The Atlantic Council of the United States
“Russia After Presidential Elections: Putin’s Inauguration and the Future of Russian Opposition”
Director, Patriciu Eurasia Center,
The Atlantic Council
Dr. Donald N. Jensen,
Johns Hopkins Center for Transatlantic Relations
Federal Council of Solidarnost
Location: The Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.
Date: Friday, May 11, 2012
Federal News Service
ROSS WILSON: Let me begin today's event. My name is Ross Wilson. I'm the director of the Eurasia Center here at the Atlantic Council and, on behalf of the council, want to welcome all of you here today for another in a series of council events on developments in Russia.
Others that we have had so far this year include one that examined the outlook for U.S.-Russian relations during this year of political transition in both of our countries. Another looked at the mood in Russia on the eve on the presidential elections. And a third examined of business and trade implications of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.
Today's looks at the domestic political scene in Russia and the outlook for the democratic opposition movement that burst into public prominence last fall.
For much of the 50 years' history of this organization, Russian politics is often seen to be unmoving, frozen, motionless or at least opaque. In the late Brezhnev era when I first worked at our Moscow Embassy, the picture was one of waiting; waiting for the inevitable death of the leader and the transition that we thought would follow. Eventually, it came. The ice broke during the Perestroika years.
And for the decade or more that followed, the Soviet and Russian political scene was a very boisterous and lively one. They were halcyon days for those of us who were Russia watchers in that period. The ascent of Vladimir Putin to the presidency 12 years ago marked a transition away from popular politics back to a country in which the key political issues and struggles were behind closed doors or made behind closed doors.
So it's been with immense interest in this town, and certainly here at the Atlantic Council, that we've observed the fascinating re-emergence of something akin to real and public politics in Russia since last fall and especially since the highly problematic Duma elections that took place December 4 and the wave after wave of demonstrations in the weeks and months that have followed.
Those of us who care deeply about Russia found greatly encouraging the fact that the country – or at least some very important segments of it – seemed to have woken up from the relative – from representative slumber to speak out and act publicly on important issues that the country faces.
Russia has now completed its presidential election cycle. The March election produced its largest preordained result, and Vladimir Putin was inaugurated on Monday, March 7, for his third term as president after a four-year hiatus as the country's prime minister.
So the Putin regime that never really became Medvedev's or anyone else's will continue, but the demonstrations are continuing as well. So, too, I think does the public's sentiment that is seriously less accepting and less accommodating of authoritarian and arbitrary governance and corruption.
To help examine the nature of Russia's current political struggles, the newly vibrant voices of populism, the choices that President Putin has and some of the substantive issues that Russia faces today, we're very pleased to welcome Vladimir Kara-Murza, a former candidate for the Russian state Duma who is a member of the Federation Council of Russia's Democratic Opposition movement, Solidarity or Solidarnost. Solidarnost was founded in December 2008 by a number of well-known members of the democratic opposition, including – (inaudible) – and Garry Kasparov.
It was instrumental in organizing mass protests last – after last December's parliamentary election and the protest that took place earlier this week.
A journalist and author, Mr. Kara-Murza is also the Washington bureau chief of RTVi Television. Earlier, he was a correspondent for Novye Izvestia and Kommersant and editor in chief of Russian Investment Review. He's written in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and published a number of books as well.
As someone who witnesses firsthand the events unfolding in Moscow and his life is directly affected by them, his observations and comments are of particular importance and value, I think, to this discussion today.
With us to moderate this session is Donald Jensen, longtime and distinguished analyst and manager at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who is currently here in Washington at the Center for Trans-Atlantic Relations. He is one of Washington's most prolific and respected commentators on Russia appearing regularly on CNN, Fox, the "Lehrer News Hour," BBC, VOA and several other acronym'd organizations.
Let me note that today's event is on the record. After some opening remarks by Mr. Kara-Murza, Don will lead what I hope will be a lively discussion. I hope you'll be all thinking of questions. If you have one, please get Don's attention, and when called upon, please state your name and affiliation loudly and into a microphone and we'll come around for the benefit of our listening audience.
And so with no further ado, please join me in welcoming Vladimir Kara-Murza and Don Jensen.
VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA: Thank you very much. Thank you, Ambassador Wilson, for your kind introduction. And thanks to the Atlantic Council for holding this very important and very timely event. And thanks, of course, Don, for moderating. I look forward to the very lively discussion here.
One of the most popular features on Russia's social networks in the past couple of days has been the photo collage that kind of – two juxtaposition, juxtaposed photographs, one showing the inauguration ceremony here in Washington, D.C., in 2009 with tens of thousands of people lining up at the National Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The second of the inauguration ceremony in Moscow in 2012 with the city center deserted, with not a single person in sight and rows of armed vehicles of the interior ministry troops lining up the streets and squares.
If you've seen the TV pictures coming out of Moscow on Monday, you might have thought that there was a neutron bomb, you know, in the Russian capital, or it looked like something apocalyptic from a Hollywood horror movie. There was not a single person as Putin's armored motorcade made its way from the government house to the Kremlin.
Not just the root of the motorcade, but all the center squares, all the nearby streets, all the central metro stations were shut down and cleared off to the public. And outside that perimeter, there was some 20,000 interior ministry troops and riot police guarding the president-elect from his lauders on Inauguration Day.
And essentially, the city looked like it was under a military occupation. I remember exactly the same thing back in March. I was in Moscow for the presidential election and protests that we had in the days after it. And I remember walking down from Pushkinskaya Square where we had the protest after Putin's, quote-unquote, "victory," walking down to the – Troitskaya Street towards the Kremlin. And I've never seen, you know, my native city like that. There were lines and lines of armed-to-the-teeth riot police and vehicles and police buses lining Troitskaya Street going to either side. It was certainly not since the crisis of '93 where there were so many troops in the center the Moscow.
Whatever if looked like, it certainly didn't look like the behavior of a legitimate winner of a legitimate election. And this, of course, is because Mr. Putin is not a legitimate winner of a legitimate election.
And just a few words on, you know, what did happen in March. The vote was unfree and unfair on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin. All the way through the process – and the only genuinely democratic opposition candidate, Yavlinsky, was removed arbitrarily by the authorities from the ballot. Of course, our television – national television was and is under total Kremlin control. There was a monitoring study, I think, done by Zyuganov's campaign which showed that 72 percent of all their time during the campaign was given to Putin, and 28 percent was split up between his four nominal competitors.
There were harassment and attacks to election monitoring groups. And, of course, numerous violations on voting day itself as if all the above were not enough. All the usual tricks like ballot stuffing and rewriting of protocols. And this time, on a really much bigger scale than before the so-called carousel voting – which we've seen that for a number of years now. This is when large group of people are bustling around, you know, from one polling place to another voting several times because the commission – the local election commission is in the know, they give them the ballot papers.
And by some estimates, in Moscow, there was – by estimates from independent poll monitors, up to 20 percent of people in Moscow voted on the so-called additional voter lists. These are not people who are registered to vote in those polling places.
So there's beyond any kind of control of monitoring.
And the League of Voters, which was kind of the civic coalition created to monitor the elections which field several thousand poll monitors across the country, reported that about a quarter of its monitors reported violations of various kinds from the polling places. And the Citizen Observer project, which is another election monitoring group, estimated that about 7 (million) or 8 million virtual votes were added to Putin's tally on the 4th of March. This is just an estimate, of course. We don't know, and it's impossible to know. And that's just it. We do not know what the result of the election on March 4th was.
And that was exactly the message of the tens of thousands of people who came out to central Moscow this past Sunday, the 6th of May, to protest the inauguration of an illegitimate and unelected president. There were, despite heavy efforts by the authorities to prevent people from arriving to Moscow to the regions – I mean, there were trains cancelled, buses turned away. There was between 60 (thousand) and 100,000 people came out to protest – (inaudible) – came out to the street and – Bolotnaya Square this Sunday.
And the response was unlike what we've seen in December and February when we had similar sized rallies. It is extremely harsh. It was very much in the style of Mr. Lukashenko and Belarus who is sometimes called here in – you know, in other Western capitals sometimes called the last dictator in Europe, much to our bewilderment because that implies that Vladimir Putin is a democrat.
But the response was very much – very much Minsk style. And there was pepper spray used to peaceful and armed demonstrators. There were batons used. There's a video going around just in the last couple of days of a riot policeman kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach with his foot. She was protesting on Bolotnaya Square.
