Michael Wasiura, Russia, Television
Michael Wasiura appearing on Russian television. Photo credit: Screen shot from Russian TV

Michael Wasiura’s journey into the heart of darkness that is Russian news and propaganda.

A young man out of the University of Michigan idealistically joins the Peace Corps in 2006 and goes off to Odessa in Ukraine. A few academic degrees later, he returns to Odessa  where he falls in love with the region — and a beautiful Russian woman. They get married, and move to Moscow where he begins the life of a young expat in Russia.

He teaches English while he learns both the Russian language and the politics of his adopted land. Suddenly, he finds himself on a Russian version of cable news, a regular participant in a nightly news show where he is specifically set up as the villain, as if it were a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) event. His job is to argue the positions that a liberal American journalist would take: straight-forward and fact-based. The other guests on the show, all Russians, are there to shoot down his arguments, to gang up on him, to show the Russian people that his Western ideas are foolish.

It’s the classic conceit of cable news: artificial conflict for the sake of drama and viewership. It’s a formula that works everywhere. Eventually he gets co-opted by the job. He gets good at it, he has a family to support, and the money is welcome. 

But inside Russia, over the next four years, the screws tighten. Freedoms are taken away. Paranoia is rampant. The war in Ukraine is on the horizon, and he can no longer stand by and be a prop in Russia’s propaganda war. The day before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he, his wife, and young child flee the country.

Listen to Michael Wasiura tell his story on this special edition of the WhoWhatWhy podcast.  And then read his story, recently published on WhoWhatWhy. (LINKS TO STORIES)

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Full Text Transcript:

(As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.)

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to this special WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m your host, Jeff Schechtman. Almost since the beginning of cable news, conflict has been its stock and trade. Either conflicts to report on or conflict between presenters. What once started as a polite counterpoint take on the day’s events would give way to the shouting matches that had more in common with the WWF than with the days of Walter Cronkite. This paradigm of conflict and what became known as infotainment would become a global virus impacting television newsrooms everywhere. Mostly at work, it brought eyeballs to the screen because clearly, the human species likes to watch conflict and disaster.

After all, why do we crane our necks to look at car crashes across the road? My guest on this special WhoWhatWhy podcast, Michael Wasiura, an American who lived in Russia till recently went into the belly of the infotainment beast, but not on American television, but on Russian television live from Moscow. What started out as a guest appearance to offer a counterfactual perspective would become a regular gig and end with him fleeing the country as the war in Ukraine got underway. Truly, he was a stranger in a strange land.

Michael’s story became a four-part series here on WhoWhatWhy, and I hope that most of you have had the opportunity to read it. And it is my pleasure to welcome Michael Wasiura here to the podcast. Michael, thanks so much for joining us.

Micheal Wasiura: Thanks for the invite.

Jeff: Well, it’s great to have you here. Tell us a little bit about your background, Michael. You were a graduate at University of Michigan. How did that ultimately lead you to Moscow?

Micheal: So, the intermediate step was Peace Corps service in Ukraine of all places. When I put in my application, I think Ukraine was probably last on the list of countries that sounded appealing to me. Like most people who go into Peace Corps, I wanted something exotic is probably the right word. I was interested in learning Arabic. I was interested in learning Spanish. I was not particularly interested in learning Russian or going to the former Soviet Union, but that’s exactly where they sent me.

And so I spent two years in a small Ukrainian town of about 3,000, speaking Russian, learning Russian. And that ultimately led me to meeting a Russian girl who got a better job than I had in Moscow and I followed her there.

Jeff: When you first got there, you were teaching English. What else were you doing? How long did you think you would stay, and what was your plan to make a living there in Moscow?

Micheal: So, it was always year to year. We got there in 2013, and as you said, I started teaching English. Our son was born in 2014. I actually passed the State Department exam, the oral interview to become a diplomat in 2016. We thought that’s where we were heading. And then Donald Trump became president, Rex Tillerson became Secretary of State, and my conditional offer of employment was never actually fulfilled. I was on the register and was one of the people who didn’t get off because of that hiring freeze.

And so we started looking around for me to get some sort of more serious career. And in the middle of looking around, I got an offer to come on Russian state TV, and having not much better to do, I took it.

Jeff: Before we get to the TV gig, back up a little bit and talk about waiting to hear from the State Department. Donald Trump’s selection, Rex Tillerson as you say becoming Secretary of State, as you were watching that unfold from Moscow, what’d you think about it?

