A letter to the New York Times written by Vladimir Putin might seem unusual to a person who’s used to looking at his policy from inside Russia. While anti-Americanism has become popular during his presidency, his letter, addressed to the American people, despite some criticism and lecturing, is quite respectful and reasonable. The paradox of such a transformation might go back to his past – years ago, when he was serving as a spy for the KGB, in the Eastern Germany.
There are many books published about espionage. One of them was written by a former KGB agent Vladimir Rezun who defected to the UK. He served many years as a spy for GRU (Main Intelligent Directorate) before he ran to Britain, where he started writing books under the name of Victor Suvorov. He revealed many secrets of Soviet past, including intelligence methods and recruiting new agents. The main trick for engaging a new follower was talking to them in the same language, as a “victim” and saying things he or she wants to hear. Talk about fish with a fisherman, about postcards with a person collecting them, about freedom with a liberal and so on. Sounds familiar? Yes, of course – it is a tactics described by Dale Carnegie in his famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
Of course, the method of winning hearts described by Dale Carnegie or Victor Suvorov works best during a one-to-one conversation. President Putin is a public politician and has to work with the masses. But all the same, because people, in general, have a bad memory for speeches, and do not have much of an interest in politics (preferring news about a naked Miley Cyrus riding a ball, to a real North Korean nuclear threat), it works. That could be an explanation of why President Putin is so popular in Russia. He applies this professional method trying to win people’s hearts. When he is talking with workers he is fully appreciating their hard labor and knows everything about their problems. The next day he might have a meeting with the businessmen who employ the laborers and he might be absolutely pro-business, understanding their problems as well. When he talks to older people he plays on their nostalgia and brings back ideas of the Soviet past. When he talked with President Bush, a “new-born” Christian, he told him a touching story how he was secretly baptized by his mother and always kept his small cross with him. If one day he meets a human rights supporter and his fellow secret service colleagues, he probably would say absolutely different things, and every time people will hear what they would like to hear.
Now Putin is trying to talk to Americans, and he did it well, appealing to the same values Americans have always valued: democracy, humanity and peace.
There is still a question pending, however. If Russia is well known as a nation of ideas, America is famous for its pragmatism. So, in order to really convince Americans he has to not only speak with the same language, but show them “money”, meaning business in this case, real efforts of chemical demilitarization of Syria, real deeds not words. Until he does so, his attempt to talk to the American public will look more like a former spy trying to recruit new followers.
By Alsu Salakhutdinov