Vladimir Putin: ‘In life there is no happiness, there’s only the specter of happiness’

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On Wednesday, President Biden and President Putin had a four-hour meeting in Geneva. This was not some sketchy little side-meeting, like Donald Trump had with Putin in Helsinki three years ago. The Helsinki incident is still… largely a mystery, and Donald Trump’s behavior at that summit was so egregious, so blatantly treasonous, it’s weird that few people even talk about it these days. Anyway, Putin got philosophical after spending four hours in a room with President Biden, the translators and some diplomats.

About the only thing Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agreed on as they headed into a high-stakes summit Wednesday was that the relationship between the United States and Russia is at a low point. After close to four hours of talks at a Geneva chalet, that doesn’t appear to have changed. “There is no happiness in life,” Putin said somewhat cryptically in a press conference after discussions wrapped. “There is only a mirage on the horizon. So cherish that.”

The leaders met to discuss a wide range of issues, including Russia’s cyberattacks and the Kremlin’s treatment of dissidents like Alexei Navalny, but the overarching goal for Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to redraw red lines around the government’s malign behavior after four years of deference by Donald Trump, whose disastrous visit with Putin in Helsinki three years ago loomed over Wednesday’s summit. That Biden did not appear to be charmed by the Russian strongman or at any point preoccupied with a soccer ball represented a welcome departure and a reset to more traditional U.S. leadership.

Putin, meanwhile, pointedly refused to answer some questions himself, including about Navalny, the jailed opposition leader who was said to be close to death in April during a hunger strike. (Should Navalny die, Biden said later, the consequences would be “devastating for Russia.”) Biden and Putin exchanged a handshake and pleasantries as the summit began—Biden also gifted Putin a pair of aviator sunglasses—but they made no secret of their disagreements. “I would like to thank you for the initiative to meet today,” said Putin, who was unexpectedly on time for the summit (his typical power move is to show up late). “Still, U.S.-Russian relations have accumulated a lot of issues that require a meeting at the highest level, and I hope that our meetings will be productive.”

It wasn’t clear if many tangibles came out of the summit. The two sides agreed to return ambassadors to their posts and discussed areas that should be considered off limits to cyber attacks. But nobody realistically expected the meeting to put an immediate stop to Putin’s malicious conduct at home and abroad. “This is not a light-switch moment,” Blinken said Monday, seeking to temper expectations. “This is about the president wanting to do two things, and he’s been very clear about it—to tell President Putin directly that we seek a more predictable, stable relationship, and if we’re able to do that, there are areas where it’s in our mutual interest to cooperate. But if Russia continues to take reckless and aggressive actions, we’ll respond forcefully.”

[From Vanity Fair]

The Putin quote is being translated in different ways. VF went with “There is no happiness in life. There is only a mirage on the horizon. So cherish that.” Other outlets went with “In life there is no happiness. There’s only the specter of happiness.” A subtle difference, from “mirage” to “specter.” It actually sounds less Russian and more Irish, which is what four hours in a room with Joe Biden gets you. As for the meeting and whether it was “productive,” I don’t think that was the goal. The goal wasn’t to come out of the meeting with some tangible results or something to sign. The meeting’s goal was to show Putin that he doesn’t have a puppet in the White House, and our NATO allies are not his chess pieces.

As for the gifts… Biden gifted Putin a glass sculpture of an American bison, made by Steuben Glass of New York. Biden also gave Putin a pair of custom aviator sunglasses. LOL. I can’t find anything about any gifts Putin gave to Biden?

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76 Responses to “Vladimir Putin: ‘In life there is no happiness, there’s only the specter of happiness’”

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  1. Millennial says:

    I’m just going to go with I think Putin probably reads a lot of philosophy. He seems like someone whose spent some time contemplating the real, our relationship to desire/lack, etc…

    I’m not valorizing him, he’s awful and needs to release Navalny, FYI

    • GraceB says:

      I think you’re right, he seems like that type of person. I don’t doubt that he’s trouble but I also think the western medias take on anything relating to Russia is America = good and Russia = bad. Different countries and and cultures are never that black and white.

