years before. But the Kremlin was still locked in the past. Everybody remembered in the Kremlin that Estonian
authorities were forced to withdraw the accusations [against] the Kremlin because they didn’t
find the proof that the Kremlin was behind the attack. But [this] was not 2007; it was 2016, and
the level of digital forensics, of technology was much higher. It looks like some people in the Kremlin just
missed this point, including Putin, who was still under the impression that everything
is fine, might be covert. MICHAEL KIRK – So their fingerprints were
there and discoverable. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Yes. MICHAEL KIRK – Tell me about the Steele document,
the dossier. What was it? How does it figure into this discussion? ANDREI SOLDATOV – … I was told about this
document in the middle of September. Some of my friends, American journalists,
sent me some pieces of these documents. What was quite clear from the beginning, that
given how closed the Kremlin’s culture is, how difficult—actually, it’s an impenetrable
fortress these days. It’s very difficult to check these kind
of claims. A lot of information in this dossier is about
some doings in very high offices of the Kremlin. It means that it’s almost impossible to
check. The other thing was that some things in this
dossier were completely wrong. It was absolutely clear: Some names were wrong;
some names of departments were wrong. That’s why a lot of people who had access
to this document, they were really, really skeptical. At the same time, the way [that] the decision-making
process was described rings true to me. … So it looked like it could be true in
terms of political decision making, but some details are clearly wrong, and that’s why
I was hesitant to comment on these things. A lot of people decided not to publish this
document for many months, actually. MICHAEL KIRK – … One day in October, when
the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] and the CIA announce definitively that this
is a front-page news story, they announce that they’ve got it; it was Russia; they
have the proof—a couple hours later in the afternoon the Access Hollywood tape happens. That pushes the solid proof of the hacking
slightly over to the side of the front page of the newspaper. … And then WikiLeaks releases a big dump
of the Podesta emails, all happening right around the same time in that day. This, to me, is chaos and disruption personified,
in terms of if that was part of the goal. What is the meaning of that day to you? ANDREI SOLDATOV – To be honest, when I read
this report, I was really disappointed, because that was a problem with this investigation
and with this story from the very beginning. The very first information we got—I mean
the world, journalists, audience—about attack was provided by cybersecurity companies. Of course these people, they provided technical
data. They provided technical data, which actually
was—this data was meant to prove that attacks really happened. It was all about technicalities. It’s good, because actually it means that
you can check this information independently. You can ask some other cybersecurity companies,
not only in the United States, to check this information, to look into specifics of, say,
software used or the ways attacks were launched. It’s good, because these things is, say, this
part is verifiable technically. The problem was that, at the same time these
cybersecurity companies, they made a great—actually, we went further, and they decided to identify
who were behind these attacks. I am not talking about that they said, “I
think it’s about this particular hacking group, that group and this group,” but they
decided to go even further and said, “We believe it’s Russian military agents, and
it’s probably FSB [Federal Security Service].” That’s the moment when you see that the
strength of argument is really very thin, because you cannot say prove; you can’t identify
by technical means what particular agency was behind this attack. It was a very bold claim, but almost unsupported. It was not supported by evidence. That was the problem. So all these months, starting from June, everybody
expected the United States Intelligence Community and law enforcement to provide some additional
proof to claim this part, because nobody actually had any doubts that the part about technicalities
is true, because it was checked by many companies and was solid and completely correct. The problem was with the final stage. It was supported by the agencies. So when the report was published, a lot of
people felt really disappointed, because once again, it looked that whole report was based
on the information published in June. Yes, they’ve drawn some beautiful schemes,
