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‘So to Speak’ podcast transcript: Former BBC bureau chief Konstantin Eggert and what you need to know about censorship in Russia

Former BBC Russia bureau chief Konstantin Eggert

Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio recording.

Nico Perrino: Okay. Welcome back to So to Speak, the free speech podcast, where every other week, we take an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations. I am, as always, your host, Nico Perrino. And today we’re returning to the war in Ukraine, between Russia and Ukraine, of course. And we’ve got another guest on our show who I’ve been very interested in talking with. He’s a must follow on Twitter for anyone who is interested in Russian politics or the war in Ukraine. He doesn’t tweet in English. So, I have to look at his tweets through Twitter translate. But he’s again, a must follow. Our guest today is Konstantin Eggert.

He’s a Russia expert who has worked as a journalist for numerous media outlets since starting his career as a reporter in Moscow in 1990. He is now at Dutchavelli, which is, as Konstantin tells me, the German equivalent of the BBC. But from 1998 to 2009, Konstantin was senior correspondent, then editor in chief of the BBC Russian news service, the Moscow Bureau, I should say.

Later, he worked for XM mobile Russia and the Russian media outlet Kommersant and TV Rain, the latter of which famously, as you might have heard, shut down after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And in 2008, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Konstantin honorary member of the most excellent order of the British empire. And Konstantin, it’s my pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for coming on.

Konstantin Eggert: Nico, thank you. And just one correction. I do tweet in English, but much less than in Russian. That kind of prods me to do more in English. I was actually thinking about doing or creating a separate account, which would have been called probably John Bolton’s mustache or something like that. But then, I decided to stick to my timeline because there’s enough subscribers. But for anyone who wants to subscribe, it’s K-V-O-N-E-G-G-E-R-T. Kvoneggert on twitter.

Nico Perrino: Again, I’d recommend it. There are many Americans, like me, who are eager for commentary on what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine from someone who knows the history as you do. So, your Twitter account, again, is a must follow. And I encourage people to check that out, even if they do have to read most of the tweets via a translation service. So, Konstantin, I want to start by charting your personal history because I think much of it can provide important context and a narrative through line that brings us up to the war on Ukraine and of course the current state of censorship in Russia. Let’s begin. Were you born in Russia?

Konstantin Eggert: Yes. I’m a full generation Muscovite. And that basically distinguished me from the other lot in the Army, for example, because attitude to Muscovites is exactly the same as attitude to Persians in France. I don’t know what the equivalent would be in the US, probably New Yorkers are considered to be quite arrogant.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, that’s the reputation. I don’t know that it’s –

Konstantin Eggert: Well, we have a very distinct accent, which is also the same thing for Muscovites. So, I was always recognized as very privileged by other people whenever I had to go into some kind of environment, like the army for example, where you have people from all regions. Yes, I am a descendant of a very old family, which basically is quite interesting in terms of it’s genesis. I’m not a usual Russian, in a sense. I’m enculturated as a Russian. But I am partly Polish, partly Swedish, partly German, partly Italian, and partly Russian. So, that is quite unusual.

Although, in a sense, it’s usual because was, and to some extent, is an empire. And actually, I was born in Moscow because my great grandfather retired as a major, medical service major from the Russian Bureau army to Moscow in 1870s or something like that. But yes, I’m a Muscovite and actually was born just essentially 15 minutes more from the Kremlin.

Nico Perrino: So, when you say Russia is essentially an empire, as you just said. Does it still carry with it that sort of cultural heritage? Do Russians think of themselves as an imperial people?

Konstantin Eggert: Yes, very much so. And I am also a child of an empire. It’s part of the fact that I don’t like it. And it’s part of the fact that, especially the Soviet empire was of course one of the most horrible regimes in the history of humankind. But yes we’re all children of empire. And frankly, that’s a good title for a book. We all know what it is. We all carry cultural prejudices, attitudes, analysis patterns, lifestyle patterns that we inherit from the imperial rule. And what I mean is not only the Russian empire, that there are monarchs, but also the Soviet empire.

And now we realize that what mother group was now doing to Ukraine is probably the – I actually hope it's the last hoorah if I may say so in such tragic circumstances of the Russian empire. Russians have never known a modern nation state, which for example, most western Europeans know very well. That’s where I live now. So, yes, in a sense, I am a product of an empire.

Nico Perrino: And does that kind of inform in a certain sense, this attitude about imperial Russia, inform what’s happening in Ukraine. Is it important to understand what’s currently happening in Ukraine and why, at least from an uninformed westerner like myself, seems to be internal support within Russia for the invasion of Ukraine?

Konstantin Eggert: Yes. I think it’s important because debate about the place of Ukraine in Russian culture, in Russian politics, in Russian history, in Russian psyche, if you will, has been going on actually onto the Russian. I mean, Ukraine, which was not exactly called that way, joined what actually wasn’t yet a Russian empire, but a Moscow kingdom in the mid-17th century in very controversial circumstances, quite a few people would admit, both in Ukraine and in Russia. And basically, it was a land that was A, trying to find its own way in what was just at that time the beginning of European modality.

But it was also a land which was very much impacted both by the Byzantine empire and by the Polish Lithuanian commonwealth, the Polish state, which was actually controlling part of it at the time. So, it was a land of competition and rebirth at the same time, the birth of a new nation. And that was, to an extent, stamped out by the fact that what is the most modern Ukraine joined Russia at the time. And then it was part of Russian empire. And of course, the Russian empire was a cold emperor of the great, little, and white Russia, which means the greatest Russia proper, small Russia or little Russia.

That’s Ukraine in old Russian. And what is now white Russia. That was the third component. So, in a sense, there was always this idea that yes, these are three different parts of one unit. Russa. And this creates, basically, debates until today. But frankly speaking, you can say Nikolai Gogol, one of the biggest and most well-known Russian writers. Well, he was from Ukraine. He wrote a lot about Ukraine. He knew Ukrainian language. But most of his literary output was created in Russia in St. Petersburg. So, basically, in Moscow. So, basically the issue is, is he a Ukrainian writer or Russian writer?

Russians will say he is Russian. Ukrainians will say, no no. Of course, he is Ukrainian. But you know, these things can of course be debated. But what we’ve seen now is something that goes beyond cultural debates, beyond culture wars even I would say. It goes all the way to basically mid-20th century, early 20th century, the world war period barriers, which Putin has now inflicted on a state, which by the way, was recognized by Russia in its current borders in 1991. And finally, 1997, the treaty that established Russian Ukrainian relations, finally, including borders was signed by Boris Yeltsin, the then president of Ukraine in 1997.

