The Atlantic Council

Russia’s Strategic Interest with the West

Introduction and Moderator:
Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council

Mikhail Khodorkovsky,
Philanthropist and
Former CEO of Yukos

Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Date: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Transcript By
Superior Transcriptions LLC

FREDERICK KEMPE: Good afternoon. My name is Fred Kempe. I’m president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Mr. Khodorkovsky, I think you can see by the audience here the large amount of interest there is in today’s session. And so thank you, everyone, for joining us today. And thanks, also, to all of those who are watching our webcast online. This event is public and on the record. So I encourage you to follow the conversation online and tweet your reactions using hashtag #ACRussia.

It’s my pleasure to welcome you all to a conversation with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Mr. Khodorkovsky and I met, I think, a couple of times. But the last time, if I’m not mistaken, was in 2003 in Davos at the World Economic Forum. And I remember that very clearly, as I was then the editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, because you were speaking quite prophetically about the dangers and the trials ahead in Russia. And I don’t think many people were very focused on the world that you were seeing ahead.

And that, of course, is the reason that you founded Open Russia in 2003, an organization to foster European values within Russia. After founding it, you were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to nine years in prison for charges of fraud and tax evasion – charges widely believed to have been fabricated or, at the very least, politically motivated. I believe it was the hotel at that time that was the Russian hotel in Davos, the Sunstar, and I just remember that conversation vividly. You were declared then a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and only released and exiled by Vladimir Putin in December 2013 prior to the Sochi Olympics.

You have compared your release from prison to one of the “Back to the Future” movies, where the protagonist returns home to – (off mic) – crime-infested, ruled from above like an imperial fiefdom. In 2014, you relaunched Open Russia to once again organize Russian citizens to build a state governed by the rule of law and regulated by free elections. We do a lot of work around the situation in Ukraine at the Atlantic Council. We are determined that Ukraine should be able to decide its own destiny. But equally, we are determined that Russia belongs in a Europe whole and free, where it should find its rightful and peaceful place. And we’re dedicated to that, as I know you are.

Just last April at Stanford University you said – and you described a vision of reform and a return of the country toward a path of freedom and prosperity. You said: It is a dream of, quote, “Successful, smiling, self-confident people who have jobs they love, who don’t have to struggle for existence day in and day out, where every citizen who obeys the law can feel himself more confident than a president who violates the law, and where the state has no choice but to respect people’s rights and international obligations.” The Atlantic Council shares that same vision for a confident, prosperous and peaceful Russia.

Just last week at the Atlantic Council’s Wroclaw Global Forum in Poland we heard from similar Russian activists, such as Ilya Yashin, who has continued Boris Nemtsov’s work following his death, culminating in the publication of “Putin. War.” We also hosted Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion, who presented one of our freedom awards posthumously to Nemtsov – to Boris Nemtsov and his – and Nemtsov’s daughter Jenna – Zhanna accepted the award on her father’s behalf.

Kasparov described his friend Nemtsov saying, quote, “Every war has its front lines where only the bravest of the brave volunteer to fight. Boris was one of those rare knights of freedom who, knowing full-well the dangers and the odds, battled every day as if he were invincible.” We know no one is invincible, Mr. Khodorkovsky, but we are delighted to have you here. We’re very sorry that Boris Nemtsov is not here and we’re very sorry that others are in danger as well.

Before I invite Mr. Khodorkovsky to the stage, I’ll note that we have provided you all with headphones to access simultaneous translation from Mr. Khodorkovsky’s Russian into English. And Russian will be on channel two, English will be on channel one. And I believe it’s a similar arrangement in the webcast so that people can listen this way in the webcast. Mr. Khodorkovsky, the floor is yours. (Applause.)

(Note: Mr. Khodorkovsky’s remarks are made through an interpreter.)

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: Ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to welcome you here. The Atlantic Council is created as an organization with the goal of fostering the development of trans-Atlantic cooperation in trade, security and politics. If we look at the way the post-war history has played out, it can be said that your organization, along with other parties to the process, has enjoyed considerable success. Almost every country in Europe has today succeeded in transitioning to democratic forms of governance.

However, there’s a part of Europe where many problems remain unsolved. In the wake of the events in the Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, there are many who are forecasting an increase in tensions, the further isolation of our country and even a renewal of the Cold War. But there is an alternative scenario for the future which, as I see it, will inevitably come in the medium or at least the long term. And this is exactly what I would like to speak about today, how to transition from isolation to integration of Russia into the Euro-Atlantic community.

First, let’s talk about isolation. Sanctions have seriously hurt the Russian economy. And of course, for modern Russia it has far fewer resources than the Soviet Union once had. Nevertheless, Russia has enough of them to keep things tense for the next 10 or even 20 years. Another question is, at what price? Of course, a new arms race and exclusion of Russia from the international scientific and technical and trade systems will have an impact. Even now, a redistribution of the budget expenditure is taking place. The state is stopping investments in social capital and is putting money into arming and the security structures.

