In his April interview to several Western media Grigory Yavlinsky told why the position of the present Russian President should weaken at the next election and how the Crimea problem should be solved, assessed the results of the Russian military operation in Syria, and explained why Europe needed cooperation with Russia.
“FOR THE FIRST TIME VLADIMIR PUTIN WILL RUN IN THE ELECTIONS IN DETERIORATING ECONOMIC SITUATION”
Question: You participated in the presidential elections in 1996 and 2000, and they did not register you in the past election. It is unlikely that competing with the present President has become easier today. Why do you still think that you have a chance?
Grigory Yavlinsky: The economic situation in the country has much changed. Let’s compare the economic performance of 2011 and even of 2012 with the indicators of this year. They even can not be compared, as these are quite different trends. The social sphere changes a lot: poverty has been increasing.
As a matter of fact, the political situation has changed beyond recognition. Earlier the issue has been ‘who would better build a democratic country with a functioning market economy’, and now Vladimir Putin is leading the country to a non-existent model. Putin’s anti-European course represents an absolutely different direction. In my view, there is simply no such a way. This is a myth in his head and in the heads of people around him. However, I am not sure that they really believe in it.
In addition to all this Putin unleashed a war with Ukraine. An unjust, unfair and unnecessary war. His policy began destroying the economy. Isolation, sanctions, huge military expenditures, sharp decline in the freedom of action, pressure on the media – all this added to the institutional problems of the economy Russia had already had.
Question: But his rating is 81 per cent…
Grigory Yavlinsky: It is not known… I guess it is high. His rating has three constituent parts: propaganda, lack of alternative, and military and political hysteria. In any country of the world, these factors strongly influence people. This may be added to another fact that real incomes of citizens have been growing considerably, big cities have been turning modern for more than ten consecutive years, until 2013. All this affects people’s minds, their views, and therefore the rating may be high.
Question: And you hope that this will change?
Grigory Yavlinsky: The situation in the country must be changed. If it changes in itself, it maybe only in a very dangerous direction. I am going to change the situation by proposing an alternative to people.
Question: At the same time you are talking about the absence of free media, the military and political hysteria… How are you going to do it?
Grigory Yavlinsky: It will be very difficult to change the situation, but it must be done. It is necessary at every opportunity to talk about the fact that there maybe different policies and there is another person who undertakes to carry out this course. And this man has a team, he is not alone, and this is serious, because, as you said, it is not the first time that he participates in the elections, and he was Deputy Prime Minister and he worked in the State Duma for ten years. This is the first case in the history of Russia, when an election campaign begins two years before the election, when a person not associated with the government is in the middle of the presidential campaign.
If in the US, in a country where the 44th president is in power now, even if there is the selection of candidates begins two years before the campaign, and the campaign lasts for 18 months, so why don’t we do the same in Russia? That is exactly because there is no [free] media in the country, no access to funding [the campaign], but campaigning must be launched as soon as possible so that it penetrate into the consciousness of citizens.
Question: Is there a danger that it could be like in 2012, when they did not register you in the [presidential election] campaign?
Grigory Yavlinsky: There are any dangers. Here, by the way, Boris Nemtsov lived just across the road, he was heading here in the night when he was murdered… (pointing to an adjacent building near the office of the YABLOKO party, where Boris Nemtsov lived – Editor.)
Question: In such a situation, when such things happen, it is possible to speak of a normal presidential campaign?
Grigory Yavlinsky: We shall see whether it will be normal or abnormal. It may well be that it will be abnormal. Moreover, the elections can take place in year rather than two. Because the economic situation will deteriorate, and Vladimir Putin may say that he wants to hold early elections, because in 2018 the situation will be even harder. So what? There will be no alternative again?
Question: If they do not show you on the federal television channels, do not take your interview, how can you participate in the elections?
Grigory Yavlinsky: It is not only the question if they show you or not. The specifics [of the present situation] is that they created such formats in Russian television that if you find yourself there, it will be only worse [for you]. If you are invited on television, then only to such programmes where it is not simply impossible to speak up, but even all the meanings are eliminated. And programmes of a different format, such, for example, as Conversation with Vladimir Pozner, are not available. Five years ago, I said in Vladimir Pozner’s programme that Vladimir Putin and [Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev bore personal responsibility for much that was done wrong in our country. And [after that] they stopped inviting me to any programmes any more.