It's been called, in the Russian vernacular, the so-called big treaty, which settled everything. And what you do now, essentially, you’re breaking, smashing every single promise that post war Russia gave to Ukraine. And that puts us in this mode of denying even the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation, separate Ukrainian state. So, you asked me about the invasion. We’ll probably debate it. But it’s very much linked to Putin. First of all, it's not the war against Ukraine, or rather not only the war against Ukraine. And it’s not only as many people realize, Putin’s war on the west. Both contentions are right.

But it’s very important, I think, there’s a very important third element of that, which one only feels when one knows what goes on inside Russia and when one knows what ordinary folks in Russia think. It is really Putin opening up the pent-up reservoir of post imperial resentment, the desire, basically, to relive in a new way, this imperial adventure. This desire for vengeance, for the loss of this empire in 1991. And that’s very important. The desire for vengeance, the desire of vengeance for the miserable lives that the majority of Russians lead under Putin’s regime.

So, instead of essentially doing a Boston Tea Party and storming the nearest police station or going to a mass rally to demand change, you just enlist, take up your Kalashnikov, and go and shoot innocent people. You can’t do anything about your life at home. And this is an important thing. This is an important source of engineering project for Putin, creating a new Putin majority, majority of vengeance, resentment, and defenses. So, one thing that essentially, just one last thing to say. Maybe something I should have said, Nico, at the end.

But I think the important and very, very sad fact is that – And we’re not discussing Ukraine now. I understand it’s a huge tragedy. I commiserate and try to help the Ukrainian people. But if we are talking about Russia, Putin thinks he made it strong. But in fact, he’s thrown Russia under the bus. And frankly, if in 50 years, there is no such thing as Russia. Or if there is no Russia as we know it today, I wouldn’t be surprised. I won’t see it, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Nico Perrino: Let me ask you about the counternarrative that exists, especially among the so-called political realists. There’s a famous professor here at the University of Chicago.

Konstantin Eggert: John Mearsheimer.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. The idea that NATO was sort of asking for this with its eastward expansion. What do you make of that argument? It’s the argument that China sort of trots out now in defense of Russia’s actions, although it claims to be politically neutral on the question. What do you make of that, that there was sort of this agreement that NATO wouldn’t march east to Russia’s borders, that this was the inevitable result of its eastward advance?

Konstantin Eggert: If you’ve seen my biography, I worked for a diplomatic correspondent for Izvestia Daily, which was at the time, the number one daily in Russia in the 1990s. So, the whole NATO debate, I remember covering from day one, essentially. And John Mearsheimer – Most cynics are wrong big time. Cynics are usually right 99 percent of the time. But when they are wrong, they are wrong big time. This one percent is usually kind of depth charges everything else. So, I think he’s really wrong there. And frankly, I think this is a way for him to bend the debate, bend the narrative the way he wants it to be.

He definitely knows that NATO is not kind of running around and shopping for new neighbors. You have to apply to join NATO. And the fact that so many countries wanted to join NATO after the end of the cold war, I think is quite significant. They were not pulled in there. And you have to ask why. And I think a lot of it has to do with history, including the imperial history and the history of, let’s say, Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Polish, that were either absorbed by the Soviet Union and half of the people were sent to the gulag, or they were occupied and also brutalized. And foreign regime was imposed on them.

So, the fact that they want to join NATO is I think pretty natural in many ways. As for promises, well look, there are definitely exchanges recorded. That’s well known, between let’s say German and Soviet officials. In 1989 and early 1990, when the Soviet Union still existed, there was not exactly a promise. But there was a discussion about, okay, well probably, we will not deploy new forces in what used to be east German, the socialist state controlled by the Soviet Union. Maybe we should discuss it. Well, maybe we should not do anything about it. And probably yes, new membership of NATO for Germany.

Probably, it was all probably, let’s talk about it. First and foremost, nothing like that was ever put on paper. Nothing like that was ever included into any treaties, including, by the way, the Paris charter of 1990, which was signed by Gorbachev at this time when the Soviet Union still existed. And secondly, all this was debated in the context of the Soviet Union, which basically had a direct motive with Poland. It was a completely different geopolitical reality. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were part of the Soviet Union at the time. So, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Well, for example, no debate was there at Latvia, Estonia, the wealthy states, in 1990 or ’89 because they did not exist as separate states. Now, what do they say? You should resurrect. And they say, oh by the way, what relates to eastern Germany should also relate to the then nonexistent Lithuania. One has to be very clear; Lithuania is a thousand-year-old state, but it was occupied by the Soviet Union. It regained its independence. So, I think that this is a completely fake argument unless you think that as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some animals are kind of –

Nico Perrino: More equal than others.

Konstantin Eggert: With the arrangements of the others. So, I think that in this respect, John Mearsheimer is wrong. And it’s not realist. It’s cynicism masquerading as national interest. And especially in America, which was based on an idea, which was founded on a set of ideas, that to me just is completely beside the point.

Nico Perrino: So, what led you to this? You’re a native Russian. You’re a Muscovite. Putin, at least according to the polls, if you can believe them, has broad support within Russia. What led you to this sort of contrarianism or this skepticism of current Russian politics and the larger political narrative?

Konstantin Eggert: Oh because I’m la crem de la crem. No, no but seriously, it’s of the course the family history. Basically, my grandfather was arrested in front of my mother in February 1938 and carted off the gulag. He was lucky to survive. He was quite a famous actor and director. You would be surprised. For the Americans, it would sound really weird. But different parts of the gulag, different camps, different parts of Russia would have theater competitions between them. So, you would have to have, basically, what amounted to slave actors in each camp.

So, the camp commander chose my grandfather to collect a troupe of people to perform Gogo for example, to compete with other camps in Siberia or in, let’s say, the Euros. And that’s how he survived because he was not forced to chop wood or build dams or whatever they did at the time. And that’s not the whole story. Stalin shot my grandmother’s brother. He was an officer. Her other brother was executed by NKBD, Stalin’s secret police in 1941, when they were retreating from Ukraine. My grandfather’s brother who lived in – He escaped from Russia to revolution was living in Poland, essentially, or in the German borderlands.

He disappeared. We think he was probably either killed during the fighting or, he was not a solider himself. He was probably, as a civilian, killed. Or he was probably arrested by the same NKBD when the Soviets came to Poland. So, look, it’s a story which did not make me like the Soviet Union. By the beginning of the Soviet German war in ’41, there was not a single male in the family who could fight, or at least on one side of the family. My father was very sick, so he was not enlisted, luckily for him.

Nico Perrino: That’s why you’re here, probably.

