''I wouldn’t call the work in the Kremlin pool not adapted to harsh conditions''
A journalist from the pool of Putin Dmitry Smirnov tells about narrow-minded requirements of local authorities to colleagues and a test for resistance on the cruiser
Many amazing possibilities open up for journalists working in the Kremlin pool: they work side by side with the president of the country and heads of other states, travel to different parts of the world and become witnesses of historical events. It is the mode a special correspondent of the political department of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda Dmitry Smirnov works in. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya he told about in what parts of the world his work brought him, whether he has had an opportunity to know Vladimir Putin not as president but as a person over the years of the work in the Kremlin pool and many other things.
''We arrived there, everyone was trying to warm up — put on warm jackets, two pants, but it was ''nothing'' for -35 °C''
Dmitry, how fair is it to call the work in the Kremlin pool a ''parquet journalism'', journalism that is not adapted to harsh conditions? In what conditions do you have to work?
Frankly speaking, I would not call it ''parquet'' because sometimes it happens that we do not see parquet for a long time. In general, it is, of course, travelling and we have to work just anywhere. My first work trip was when Vladimir Putin took part in the expedition with Siberian cranes on the bank of the Ob River far from Salekhard. I arrived and it seemed to me that there was to be some kind of Kremlin or something, but no, forest, taiga, the Ob River, an abandoned village, tents. I thought, ''Yeah, it's interesting to live here.''
We have been to many places: at the North Pole, perhaps all seas and oceans. It can be hard physically, it requires some training and good health. It is rather a field journalism when you have to be ready for any conditions. It is not like when you come to the Kremlin, sit in the press centre and watch sessions of the government (this happens much less often).
Can you remember the most difficult conditions with which you have had to face over the years?
It should be noted that our task is not just to go, but also to write something interesting, to make readers want to read it, but no one cares about conditions in which you write it, and whether you have a place where to put your laptop.
I think physically some of the most extreme conditions were during the trip to Franz Joseph Land. We arrived there, everyone was trying to warm up — put on warm jackets, two pants, but on arrival, it became clear that it was ''nothing'' for -35 °C. People who live and work there, looked at us, laughed, and then equipped us normally. In general, if they did not help, we would have stayed there forever.
''I think physically some of the most extreme conditions were during the trip to Franz Joseph Land. We arrived there, everyone was trying to warm up — put on warm jackets, two pants, but on arrival, it became clear that it was ''nothing'' for -35°C.'' Photo: kremlin.ru
In general, you never know where you will find yourself. For example, there was the expedition, when Putin went to release Przewalski's horses near Orenburg: we arrived at the reserve, it had just stopped raining before it, but the horses were wild — we were not allowed to come closer, so we had to walk. We were walking a few kilometres through that muddy steppes and I was going and realising that it was something akin to ''Ice March'', even though it was warm. You look at your feet and realize that it is not ''parquet journalism''. An unexpected story can happen to you at any time.
We went to the ship Peter the Great to the Northern fleet. I remember we went out and we were announced: ''The president is about to arrive, the helicopter lands soon.'' In the end, we together with the sailors were standing for two hours in the wind and thought: a little more and everyone would be frozen to death. But fortunately, at this point, he arrived and the work began.
I do not complain absolutely. It's just journalism of unexpected situations — you never know what will happen to you tomorrow. You can imagine a region or city but how it will be is unpredictable. Every journalist takes a small marching suitcase and go.
''Last week I had two days at home, and this week — today and tomorrow, and then we will again go around the country and will be back on Sunday.'' Photo: facebook.com
''It is hard to find notes about Putin angrier than written by Andrey Kolesnikov but the man has already been working for 18 years and nothing happened to him''
What are restrictions and rules for journalists of the Kremlin pool? Is it really enough of a ''careless movement'' to be kicked out?
Frankly speaking, I do not remember that someone was kicked out from the pool, and there is no censorship. Over five year, nobody came to me and said, ''You can write this, you cannot write that.'' But there is editorial policy — each edition has its format. There are a lot of foreign journalists, for example, from Bloomberg and Reuters, there is the TV channel Dozhd, which feeds the information from its point of view, there is Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Komsomolskaya Pravda. We sit next to each other, we write about the same, but the notes are totally different.