Micheal: I was horrified. I was shocked. Throughout the whole campaign, I actually had a group of English students at an independent newspaper/radio station called Kommersant. And we discussed week by week, the whole campaign, the whole Russian interference, and used articles from The Economist, from The New York Times as our lesson material. And we’re following it all the way through and I have to confess that that is one world-historical event which I did not predict. I was not particularly worried about what the results of that campaign would be, and so I was fairly shocked in early November when I woke up on a Wednesday morning and discovered that Donald Trump had won.

Jeff: What did you take away from the vantage point of Moscow, all the stories about the Russian interference in the election?

Micheal: Well, the Russian interference happened. There was a clear campaign funded, supported, carried out by the Russian government and organizations which were close to the Russian government. Number one, to hack into emails belonging to John Podesta, also to the, was it the DNC? And to put those out at strategic moments during the campaign. There was a separate element of the operation, which was to flood Facebook and other social media with, essentially, memes. Some of them anti-Hillary, towards people who were deemed to be potentially on the fence of voters, and then some other pro-Trump content.

So that all happened. A lot of people in Russia denied that it was happening. A lot of people in the United States too denied that it was happening. There was another group of people in the United States, especially, who believed that that really made all the difference in the election. The problem with competing interpretations of those events was that it probably didn’t make more than two percent of a difference in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The thing is the election was so close to begin with, surprisingly, and really unforgivably, that an election between those two candidates in the United States could have been that close in the first place. But the Russian interference really may have swung the balance in Trump’s favor. So watching from Moscow, it was shocking still. Unexpected.

Jeff: What was the sense in watching from there as to why the Russians were doing this? At that point, people knew a lot about Donald Trump, but not a lot about Donald Trump. What was your sense of why the Russians were all in on this?

Micheal: I think that they really understood how destructive a figure like Donald Trump could be for the United States. It wasn’t necessarily that they really believed that he was going to be able to come in and cancel all of the sanctions against Russia, which were already in place because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of the Donbas territory in Ukraine in 2014.

So, I don’t think that they really thought Trump was going to be able to restore good relations with Russia overnight. I think they really expected him just to be the chaos agent that he proved to be. And he proved to be about as destructive for US interests as an American president could be. And that’s really exactly what the people in the Kremlin wanted.

Jeff: What was the attitude of people on the street, the average Russian citizen?

Micheal: So, Donald Trump is maybe the only politician in the world who could win an election in Russia against Vladimir Putin. Really. He is still probably the most popular politician in Russia today. Almost everyone who I talk to – even people who are opposed to Putin – ask me as an American, why Donald Trump got such a raw deal from the American press, from Congress, from essentially the entire American establishment. And it’s impossible to really convince them that Donald Trump is not a great business genius. He is not a persecuted figure. It’s pretty impossible to convince them that he’s an asshole, and not much more than that.

Jeff: Why? What was it about him that so enraptured the Russians?

Micheal: I don’t think it was so much him because most Russians don’t speak English. Most Russians could not sit down and watch one of his speeches. So it really was the television coverage which Donald Trump got in Russia that endeared him so much to Russians.

Jeff: Let’s come back to your TV gig. You had this opportunity, you went on television. Why you and what was the intent of it?

Micheal: So I got invited onto a live political talk show. And when I say politics, I don’t mean the way Americans think about politics – Democrats, Republicans. Politics, at least on TV in Russia, it is all geopolitics because there really is no sense of domestic politics. There’s certainly no domestic political debate on television. So I got this invitation to go onto a show on First Channel, the main channel in the country, [in the] evening, and it was going to be live on the air. And so I knew that anything I said was going to get broadcast to 11 time zones.

Jeff: You walked in, you went to do it. Talk about how it unfolded.

Micheal: So the first time I was on, it was actually pretty soft. It was pretty respectable for maybe the first 10 or so minutes of the show. There was discussion about the visit of Emmanuel Macron to Washington. Donald Trump was president, this is 2018 at this point. And just a little bit of discussion about why the American president would have given to the French head of state a portrait of James Monroe as his president. And so I got to try to explain in nervous Russian – my Russian was not bad at that point, but I was definitely nervous – got to try to explain the Monroe Doctrine a little bit.

It devolved from that nice opening into, really, a whole series of accusations leveled by the host against me in the form of the Western world about why the Western world was making so many false accusations about Russia’s past crimes. And we’ve actually brought a couple of those over the course of our conversation already; [the] annexation of Crimea, the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Donbas in 2014, interference in the US presidential elections in 2016, also the Olympic doping scandal in 2014.