Konstantin Eggert: Right. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I look like that. Also, but it goes deeper. My Polish ancestors were actually fighting the perdition of Poland by Russia and Austria in the 18th century, and one of them was actually beheaded by Catherine the Great. Not by her, but by her executioners of course. My other relative served time in jail for pro-Polish, Polish independence propaganda under the Czar. So, in a sense, although I say my culture is Russian, but this kind of resistance to forcible occupation, let’s put it like that, and to this distaste or active repulsion of totalitarianism.

That was something that the family carried. We want no dissidence. I don’t want to present an image of this very brave Eggerts fighting British naval Stalin or whatever. But definitely, this history was kept in the family. And when Gorbachev actually started his perestroika, transformation of the then Soviet Union, I immediately though. Well, this is my time. It’s part of why I became a journalist. I’m not a journalist by education. I am a historian in the least and translator of the Arabic language. So, that is, I think, how I came to be so contrarian, sort of jokes about elitism apart.

Nico Perrino: But you’d think there would be a lot of other Russians like you in the sense that throughout the history of the Soviet Union, if the history is to be believed, something like 10 to 15 million Russians were killed, either disappeared or sent to the gulag or died because of famine. You’d think there would be a little more distaste among Russians for empire, for authoritarianism. People who would have the same sort of perspective that you do. But I don’t get the sense that it is. But also, I don’t know. I just –

Konstantin Eggert: Well 10 to 15 million, that’s probably quite a conservative estimate if you look back at the Russians through the war.

Nico Perrino: You hear all the way up to 50 million if you include famines.

Konstantin Eggert: Right. Some of the, if you put together also the war casualties, which some say also hide because the Soviet calculation that 27 million died in the war. So, it’s civilians, soldiers. But some people say it’s also people that died in the gulag at the time that were buried in these figures. So, it’s tens of millions, definitely. Well, you know –

Nico Perrino: And it’s a country of only 130 million or something like that.

Konstantin Eggert: Yeah. Now it’s 140, yes. The Soviet Union was 290 something, close to 300 million before it collapsed. And actually, it’s interesting. Before I answer your question, it’s interesting that, for example, people talk about Russia as an inheritor of certain legacy of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons for example, or a seat on the permanency security council, the veto right. But frankly, if you look, for example, at the devastation of the second world war, well quite a lot of it is in Ukraine. Not only in Russia. Actually, territorially, I think Ukraine is the biggest chunk of the former Soviet Union that suffered from the German invasion, from the holocaust.

There were not as many Jews, for example, in what used to be the Russian Republic inside the Soviet Union and what is now Ukraine. So, what I want to say though is that it’s a very peculiar social phenomenon. First of all, people like I, I would say at the very best, constitute no more than 10 or 12 percent of the population. And a lot of them are leaving. Secondly, it is a wounded national psyche, which sees things in a very strange, I would say distorted way, in which people say, “At least under Stalin there was order.” So, essentially, I think what the Soviet experiment achieved was creating, to some extent, a new man with a capital M.

Someone who is on one hand completely suppressed and subjugated by the state. And internally, he resents this because no human being liked being repressed. But on the other hand, this new human being appreciates order and predictability that the totalitarian system brings. And it is, in a certain way, predictability of a slave life. But it is predictability. And also, and it’s an important one, you do not have to think. And the state decides everything for you. And in exchange for that, to compensate for your miserable status, you have an ability or at least an image of oppressing others. And Ukrainians come from a very special place in this psyche because they are [inaudible] [00:25:46]. They are related to the Russians.

There is a lot of commonality, history, language, and attitude. Although, there are many differences, too. So, you always say, well Ukrainians are my brothers. They’re only brothers as long as they’re junior brothers and as long as they take orders from you. The moment they say, I’m your brother, but I want to move to a separate flat, separate apartment and do my own thing, well then suddenly you become not a brother, but an enemy. And this is, I think, what we see Putin, essentially, telling the Russians. And this is, alas, I am in the minority. These days, I live in Lithuania, north of Russia.

Nico Perrino: In 1987, you were called up for national army service in Russia. And they still have a conscription regime in Russia if I –

Konstantin Eggert: No, it’s a mix. There is conscription, but actually the majority of the armed forces, like in the US, volunteer soldiers.

Nico Perrino: Okay. So, when you say you were called up, were you a conscript?

Konstantin Eggert: I was called. Soviet Union was all a call out. There was no protection on me. There was a professional officer core. You had to serve 20 or 25 years as an officer. But soldiers were called up. So, it was millions of people called up every year. I was called up as an officer after the university because in the Soviet Union, still in Russia there was system where some colleges offer you basic military training. And if you manage to get into such a college, you avoid, in the Soviet Union you did avoid being conscripted. But you could be called up after you finished your studies. And that’s what happened to me.

I was very lucky. I served and basically, it was later for the Soviet military mission Yemen, actually, in an Arab country. So, I did suffer this kind of humiliation and bullying and hazing that a lot of conscript soldiers suffered during the Soviets and still suffer today.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. I ask you this because, you might – we’re talking 30 or 35 years ago at this point. But a lot of the practices from the Soviet Union, if you read news reports, remain within the current Russian military. So, I was wondering if there was anything from your experience that might tell us a little bit about what the current Russian soldiers experience. And you read reports about how some of these soldiers, they were doing the military exercises in Belarus, and then all the sudden, they’re at war in Ukraine. They have no idea what’s going on.

They’re not being properly supplied. Some of them are running away. Some of them are killing their officers. Is there anything from your experience that might be able to shed some light on what the current Russian soldiers experience and think?

Konstantin Eggert: Well, first of all, as an officer, and it was later, I was not – I wasn’t a soldier, in a sense. So, I can’t tell you about my own experience. But quite a few of my friends and connections, acquaintances, they served in the army. And essentially, what happened. This is what my officer colleagues described to me when we served together. And when I asked those who were senior to me in rank and age, what they said is that in the late 60s, the Soviet army started experiencing a shortage of conscripts. For one simple reason, because of the war and the gulag. Basically, the Soviet population contraction.

And so, at some point in time, the number of people getting called became limited. So, one hand to expand conditions. For example, before if you had a prison sentence you couldn’t serve in the army. And you couldn’t be a conscripted soldier until 27. So, when they started doing that they saw they didn’t have enough soldiers, they started basically conscripting everyone. If you had a criminal record or you were sick or didn’t speak Russian well – There were areas of the Soviet Union where people didn’t Russian very well, like the caucuses. You’d still go in. Secondly, in the 60s, the last officers who saw the second world war, they knew what the army was really for, were pensioned off.

