Masha Gessen is a writer in residence at Oberlin College and the author of several books on Russia, including The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, forthcoming from Riverhead in October 2017. (February 2017)


The Real Madman

Donald Trump at a campaign event aboard the retired ship USS Iowa, Los Angeles, September 15, 2015

Trump has become the real version of the man Putin plays on television—an unpredictable, temperamental, impetuous man who will push reality past the limits of the imagination. Putin’s relationship to television is different from Trump’s because Putin controls Russian television outright. But war has been good for him, too. It’s all about the ratings for both men, in the end.

Russia: The Conspiracy Trap

Russian Army clothes store, Moscow, Russia, 2016

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables.

Russia, Trump & Flawed Intelligence

US Defense Under Secretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers testifying before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats, Washington, DC, January 5, 2017

A close reading of the intelligence report on Russian interference in the US election shows that it does nothing to clarify the abnormalities of Trump’s campaign and election. Instead, it suggests that the US intelligence agencies’ Russia expertise is weak.

Autocracy: Rules for Survival

People protesting outside Trump Tower following Donald Trump's election victory, New York City, November 9, 2016

In the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.


Visible and Vicious in Russia

Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, right, during a session of Russia’s Supreme Court at which he was appealing his detention before his second trial in 2009–2010, Moscow, April 2011. He was pardoned by President Putin and released in December 2013.

Human Rights in Russia: Citizens and the State from Perestroika to Putin

by Mary McAuley
In August the Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova wrote a bitter post on her Facebook page. The previous day, her twenty-seven-year-old sister Oksana, who has autism and cerebral palsy, was taking a customary walk with her caretaker in Nizhny Novgorod, where she lives. They stopped at a café in a park …

Why the Finns Were Lucky!

Tallinn, Estonia, 1973; photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

When the Doves Disappeared

by Sofi Oksanen, translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers
Viewed from the inside and from below, history is frightfully confusing. The movements of troops and borders that will later be described as orderly, planned, and logical feel simply like waves of violence and fear. They are waves of hope, too, though hope wanes as soon as the confusion subsides …

The Weird and Instructive Story of Eduard Limonov

Policemen detaining Eduard Limonov at an unauthorized opposition rally in central Moscow, December 2009

Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia

by Emmanuel Carrère, translated from the French by John Lambert
Eduard Limonov’s first book, published as a “fictional memoir” back in 1983, showed the rarest of talents: the ability to laugh at one’s own insecure, obnoxious, angry, and overbearing self. It’s Me, Eddie begins with a rant describing the main character living in squalor—we first see him eating sour cabbage …

The Songs of Sergei Dovlatov

Sergei Dovlatov with Joseph Brodsky (right) and David Rieff (center), New York City, 1984

Pushkin Hills

by Sergei Dovlatov, translated from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov, with an afterword by James Wood
In a less punishing country than Russia, Sergei Dovlatov would have been a popular writer whose revolutionary approach to writing would have been obscured by the lightness of tone, brevity, and apparent simplicity of most of his work. The public would have loved him, but most critics would have been disdainful of the vulgarity of his characters’ language and the apparently autobiographical nature of most of his writing. But Dovlatov lived in the Soviet Union, where his fiction could not be published, so he was denied the popularity he deserved.


‘Total Catastrophe of the Body’: A Russian Story

Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza

After a week in critical condition, the young Russian journalist and pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza has been improving. He remains hospitalized in Moscow, with a diagnosis of “acute intoxication.” Kara-Murza has been a vocal proponent of individual sanctions—so while most Russians have probably never heard of him, he has made a record number of enemies among the people who run the country.

The Styrofoam Presidency

First Lady Melania Trump, President Donald Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence, Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017

In his small-mindedness and lack of aspiration Trump resembles Putin, though the origins of the two men’s stubborn mediocrity could not be more different. Both men want to be ever more powerful and wealthier, but neither wants to be or even appear better.

The Threat of Moral Authority

Representative John Lewis, Selma, Alabama, February 14, 2015

In his now familiar way, Trump has come across as clueless, as though he doesn’t know who Representative John Lewis is, which district he represents, and more important, what history he represents. But his instincts are guiding him into a confrontation that is hardly new: it is a response that has occurred over and over when an autocratic leader is challenged by the voice of moral authority.

The Most Powerful Men in the World

Vladimir Putin on screen delivering an annual news conference, in Simferopol, Crimea, December 23, 2016

Putin has declared victory in his war on modern culture, which gives him the right to call himself the most powerful man in the world. That description has generally been part of the definition of a different job—the one to which Trump has in fact just been elected. One suspects that having two men who believe themselves to be the most powerful in the world can’t go well. Signs of trouble have already appeared.