The Evolution of Protests in Russia

Time: 18:00-19:00, 5th July 2017

Venue: Committee Room 3, House of Lords, Houses of Parliament, SW1A 0AA

Speakers: Vladimir Ashurkov, Polina Nemirovskaia and Dr Sam Greene

Event Chair: Lord Trimble

HJS Host: Dr Andrew Foxall

Lord Trimble

Hello and welcome to this meeting it has just turned 6 o’clock so we will commence. The object of the meeting is to listen to the speakers we have here. It is quite timely I think to have a meeting and discussion of this nature, in recent weeks and months there have been quite a few protests against the Putin regime in Russia met with the usual response from the authorities and people are still in prison as a result of that. What we are going to do we have three speakers and I am just going to go through them in the order that they have been listed here and that means I am turning first to Vladimir, would you like to open our proceedings?

Vladimir Ashurkov

Sure, my name is Vladimir Ashurkov I am an Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation which I create together with Alexi Navalny back in 2011 and as an Associate of Navalny who has emerged as the most prominent figure in the Russia opposition and who has been sort of the main organiser of this latest wave of protests that are happening this year in Russia. I think before we start with the protest I would like to share with you how we see the current political landscape in Russia and our strategy in navigating it.

I think it is a fact at this point that the democratic forces in Russia are too weak to be the main driver of change after a decade and half of bulldozing of political fields by the Russian authorities, the authorities have all the administrative flavours, immense financial resources and all the required legislation and other mechanism that are in place not to let independent voices be heard politically or in mass media. But at the same time we see that the political system in Russia is becoming more and more unstable with time and it’s unlikely to survive in the foreseeable future.

So our goal as people who are democratically minded and who have created various organisational structures to fight the corruption and autocracy is to gain political capital and at the time when the political liberalisation will start in Russia which is inevitable as we think in the next two years to have a place at this virtual round table where the issue of how Russia will be governed at the next stage of its history will be decided. We employ various techniques and approaches to do that. Of course one is anti-corruption campaigning and Navalny is famous for that he started with the anti-corruption investigations. Second in the absence to national media we have turned ourselves into media operations and our most important investigations is about the Russia Attorney General and the latest movie on the Russia Prime Minister got over 20 million views on You Tube and our information channel called Navalny life every show gets about a million views.

Of course we participate in politics, Navalny was appearing in elections in 2013 for the position of Moscow Mayor and he has started his Presidential campaign for elections in 2018, he announced his bid in December of last year. An important aspect of our strategy is a moral authority despite the pressure that Navalny himself and our team experience he continues his fight. You probably know his brother is serving a 3.5 year jail term on falsified charges and Navalny was a year under house arrest and due to a politically motivated verdict he is now barred legally from running for an office in Russia.

Mass protest have been an integral part of our strategy. I see 3 reasons why we do them. First of all it’s for me personally when I was in Moscow participating in the protests, it was an opportunity to meet and see similar minded people and to see that you are not alone in this fight against corruption. Second is that history teaches us that mass protests in countries are a prerequisite for political change and you never know when you will strike the chord for instance no-one expected that mass protests that began in December 2011 would be as widespread and well attended, at some point more than 100,000 people gathered on the streets of Moscow. If we do it, if we try it at some point such effort will be stricken and political change will come. In absence of other feedback mechanisms between the society and the authorities the elections are falsified, mass media is not free and judiciary is under administrative control, mass protests are a feedback mechanism that the society can provide to the authorities and the authorities seem to take it quite seriously.

There is an anti-corruption angle to these protests, they began on the 26th March and the call was in March, at the beginning of March, our anti-corruption organisation published a movie on the vast enquire of charities related to Prime Minister which possessed properties and other assets which are valued in excess of 1 billion dollars. The government never responded to these allegations so the first call of Nalvany was to go to the streets on the 26th March and require some answers from the government. When we contemplated whether we should do it or not, not everybody in our team agreed we should do it, it was a political risk because nobody expected that it would be a successful event but it turned out to be quite unprecedented. On March 26th some sort of mass protest took place in close to a hundred Russian citizen towns and a lot of participants were young people which were also not happening in the protest in 2011 and 2012.

Based on the success of that event the next event on June 12th was even more monumental and people in close to 200 citizen towns took part in these protests. As I said young people represented a big part of the Protestants we attribute it to a certain extent to our media strategy whereas Nalvany in the beginning of his career his blog in written form was the main sort of instrument of spreading the message to the people, in the last 2 years video has become much more important. The big videos which are about 45 minutes long they clock over 20 million views but also we issue maybe 2 or 3 videos of around 5/6 minutes every week and each of them gets over a million views. We see that young people they consume video much more than the written blogs.