By that point, there was the scandal surrounding the Russian government’s attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal, an ex-spy double agent who was resident in Salisbury, England at that point. The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, another former Russian intelligence defector. That came up the poisoning of him with Polonium in London. And they were pointing at me and asking why the west made up so many false accusations about Russia. And I was a little bit taken aback because, in every single one of those cases, there is very, very clear evidence that the Russian state was the guilty party. Not even controversially.

And I said that, “Guys, those aren’t lies. How do you explain that the Polonium got into Alexander Litvinenko’s body? How do you explain that Russian anti-aircraft missile system Number 332 had been taken from its base near Kursk in Russia into Donetsk? A few days before the airplane was shot down and was seen leaving the night of the tragedy.” That was my first appearance. And I was shaking when I said those things and thought that I would never be invited back.

Jeff: Did you have any idea about what the show was, the nature of the show that you would be put on the spot like that? Did anything prepare you for that?

Michael: So, yes, I had lived in Russia for long enough to know that anything on those channels, the federal channels and on any channel really, because anybody who was showing news by that point, 2018, was Kremlin supported and Kremlin-backed. So I knew that it was going to be hostile. I knew that they were going to attack me. I thought that I was going to be able to go in and tell the truth just a little bit, and that it would be scandalous that someone was actually able to say these things on the airwaves of a federal channel.

Jeff: And wasn’t that part of the idea that you were set up in a way to say those things and to, in their view, look foolish?

Michael: Yes. And it took me about three appearances to figure that out. So I described that first appearance where I really thought I would never be invited back. When I was in the taxi on the way home, I opened up Twitter and really thought that some of the independent print sites would be writing breaking news about how someone on a federal channel said these truths that nobody on Russian state TV ever says. I thought it would be a big deal and was certain that I would never be invited back. In that taxi on the way home, I got a call from the producer asking me if I could come out again the next day.

I did. I did more or less the same thing, and I was offered a contract to be a regular guest on the program. And it didn’t take long to figure out that I wouldn’t be being invited unless I was useful to them somehow. And the way that I was useful to them was actually, to tell the truth about stories that they could not prevent people from hearing something about. And so when there is this Russian spy murder mystery in real life, and it’s all over the BBC, it’s all over CNN, eventually, babushka out in Volokolamsk might hear something about it.

And the role that I played, the reason why they would bring me into the studio would be so that I would say exactly what the BBC, CNN, and Bellingcat story was being reported as. And then that babushka in Volokolamsk would see a professor, and a respected television host, and a state Duma deputy all start yelling at me about how I was wrong. And creating the appearance that the truth was in fact, not true. And as far as I can tell, it worked really well.

Jeff: And how were you set up as an American in Moscow? How did they present you? What kind of persona did they give you from the get-go?

Michael: American journalist.

Jeff: So you were the enemy, to begin with?

Michael: Yes, American enemy. And journalist is even worse.

Jeff: You got this contract, how long did you feel comfortable doing this?

Michael: So I did it for close to four years. I continued going in. And as well as I could, trying to get the truth out and trying to be as dignified as possible in the studio in the hopes, not that I would convince the whole audience, but that at least maybe a few people watching might start to question whether or not the narratives that they were being presented by the hosts were actually true. I did the best I could with it.

Jeff: Did this take a toll on you at a certain point between the desire to get the truth out there, as you say, but on the other hand, feeling like it was a constant setup and you were their useful idiot?

Michael: Yes. It definitely did because, like I said, I was aware of the game that was being played. I’ll say this, a lot of the liberals who were brought on, I was not the only one in that position. There were Ukrainians who they would bring in. There were other Americans. There were Russian liberals. And if you talk to almost any of them, I don’t think they ever figured out the game to the extent that I did. And now they might say that I’m wrong about what was really going on, that it really was more of a fair fight that I’m portraying it as. I think they’re wrong. I’m certain they’re wrong.

But I thought it was important to, like I said, do the best I could with it, really, not having anything better to do. I thought this story, this experience, would be more interesting to more people outside of Russia sooner than it was. So one of the reasons that I felt like it was worthwhile really through 2020 to continue doing this was that I was trying to write a book about it. But earlier last year, 2021, when I tried to pitch it, I couldn’t find anybody interested. So, that project was one of the reasons that I stayed for so long and it didn’t work out so well, but best-laid plans of mice and men.

