Everything Is PR
by Peter Pomerantsev
Public Affairs, 256 pp., $16.99
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia opens with Oliona, a 22-year-old “gold-digger” with a perfect body. When she was 20, Oliona ran away from the Donbas, an east Ukrainian mining region presently the site of a war between Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian state. In Moscow, she worked as a stripper at a casino before she succeeded in meeting a “Forbes”—a billionaire in search of a mistress. Now she lives in a brand-new apartment and receives a car, $4000 a month, vacations in the Middle East, and a small dog—“the basic Moscow mistress rate.” For the moment things are good: She frequents the most expensive sushi bars and the most selective nightclubs. She giggles and wears sparkly dresses and has memorized a few stanzas of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin to impress a Forbes who likes literature. Then again, neither the apartment nor anything in it belongs to her. And her shelf life is not long; she is competing with thousands of 18-year-olds who can do gymnastics in stilettos.
Oliona is not a prostitute. To her the distinction is nontrivial: She has no pimp. She chooses her billionaire lovers. Dinara, who is of Oliona’s generation and equally sympathetic and even cheerful, works under much less glamorous conditions. She grew up in the Russian republic of Dagestan, east of Chechnya. Now she spends her evenings at a weakly lit proletarian bar near a train station. She lets Peter Pomerantsev buy her whiskey and colas and pizza—but not with pepperoni, because she is a Muslim. Wahhabi preachers from Saudi Arabia have captivated her sister, who now wears a headscarf and is contemplating becoming a Black Widow, a suicide bomber. “Two sisters. One a prostitute. The other on jihad,” Pomerantsev summarizes.