According to media reports, the Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, has given up the idea of heading the Right Cause, a political party that protects the interests of business. He accused the Kremlin of trying to make him a puppet on a string and now he wants back the 500 million rubles he invested in the Right Cause. Experts say that he has lived all his life in a different reality where he gave orders and could buy everything, whereas politics is an altogether different matter. What does this move by the Russian oligarch actually mean? What consequences can it have for Russia’s political system? More on this in the following interview with Lilia SHEVTSOVA of the Moscow Carnegie Center.
“This Prokhorov thing is a godsend to Russian and foreign analysts. He was a test of sorts that revealed the entire essence of Russian politics, election campaign, and demonstrated that only pets on a leash can take part in the Russian elections. Those who want more freedom and a longer leash are dumped, as was the case with Prokhorov. Prokhorov the oligarch convinced himself that he was a big-time politician and leader of a big-time party, whereas all the Kremlin needed was a pet with a leather collar and a short leash that would obey the commands of those in power. As it was, Prokhorov started taking strange steps, trying to make his own decisions. I mean, this is an example that only puppet political parties can take part in the elections; only these parties are guaranteed an opportunity to vie in the race and expect to score some points. I think that this Prokhorov test shows what the coming elections will be all about. These elections will serve as a shield meant for only one purpose, preventing any new figure, any fresh breeze from entering the bunker in which the powers that be have stayed for the past 12 years.”
How will this affect the domestic political situation?
“This test has also demonstrated that those in power want no compromises, that they will not allow any concessions, that they won’t meet anyone halfway. On the political arena they show the whip hand to all the small creatures crawling about it. Whipping and dumping Prokhorov has shown the current regime’s trend. They aren’t going to step down. Instead, they intend to rigidly legitimize themselves and will not put up with any dissent. Recent events show a trend toward the strengthening of an inflexible administrative resource to preserve Putin’s team. No hope for Medvedev’s liberalism or the freedom of expression because the regime has entered a phase in its progress where the stakes are very high. Those in power realize that public moods are getting skeptical as people are getting increasingly dissatisfied, what with Putin and United Russia’s ratings dropping. The man in the street is getting increasingly impatient with the domestic economic situation worsening and economic growth slowing down. Under the circumstances they have decided to return to the crackdown policy.”
Can one expect any form of public protest in Russia?
“Russia won’t have a Maidan for several reasons. Russian society is too fragmentized. It hasn’t got over the 1991 revolution. Russians are afraid of everything, so each is on his own. There is very big oil money around and the man in the street gets crumbs from the oil lords’ table. Most likely the population will accept the outcome of the elections, along with all falsifications. People, however, understand that they won’t have any role to play during the elections. Between 60 and 70 percent of the populace believe there is no way they can influence those in power. Fifty percent expect the elections to be rigged. In other words, there will be no Russian Maidan. There is still the oil and gas safety net that allows the regime to buy public obedience. No one knows how long this bribe-and-repression policy will last.”
Then what? Legitimization of an allegedly re-elected regime?
“A very good question. How will these obviously stage-managed elections legitimize the regime? This regime has no legitimization means other than elections, so elections it will be and they will be carefully directed and controlled. However, the scope of expected falsifications, without a hint of competition, rigid suppression of all liberties, will doubtlessly delegitimize the regime. The results of this deligitimization may not show themselves tomorrow, The Day after tomorrow, not even in 2013, but they will eventually become apparent… One day people will realize that they have a fake president. Here is an example. The most arrogant and barely disguised falsifications took place during the Medvedev campaign in 2009, when sham ballots were planted everywhere. Expert estimates point to especially many such ballots in Moscow. Less than one-third of the electorate went to the polls, yet in some areas up to 25 percent ballots were officially cast for United Russia. Even such pet parties as the Communists and Zhirinovsky’s boycotted the Duma session as a sign of protest against the blatantly rigged elections. Whereas in 2009 over 20 percent such ballots were planted, this time it will have to be between 20 and 25 percent to secure United Russia’s majority at the Duma or pull off other tricks. Now this makes the regime and results of the elections illegitimate.”
We know that President Obama has named Michael McFaul, a Stanford University political science professor, the new ambassador to Russia. Prior to his nomination to the ambassadorial position, McFaul worked for the US National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs. Previously Russia’s human rights activists asked him not to sit at the same table with Surkov during a session of the Working Group for the Development of a Civil Society. Surkov was accused of ousting Prokhorov from the Right Cause. In view of this, how is one to assess Obama’s nomination of McFaul?
“It’s obvious. McFaul was the architect of President Obama’s so-called Russia reset policy. McFaul is a friend of mine, but I have mixed feelings about his posting to Russia. On the one hand, it’s good to have an ambassador who knows Russian realities, is versed in the subject, including Russian culture, speaks the language, and has great empathy with what’s happening in this country. On the other hand, I think the reset policy is over, that its main targets have been reached. In fact, this policy has solved certain problems facing Washington and the Kremlin, so Michael will come here to witness the completion of the reset process. However, no cardinal changes have occurred in the relations between America and Russia, so willy-nilly Michael will have to go through the motions of maintaining partnership which is actually nonexistent. There is still a strong touch of suspicion to these relations and it is hard to say how Michael will find a way out of this trap, maintaining normal intergovernmental relations on the one hand and being aware of the direction in which Russia is headed on the other; what means he will find of responding to this situation. I can only hope that his diplomatic talent will help, as well as his understanding of the highly dramatic Russian vector.”
What do you think is the European attitude to the trends in Russia you have mentioned?
“There have been mixed trends in Europe, too, of late. Of course, I mean in some European capitals, including in Berlin. Europe will continue in the same vein of pragmatic realism. Merkel, any other German chancellor or French president will need to cooperate with a country with rich energy resources. The European and national parliaments, as well as European public opinion will remain highly critical of Russia. This public opinion will not be tempted by Medvedev and will pass judgment on an election with attempts being made not to let too many European observers monitor the election process. Of course, the European Parliament will pass appropriate resolutions on the [outcome of the] elections in Russia. I wonder what degree of criticism Europe will allow itself. Previously such mild formulas as partly free or partly fair elections were used. However, the coming elections will be glaringly unfair, so I can’t wait to hear what Europe will have to say in December.”