but actually it was exactly the same thing [as what] was published in June. We’re dealing with the same level of arguments,
the same level of proof and the same level of evidence. Everybody expected a bit more. The problem was, when the American Intelligence
Community started playing with the [“trust us”] trick, which was unfortunately very
outdated and was not very relevant after the Iraqi war, they said, “Look, now it’s
time for you to trust us, because if so many agencies say that it’s true, it means that
you need to trust us.” Of course, after the Iraqi war, after all
the scandals, we have WMD [weapons of mass destruction], and we have all these things,
nobody could trust the U.S. Intelligence Community by word especially outside of the United States. That’s why this report was so heavily criticized
by almost everybody. Nobody could understand the point [of] why
to publish this report if you cannot add more evidence, if you cannot add anything significant. I believe that maybe that also provoked people
who were behind this attack to publish a new cache of documents, because look, you crucially
miscalculated how to respond, and well, we can do something again. Maybe we can go further. Maybe we can add more documents, more exposé
to bring more confusion into this situation. Now, actually [that’s] what’s happened. … MICHAEL KIRK – When Trump wins, what’s the
reaction at the Kremlin? ANDREI SOLDATOV – It was a jubilation. Everybody was so happy because it was such
a big surprise. Actually, when we think about people with
the KGB mindset, what we need to understand, these guys are conspirologists. They believe that everything, especially in
the United States, is already predetermined by the establishment. That’s why nobody believed that Trump could
be elected. Everybody believed that there is a special
agreement, secret agreement, between the elites to get Clinton elected. The whole game was to try to harm her in a
way, but not to get Trump elected. Then you got these surprising results. So there was a big jubilation, champagne in
the state Duma. Some Russian top-level propagandists, they
[were] actually driving their cars with American flags. Parties were given. It was something special. MICHAEL KIRK – Because the theory was that
Trump not only favored Putin as an individual, but that Trump might lessen the sanctions
and life would be better. ANDREI SOLDATOV – I think it was not about
practical things. In the beginning it was about emotions, like
we got our guy elected, and it means that we are powerful here. We can do something about the elections of
the most powerful country in the world. It was about that. Nobody expected Trump to deliver immediately. Actually, I think I’m quite skeptical [that]
anybody in the Kremlin had a plan of what [we] might expect from Trump’s first week,
second week and more. I do not believe in these conspiracy theories. So everybody just got excited, like, “Wow,
we can do something about the election.” Oh, well, at least our guy won. MICHAEL KIRK – At some moment in your last
chapter [of your book], it feels like you tell the story of Mr. Stoyanov. It feels like this is a classic morning-after,
“Whoops, we’d better cover our tracks” kind of decision taken by the top levels of
the Kremlin. Tell us what happened. ANDREI SOLDATOV – I think what happened after
the election is that lots of people in the Kremlin understood that the scale of the events
is much bigger than they expected. Trump got elected, and it was quite obvious
that the situation went out of control, and that it’s very improbable that the U.S.
Intelligence Community and law enforcement would just forget about it and move on. It was obviously the time to shut down some
doors and to try to prevent that information might be leaked. Actually, it looked like the Kremlin did everything
to prevent information to be leaked. It was not only about some arrests. Four people were arrested in December, and
these are people we know about, that we do not know what actually happened. Maybe there were some other arrests. We know that all doors to the Western Intelligence
Community were shut. Out of four guys arrested, two guys were in
charge of dealing with Western cybersecurity community. One guy, he was in charge of maintaining contacts
with the Russian Security Services and the Western Intelligence Community at Kaspersky
Lab. He got arrested. … In January, a general who was in charge
of talking with Americans about cyber agreements at the level of the Security Council, he also
was dismissed very quietly. And surprisingly, there was no announcement
in Russian media about his dismissal, which was really, really surprising. He was quietly replaced by another FSB general,