And this is what a reporter from Gazeta.ru which is one of the major online publications – he was there. He witnessed it. This is a direct quote from his report: They were beating people brutally into blood, smashing their faces on the pavement, dragging them by the hair and by the clothes regardless of gender or age. After 50 protestors were injured and more than a thousand arrested and two days of protest just according to the official figures. It may be more. But people arrested not just at the protest but after the protesters are walking down the streets. As they were sitting in a cafe, opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was arrested in a cafe. He was having a cup of coffee. The riot police walked and ransacked the cafe, detained him and several other people who were there then released without any explanation.
And all of this, apparently, was still not good enough because we heard Mr. Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, when he was asked, you know, for his reaction to how the police treated the protestors, he thought, you know, this was not harsh enough. And in his words, the protestors – this is a direct quote – "should have had their livers spread across the pavement," end of quote. This is what Putin's press secretary said two days ago.
So if anyone needed a preview of Putin's attitudes and plans, political attitudes, this was as good as a preview of any that we've seen in the last few days. But that's not, I think, the main question because we know Putin hasn't changed. There's no reason he should, but Russia has.
And that's, I think, the main point and that's what Ambassador Wilson said in his introduction. Russia changed beyond recognition in the last – in the last six months especially and beginning in December when 120,000 people came out to central Moscow to protest against the rigged parliamentary elections and to demand a free and fair vote and to demand democratic reforms.
These before the largest street protests in Russia since the anti-communist revolution of 1991 driven primarily – not exclusively – but primarily by the younger, educated, upper middle classes, increasingly affluent urban middle classes, people who achieved a certain degree of economic wellbeing and who now want to live in a country with a rule of law and want to be treated as citizens, not as monkeys as Mr. Putin called them in his Channel 1 interview in December.
This is – no economic slogans, no social demands. This movement is about simple dignity and political rights. And this is a movement that, for the first time in 12 years, forced the Putin regime on the defensive; one the Kremlin was forced to reinstate direct elections for regional government which Mr. Medvedev recently promised will not come back, quote, "in a hundred years." It came back 12 days after the first major protest on Bolotnaya Square in December.
They were forced to change the legislation on political parties and opposition – anti-Kremlin opposition parties that have been banned for years are now beginning to come back. Just in the last couple of days, Vladimir Ryzhkov's Republican Party, which was banned in 2007, was officially reinstated as a legal political party able to participate in elections.
I don't want to overstate this because these are very timid concessions. They're forced concessions. They're timid in many ways, limited concessions. But the fact is still that this is the first time Putin's regime has been on defensive in the 12 years of its rule.
And as we've seen in these past couple of days and this past week, this movement is not going away. This movement is here to stay. And the latest poll from the Lavara (ph) Center, probably the most reputable polling agency in Russia, the latest poll from April show that 38 percent of the Russian population, the general population is supportive of the protest movement and its goals and its demands. And that is a serious number.
And, also, I think it's worth noting that even according to the official results of Putin's central election commission released after the 4th of March, some of the largest cities in Russia, including Moscow, Vladivostok , Leningrad, Omsk, the majority of people in those cities voted against Putin even according to his own official tallies. I think that's also – that's also important to note.
So this will be a very different Putin presidency than the ones before. And the time when he could do essentially as he pleased and meet just apathy and silence in return, that time is finished, and I don't think it's coming back.
And there was also a very interesting report forecast by the Center of Strategic Research published in, I think it was in mid-March which was this is, you know, by no means, an opposition affiliated group. This is a think tank created by Putin's associates for Putin in 2000 to draft his presidential program. And it's still, today, chaired by his deputy premier, Dmitry Kozak.
Well, that center came out with a forecast in the middle of March saying that, you know, their prediction for the next few years is the spread of the protests beyond just the large cities out into the provinces, a crash in Putin's approval ratings, a new political crisis, very likely early parliamentary elections in two or three years' time which will be likely one by the opposition and then Putin himself struggling to come up with an exit strategy by 2018. Indeed, there are some analysts who are doubting that he will be able to complete his six-year term until 2018 given the current moods and the current situation.
And in closing, just a few words I'd like to say about the opposition strategy and what the opposition plans – what we will be doing in the coming months and years.
The opposition will be going beyond just the street protest strategy, although that's extremely, of course, important and extremely effective, as we've seen. But one of the forced concessions that I mentioned earlier – the directive actions for regional governors that the regime was forced to return to reinstate in December – presents a new opportunity, I think, even in the very much watered down and limited form that the law – the law was actually passed in the end. It's coming into force on the 1st of June. There are several conditions inserted to make it difficult for opposition candidates to register, major hurdles to overcome.
But as we've seen, even in the very watered down, very limited, very manipulated condition, elections present a great headache for the current regime, and we've seen that in the recent slate of opposition victories in the mayoral elections across Russia in Chernogolovka , in Tolyatti, a major industrial center of – (inaudible). Spectacularly in the city of – (inaudible) – where just in April, in the run-off, the opposition candidate won against the Kremlin candidate by 70 percent to 28. And the kind of the consensus among the experts was that it wasn't so much that particular opposition candidate; it was people coming out and voting against the ruling regime.
And so now, as Russia prepares to hold gubernatorial elections once again for the first time in eight years, experts are saying that several key regions are likely to go into the opposition's column; for instance, Stanislav Belkovsky, who's a very controversial, very well-connected, shall we say, analyst in Moscow. He predicted that, for instance, Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leaders, would easily win the governorship of Nizhny Novgorod, where he was governor already in the '90s. Vladimir Ryzhkov would easily win the governorship in Altai where he was elected before to parliament. Grigory Yavlinski has not ruled out running for governor of Saint Petersburg where his party, Yabloko, has a pretty important foothold. They had a very good result there in the parliamentary – the local parliamentary elections just in December. So they have kind of a power base in that city.
So if we will see, you know, several key regions going into the opposition's column, I think that will be a – that will be a game changer. And Leo Naron (ph) who's, of course, one of the foremost experts in Russia here in Washington , he has a paper coming out where he writes about this. And he compares this slate of opposition victories at the local and regional level that we're already seeing unfold to the – to the loss by several Communist Party secretaries in 1989 in the first partially free, partially competitive elections to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies. It came as a shock to the system when, suddenly, these dozens of communist bosses lost those votes.
And that was a very important kind of initial breaking point. He compares what's going to happen – what's already beginning to happen and what's going to happen in the coming months to what happened back in '89.
So I think it's safe to assume that Russia is on the verge of some very big and important changes and a very interesting place, certainly, to watch in the coming months and years.
And, once again, thank you very much for hosting this event, and I look forward to our discussion and to Don's comments. Thank you.
MR. JENSEN: Thank you, Vlad.
I want to also thank you the Atlantic Council and Ambassador Wilson for hosting this event today. Having spent time in the embassy during those halcyon days, it's something to which I'm emotionally attached as well as intellectually attracted.
Someone said the other day to me – a Russian friend – that it was the – the Inauguration Day was the quietest Moscow had been since Napoleon entered. (Laughter.) I said two centuries ago.
Let me ask the first question, Vlad, and then we'll go around the table.
There's a – there are a number of narratives out there by people skeptical about the opposition and its prospects. And one of those – there are many versions of this narrative, but one of those is there's no natural opposition leader. You know, I was in the embassy in 1989 when Yeltsin arose from what seemed a very elite set of associations to lead this opposition movement.
Can you give me – address that issue? Is there leadership out there? Do you need a leader out there, part one?
And part two, two fascinating but amazingly ambiguous characters, Kudrin and Prokhorov – Kudrin, who was a darling in certain – in certain national and economic institutions in this town; Prokhorov who, as I understand it, attended the inauguration earlier this week –
MR. KARA-MURZA: He did.
MR. JENSEN: – despite having campaigned as an opponent of the Kremlin in the elections.
Can you just comment about the opposition and the allegation that there is no natural leader of this opposition movement?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Well, on your first point, I think it's been a great strength of the movement, not a weakness, this fact that it has no vertical structure unlike the Kremlin and the fact that it is a grassroots based movement essentially. And it's as much a civic movement for now as it is a political movement.
And if you look at the people who make up the protests, I mean, the majority of, you know, pro-democracy and liberal or – (inaudible) – European sense liberal, obviously. But there are – there are leftists. There are socialists. There are nationalists, right wing. It's a very wide movement united by those common goals of free elections, of releasing political prisoners, of allowing opposition parties to be legalized and to compete in elections.
So this – I think this is not a detriment. It's an advantage the fact that there is no kind of, you know, set figurehead and set structure to this. Once, you know, these elections begin, especially regional elections – you just mentioned Yeltsin in '89. He did, of course, begin his kind of return to power after he was forced out of it by winning in the Moscow district for those 1989 Soviet Congress elections. So we'll see when those elections do begin to take place, and we'll see those new leaders emerging at the ballot box.