Question: Then what should be done? How to find access to people?
Grigory Yavlinsky: It is difficult. [This can be done] through electioneers, via parliamentary elections… You see, these are interconnected things. My efforts are only half the battle. The second half is the objective development of the situation. It was not like this before. For the first time Vladimir Putin will run in the elections in a deteriorating economic situation. This is a qualitatively new situation. I can easily explain to people that the difficulties they face result from the policies pursued by Putin.
Question: As it is known, the Kremlin supervises different parties. Recently a representative of the Party of Growth has admitted that they had a supervisor in the Kremlin. If YABLOKO does not have such agreements, then what can it expect on?
Grigory Yavlinsky: We have to fight. The circumstances are changing: in the past year the real incomes of citizens fell by 10.5 per cent. Everyone can see what has been happening to our currency. Oil and gas prices are low and will remain low…
Question: Did you have negotiations with the Kremlin?
Grigory Yavlinsky: What for? If the Kremlin wants to destroy me, they can easily do so. I do not ask them. If they want to close us, then right now the sanitary and epidemiological inspection can come to us and say that we have an epidemic.
Question: Does the other opposition – the nationalist one, which believes that Putin did not finish pressing of Donbass – have a chance?
Grigory Yavlinsky: If people begin expressing their protest spontaneously, without having political representation, without real alternative, than nationalists, radicals, Nazis, those who fought in the Donbass will lead it. Because they are not afraid of blood, ready to shoot, they have their score to settle with Putin. Therefore, I and the YABLOKO party offer another way out – the civilized and the only possible way without violence and without bloodshed.
“WE HAVE TO LIVE A COUNTRY WITH RECOGNIASED BORDERS”
Question: If we talk about your election manifesto, could you name five fundamental points of this document? What would you like to radically change in the country?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Here we go: the law must be equal for all; the Court must be independent; private property inviolable; the economy must be demonopolised, state monopolies should be removed from it and equal conditions for competition must be created. People must be respected and their opinion should be regarded, and that means giving them the right to say what they think, to realise the freedom of speech. So the programme is like this.
Question: And what should be done with Crimea?
Grigory Yavlinsky: We must say, that Crimea is not ours.
Question: Should it be given back?
Grigory Yavlinsky: We must say that Crimea is not ours, but there are people living there. Therefore, it is necessary to create a procedure that will solve the problem. Russia has only one task: to say that the accession of Crimea was an unlawful act and that Crimea is not ours. After Russia recognizes this, an international conference with participation of Ukraine, representatives of the European Union, the USA, Turkey should be convened… The conference should develop a “road map”: what to do with Crimea, how correctly solve this problem so that to avoid violence and bloodshed. Maybe it will be necessary to hold a real referendum, but already under the control of the UN and the OSCE, such a referendum, which will be recognised worldwide. Let the international conference of high-level politicians, diplomats and experts meet and develop a “road map”, because Russia and Ukraine will not now be able to resolve this issue on their own. And that Russia’s fault.
Question: What could be the status of Crimea?
Grigory Yavlinsky: [It should be] the status recognised by the international community.
Question: Only those living in Crimea will be able to take part in the referendum, won’t they?
Grigory Yavlinsky: The international conference will decide it.
Question: So you do not have a position here?
Grigory Yavlinsky: No, I have. Crimea is not ours and an international conference on Crimea is needed. That is the main thing.
Question: Maybe voters would like to learn your position…
Grigory Yavlinsky: Yet I can say is the main thing to the voters: we have to live in a country with recognised borders. For all of us it is extremely important that Russia be a country with internationally recognised borders. This is the first thing.
Second. I do not want the residents of Crimea be regarded as second-class citizens. They are not allowed to the EU, they are not given visas, investors also do not go there… It is not normal, when people in modern Europe have so many artificial restrictions.