We have seen also in these protests that people are ready for licensed protests. The first event took place with a license and a lot of people turned out, over 20,000 at least in Moscow. With respect to the event on June 12th we tried to make it licensed by the authorities but although the place was given to us and the mass action was sanctioned, the authorities did everything with the suppliers of the sound equipment and the stage so we wouldn’t be able to make it a powerful. So a difficult decision was made at the last minute to do it in a different place without any sanction and it led to police brutality, hundreds of people were arrested in Moscow, in many cities there were also arrests. Usually people are held for a few hours but a few activists get longer detention terms from 5 days to Nalvany got 25 days and he is still in jail now, due to come out on Friday.

While Nalvany has emerged as the only leader who is able to organise the mass protests on this scale which is unprecedented both, people turn out on both a regional scale, most people are not getting to the streets for Nalvany. We see it in interviews, we believe that people are getting more and more dissatisfied with the situation in Russia and Nalvany gives them a channel to vent and to present their views. What are the implications of this, our strategy is multifaceted, mass protest is just one aspect of it, nobody has a crystal ball on the way this protest will turn, will subside or will increase and turn into some mass political movement but it is definitely a sign of political change in Russia. Something in the society is changing and we aim to ride this wave. Thank you.

Lord Trimble

Good, thank you very much indeed. Polina.

Polina Nemirovskaia

Hello everyone my name is Polina Nemirovskaia I work with Open Russia which is a foundation and a movement founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky who I guess everyone has heard about and I work in a human rights project we help political prisoners out of prison and since the beginning of protests which Vladimir talked about in March of this year we started also helping with people who were detained during those protests.

Firstly I think it is necessary to say why the protests are sanctioned and why they are made illegal by the government, it happened that we have this legislation in Russia, we have constitution which has an article number 31 which allows citizens to protest peacefully without weapons anywhere they like, any time they like. Federal legislation is supposed to, oh my God I forgot the word, is to protect the constitution and not to violate the rights which are in the constitution however federal legislation is done in a way that it can impose these constitutional rights or it could make it harder for people to go outside and protest. For example, we have this law about high parks circled which are places that people can protest peacefully without any notice so you can go and protest in the so-called high parks which are established by the local authorities. My favourite high park is in the city of inaudible where the only place that people can protest without any notice rightfully is a local graveyard I’m not joking here.

In Moscow authorities do everything to forbid those protest they usually announce some cookie festival which is also not a joke, on all the space in the city centre and then ask the opposition to go somewhere, which for example Alexiy Nalvany doesn’t want to deal with. So anyway this is the way our government tries to make the protests illegal and it succeeds because of that. The police were given orders to be violent to those illegal protesters as they see it and they try to disperse the demonstrators and banish those who resist as quickly as possible. It is a pity that we don’t have video here because if you Google it you can see numerous police violence against people. On the 20th June which was a national holiday, a day of Russia, a day of Russia’s independence, the police caused violence itself because they locked people into the square street and they pushed it from two sites which of course lead to severe violence.

Which leads us and I would like to focus on that, which leads us to the fact that numbers of people were not only detained but there were criminal charges brought against the protesters and Open Russia and other human right organisations represent these people in court and we represent 5 of them which are, I think it is very, very important to remember about those people. There are 12 of them now. So in 2 months we have a list of political prisoners in Russia extended by 12 names as I have said we represent 5 of them and they are not political leaders, they are not famous opposition activists and most of them were protesting for the first time. I can just tell you about these people this is Alexander Spocov he is a carpenter and he went to a demonstration to protect his young daughter and now he is sentenced to a year and a half in prison. There is no video and no evidence of him beating the policeman and the policeman himself asked the court not to put him in prison but however this wasn’t heard. Another victim is inaudible he is a homeless man he was arrested just 2 days ago and now we are trying to defend him. Alex inaudible a father of 3 and he is a shipping agent from the far east of Russia, a History student from inaudible and Mikhail inaudible who is a 17 year old schoolboy, he is now under house arrest and he is only allowed to leave his house for attending the exams.

We have managed so far to get the only suspended sentence for one of them who is a student but anyway those are people who came out on the streets mostly for the first time in their lives as well as most of the more lucky protesters did and this is a new generation of protests we are witnessing and they are being born. The most interesting fact is that those new people, I have talked through a lot of them because a lot were detained on this protest which was more than 1000 people both days. I have talked to them and most of them have told me that they kind of woke up after the Ukrainian events in 2014 and this is a funny thing because in the forthcoming Presidential elections Putin tried to buy the loyalty of his people with the annexation of Crimea and yet this is how they answer. This, I think it may be pretentious to say so but this may be the reason why Mr Putin may start to question himself whether he is on the right path.

For the first time in my life, just last week I received a call from the governmental opinion poll who was actually asking about my opinion on politics that was the first time in my life, my government was never interested. They asked me about who I want to see as the next President, one of the suggested answers is Alexei Nalvany, I answered that I wanted to see the Ministry of Defence because I would like to see those 2 fight.