So I think that's just a question of time.
On Kudrin, he is considered by very many figures in Russian opposition as, one, at the very least, a double agent. And, you know, those who are more favorable just say that he's one of the clever ones in the regime and he sensed where the wind is blowing. And he was one of the first ones to jump ship back in September because he was, of course – he resigned – well, officially, he was sacked, but he made everything, you know, possible to be sacked back in September.
It was two or three days after the Putin-Medvedev job swap announcement and that was, of course, the major trigger for the – for the protest movement when people, especially those middle classes in big cities just said, OK, enough is enough; who are you holding us for. Do you think you can just go out there and swap, you know, the two more important jobs in the country and say you've going to hold them for another 12 years? Who do you think you are?
And he jumped ship about two or three days after that happened. So I don't know if that was kind of your main point, but nobody really considers him a genuine opposition figure.
MR. JENSEN: Then what do they consider him?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Right.
And in terms of Prokhorov, I think it's very telling that Yavlinski was removed from the ballot in the election and Prokhorov was not. And he was actually not very – you know, he was given essentially a green light in the national media in return for certain conditions. Nobody, I think, ever considered him kind of a genuine opposition figure.
But having said that, in those conditions, you know, millions of people directed the protest votes into Prokhorov's column, not by voting for him. For instance Vladimir Bukovsky, one of the most respected figures in the Russian dissident movement and, you know, a writer, a former political prisoner, he urged, you know, people to vote – to go and vote for Prokhorov in March not because it's a vote for Prokhorov but because it's kind of, in those conditions, the only useful way to, you know, to express your vote against the regime.
And if, in those places where we've seen votes counted, more or less fairly like Moscow and other big cities – more or less I stress because there's still a lot of carousels, a lot of stuffed ballots.
But in those places, Prokhorov came relatively close to Putin and he was a strong second ahead of the communist, ahead of Zhirinovsky . And so this just shows that the protest votes shows him kind of as the embodiment. But what we are seeing now – we're not seeing him now. These past two months, nobody has heard of Prokhorov except, as you just said, people saw him on TV at Putin's inauguration.
MR. JENSEN: Well, they just designed the basketball team logo – (laughter).
MR. KARA-MURZA: Right. And they moved it to Brooklyn or something like that. (Laughter.) But that's all he's heard for these day, not the politics.
MR. JENSEN: OK. As Ross said, when you ask your questions, please identify yourself. And who would like to go first?
Q: Bill Jones from Executive Intelligence Review.
MR. JENSEN: The microphone is coming.
MR. JENSEN: The microphone is coming.
Q: Oh, thanks.
Yeah, Vlad, I'd just like to ask you what do you say to the argument that this is a matter of sour grapes from the opposition at this point, 38 percent opposition, they're going to continue to operate, we don't expect Putin to crack down on them or to be a major shift. He'll have to work with the new situation. He seems willing to want to do it.
I think that the argument of comparing with Lukashenko is really beyond the pale. There was an election. He did get the 64 percent of the votes or whatever that was. And, therefore, you know, he has a right to govern.
Now, of course, the opposition is going to continue to work, but to think that this is going to lead to the overthrow of an administration, it seems to me, very farfetched.
The other thing is what is President Putin going to do? There is a broad program of developing the Far East, developing the Arctic SOPs (ph). The major advisory council has put forward a major plan for development of these really underdeveloped areas, and Putin has put his own weight behind it.
Now, if he's successful with that, he's probably going to become more popular than he is today, and the opposition has to deal with that programmatically.
And I'm just saying why is this such a dramatic thing that you think that he will not last out his term when he has been elected with a significant majority. He does have a program. If the program doesn't work, he'll be in worse shape. If it does work, he'll probably be looking better off.
I mean, how do you deal with this? You can't just attack him for being who he is, I mean, because he has won the election.
MR. KARA-MURZA: OK. Well, thanks for the question. Do I need the mike? No, we have them here.
Well, first, several points. On Lukashenko, I mean, if you're one of those people who were beaten to blood with batons on the street of Moscow for peacefully coming out, you would not think that it's a farfetched comparison to Lukashenko. If you're one of those people like Mr. Navalni (ph) who was ready and thrown into jail for 15 days for walking down the central Moscow boulevard, you would not think that's a farfetched conclusion with Lukashenko.
In fact, the only difference I can think of between Lukashenko and Putin is that Lukashenko did allow – when we remember the events of 2010 and the major crackdown that they had in December, Lukashenko did actually allow genuine opposition figures on the ballot in Belarus in December 2010, people like Sannikov and others who were just released from jail recently. He did, of course, then rig the election, beat down the supporters and everything.
But he did allow opposition on the ballot. Milosevic allowed opposition on the ballot in Serbia. Mugabe allowed opposition on the ballot in Zimbabwe. Putin does not allow genuine opposition on the ballot.
When you talk about 64 percent, I mean, I don't want to – you know, this is not personal. I don't want to sound too harsh, but that's just ridiculous. You know, to have percentage in results, you need to have an election. An election is not just a mechanical process of putting a paper in a box. You need to have candidates to have an election, and we've seen Yavlinski not registered. The last election we saw Kasyanov not registered, Berkovsky not registered. I think over 20 political parties were banned or disallowed, unregistered between 2007 and 2011. That's not an election when you can't go and vote for the opposition.
And all you see on national TV is Putin, Putin, Putin and Putin and a little bit of Medvedev, that's not – that's not a free election. That's not a campaign. That's not a choice.
So let's not talk about elections and results.
The last, more or less, you know, anything comparable to an election in Russia was – on a federal level I mean – was in 1990 and 2000 when Putin's official result was, you know, 52 percent and there were – the Moscow Times investigations showed that there were numerous cases of ballot stuffing especially in regions like Dagestan and Saratov regions. So even then, he didn't get a majority of the vote. And that was the last thing that, you know, was conceivably resembled a free election because – or at least a competitive because there were competitors allowed on the ballot.
So you asked why people think he is not going to last out his term? Well, because you look at the divergence between where the – you know, where the public mood is going with him and where he is going. I mean, you just said he seems willing to work with the opposition. Not really. I mean, if his press secretary says they should have their livers spread across the pavement and that it wasn't harsh enough when they beat up pregnant women in the stomach with their feet, to me, that's not willingness to work with the opposition.
We'll see. Those first five days are not very encouraging. But just as, you know, Mr. Milosevic seemed very strong in his day and Mr. Ben Ali did in Tunisia and all these other, you know, examples that we've seen before, these people think they're very strong. They have their 64 – or in the case of Mubarak, 80 percent election result three months before he was toppled by Tahrir Square.
So, you know, my arguments come from – first, from historical experience and then from just – from just – I'm just back from Moscow a few weeks ago. And you should just see the mood of people. You know? When you have – I mean, in our modern times, just to begin to think that somebody can be in power for 24 years – all right, this is the 21st century.
When Putin came to power, just look at what the world leaders did currently. David Cameron worked at some consultancy firm in London. Barack Obama was a state senator. Just look at the list of world leaders today and look at what they were doing when Putin was already in charge of Russia. It's unbelievable. This is not the kind of thing people are willing to accept, and this is why these young, educated Russians are coming out saying are you kidding me. This guy has been there for 12 years and he just comes out and he says, OK, we're swapping jobs with this guy and I'm staying there for another 12. It's not going to happen.
So that's where this comes from is just – it just goes against everything that's happening in the world and including everything that's happening in Russia. You can't rule the country if you've lost the big cities, and Putin has lost the big cities. Even they can conceded by their own official election results. The majority of Moscow is against him even by their own official results.
You know, Milosevic lost Belgrade in '97, three years before he lost Serbia in 2000. I think we're going the same way. I am also among those – I don't think he's going to last out six years. I think he's not going to be able to complete the six years.
Q: I wouldn't want to try to –
MR. JENSEN: (Inaudible).
Q: Oh, Ira Straus, Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO.
I gather your perspective is that something like a new democratic transition or democratic restoration will occur in our lifetimes, maybe in the next decade, maybe in several years. And I don't want to debate schedules because I can't protect the future.
When I first wrote that NATO ought to be ready to throw an umbrella over the Soviet space, it was in 1985. I published it, and Gorbachev was not yet elected GenSec (ph). I didn't expect it to happen in the next decade. I was surprised.
