Boris Akounine: “Putin is trying to rebuild the empire, but it is an impossible mission”

Born in Georgia in 1956, Boris Akunin – whose real name is Grigory Chalvovich Tchkhartichvili – moved to the Russian capital at the age of two. Historian in Japanese civilization, graduated from the Institute of Asian and African Countries at Moscow State University, he is the author of numerous essays and historical detective novels of which Eraste Pétrovich Fandorine is the hero ( published in France by Presses de la Cité). He has lived in exile in London since 2014.

Where were you on December 25, 1991, the official date of the dissolution of the USSR? What did you feel ?

In my diary I wrote: “I celebrated Christmas with friends. I’m a bit cold. Gorbachev has resigned. “ In this order. I guess in December 1991 the end of the Soviet Union was old news. That day only confirmed what had been evident for weeks after the failed August putsch. In early December, three central republics – Russia, Ukraine and Belarus – signed an agreement that amounted to the dissolution of the USSR [le 8 décembre, les dirigeants de ces trois pays, réunis en secret dans la forêt de à Belovej, à l’ouest de la Biélorussie, proclamaient la fin officielle de l’URSS et la création de la Communauté d’Etats indépendants]. People like me were all for it.

I think it’s the French writer Astolphe de Custine [1790-1857] who nicknamed Russia “People’s prison” [dans son livre La Russie, publié en 1839, une formule reprise par Lénine en 1914]. I didn’t want my country to be a prison for anyone. We were all in the mood to open the doors to anyone who wants freedom.

The USSR seemed to collapse like a house of cards. What is the reason ? The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan? The Chernobyl disaster?

I have a very unromantic view of this “reason”: money. Or rather the lack of money. The dramatic fall in oil prices in 1985 placed an unbearable burden on the superpower that was the USSR. Arms race, costly support for its allies and satellites, war in Afghanistan: Moscow could no longer afford all of these. The cold war was lost. This explains the change in the Kremlin’s international policy, as well as its domestic policy.

The same had happened several times in Russian history. After a huge government fiasco, the empire was trying to launch liberal reforms because, according to a meme Russian, “Tak zhit nelzya” (так жит нельзья): “It is impossible to continue living like this”. His defeat in the Crimean War [qui opposa l’Empire russe à une coalition formée de la France, du Royaume-Uni, de l’Empire ottoman et du royaume de Sardaigne, de 1853 à 1856] led Alexander II to undertake reforms; the defeat against Japan [1904-1905] led to parliamentary monarchy, in 1905, under Nicholas II. These about-faces are never good for an empire. They killed Alexander II [1881] and Nicholas II [1918], they disorganized the USSR. Russia has always been a state built with steel screws. When you loosen them, the whole structure begins to wobble.

You have 67.02% of this article left to read. The rest is for subscribers only.

We would like to say thanks to the author of this post for this awesome material

Boris Akounine: “Putin is trying to rebuild the empire, but it is an impossible mission”