So, what happened is that you had an officer call, which was completely sort of, never fought anything combined with a rag tag bunch, well a bunch, it was huge, millions, of conscripts coming together. That meant that a completely different hierarchy started to appear in the army. And you’d serve, usually, two years. So, these two years were divided into four periods of six months. So, first six months, you were a junior that had to take orders from pretty much anyone and do whatever. And you could be punished, raped, beaten up. They could tell you to clean the toilet with your toothbrush. You could dinner and food by the seniors.

Then it becomes a bit milder when you’re in the second six months because there’s a bunch of young people coming to serve. And you can start giving them orders. It progresses all the way until it’s your last six months where you’re king. Where you can order the juniors to do, even some of your army chores, if they are permitted. And the officers, these young officers, or new officers, what they were doing was actually relying on the system, saying, “I don’t have to keep the order in the barracks. I’ll just ask the senior soldiers to tell everyone else what to do.” And because the Russian army as opposed to the American army, doesn’t have sergeants that actually replace officers.

The officer is the brain. He sits and thinks about your training, combat, things like that. But whether you clean your rifle is not for the officer to – I mean, he doesn’t have to think about it. The Soviet army is different. It’s the officer who has to check everything because there’s a very strict hierarchical system in which independence of thinking is not encouraged. And this creates a situation in which a lot of Russian units became basically mini models of prison, in which, as you know from any American film that depicts prison, you know what the attitudes and morals are there. So, the Russian army became a small, totalitarian prison. Every single unit.

And this carried over into the traditions of the Russian army. I think that about 15 years ago, Putin realized that it undermines the army morale. And he started to professionalize it. But totalitarian steak there, it dies very hard, believe me. So, it’s still there. And also, it’s an important thing here is that in the Soviet Union, at least, for example, imagine, I do not enter the Moscow University. I am called up. I’m a child born in central Moscow, speaking four languages, blah blah blah. I’ll be there with probably the son of an engineer from St. Petersburg, a villager from what is nowadays, Chechnya, a farmworker from Ukraine. So, in a sense, it was for everyone. Of course, they hated the intelligent kids.

Of course, they hated the city kids. That was normal. They would have probably beaten me up. But it was more or less a lottery. So, people were trying to bribe away the military commissures that organized the core. People were buying fake medical certificates that they are blind or something like that so their children would not go to the army because they knew what awaited them there. But today when part of the army is professional. And part of the army is conscripts. First of all, we still have the old cabins. You still have this totalitarian oppressive structure in which everyone has to know his place. And the juniors are always there to serve at the pleasure of the seniors.

And also, what’s important is that under Putin, the way to rule the country is very simple. It’s fear and corruption. If you’re loyal, you’re allowed to be corrupt. If you become disloyal, well there is a file on you. And this corruption permits the whole system, going through the army, why the Russian army was unsuccessful in Ukraine was not only because Putin was diluted about Ukraine and it’s only his own military, but because half of what was supposed to be their material, their hardware, their supplies was stolen. And this is something that is important, these circumstances. This is an army which is also corrupted from within.

The general steals. The colonel looks at the general and says, “Okay, I’ll steal what I have.” The general steals millions. Others still hundreds of thousands. And the majors will steal tens of thousands or dollars or whatever. But it is a completely – It’s a system within a system. The army part of the society and party of the governance system in Russian. So that is what you have.

Nico Perrino: You started as a reporter in Moscow in 1990, after you were discharged. And you were discharged as a first lieutenant. And then you carried on as a reporter throughout the nineties, again going to work for the BBC’s bureau in Moscow. What was it like being a reporter for the fall of the Soviet Union and after? What was your experience like? You’re going from state run media to independent media in a certain sense. Talk a little bit about that, the censorship that might’ve existed within the industry at the time. And then –

Konstantin Eggert: Well, look, Nico. The Soviet system of propaganda. It wasn’t journalism really, very little of it. I didn’t really work for them. But I’ll give you an example of how the new media started in Russia. The old one was very simple. I’ll tell you how it worked. There was a state censorship body, which was called Glavlit. Glavlit [inaudible] [00:37:28]. Chief literary department. Quite ironic, right? And this was essentially where people with pencils, red pencils sat, and they received every book that was published. And they would say, “This is good. This is not good. There’s too much sex here.” Whatever. You have the same censors in state television, radio, and newspapers.

Moreover, if you’re appointed editor in chief of a paper, even a prudential paper, you’d have to, in 90 percent of the cases, you’d have to be a party member. So, you would know what to do. And you’d basically introduce party censorship. You would know what the party line is, and anything that contradicts it has to be excised. Okay. In late Soviet days, it was already slightly different. But we’re not going to do this generally. It was censorship. When I discharged from the army and started looking for work because my old work was probably not really of great interest to me. What would I do as a translator?

Everything was bubbling around. Moscow in 1990 was one of the political centers of the world and one of the revolutionary centers of the world. What I essentially did was, I thought okay I’ve always wanted to do some communication work, writing or something like that. I bought a newspaper. It was a new newspaper. It started publishing three weeks or something before I discharged. And it doesn’t exist anymore. And I look it up and it was interesting. It actually was the first Russian tabloid. But it was very political and very anticommunist. So, one day, I was walking past a building in central Moscow. And suddenly, I saw the logo of this newspaper on the door.

And I thought, wow, that’s the same newspaper I read a couple of days ago. So – why don’t I come in and ask them if they want someone? So, I come in. The police let me through. Nothing like that today, you may have to go through a security check. I come in and see this typical editorial office of 20th century, straight out of Citizen Kane. And people are running around. It was still pre computer days. People were typing on typewriters. I wanted to find a job here. So, who do you go to to achieve this? And they would say, “I don’t remember. I’ve just been here since yesterday. But he’s on the third floor.” I go to the third floor, knock on the door, come in. There’s a man sitting. He’s alive, I’m very glad.

He’s 90 now, but still alive. So, I come in and he asked, “What can I do for you?” I said, “I am so and so. I’d like to work as a journalist.” “Okay. What’s the skills that you possess?” I said, “Well I speak three foreign languages, English, French, and Arabic.” “Okay, what else?” “I said, well I’m a historian of the middle east, but that probably counts for nothing in this job.” And he jumps on his chair and says, “That’s exactly what you need!” I said, “Why is this exactly what you need?” He said, “Because we don’t have anyone who has any experience of Soviet journalism.” And then it really turned out that most people that worked with me were photographers, biologists.

It was a time when people that did propaganda were strictly kind of – I wouldn’t say they were banned. But any new media organization wanted fresh people. And this is how it looked at the time. Yes, it wasn’t America. Russia didn’t and still doesn’t and will not, under Putin, have first amendment. But definitely it was a vibrant, competitive media scene, which at that time was mostly radio and newspapers. And then first private TV channel was established in 1994. It was called MTV. It was groundbreaking coverage of, let us say the war or the first war of Chechnya in the late 90s, in which people would go live on air and say, “Yeltsin is a criminal to wage this war. He needs to resign.”