who has no knowledge of cyber. That makes him absolutely useless as a contact
person. You might torture him, but you cannot get
anything out of him in terms of cyber. It’s not about loyalty—It’s not even
about his loyalty. He just knows nothing about cyber. It looks like the Kremlin made an effort to
shut down all doors which could lead to some exposure. Actually, it had an effect on the situation
in Moscow. The Russian IT industry was always proud to
maintain very good contacts with the Western community, because it was a sense of, if you
are really a professional, you are respected by American IT specialists. It was a special thing. All of a sudden, you need to significantly
limit your contacts with the Americans, the British, the Europeans. It was kind of a cold shower for everybody
in this industry. MICHAEL KIRK – And Putin? ANDREI SOLDATOV – Well, for Putin, he slightly
changed his rhetoric. Before the elections, he just denied that
Russia could have any role in hacking. And his message was, “You need to think
about the content. You do not need to think about who actually
exposed that information. Just concentrate on the information.” Exactly the same message was delivered by
[WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange: Just forget about the source; think about the content. But after the elections, the message was slightly
different. Putin started talking very slightly about,
“Look, maybe there were some Russian hackers involved. But obviously, it’s not about the government.” Maybe he finally understood that now this
question of attribution is slightly different from what he thinks, now digital forensic
could provide some proof, and maybe he should take this under consideration. That might be part of his change of his position,
but it’s a very small, small change. JIM GILMORE – Just two things. Talk a little bit more about your [the Russian]
relationship with WikiLeaks and Assange. Why is that the natural place to go? … Was it more than one might expect, Assange’s
interest in conspiracy theories, that the U.S. was involved with the Panama Papers? Just give us a little bit of understanding
about that relationship and why it seemed to be the natural place to go. ANDREI SOLDATOV – Well, first of all, it was
always special [between] Russia and WikiLeaks, from the very beginning. When WikiLeaks got diplomatic cables and needed
to find some media partners to get this stuff published, in all countries in the world,
they found some respectable independent media in the United States, in Britain, in Germany. It was always about independent respected
media. But in Russia, for some strange reason, WikiLeaks
decided to rely on a very pro-Kremlin media founded by the administration of the president. It was a very surprising choice. Why in Russia [did they] cooperate with the
pro-Kremlin media? It’s a very long story, started not in 2016. It was just part of the story, because later
on, when Assange was locked, or decided be locked in an Ecuadorian Embassy, he was approached
by RT, [Russia Today, the] Russian propaganda English-spoken TV channel. He decided to accept the invitation and to
do a TV show. So he started his TV career, actually, on
Russian television. It was a very strange, intriguing story. Also, [it] is known that when [Edward] Snowden
wanted to find—and actually asked for advice where to go next after Hong Kong, it was Julian
Assange who advised him to go to Moscow. … The people who were in charge of talking
to the Russians and being WikiLeaks’ representatives in Russia, they also have some very strange
reputation. Some of them are very pro-Kremlin, and they
publish their stories in very pro-Kremlin media. This story was very evident in 2016, because
some of these guys, they keep publishing stories about Hillary Clinton. They still styled themselves as representatives
of WikiLeaks in Russia. But the most surprising thing was [what] happened
around Panama Papers. It’s a very personal thing. There were some journalists who used to work
for WikiLeaks, investigating some of the information published by WikiLeaks in Russia. The experience of some of them, friends of
mine—and it was quite understandable that when the new leak happened, I mean [the] Panama
Papers, these documents were leaked to journalists. There was an idea to build an international
team of journalists and to give each team documents about their respective countries. Some of the journalists who used to work for
WikiLeaks, they were invited to join the project and to now investigate Panama Papers. [They] actually produced a very good result. We got this information about Putin’s personal
friend, and it was the biggest story. Then a surprising thing happened. WikiLeaks decided to attack [the] journalists