There are no restrictions. I am often asked: ''Is there a dress code?'' We communicate with regional journalists who say that they were forbidden to go to the local government in jeans — there's nothing like that here. In principle, you can come to the Kremlin wearing what you want, but there are some logical limitations that depend from a person, but generally people wear what they wish.
To say that there is a strict dress code or some literary restrictions… It is hard to find notes about Putin angrier than written by the same Andrey Kolesnikov or people who are in power, but the man has been already working for 18 years and nothing happened to him.
''Putin has a peculiarity, if he is involved in something, he is involved in it fully.'' Photo: kremlin.ru
''You go to bed and think: ''Is he going to bed too? Or he is doing something else and we need to wake up and write?''
Have you had an opportunity to get to know Vladimir Putin not as president but as a person over these years? What is he, in your opinion?
Indeed, occasionally you see someone not in standard situations but in everyday life. Unfortunately, we do not see how decisions are made at his level (it would be probably most interesting), but we see how he interacts with people, responds, and it commands great respect. Putin has a peculiarity — he does not communicate for no reason. If he listens to a person, he tries to understand a problem, the essence of a problem and he thinks how it is possible to help in this case. Perhaps, it is one of his weaknesses because when people go to him with questions, it may last for indefinitely.
For example, in Sochi, the president has recently communicated with children, and they asked, asked and asked him questions. The presenters directly were already saying that the time was running out and they needed to finish, but he said, ''No, let's we respond to everyone. Let's take two questions here, two — there, and then more questions from those who have a birthday today.'' It isn't like he can't refuse, he just tries to help everyone who is in his field of vision.
His tremendous work capability commands respect. Roughly speaking, I do not do anything, I just sit in a chair and watch an event or go through the city after him, but he has 5-7 points to visit in one business trip, and you wonder how much strength he has, how much he wants to cover. This happens not once a month, this happens in almost every city, in every region, wherever the president arrives. It's really physically hard.
For example, recently he arrived at G20 in Hamburg, and the ''marathon'' lasted for almost three days: he had meetings, official meetings of G20, and then bilateral meetings, late at night he had some informal dinners, then other meetings, and here you go to bed and think: ''Is he going to bed too? Or he is doing something else and we need to wake up and write?'' Indeed, his work efficiency is such that I personally would envy.
Now in social networks one can observe online battles between people vehemently supporting the president and those who perceive him negatively. How do people react to him offline, when he comes to ordinary citizens, for example, already after official events? What is the reaction?
He often does the following: he come out from some building, from an event or from a tuple, and he comes to people, communicates with them (may be for a short time, but nevertheless), and people, of course, take it enthusiastically. They see a real president for the first time in their life and it is an event for them.
I would not say that there is a large lobby or a large number of people who dislike Putin personally laying on him the responsibility for what is happening in the country, because I see how deeply he understands the situation that is happening in the country. And I can probably explain this point when people say, ''If not Putin, then who?'' I don't know if there are any people who also understand the production of MS-21 aircraft, which is made in Irkutsk, international politics, oil prices and education. People go to Putin with all questions and there are often accusations that people go to him with questions not of his level, which must be solved by governors, mayors or anyone else below, but he has to deal with this. He is deeply immersed in the situation, and it is a very big plus for our country. Minus, perhaps, is the fact that they try to make him the centre of everything but the system should work by itself, but it is the question not actually to him.
''He often does the following: he come out from a building, from an event or from a tuple, and he comes to people, communicates with them, and people, of course, take it enthusiastically.'' Photo: kremlin.ru
The last thing I want to ask you is about the upcoming elections: are you already in anticipation or with the pain in the heart awaiting the start of the ''hot times''?
I have no heartache from that because I don't think it will be very different from what happens now. I personally asked Putin a couple of months ago whether he decided to run for another term or not, and then he gave a very short answer (possibly the shortest in the history of its press conferences). He said, ''No.''
He himself told about the fact that it will be better if it is announced about the beginning of his campaign (if it will be announced) as late as possible because everyone will start to operate only with this and no work will be at all. It was during a conversation with leaders of foreign news agencies at SPIEF. I think we won't start travelling more often (it is just impossible), so for us, little will change, as well as probably for him.