You can’t imagine that today. This thing happened not only on this private channel. In mid 90s, it happened on state TV, which still exists. You’d have members standing out and saying, “Yeltsin should go! He put his children in the line of fire in Chechnya. We should stop this bloody war.” So, I think that it is completely different. And I’m not saying it was ideal. There was a lot of corruption in journalism and a lot of dot newspaper space. The oligarchs moved in because they made media their tools for political and economic influence.

But you know, frankly, okay. By the time I joined the BBC, and that was already a little bit before Putin became president, there were three, four, five oligarchs, probably less. Maybe three. That controlled all major media assets. Plus, there was a state. So, you had at least four points of view in your newscasts. Well, some of them were manipulated, but it’s better than one. And today, the difference in what you get on state television, that’s where most Russians still get their news. The only difference is the way you decorate the studio. And, I don’t know, the way the weather forecasts look. Everything else is uniform. So, it's a huge difference.

Nico Perrino: And what was the trajectory like? You go from state television, criticizing the Yeltsin regime in Chechnya, right, to today. It seems like it was gradual, and it picked up steam with Putin and the controversy over the sinking of the submarine, I think. I’ve heard a little bit about that being a turning point. And then, it just gets supercharged in the last three months, right? You mentioned the first amendment. It doesn’t seem like there’s much appetite for that.

Konstantin Eggert: Yeah, a lot.

Nico Perrino: Well, I kind of wonder, and I want to get your impression of this. We, in America, we’re pretty quirky with how free our speech is. You talk about the first amendment in some places in Europe, and they think it’s crazy, right?

Konstantin Eggert: Yes. Less so in Eastern Europe. In Poland, Lithuania, Romania, people understand the treasure that is free speech. And I’m afraid that in society –

Nico Perrino: But I want to understand why Russians don’t understand that, right? Because you had – You didn’t have the first amendment. But you had criticism of the government with Chechnya. And maybe you do have that. Maybe you do have it. It’s just a repressed desire because of the consequences. I don’t know.

Konstantin Eggert: Nico, but where is the glory? I live in a village 150 kilometers from the city of Orangogov, which 99.9 percent of your audience has never heard of. I live in a village where there’s basic amenities, only state TV, very basic school, no perspective. Okay, probably not a rude farm, but very small farm. You earn $200 a month at best. That’s big money, by the way, $100 bucks. So, why do you need free speech?

Nico Perrino: Yeah.

Konstantin Eggert: And there’s a lot of that in Russia. And also, I think if you’re asking me how we came there. I’ll give you an example. Quite a few years ago, probably 10 or 20 years ago, I spoke at length to the widow of the Shah of Iran, the empress of Iran, Farah, she lives in Paris. And I asked her, “Your majesty, it all happened very suddenly, to some extent. But on the other hand, you can’t have a movement of three people in middle of nowhere. So where did you commit a mistake?” And she and, by the way quite a few other Iranians that have immigrated, told me, “It’s always step by step. You never see where you go when you are consumed by day-to-day things.”

So, every time you make a decision, it seems okay. You always have a choice. But in terms of certain decisions are just forced. And you take points of bifurcation. So, if you take one road, it eliminates several other roads. And I think this is what happened. Some people say that I think the common view with regard to Russia is that this descent into Putinism started in 1996 when a very sick and unpopular President Yeltsin was reelected to the presidency for a second time. And for that, most of the media mobilized and were actually serving Yeltsin’s campaign as soldiers and denigrating his opponents, who were actually quite funny and worth denigrating.

But still, they were not giving objective coverage. They were taking money from the Kremlin to do amazing concerts with all the pop stars supporting Yeltsin. And things like that. I remember that. And my newspaper, at the time, was doing exactly the same, supporting Yeltsin. And we were thinking, yes we do support Yeltsin. But on the same ground, we’re criticizing. We’re criticizing about Chechnya, criticizing corruption of his entourage. We were not just dishonest. And also, it's important that the opponents of Yeltsin at the time, especially the chief communist who are still alive and completely in the pocket of the Kremlin, it’s fake communism. I like fake communism by the way.

You’d rather have fake communists than real ones. But at the time, they were not fake. At the time, we had demonstrations every day in front of my newspaper offices. Again, a 20-minute walk from the Kremlin with some kind of people with red banners or whatever, standing there with slogans. Saying, “Your time will come in two weeks.” Well, and in these circumstances, I had a lot of Jewish colleagues. Well, then you can’t say, but they have to be very principled. We have to remember all these principles of objective journalism. But these people were actually promised to at least kick me out of my job, that’s at best.

And I think that we had this feeling, yeah, we’re in this together with Yeltsin because that’s his fight. But this is our fight, too. And I think that this is a tragedy. We were acting in good faith. I never took any money to support Yeltsin’s foreign policies as a foreign policy journalist. But that started then because Yeltsin’s team realized, okay you control the media. You control the state. And then you control elections. And then, of course, Putin, when he came, he learned this lesson. And he went further than Yeltsin because under Yeltsin, the oligarchs, people appointed as billionaires, most of them, were basically running the media, the biggest media.

And Putin decided, well I want to be an oligarch myself. So, I’ll eliminate them as an influence. And I’ll put everything under my control. The prices, well, the only oligarch who stood up to Putin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, paid with 10 years of jail.

Nico Perrino: I just watched the documentary about him, Citizen K. It was pretty good.

Konstantin Eggert: Yeah. Yeah. I just talked to him just a few days ago in London. You can see the interview, also we did it on Twitter.

Nico Perrino: Now, he really, he fashions himself as a small liberal who really wants to reform Russia. Do you believe that?

Konstantin Eggert: He’s a very honest man. And someone who actually my age, I’m 58, as he is. He still is learning, and he is basically learning for life. He’s not there just to dispense wisdom. But anyway, what I wanted to say is that, in his words to me, that deal was very simple. If you want to remain billionaires, it’s 50 percent to the colonel. And so, it all went downhill. Independent journalists were kicked out. Orders were changed. And everyone, and this is important. You don’t need anymore, in Russia media today, you don’t need these men I talked to you about, Nico, people in grey suits with red pencils saying, “You’re right. Putin with a capital P,” or something, “Oh you don’t mention Khodorkovsky.”