Question: At the same time, many of them say that they were second-class citizens in Ukraine…
Grigory Yavlinsky: Are you talking to me as to a politician or a sociologist? If as to politician, then I will answer you. Putin comes to Crimea to inspect the construction of the highway Kerch – Simferopol and requests the phone number of someone he should hang up, if nothing is done. “I can not ring up all the government and half of the federation subjects to find out how the road construction in Crimea goes,” Putin says. “Give me a definite person with a definite phone number, so that I could know who is to blame…” People in Crimea are beginning to realise that life in Russia is not easy.
Question: But the majority does not share the idea that Crimea needs a different status …
Grigory Yavlinsky: No, they do not support this idea yet. But two by two is always four. And even if the people would like to hear that it is five or eight or ten, I can not say this to them, as two by two is four, and that’s a fact! And then I could ask them: do you agree that the economy is at a dead end? And all this happened because “Crimea is ours”. And I will show them the connection: [that because of all this] we do not have access to financial resources, there are the sanctions, other countries do not want to work with us, because we are increasing military expenditure as though preparing for war. You thought [taking] Crimea would be very simple? No! Crimea has such a high price. And I offer you perspective.
Question: Do you think that people in Russia will change their position?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Life will change, and their position will change too. If they see a normal perspective and an alternative, then changes will occur peacefully. And if people do not see a normal perspective and normal people who implement it, all this may result in violence and blood.
Question: Today the statement “Crimea is not ours” is extremely unpopular among people, but you are still repeating it again and again. Why?
Grigory Yavlinsky: There are three topics, and without solving them it is impossible to move forward. The first topic is Bolshevism, the coup of 1917, Joseph Stalin, and the Soviet period. The second topic is criminal privatisation of the 1990s. And the third topic is Crimea and Ukraine. There is no politics without solving these problems. Moreover, I believe that ignoring these issues, Russia could get into a very difficult and dangerous crisis, and even collapse.
Question: When you talk about addressing these three issues, what do you mean by the word “solution”?
Grigory Yavlinsky: We should say that the coup d’etat of 1917 was a terrorist criminal seizure of power. In fact, it was the enslavement of the people by the Bolsheviks for a long period of almost 100 years. And the fact that Stalin’s methods and practices of public policy manifest so far is unacceptable and must be eradicated…
Question: Do you mean that estimation errors like was done, for example, in Germany did not occur in Russia?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Yes, [we need] an honest assessment of a century of national history. And there is a consequence of this – we need to go back to the idea of convening a Constituent Assembly. It will take a number of years, but it is necessary so that to link the Russia of the future with the historic Russia, show that the people did not choose the communist regime, the Communists seized power by terrorist methods, and that after the Bolshevik seizure of power the country plunged in the Time of Troubles for one hundred years.
Question: And what about the criminal privatization?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Here we just need to explain that as a result of blunders and crimes of the 1990s, they seized all cost-effective assets from the people and handed them virtually for free to a narrow circle of persons. To amend this compensation policies should be implemented. For example, this can be done like in the UK, where windfall tax was introduced after Margaret Thatcher privatised the railways. In Russia, such thing is necessary to create the inviolability of private property, including for those who got it in that period. They have to pay, because then got property almost for free.
Question: So [oligarchs] Abramovich and Deripaska have to pay?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Not only they, there are a lot of them!..
And the third topic is Ukraine. Here it is necessary, first, to leave the Donbass area. We need really to close the border. There international forces will be needed so that to avoid revenge and gang warfare.
“IN SYRIA WE ONLY GOT A CONFLICT WITH TURKS AND SUNNIS AND PROLONGED BASHAR AL-ASSAD’S AGONY”
Question: Once we have turned to foreign policy, let’s talk about Syria. On a global scope, how do you assess what is happening in Syria and Russia’s participation in the military operation there?
Grigory Yavlinsky: I think that Russia must be part of the international coalition that is fighting in Syria against ISIS and cooperate with this international coalition to 100 per cent. Russia must participate effectively and deeply in the fight against ISIS, that is in the national interest of Russia. But Putin’s strategy means protecting Bashar Assad rather than fighting against the ISIS. And I do not think such a strategy perspective.