    • Lightpurple says:

      I think he has been watching the Avengers over and over and is paraphrasing Loki’s opening lines about the bright lure of freedom being an illusion.

    • LaraK says:

      Yeah I mean a LOT of dictators are/were into philosophy and art. It’s not really a surprise.

      Plus it’s a very Russian thing to say. Not in a good or bad way just in a culturally factual way.

      • Anance says:


      • Juju says:

        That’s exactly what I thought when I read his comment, lol. Having had several close Russian/Eastern Europeans friends in my life. A more Russian phrase was never uttered.

    • LaraW” says:

      In Russia, it was standard (not sure if it still is today) for Russians to memorize entire passages of famous books and poetry. Like, if you can’t recognize Pushkin’s Evgeny Onegin or Bronze Horseman, you’ve failed as a Russian.

      I think it’s similar to people in the US having to memorize parts of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. I remember I had to memorize like a paragraph of Thomas Paine’s whole “These are the times that try men’s souls” when I was in elementary school.

      The particular quote Putin was paraphrasing is, I believe, from Leo Tolstoy’s notebooks (not novels).

      • Juju says:

        Facts! I taught internationally for several years at IB schools. Once I had a Russian mother request a meeting to complain that her child had not memorized any poems or passages of literature. I taught Kindergarten by the way. She went on to describe how in Russia children learn (rote memorization is the lowest form of learning btw) to recite long passages and poems, and she believed that I was failing them as a teacher.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      Okay, Dostoyevsky. Your face is making me unhappy. Never seen a man with so many fillers. Wait, no, I have—Berlusconi, that Italian sleazebag, whatever his name was.

    • sally says:

      Putin is an intelligent man. Doesn’t mean he isn’t also terrible.
      PS: he’s also the most famous person I’ve ever seen in rl and he’s tiny.

  2. Alexandria says:

    He is an awful awful person but he fascinates me. I hate that.

    • Cecilia says:

      Dictators often do tho…. They’re horrible but sometimes complex people.

      And i feel like humans have a natural fascination with the darker side of life, if you know what i mean.

      • Alexandria says:

        Nah I’m not fascinated by other dictators like Kim. I’m not attracted to bad boys either. It’s just an anomaly lol.

      • BrainFog says:

        @Alexandria same. I hate the rest of them, especially the ugly little man in Turkey, and the former orange thing in the US, but despite my absolute awareness that Putin is as dangerous as they come, I find him interesting and difficult to hate. The brain is weird.

      • Juju says:

        Once there was a photo of Putin driving a mini submarine that circulated, and my friend remarked that he was like a Bond villain. I can’t see him any other way now!

    • LaraW” says:

      Putin understands power— in all its different forms— and knows how to use it. He’s been in power since 1999/2000.

      I’ve always respected Hilary Clinton, but my respect for her increased a thousandfold when I learned that Putin spent 2 years and millions of dollars just to take her down during her election campaign. He knew she wouldn’t take his bullshit, would impose devastating sanctions that would have huge effects on the Russian economy and really risk destabilizing the country and his power.

      • Eleonora says:

        Good point about Clinton.

        When I browse through Twitter, his bots still seem to be hard at work.

        The latest trend seems to be pictures of Afro-American athletes as a pfp, while spewing very Trump-like talk points under tweets of politicians, and something feeling off in general.

        When I checked their profiles, they sometimes call themselves “rap expert” or “music expert”.

  3. EnormousCoat says:

    Is the happiness comment a threat against the U.S. democracy/ our declaration of independence?
    I once read an article about Putin by a photographer who said he conveyed a deliberate and menacing power, which he found absolutely chilling. Biden can certainly hold his own, and it is a relief to have a President again, instead of a treasonous, white supremacist buffoon.

