20 years under Putin: a timeline

OK: What do you think of Russia's opposition movement?

SB: You have to distinguish the protest movement from the opposition. People who came to Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue are not the opposition in a conventional sense. They are just protesters, they are Muscovites who went to the streets to protest against Putin's return and to defend their own specific interests, not to stand in support of any politicians.



The opposition are the people who spoke to the protesters from the stage. And they have already started fighting for their demands. In addition, many unconstructive decisions have been made by opposition leaders.

OK: What are some examples?

SB: The first mistake was establishing a Protest Organizing Committee. By transforming it from a logistical structure into a political one, the protests became associated with the negative qualities of some of this Committee's members. I have always said that the Committee should be entirely anonymous, so that no one could throw a shadow on the mass rallies. It was important to decide whether the goal of the Committee's members was to properly organize a rally or to promote themselves without any regard as to how the rally would be put together. Many members weren’t capable of choosing the greater good over self-promotion. On top of this, the main demands of the protest movement were  never articulated correctly and this resulted in a smaller turnout at the rallies than what could have been.

The opposition leaders have already made 
a number of unconstructive decisions.

OK: Which demands shouldn’t have been made?

SB: The demand for the annulment of the results of the parliamentary elections.

OK: Why were these unreasonable demands?

SB: It was unobtainable. When you mobilize people, you cannot set the goal knowing in advance that it cannot not be achieved, especially when you see it not happen in real time. People went to the streets to get the election results annulled. They did it one, two, three, four times. The results were not annulled. And then the protest leaders raised their hands in disappointment and announced “It’s not happening.” Why would you call for people to go to the streets in the first place?

OK: What should they have done?

SB: They should have just called for political reforms. Especially since the reforms are already happening: President Medvedev introduced a bill on the new procedure for party registration and governors’ appointments. The opposition leaders should have explained to the people that these reforms were a result of their efforts. They could also have tried to call for early parliamentary elections. These mistakes are not fatal, they can be overcome. The potential of the protest activity in Russia remains high;  the  people’s indignation and discontent with the lack of political freedoms and the total cynicism of the ruling class will not just go away.

OK: So what’s next for the opposition?

SB: First of all, the opposition needs to set up new goals for protest activities. The rallies need to continue. Next, three new parties need to be established. The ideological divisions among the opposition can support this.

A female president could be a good
alternative to Putin.

OK: What would these three parties be?

SB: They would be the National Democratic, Social Democratic and Liberal Right parties. Navalny and a group of the nationalists could form the core of the first party; the Frondeur deputies (members of A Just Russia and the Communist Party already represented in the State Duma) along with Sergei Udaltsov from the Left Front could create the second one; and Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov and a group, led by Mikhail Prokhorov and Aleksei Kudrin, could unite to start the third one. These three parties could take part in  early parliamentary elections and win seats. The opposition could also then nominate their own candidates for the governors’ posts. I think that Nemtsov could be easily re-elected as Governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region. Aleksei Navalny, Ilya Ponomarev, and Vladimir Ryzhkov have good chances of being elected as governors as well. Winning the regional offices could be a stepping stone to the Kremlin.