Masha Gessen on the Biden-Putin Summit, Alexei Navalny & the Future of U.S.-Russia Relations

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President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting in Geneva for a closely watched summit between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. Topics expected to be discussed include nuclear arms, cybersecurity, Syria, the Iranian nuclear deal, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, Putin’s crackdown on dissent inside Russia and the U.S. military presence near the Russian border. The two world leaders are coming to the summit with fundamentally different goals, says Russian American journalist and writer Masha Gessen. Putin “accomplishes what he has come to Geneva for by simply having the summit,” Gessen says. “Biden is concerned … with finding areas of common interest, and he is alone in that. He is alone in actually trying to negotiate in good faith.” Gessen also discusses the ongoing imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, Russia’s low vaccination rate and their own experience with COVID-19.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, for a closely watched summit between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. Topics expected to be discussed include nuclear arms, cybersecurity, Syria, the Iranian nuclear deal, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, the climate crisis, Putin’s crackdown on dissent inside Russia and the U.S. military presence near the Russian border. Biden and Putin are expected to meet for four to five hours but don’t plan to hold a joint news conference as former President Donald Trump did with Putin when they met three years ago in Helsinki, Finland.

Earlier this week, Biden described Putin as a “worthy adversary.”

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses. And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind. There need not be — we should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that, and the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are. I have met with him. He’s bright. He’s tough. And I have found that he is a — as they say, when you used to play ball, “a worthy adversary.”

AMY GOODMAN: During a recent interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope the summit would focus in part on areas where the countries share mutual concerns.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] It seems to me the summit will help to restore our contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create a functioning mechanism for action in those areas that are of mutual interest. There are such interests. And I generally agree with them that indeed there are some issues of mutual interest: strategic stability, regional conflicts, concern for the environment in a global sense. These are the issues in which we can really work effectively.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahead of the summit, Presidents Biden and Putin have faced calls to restart nuclear arms talks. This is Beatrice Fihn, head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

BEATRICE FIHN: Well, these two countries, I mean, they hold over 90% of the world’s arsenals. And these two individuals basically have the ability to end the world as we know it. And, unfortunately, we’ve seen a huge deterioration in the relationship between these two countries in the last 10 years, since Obama and Medvedev negotiated the New START treaty. Things have not improved after that. It’s been lots of withdrawals from bilateral agreements, hostile rhetoric. We’ve seen a huge modernization and upgrades of nuclear programs, new types of nuclear weapons, new missions and an increase of the kind of role of nuclear weapons in these two countries’ security policies.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Biden-Putin summit and other issues, we’re joined by the Russian American journalist and writer Masha Gessen. Masha is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the award-winning author of numerous books, including The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia and, most recently, Surviving Autocracy, which has just come out in paperback. Masha joins us from Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Masha. Why don’t we start off by you talking about the significance of this summit, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden meeting in Geneva, Switzerland? We are speaking as they have just sat down.

MASHA GESSEN: Thank you, Amy. It’s good to be here.

I think that this is an event that’s more significant for Vladimir Putin. The very fact of the summit, the fact that Biden called him a “worthy adversary,” that he called him “bright,” that he is being treated as someone to sit down with and discuss the world, all of these are things that are incredibly valuable to Putin, and they are, unfortunately, for him, an end in itself. Right? He accomplishes what he has come to Geneva for by simply having a summit.

Biden is concerned in the sort of standard American idiom with deliverables, with finding areas of common interest. And he is alone in that. He is alone in actually trying to negotiate in good faith.

There are also other significant distinctions between these two men. One is a legitimately elected president and a good-faith actor; the other is a dictator who shores up his power by murdering his opponents, by jailing his opponents and by rigging elections and dominating the media. He is not a legitimate president, and he is not a good-faith negotiator.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Masha, Biden is the fifth U.S. president that Putin will be meeting, Putin having been in power for over 20 years, the longest time that any leader, Soviet or Russian, has been in power since Stalin. What do you think — and Putin having said, as we played earlier, that this is the worst point in U.S.-Russia relations — do you think Putin thinks anything substantive will come out of the summit which is beneficial for Russia?

