I have in past weeks focused attention on the political talk show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” calling it the best of its kind on Russian state television and a good indicator of the thinking of Russia’s political elites. However, it is time to admit that in terms of overall quality of presentation, level of invited panelists and screening of videos of topical developments in the West to inform the panelist discussion, Solovyov is now being outdone by Vyacheslav Nikonov’s “Great Game” talk show.
“The Great Game” in the past featured live discussion with its anchor in Washington, director of the National Interest think tank , Dmitry Simes. Now Simes is a rare guest, and the panel format more closely resembles that of other political talk shows, with the following notable qualification: the host, Nikonov, is an unusually gifted moderator, who does not impose his views on the panel and brings out the best from his panelists. Nikonov is a leading member of the Russian parliament from the ruling United Russia party, and has broad experience running parliamentary committees. As the grandson of Bolshevik revolutionary Molotov, he happens also to be a member of the hereditary ruling clans and practices ‘noblesse oblige’ in his public service work.
It bears mention that alongside the Solovyov show and the widely viewed Sixty Minutes talk show of Yevgeny Popov and Olga Skabeyeva, ‘The Great Game’ has evolved from a once or twice weekly event to a virtually daily affair, indeed with a couple of afternoon and evening time slots as justified by fast moving current events.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Vladimir Solovyov has at least one advantage making it worthwhile to tune in. To my knowledge, he is the only host to go outside the usual circuit of ‘talking heads’ from universities, think tanks and the Duma. Solovyov regularly feature a bona fide top manager in the arts who rubs shoulders daily with the ‘creative classes’ and shares with the audience what he hears from them. I have in mind Mosfilm general director Karen Shakhnazarov.
Over the course of the past six weeks, I have several times pointed to the changing mood of Shakhnazarov with respect to the ‘special military operation in Ukraine.’ At first he was buoyant, then he was fearful that the operation was going badly and running out of control, and finally he appeared to be ‘all in,’ looking for ways for Russia to win decisively and quickly.
Last night, we heard from yet another mood swing. I bring it to the attention of readers, because it has great relevance to the current complete passivity of our general public in the face of some very peculiar policy decisions with respect to Russia being made at the highest levels in the USA and in Europe, with zero public consultation so far.
To be specific, Shakhnazarov expressed amazement and deep worry that Western leaders have literally ‘lost their minds’ by pursuing measures to destabilize Russia in the hope of precipitating the overthrow of Vladimir Putin and maybe even the disintegration of Russia in a way similar to the dissolution of the USSR in late 1991. Shakhnazarov remarked that total absence of common or any other sense in Joe Biden is to be expected because of his health (read: senility). But his jaw dropped when he heard that the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, declared a couple of days ago that “Russia must not be allowed to win this war!” Where are his brains? Shakhnazarov asked rhetorically.
The point of Shakhnazarov’s reasoning is as follows: Russia is the world’s leading power in terms of nuclear arms. An overthrow of Putin would lead to chaos, and very likely to genuine radicals assuming power. Their aggressive inclinations for policy to the West would be underpinned by the vast majority of the Russian population, which, in Shakhnazarov’s view, is now overcome with pure hatred for the West brought on by the sanctions, by the rampant Russophobia that is now public policy in Europe and the USA. If the conflict should escalate to use of tactical nuclear missiles and beyond, then Russia would no longer limit its strikes to military installations but will happily target all capitals and population centers in Europe and, we may assume, in North America. In a word, Shakhnazarov equates destabilization of Russia with nuclear Armageddon.
I repeat, these are the fears of a highly responsible and publicly visible Russian general manager in the arts. Is anybody in the West with comparable standing even beginning to imagine the coming catastrophe let alone speak out about it?
Before closing, I redirect attention to a major newsworthy development in Russia yesterday afternoon which even our Western media have reported on this morning: the test launch of Russia’s new Sarmat ICBM, which sets new records for speed, distance, destructive force of its MIRV warheads and, surely most important, imperviousness to all known and projected anti-missile systems in the West. Part of the invulnerability of the Sarmat is a function of its range, which extends to every point on planet Earth. Sarmat’s trajectory can be set as best suits its undetectability. For example, it can hit the USA by approach via the South Pole, thereby evading American tracking systems, which look to attack from the Northwest. The Sarmat’s 7 or 15 nuclear warheads can each also evade ABM systems and head for target at hypersonic speeds.
Starting in September, the Sarmat will be installed in silos till now housing the world’s most powerful ICBM, the Voevoda, which will be gradually retired and redeployed as launchers for commercial satellites.
In his words of congratulations to the designers, project developers, and manufacturers of the Sarmat, President Putin stressed the importance of the new armaments as Russia’s dissuasion directed against those in the West who would threaten the country militarily. Is anybody listening?
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022