Now, you've written some things about what a future democratic transition – whether it comes in one year, five or 15 – will need in terms of its international policy. And I think that's of interest to us here in Washington, those here from the Atlantic Council.
And one of the things you said which is identical to what Yeltsin and Kosirev (ph) said how many years ago was that they will need to be a part of the West, no longer an adversary of the West. And that means, of course, Russia is negotiating to join OECD. It is a member of the Group of Eight. But the crucial thing is NATO.
You've written a very interesting article about this, about how Yeltsin and Kosirev were fatally damaged at the start by NATO not having any friendly response to them. I think that's correct. I remember it very well then because that was my cause already back then.
What will you need in the future? And how would it be possible for the West to be better prepared if such an eventuality were to occur?
And I'm not going to put odds on it being 1 year, 5 years or 20, but I would put odds on it happening in our lifetimes. And so, you know, it's worth considering what we need to be ready with also.
MR. KARA-MURZA: Thanks, Ira, for the question. And, yeah, you're referring to late '91, right, when President Yeltsin publicly expressed desire to join NATO and he was kind of given a cold shower. That's right. That's 20 years ago.
Actually, the goal of eventual NATO membership was present in all the major Russian programs of all the major Russian democratic and liberal parties like – (inaudible) – and – (inaudible) – program talked about integration into the European political and security space.
Even, you know, a more farfetched example like the European Union you see consistently in the polls, especially of Russians under the age of 35 or under the age of 30, a strong plurality wants Russia to be a member of the European Union, too.
So there is this kind of parallel track of democratization happening alongside of integration into Western structures. I mean, we're a European country. There's no question about it. And it's just a question of, you know, institutionalizing that. As you mentioned already, there's the Council of Europe, of course, the oldest European organization which Russia joined under Yeltsin in the mid-'90s, the G-8 which, for some reason Putin claims that he brought Russia into but it was actually at the Birmingham summit in 1998 when Russia was accepted under President Yeltsin. They like to rewrite the history, as you know.
And so I will certainly be in favor of NATO membership. Many of my colleagues, I know, are. Some of those are currently in the ranks of the opposition would be against, you know, people – (inaudible) – it's always kind of more of the leftist and the nationalists. But that will be sort the out by free election when that happens.
That's why, going back to what Don said, there is no structure, there is no single leader, there is no single program, there is no – there is no kind of single vertical. I mean, for now, as you understand, that's not the main, you know, hot point, hot question. The main question is to start changing this horrendous regime that's been there for over a decade starting with the release of political prisoners and free elections and then, of course, all the rest would come later.
But I just want to, you know, thank you for your efforts for so many years of doing that. And it's nice to know that people are sympathetic here. And, hopefully, when a new democratically elected government in Russia, you know, does indicate an interest in further integration into European and your Atlantic structures, it's not going to be the same response as President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Kozarev (ph) received in late 1991.
MR. JENSEN: I haven't heard the word "Kozarev" (ph) mentioned in years, Ira. (Laughter.)
MR. KARA-MURZA: Yeah. Me too, actually.
Q: My name is Walter Jurassic (ph), and I am a member of Atlanta Council and – (inaudible) – Global Enterprise.
My question will be to you. Before, I have a comment.
I spoke with Russians. I was in Russia and I talked to Russian people as well. And I asked them to define democracy and note only in Russia but in other parts of the world. And they returned and they told me, look, what are you talking about democracy; define your democracy in the United States when you have senators and congressmen who sit 20, 35 years in their seats and you have now Putin, who is, let's say, be 12 years in office. So they asked me a very simple question. Define what is democracy.
MR. JENSEN: You're asking Vlad to define – (laughter).
MR. WILSON: Actually, can I just piggy-back on that and maybe put it in a somewhat different way that – add this to your answer which is talk a little bit about what unites the opposition and the extent to which the opposition is made up of democrats as opposed to important segments of the population who oppose Putin because they are two different things; being for a more democratic society, being for a more liberal society, which is a slice of the Russian electorate. But certainly much of what we read here – elements of the – elements of the protestors and elements among those who have organized the protests are, by no means – appear, by no means, to be liberals and, at best, have quite dubious democratic credentials in the sense that we in the West would think of.
So drill down a little bit into the nature of the opposition as a democratic movement and elements that may be somewhat different and weave in an answer, also, to Walter's question to the extent that you can.
MR. KARA-MURZA: No, I will. Absolutely. Thanks for the question.
The favorite retort line of all the Putin officials, you know, when they – for instance, when Putin abolished elections of governors in 2004 and he was asked about it and he said, well, the United States, before 1913, did not have the direct elections of senators. He always knew how to come up with these – you know, these retorting lines.
I just – the example I like to use is, a few years ago, there was – I remember there was a scandal here in Washington when, I think it was The Washington Post, published some – it had to do with electronic surveillances. I don't remember the details now.
But there was a big scandal, and they forced – essentially, a newspaper forced the attorney general at the time, Gonzalez, to resign his post about five years ago.
In Russia, after the NTV channel came up with information that the prosecutor general, Ustinov, received an apartment from some of the people he was supposed to investigate for criminal acts and corruption, the Kremlin shut down the NTV channel. I think that's the difference in the example. You know, this is just a small thing. There's several – you mentioned some senators for 30 years. I'm sure there are a couple like Lugar, who just lost in the primary. So he won't be there longer. And there's maybe, you know, a handful of congressmen who have been there. But so what, the president can't be here longer than two four-year terms.
Imagine Bill Clinton would still be president, how would that be? Would that be, you know, conceivable here? Or George Bush, Sr.? No, because there's such thing as a term limit. I mean, we can have this conversation for several hours.
But the word democracy, if you ask people to define democracy, that's a tricky one because the word democracy is loaded in Russia and it not always has positive connotations. But if you look at all the polls consistently and if you ask people to kind of to decide their preference, as you know, would you want elected leadership or have it imposed on you, people would want to choose it freely.
Do you think the press should have a right to criticize public officials? People would say yes, the vast majority. Do you think local governors should be elected or appointed? The vast majority would say elected.
So without using that loaded term, you know, and just coming up to an average person on the street and saying define democracy, please, I will give you 10 minutes. You know, without doing that, if you actually do serious polling like the Lavara (ph) center and others do, you would see that a strong majority of the Russian society, small "d" democrats, all the major things like – all the things like press freedom, independent judiciary, elections for governors, elections for parliament, elections for the head of state, all these things, there's no question where the majority of the public stands.
And in terms of the democratic credentials of the opposition, I mean, there's certainly some well-known characters like Limonov and others, you know, who are less than – obviously, less than democrats. And that was played up very much by the Putin media when the protests began big time in mid-December. And when the state television was forced to, for the first time in a decade, to show opposition leaders because they couldn't because they had 120,000 people standing in the middle of Moscow, they had to show the protests. They couldn't ignore them anymore.
But they tried to – you know, if you looked at the picture on state TV, they tried to, you know, show a person in a mask or somebody with a black flag or with a nationalist slogan to try to scare people. And that was a tactic for a while. You know, maybe we're bad, maybe we're corrupt, but look at these guys and, you know, look at – do you really want, you know, somebody like – (inaudible) – on the extreme right, you know, nationalist or Limonov coming out.
There was – that was in December. Then, in February, the Lavara (ph) Center did – they did a big survey on – that was one of the largest – perhaps the largest rally was on Sakharov Avenue on the 24th of December – now, it was still the end of December, it wasn't February. Excuse me. So it was the end of December when there were in excess of 120,000 people on Sakharov Avenue. And they did a poll to find out who these people really are because, you know, the Kremlin was saying, look here, starting as nationalists, communists and all the rest of it.
And, actually, I printed out the result of this poll just to get it right; 69 percent described their views as either democratic or liberal, 69 percent. Thirteen percent – one in three – said they are communists, and 6 percent described their views as nationalists.
And that, I think, is very much representative of the broader movement, maybe not in terms of the leadership or off the organizing committee, which was, on purpose, made to be more balanced between the left and the right, the liberals and the nationalists and, you know, the socialists and the conservatives.
But the broad base certainly, you know, small “d” democrat or European sense liberal. So people who are – you know, basically who want – they want to be citizens in their own country, and the people have really become consumed and now they want to be citizens. That's the overwhelming – when we saw all the virulent nationalists like Duggan, who is considered to be the father of intellectual Neo-Nazism in Russia in the '90s, or people like – (inaudible) – an extreme nationalist ideologue. They were all at the Putin rally in February in – (inaudible). That's where all these people were and – (inaudible) – and – (inaudible) – and others.
