Putin's poster girl: Pin-up politician who hates the West... but loves Thatcher
Mar 16, 2009 18:53
Blonde ambition: Maria Sergeyeva, who dreams of leading Russia, 'finds adventures' while drunk and wearing nothing but a Cuban flag
At only 24 she is already tipped to become a minister, and perhaps achieve her goal of ruling Russia. Happy to exploit her glamorous looks, Maria Sergeyeva has emerged seemingly from nowhere to become a leading propagandist for her hero, Vladimir Putin, her country's 'Iron Man' Prime Minister.
Critics, who have dubbed her 'Putin's pin-up', say that she is being used by the former KGB leader to target the young and to whip up jingoism and loathing of the West as Russia stares into the abyss of an economic crisis.
'Maria is a potent combination,' says a supporter in Putin's party, United Russia. 'She can sway crowds with her passion, her looks and her punchy style, but she also reaches out via her blogs and webcasts to places that normal politics fails to go.'
She is a leading light of the Young Guards, a youthful and growing band of zealots dedicated to resisting any efforts to stop Putin's inexorable Russian revolution.
The Young Guards are close ideological cousins of Nashi, the controversial government-funded 'youth movement' that led a six-month campaign of intimidation against former British Ambassador Sir Anthony Brenton in 2006 after he attended a conference held by critics of the Kremlin.
Both organisations were engineered to mimic Soviet-era youth organisations, such as the Young Communists, with the purpose of boosting ' patriotism' in support of the ruling elite. But the Young Guards, though currently smaller than Nashi, have become more influential by harnessing the power of the internet to spread their message.
They recently raised their profile by highlighting the 'immigration crisis' and helping police to identify illegal immigrants. With more than 100,000 members, many see membership as essential to their career development.
Although Sergeyeva claims that she holds no official position in the Young Guards, she is suddenly ubiquitous in Russian society - writing newspaper articles, attending political rallies (which, unlike so many others, don't get banned) and pontificating via the internet. One recent speech that was made available online had 140,000 hits, crashing the political website hosting it.
Her nationalist rhetoric is blunt, if not outright incendiary. At a time when racist attacks in her country are at unprecedented levels, she recently told immigrants to leave.
'They grab our work,' she said. 'Immigrants should work in places where Russians don't want to, or they should go back home.'
She went on the offensive against former chess champion Garry Kasparov, one of Putin's few critics, saying he 'sold himself to American spies'. Another opponent, writer Eduard Limonov, was dismissed as having 'the face of someone who is psychologically abnormal'.
She declared: 'I personally consider them my enemies. They cast doubt on things that are very important to me: the integrity of Russia and its sovereignty.'
Of a prominent radio talk-show host, another opponent of Putin, she said: 'I'm not saying that Yulia Latynina is ugly. I'm saying that if a person experiences a lot of negative emotions, that negativity is reflected in her face.'
Boasting that she wears almost exclusively Russian-made clothes rather than Western designer labels - she has a fondness for pink bikinis - Sergeyeva urges drivers to follow her example by shunning foreign cars.
She is critical of the West, especially America, seeing the world through the same prism as her leader. 'Only the United States is our real competitor,' she says. 'When they provoked war in Georgia and revolution in Ukraine, I was so angry.'
When it comes to Russia's latest crippling financial crisis, she believes that only Putin and his ally President Dmitry Medvedev can save her country.
Despite all her anti-Western rhetoric, Sergeyeva idolises Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill - she carries a book of his quotations in her handbag.
Rallying point: Maria at a protest
'I love Thatcher and Churchill because they are self-made leaders,' she says. 'I think Thatcher and I have some similarities. I don't like how my voice sounds when I am making speeches and I have read that Thatcher corrected her vocal cords to make her voice sound better - I may do the same. She worked hard. She is a good example for me.'
Yet, unlike her heroine, it appears that this lady is for turning. Three years ago, Sergeyeva was a proud opponent of Putin and his party. She was a prominent activist in the tiny Democratic Party, a group that wanted Russia to join the European Union. Her most effective protest was a demonstration mocking Russia's rulers as robots and androids.
The circumstances of her sudden conversion to these robots are disputed. It certainly involved recruitment by a close friend who was already in the Guards, prompting some to suggest she'd been planted in an opposition party as a spy before coming 'home'.
Others believe Putin's cronies simply recognised her potential and recruited her on a hefty salary, a claim she denies.
Whatever the truth, she now lives and breathes pro-Putin politics.
U-turn: Sergeyeva switched to supporting Vladimir Putin, above, after being a staunch opponent
According to her internet postings, one of her current assignments is to promote training sessions for loyalist bloggers-under the acronym KGB. Kursy Gosudarstvennykh Bloggerov stands for Courses For State Bloggers, and its purpose appears to be to teach loyal cyber-warriors how to hack into opposition blogs and find the addresses and telephone numbers of those behind them - all apparently sponsored by the Russian taxpayer.
In return, the loyal bloggers are given a membership card, Putin's book on ideology, a CD of Medvedev's video blog and their own badges and uniforms.
However, Sergeyeva also expresses her feelings and frustrations online, a rarity for a Russian politician. At times her blog veers off into Bridget Jones territory as she reveals her irritations with men.
'My friend Anya got married this summer, I was maid of honour at her wedding and even caught the bride's bouquet,' she writes in one entry. 'Now I am the only one who's left single among my girlfriends. The rest are married. I have only cats.'
She laments the fact that men 'don't understand what's wrong in wanting to have sex with someone else ... I've never seen someone who didn't cheat on his partner for three years in a row. Maybe they exist?'
One picture shows her looking the worse for wear. 'I'm at a conference. Drunk - and after the banya [sauna]. It's 3am. A plastic glass with champagne in one hand and single malt whisky, 12 years old, in the other. So I drink champagne after whisky. And wearing nothing but stockings and flag of Cuba. This is my way of finding adventures.'
When pressed, Sergeyeva admits there is an older man in her life. 'I have a sort of relationship. I think it's real love. I have loved this man for two years - he's a bit older than me and not in my party.
'I am not encouraging him to come to United Russia. I don't think it's a woman's business to teach her man what to do.'
Insiders believe she has a long political career ahead of her. 'It's likely that she'll be very successful,' predicts politician Robert Schlegel, himself a former Nashi member. She is tipped to join Schlegel soon in the Russian parliament.
Sergeyeva, the great-granddaughter of a Stalinist NKVD secret service officer who died in the siege of Leningrad, has come a long way since being expelled 'for laziness' from an elite Moscow academy.
'I was very fat and had no friends,' she has said. 'We lived very poorly - I had no toys either. With that kind of despair, I read and pondered a lot.'
Her mother, Lyudmila, is a 55-year old retired government employee, while her father, Vladimir, 52, is a retired cold-storage worker.
By the time Maria reached the age of 13, 'nature started making me taller and slimmer. . . So from tubshaped tearaway with a boy's haircut, I turned into something indecent. People thought, "THIS is a glamorous blonde." I try not to argue or disappoint them.'
Although she collects guns and is a proficient markswoman, she insists: 'I am not so violent. I also love dancing. I love the Hustle, Arabic dance and Latina.'
But politics will always come first. 'I would like one day to become President or at least Prime Minister,' she says. 'I don't think Russia is ready for a female president. On the other hand, in 20 years' time, when I am 44, this may change and it will be the right time for my presidency.'
In the meantime, she proudly recalls the achievements of another of her role models, on whom history's verdict is somewhat equivocal.
'I adore Catherine the Great,' she says. 'Now she was a great leader.'
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