You don’t need them anymore. Self-censorship is the most effective way to impose a uniform view on the society. You know a bit of it in America in academic cycles, we’re talking about the cultural roles and everything like that. But at least you can say, okay I’m going to move from this university to another university. Or I don’t like this attitude on this part of the paper. I’ll move to someone else. I don’t like [inaudible] [00:51:55]. I’ll go to New Republic. If I don’t like National Review, I’ll go to whatever. And I think that in Russia, there’s essentially the whole idea of Putin was shrinking this space, so you had nowhere to go.

Or even if you are independent like now defunct, Ekho Movsky, the famous radio station, for which I also worked as a freelance, or the TV dot for which I worked, TV Rain, the only independent TV channel which is now out of business. You still had to talk to Putin’s spokesperson and take the lies that he is delivering, at least look as if you’re taking his lies at face value because it’s objective. But I think at some point in time, the situation turned out to be tragic.

Nico Perrino: Let me ask you this, Konstantin.

Konstantin Eggert: It’s completely compressed now.

Nico Perrino: What could have gone differently in the 90s to avoid this outcome? Is there anything the west could’ve done to help get this new, small liberal state to adopt more liberal values? Or is this the inevitable outcome because of Russia’s history? Is there an alternative history that could’ve existed?

Konstantin Eggert: Yes. I think it’s an alternative but – In theory, it could’ve been implemented. It could’ve been there. In practice, probably not. There was no clean break.

Nico Perrino: Does that tell you anything about the future of Russia then? Is there anything – Does the future of Russia hold that possibility?

Konstantin Eggert: Yes. Just to finish the question, I’ll answer that in the future. I think that we’re going back to what the former empress of Iran told me. Did it happen in ’96 when they reelected Yeltsin with this massive help from the independent media? Maybe it started there. Was there an alternative? Maybe. Maybe I would say if Yeltsin chose a different successor, probably it would’ve been different if it wasn’t a KGB officer with a very dark childhood and youth. Maybe.

Nico Perrino: I still don’t understand why Putin was chosen. Nobody knew him. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Konstantin Eggert: He progressed through the ranks and proved his loyalty. He was head of FSB, Russian’s secret service, before he became prime minister and eventually president. So, he proves his loyalty to Yeltsin’s circle. For example, digging up dirt on the prosecuted journal, and by the way, real dirt, not imaginary dirt, on the prosecutor general who wanted to pursue Yeltsin’s family corruption. Well, general was really guilty of spending time with prostitutes, which is not very good probably for the prosecutor general. But I think that Putin actively proved that he is there for the Yeltsin family.

And then, it was the issue of Chechnya, and this wound of actually the first Chechnyan war, Russia suffered, in fact, a defeat and had to give Chechnya unprecedented authority, which the Chechnyans didn’t use well. But still, they had it. And I think that this idea of revenge was also very clear. And then they did polling. They did focus groups. And they found out that – It’s interesting. One of the political gurus, the spin doctors that were helping Yeltsin at the time, he told me that they did focus groups.

And what they discovered is that the society when asked what kind of leader do you want, the society wanted someone modeled on the main protagonist of a very famous 1970s miniseries, which was called 17 Moments of Spring, which was about a Soviet and KBD foreign department, KBD agent, working in Hitler’s Berlin in the last weeks and months of the war. Masquerading as an SS professional, SS colonel. Very charismatic. Wearing this amazing SS uniform. Evidentially, an intellectual, quoting poetry and so forth, forceful, sexy. The actor that played him was very sort of like a sex symbol. And it turned out that people wanted this type of person. But you have to remember, this was a KGB officer.

And so, he said, also you need someone healthier than Yeltsin, someone forceful and young. You have someone. He’s also loyal. Why not? I think that was the choice. And then it turned out that Putin did away with Yeltsin’s legacy and started doing it straight away. In 2000, they captured the unknown people quote unquote, captured the Radio Liberty people, which is an American financed organization. Radio Liberty reported in Chechnya. They started playing games, like we don’t know where he is.

They didn’t like him because his coverage was so sharp. In the end, they released him. But it was a signal. And that was early 2000, before Putin was elected. This is what awaits you dear members of the press. And it went on and on and on since then.

Nico Perrino: So, you have traditional censorship in Russia. You have the poisoning of dissidence. You have now the shutting down of social media. You have disinformation on a different scale than you really see almost anywhere else. I’ve got two final questions because I know we’re at an hour, and I want to be respectful of your time. What do Russians know that they don’t know? Or do they not? Do they think they know everything? Is there a sphere of information where they’re just so jaded that they can’t – They know they can’t understand the truth, so they don’t even care to try, right?

Konstantin Eggert: Nico, you can have me any time on your podcast because that’s the million-dollar question. And very few people ask it, believe me. People start talking about whether there is access to social media, where there is censorship. Essentially, the question is always about access to information. And by the way, this answers, to some extent, will answer the question I left slightly unanswered about the first amendment.

Nico Perrino: Well, this question somewhat comes from Peter –

Konstantin Eggert: It’s pretty much the same question. And I’ll give you my answer, which is a very sad answer to me. First and foremost, it’s not so much an issue of access to information. The primary question, the chick or egg question is, there is a solution here. It’s not a chicken or egg question rather. Before you have access, you have to have a wish, a desire to access. You have to want to know. And I think that what you asked is spot on150 percent. By the way, that’s how they vote for Putin, 150 percent.

I think a significant majority of Russians, or at least the majority of those who sit on the postal side, support Putin. They do not support him in a proper sense. You’re a New Yorker. You probably vote for democrats. So, okay, you support democrat. You go and vote contentiously because this is the democratic party which stands for this, this, and this.

Nico Perrino: Also, I’m not overtly partisan in any of those senses. If I had to say I’m anything, I’m probably more libertarian than anything else.

Konstantin Eggert: All right. I suspected so because of the nature of the podcast, the name of it. But it’s not like that. Some of them do. But I suspect that among the support base, it’s probably the minority. And the majority of people, they do not support Putin or the Kremlin or the current regime, whatever you call it. The majority choose, they do not believe this regime. They choose to believe it. You see, it’s a very slight but significant difference. And a large part of Russian society wants to remain in the comfort zone in which – And it could be a very poor comfort zone, in which someone takes decisions for them. Someone implants opinions into their heads.

Taking responsibility for one’s own life is a very, very difficult thing for Russians, not only because of the 20th century, but because of the whole history of Russia. I have to remind you that serfdom, which was an equivalent of slavery in Russia, ended in 1861. And these were not imported slaves from Africa. These were people, the same Russians that could’ve been bought, sold, or killed by an estate owner, an aristocrat. This leaves a mark on the psyche, this obedience. Let me be safe, first and foremost, at any cost. And I think that this is what impacts Russians decisions today.