In the first quarter of 2015, military spending totaled a record 9 percent of GDP. This means less money will be spent on schools and on hospitals. In the long term, this will lead to a serious deterioration in people’s quality of life. The current confrontation with the West is absolutely artificial. The cooling of relations has been inspired by those Russian elites who want to hold on to power. They desperately need an image of an enemy who would distract the populous – the attention of the populous from the corruption and inefficiency that exist in the power. Inflaming internal and external confrontation is the only mechanism – and we must admit that it is an effective mechanism – for the survival of the current regime.

Perhaps you recall and saw that in 2011 and 2012 our country had outgrown its current authoritarian and retrograde leadership. The discontent among the middle class was growing. They began to demand a different quality of public services and institutions. The discontent metamorphosed into mass protests. At that moment, Russia was ready to make a transition to democracy, competitiveness and self-government. It was only at the cost of enormous propaganda efforts, pandering to the dark instincts of the mob, was the power able to turn this process around. In order to preserve power, they are preserving the country’s isolation and are pushing Russia back into the Middle Ages.

The next question is the interrelationship between Russia and the West, which is a complex intertwining of interests. In order to find a way out of the current situation, we must first understand that all the relations between Russia and the West – all the participants have different interests – the U.S., the old Europe, the new Europe, the Russian regime, the Russian people. It is important to understand, to realize that the national interests of Russia and the U.S. are objectively contradictory with one another – there’s no avoiding that – and that these contradictions, if the policy isn’t right, can easily lead to tensions.

Today relations between our countries are at their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War. But that’s not the end of the world. We’ve seen worse. All the periods of escalated relations between Russia and the United States have been one way or another interspersed with perhaps brief but definitely memorable thaws. The lesson to be learned here is that abrupt fluctuations in emotional states are lethal for U.S.-Russia relations. In part today, our countries in their relations with each other are paying for the illusions they had during the Perestroika era when it seemed that there were no contradictions between Russia and the U.S. When the reality hit home, both sides turned out to be ill-prepared for that.

Of course, this does not justify today’s rancor and suspicions, but it goes some way towards explaining them. The good news for the two countries is that their strategic long-term interests of these two countries overlap in many ways, even today. The main political challenges we have are the same. Terrorism, the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East are equally dangerous for both Russia and the U.S., in fact perhaps even more dangerous for Russia given the situation in the south of our country. The new China, likewise, presents a common competitive challenge.

The bad news is that in the political elite of today’s Russia there is no one to advance the country’s true national interests. The interrelationship indeed between the state and the national interests has always – was always a problem point in Russia. The reason for this is obviously, the state in Russia for centuries has given voice to the interests of the Russian bureaucracy and the ruling classes and not those of the Russian nation at large. Therefore, there has always been a chasm between Russian elite interests and Russian national interests. And sometimes they have coincided, but nearly always the Russian bureaucracy has given voice to the national interests in a distorted form.

Today, as I have already said, these interests have diverged fundamentally. The ruling regime in Russia is in desperate need of confrontation with the U.S. in the West, while the interests of Russian society would require the closest possible cooperation with the Western world. Unfortunately, there can be no talk of any new strategic rapprochement while Putin remains in power. In Russia, there’s – such a system has been built under which any decision can be suddenly changed at the caprice of one person – at the whim of one person, who is not controlled by any internal political mechanisms.

After that, the court politologists are going to sincerely convince flabbergasted experts that the decision that is contrary to the previous one is completely logical and legal. We have already observed this many a time. But thanks to the fact that Russia has a monopolized media, such abrupt changes of direction find support among the greater part of Russia’s population. All the more so, leaders of other states who have access, as they do, to objective information, assume quite reasonably that Putin is often deliberately feigning madness and unpredictability, considering this to be a shrewd political move. In this situation, to speak of strategic rapprochement seems naïve to me.

Nevertheless, we need to fight at least to – at least within the current containment strategy would not allow for a real global war to happen. As you can read, see and observe, the current regime is prepared to play this game. But don’t think more about these people than they need to. They do want to stay alive, after all. But they can certainly get too carried away with their game and not – and the main thing is to not let this happen. Sooner or later the collapse of the system will occur and we need to prepare for this event even now.

The West must establish close cooperation with the Europe-oriented part of Russia’s society and set up mechanisms for our country’s rapid reintegration into the global system after the regime change. We’re not going to have a big window of opportunity. The incomplete integration of Russia in the 1990s has created a bad situation, both for Russia and for Russian society.