MASHA GESSEN: So, it’s a really good point that he is the fifth president that — that Biden is the fifth president that Putin is meeting with. I think that these two men have very different sort of experiences of having the summit. For Biden, it is quite possibly the only summit he will ever have with Vladimir Putin. For Putin, it’s a meeting with a temporary occupant of an office in which there is turnover. It’s a stop on a long and sort of ongoing journey, and, I think, a journey that he perceives very much — and, I think, quite accurately — as sort of a deterioration of American democracy. And here is another sort of stopover, perhaps a pause in the deterioration of American democracy, and Putin is going to have a talk with the person who is currently occupying the chair, right? So, these are, like, perceptually, very, very different things.

What does Putin want to get out of it that’s even more than just the fact of having it? You can see how sort of the normal mechanisms of participating in a summit have kicked in on the American side and have already given Putin a lot of the things that he wants. Biden is talking about areas of mutual interest. Biden is talking about sort of discussing the world, perhaps discussing the Middle East, with Putin. This reaffirms Putin’s — something that’s incredibly important to him, which is this idea that you cannot do things in the world without consulting Russia. This has been a central theme of his presidency and of his consolidation of power. He builds it on this nostalgia for the greatness of the Soviet Empire, on nostalgia for the superpower. And he spent a lot of the early decade in office talking about the ways in which Russia had been humiliated by the world, in which Russia is not consulted.

A breaking point in that sort of story of humiliation came six years ago, in 2015, when President Obama, whose vice president was Joe Biden, could not get congressional support for intervention in Syria. Putin stepped in, published an op-ed in The New York Times about American exceptionalism, and said, “I’m going to help Obama save face, and I’m going to take care of Syrian chemical weapons.” As a result, we have a shored-up — or, Syrians have a shored-up Assad regime. Putin stepped in and saved Assad, helped Assad save his stockpiles of chemical weapons, and demonstrated exactly what happens when the United States enters into any kind of agreement in an area in which both countries assert mutual interest.

So, Biden talking about that, you know, talking in those terms, with that background, going into the summit, is a little happy moment for Putin — right? — one that comes after a very long time of deterioration of Russian-American relations, both during the Trump presidency and in the first months of the Biden presidency.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Masha, could you talk about what you think will be the mutual points of interest? As Biden indicated earlier this week in the lead-up to the talks, he said that he would be open, for example, to a reciprocal agreement on the extradition of cyber criminals. Can you talk about the significance of that and what other points of interest and agreement there may be between the two?

MASHA GESSEN: Well, this is a really terrifying comment that Biden made during a briefing a couple of days ago, when he said that the United States is going to raise the issue of the possible extradition of cyber criminals or people who are under indictment in the United States. And there are several dozen people under indictment in the United States for election interference, for hacking. And he said that there’s a possibility of mutual agreement there and that the United States would consider extraditing people who have committed crimes against Russia.

And in my mind, I could hear the collective gasp of horror on the part of the hundreds — and there are hundreds, possibly thousands but definitely hundreds — of Russian dissidents living in exile, many of whom have charges, trumped-up charges, pending against them in Russia. And we know that the Putin regime is going to weaponize, and has weaponized in the past, Interpol warrants and extradition treaties to try to return dissidents to Russia.

So, I suspect that that comment was made thoughtlessly, but the fact that it was made thoughtlessly two days before the summit by the president of the United States shows that, I think, he is not terribly well prepared for this meeting, in some respects, and, I’m afraid, shows that the United States doesn’t necessarily have the back of people who oppose the Putin regime.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is very interesting, this issue of cyberwarfare being elevated to the issue of nuclear warfare for the first time. And you have — even Biden has not exactly said it’s the Russian government who, for example, has been involved with the sabotaging of various major entities in the United States, but criminal entities, they say sometimes, that are in Russia, but they have this ability to attack these private megacorporations that don’t have the necessary protection. Can you talk more about the power that the Russian government has? Because that’s what Biden is charging. While he’s not saying it’s the government, he’s saying they have the power to crack down on the criminal organizations within their country. And the Russian push, for years, for a global peace treaty for cyberspace, what does that mean, something that the U.S. has not accepted?

