20 years under Putin: a timeline


C.I.: In recent years, has the percentage of passionates increased? How can it be increased?

B.N.: This percentage is quite stable. Unfortunately, the percentage of other types of people has grown: the percentage of people who wish to leave the country. These people are part of the 20 percent that we’ve just talked about. Forty percent of people younger than 30 year want to leave, which is an unprecedented situation.

C.I.: What would be your explanation?

B.N.: Putinism destroys social mobility. If you are not in the KGB, if you are not in Gazprom, if you haven’t worked in City Hall and haven’t latched onto some governor, then it’s impossible to have a career in business or politics. The lack of future prospects pushes young people toward emigration. Not all of them have the ability to leave, but most of them want to. I was speaking to some journalist-musicologists at Moscow State University (MGU) alongside Artem Troitsky. There were about 200 of them. I asked them, “raise your hand if you want to leave.” These people were musicologists! About 80 percent raised their hands. And that was at MGU.

C.I.: On the question of prospects: what are the general prospects for the country (and the people) after the elections? What is your “2012 Scenario?”

B.N.: First of all, we don’t have elections. We have special electoral-like operations. And if you don’t get too distracted by the rhetoric, on the one hand the apathy will grow and on the other, the anger and the protests. Slowly but surely, the disappointment will increase and, most importantly, the Putin-fatigue will increase. The fact is that no matter what the country, every dictator and authoritarian leader goes through a very clear set of phases of how he is viewed by the people.

C.I.: As with any human relationship, I guess...

B.N.: Yes. It all starts with enthusiasm, love and adoration. Then enthusiasm goes away but there is still an element of hope. Afterward, hope disappears and only disappointment is left. Then irritation accumulates, which transforms into distrust, and distrust in turn transforms into hatred.

C.I.: President Obama is also going through these phases, at least through some of them.

B.N.: The difference is that President Obama, even after going through these phases, only risks not being re-elected. But the United States will do without upheavals and North African revolutions, because people there have the right to be irritated and this irritation is shown at the polling places. The problem with Putinism, as with any authoritarian regime, is that by destroying the opportunity to get rid of the hated regime peacefully, he is pushing the country toward revolution.

C.I.: And is that going to happen?

B.N.: Putin is a Russian Mubarak in his purest form. He will be back in the Kremlin for sure. Medvedev looks pitiful these days. At least he used to be a blogger, now it’s just pathetic.

C.I.: So, Putin returns to the Kremlin. Then what?

B.N.: Then he will definitely start to lose his popularity. The understanding will grow that this is a government of thieves. The irritation will grow. The injustice, vileness and instability will increase the activism. Finally, in three to five years, the hated leader will become such a thorn that even people who were absolutely passive before will become galvanized for any reason.

The question I cannot answer is: when will it happen? That I do not know. It doesn't just depend on how fast he becomes hated, it also depends on economic conditions. Of course, if the United States continues to print 1 trillion dollars a year, it will be a gift to Putin, because despite the economic crisis, oil prices will continue to rise.

C.I.: Thus, the Russians should be praying for the U.S to improve its economic health and  stop printing money?

B.N.: No. Putin is not only hoping for expensive oil but for the price of oil to rise forever. Expensive oil prices are simply not enough. When I was in the government, the threshold for a non-deficit budget was around $20 per barrel. When Putin became president, the threshold for a non-deficit budget was around $40 per barrel. Now, $120 is already not enough; a gluttonous and thieving government has been created that not only needs expensive oil but needs the price of oil to rise forever. Even Obama, with his money-printing, won’t be of help here. Because in the crisis that will most likely occur and grow globally over the coming years, the price of oil will remain high but will not increase.

C.I.: If not cheap oil, what other conditions can succeed in fracturing the regime?

B.N.: First of all, the collapse of the pension system. The pension fund is already in bankruptcy, but due to high oil prices, the fund deficit (more than $100 million dollars) is covered by the budget. This is the main item of expenditure. Putin increased pension growth-rates to score election points. How he is going to pay those pensions, no one knows. The bankruptcy of the pension system will dramatically increase the retirement age (while life expectancy is low) or will lead to a pension freeze. Considering that Putin’s main electoral base consists of retirees, this will be the end. In addition, since people are accustomed to freeloading, it is unclear what Putin will say when the freeloading comes to an end. And it will end, due to financial circumstances.

Second are the tragedies of Yaroslavl, of the Bulgars, and of the falling Tu-134 aircraft. The collapse of infrastructure as an institutionalized process. This angers me.