And now let’s talk more about integration. Russian citizens, like citizens of any other country in the world, want security, they want to live comfortably, they want a good education for their children and they want to be confident about tomorrow. We are no different in this respect. As history of the past hundred years has shown, such a transformation is impossible without integration into the Western world, where we know of several successful examples of economic transformation in the 20th century – Germany, Japan, South Korea, Italy and even China. All of their transitions to a new stage of economic development began with improving relations with the West.

I want to bring your attention to the following: Russia is the only northern country in the world that has not made a transition to democracy. When the current regime leaves the scene, the United States and Western Europe, in my view, must make every effort to facilitate Russia’s economic integration. The West must in no way repeat the mistake of not fully integrating our country. Russia’s accession into NATO and the European Union after a regime change, as fantastic as this may sound today, is absolutely necessary to us – just as necessary to us as it is for the West.

Of course, such a move will lead to a reformatting of these institutions, but the alternative is worse. A more diversified economy and exports, in combination with the free movement of people including a visa-free regime, free ideas of ideas and capital – this is the guarantee that Russia will not have an authoritarian regime established in its country that’s dangerous to its neighbors, because one of the key instruments wielded by the current authorities is the ability to take under control the sources of economic rents and to buy the loyalty of televisions, security services, justice system, et cetera. With this money in a technologically advanced, diversified, Western, deeply integrated – deeply Western-integrated Russia will prevent a potential dictator of economic – to have an economic base in popular political support in society because it’ll form alternative interests and power centers.

And now, allow me to summarize what I have said above. Here’s what we need to understand about today’s relations between Russia and the West, from my point of view, and what we must be striving towards. Number one, Putin’s Russia today is heading down the road of self-isolation, but this is an erroneous path and after Putin the situation will certainly change. Item two, Western society, on its side, is – it’s just as important for them to ensure not the isolation of Russia forever, but its gradual, even difficult integration into the Euro-Atlantic world.

Number three, Russia – from the point of view of its historical genesis, the mentality of the people, the dominant elements of culture – Russia is a European – or let’s even say Euro-Atlantic country. And it’s objectively interest in European and Euro-Atlantic integration. In the end, this will entail succession to NATO and subsequently into the EU.

Item four, despite what’s going on right now, Russia remains the most powerful and economically developed country in the post-Soviet space. It must therefore assume the mantel of directing European and Euro-Atlantic integration of the whole post-Soviet space. It’s precisely from the point of bringing into the region political, legal and economic standards. This too is the mechanism – or, this then is the mechanism for the Russian Federation to restore its moral and political authority in the vast post-Soviet space.

Item five, whether anyone wants this or not, it’s imperative to put – to impact the current political – the current political regime in Russian Federation to incline it towards a conventional position on key questions. Item six, it is vital for American elites to understand and perhaps even accept that Russia has its own objective interests. These interests will have to be translated into action by the next generation of Russian elites, some of whom in terms of their personnel will overlap with the current elite, as critical our attitude towards that may be.

Item seven, Russia has no objective of containing China, our biggest neighbor. But the future of the – the future Russian Federation can develop a joint common policy on China together with the U.S. and the European Union. It’s, in essence, interaction without domination. And finally, item eight, we, those who see Russia differently, are looking for allies that will help Russia to finally cement its place in Europe. Russia, in its turn, will become for the West an opportunity to take part in a new economic leap forward, an important factor in neutralizing a variety of global threats, including terrorism and Islamic extremism. This is how I see the most important challenges that we have facing us together. (Applause.)

MR. KEMPE: So, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, I think you’ve given us some food for thought. I thought that was a masterful presentation. And certainly in a year where we’re not sure we can even get Montenegro past the post of NATO membership, it certainly opens up a whole new line of reasoning. And I think its’ really fascinating.

Let me ask a couple of questions before I go to the audience, and we have a good period of time. I think we have until 2:00 for a discussion here, so we’ll be able to dig down in some of these ideas. Let me start a little bit with where we are now, and then I really do want to touch on your vision for the future, because I think that is a really healthy place to go.

There’s a lot going on in Russia we don’t entirely understand. And maybe you can actually start by – you’ve condemned leaders like Ramzan Kadyrov for participation in large-scale corruption and lies – and ties to organized crime. There was also a Chatham House report talking about the role of state officials increasing in so-called asset grabbing across Russia. Can you talk about the role of organized crime with the state, where one – you know, how it works together, the overlap there? And then, how is that already influencing Russian entrepreneurship, civil society, politics in Russia?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: To my deep regret, my notion is that – today that a part of the Russian bureaucracy is organized crime. That is, these are not two separate things. When I was in jail, I met with no small number of incidents when the state bureaucracy at various levels, all the way from ordinary policemen all the way up to generals in esteemed federal agencies, were engaged in direct and unconcealed taking away of property from people who were in jail. In fact, they were so not embarrassed about doing these things that it was clear that they’re not afraid of any consequences from doing this.