MASHA GESSEN: Well, the Russian push for a global cyber treaty is a push to create a set of laws that other countries would be bound by and Russia wouldn’t. This is how law functions in Russia, and there is no reason to expect that Russia would have a different attitude toward the law, toward international law. In fact, Russia doesn’t have a different attitude toward existing international law than it does toward law within its own borders. Right? The law exists for Putin to consolidate power. The courts exist for Putin to consolidate power. The jails exist for Putin’s opponents, right? That’s how the law sort of functions in the Putinite imagination.

Now, as for whether these cyber entities are actual government agencies or not, Russia practices a system of plausible deniability. And this goes far beyond cyber crime, right? The Russian government, in some significant ways, functions as a sort of syndicate — right? — with a lot of freelancers. I think when we learn more about political murders in Russia, we will find out that there’s a lot of freelance activity going on there, as well. Right? Certainly, that’s how Russia has, on the rare occasions, done, that people who have actually killed politicians, such as Galina Starovoytova, who was a parliament member who was killed in 1998, Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot to death in front of the Kremlin in 2015 — on the rare occasions that someone has actually been prosecuted, it’s always been sort of a freelancer, the gunman, who will not disclose who the original — you know, the person who made the original order, assassination order, was. Right? So, I think that’s — you know, we’re basically talking about a state that functions as a criminal syndicate and that points to parts of its body and says, “These are not government agencies.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Alexei Navalny. A news conference after NATO summit in Brussels, President Biden is asked how U.S.-Russia relations would be affected if Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny were to die in detention.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic, fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked on NBC News by Keir Simmons, “Did you order Alexei Navalny’s assassination?” This was Putin’s response.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Of course not. We don’t have this kind of habit of assassinating anybody. That’s one. Number two is, I want to ask you: Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman? Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? And they didn’t go there to steal to a laptop. They came with political demands. Four hundred and fifty people have been detained.

KEIR SIMMONS: You’re talking about the Capitol riot.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] They are looking at jail time, between 15 and 25 years. And they came to the Congress with political demands. Isn’t that persecution for political opinions?

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking on NBC News. Masha Gessen, can you talk about this? You’ve written a whole piece in The New Yorker about Alexei Navalny and who he is and what’s happening to him now in jail. But also, this equation that President Putin is making with the insurrectionists that rioted at the Capitol on January 6th?

MASHA GESSEN: I’ve written many pieces about Alexei Navalny over the years. And, look, I think that the world has [inaudible]. They will look at that NBC interview with Putin as — you know, as a moment of just incredible shame. We know — right? — and I want to go back for second to the Biden statement at the NATO press conference, because this is the type of formulaic political statement that — you know, it makes people whose lives are actually at risk in Russia feel abandoned. Right? So, let’s think about this. Biden says, “If Navalny dies in prison, this is going to be another indication that Russia has no intention of abiding by human rights treaties, rules,” whatever he said. Another indication? Like we need another indication? After 23 years of this, we need another indication? After —

AMY GOODMAN: Masha, we’re going to break, because we want to reconnect with you — we’re having a little trouble with your audio — and definitely get back to this question. Masha Gessen, the award-winning Russian American journalist, staff writer at The New Yorker. We will speak to them after the break. We are talking about the Putin-Biden summit that’s taking place right now in Geneva, Switzerland. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Renounce the Old World.” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest for the hour is Masha Gessen, staff writer at The New Yorker, award-winning Russian American journalist, author of numerous books, including, most recently, Surviving Autocracy, which is just out in paperback. They also wrote The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, as well as The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

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As we turn back to Masha Gessen, we are just fixing the sound. Masha Gessen is speaking to us from Tbilisi, [Georgia], usually in New York, where they are a professor at Bard College. But I do want to play a clip of Russia recalling its ambassador to the United States after President Biden called President Putin a “killer” during an interview on ABC with George Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Mm-hmm, I do.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So what price must he pay?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The price he’s going to pay, well, you’ll see shortly.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, President Biden was asked about Putin by CNN’s Jeff Zeleny.

