“The Mage of the Kremlin”, in the shadows of Russian power

The Mage of the Kremlin

by Giuliano da Empoli

Gallimard, 288 pages, €20

The essayist Giuliano da Empoli frequented the corridors of power. He even advised Italian politicians and in particular one of the most brazen of them, Matteo Renzi. This is probably what gives his first novel – written directly in French – a disturbing veracity. Adding to his great analytical capacity a remarkable narrative talent, Giuliano da Empoli takes us on a story that sheds light on how Vladimir Putin seized Russia with, for horizons, “the idea of ​​empire and the apology of war” (1).

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The central character is inspired by a former adviser to the Russian president, Vladislav Surkov. But he stands out. The Chechen origins of Surkov are replaced, for Vadim Baranov, by an aristocratic grandfather who knew how to stay away from Soviet power and a university father, a rather servile apparatchik. “Basically, the problem is that I had a happy childhoodsays Baranov. In Russia, this is not a normal thing. »

The young man studied drama then drifted towards audiovisual production while a form of capitalist savagery put Boris Yeltsin’s Russia in regulated cuts. Baranov enjoys the attention of Boris Berezovsky, one of the satraps of that time. Anxious to ensure the succession of Yeltsin, demolished by alcohol and heart attacks, the oligarch relies on the head of the security services, Vladimir Putin, a rather gray bureaucrat. And wants to add Baranov to him as a communications strategist.

The verticality of power restored

The two men will succeed perfectly, each in his role. They will soon put aside Berezovsky and all the other plutocrats of that time. Putin eliminates those who made him king, all the more easily since these predators are very unpopular in Russian opinion. After a “feudal intermission”the vertical of power which was that of the tsars and Stalin is restored.

All this, we could read in the newspapers or the books of immediate history. The power of the novel takes us into the places and the minds where decisions are made. It is chillingly lucid. “It is clear that in politics it is better to cure than to prevent. If you thwart an attack before it happens, no one notices, while reacting with force, pinning down the culprits, that, yes, produces political capital. »

The novel goes up to the moment when Baranov distances himself from Putin not to oppose him, but to withdraw from the game. Just before being banned from the European Union because of a series of sanctions against those close to the Kremlin, he made a leap to Stockholm. “Here, the snow didn’t turn into black mire like in Moscow, it remained inexplicably white, as if the Swedes had solved that problem too, in addition to all the others. » Vladislav Surkov also moved away from the Kremlin. He would be today, it is said, under house arrest.


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