Nico Perrino: Do you think that’s uniquely Russian?

Konstantin Eggert: No.

Nico Perrino: This idea that it is, as ironic as it sounds, it is a sort of freedom to not have the freedom to make decisions.

Konstantin Eggert: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, that’s true. But when it’s a majority of people in the nuclear state, B5 security council member, that is headed by essentially a dictator and someone with a mission. Well, you have a problem. If the majority of public opinion is such because you can’t convince someone who is convinced of one thing. If someone believes A, you can try to convince someone to believe B. You may be unsuccessful. But if someone chooses not to have an opinion, but at the same time, follow the leader, that is different. It’s not like not having an opinion. It’s like parroting the talking points. And you can say, people do it insincerely. Yes, a lot of them probably do. But that has an impact.

It has an impact on children in schools, which are being taught now that Russian troops are liberating or whatever. It has an impact on teachers that have to tell them that. It has an impact on those conscripts we mentioned that were sent into Ukraine, and under completely false pretenses. Wow. And of course, I think what happens is, I can call it a Russian tragedy because it’s not the gulag. They’re killing physically people in Ukraine.

They’re not yet killing massive numbers of people in Russia. But what they’re doing is killing the spirit and killing independent thinking. This means that when finally, Putin’s age is over, imagine tomorrow you have Mr. Khodorkovsky or the general opposition leader, Navalny, Alexei Navalny.

Nico Perrino: Why did he go back to Russia? I don’t understand.

Konstantin Eggert: I think he wanted to face off Putin. I think he understood that –

Nico Perrino: Do you think that was a smart decision?

Konstantin Eggert: That’s one question I’m not asking because he is in jail, and I’m not. But let me put it like that. Imagine tomorrow, he is released for some reason. Putin goes and becomes a monk. And Navalny arrives at the Kremlin. And then he brings his team in. But he’s going to have the same people to deal with. And that means that, okay, you return your television and talk about freedoms and first amendment and economics and peace and stuff like that. But then, if someone kicks you out, he can retune the public opinion again. It will take generations for Russia to get out of that, maybe two generations. I’m sure I will not see the end result.

Nico Perrino: Well, I’m just trying to think about other opposition leaders who have either gone into exile or have been jailed. And when the regime that exiled or jailed them falls, how successful were they in started a small libera movement? You can think of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Even not politically aligned at all, but you can even think of Lennon and his return to Russia. So, there is some precedent for that sort of success and the courage it takes to go back and say, “I’m still Russian and I so believe in this country that I’m going to go to jail in the hopes that one day, there will be a free Russia.” I don’t know. Have you read Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible?

Konstantin Eggert: Yes, I read it, and I know Peter quite well.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. What you were just saying kind of makes me think of that.

Konstantin Eggert: Yes. And I’m not saying anything new, of course. I think that the Nelson Mandalas and the basically great romancers of this world, they are not grown on a farm. They emerge in societies which have certain demands that have to be, to use this fancy word, verbalized. To be put into words. And I think that you’re right in the sense that these transformations are usually a case for minorities. But I mean, it’s – Russia will be a separate case because South Africa, that was a case of actually white minority oppressing the black majority. People are asking why Russia’s not Poland or Lithuania or any other kind of post-communist state. Although, nowadays, we don’t use this term.

But it’s obvious because Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania were essentially subjugated by a foreign power, to a different extent, but they were. Some were alt right occupied and denied independence. Some were basically put under control with formal independence. But fighting a foreign invader, foreign power, is usually psychologically simpler because that reunites the left and the right, the monarchists, and the libertarians, the old and the young because we’re all Poles, we’re all Lithuanians. But in Russia, you don’t have any racial issue on the South African scale with apartheid. Russia’s not occupied by any foreign power. Russia just needs its people to start appreciating freedom.

And this will take time. And frankly, I think – I will use the words of a very famous and British Professor, Geoffrey Hosking, who is quite old but still alive, luckily. His book, in 2007, that’s very early Putin. I recommend that you read it. It’s called Rulers and Victims, Russians in the Soviet Union.

Nico Perrino: I’ll put it in the show notes.

Konstantin Eggert: Yes, please do. And there he said that, and that’s – We’re talking 2007. So, he wrote it in 2006. Russia is undergoing three transformations, rolled into one like the old Vidal Sassoon shampoo, all in one. One transformation is economic from the so-called command economy to the market economy. Another one is from a totalitarian authority state to a democracy. And a third transition is from an empire to a nation state. And he said to some extent, there is maybe some success in transformation number one. People do appreciate property. They do appreciate an ability to buy things or start a business, some of them. But the two others are still a very, very long way off before they succeed.

And I think that essentially what we see today, we see a reemergence of this empire. And I feel like, Nico, if they had drones and webcams and social media, when 476 in Rome, 1453 in Constantinople, 1918 in Petrograd, probably would’ve seen how it happened. But we don’t. We have written not very reliable testimonies.

Nico Perrino: You know what had a big impact on me? Have you ever seen the movie Doctor Zhivago?

Konstantin Eggert: Of course. Of course.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. David Lean made the film. That movie had a profound impact on me because they have that scene. I forget what city, I think it’s Moscow, where the family comes home after being away. And their home is taken over by peasants and citizens. And it’s like, we’re in a new regime, and you have no legal system in which you can appeal for recourse for people taking your private property. And I was like, wow. I know we didn’t have social media or drones or cameras, but I was like, if that’s what it was like, wow.

Konstantin Eggert: Well, Doctor Zhivago is one of the greatest Russian novels. And one has to actually read it when one is, I think, probably over 30. It’s all part of the school curriculum in Russia. I don’t think a 17-year-old would understand what it’s all about. But I think you’re right. And maybe that’s what happened to my family when a room or two rooms in a flat where they live were taken over by police officers when my grandfather was there.

Nico Perrino: I can’t even believe that. But it seemed like it happened like that.

Konstantin Eggert: It’s just like that. If someone comes and says, well tomorrow, you’ll have these people moving in.

Nico Perrino: It’s the old Lennon statement. Decades happen in days.

Konstantin Eggert: At best, take your wardrobe, at best. Maybe they’ll use it. You know, and I think that then actually they reported my grandfather to the police because they wanted an extra wardrobe. It’s normal. If someone wanted someone’s wife, they would report the husband. So, I think, yeah, it’s a very long way to freedom. You remember Nelson Mandela; his memoirs were called Long Walk to Freedom. It’s not for one man. It’s for the whole country. The question is whether Russia will have the time to walk it. But I think that when Putin goes, eventually, I think what the best result for the world would be a Russia that would have modicum of a rule of law because this just doesn’t. It was completely.