    • Darla says:

      “who said he conveyed a deliberate and menacing power, which he found absolutely chilling”

      This is how I view him, and he gives me the big time creeps. I find him repulsive. Big Evil Energy.

      • EnormousCoat says:

        And now with Angela Merkel stepping down – she knew how to handle Putin. I’m so glad we have a competent president again, but we still have a large faction of Americans who don’t want our democracy to succeed. But democracies everywhere owe Merkel a debt of gratitude for how she handled Putin and Trump on the world stage.

      • Esmom says:

        Darla, Yes. He is a literal killer, as Biden truthfully noted. My dad’s family fled a Russian-occupied country during WWII after friends and neighbors were massacred by the Red Army as Nazi forces also advanced toward their town. My dad has always maintained that Putin is nothing but a KGB thug.

      • Betsy says:

        @Esmom – I thought it was a known fact that Putin was a KGB thug?

  4. LaraW” says:

    He’s quoting Leo Tolstoy. The full Tolstoy quote is: «В жизни нет счастья, есть только зарницы его. Дорожите ими».

    • Watson says:

      This quote is peak Russian. Lol. My Russian friends are going to have a field day with this one.

      • LaraW” says:

        It’s interesting how they chose to translate it, because «зарница» is what people in the US call “summer lightning,” the kind that’s just a flash of bright light in the clouds.

        Saying “specter” or “mirage” doesn’t quite evoke the same image/meaning.

      • Watson says:

        That’s beautiful imagery! Thank you for the direct translation!

      • LaraW” says:

        You’re welcome! I’m glad my Slavic Studies degree was useful for something! 😆

      • Golly Gee says:

        @LaraW perhaps ephemeral?

      • Betsy says:

        @LaraW” – do you mean heat lightning? Maybe that’s a regional word.

  5. Lightpurple says:

    I can’t find anything about whether Putin brought gifts either. He was on time for once; guess he learned that trick wasn’t going to work.

    The bison sculpture is actually a lovely gift. Russia is rebuilding its bison population with imported American bison and the sculpture reflects that.

    The aviator sunglasses are a hoot with so many meanings! They are made for NATO forces. So, here, Volodya, you can have a pair of these super cool NATO sunglasses but you can’t join or destroy NATO. You know he was just dying to try those on!

    As for his “there is no happiness” bit. As I said above, he has been watching The Avengers over and over and is paraphrasing Loki’s freedom speeches

    • Rapunzel says:

      Would that the TVA would come for Vlad and get him for meddling in our elections.

    • Larisa says:

      Or maybe Loki is paraphrasing Tolstoy. Putin used allusions and quotes from several works of art famous and beloved in Russia during his interview. How very American to presume that everyone quotes your culture.

  6. Aang says:

    What a Russian thing to say. I remember a Russian immigrant on This American Life saying something like: ‘Americans want a partner that makes them laugh, Russians want a partner that also understands the misery of life’.

    • Watson says:

      Right??? It’s so Russian! How can you not giggle? I realize the context is a lot more serious in Putin’s case but the cultural differences in outlooks in life are so funny.

    • Yawnho says:

      Sounds like I’m Russian bc I also want someone to find someone who understands the misery of life, not just to make me laugh!

      • Eve says:


        Oh, great, here comes the competition!

        I never ever understood why was I born in Brazil. A substantial aspect of my depression is that — no matter how much I try* — I never fit in.

        *I’ve given up trying.

  7. equality says:

    Biden gifted the Queen an engraved silver box and I can’t find news of any return gift there either. No wonder she wants to meet with each president. Meanwhile, Boris reportedly can’t keep his gifted bike unless he pays the difference in value between what he is allowed to accept and the price of the bike.

    • The Recluse says:

      That sounds similar to the rules for Presidents and First Ladies. All gifts belong to the government unless they pay for it to keep it personally.

  8. Golly Gee says:

    “ or at any time preoccupied with a soccer ball…“

    • SarahCS says:

      I love that this is dropped in. We need to keep remembering the horror of what actually went on for those four years!