JEFF ZELENY: In a weekend interview, Vladimir Putin laughed at the suggestion that you had called him a “killer.” Is that still your belief, sir, that he is a killer?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [laughs] To answer to the first question [laughs], I’m laughing, too. Actually, I —

JEFF ZELENY: So, he is a killer?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, look, I mean, he has made clear that — the answer is: I believe he has, in the past, essentially acknowledged that he was — there were certain things that he would do or did do. But, look, when I was asked that question on air, I answered it honestly. But it’s not much of a — I don’t think it matters a whole lot, in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was President Biden. We’re going back right now to Masha Gessen. They’re now joining us by telephone from Tbilisi, Georgia. Masha Gessen is a writer at The New Yorker, award-winning Russian American journalist and author of many books, that I have just laid out. Masha, you were talking about Alexei Navalny. You have written extensively about Alexei Navalny, the longtime nationalist, clearly, for many years, anti-immigrant, opposition leader in Russia. And then, if you can go to —

MASHA GESSEN: OK, OK, that’s really, really —

AMY GOODMAN: — this whole discussion that we just heard —

MASHA GESSEN: Really, that’s really inaccurate.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you say what you think?

MASHA GESSEN: Yeah, I [inaudible], what I really think. Look, he is a pro-democracy activist. He is an anti-corruption activist. He has many, many [inaudible] made two — count them, two — [inaudible] videos. Since then, he has clarified his position repeatedly. I have absolutely no doubt that he is a [inaudible] nationalist — right? — and not a [inaudible]. And it’s [inaudible] he has a nationalist [inaudible], especially right now, when he is in prison and unlike [inaudible]. It’s just not right, right? Actually not right. But it’s a really costly mistake to make journalistically to label him that way. We really need to be talking about, you know, a person, a pro-democracy [inaudible], who has survived an assassination attempt and is now struggling with an attempt to kill him slowly in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to President Biden — President Putin clearly saying this is an issue of — this is our own issue, and this is not anything for the United States to intervene?

MASHA GESSEN: Right. Well, you know, Vladimir Putin is a [inaudible], is a — you know, he is a man who ordered [inaudible] assassination. And we really have to think, whatever — as journalists, we’re in a bind [inaudible] because he is president of [inaudible]. But what do we [inaudible] — what are we doing when we’re giving him access [inaudible] audience, international audience, asking this man who we know is going to lie on camera, who we know is a killer? There’s ample evidence that a group of FSB, the Russian secret police, officers followed Navalny for several years and attempted to poison him, or poisoned him, attempted to kill him. Furthermore, there’s ample evidence that this very same group has been following other people around and has attempted to kill other people and has succeeded in the killing still other people. And we’re putting this killer on national television, with a journalist who’s clearly unprepared to ask him a follow-up question, and setting him up to make false equivalencies and to sort of bask in the light of TV cameras and in a chance to assert once again that he has the power, among other things, the power to speak publicly about a man he ordered killed, while that man is in prison.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Masha, you’ve written —

MASHA GESSEN: So, as for — yes, go ahead.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Go ahead. No, go ahead, Masha.

MASHA GESSEN: Yeah, I was just going to say that, you know, every dictator under the sun, of course, says every — you know, that cracking down on the opposition is a matter of their internal politics. The whole concept of human rights is based on this pretty utopian idea that people have basic rights that are guaranteed to them by the world and that cannot be violated by a dictator who they have the misfortune to share a motherland with.

AMY GOODMAN: And because we’re having trouble with the audio, if you could explain that parallel he’s making to the insurrectionists and the killing of Ashli Babbitt at the Capitol on January 6th?

