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Wladimir Kaminer: 'Putin lives in the past'

Rayna Breuer
February 28, 2022

The Berlin-based Russian author discusses Putin's backward approach and warns that the Russian leader is aiming for world domination.

Wladimir Kaminer
Wladimir Kaminer also became famous as the organizer and DJ of the 'Russian Disco' events in BerlinImage: 3S PHOTOGRAPHY/imago images

Born in 1967, Wladimir Kaminer emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1990 and has been living in Berlin ever since.

The author's short stories and novels about his experiences as an immigrant Russian are written with generous doses of humor and self-irony. One of his best-selling books was a collection of stories titled "Russian Disco," which was adapted into a film in 2012.

He discusses with DW his views on the current war in Ukraine.

DW: You were born in Moscow, you know Russia very well, you write about Russians and about the Russian soul. Can you identify with Putin's Russia at the moment?

Wladimir Kaminer: I hoped until the end that Russian society would not support this aggressor's war. But apparently my compatriots have fallen into a lethargy. I don't know what should happen to make them wake up again.

Fortunately, now I increasingly see in social media other pictures from different Russian cities — from Novosibirsk, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. People who, despite all the risks, are taking to the streets to protest this war.

At the same time, I must say that the war is not shown at all in the official [Russian] media. It is not being reported. My wife just spoke with her mother, who lives in the North Caucasus, and she said that only the speech of the Russian president is repeated on all TV channels.

Putin talks about "denazification" and "demilitarization." What is going on in his head?

By now, I think quite a lot of people can see inside Putin's head, because a lot of things that were hidden before have now become visible. He actually aspires to world domination — this sound weird — like Star Wars.

I am very ashamed for my homeland that such a fantasy detached from reality has become the subject of world politics.

The fact is that Putin is a very grave danger to world peace.

This war he is waging to achieve world domination is not directed against Ukraine. Ukraine does not even exist in his mind. I am absolutely sure that this war is being waged against Europe and America, against the Western world.

What do you think Putin dreams about at night?

I don't want to play Putin's psychotherapist here. But his trauma is clear. Back then, as a young man and officer of state security, he failed to save the country whose security he was responsible for. And now, as an all-powerful dictator, he believes he has what it takes to make up for that past mistake — at 70.

Putin is a man who has had a very boring and rather monotonous life. I think many of his dreams came true very late in life.

He always wanted to play ice hockey. And it wasn't until he was 60 that he even started to stand on the ice. And in the meantime, he can stand. But not really well.

Another dream of his is to change the past. He lives in the past.

Western politicians don't get along with him because they think about the future and what will happen in 80 years with our climate change. These are very different world views.

For a long time, it was thought that Putin was only making threats. Did you personally expect this attack on Ukraine?

I never expected Putin to start a "Bruderkrieg" [war between two closely related peoples] in the middle of Europe. I think really nobody expected it. But the uncertainty and the obvious weakness of Western policy, I think, has led him to believe that he will easily win this war.

How have your Russian acquaintances who live in Germany reacted to what is happening?

[From the beginning of the war], there were a lot of Russians protesting together with Ukrainians against the war in front of the Russian embassy, next to the Brandenburg Gate.

My Ukrainian friends were surprised and asked themselves: "Where were they before, all those Russians? It's amazing that so many have come now." Because for Ukrainians the war is already old, it has lasted since 2014. Ukrainians have lost 15,000 people in this almost invisible war, which for Europe pretty much disappeared without a trace in the media among all other news always.

Putin often likes to present himself as a "strong" man at judo, at field hockey, at hunting. Is there anything that scares Putin? Earlier this month, for example, DW was effectively banned in Moscow. Is he afraid of the foreign media or does he laugh at them?

He is afraid of free speech, of any kind of freedom. If the Russians were free, they would have chased him out long ago.

When you shed a little light on this dark head, you see how incredibly backward, uncivilized and unqualified Putin and his colleagues, former KGB officers, are. It is a catastrophe that such unqualified personnel run the government of a country.

But this is also the result of indifference and mistrust. My compatriots, the Russians, have long looked very ironically, so postmodern ironically, toward the Kremlin and said, "Yes, this policy is none of our business, it doesn't matter who sits in the Kremlin. It won't have any effect on our lives anyway. And even if a rabbit is the president, nothing will change." And now they have the rabbit.

You once said that Putin is a Russian James Bond. What happens to the Russian James Bond in this film? Does James Bond die in the end?

Well, in the last James Bond episode, James Bond died. The best thing that could happen to Russia would be a lost war.

I take Germany as an example, back in 1945, I think the defeat of Germany helped the country incredibly and created self-confidence and change in the population and turned an archaic Nazi country into a European, modern country. For Russia, I think the best option would be for us to lose the war against Ukraine.

Anti-war protests around the world

This interview was originally conducted in German on February 24, 2022.