20 years under Putin: a timeline


C.I.: Will the collapse of infrastructure become the match that at some point sets everything alight?

B.N.: Yes. In Yaroslavl, over one hundred thousand people came to the funeral. If, God forbid, that had happened in Moscow, it would have been over a million. A million people gathered together for such an occasion could sweep away the regime in a second, if they wanted to. And no one would be able to stop them. Therefore, the collapse of infrastructure could be one of the reasons leading to serious unrest.

I am not a revolutionary. And not only because I will soon be turning 52 years old, but mostly because I clearly know that in Russia, during revolution, bloody and unpredictable consequences are possible. I do not want bloody consequences. Craving power, like Putin, means leading Russia into a bloody revolution. And in this case, the blood-soaked scenario is going to leave blood on the hands of one person. Putin had better understand this 100 percent. This bloodshed will have been caused by Putin — not by the opposition movement and not by Strategy-31. Destroying any possibility of him quietly bowing out will lead to inevitable collapse. This scenario is dangerous in other countries as well, but in a country like Russia, it is especially dangerous.

C.I.: What are the goals that the opposition set for itself in 2012?

B.N.: Right now we are trying to organize a peaceful protest called “Campaign ‘Vote against everybody!’” We would like as many people as possible to realize that this is not an election but a farce, and to join this peaceful protest. We are criticized; they say we are going to get one percent of the voters, two percent at most. But this is not a matter of percentages, but of the actual amount of people. One percent amounts to  500,000 people. For the opposition, the fact that 500,000 people consciously came and wrote with a marker “Down with the power of thieves!” was a huge success. The opposition is proud when 5,000 people come to a rally, and if 500,000 people come, that’s just super!

C.I.: It seems, however, that Putin is much more afraid of Prokhorov than of the opposition.

B.N.: Not really. Putin isn’t much more afraid of Prokhorov — Putin is afraid of everyone and of each individual in his own way. That’s his background: he has always lost in a competitive fight. Putin is afraid of any competition. He is afraid of Prokhorov because Prokhorov has too much money, and it is unclear how that money can be used. And he is afraid of us because we cannot be bought — we are too convinced.

C.I.: Maybe not everyone can be bought, but everyone can be put in jail, right?

B.N.: Everyone can be jailed. But as I understand it, Putin doesn’t really know what to do with Khodorkovsky next. What if there were a lot of people like Khodorkovsky? Then Putin would become 100 percent unapproachable and would turn into a Lukashenko. For Comrade Putin, as a person of sybaritic views, the prospect of ending up as persona non grata is not very impressive.

C.I.: How influential of a measure is an expansion of the Cardin List?

B.N.: Very influential. If we had an independent justice system, we wouldn’t need such laws in Europe and the United States. But for now, we don’t have such a system; and yet, we still need to punish the criminals. Criminals are seriously afraid of such laws. So yes, I believe that such lists are an effective tool.

One important clarification: pressuring a country is counterproductive. And the Jackson-Vanik (link) amendment should be repealed because in today’s world, such amendments are utter nonsense. What is effective is pressure on specific thieves and murderers. I can tell you that as soon as this bill appeared on the Senate floor, visits from Moscow significantly increased. Everyone started running around Washington: Surkov, Lavrov and now Kislyak. The entire Russian embassy in Washington is running around, trying to stop the passing of this bill.

C.I.: What needs to be done in order to instill in people a love for democracy? For his part, Putin is tirelessly dredging up the propaganda.

B.N.: He is simply exploiting the established habits of mind.

C.I.: Okay, so it is easier for Putin. Still, what should be done in order to change each and every person's way of thinking?

B.N.: Only education and personal example will do. That’s it. This is much harder than the exploitation of instincts [with slogans like] “beat the rich” [or] “beat the Jews.” What Putin is doing is easy to do. Just as easy as building an authoritarian society in a country that is already inclined to be obedient. The opposition, on the other hand, has a difficult task to do. The figure of 50 percent that we’ve started with is difficult to achieve. If people weren’t such zombies and saw objective information on TV instead of constant and merciless propaganda, I’m sure most of the adult population would understand the direct connection between freedom, independence and the wallet. The tragedy in Russia is that people don’t see that connection. People are taught that freedom is chaos and chaos is poverty. False parallels are built: freedom equals chaos equals poverty, and democracy equals lawlessness equals arbitrariness. “The Wild `90s” is used as an example, although Putin himself is a product of the `90s.

C.I.: The presidential campaign will eventually end, and so will the “Vote against everybody!” campaign. Do you have any further plans of action?

B.N.: Next, I think that it is extremely important to provide an alternative. I am sure that the current regime is doomed. We need to continue pursuing, in the European courts, the registration of parties and the filing of anti-corruption reports, which is what I did, and will continue to do. We must build and strengthen the structure of the opposition in the country.

C.I.: Are you saying you are ready for daily routine work?

B.N.: Cat, let me explain plainly: in Russia one should live long (and, hopefully, live happily, but most importantly, live long). This fight with Putin is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. This will continue for many, many years. You need to always be in top shape for such a struggle and be ready to endure extreme conditions. But, unfortunately, in the opposition, there aren’t that many active people who are ready for that. People are ready for the 4th of December or for next March, but when you tell them that we will still be writing Putin-Itogi for the next seven, maybe ten years, people are not ready for that. When you tell people that we will have to participate in Strategy-31 another five years and we might go to prison for an unknown period of time, when you explain that to them, it becomes apparent that only the passionates are ready for a marathon, and there aren’t many of those. I have one problem: I don’t want to emigrate. I love Russia, and [I say this] without pathos. Even though at times Russia can be uncomfortable, dirty, and nauseating. That is why I want to provide an alternative.