We do have some nationalists, sure, and some hard-left people too. But they're a small minority, and, you know, this is Kremlin scare tactics to suggest that this is the alternative.
MR. JENSEN: Sir?
Q: Hector Antonio Rivas with LPAC.
I do want to respond to a comment that you made to the first question. You made the comment – response and question. You said let's not talk to elections or results. I agree, let's talk about policy.
I have seen, in November of 2011, Ragozin (ph) make the announcement for the strategic defense of earth. I have seen persistently the head of Russian railways discuss the cooperation of the United States and Russia to construct the Bering Straits tunnel which I am very sure you people here are familiar with.
Now, in a situation and in a context where two major things are driving the fear of the American population, which is the prospects of war and the financial collapse, this being put on the table, I find, is something to be seriously discussed between two major powers which are two nuclear powers in a time where civilization does need it.
Now, I'd also like to just add that a lot of – you know, I've been to a number of these types of events. I was at the CSIS event yesterday. And there's consistent questions brought up about humanitarian concerns to the Russian situation.
If that's the case, I ask why do we not add the Greece situation into the discussion which is under a financial dictatorship. The conditions that are being asked for Greece to stick to the bailout are atrocious.
So, again, I'd just like to pose that question that, when two clear policy initiatives force strategic collaboration between the United States and Russia in the form of the SDE and the Bering Straits tunnel have been put on the table, don't you think that that's something that should be strived for or discussed even by the opposition, Russians in general, as well as various figures of the United States as opposed to the current drive which – could lead to a confrontation between two nuclear powers, especially given the construction of what I would say are unnecessary four phases of the ballistic missile defense systems in Eastern Europe?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Thanks for the question.
Well, I think, just in general, before I answer specifically, totalitarian or legitimate regimes don't make for good partners. And you only have to look at the, quote-unquote, cooperation on Syria and on missile defense, which you did just mention too as proof of that.
On the specific issues, I mean, there are some – things like Jackson-Vanik amendment or the WTO membership, what the Russian opposition is trying to do is to bring the countries closer together while making clear that this regime does not represent our country. You were at that event yesterday, so you're aware of this whole debate about the Jackson-Vanik versus the Magnitsky bill.
And the entire Russian opposition leadership is a hundred percent in favor of that and many figures in the civil society too. You'll get rid of an amendment which effectively sanctions the country. And this is a great propaganda tool for Putin too, by the way, because he says, look, Jackson-Vanik amendment is against Russia; it limits the trade with Russia; so the Americans are anti-Russian and so forth. You get rid of that and we all support, you know, the lifting of that amendment.
But then you put another law in place which would say that if you violate the basic internationally recognized norms, like if you beat peaceful demonstrator ones the heads with batons, you shouldn't be able to here for a vacation or keep your money here or send your kids to study here.
So you replace a measure that is a genuine irritant in relations with a measure that would only upset a handful of crooks, thieves and murderers in the Kremlin and around it. So that, I think, is an example of concrete cooperation, which you mentioned.
So the WTO, that was a consensus. All majority opposition leaders like Kasyanov and others were publicly in favor of the WTO membership for the Russian Federation when that came in.
You know, in terms of initiatives proposed by Ragozin (ph), I mean, just study his biography a little bit and his political biography. You wouldn't want to be basically involved in any initiatives proposed by Mr. Ragozin (ph). And I'm not saying this personally. He may be a very pleasant person. He has a nice hobby. He collects car steins. He's got a big collection of car steins, and he loves French poetry. So I'm not – this is nothing personal against Mr. Ragozin (ph).
But if you look at his politics, he is absolutely virulent in nationalism has he's anti-Westernism which was the backbone of his entire political career for the last 20 years. I don't think you'd really want to be voicing up Mr. Ragozin (ph) here and, you know, advertising him.
And there's no – absolutely no contradiction between – I think, between discussing concrete issues and not losing ground and not losing face and not losing reputation of human rights like Reagan did; dual-track diplomacy, I think it was called.
And just the last point on the kind of the pragmatism. There was a brilliant Washington Post editorial about – I think it was a couple of months ago when Putin, quote-unquote, “won” the election. And it said – it listed all the moral arguments, you know, for the U.S. to get tougher on human rights and to – and to – I think it was by Fred Hiatt. You read that one. I think – the moral arguments or the arguments for, you know, whether we should stand for principles.
And then they – it just had their – a really brilliant, very pragmatic point, and it said do we really think that an American administration – it doesn't matter which party – any American administration should put all the eggs in its relations with Russia in a basket of an authoritarian leader who has tens of thousands of people demonstrating against him despite the repression, despite the pepper spray and the batons. Is that really a stable regime to be putting all eggs in that basket and to conditioning the very important strategic relations between the U.S. and Russia, as you said, two major powers, two nuclear powers in relations with one man who was not elected, who does not have majority support and who nobody knows how long he's going to stay there?
So I think there's no contradiction at all between thinking strategically and also not hushing up the issues of repression of the freedoms and the issues of human rights. I think both should be done at the same time.
MR. JENSEN: If I could hone in as a quick follow-up to a very closely related issue, which is – best exemplified are the horrible treatment of our ambassador there during the election campaign. And I hear in my talks with Russians various opinions on this in the opposition movement.
What is – or ought the U.S. to do in terms of direct support for the NGOs, for the opposition movements and so forth?
Ross brought up the halcyon days where we had the very extensive set of assistance efforts for that. Mike McFaul, the ambassador, in fact, spearheaded a lot of that.
What's your view about what should the U.S. be doing in terms of helping or not these groups?
MR. KARA-MURZA: I think, first and foremost, the U.S. should not be helping the Putin regime. I think that's the most important thing. We're never asking – the Russian opposition is never asking for any direct help, any direct support, God forbid, you know, any military support. That would be the best – that would be the best gift for Putin and the regime. But stop supporting him.
And when – for instance, you know, when the U.S. State Department announced a few days after the March 4th so-called election that, you know, we congratulate the Russian people on holding this election, people take it, at best, as, you know, a joke and, at worst, as an insult when you just had a vote where no real opposition candidates, where the television was censored and we basically had the preordained result.
And then the largest – you know, the major power – the major democratic power in the world comes out and congratulate you on that election. I mean, it doesn't hold. That doesn't really hold water.
And that's why this, once again, this Magnitsky bill is so important because it doesn't do anything for the Russian opposition. I mean, it's for us to – you know, democracy in Russia is task for the Russian opposition, for nobody else, no outside forces, no outside actors. It's for Russian society alone. But just stop supporting the regime.
You know, when these people steal the money and then keep them in Western banks and by property here and spend their vacations here and send their kids to study here, that's a means of supporting that corruption and of supporting those crimes against the Russian people and the Russian state.
And this is what – and that's what they're really afraid of, by the way. If you look at one of the first decrees that Putin signed on Monday, a couple of hours after his inauguration, was a decree requesting – ordering the foreign ministry to make it a priority to stop the Magnitsky bill in the United States Congress. It was called – it wasn't named by name. It was called Exterritorial Sanctions in the Unites States against Russian Physical and Legal Entities, or something like that. But that was the Magnitsky bill.
He signed it two hours after his inauguration – or after his swearing in. That's how important that is for them. And that's where they are sensitive, too. So if they know that they're not going to have a place to spend the stolen money and the old government profits. And they know that, if they violate the basic standards, you know, accepted in international community like, you know, if they kick people who just – who are just peacefully protesting and if they rig the elections, they're not going to be accepted in the civilized world. I think that's the single most important thing to do.
MR. JENSEN: Sir?
Q: (Off mic) – American University. I'm also a member of the Atlantic Council.
My question relates to foreign policy, but I'll start with internal policy. When President Putin became president and before that prime minister, he was – his public – (inaudible) – about him was very, very low, as we all remember. And he went through this kind of power vertical where some military activities vis-à-vis Chechen Republic at that time and a nationalistic, pretty much, nodes.
Looking at this experience today and looking at some of the tense relationships that Russia has with some of its neighbors, particularly Georgia, do you see that that card may be played for eternal purposes?
And is there any resource now – does President Putin have resource today to use that card in the same way that he used it in 1999 to make him for popular today? Thank you.
MR. KARA-MURZA: I think that last point is precisely it. The related card, you know, in Chechnya was both of kind of a war but it was also the, quote, terrorism card. That's what made him president in '99 and the mysterious apartment bombings we all remember in late '99 and the attacks.
And we remember what effect it had then, basically, a chilling effect and, you know, mass hysteria. And he came to power on that wave.
