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Calling Putin: how the presidential connection works
Calling Putin: how the presidential connection works

Do you know why the works of literary classics are transmitted around the clock through the communication line with Putin? Spoiler alert: No, not so that it’s not boring to wait for an answer.

"Are you kidding? Vladimir Putin tried to call me, but you didn’t connect him? What the hell were you thinking? " - Donald Trump shouted at Michael Flynn, who was then the national security adviser to the head of state. All of this happened, in the words of Trump and His Generals: The Price of Chaos, journalist Peter Bergen, right in the middle of a meeting with the British Prime Minister, Trump's first White House meeting with a foreign leader.

“But sir, you know, you get a lot of calls and we're trying to arrange it all,” Flynn tried to justify himself.

"What the heck is that? How is it possible that Putin called me and you didn't connect him? " Trump objected.

Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Vladimir Putin in his office

Later in the Kremlin they will also say in bewilderment: “No. It is technically impossible to miss a call, which is agreed in advance. " We would put it differently: it is impossible to miss a call, which the whole team had been preparing for several days, or even weeks.

There are no sudden calls

The Trump and Flynn incident does not seem very plausible if you know exactly how the connection with the Kremlin occurs. Taking and just dialing Putin's work number will not work, even if you have an excellent relationship with him. In the same way, Putin will not suddenly call you.

The building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on Smolenskaya-Sennaya Square in Moscow

“As a rule, the offer to“talk on the phone”is transmitted by the interested party through diplomatic channels - through the Foreign Ministry or its foreign mission, that is, the embassy,” says Vladimir Shevchenko, who headed the Kremlin protocol service for ten years. And the coordination of a telephone conversation can take several hours, days, or even weeks - it all depends on the specific situation.

Only a few people (like the Minister of Defense) can make calls almost directly - whoever has a yellow old-school special communications telephone on their desk, the same as the president's.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu

But all this is only the tip of "telephone diplomacy".

No private conversations

When making an offer to “talk on the phone”, the contact time and topics for conversation are agreed. As a rule, with an approximate list of questions. Then comes the study of these issues by the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other departments. Moreover, sometimes different versions of statements on the same issue are prescribed, depending on how the communication goes.

Vladimir Putin

Moreover, it is never a private conversation. The protocol requires translators. Communication without them is impossible, even if the two interlocutors are fluent in each other's languages ​​(the exception is, perhaps, a number of CIS countries, Russian is traditionally used here).

“Today almost everyone speaks languages: Angela Merkel speaks and understands Russian, Vladimir Putin is fluent in German and quite good in English. However, it is one thing to have a one-on-one conversation somewhere on the lawn, it is another to have an important conversation on the phone. Much depends on the accuracy of the wording: an unsuccessful expression, the resulting ambiguity can lead to very unpleasant consequences,”says Volodymyr Shevchenko.

Special communication phone

The interpreter at this time is not sitting in the Kremlin in the office of the first person. “They listen to speech through headphones and do not translate synchronously, but sequentially - phrase by phrase. This makes it less likely to make a mistake, to miss a nuance and thereby distort the meaning,”says another source from the presidential administration.

Is it possible not to get through to the Kremlin?

When in 2018 the then President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko tried to call the Kremlin after the incident in the Kerch Strait, he failed: “I called him to ask what was happening, and he did not answer,” he complained.

In fact, this is not about Poroshenko calling the Kremlin and no one picking up the phone or dropping his calls. "Not getting through" in the diplomatic world means receiving a polite refusal for a request to speak. The reasons are different: tight schedule, lack of access. Or without any explanation at all - simply "unfortunately, the conversation cannot take place." Although the reasons are most likely political, and the "unavailable subscriber" does not consider communication now appropriate.

Vladimir Putin

But in case of an emergency, there has been a "hot line" between Washington and Moscow for almost 60 years. It appeared in 1963 after the Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly led to a nuclear exchange between the United States and the USSR, and has since been used to quickly link the two leaders in the event of a threat of military confrontation. True, this is not a telephone. At first it was a teletype, then a fax, and now it is a special, reliably protected computer channel.

The signal goes through the satellite and the line is always open. Duty operators, if necessary, are ready to connect the Kremlin and the White House within a minute. And in order to control the serviceability of the line, the works of literary classics are continuously transmitted along it.

Barack Obama talks to Vladimir Putin

This line was actively used during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, the Indo-Pakistani conflict in 1971, and the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan in 1979. The last known time was in October 2016, when Barack Obama "called" to protest against the alleged "Russian interference in the US elections."

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