When forced to choose a successor as president in 2007, one of his top lieutenants, Sergei B. Ivanov, was so convinced he would be the next president that he groomed himself for the job, before finding out that Putin had chosen Dmitry A. Medvedev. Putin played another trick in September 2011, when he suddenly announced that he would replace Medvedev after one term — news that caught the capital unprepared, and became the germ of a wave of protests.
Pozner, the television host, called it “a kind of byzantine way of doing things,” but traced it back far beyond Putin, to Josef Stalin and the czars who came before him.
“There has never been open discussion” in Russian politics, he said. “It’s all illusions, smoke and mirrors.”
Asked about Flight 150, Pozner chuckled.
“It might not seem funny to you, and it might seem very funny to a lot of top people, who are maybe congratulating each other, patting each other on the back and saying, ‘Didn’t we screw them?’” he said. “It’s not very delicate, but that’s the way it is.”