  9. Angie says:

    Agree with everyone above who says this is just a super russian thing to say/outlook on life

  10. Moxylady says:

    Is it because he keeps killing people who disagree with him? Those specter might be actual ghosts

    • Golly Gee says:

      He’s apparently terrified of dying. Does everything he can to remain young including messing with his face.

  11. MangoAngelesque says:

    Have you seen the photo comparisons of the body language contrasts re: Trump/Putin vs. Biden/Putin? It’s hilarious; Putin looks like a sulky baby with Biden…

  12. Shannon says:

    LOL….I know I am not supposed to like this guy, but Putin is just funny. Meh…Russians are a pretty fatalistic bunch. It’s why a lot Americans don’t get Russian culture.

    • Golly Gee says:

      Considering what the Russian people have been through in their long history, it’s no wonder they are fatalistic and pessimistic.

      • Golly Gee says:

        Maybe jaded is a better word than pessimistic. For some reason I can’t edit my comment.

  13. Case says:

    He must be fun at parties.

  14. K says:

    Forgive me, but as someone whose maternal side came from Russia post WW1, this is a very Russian way of thinking. Yes, it does sound a bit like The Avengers, but many people from this part of the world have an almost fatalistic outlook .I call it the Russian soul.

    • MaGnomer says:

      Many people know of the “Russian soul” concept if they are familiar with Russian history and culture. Brilliantly poetic, deeply tragic and beautiful.

      Putin and co are just master strategists. (Chess.) Of course Russia is not happy about NATO alliance resurgence. Too bad, so sad. Yes, his attempt to derail NATO was a flash in the pan, as we Americans say. “Summer lightning.”

  15. Justjj says:

    This legit made me LOL because agree with everyone else that it is the most Russian thing he could possibly say. He gives me the creeps but I think deep down he is a wounded little sociopath, which doesn’t make him less dangerous, but when I see him, I kind of see Pinky from Pinky and the Brain inside a man suit. This is creepy in its own way, though.

  16. Dashen'ka says:

    Russian person and Russian cultural historian here. And LOL. I really wish your average Russians were so philosophical and culturally sensitive and literary as so many of these comments suggest. Folks, mainstream Russian culture is so anti-intellectual, so conspiratorial, so willfully ignorant, so trashy it would make a UK tabloid columnist blush. It’s been BAD since the 90s. I’m no cheerleader for the USSR, but particularly after Stalin the cultural level was frankly much higher despite the censorship. Those of you who understand Russian, this song encapsulates what I’m describing perfectly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSgizzkkbh0 (Любит наш народ by Ленинград)

    • Eve says:


      “I’m no cheerleader for the USSR, but particularly after Stalin the cultural level was frankly much higher despite the censorship.”

      I used to be (an unapologetic cheerleader for the USSR). I guess I still am in some way…I know now it was no paradise but I also know there was education and healthcare. Things that right-winged dictatorships crush first (and as much as they can).

      Anyone who has experienced, at any level, how bad the extreme, military, right-winged dictatorship (and its “legacy”) in Brazil was knows how I feel.

      I was a toddler/little girl during those horrific years so I knew practically nothing about politics. Once I was aware of what happened I thanked every star in the Universe we used to live in the countryside and were somewhat removed from all the turmoil in the more enlightened places. Because I know at least one member of my family would likely have been arrested, tortured and killed for being a lefty. Or just for wearing red, or reading Marx…

      Now that I’ve grown up I fear for my life as well. I’m a lefty. Always will be. We’ve been plagued by the right-winged dictatorship’s “legacy” I’ve referenced above in the shape of president Bolsonaro and his minions.

      I’m scared sh*tless they (the military, right-winged dictatorship) might come back. Actually, they might already have — we’re already living a nightmare with Trump’s personal but licker (an army’s fanatic, batsh*t crazy, dumb, genocidal a**hole) who has been filling his government with old school generals and military assorted individuals.