Kadyrov’s regime in Chechnya is merely one – well, perhaps the most visible examples of this general trend. When my colleagues were making the film “The Family,” and were doing interviews with Russian citizens residing in Chechnya, they found quite a few confirmations, corroborations of facts of the mass collection of tribute, not only from businesses inside Chechnya, but from ordinary citizens, including citizens working in government agencies. But beyond that even, they found corroboration of the fact that such actions are being undertaken by the security structures of Chechnya, even on the territory of Russia outside the Chechen Republic, which in my view confirms of the fact that the regime has become a criminal organization. And this reflects on its international politics as well.

MR. KEMPE: So let’s pick up on that a little bit, then. With that being the case, the picture you paint of Putin is a Putin – and we talked about this outside the room as well – who is likely to be around for another decade. So when you talk about regime change, you’re not talking about regime change in the coming months, you’re talking about a decade out. When you look at some of the recent repressions in Russia, that’s either the sign of an authoritarian that has things well under control or one that’s getting a little bit more frightened, it’s a sign of weakness. Which is it? And how does Ukraine fit into this? So looking through this model, how can we understand what Putin might do next in Ukraine?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: The system that was built by Putin is extremely contradictory internally. Any specialist in management, administration, governance can understand it easily. What he’s built is an extremely centralized, vertical structure that all focuses in on one person. What’s the advantage to such a system? It easily mobilizes resources to resolve the tasks that it has set for itself. What is its shortcoming? The number of tasks that this system can deal with is limited to the number of tasks that one person can hold in their head at one time. Furthermore, this entire system is based on this one person. And if he is sick or has some emotional difficulties, the entire system becomes unstable.

This is exactly what we are seeing both in domestic policy and in Ukraine. When Putin makes a decision, these decisions start being implemented. There are plenty of resources for this. But he can’t hold one question in his field of vision constantly. As soon as his attention is diverted to the side, the personal, private and mercenary and predictable interests of entirely different people start calling the tune. And these are not necessarily people from his inner circle. This is one of the reasons why I say that attaining strategic – or trying to reach some sort of strategic agreements with Putin is impossible, because there’s no guarantee that they’re going to be carried out.

And my view is that today, for the Russian power and for Vladimir Putin specifically, it’s not a good decision to stop the conflict in eastern Ukraine, because that quantity of nationalists who have now been concentrated in that area – if they were to return to Russia they’re not going to say thank you to Putin for that. On the other hand, though, expanding the zone of conflict for him is also not a winning situation because by doing so the potential of these – this quantity that I mentioned, of these – this quantity of these potentially destabilizing elements will only increase.

This does not mean that the conflict is not going to be expanded. He doesn’t want this to happen, but there is a sufficiently large number of people who are interested in this. And he, as I’ve said before, is not capable of holding on even such important questions in his field of vision for a long period of time. I think that the solution to the problem at this stage will be a freezing of the conflict. And this is, in my view anyway, the only realistic decision that could be made, unfortunately, as of today.

MR. KEMPE: Fascinating insights. Imagine for a moment that I’m – that you’re speaking here to the next president of the United States. And since everyone else is running, why not? (Laughter.) How do you – how – (laughs) – I’m sorry – how do you – or that you’re with President Obama right now – how – what do you tell him? How should he be managing the crisis right now with Russia? What steps should he be taking? What is he doing right? What is he doing that’s wrong?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: As of today, the conflict in Ukraine in the eyes of the majority of people in the whole world, with the exception of Russian citizens, is not a conflict between Russia and the United States of America. Russian citizens, 84 percent of them, are absolutely convinced that that’s exactly what it is.

Nevertheless, in consequence of the fact that the government of the United States cannot make statement – cannot not make statements or not do anything about this conflict – because of that, one – gradually the impression is created in broader and broader circles that this really may be a conflict between Russia and the United States on Ukrainian territory. And this situation is going to keep on developing in this direction.

If arms start being shipped to Ukraine, the process of such a transformation in people’s heads will go even faster. Then you have the question, is the American administration ready to step into this conflict and to win? Because if it is not ready for that, this will be interpreted as America having lost.

I am not an American politician and I don’t sense American – readiness for this in American society. But American politicians, in my opinion, need to very carefully weigh the situation in the balance, that in today’s informationally transparent society, it is impossible to try to scare someone with something that you do not actually intend to follow through on. And this is the base upon on needs to make such a decision.

