Russia’s Wily Man

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In 2000, the Russian sociologist Yuri Levada penned an essay on what he labeled the “wily man.” He wrote that this new species of post-Soviet Russia “not only tolerates deception, but is willing to be deceived, and even requires self-deception for the sake of his own preservation.” This figure was clever and resourceful, and could adapt and even succeed by exploiting loopholes, cracks, and crevasses in the system.

Fast forward twenty years and, as Joshua Yaffa shows in his rich and novelistic tour of contemporary Russia, the wily man is in many respects the archetype the New Putinist Person. These are men and women who temper their ideals and compromise with the Russian state to extract all manner of benefits and privileges from those in power. To get a better sense of what this Russian “wily man” is and how its reflected in Russian life and what it means for Russia writ large, I turned to Josh for some insight.


Joshua Yaffa is a correspondent for the New Yorker in Moscow and a prize-winning journalist. He’s the author of Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia published by Penguin Random House.


The Peechees, “Grease,” Cup of Glory 7″.