By Masha Gessen & Stéphane Lavoué, October 2008
Nearly every weekday morning one of Moscow’s central arteries, the Kutuzovsky Prospect, empties out suddenly, and an eerie, otherworldly silence takes hold. This means that police have sealed all the on-ramps to Kutuzovsky, an eight-lane avenue that cuts through the city from the west straight through to the Kremlin.
Traffic backs up on the ramps for miles, but Kutuzovsky is quiet. Then a low hum can be heard, which quickly builds to a roar. Spread across the 60 yards of Kutuzovsky, a convoy of motorcycles and S.U.V.’s moves at breakneck speed, like fighter planes in tight formation.
In the middle of it, veiled from onlookers by moving vehicles and densely tinted glass, rides Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, in a custom-made black Audi with the license plate 007. He is commuting from his residence in Novo-Ogarevo, a country home that the Russians coyly refer to as a dacha but that a Westerner would recognize as a villa.
He races along an avenue lined with enormous Stalin-era apartment buildings constructed for the Communist Party elite, then through the Arc de Triomphe, erected in celebration of Russia’s victory over Napoleon, in 1812, and finally across the Moscow River. In years past, when the title Putin held was that of Russia’s president, the formation would have headed for the Kremlin.
Now the cars roar off toward the Moscow White House— the high-rise building that once housed the Russian parliament, where pro-Yeltsin Russians erected barricades against an attempted coup by hard-liners in 1991. Once, it was the symbol of a nascent Russian democracy. Now it’s the command center of an entrenched Russian autocracy. An entire floor was redone before Putin moved in, claiming the title of prime minister and bringing the power of the Kremlin along with him.Continue reading DEAD SOUL | Vanity Fair | October 2008 | About Putin…