MR. KEMPE: And the broader question – the broader question of how you handle Putin, there’s still a lot of talk, I think, in this town, also other places of Europe, that one has to try harder to find an off-ramp – to help him find an off-ramp, because one has so many other interests – Iran, Syria, et cetera. What is your answer to those saying that, with the personality that you’ve described in mind?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: I have already said, and I can only repeat, that in my view the – Putin’s real interest today would be a freezing of the conflict in Ukraine. Will he be able to make this happen, given that there are – is quite a large number of people already who are already interest in a heating of this conflict? There’s a lot of money that can be made from that. It’s hard for me to say.

But if we’re speaking of objective political interests, I would say that this is what they boil down to – and here, once again, I would like to say there’s no opportunity to reach an agreement with Putin strategically one time about what’s going to be happening further down the road in Ukraine. This is going to be constant, constant conflict situations, similar to what exists today, well, for example, between North and South Korea or maybe in Transnistria. And the United States, I’m afraid to say, has no way to escape being at least a moderator in this process.

MR. KEMPE: And sanctions, the declining oil price, the economic situation in Russia – is this having an impact on Putin, on the situation? How do you judge that?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: There is no doubt that those sanctions that were introduced, especially in the part that restricts Russian access to capital markets, have reduced the regime’s potential in relation to its foreign policy, let’s put it mildly, initiatives. But the potential of this part of the sanctions has already been felt. That is, the markets are already closed and the – maybe the situation for Russia will improve if they open, or the situation will remain the same if these sanctions are not lifted. But it’s not going to get worse.

The sanctions of the second type, the technological ones, these, of course, have a longer time horizon for their impact. And as of today, their influence is very limited. But it will become very noticeable in the medium term and the long term. The whole question here is how much the Western camp will be prepared for unity in this regard. As we know, our president speak – when he spoke before the Russian people said the situation will change within two years. I am not as confident as he was about this.

MR. KEMPE: So one more question, and then I’ll turn to the audience. I want to touch on the part of your speech that’s futuristic, and Russia as a Euro-Atlantic country. We’ve seen Russia over the years go from a Western view to an Eastern view. What gives you confidence that this is ultimately the way Russia or Russians want to go? And in some ways, I think you’re saying you’re not confident, that one would have to undergo some sort of massive short-term intervention from the West and from a group of Russians that would believe in this over a short time frame, or Russia would revert to a Putin-like situation.

Can you explain your thinking behind that? And is the thinking different if it happens six months from now than if it happens 10 years from now? I’m just – you know, I want you to go a little bit from theory to reality of how things are likely to unfold. In the White House I know, and also different parts of Europe, part of the fear is that if Putin would fall it’s by no means certain anything better would replace him. In fact, one could even have a worse situation. At least, that’s what I’m told by people who were doing scenarios right now.

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: If we – if you ask Russians about democracy, or about a European path of development, the greater part reject it. This doesn’t mean a thing except that the propaganda has very successfully undermined in people’s consciousness in Russia – they’re replaced on set of terms with another set of terms. One of the most reactionary, and at the same time funny, political parties in Russia – or foolish, perhaps – that insists on often – on not national but nationalist interests and slogans is called the Liberal Democratic Party. Yes, Mr. Zhirinovsky, exactly.

In other words, it’s a question of terminology. When we ask about – when we ask our citizens would they like an independent judiciary, would they like regular transitions of power, are they interested in having local self-administration – having local government have local sources of income – of revenue, rather, and all these things that are liberal and democratic values, we get huge part of society that says, well, of course. Yes.

If we take a map of Russia, it will seem to us that the country is mostly in Asia. But if we take a map of Russia that’s weighted to the population of Russia, we’ll see that out of a population of 140 million, 120 million live in the European part. And the part of the population that lives in the European part is increasing. So I have no doubts whatsoever that in actuality, after people figure out the real meanings of the terms, the question of whether Russia is or is not a European country is just not going to exist.

As concerns fears of who might come to replace Putin, well, let’s look at the real and not made up interests of the Russian elite – not even Russian society. Let’s just look at the elite. What, are they interested in isolation? Of course not. You know how – you know how many apartments there are in New York. London, Miami. I assure you, there are far fewer in China. This is a part of Russian society that wants to live behind five-meter high fences, as this used to exist in the last years in the transition from the Apartheid regime in Africa was taking place, that’s what it was like. I’ve seen how people live there. You think Russians want to live like that? No. They may be forced to, but they definitely don’t want that.

Therefore, the likelihood that some kind of person like Zhirinovsky, even, would come to power in Russia after Putin for any length of time is – I think the chance of that are absolutely zero. Furthermore, I am afraid that the current regime itself is exhausting the whole limit of movement in this direction. And it’ll only be better after them.

MR. KEMPE: (Off mic.) Yes.