who contributed to the Panama Papers exposé. The way they attacked was very strange. They started questioning their credibility. Actually, what the meaning or the message
of WikiLeaks was that these journalists might be good, but in this case, we are puppets
of the U.S. State Department or U.S. intelligence maybe. WikiLeaks tried to say that these journalists
are paid by some U.S. institutions and U.S. foundations. It was really, really strange, because it
was not very consistent with WikiLeaks’ position. The WikiLeaks position all the time was never
question my source. Well, question and check my information. This case he decided to question the source. That was really strange, and a lot of people
in Moscow, journalists, were really outraged, because we are in physical danger when they
exposed this story. To be attacked simultaneously by the authorities
and by WikiLeaks was something very special. As it happens, the next day after this investigation
was published and WikiLeaks tweeted some strange tweets attacking journalists, Vladimir Putin
had his press conference. He was asked about this investigation. Of course it was all orchestrated, so he knew
he would be asked about this investigation. He immediately used WikiLeaks in his answer. He said, “Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, we know
that this investigation is a part of a Western, American conspiracy.” …That was something completely inconsistent
with the position held by WikiLeaks. Actually, when Wikileaks got the DNC [Democratic
National Committee] hack, they just got back to the old standing, like never question our
source. So it was really strange why they decided
to make an exception for Panama Papers, but they decided to have one line for their own
investigations, never questioned their source. DAVID HOFFMAN – Just one question. Listening to today I come away with this impression
that you think that the hack of the 2016 election in America was not done by some GRU [Russian
military foreign intelligence] officer in uniform, that maybe that attribution was wrong;
that if it was done, it was probably done by these other hackers, the guys in Donetsk
or some more nebulous group. Is that right? ANDREI SOLDATOV – When we are talking about
this very complicated world of Russian hacking. When you have informal actors and formal actors,
we should remember that we are dealing with two stages. The first stage … lasted from 2000 maybe
to 2014, [and] the best example is what actually happened to Estonia. You have the Kremlin administration, you have
some pro-Kremlin youth movement, and then you have some Kremlin hackers. The problem is that now we are in the second
stage. This second stage started in 2014 with the
accession of Crimea. So what actually changed? What changed is that the Kremlin and Putin
personally, he completely changes the rules for business, including IT business. So before 2014, everybody’s understanding
was that the country is so corrupt that in this relationship between big business and
the state, well, it’s pro-business. It’s business [that] benefits more out of
this relationship. It’s business which exploits the state,
not the state which uses the business. But after 2014, everything changed, and [it]
was very clear that Putin sent a very strong message that now it’s time for business
to pay back and to help the state. It [happens] to big companies and big corporations. But it’s [also] true for IT business. That was the moment when we started noticing
that government officials started visiting IT companies, enlisting their help in doing
something sensitive, which means that it also was a change of role for hacking. It was not anymore only about some groups
of criminal hackers. The connection between hackers and the FSB
and the government officials became much closer. From 2014, we see—may be the first time
that we see the direct connection between these two forces. The evidence to that was provided by Yahoo
investigation. That was the first moment when we see FSB
officers in direct contact with criminal hackers. The second thing which happened, and that
was also change of rules, [is] that now we are not talking only about some criminal hackers,
we are also talking about IT industries, about cybersecurity companies approached by the
state, asked to do something sensitive. Given the fact that we have a very powerful
IT industry in our country, it means that the capabilities of the government to use
in cyberattacks are now much higher than before 2014, because the connection between hackers
and the security services is much more direct, and because IT industry is there to help. MICHAEL KIRK – That’s a very clear answer. Thank you. Very interesting. I really appreciate it. Thanks for coming here.