Jeff: In addition to the political value that it had to you in terms of telling the truth, and the political value that it had to Russia in terms of countering these narratives and getting that message out there. Did you have a sense that this had entertainment value as well, and how did you perceive that?

Michael: Oh, it definitely had entertainment value. The shows really are very well put together. They’re very provocative. They are enraging. Really, no matter what your political point of view is, they are enraging. Because if you are someone who is inclined to actually believe in real versions of events, you can turn them on and be horrified the same way that an American liberal could turn on Fox News and get a little bit of hate-watching value out of it.

At this same time, by having me in the studio they made people who were patriotic viewers interested because those patriotic viewers knew that they were going to get a controversy. And like with professional wrestling or in a bullfight, there was going to be some blood, but the side that was supposed to win was always going to win in the end, and that was the patriot side.

Jeff: Was there an American or European expat community in Russia? Did you have much contact with them? And if you did, how did they perceive what you were doing?

Michael: So, I didn’t have a lot of Western friends. Essentially, all my friends there were Russian. I actually tried to get in touch with some of the Western correspondence from big-name publications to tell the story. There was one who was interested in the story and who actually did some really good writing about Russian propaganda and the dangers of it long before it became obvious to everybody else. And that’s Joshua Yaffa from The New Yorker.

Molly Schwartz when she came to Russia a little bit later on also was interested in the story, but everybody else who I reached out to tended to keep their distance from me, tended to see me as suspect, I think, because I was affiliated with what was happening on the screen.

Jeff: How did you feel about that, being a suspect among people that you should have been simpatico with, or that should have been sympathetic to you?

Michael: It was frustrating. It was even more frustrating over the first couple of months of 2022 when I saw a lot of those correspondents really getting the story of the Russian military build-up wrong. And because of my experience in Russian propaganda, I knew exactly why they were getting the story wrong. They were getting the story wrong because they were talking to people who even if they weren’t hardcore Kremlin patriots, were still influenced by the atmosphere that the federal channel talk shows that I was a part of created in the country.

And so when these big-name correspondents were going to their go-to sources, and those go-to sources were telling them that this Russian military buildup is all the bluff, it’s heavy metal diplomacy, I knew why those moderate sources believed what they believed. And they believed what they believed because my show was lying to everybody, and that lie was getting out through the whole country. It was getting out through all of society. And so it was really frustrating to try to convince Western correspondents that I knew more than their go-to sources did, and I couldn’t do it. But I was right.

Jeff: What was unique, if anything, that you found about Russian propaganda? How was it different than propaganda in other places? What did you take away from that?

Michael: So, when I’m back in the states, I watch a lot of Fox News because I think it’s really important to understand how it’s working. And I see a ton of similarities between the kinds of shows that I was on and the kinds of coverage that you see on Fox News, particularly after seven o’clock at night. The difference is that in Russia, that’s the only version which is readily available to people. So in the United States, you can get the bullshit crazy conspiracy theories if that’s what you really, really want to get.

But there are other channels, there are actual real versions of what’s happening out there and readily accessible, and so what you don’t get in the United States is 80 percent of people believing in the alternative reality. You might get 40 percent who just really, really want to believe in that version of events, but you don’t get 80 percent. What you get in Russia when all of the actual realistic channels which were showing news are taken off the air, you actually get people, 80 percent of them, believing in an alternative reality.

Jeff: What was it that changed in 2021/2022 that made you think this was going to come to an end?

Michael: I was nervous from, really, August of 2020. The first signs that bad things could be happening in Russia started from Belarus. In August of 2020, Belarus had elections, which were blatantly falsified, and hundreds of thousands of people went out into the street to protest peacefully and it led to nothing. The guys with the guns were able to put them down and drive enough of them out of the country that there was no political change in Belarus. There was a tightening of the screws and the system became more authoritarian.

It became pretty clear after that that Russia was going to move in the same direction. So it was shortly after those protests started that you had the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. It was a few months after that that you had Navalny return to Russia and be arrested immediately. It was after that that you had essentially every independent print media outlet labeled a foreign agent, and most of their journalists compelled to flee, compelled to go into self-exile. It was in September of 2021 that you had completely falsified parliamentary elections in Russia with no protest to follow, because anybody who was capable of organizing a protest movement had already either been put in jail or driven out of the country.

