20 years under Putin: a timeline

O.Kh.: Yes, but British authorities have prepared a visa blacklist to prevent some Russian officials from coming into Great Britain, similar to the Magnitsky list in the U.S. Do you think such measures can stop them?

A.P.: The Magnitsky list is a very restricted measure taken against investigative officers, doctors, and other secondary individuals. The West will never decide to put Putin, Medvedev or other top state officials on the list. The very fact of this measure annoys Russia, of course, because it creates a precedent, but it is not a real threat yet.


It is extremely hard for the West to influence Kremlin's policy, says Andrei Piontkovky


But the inability to go to the West is actually the only thing that Russian authorities are afraid of, despite the whole anti-Western foreign policy and anti-Western rhetoric. Supporters of the Magnitsky list hit a sore spot for the Russian political elite. But I think that the West will not advance far in this direction. You might have noticed that while in Russian political discourse, Putin’s return and the form in which it was presented caused a shock, in the West most of the comments added up to the fact that business-relations with Putin would remain the way they used to be, that his decision was practically backed up by the Russian population. Neither the U.S., as long as they continue the war in Afghanistan and depend on transit across Russia, nor Europe, relying on Russian gas supplies, will confront Putin’s regime.

O.Kh.: I can't agree with you on the general tone of the comments in the West. Many Western media outlets criticized the developments in Russia, emphasizing that Putin’s return was not the will of the Russian people. Some say, for example, that the “reset” policy should be reconsidered.

A.P.: I am speaking about executive power. The U.S. has officially claimed that recent events in Russia will not have any impact on the “reset.” Certainly in the West public opinion has more influence, but the mechanisms through which it can change the politics of the executive branch work quite slowly. I have no illusions about the scale of Western influence on the course of events in Russia and the behavior of the Kremlin's management. It’s minimal.

O.Kh.: All right. If not the political elite, could the Russian media or intellectuals influence the course of events in Russia?

A.P.: But they are already doing it. The fact that the discourse has changed is the result of their work, and not just over the last few weeks, but for the last four years. This influence is mediated: slowly, through the media, authorities are being pressured. The Internet and blogs changed the discourse remarkably. But I don’t know if these changes can grow into more active political measures like demonstrations or organized mass protests. In any case, people’s mentality is changing. Today, for example, you won’t find anyone who will seriously and argumentatively defend the regime. A few years ago you could find a number of such publications and hear plenty of such comments.

O.Kh.: What is your assessment of the Russian opposition? How effective (or ineffective) is it?

A.P.: I don't agree with the sharply critical assessments of the opposition's activities, nor do I share the opinion that the opposition is helpless or ineffective. Though a certain masochism is inherent to the opposition itself: they like to talk about their failures. But the change of discourse is the result of the opposition's work, too.

O.Kh.: The opposition is often blamed for lacking bright, charismatic leaders. Do you agree?

A.P.: I think that such people as [Boris] Nemtsov, [Garry] Kasparov, [Vladimir] Ryzhkov, and [Alexey] Navalny who have gained prominence recently, all of them are much brighter than the officials. And if the political system opens up, if there is freedom of speech, freedom to choose independent candidates, I assure you, there will be plenty of other people about whom we don’t know at the moment.

O.Kh.: Could you give an approximate estimate of how long this system will last?

A.P.: I can't. On that note, let me tell you a story. At the end of February 1917, Vladimir Lenin delivered a speech in front of young Swiss social democrats. They asked him a question: when will the revolution come to Russia? Lenin answered that old men like him wouldn't see it during their lifetime, but that the young people in his audience would probably be lucky enough to witness it. When he got home, [his wife] Nadezhda Krupskaya handed him a telegram about the Russian emperor's abdication in Saint Petersburg. These events are impossible to predict. The regimes at the stage of degradation that Putin’s regime has reached can crash unpredictably in a week or can last for a long time.

How did it all start in North Africa? In Tunisia, a relatively prosperous country by African standards, a young man set himself on fire because he couldn’t find a job. Putin’s regime has ripened to its end. But the end will come later rather than sooner, because of the already mentioned satiated, lazy, and cowardly elite. Still, today’s macroeconomic indicators place serious time limitations. And with serious budget deficits, ruble devaluation, and double-digit inflation, social outbursts will spontaneously form in various regions. All this will push the elite to a greater sense of courage. Which will fall first – the regime or Russia as a state – will become crystal clear to everyone in about three or four years from now.