Viacheslav Igrunov, the director of the International Institute of Humanitarian-Political Studies, was a member of Russia’s State Duma during three convocations (1993-2003.) He is also a regular participant in the Ukrainian-Russian dialogue.
Why does the Russian opposition not have support from the population and does it have any real chances of participating in the political process? The answers to these and other questions are given in the following exclusive interview with the Russian political scientist.
“The Russian nation has always organized itself around the government. In rare periods of its history another type of behavior has been evident. For example, in our country Nov. 4 (National Unity Day marking the end of the Time of Troubles in 1612) was proclaimed a national holiday. On this day 400 years ago, the citizens decided to organize themselves because of the lack of real power in the country. Since that time we can seldom provide similar examples of the extra-state organization of the nation. It is usually oriented on the existing power, not the opposition.
“Only when this power begins to decline do people’s movements emerge, as it happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But as soon as the government acquires some strong features, the population starts orienting itself on this power. This is an objective factor explaining the opposition’s low popularity, but there have been subjective ones as well. By the current opposition we mean the communists, who have lost the people’s trust and are supported only by 10-15 percent of the population. We usually call the rest of the oppositionists ‘democrats.’ Russians associate the word democracy with such simple things as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of the economy, poverty, corruption, the rise of the oligarchs, the emergence of an unacceptable lifestyle, a crime wave, and the domination of state officials.”
Are these the consequences of the state’s collapse, which have to be fought?
“These consequences were determined precisely by the activity of the ‘democrats.’ The philosophy behind these processes was formulated by Chubais and Gaidar. These people said that we have to ruin as much as possible so that nothing can be renewed, and the smaller the state the better. These slogans were proclaimed at the government level by people who were implementing these reforms. Furthermore, they also believed that it is crucial to reduce wages to the minimum in order to raise competitiveness, that all property should be concentrated in the hands of a few private businessmen. These very politicians created the authoritarian constitution that is in force now, and according to which Putin is acting. It is the ‘democrats’ who discredited parliament because they saw overly strong communist influence and reactionaries there. The entire democratic press was full of invectives aimed at parliament and political parties. What support is possible even from the standpoint of the subjective factor, not to mention the fact that objectively the majority of the population is not disposed to opposing itself to the active power?”
So, today, as the result of subjective and objective factors, an opposition in Russia is in principle impossible?
“An opposition in Russia is possible, and it has always been present. But if we recall history, we can mention the Decembrists and the narodniki (populists). We can also mention the opposition within the elite in power. There has always been a split in the elites and counteracting parties. But an opposition in Russia can never be a mass one and cannot rely on the population’s strong support, except in the event of a deep national crisis. Since statehood is more or less restored today, an opposition cannot count on mass support. But this does not mean that it cannot play a key role in our politics. Only one split in the elite in power, which is possible, will be enough for this. And if an effective opposition appeared in Russia, it could influence the course of history. The trouble is that the same subjective factor exists that I have already mentioned. All the leaders of today’s opposition have proved their practical ineffectiveness.”
Why does Russia not want to see Ukraine, its “long-term strategic ally,” within NATO?
“Ukraine cannot be Russia’s advocate in NATO because Ukraine is entering NATO for a counterbalance to Russia. Ukraine can be the same kind of advocate for Russia as the Baltic republics, the main anti-Russian agents all over the world. The countries of the post-Soviet space, which may end up in NATO, are Russia’s main enemies within NATO. This refers to Poland and the Czech Republic, and partly to Hungary, let alone the Baltic countries or Georgia whose accession to NATO is being planned. Ukraine’s accession to NATO will be the severest political blow for Russia. Russia will not survive this. So it would not be correct to talk about long-term cooperation in this case. Russia will seek side roads in order to establish allied relations with other European countries, such as Germany, France, Holland, Spain, Italy, in order to bypass Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs viewed Yurii Luzhkov’s statements about the Crimea on Feb. 21 in Sevastopil as interference in our domestic affairs. How would you comment on this position, which is supported by some Russian politicians, who cast doubt on Ukraine’s territorial integrity?
“This is typical of Luzhkov. In my opinion, such a position is simply irresponsible for a political figure, but these moods are very widespread in Russia. Luzhkov has maintained this position for the last 16 years. In its turn, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine must issue a proper assessment of this. If Russian politicians continue to conduct themselves in such a tough manner, then Ukraine will certainly have to restrict the presence of Russian politicians on its territory. It is intolerable for a politician on that level to utter words that can be regarded as limiting a neighboring country’s sovereignty. But the Kremlin authorities have never shared Luzhkov’s position.”
What are Moscow’s strategic goals concerning Kyiv? Is it worth waiting for Ukraine to receive a proposal to integrate in one integration project or another?
“Today’s political elite in Russia does not want to integrate Ukraine into the general state space. Russia is not an integrating but dominating country in the post-Soviet space. These are different things. The US does not want to integrate Europe, but it wants to dominate in this space. The Russian elite also has similar projects today. There were attempts to integrate Ukraine, but they ceased after the Orange Revolution. After that, the profound disappointment of the elite in power in Moscow led to the logical curtailment of these attempts. I, on the contrary, support integration processes that are much broader than Russo-Ukrainian unification. I am a supporter of a large integration project that would include all of Eurasia. I think the future depends on how successful the construction of the integration project of the Chinese and European economies will be. Russia and Ukraine are integral parts of this project. Moreover, the degree to which these processes will take place painlessly depends especially on them.”