So by that point, it was already pretty clear that the country was taking a pretty serious authoritarian turn. But I’ll say this, in early November of 2021, my family and I still thought it was a good idea to take out a mortgage on our apartment in Moscow. It was either, move to a different place or start paying a mortgage on the place that we were in because our landlord wanted to sell it and we kind of wanted to stay and we had a kid in school. And as much foresight as I talk about having in January of 2022, in November of 2021, I still did not see this coming.

Jeff: Was the crackdown that you talk about during this period, a genuine change of policy, or did it come out of some kind of paranoia, justified or not?

Michael: It was a definite change in policy. It was no longer possible to even work at any sort of independent media outlet or to organize any sort of anti-government protest. The paranoia that I think it came from was the understanding that if everything in Russian society were to have continued from 2020/2021, all the way to 2024, when there were going to be the next presidential elections in Russia, then Russian society probably would’ve been right around the point that Belarusian society had been in August of 2020.

So I think the people in the Kremlin saw what happened in Belarus in 2020. In Belarus, you had elections which were falsified in more or less the same way that Russian elections were always falsified. And in Belarus, you never had a massive protest movement against it. People understood that the official results weren’t real, but they definitely weren’t dissatisfied enough to do anything about it until in 2020 in Belarus they were. I think that the people in the Kremlin were expecting the same thing for Russia in 2024.

And they took very, very destructive measures in order to avoid it. Destructive measures if you look at it from the perspective of the actual interests of the Russian state and its people. If you look at it from the point of view of the interest of the guys in the Kremlin, then it was probably not overly paranoid to severely crackdown and to start a war, which will probably prevent there from ever being an election in Russia again, for at least as long as they’re in power.

Jeff: Did they overthink it? If this war hadn’t happened, would in fact what they feared have happened in 2024, do you think?

Michael: I think it was inevitable at some point, if not 2024, then 2030 with the next elections, the fact that they took the steps they took indicate to me that they thought it was going to happen in 2024. They’ve been in power for 22 years, and usually, a system like that, an authoritarian core leadership, doesn’t stay in power for 22 years without, really, understanding what they’re doing. And I think they understood what they were doing when they cracked down. And I think they understood what the challenge was.

Jeff: When did you decide that damn the mortgage, we’ve got to do something here?

Michael: Well, through January and February, my wife and I had had discussions about when it would be time to go. By mid-December, I was pretty sure that it was moving towards war. Every day it was looking a little bit more like that was where the military buildup was headed. And we had discussions about when it would be time to leave because, as I said before, I lived in Ukraine. I knew that the picture of Ukraine which Russia was putting onto television screens was entirely inaccurate. I knew that Ukrainians would fight back. I knew that the west would support them. And I knew that the consequences of any sort of invasion would be disastrous for Russia.

And so if they were actually dumb enough to take the step of going to war, the only way that they would be able to preserve any sort of stability inside the country, would be to make the country look a lot more like Iran or Venezuela. One, because there was going to be outside pressure harming the economy. And two, because in order to keep people from finding out what was happening on the ground in the war, they were going to have to crack down on everything, even more than they had been up to that point.

So, throughout January and February, my wife and I talked about when would we know it was time to go because we didn’t want to be there when the war was happening, and when the crackdown that was going to follow was happening. So we talked about destinations, where we would go. Tbilisi seemed like the easiest spot. It was close. It was cheap. The food was good. And on February 21st, when Vladimir Putin went on TV to give a speech formally recognizing the “independence,” and I put that in quotes, of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, these two, I put this also in quotes, “breakaway” separatists territories in eastern Ukraine, it was not so much what he said, it was the way that he said it.

It was the manner, it was the snarl that convinced us it was time to buy tickets. And so we bought plane tickets that Monday evening and our plane tickets were for Wednesday night, February 23rd.

Jeff: Which was the day before the invasion started. What were you most concerned about if you stayed?

Michael: I was nervous that I could potentially be a target. There are innocent Americans in jail in Russia, who had been held for two years as bargaining chips in bargains that have never happened; trying to get Russian prisoners in the US back to Russia. I was worried about that happening. I was worried about crazy people recognizing me on the street and doing more than just yelling at me, which happened a lot – the yelling part, not the more than yelling part. And as much as anything, those six or so weeks before the invasion, were tough emotionally. Not nearly as tough emotionally as they were and are for my friends in Ukraine.