23 thoughts on “The Putin Files: Andrei Soldatov

  1. What a great piece of Conjecture, lots of stuff missing. Also, who the hell is this guy? Soldatov? That's a fake sounding name if I have ever heard of one. Id be more inclined to believe Kasparov, at least he has a clear opposition bias. I will say this: Stop insulting the American people with your implication that Putin was our voice and put our guy in the white house, maybe there is a pro-trump bias in Moscow, but there was CERTAINLY the need here in America. Nice Try PBS.

    Please Flag this series as fake news, it is conjecture, insulting and cites no sources to support its claims.

  2. Soldatov is part of a rare group of independent investigative journalists operating within Russia, constantly at risk of death and imprisonment. In America, the far-right attacks what they think is a "deep state" in America, but US is "deep state lite" compared to what Soldatov has revealed in multiple books and reports in Russia. Combine that with OCCRP's massive stories about corruption in Russia, and I shake my head at the sheer willingness for conservatives to turn a blind eye on the word of Donald.

  3. This person was trained in France by the leftist media…and his school refuses to accept reality; we are not in a Cold War-we are in a new war and a transformed war; one of the new hypercomplex developments and characteristics of this "new war" is the "INFORMATION war" of which almost every [email protected]%king branch of the media is now involved; and which is now grossly distorted and is utilized by the mass media; the real information (interior military information exchanges) is not available to much of the media–so a funny effect happens- the world ends up getting a ton of psuedo-experts who don't really know what they are talking about—they are just joining the social discussion club; where in the Cold War the information attribute was much more tightly managed and controled for both security and public safety; the participating nations are involved in what the NATO military complex terms Satan II; the first Satan was both a type of "call out address," and international political INSULT and the name of the massive Russian cruise missile R-36 in 1974, given by NATO and Co.–the real name is Sarmat RS-28. Does this sound reasonable? I lived as a child under "Satan" or the first Sarmat and the Minuteman and as a ctizen of Russian, I've noticed that the connotation of the use of the term "Satan" is incorrect and intended to demonizie not only President Putin but also Russian existence and 2., throws the entire world–meaning the consciousnesses of both countries–into a deliberate state of international paranoia, fear, and confusion; and this is a recurring process of trying to determine which country rules the world with each side resorting to demonizing the other through the use of information (the press); the fact is almost empirically shown in academic histroy to reach its end destructively; as the new proliferations will progress a similar situation will mature; only now the information exchange is hyper chaotic with non-experts, people with no real information or access to real information, sensationalists, and in general people with an axe to grind with President Putin making speculative arguments and ridiculously skewed misinformation over who and what Pres. Putin is (existential theory in practice) and what the Russian Federation is and is not (more exstentialist rudiments); (I can't even understand the Putin hating aspect that is spewing out from the media because his life story and biography are very emotionally touching; and the truth about Putin is that after all the showcasing and theater acting between the leaders on the world stage he is a man that cares and that is why he was and is so determined to resolve the leftover hell and bulls#%t that the Second World War and the alliance left for almost every Russian in the world to deal with while the rest go onto their orgies… ๐Ÿ™

  4. NKVD- KGB -FSB… Never ending same total criminal shit.

    Stalin made most bloody and criminal organisation responsible for making bigest world genocides ended with 30 mln dead (never jujged till this time).

    NKVD from 1938 till 1941 teached and very close cooperated with Hitler GESTAPO too…

    In fact PUTIN recived the same criminal education based on NKVD teachers mass genocides experiences.

    This is why we will have more and more Hitler like acitvity with anexations made by minority reasons, open pissing on int. law and 6 main world peace pacts breakings lead to more illegal border changins and finally a big war.

    By best educated Russians (history experts) we have close copy of III (Putler) Reich in Moscow today. ๐Ÿ™

    So stoping Putler open nation war prepearings madness (mass WEST hate and fear with weapon run return) is world most imprtant duty today.

    War sanctions and world no more trust (isolation) is a hope that Putler III Moscow Reich mixed with poor USSR2 total corrupted system will soon collapse like USSR. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks god PULTER have no chance to win any weapon or technology run with 28X reacher USA and EU. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. The way this young guy talks it sounds like he held a high position in the Kremlin, which he obviously didnโ€™t. Perhaps heโ€™s trying to sell his books and needs people to believe his stories. Itโ€™s amazing how the people being interviewed on this series all claim to know what Putin and or The Kremlin was thinking. I canโ€™t believe a word they say.

  6. By the look of the trolls here with fake names it looks like Frontline did a great job with this series. Keep it up!

  7. Great documentary, thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

    I don't morally approve of KGB practices, and won't support them. Other than that, full support for Putin and his winning team.

  8. Hi, I'm a purebred Russian troll and I'm here to tell you that this whole Putin series is corrupt because everything in the world is corrupt. In Russia journalists are all bought and paid for and told what to write by powerful forces standing in the shadows, so it must be the same at PBS. Surely the CIA told PBS what they wanted, and PBS did what they were told. That's how it works in Russia; same thing in the US, I'm pretty sure. Just read more comments below; my many friends will back me up.

    It's like marital fidelity: My wife cheats on me every day, so I assume so does everyone else's. A faithful wife is just a myth.

  9. The first few sentences of this load of codswallop betray it. Just compare it to Putin's actual experience, and to his own words. to start with – if you "applied" to the KGB they didn't take you. They didn't like people applying, they did their own headhunting. Putin details how he waited for 5 years through Uni hoping they would contact him. When it seemed nobody would, he started thinking of other work. And as for advancement by "marrying daughter of a general", Putin had no relatives, no contacts, he married an air hostess who had no such connections. He got his advancements through being good at his job. I didn't bother with anything after the first minute – I could see what it was going to be — a waste of time.

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