Nico Perrino: Isn’t that the key though?

Konstantin Eggert: Well, it’s one of the key elements because for example, you may not have a perfect –

Nico Perrino: An independent judiciary, I think, is the key.

Konstantin Eggert; Yes, but at least if you are a business owner or a victim of violence, you have to have a recourse to a just court on a very basic level. That’s important. Secondly, Russia should be at peace with its neighbors and at peace with itself. If it’s at peace with itself with a kind of, quote unquote, a general Pershing will be sitting there for a presidential term of years. Okay. As long as it’s not waging aggressive wars, as long as there’s property rights, and a few other rights are protected of course, as long as of course there’s at least civil government, then maybe you will move somewhere. I think that eventually it maybe will even be better, maybe.

But my question is now Putin uncorked like a bottle of sour beer. He uncorked something very primitive in Russian psyche. And these atrocities that are being committed in Ukraine, they will boomerang back into Russia. And if Putin thinks that he can control these consequences, well, dream on. We have this violence after Afghanistan. We had it when the Chechnyan veterans were returning and doing horrible things. But that was, at the time, what evolves to let the south, the so called, you know, a semi-democracy in an authoritarian state. You have this violence channeled back into Russia. Eventually, it’s like a pressure cooker. It'll go off.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Well, we were talking about an independent judiciary. You need a real one because you can have laws that sort of claim – For example, the constitution of the Russian federation from 1993, it says, and I quote, everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of thought and speech. And it means nothing. It’s just words on a page unless it's enforced. Last question for you because, again, I’ve enjoyed this conversation. But I’ve kept you longer than I promised I would keep you. What should we expect from the Russia China relationship moving forward? They were neighbors, a bit antagonist. And now their relationship knows no limits or whatever that statement said.

In China, you have the great firewall of censorship, a very strong top-down sort of authoritarian censorship regime. Correct me if I’m wrong. We don’t quite have yet, in Russia, although it’s trending in that direction. Are we going to continue to see it trend in that direction? Are we going to see Russia and China become even closer partners? Are we going to see the sort of authoritarianism that you see in China, a divergence from the westernized psyche of the Russians that they’ve experienced over the past 20 or 30 years?

Konstantin Eggert: No. That’s a very good question. That’s why usually grievances, or at least some of the people in Russia and some further west, say why didn’t Russia do like China? Well, because there are not enough Chinese in Russia dot do it. These are two different countries, two different countries. Russia is a very difficult piece, but still kind of a European Christian.

Nico Perrino: Does it think of itself as a western country?

Konstantin Eggert: No. It thinks of itself as a separate civilization. But it only wants to be compared to the west. It doesn’t want to be compared to China. In truth, this comparison would be quite weird because a lot of things would be correspond to one another. China is a Confucian country. I’m not saying Chinese are incapable of democracy. Look at Taiwan or Hong Kong. I’m saying the values are different, and they’d have to be transformed in different ways to adapt to democracy. I suspect probably Russia will have to adapt to democracy too, but it is an inherited Balzatine empire with its marriage of the kingdom and the church. But I think that Chinese way will not work for another reason, too, not only culturally.

Russia had it’s taste of freedom, relative freedom, very relative, but still freedom, in 90s and early 2000s. It’s very difficult to roll this thing back. The censorship is built into the Chinese model. What Putin has to do is he has to basically unwind what was already there. And people in Russia digitally – Those who want to access information digitally save it. But also, a third thing is important, corruption. Russia’s quite well integrated into the global economy. And I’ll give you an example of regulations already going sour.

Two weeks ago, two and a half weeks ago, they issued a government order that no one who either has a passport or citizenship or resides legally resides in the so-called unfriendly states, which is the United States, Canada, European Union, and a few others that imposed sanctions on Russia after this recent war. So, people that have ither residence permit or a passport in such countries cannot freely sell their property in Russia. They have to go and get government permission, which is an infringement on the constitutional rights. Do you know what happened two days after that? They said, it does not concern the residence permits, only citizenship and then we’ll see. Maybe yes, maybe not.

Because well you know, if you have a residence permit, you’re still a Russian citizen. And that means that suddenly so many people realized, Christ, my daughter has a residence permit. She has a penthouse near the Kremlin. If she wants to sell it, how am I going to go about it? I think that corruption is very helpful in such circumstances. But it’s going to be a regime that will constantly be like a swing. They will constantly fluctuate, swing between repression and this kind of desire to have a normal life. And then, this creates cracks in which ordinary citizens can, well, be relatively free from repression. And that makes the system rot away. Corruption makes things disintegrate. So –

Nico Perrino: So, it sounds like you’re hopeful in the long term.

Konstantin Eggert: This has been official for quite a few years.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Well Konstantin, I think we have to leave it there. I appreciate you staying a little bit extra. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Konstantin Eggert: I want to excuse myself for being so bad-looking I’m going through a mild COVID phase. So, please excuse my unshavedness. That also goes to all the YouTube, the whole YouTube audience.

Nico Perrino: You look great. I appreciate it. And I should tell our audience that I kind of forced Konstantin to come on video. So, I apologize for that. I just wanted to make sure our YouTube audience got to see your smiling face. Can you remind our audience of your Twitter handle so they can go ahead and follow that because I think that’s the best place to go and get your reporting, get your commentary?

Konstantin Eggert: It is. I hope you’ll put it in on the YouTube explanation sort of thing.

Nico Perrino: I’ll link it in the show notes, for sure.

Konstantin Eggert: Yeah. But it’s K, like kilogram, V like Victory, O like Olga, N like Nicholas, E-G-G-E-R-T. Kvoneggert, of course like that. That’s my handle.

Nico Perrino: And maybe you’ll start tweeting a little more in English now and make it easier on us.

Konstantin Eggert: I will. You’ve pushed me to, and I will tweet this podcast.

Nico Perrino: Great. Well, it’ll come out next week for our listeners. That should be the week of, I don’t know. What week are we in these days? The week of April 11th. Konstantin, I appreciate it, and I hope you have you on again sometime in the future.

Konstantin Eggert: Nico, any time. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.

Nico Perrino: This podcast is hosting, produced, and recorded by me, Nico Perrino, and editor by Erin Reese. You can learn about So to Speak on Twitter at twitter dot come slash free speech talk or on Facebook at Facebook dot come slash so to speak podcast. If you have any questions for me, Konstantin, you can send them to so to speak at the fire dot org. And I can be sure to get them over to him. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcasts, Google play, wherever else you get your podcasts. We’re on all the apps. The reviews help us attract new listeners to the show. And until next time, I thank you all again for listening.