But I was so sick of trying to convince Russian friends that Ukrainians were not neo-Nazis, that Ukrainians spoke Russian, and nothing bad happened to you on the streets when you spoke Russian. And being lectured by my Russian friends, that I was wrong about this country where I lived for three years, visited often, and where I had many friends who speak Russian. It was getting to be too much emotionally to just deal with people who still live in that alternate reality. That was the biggest reason, actually, why I felt like we had to get out of there.

Jeff: You mentioned at the outset that your wife is Russian. Talk a little bit about how she viewed the arc of your television career, and ultimately, the decision to leave?

Michael: That’s a really good question. She was always very supportive because we have essentially the same political views. And she was actually always very helpful because, at least in the first year or so, she would watch and she would give me constructive criticism. It was really thanks to her that I was able to craft a more respectable unscreened persona, which I think ended up being more effective in the role that I was playing.

So, maybe for the first few times that I was on when I would get yelled at, I didn’t want to be a whipping boy. And so I would yell back, and she would point out to me that, “They’re getting you angry so that nothing you say is understood. And so that the only thing people see is this fire-breathing, spitting, crazy person who is supposed to be the representative of America and liberal journalists.” And so she really helped me to see that I needed to be more calm, to laugh when people were insulting me, to laugh when they were coming up with crazy conspiracy theories, and to try to just present as dignified an aspect as possible.

And so she was exceptionally supportive in doing that. She was also really nervous. We had little incidents where I don’t know if our phones were hacked, but our phones would start searching for the term “shut up” on Google without anybody touching the button. That’s disconcerting. She was nervous that some crazy person would do something to me on the street. She was nervous when our friends’ parents would recognize me, because the people who watched the shows, the people who would know my face outside tended to be over 50 years old.

And most of the parents on the playground wouldn’t recognize me. But sometimes babushka, dedushka, would. And she didn’t enjoy having those awkward conversations with our son’s friends’ parents. But in general, she was supportive, and she was great throughout all of it.

Jeff: And when the decision came to leave the country?

Michael: She was a little bit skeptical at first that it was really time. And so when we left on that Wednesday, the way that we compromised was we would book a place in Tbilisi for four days, and if nothing had happened by Saturday, would buy tickets home for Sunday. And by the time it was Saturday, she didn’t want to go back.

Jeff: What do you think is next for the country at this point? What do you think happens next?

Michael: That’s also a really good question. One of the arguments that I was having with big-name western correspondents in early February, the big-name Western correspondent was still convinced that it was a bluff and I was convinced that the tanks were going across the border. Both of us agreed that it would be really stupid for Russia to actually attack, which is why he thought it wouldn’t happen.

I looked at the military buildup and said, “There’s no other explanation for this.” And that by doing what they’re doing, the Kremlin leadership is creating circumstances which really could lead to its downfall, lead to it being overthrown in a matter of months. But at the same time, they will be creating circumstances that really could lead to the country looking like Venezuela with nuclear weapons in a matter of months. And we’re only five weeks in. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve spoken to people who are very smart and very well-informed about things in Russia, Russians, who think that there’s going to be a democratic revolution. They’re in the minority, and I am not among them.

I spent enough time inside of the propaganda bubble, and also outside of the propaganda bubble to see how many people in society actually believe what’s been told to them by their television screens, that I’m skeptical anything approaching a critical mass of Russian society can wake up. So I think we’re moving more towards Venezuela with nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, 5, 10, who knows how many years. I hope I’m wrong. It would be nice to go back and walk around some of the parks that I really like and see some of the people who I really do miss and ride the metro, which is beautiful. But I don’t think that’s going to happen in the next five years.

Jeff: Given that, what’s next for Michael Wasiura?

Michael: So I’m going to keep writing, keep hanging out in Georgia, which is beautiful and has great food, and see where we go from here.

Jeff: Michael Wasiura, I thank you so much for spending time with us today.

Michael: Thank you, Jeff. It was great.

Jeff: Thank you. And thank you for listening and joining us here on the WhoWhatWhy Podcast. I hope you join us next week for another radio WhoWhatWhy Podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to


  • Jeff Schechtman

    Jeff Schechtman’s career spans movies, radio stations and podcasts. After spending twenty-five years in the motion picture industry as a producer and executive, he immersed himself in journalism, radio, and more recently the world of podcasts. To date he has conducted over ten-thousand interviews with authors, journalists, and thought leaders. Since March of 2015, he has conducted over 315 podcasts for

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