A couple of years ago when there was an attack – a terrorist attack in the Moscow metro in Lubyanka Station underneath basically the FSB building – and if you remember the reaction then, it was what is this. You know, he's been here 10 years; he's taken away basically all the rights and freedoms in return for, quote, stability, and, quote, security. And these guys are blowing up metro station a hundred yards from the FSB building?
You know, so the occurrence was the same. The reaction was diametrically different. It doesn't work anymore.
So, you know, if you're asking can had he do it; sure, he can. You know, another war? Of course, he can. He can do it tomorrow. But it's not going to – already in 2008, when he did Georgia – well, him and Medvedev did Georgia – it was – it was not at all the same reaction as in '99 with Chechnya. And many people are actually saying – and this is – and many people are still saying this today – it was the best gift to the separatists in the Russian north caucuses to recognize the separatist entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It was the best gift. It's a precedent. You set the precedent yourself. How can you then saying anything? You did it yourself. There you go.
And if you remember all the main opposition leaders then in 2008 said that they would reverse that decision if the opposition comes to power. They will not be recognizing though separatist entities but it's against long-term Russia interests as well.
So he can – he can try to do it, but I don't think it's going to work. It doesn’t work anymore with the terrorism card; he lost that card.
You know, as we talked before, Putin is the same, but the country’s very different, society’s very different. And whatever he did in 1999-2000 – whatever he pulled off – I mean, just look at the operation successor. In 2007, it worked perfectly; nobody said anything. When he just said – pointed at Medvedev and said, this guy will be president. But then in 2011, when he tried to do the same, he had tens of thousands of people on the streets of the largest cities within weeks. So it’s – he may try to do the old tricks; they’re not going to work anymore.
Q: Hi. I’m Katie Fox, from the National Democratic Institute. Thank you very much for your always very interesting remarks.
I wanted to ask you a little bit more about the future activities of the opposition. And assuming that there is this new constituency of people who are consumers and now want to be citizens, what does the opposition do to keep them involved? A lot of people who say, the rallies are getting smaller, that tactic’s starting to wear out. Running in the elections is great, of course, but they’ll be rigged elections and candidates may not be allowed to register. It’s not clear that that will tap into this pool of discontent. Can you talk a little more about that?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Sure. And I think maybe you weren’t here right at the beginning when we talked a little bit about the local elections. And the opposition does shift the strategy a little bit from just the street protests, which were very important, very effective and still will be. I mean, it’s not completely going away. The next large march is planned for the 12th of June – the Russian national day and the anniversary of the declaration of sovereignty back in 1990. It’s a symbolic day for democrats, as well as being an official state holiday.
But the strategy’s moving a little bit from the streets to the ballot boxes. I mean, you say, of course, the elections are rigged, of course they’re manipulated. And what we’ve seen, you know, ensured in this new law in the elections of regional governors is so much conditions and limits and hurdles for people to overcome for people to run. But with all that said, even the elections like that are still a big headache for this regime. And we’ve seen in recent municipal elections in Moscow the opposition took a third of all the seats, with the conditions as they are – no free campaign, no TV air time, carousel voting, balloting stuffing. With all this, the opposition took a third of the seats in the Moscow legislature – municipal legislature.
We’ve seen the opposition win mayoral election in Chernogolovka, in Tolyatti. In the city of Yaroslavl – I’ve talked about it – also by 70 percent to 28 (percent) was the score of the opposition candidate beating the Putin candidate. And as these governors elections come back, that’s going to be a major new opportunity for the opportunity. And as we’ve discussed, there are already predictions that some of the major will elect opposition leaders as their governors. And all you need to look at is how the Kremlin is waiting for this and how it’s expecting it.
In the last – in the last couple of months – last few months since this concession was forced by the mass protests – the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections – they’ve made, I think as of today – as of May 11th – it’s 17 gubernatorial appointments. So they’ve been trying to the last minute they’re using their power. And most of those have been in regions which were supposed to hold elections either this year or next. So they’re afraid even of those kinds of elections, which they have control over, because for instance, in Yaroslavl, where this guy got 70 percent against Putin’s candidate. Everybody said it wasn’t this guy getting 70 percent. It was people going and telling what they think of Putin. And this is what they’re afraid of in the regional votes as well.
So even if they disqualify, you know, 80 percent of opposition candidates, even if some guy who nobody heard of, but he’s against the regime, he can get suddenly 55 percent, because he’s against the regime. And that’s why they – yesterday were the last two appointments. The law on elections comes in force on June the 1st. So we still have, what, two or three weeks of this power of appointment? I think we should expect to see some more of those desperate appointments in the last – the last time frame they can still do it. But it’s not going to save them. I mean, they can’t – they can’t do it forever. And if, as you know, there were some suggestions that they may, after the initial rise in the protest, after they announced the governor elections, around March – February/March there was a suggestion that they might try to roll it back, but then they decided they can’t do it, because they’re going to have 200,000 people in central Moscow the next day. That’s what we talked about before. Putin’s the same, but Russia’s not. The impunity’s gone. The apathy – public apathy is gone. He can try to do the same things he did for the last 12 years. The reaction’s not going to be the same. I mean, there was no reaction before.
Imagine, for instance, when he shut down NTV – the biggest, most popular independent TV show. Not shut down, took over. There’s still the name in TV, but now it’s a symbol of trash journalism, but it used to be the most popular independent television. If he tried to do that now, I mean, imagine what kind of – the numbers of people you’d see on the streets and squares of central Moscow. It’s not 2000 or 2001. He may do things the same, but it’s not going to lead to the same results.
Q: Roger Gerkhe (ph), the Atlantic Council.
What is sort of the time timing of these regional elections? And particular, the people that have just been appointed, do they have a number of years? I mean, how soon will kind of wave actually take effect on election day?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Absolutely. I mean, initially, there were supposed to be a dozen gubernatorial races this year. October the 14th is the election day this year and it’s supposed to be a dozen regions. We’re now down to five out of the dozen, because they’ve made all those appointments in the last few weeks and they still have two weeks more of that power until June the 1st. So they may still make some more of those appointments. And you can see where they’re making them.
For instances, one region was Kostroma. Well, Putin’s party even officially got 30 percent in December – officially. We don’t know what the real result was. Officially, two-thirds voted against him. And that region was supposed to gubernatorial elections this October. They didn’t want to risk it. They made the – they made the early appointment. So all the – and as you said, they have fixed terms, either four or five years, depending on the regions. So those people who are appointed, they’re now going to serve out until, you know, 2016 or ‘17 no elections will take place.
But all this shows is that first, that they’re scared; second, that they’re weak, because they do – everybody understands they just making appointments in those regions which were supposed to hold elections either this year or the next, which basically is a – they’re basically signing up to the fact that they’re going to lose, as they just lost a slot of mayoral votes across the country. But there still will be – on October 14th, there’ll still be – I mean, they can’t get rid of them all, because that would be the equivalent of abolishing the elections again and then they will have the renewal of mass protests.
And by the way, going back to also to the question of limits: They have all these hurdles in the law that, you know, to register as a gubernatorial candidate you have to have collect signatures from local legislators. And in many of those provinces where the elections are completely rigged, they just have pro-Kremlin legislators. So obviously, they wouldn’t sign up for opposition candidates. But people have countered to that and Dmitry Oreshkin said – one very prominent analyst, political analyst in Moscow – he said, well, that’s even more dangerous for the regime, because imagine there’s a really popular local leader – local gubernatorial candidate that has real genuine support and suddenly the Kremlin removes him. Can you imagine what was going to happen on the streets and squares of that city next? So all they’re going to do by that is they’re going to multiple the protests from just Moscow, St. Petersburg and some of the larger cities to across the country. They’re going to give people local grievances, not just national ones.
Just as we’ve seen with this protest movement, you know, in its early stages in 2009 and 2010, it was many local issues that brought people to the streets initially. Like the rise in the car tax in Kaliningrad where there was a protest a couple of years ago.
MR. JENSEN: Khimki Forest.
MR. KARA-MURZA: Yeah. Khimki Forest, near Moscow; the import car tariffs in Vladivostok, Lake Baikal; the pollution of Lake Baikal in Irkutsk. All these local grievances – they kind of provided initial impetus for this and then it became against Putin and against the humiliation of his regime and for free elections.
So if the regime is going to provide more local grievances and more local reasons for people to protest and to engage in protests, that’s going to be bad for them above all. So these – even these limited and conditioned elections may become a great opportunity for the opposition.
