DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Krastev, have you ever been to the Kremlin?
Krastev: No, but I once met Vladimir Putin in Sochi, on the sidelines of a conference shortly after the annexation of Crimea. The president was hosting a dinner. An American colleague of mine was there, but so too was the Austrian chancellor and the foreign ministers of France and Israel. It quickly became clear that Putin felt like he was completely misunderstood. He spoke about Western chauvinism and its hypocrisy. He said people didn’t understand that Crimea is Russian. They are the same arguments we are hearing today, but I wouldn’t say that Putin back then had this messianism.
DER SPIEGEL: Why is it there now?
Krastev: If you’ve been in power for 20 years in an authoritarian state, nobody dares to contradict you anymore. You have established a system, you have become the system yourself, and you can’t imagine that the entire country doesn’t reflect that. You also can’t imagine there being anybody who could be an adequate successor. So, you have to solve all problems yourself for as long as you are alive. For Putin, Russia has long since ceased being a country in the standard sense; it is a kind of historic, 1,000-year-old body.
DER SPIEGEL: What was your impression of Putin?
Krastev: Very intelligent and quick, forthright, confrontative. Sarcastic when speaking with someone from the West. But it is the small things that reveal the most about people. He held forth about the situation in the Donbas like a foreign service agent who knows how many people live in each village and what the situation is like in each of them. He considered the fact that primarily women were responsible for Russia policy in the Obama administration to be an intentional attempt to humiliate him. The hypocrisy of the West has become an obsession of his, and it is reflected in everything the Russian government does. Did you know that in parts of his declaration on the annexation of Crimea, he took passages almost verbatim from the Kosovo declaration of independence, which was supported by the West? Or that the attack on Kyiv began with the destruction of the television tower just as NATO attacked the television tower in Belgrade in 1999?