MASHA GESSEN: Well, this is classic whataboutism. This is when — and nobody is better at it than Soviet bureaucrats and former KGB agents. I think that, you know, this is a propaganda trope, when everything is equal to everything else. And so, he is talking about a politician who has been using peaceful tactics. You know, the Navalny movement is really an extraordinary movement based on truth telling and protest, and nothing else. And he is comparing that to a violent, militant, armed insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, that we know — again, this is well documented — had violent aims and engaged in murderous rhetoric, and all of a sudden everything is equal to everything else. And the very fact that, you know, then we spend 10, 15 minutes trying to dissect that propaganda trope and trying to find a kernel of truth in something that is designed to obscure truth is a reason why we shouldn’t be putting dictators on national television.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Masha, you’ve been following Navalny closely for many years, and you’ve written also about the conditions of his imprisonment. Can you talk about what you know of the conditions under which he’s being held, whether he has access to his social media accounts, how he’s communicating with the outside world, and the fact that earlier this year, as you wrote about, he went on hunger strike? Are there any prospects for his release? And how is he doing?

MASHA GESSEN: So, we don’t know a whole lot about how Navalny is doing, in part because access to him is getting more and more difficult. And the Russian parliament passed a whole special law banning all lawyers from bringing any electronic devices, such as phones, to their meetings with their clients in prison, specifically to prevent Navalny’s lawyers from taking pictures of him or making videos or taking dictation and giving him access to his social media account.

So, he still gets some messages out. He can also send letters through the official censored prison mail. His wife Yulia was just yesterday — she was just allowed to see him. Illegally, you know, in contravention to even Russian law, which is pretty awful, she has not yet been allowed to have a conjugal, so-called conjugal, three-day visit with him. She’s only been allowed to have four-hour visits with him a couple of times, and which get actually cut down to a couple of hours by the time everybody is searched.

So, what we know about the conditions in which he is kept is that, first of all, Russian prisoners are kept in extremely poor conditions. Their death rate in Russian prison colonies, even not during a pandemic, are extremely high. Violence is extremely high. Hygiene is very poor. Food is extremely bad, in part because it is supplied by — sometimes by a company owned by Putin’s cook and closest ally, whom Navalny has helped expose. So, health conditions for all prisoners are extremely poor.

Navalny’s conditions are worse than those of many other prisoners, among other things because he is tortured with sleep deprivation. So, he was placed on a list of escape risk, of prisoners who are considered an escape risk. And so, to make sure that he is still there, he is awakened by the guards every hour during the night. And this has been going on for the — what is it? — 120 days that he’s been in prison.

He has also recently recovered from poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok, which sent him into coma in August of last year. We don’t know what the state of health is for somebody who has recovered from an attack with a chemical weapon, which is what Novichok is. When Navalny was feeling unwell in March, he asked for an outside doctor, which is something that Russian law guarantees him, but he was not given access to an outside doctor, which is why he went on hunger strike. He called off his hunger strike as his health deteriorated, and he got some concessions, but not full concession. But at least — he didn’t get to see his doctor, but he did get to see a doctor.

Right now we don’t know a whole lot about the state of his health, but when he appeared in court a couple of days ago by video link, he looked absolutely awful. He looked skinny. He looked gaunt. He looked — he had bags under his eyes. He did not look like a person in good health by any stretch of the imagination.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Masha, I’d like to turn to another issue, which has to do with the pandemic, but, in particular, the pandemic now in Russia, which has been reporting among the highest number of caseloads a day and where, as a result of the levels of vaccine hesitancy — which, of course, we see here in the U.S., as well — but because of the levels of vaccine hesitancy in Russia, Moscow’s mayor is now, much like in the U.S., offering all kinds of incentives for people to get vaccinated. So, could you talk about this, the rise — the high number of infections now in Russia, the issue of vaccine hesitancy, and how the Putin government has dealt with administering vaccines to the population?