      Sorry for the rant.

      • Eve says:

        Bolsonaro short list of f*ckery:

        Avid torture methods defender;

        Said he would rather have a son die in a car crash than coming home with bearded dude;

        Proudly told an interviewer none of his sons has ever had relantionships with black women because he would never allow that kind of promiscuity in his home (again, his exact words);

        Pandemic Negationist (said Covid–19 was just a little cold/flu);

        Said masks were for f*ggots (his ACTUAL words);

        Told people to take a combo of hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin (still does, by the way);

        Purposely ignored e-mails from companies like Pfizer regarding vaccines;

        Prohibited the states from importing the Sputnik V vaccine — it was a political maneuver since he wasn’t moving a finger about vaccination so Brazilian Supreme Court allowed the states to take actions;

        Told people (who were mourning their dead) to stop whining and being sissies;

        During his infamous lives mocked a sick person grasping for air (twice);

        Walks around masksless and promoting agglomerations;

        I could go on and on but I’ll leave you with this:

        494,000 (plus) thousand deaths;

        Average daily deaths around 2,800 thousand;

        New Covid confirmed cases around 44+ thousand (daily).

        Tolstoy, Putin or even Loki are right: there is no happiness.

    • LaraW” says:


      I very much agree with your assessment of mainstream Russian culture today. And I think that simply memorizing something makes a person cultured or an intellectual, just as memorizing parts of the Constitution make a person an expert on policy. My Russian professors were all raised in the USSR and are about the same age as Putin, which is why I’m not surprised he was able to quote it offhand.

  17. Mimmy says:

    The US have interfered with elections in other countries since the end of World II and everybody knows it.

    In Latin America they’ve supported dictators&helped them overthrow democratically elected governments.

    The lack of self-awareness is shocking – or maybe not. 🙃

  18. Musti says:

    Putin is pouting; he is in a weaker position on the world stage. The U.S. needs to acknowledge how devastating the 1990’s were for Russia. The policy of “Shock capitalism” contributed to the corruption and destabilization of the entire region. There was no Marshall Plan for the former Soviet Union. There were no winners in the Cold War — and it never really ended — it just shifted to asymmetric warfare. Cyber attacks, online radicalization, etc.

    • MaGnomer says:

      Musti, yes. This is accurate. No end to the Vold War.

      Highly educated people with lack of opportunity are willing participants in cyber warfare.

      Someone made a comment up thread about the USA involvement in derailing elections in other nations, as if this is new information. I’m old enough to know this has been known for many decades. This topic has only become a “talking point” in conservative circles recently. I notice it’s dropped like a bomb, intended to shock and have some kind of awakening effect, but the conversation never goes deeper.

  19. Christa says:

    Putin is a well trained, skilled psychopath. Same for MBS of Saudi Arabia. And Xi. I could go on but those are the big ones. It makes it difficult to believe the current world is more peaceful than in the past.

  20. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Acknowledging the futility of everything is my job not a world leader’s lol.

  21. J ferber says:

    I’ll go you one further: he has dedicated his life to destroying the happiness of others in his megalomaniac quest for absolute power . In some ways, he’s the former guy’s twin. He’s a narcissist who suppresses his own people and jails or kills opponents. However, he doesn’t need to worry about popularity because of the soulless killer thing. His only interests are expanding his power and accumulating untold wealth. He needs psychotherapy while doing jail time.

    • Twin falls says:

      Minus the being a world leader this could be my ex…

      he has dedicated his life to destroying the happiness of others in his megalomaniac quest for absolute power.

  22. Midge says:

    First of all, that’s the most Russian quote ever.
    Second, if Putin’s eyes got any closer together, they’d be on the bridge of his nose.

  23. J ferber says:

    Twin Falls, I’m glad that guy is your ex (and not your current). Good on you for getting out of that relationship.🙂

  24. Shawna says:

    Easy to justify horrific actions if you assume there is no happiness.