Q: (Through interpreter.) Mr. Khodorkovsky, I would like to quote a part of your interview with Die Welt: Only the next Russian dictator will be able to return the Crimean Peninsula back to Ukraine. Under the democratic system that I would like to see in Russia, we would not be able to return Crimea to Ukraine. I have two questions. First of all, what does democracy have to do with it? And second, do you see yourself in the post of president of Russia? (Laughter.)

MR. KEMPE: You can answer the second question first. (Laughter.)

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: I wouldn’t want to try and guess right now something many years in the future. But what can be said with total confidence is that people who promise the Ukrainian people that they will return the Crimea to them and pay compensation are not going to get the vote of Russian people. This is why I say that to have a short-term solution to this question in a democratic way is not going to happen, although to admit the fact that the annexation was done in violation of international treaties and international laws, as we understand them, well any person with a healthy mind would agree with that.

So what kind of solution do I see? I see that the Russian society can be convinced, and one could get their votes for the gradual resolution of this problem, along the model of, say, Hong Kong, that is autonomization, a free economic zone, a long-term lease, et cetera, et cetera. I understand that this question is going to have to be dealt with by anybody in power in Russia at some point. And I realize that the mechanism for solving it does exist. But whoever promises to resolve this issue quickly and unambiguously is never going to get the support of Russian society in the voting booth. The other question, I’ve already talked about it. I don’t want to waste time on questions that have no practical value right now.

MR. KEMPE: Please. And if you could identify yourself. The lady right here. Identify yourself and make sure that these are questions and not speeches. Yeah.

Q: Yeah. Thank you very much. I very much appreciate your significant analysis and projection on the future of the dynamics of the situation. I’m Elaine Sarao. I’m an associate rector for Wisconsin International Ukraine University. I’m based here in Washington, D.C., but WIUU is a Ukrainian university in Kiev.

My question has to do with a number of the points you’ve pointed out. What would you see happening that we could do now, since so much of what will take place is 10 years out? How can we prepare, particularly with students in the population to dilute the disinformation that has been presented? What do you see we can do particularly, and what would you advise, with reaching out to the student population –

MR. KEMPE: The Russian student population in Russia?

Q: In Russia, and also Ukraine and other nations – in other words, social media, the whole dynamic. Could you address that? Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. And I think this is a broader, bigger question because we are seeing the use of information on behalf of Putin, and not just in warfare but in general toward Europe, et cetera, et cetera. How does a free society, as our own, combat information? So I think there’s a second part to this too. One of them is posed at students, but the other is in general how do we counteract information warfare?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: I am not a specialist in mass communications. But before making a decision, one needs to first make the diagnosis. And unfortunately, that’s something that I can do. Today the opposition part of Russian society and Western society are losing in the information war. That is, those false messages that are being advanced by the Putin regime’s propagandists get to the ears and the minds of a significant part of Russian society and a certain part of people residing even beyond the confines of Russia. We need to recognize this, admit it and deal with it. How? That’s something mass communication specialists need to tell us because the truth should beat lies not only in fairy tales.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much. Please, there’s so many questions. So let me go right here on the aisle and then I’m going to go to the back after that. Thank you.

Q: (Through interpreter.) The state Duma is now trying to transfer the elections to the Duma – make them three months earlier than they should be. Yevgeny Gontmakher said in Vedomosti that this is such an unusual step that doesn’t have any obvious advantages for the Duma, maybe it means that they might be preparing us for early presidential elections as well. And Gontmakher is proposing that these elections could take place even as early as next spring and not in 2018.

But the question is, what do you think of the likelihood of such a scenario? And if you think it is possible are early elections an advantage for Putin or, to the contrary, a weak thing for him? Because even his opinion only in two years will the Russian economy start improving. It’ll only be lower in a year. But if it does happen, then how will the Russian political opposition be able to make use of all these weak spots in this area so that Vladimir Putin could, well, let’s put it this way, not become president?

MR. KEMPE: So let me also – that’s an excellent question; we’ve been wondering about that at the Atlantic Council – add to that the resignations – the recent resignations as well. And so the early elections and the recent resignations, what’s going on?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: Objective grounds for rescheduling the elections of the president to an earlier time, I just don’t see any – which does not mean, in our country, where all decisions are made by one person and on the basis of his internal emotional calls, it’s not possible that such a decision may take place. But I just don’t see any objective reasons for this.

As concerns the governors, yes, many governors are trying to get the still-high support that the current political regime has – trying to take advantage of that in order to get themselves another term as governors, while their popularity is still high. It’s understandable that this – it’s easier to do today than perhaps in a couple of years. At the same time, the opposition is duty-bound to use, in the interests of Russian society, even those elections that are not really elections.