MASHA GESSEN: So, I think there are two things at play. And this is really fascinating. It would be really amazing if we weren’t talking about human lives here. But the two things that are at play are a total lack of trust in the government — so, even though Russia was the first country in the world to have a vaccine, and it just — you know, it skipped safety trials, because the entire population is basically a population of test subjects, and went directly to making the vaccine available, but lucked out — it seems that the vaccine is safe, from all available information, and extremely effective. And yet, Russia has one of the lowest vaccination rates now in the world, certainly of countries where the vaccine has been available for any significant amount of time. Russia has been — Moscow has certainly been in the position for months now where the vaccine is available just for the asking. There are no shortages. And yet people are not taking the vaccine, because they don’t trust the government.

But I think another reason that they are not taking the vaccine is because of the general sort of culture of a lack of respect for human life, which is also a characteristic of this particular government. Under Putin, human life is worthless. Right? You can poison an opponent. You can poison somebody just because they seem to have insulted you personally. And the news that came out recently that apparently the poet Dmitry Bykov was also the object of an attempted assassination points to Putin probably taking sort of personal revenge, because Bykov wrote an insulting poem about Putin, or several of them. And so, where human life is just worthless to the authorities, it also becomes worthless to the people living in the country.

And in a sense, it’s a rational decision, right? If you’re risking your life just by living in Russia, not just because — not only if you’re a member of the opposition, but if you’re just a Russian subject, just because of the disregard for public safety in every respect, why should you take the vaccine, when any number of other things could kill you? It’s not an entirely illogical sort of construction, unlike some of the vaccine hesitancy that we see in the United States, which is sort of pure conspiracy thinking. Right? In Russia, it has aspects of rationality: The government always lies to us, and my life is worthless, and I’m probably going to die soon anyway, so who cares?

And as a result, you know, we see extremely low numbers of vaccinated people. And even today, the Moscow mayor — you mentioned that he’s offering all kinds of incentives — he also ordered that 60% of people in any service workplace be vaccinated. But we see how low that threshold is. Sixty percent is not going to give anybody herd immunity, but that seems to be what he thinks he can realistically accomplish. And that’s really depressing.

AMY GOODMAN: Masha, we just have about three minutes, and we want to get to two issues. One, if you could briefly address the fact that you got COVID, breakthrough COVID, meaning you were vaccinated here in the United States, and then you got COVID? You wrote this powerful piece in The New Yorker called “The Mystery of Breakthrough COVID-19 Infections.” And then I’d like you to end with talking about, well, what you have in the foreword of your paperback edition of your book, and that is the U.S. moving towards autocracy.

MASHA GESSEN: All right. So, very quickly, I did get breakthrough COVID, which is possible. It’s extremely unlikely, but, of course, it’s possible. We know that if the vaccine is 95% effective in preventing infection, some fraction of 1% of people who are fully vaccinated will get the infection. But, fortunately, because I was vaccinated, or maybe because I was vaccinated, I had a mild form of the disease, so it was mostly sort of psychologically discombobulating, because I thought I wouldn’t get it, ,and I was still being quite safe, but I still got it.

But I’m obviously much more interested in the subject of autocracy. And I think we’re — many people are awake to this now, to this sense that we continue to live in an incredibly divided country, where we have one party that is an anti-democratic party and another party — the other party is trying to act as though we’re sort of back to normal. And that imaginary normalcy is, of course, incredibly seductive. But unless we deal with what happened in the last four years, unless we deal with the reason we got Donald Trump in the first place, unless we reckon with the part of the country that has some really crazy beliefs and with the divided reality that we inhabit, if we think of ourselves as a “we,” then I think we’re enjoying a very, very short respite from a slide toward autocracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk more about your book, which is just out in paperback. It’s called Surviving Autocracy. Masha Gessen has been our guest. We’re going to bring you a Part 2 at democracynow.org. Masha is speaking to us from Tbilisi, Georgia. Masha is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, award-winning Russian American journalist, and has written a number of books.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Miriam Barnard, Paul Powell, Mike DiFilippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran and Denis Moynihan. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe.

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