Grigory Yavlinsky: Because the situation in Syria, in my opinion, is such that the question of Assad’s resignation still is and will be on the agenda. In addition, we have to see the perspective, we must understand that Syria will not preserve in its present form.
Question: Then what did Putin count on, when he decided to take part in the military operation in Syria?
Grigory Yavlinsky: I do not know what he counted on. But whatever he expected, just look at the map – almost nothing has changed there. There is still as much of the ISIS there, as there was. Well, supposedly the territory controlled by the Syrian government forces expanded. But it did not go beyond that…
Question: When John Kerry visited Moscow, he said that Russia and the US were such countries that decide between them what would be there…
Grigory Yavlinsky: If Russia is bombing, then, certainly, it should be talked to.
Question: But Putin considers this a victory.
Grigory Yavlinsky: He may think like this. But I think that this not an end yet, this only the very beginning of it. And I do not see good prospects there…
And they certainly talk to Russia. They always talk to Russia. It is such a big and special country. I do not know whether it can solve something somewhere positively in its present state, but certainly it can spoil things. Therefore, they talk to Russia.
Question: And still is Bashar Assad in Syria such an old and good buddy [to Putin]?
Grigory Yavlinsky: He is no buddy! But Putin wants to show that he would support any regimes of this kind. Whether it is [Ukraine’s] Viktor Yanukovych or Bashar Assad, he will defend authoritarian regimes.
Question: and why?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Because Russia has such a regime. Because, if Putin does not protect them, then he will have the same problems some day. And he does not want it, he wants to show that he will defend his system and his regime by any means. He calls such regimes legitimate. Legitimate, that’s it! And those who oppose the regime are terrorists.
Question: Is this also a kind of message for authoritative leaders?
Grigory Yavlinsky: For all. “Don’t touch me and my system!”
Question: If you were President, what would you do in Syria? How would you solve the problem?
Grigory Yavlinsky: First, it is necessary to develop a common solution with other countries about the prospects for the entire region. Second, Russia should not and can not play the main role in this region. Third, I am not advocating that Russia should face and resist the whole Sunni world. We have already obtained one results from the operation in Syria: the problem with Turkey. There is nothing good about it. Neither from the point of view of the Crimea, nor in terms of the Transcaucasus. If Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Heydar Aliyev conceive something against Karabakh, Russia may be drawn into the war by Armenia. This is a very dangerous thing.
Question: Putin and Medvedev have been continuously criticising the United States, as the US allegedly supported the terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East. How do you assess the actions of the US?
Grigory Yavlinsky: The US has no strategy… If we look at the relations, say, the United States and Iran. There are many enemies of this bond. Not only Israel, but all the Gulf countries. But they are the main allies of the US. And there is still no common strategy. This is one point of tension. Another is Iraq. What happened there? Now they are talking about federalisation of Syria, but let us see what happened to the federalisation of Iraq: Iraq collapsed, there is no state. And third, how the Americans can decide who are their allies – Turkey and the Kurds? They can not be put together. And further, if they are together with Iran, then what can they say about Israel about Hezbollah? And this is only a small part of the problems…
Question: How should Russia act in the region then?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Russia does not have its own strategy, its own concept. [It] has no allies. This was an episodic intervention, which was ungrounded. We only got a conflict with Turkey, the conflict with the Sunnis and prolonged Bashar Assad’s agony.
“THE FATE OF EUROPE DEPENDS ON INTERACTION WITH RUSSIA”
Question: Good. What should be Russia’s approach then?
Grigory Yavlinsky: To sit at the table together with all and develop a serious strategy. I have just outlined a number of issues. As long as they do not have the answers, achieving a reasonable result is impossible. It is necessary to bear in mind a vision of the perspective. If you do not know how to do it, then let’s find other people. John Kerry can not tell Barack Obama how to do it? Then let someone else take his place. And Vladimir Putin must tell Fran?ois Hollande that there is no solution. Everyone just wants to look good in the election. And how the problems can be solved then?! Nothing is not discussed, all the talk is only about removing or leaving Bashar Assad. But it is not the main thing. As there is no answer to the problem of Ukraine, there is no answer to the problem of Belarus and Russia too, by the way.