For this it is imperative to use them with the objective of getting to the Russian society a message about what the alternatives are, the existence of alternative people, alternative ideas and alternative organizational structures. I very much hope that the – that this will – the Russian opposition will be able to do this. I and the organization that has been founded by me, well, we’re trying to help the Russian opposition perform just these tasks.

MR. KEMPE: Back here. Yes, please. Here, and then we’ll come forward.

Q: (Through interpreter.) It is a great pleasure. Several weeks ago Masha Gessen wrote an article about if 2007 has just happened. I agree that it still hasn’t come, but I’m worried that to help – the help of the West will only accelerate the repressions and reactions of the Kremlin. We have already seen – have already seen how the organization of civil society has been persecuted because of its connections with the West, which is what the government of Russia has done. We in the West, well, are we going to create a greater threat for these people who are working for a better Russia, a better future for Russia? How can we avoid causing them harm?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: I consider that the authorities are imposing on Russian society and on the Russian opposition, Russian civil society – it’s the independent part of Russian civil society – a false notion about how contacts with the West, working together with the West are something bad. They’re treason. This is a provocation that’s aimed at having the European-oriented part of Russian society – and it is not so small, especially in the big cities – make it feel itself as being in isolation. It came out of international integration. And as a result of this, it has turned out to be dependent on the regime.

Yes, we must be attentive in explaining – we must be careful about how we explain our steps. Before speaking here, an opportunity for which I’m grateful to the hosts of this organization, I laid out my main points in the Russian press. We need to be open and we need to understand that we are first representatives of Russian society and not representatives of Western society in Russia. But if we understand this ourselves, if we are indeed representatives of Russian society and we honestly speak about those questions that we are advancing here, then what do I care that the Putin regime the people that have been deceived by it don’t like that?

MR. KEMPE: (Off mic) – please. You’ve been patiently waiting right here. I’m sorry, I’m just – so many hands. I’ll get to as many as I can. Yes.

Q: (Through interpreter.) I am from Crimea. You mentioned that after the collapse of Putin’s regime, Russia must join the European Union. What do you think? Are countries like Germany or France, the leaders of the European Union, ready to accept such a big country as Russia into their community?

MR. KEMPE: Not only are you a Russian representative or a Russian patriot, we have yet to have an English question. (Laughs, laughter.)

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: This is the second-biggest problem. The first problem is that Russian society is not ready for this yet. But we know how opinions in society change, even in historically short periods of time. Germany itself is one of the finest examples of this.

This is an objective necessity. Today Europe has exhausted, to a significant degree, the potential for its own development. The potential of the development of Europe can be found, among other places, in Russia, while the potential of Russia’s development is in Europe. And sooner or later, even Russian citizens and citizens of a united Europe are going to realize this. And because this is an objective reality, to explain it to people, to convince people of this, is the job of politicians. That’s what their job is.

MR. KEMPE: Please. Yes.

Q: Thank you very much. My name is Mirian from Embassy of Georgia. Thank you very much for your presentation.

I have a quick question. Georgia has been occupied by Russia. Twenty percent of Georgia’s territory’s still occupied. They just signed an agreement, an alliance and partnership, which is nothing but annexation. So if you were president of Russia – and we hope that someday some liberal people take leadership in Russia, how would you – how would you handle this conflict? Do you think this is conflict between Georgians and Ossetians, Georgians and Abkhazians? Or do you think this is Russian imperialism and politics in south Caucasus? Thank you very much.

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: To my deep regret, this conflict, as you know, has been going on for a long time, not even – even more than a decade. And to count on finding a quick solution to it is – there is no chance of that. My point of view is that this conflict can be settled in a peaceful fashion, for sure, definitely through the will of the citizens of Georgia and the citizens residing on those territories that are today not part of Georgia de facto. The role of Russia in this process can’t – it can’t be that Russia can not participate at all, because it’s clear that Russia does have interests in this region. But participation through force must be 100 percent ruled out.

MR. KEMPE: OK. Please. (Off mic.)

Q: I’m Paula Stern. And I’m on the Atlantic Council Executive Committee. And thank you very much for your vision today and your objective reality, as you describe it.

I want to go back to the Obama administration and – today. If you were advising the Obama administration, would you advise them to increase the presence of equipment in the Ukraine area? Would you advise them with regard – diplomatically how they address Putin, which sometimes can be, in my view, very provocative? In other words, is there – so in one – my second question’s about, is there a way really to deal with Putin diplomatically? And my first question is really, is the placement of more equipment, et cetera, just another provocative thing that really will not pay off in the end? In other words, would you suggest that the U.S. be a little more quiet?

MR. KEMPE: The whole debate really about non-lethal weapons and what –

Q: Yeah, yeah.

MR. KEMPE: That’s what you mean by the equipment, right?

Q: Yes. Yes.