But there was a recent – you asked the precise number. There was a recently leak from the Kremlin in Kommersant newspaper that said that you should expect to have between three and five gubernatorial races this year in October and that was when there were still supposed to be eight or nine. So people realized that there are going to be some more appointments coming and they did come. The last two were yesterday in Leningrad region and in Samara region, also which were supposed to have the election in October; now they won’t have an election October. So we’re down to five, but the leak was between three and five so we may see a couple more, we may not, but there will be some in any case. October the 14th – that’s the next election day.
Q: Will there be then some in 2013, 2014?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Sure; every year. They’ll be every year. The law says – this law that was forced out of the law in December and that’s coming out on the first of June says that any governor who is – for any reason ceases his or her function – so sacked, resigns, whatever – after June the 1st, 2012, the replacement can only be elected in a direct election. It can no longer be appointed like it is now.
So any of those who – so they have to do it now. They have two weeks to do. If they don’t do it before June the 1st, that’s it. They’ll have to have elections – elections for governors after that.
MR. JENSEN: You could just make a chart of the replacements and the percentage of pro-Putin voting in the elections, they’ve targeted all the people with low pro-Putin turnout.
MR. KARA-MURZA: Yeah; absolutely.
Q: Let me ask you a question regarding what the opposition really can hope after the people is a political solution as well as an economical solution, because bottom line, our hope – like over here they’d say our hope for change sometimes is misleading. So the Russian people are also looking forward to see as not only just political solution, but also economic solution. So what the opposition offer – what they are offering to the Russian people?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Sure. Well, the question you ask is for when we do have the next free election campaign and that’ll be a legitimate question then. You know, what’s Nemtsov offering; what’s Navalny offering? We’re not at the stage that, you know, the Serbs were in 2000 or the Ukrainians in 2004. It’s not a question of, you know, what your tax rate will be. It’s a question of getting people out of prisons who were sent there for their views; it’s a question of having a free vote instead of a rigged and prearranged vote like we do. It’s a question of having public debate on national TV, including between proponents of different economic views, rather than having just Putin there all the time.
That’s – I mean, it’s a great and legitimate question you’re asking, but it’s not for the stage. We’re not having an election campaign now. We’re having a civic movement against an authoritarian, unelected regime. When will there be a free election – this goes back to Don’s point that the opposition is – it’s a wide coalition. When we do have the next free election, you will not see, you know, people like Udaltsov and Nemtsov on the same list or in the same party – no way. What you see now is the opposition coalition – “For Honest Elections,” it was called until March. There will be a rebranding, presumably, now. But it will be 10 or 12 different parties when that time comes. And the economic solutions that you ask about, they’ll range from, you know, from there to here. They’ll be completely different. That’s not the question now; that’s not the point now.
MR. WILSON: And maybe just to follow up that question: I think a number of people would argue, Westerners would argue, that this sources of Putin’s power have to do with the fact – with the image that he’s established of security, established stability and prosperity. And as president – as head of the government – he retains a lot of ways to influence the prosperity of the country going forward. Russia faces some pretty heavy economic headwinds.
To what extent – to what extent can Putin – and I think from your comments, the answer’s obvious, but I’d like for you to answer it anyway: To what extent can rising prosperity, if Putin is able to deliver it, moderate the kind of domestic political problems for him that you’ve described?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Well, in 2004 it took $27 a barrel oil price to balance the Russian budget. In 2011, it took $115 a barrel just to balance – just to break even. In this – this absence of any kind of structural reforms that the entrenchment of the petrol state, the massive corruption – I mean, Transparency International estimates a quarter of Russia GDP is eaten up by corruption – a quarter, 25 percent is the monetary value of corruption. Capital flight has more than doubled in the last year – especially after Putin’s – you know, Putin-Medvedev job announcement. I think in 2010 it was just over $30 billion, 2011 it was more than 80 (billion dollars). The figures are to that extent.
So this – you know, the prosperity he keeps trumpeting, it’s – I mean, sure, the clique around him who became billionaires in the last years, yeah, they have prosperity. But it doesn’t – it doesn’t really affect the country. So that’s why the forecast I mentioned earlier by the center for strategic research, one of the reasons they project the spread of the protest movement beyond the large cities is because if a fiscal crisis hits in 2014, as many people expect, there’ll be a whole new constituency of protestors – those who have economic grievances.
So for now, Putin – those whom for now Putin is able to pay off, essentially, you know, with high pensions, with high handouts, for the time being he’s able to pay them off. When he’s no longer to pay them off, because the money runs out, they will then join the protest movement. And that’s, according to the CSR, anyway, that’s around 2014 that’s expected.
But on your second point, and I think that’s also – that’s why many of us think this movement now is more significant than even ’91, because back then it was a mixture of political and economic demands. It was a protest, of course, against the totalitarian system, but also against the old economic misery that Soviet state socialism brought with it. This movement we’re seeing since December, there are no economic or social slogans. You can’t buy these people off. They’re not asking for increased salaries or they’re not asking for, you know, better cars. These are the people who have a pretty good standard of living. They just want to be treated, you know, as people, not as cattle. They don’t want to be told by some guy that he’s staying for president for another 12 years. They want to elect a president who they want to be president, not who some guy tells them to.
So that’s one of the reasons for, I think – this is, of course, the old classical argument – was it Barrington Moore, you know, that once the middle class, the prosperity – the prosperous percentage of population reaches a certain level, then they will inevitably be, you know, demanding democracy and political rights. Maybe that’s – certainly it does seem to fit in that, because the percentage of the middle class has certainly risen in Russia – no thanks to Mr. Putin; thanks to the oil prices in the last decade. And now – you know, that phrase was used before; it’s used many times. They’ve become consumers already. It’s not the economic grievances they have. They now want to become citizens. They want to have a voice in their future.
Q: Can I say something on the Putin program? It seems to be me that President Putin does have a program. And if you look at the documents, he gave a series of 10 speeches, including some basic speeches on the issue of economics. And if you look at the programs that he’s emphasizing and the papers that are coming out from the Council on Productive Forces in Russia – the SOPS groups with the development of the Arctic, it’s an extensive infrastructure program in which they will use, of course, the oil and gas is important, but now there’s an orientation toward mineral resources. China and India need mineral resources. Those mineral resources are there in the Arctic and in the Far East. Putin’s going to develop this stuff.
It also includes an improvement of the conditions of life of people in these regions, because it’s a very difficult region to live in and they have to have incentives; they’re going to do that. It seems to me that he’s talking about program, whereas all the opposition is talking about is let’s get Putin. No programmatic ideas.
Now, if I were interested in the future of Russia, which is in pretty bad shape – you have that middle class, which is fairly well off, but the majority of Russians are not – are suffering a lot because of the economic conditions, because of the population – the decrease of population. All of these things exist. And it seems to me that this is a program oriented towards improving the situation of Russia. And if I were a patriotic Russian, whether I liked Putin or not, and I looked at what the opposition is saying, which is get rid of Putin, and what Putin is saying, I’d probably say, OK. I will go with Putin, because this is the way to do it. I mean, it’s funny to see that, that you know, do you expect people to buy a pig in a poke by voting for the opposition when they don’t have an economic program? I think that’s pretty far-fetched.
And with regard to Putin’s extent in term in office, he will be there 18 years, not 24 years. I don’t think he’s decided – he may not decide – to run again. But I just want to point out that if Franklin Roosevelt had lived, he would have served 16 years. I myself think that would’ve been much better than having Harry Truman, but that’s a matter of course. But it isn’t unprecedented, this extent in office of a president.
MR. JENSEN: Not to make a moral equivalence between FDR and Putin.
Q: No – whatever you want. (Laughter.)
MR. KARA-MURZA: If I can just respond. Once again, you had that phrase, you know, people don’t vote for the opposition. You can’t vote for the opposition, because it’s not allowed on the ballot. Yavlinsky was not on the ballot. I wanted to vote for Yavlinsky, so do many of my friends. We couldn’t, because they took him off. And if you came to the vote and took your ballot paper, you didn’t see that name in there. So you can’t vote for the opposition. Just let’s forget that phraseology. There’s no – there are no elections. You can’t vote for whoever you want. So let’s forget about voting and not voting.
Q: Was Putin the only one on the ballot?
MR. KARA-MURZA: Well, they had –
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. KARA-MURZA: Sure, yeah. They had Zhirinovsky, who’s a Kremlin spade, a clown. He’s been there for 20 years. They had Zyuganov, a billionaire who we talked about earlier, who – as oligarchs, depends on Putin 100 percent and didn’t say a single harsh word against him during the campaign. And if you talk about the parliamentary elections, I already mentioned two dozens parties who were disqualified before the –
Q: Why did he run against Putin?
