Masha Gessen

Russian-American journalist and activist

Maria Alexandrovna Gessen (Russian: Мари́я Алекса́ндровна Ге́ссен; born 13 January 1967) is a Russian-American journalist, author, translator and activist who has been an outspoken critic of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin and the former President of the United States, Donald Trump. They are a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Activists and journalists who get enough death threats and take them sufficiently seriously to hire bodyguards are also usually careful about what they ingest.


Attacks by poisoning are possibly even more common in Russia than assassinations by gunfire.
Lying is not a side effect of what RT does; it is the channel's heart.


  • It’s a no-brainer that we should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist. Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie.
  • After nearly fifteen years of systematic destruction of public space, engineered by Putin, the normal ways by which regular people absorb information about the state of their country are gone. Only a person who had lost his livelihood or half his savings would have been able to report that the economy was failing.
  • Russian activists and journalists who get enough death threats and take them sufficiently seriously to hire bodyguards are also usually careful about what they ingest. Soon after the chess champion Garry Kasparov quit the sport to go into politics full time, in 2004, he hired a team of eight bodyguards, who not only accompanied him everywhere but also carried drinking water and food for Kasparov to eat at meals shared in public. Three years ago, Kasparov told me that what he liked most about foreign travel was being able to shed his bodyguards for a while. A year after that, threats drove him to leave Russia permanently.
  • Attacks by poisoning are possibly even more common in Russia than assassinations by gunfire. Most famously, Alexander Litvinenko, a secret-police whistle-blower, was killed by polonium in London, in 2006. Last week, British newspapers reported that a Russian businessman who dropped dead while jogging in a London suburb in 2012 had been killed by a rare plant poison. He had been a key witness in a money-laundering case that had originally been exposed by the Moscow accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured to death, in 2009, in a Russian jail.
  • Like the Soviet regime before it, the Putin government spreads fear by destroying the illusion that one can protect oneself... People who work at two Moscow restaurants have warned me, separately, about the precise locations of listening devices at the eateries. The warnings came unbidden. The food at both places was, incidentally, not only very good but also apparently safe. That, along with the springtime sun, helps maintain the bizarre sense of normalcy that has a way of going hand in hand with the mortal danger that has become a fact of everyday life.
    • "Putin's Russia: Don't Walk, Don't Eat, and Don't Drink", The New Yorker (28 May 2015)


  • [Following conciliatory messages from, among others, Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama after the result of the 2016 presidential election became known] However well-intentioned, this talk assumes that Trump is prepared to find common ground with his many opponents, respect the institutions of government, and repudiate almost everything he has stood for during the campaign. In short, it is treating him as a "normal" politician. There has until now been little evidence that he can be one.
  • Putin's madman-on-the-world-stage shtick forced saner world leaders to devise strategies for minimizing the damage Russia can do. But now that Donald Trump has demonstrated that he will not only speak without thinking but also fire missiles without interrupting dessert, he has one-upped Putin.
  • So Trump dropped the "mother of all bombs"—the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal—on Afghanistan, because, surely, the reason ISIS has not yet been defeated is that America has not used a big enough bomb.
  • Trump has struck more countries with more fire power in a week than Putin often does in a year. Where Putin's unpredictable persona is a carefully cultivated one, Trump has given no evidence that his madman act is an act.
  • [On Putin] He just keeps talking. And throwing numbers out there. Most of them wrong. It's meant to create the impression that he knows what he's talking about. But it's also just meant to drown you in meaningless stuff.
  • [On Trump] He talks and you don’t even know where the punctuation marks fall. And the more you try to engage with those words, the less they mean.
  • No powerful political actor had set out to destroy the American political system itself — until, that is, Trump won the Republican nomination. He was probably the first major party nominee who ran not for president but for autocrat. And he won.
  • [In answer to the question: "You were born in Russia, spent your teenage years in America then moved back to Moscow as an adult. Do you feel more Russian or American?"] It doesn't really work that way. But when you have emigrated as often as I have, you learn the benefits of being an outsider. I am very comfortable not belonging. I find it extremely beneficial to my work as a journalist to be highly attuned to this culture yet at the same time hovering outside of it.
  • [The Russian media] Coverage is repetitive not just from day to day, television channel to television channel; nearly identical stories appear in print and online media, too. According to a number of current and former employees at Russian news outlets, there is a simple explanation for this: at weekly meetings with Kremlin officials, editors of state-controlled media, including broadcasters and publishers, coördinate topics and talking points. Five days a week, a state-controlled consultancy issues a more detailed list of topics.
  • In the United States, when we talk about mass violence and we are not talking about ideology, we usually talk about the easy availability of guns. Of course, access to guns matters. The easier it is, technically, to kill people, the more people will be killed.
  • Yet, although no one pursues the politics of hating or othering children and arguing that they should be dead, school shootings proliferate, because one can imagine no terror greater than the terror inflicted on children and on their families. The essential precondition for mass violence, it seems, is not guns or hate but a culture of terror, a common imaginary that includes the possibility of a mass shooting.

About Gessen

  • Gessen is American, too. They (Gessen is transgender and non-binary and prefers the pronouns "they/them") were born in Russia, grew up in the US, and then lived in Russia again as a journalist, before returning to the US. This allows for a deep comparison between Trump and Vladimir Putin, on whom they have written a well-known book The Man Without a Face. The parallels are evident: Trump admires Putin. Indeed, he would like to be America's Putin.
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