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: First of all, the United States of America must answer for itself the question: What is America’s place in the world tomorrow – in tomorrow’s world? And depending on how much American society is ready to continue as before to support the position of sole superpower, or does America want to get rid of this role? Depending on that decision, one needs to then take the next steps. As concerns Putin, my view is that this is a person who’s oriented towards force.

If he sees force on the other side, he’s ready to talk. If what he sees on the other side is empty threats, feints, from his perspective, that express themselves as, say, the supply of a couple of armored cars or something like that, then at the propaganda level, this is certainly going to be used. But from the point of view of real acceptance by Putin, the only reaction you get from him is laughter. I apologize for a less-than-diplomatic answer, I guess.

MR. KEMPE: (Off mic) – the answer is essentially that you really better mean it.

But there’s so many questions, we’re almost running out of time. I’m going to pick up two right here. You’ve been very patient. Please, here, and there on the other side of the aisle. And then we’ll see where we are with time.

Q: (Through interpreter.) With the German embassy in Washington.

You’ve said that both Russia and the West need to start preparing for that moment when there will not be a Putin regime anymore. What interests me is, from your point of view, what concrete measures are required for that today? If, for example, we take the example of Ukraine, the West tried to integrate Ukraine into the European Union, and that didn’t quite work out, as we can all see. What needs to be done differently and better at that moment when the opportunity presents itself in Russia?

MR. KEMPE: And if you can just hold on, we’ll take what I think may be the last question. But we’ll see.

Q: (Through interpreter.) Thank you for your speech. It was very interesting.

My question concerns Russian foreign policy. Today it’s guided by the conception of – that Russia has its sphere of privilege interests. Factually, this means that Russia retains the right to veto on questions concerning the national development of the countries of the former Soviet Union. The countries themselves are not in agreement with this. They want to determine their own fates by themselves, nor are the countries in the West in agreement with this. And this has become one of the reasons for this confrontation in Ukraine today. In your opinion, what do you think Russian foreign policy should be towards its neighboring countries?

MR. KHODORKOVSKY: I do not think that the West showed enough will in the question of – or that it is demonstrating enough will in the question of integrating Ukraine. The West sees problems with this. And, yes, of course they exist. It sees the advantages much more poorly. And in my view, the West doesn’t understand at all the risks of not sufficient integration. I don’t even understand why people who have such great historical experience in various areas of European problems – from the countries that are in such an unstable position – why they can’t apply this historical experience sufficiently to Ukraine and understand how much it applies to Ukraine.

I am firmly convinced that no intellectual personnel, idea, expenditures on the integration of Ukraine with the European community are excessive. And all the more so, this will concern Russia in its transition period. Any power that comes to power in Russia with European – Euro-Atlantic values is going to have no more than two years to once again try to show Russian society the advantages of such integration. If the West is going to spend this time thinking it over, if the West is not going to see this as an opportunity and will see it only as risks, we will lose and we’re going to get ourselves a new Putin.

But to become aware of this, to prepare for this – including by way of working with the Russian diaspora that is outside Russia today and which today in a significant part is prepared to go back to Russia once Russia changes – if we don’t do this – right now, we’ve still got the time for it – but if we don’t do it, we will lose. We will lose again. And what this loss will mean for the whole world, that scares me to even think about it. We have already verbally gotten to the point of global war. We’re talking about that. We’re already verbally prepared for this. I don’t understand. Do people even understand what a global war is? I get this impression that in the 70 years that have happened without global wars, people have simply forgotten. They think that this is some kind of a computer game or something.

Now, as concerns Russia’s policy concerning its nearest neighbors, I am in favor of Russia competing for influence in the countries that are Russia’s neighbors – cultural influence. I believe that Russian culture and the Russian language, Russian values that are common to our civilization – and I do feel that we are part of the common Euro-Atlantic civilization – they can flow from the new – outwards from the new Russia. And from this point of view, Russia could lay claim to being a leader in the so-called post-Soviet space. I will agree that Ukraine could lay claim to this kind of leadership, Belarus as well. But we have more opportunities, as Russia. This has to be, though, a competition for pluses, not a competition for minuses.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. We’ve run out of time. I apologize. I know there were at least a dozen if not more people who would have liked to have asked their questions. This was a really rich presentation, rich discussion. This is the kind of intellectual exchange we really need to have here in Washington, at the Atlantic Council, frankly, globally on the future of Russia and alternatives for Russia going forward, and the stakes that Russia has and the stakes that the West has.

So I want to thank you for your excellent presentation, for this rich discussion. Thank all of the audience for coming here. And I don’t think we’ve had this much Russian spoken at the Atlantic Council in our questioning perhaps ever. So this was a very interesting group of people. Thank you very much. (Applause.)