MR. KARA-MURZA: He didn’t run against Putin, because by law you have to have several names on the ballot. You can’t have one like in Brezhnev’s time.
I’m surprised, you know, you ask all these questions. In 2008 you had Bogdanov who nobody ever heard before put against Medvedev on the ballot to create – anyway, this is going to details now.
But once again, when you talk about Putin’s programs, it’s all very nice if we talk about fiction and theory, but if you for instance consider the fact that 50 percent of all oil exports from Russia are controlled by Putin’s friend, Tim Jenko (ph), the Finnish citizen operating out of Switzerland and if you look at the levels of corruption and how it’s risen and how it’s stifling the entire economy, I don’t think – I mean, I just don’t want to discuss fiction of what he says or what he’s going to develop. We’ll just look at – you know, read those white papers that were published a couple years ago: Putin results and Putin corruption. Read about his $1 billion palace on the Black Sea coast in Praskoveeka in the Krasnodar region.
That’s his action; that’s not what he says or writes. That’s what he says or does and people know that he does it and that’s why so many are coming out on the streets against him also, not just because of the political considerations, just because – just because of the – the extent of the thievery going on under this regime. Putin’s a thief is the most popular political slogan now, actually. It’s more popular than for free elections or release political prisoners. If you look at the protests, if you look at the placards – including the people now in the last few weeks, Putin’s a thief. That’s the most – that’s one of the most popular slogans.
Q: Do you know who’s financing this campaign against Putin? Mr. Berezovsky –
MR. KARA-MURZA: Who’s financing it? Who’s financing just the ordinary citizens who come out on the streets? Who’s financing what? When there was a protest in Kaliningrad in 2010 –
MR. JENSEN: We have to – let me interrupt. We have about 10 minutes left. So let me – let’s bunch our questions together, please, and make them brief.
You, please. Then John (sp) had his hand up.
Q: OK. Sofia Irlasky (ph), with Freedom House.
One of the first orders that – or among the first orders that Putin gave on the inauguration day was this deadline to establish the Eurasia Union by January 1st of 2015, which has been a pet project of his and we saw the articles appearing that he wrote, including listening to his program.
And so immediately after that we see kind of a very modest commentary from, for example, Lukashenka, in his state of the union address who almost brushed over the topic. At the same time in the recent weeks we saw an arms deal with Kazakhstan and things developing on that front.
So what do you think? Will this project ever come to life and will be something sustainable and something that will eventually aid Putin in his current term to maintain his position in the world arena somehow? Or it will it – will it be something that just dies off eventually?
MR. JENSEN: You’re asking about the Eurasian Union?
Q: The Eurasian Union, yes.
MR. JENSEN: And we’ll take John’s (sp) question together with it so you can save time.
Q: John Parker (sp) – (inaudible).
Let’s assume that you’re right and that Putin’s support collapses in two, three, four years; he doesn’t last six years. What sort of a transition is there going to be after Putin? What is that collapse going to look like and what comes afterwards and what challenges does that face the rest of the world?
MR. JENSEN: Take those two.
MR. KARA-MURZA: Sure. On the Eurasian question, I think it’s going to be the same fate at the union state of Russia and Belarus. It’ll just be a rhetorical devise, sometimes, you know, brought to the floor when it’s needed for propaganda purposes, sometimes forgotten. You mentioned Lukashenko. It’s exactly the same pattern. I mean, this “union state,” quote-unquote, existed since 1996 and there hasn’t really been anything to it. The only unintended consequences – the only good one – and I think you were there, Don, a couple of months ago. There was one of the leaders of the opposition from Belarus, Mr. Shushkevich, came here to Washington to receive an award.
And he is, of course, on the ban – on the black list by Lukashenko too. He’s not allowed to leave Belarus. So what all these opposition figures do is they, because there’s no border between Belarus and Russia, they go to Moscow and they take a plane from there and fly. So that’s the only good, but unintended, consequences of the union state.
And in terms of your very important question on the transition, I think it’s very much up to the regime how this transition will be. You know, when you saw the initial protests in December and February, you saw people coming out with families with small kids, just people there with white ribbons and it was 100 percent peaceful protests. You know, just of moral – a moral peaceful protest against this kind of regime. But when you have them basically unleashing an army of 20,000 interior ministry troops and riot police on peaceful demonstrators, that’s going to inevitably radicalize the opposite side too. And nobody from the opposition leadership – nobody, you know, wants a violent revolution or a civil war, God forbid, or anything like that. But the regime is actively trying to do that by trying to completely close off and shut off all the normal, legal avenues. You know, not just for political participation, which they’ve done over the last decade, but now also for peaceful protest as well.
I mean, this David Kramer – your colleague who spoke a couple of days ago here – he said, you know, once again going with the Lukashenko analogy, in Minsk you can now be arrested for clapping. They passed that law against clapping protests –
Q: And for singing.
MR. KARA-MURZA: And for singing, exactly. And in Moscow you’re now arrested for wearing white. White is the symbol of the protest. And you see – and I’m not talking about Sunday or Monday when there were big protests in the street of Moscow. I’m talking about this entire week when police is just randomly arresting people who wear the symbols of, you know, either a white ribbon or wearing a white handkerchief or anything. They’re just being detained and put into police busses and put into cells.
Boris Nemtsov was arrested in a café as he was having a cup of coffee – the Russian opposition leader. When you have a regime doing that, it doesn’t encourage the peaceful protests and doesn’t really, you know, doesn’t give the opposition any encouragement to remain peaceful and moral. Inevitably, there will be radicals on the other side and that’s very bad and nobody’s for that. But they’re actively working for that end by trying to hang on until the very end until they crash. That’s what, you know, this exit strategy is about.
Once again, this forecast that I mentioned by the Center for Strategic Research. Basically, they are saying – these are Putin’s associates; Kozak is his deputy prime minister, he’s the chairman of the center. They’re basically saying, you know, you’ve really got to start looking for an exit strategy, because you’re not going to be there much longer. You know, maybe another few years, but not much longer and you better have that exit strategy, because otherwise it’s just all going to crash and that’s going to be bad for everybody – for the opposition, for the regime, for Russia, for the neighbors, for the outside world. But the ball’s in their court now.
Well, the opposition is protesting peacefully. When they kick pregnant women in the stomach and saying that you should have your liver spread over the pavement, you know, their side is saying that – Peskov has said that, Putin’s press secretary – that just shows you who wants a peaceful transition and who’s going to resist it until the very end.
MR. WILSON: Time for one more.
MR. JENSEN: Time for one more. Yeah; Ira?
Q: Since several people followed up pressing you on putting forward a program. I’d like to follow up on that and say this generous word: It seems to me that every opposition in an authoritarian system is lacking in substantive program compared to what will be needed the day after a transition. This has always been my experience dealing with people before the transition, after seeing what went wrong. And so I think the question is fair to you, even if not always fairly worded and sometimes a bit harshly worded.
Still, I think it’s fair to say that probably, the opposition will need to work more on program, because when a transition occurs all the bills come due – and I’m not just talking about economic bills. All the issues that people put off under what was called stability, suddenly they don’t allow to be put off and you have to deal with them all and you have to be ready for it. So I think it’s something worth considering more seriously.
On the other hand, you put a kind of challenge to the rest of us in your article some months ago that the bills are due for us also who want this change to occur. When the change occurs, we need to be ready with our share of dealing with it, not just in terms of giving money – which is what some people understand it to mean – but in terms of the relations we want and how we want to deal with those relations. And I think that’s an even more fair challenge to us, because we weren’t ready during the Gorbachev-Yeltsin transition. Equally fair – even more fair than the challenge to you. So I do want to emphasize the challenge to you, but to say we at least share it equally, if not more so.
MR. JENSEN: Thanks for your fairness, Ira (sp). Final comment, please.
MR. WILSON: Yeah, we need to close up.
MR. KARA-MURZA: Yeah. Well, I just want to thank the Atlantic Council again and Ambassador Wilson for holding it. And thanks to everyone who came to take part in this discussion. And it’s great to have those kind of exchanges of opinion here. And thanks again.
MR. WILSON: Thank – many thanks to all of you for your attention, for good questions. I think the comment at the end was a very helpful one.
I also want to thank from our own staff Natalia Wobst, who did a lot of the work to put this on; and in particular, our assistant director, Anna Borshchevskaya, who’s back for the first time in our offices after having had a baby several weeks ago. Thank you very much, Anna.
And please join me in thanking our two guests for an outstanding presentation and leadership of today’s event. Thank you. (Applause.)