Question: You mean a common policy?
Grigory Yavlinsky: This is the second question. First, there should be policy as such! Look, there was the fall of the Berlin Wall. United Europe was built. But it turned out that this was “not the end of history”, but the end of the strategy. And what kind of strategy should be there further? For the next 50 years?
Question: Russia should be offered to join Europe?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Certainly! And where else? There is no other way round for Russia. We have just to say: yes, there is such a regime in Russia now with which it is impossible to implement it. This is the truth. But it will end. In what year was made the first statement on [building] the European Union? In 1947! Two years after the Europeans stopped killing each other – the French, the Germans, the British. And the other half of Europe was under Stalin. But it turned out that there was enough vision and strategic thinking so that to raise the question of a union.
Question: And you would like to see Russia joining the EU or NATO?
Grigory Yavlinsky: What for? These are bureaucratic structures, we have enough of our own bureaucrats. The point is not whether the Brussels commissioners will be giving orders to the Russian corrupt officials. Politics should be based on shared values and common principles. We need to develop new forms of interaction.
Question: For example?
Grigory Yavlinsky: I do not have such an example. You want me to tell you about the City of the Sun, a fantasy. And this is done step by step. I am a supporter of economic integration from Lisbon to Vladivostok, I am a supporter of a common free trade area, a supporter of a common political trajectory with Europe. Also I am a supporter of common strategic defence [system]. You know why World War III did not happen? Because a concept of mutual assured destruction was developed and adopted by all. I will work hard to create the concept of mutual assured protection and to start its implementation. The end of confrontation does not occur when McDonald’s opens in Moscow, but when international system of guaranteed mutual protection starts functioning.
Question: It is an alliance?
Grigory Yavlinsky: An alliance. Which includes the missile defence and other common defence systems.
Question: Protection from whom?
Grigory Yavlinsky: From the ISIS, for example.
Question: The ABM system will probably not help against ISIS…
Grigory Yavlinsky: Yet. No one knows for sure. Do not forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And we do not know for sure how it is in Iran.
Question: Speaking about Greater Europe, you say that Europe in fact does not convincingly articulate that Russia is also part of Europe…
Grigory Yavlinsky: They were talking like this in Europe when there was Mikhail Gorbachev. And then they stopped, because Europeans had no such vision.
Question: And is this a problem?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Yes. When we are told: you are different, you are not with us and it is forever – this is wrong. By the way, Putin has played this card. He talked a lot about it. He wrote articles about common economic space, and no one reacted, he proposed a joint missile defense, and NATO was totally unprepared to anything serious.
Question: Do you mean you approve this idea?
Grigory Yavlinsky: It is a natural course of events. Russia will never be a part of the European bureaucracy. It’s too big and independent for that. But Russia’s future is inextricably linked with Europe, with the interaction with it.
Moreover, I think that in 30 years there will be two centers of economic power the world: North America and Asia. How will Europe compete with them? The fate of Europe in this sense depends on whether it will find forms of cooperation with Russia. Including all the post-Soviet area.
Questions: May be it will be better for Russia to turn to China?
Grigory Yavlinsky: There is no such a way.
Grigory Yavlinsky: Because Russia is Europe, not China.
Question: But many people do not support this idea.
Grigory Yavlinsky: It’s just a desire to get into Putin’s trend. Russia’s state structure has nothing to do with China’s. Culture, the structure of governing, the economy – everything is different. They have nothing in common and will never have. In addition, China has its own way. They think there that there is only one country in the world, except China. Do you know what?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Exactly. And all the others are just a more or less friendly territories [for China]. One should not have any illusions here. China is our neighbor, we have to be friends with it, but we do not need to change its political system, teach China how it should live. But we must be aware that we are not like China, and never will be.
Question: Is movement towards Europe possible with Putin?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Not anymore. This could have taken place, but now it is out of the question. Because there is no trust.
Question: And with [Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev?
Grigory Yavlinsky: There is no Medvedev without t Putin, he is his shadow.