Anyway we must not forget what these demonstrations cause to people, it is always a risk. Government tries to do everything so that people will be afraid to go out on the streets. In our job because as Vladimir said, Alexei Nalvany is the only political leader who brings people on to the streets who calls them and they come and that is true. We are trying to build some known leader organisation we have a lot of branches in regions and those people do their regional job and we do our human rights job and so we are doing everything we can to protect those people so they won’t feel left alone when they are with this Russian oppressive judicial machine.

In the last 2 months I think it was on the 26th March over a thousand people arrested in Moscow during the protests and on the 12th June it was more than 500 people arrested in St Petersburg and all those people went through courts and there were more of them helped because we have managed to help people out of police stations so that they wouldn’t have any charges brought against them and so they wouldn’t have any legal consequences which makes it easier for them to actually come out and protest for the next time because the legislation in Russia about the protest, not the criminal chargers but the administrative chargers are so that if you are caught protesting for one time you can be fined with something but if you are caught protesting for a second time in a year you get up to 30 days in a detention centre and after that if the third time happens in a year there are criminal charges brought against you for protesting. There was the famous case of Ildar Dadin who was only standing with protesters in the streets of Moscow and he spent about two years and he needed the biggest campaign in I don’t know the last history of Russia to help him out. So basically what we do is securing people who want to exercise their rights in the street which they have a right to, would feel comfortable and would feel unified and not disengaged with Russian civil society.

Lord Trimble

Thank you, Sam.

Sam Greene

Thank you for the opportunity to be here. My name is Sam Greene I teach Russian politics at Kings College London and run the Russia institute there and I have spent a number of years researching and writing about protests in Russia although not engaging in it, so there is a different somewhat perspective.

I think there are a number of surprising things in this new wave of protests beginning around the 26th March spreading around to the 12th June and as Vladimir said we will see what happens next. One that has already been mentioned is this willingness to take risks. It has already been said there are much larger numbers of people coming out to unsanctioned protests knowing that there is some likelihood of a confrontation with riot police, that confrontation could end in injury or detention or possibly criminal charges. That potentiality became an eventuality after the 26th March and yet that did not deter people from coming out on the 12th June. We had not seen that before in post-Soviet Russia history, that is new.

The ability to generate mobilisation as a whole cloth, this started with really the 26th March, Vladimir described the process that led to people being out on the street but again to summarise it Nalvany and his team put together a video about the Prime Minister and said this is something for all of us to be angry about and lets go out and be angry about it together and people did it. There had been attempts to do that in the past they usually get 50-60 people out in the streets, this time we had, we don’t exactly know the numbers but tens of thousands around the country if not more. That again is new if we look at the protests that had happened in the past, large scale protests, whether you go back to the protests of 2011/2012 provoked by fraudulent elections, you go back to the benefits protest in 2005 provoked by social economic reform, it was the state doing something which made people angry. In this instance the state was sort of just sitting there being itself and that was a sufficient reason for people to be provoked to risky action and I think there is a great deal of skill on the part of Nalvany and his movement in doing that, that they have a knack for pushing the Kremlin into defending people and things that are in the eyes of most Russians indefensible. Putin himself is popular in the eyes of lots of Russians but other people in the system most definitely are not.  That is an uncomfortable position for the Kremlin to be in and it is clearly Nalvany and others rejoice for putting the Kremlin in that position.

Also surprisingly is the hard edge the Kremlin has taken. Where not surprised generally to see authoritarian regimes send riot police out into the streets but we kind of should be surprised to see that in Russia because going back again to the protests of 2011/2012 in the period after the first protest which took place on the 5th December and until the last protest on the 5th May, in that period where you had hundreds of thousands of people, in some cases, out in the streets there were essentially no arrests. The riot police where there but they were standing on the side-lines maintaining order but they were never provoked and they never provoked the protesters. There is ample evidence for how authoritarian regimes fall that if you become violent in your direction with protesters it generally shortens the longevity of the regime and this is something that Putin must be aware of.

The willingness to go as hard to make as many arrests to have as many pictures as we have had of kids and others being dragged off the streets but the really provocative pictures are of school children unfortunately is I think evidence of a degree of vulnerability that the Kremlin feels. It might seem from where I sit in being an academic to be irrational I think it even probably seems irrational Vladimir from where you sit and from where Nalvany sits yet it seems to be the perspective of the Kremlin.

What is causing this? There is a generational issue, we talk about young people but I don’t think it is an age thing, I think it is an experience thing. I think that not only is there now 17 years into Putin’s rule a generation who has never known anybody else at the top of the Russia political system. These are people who have never even had the opportunity to participate in putting Putin in power. Older generations have voted or not voted for Putin and regretted it or have not consolidated or decided that politics didn’t matter. There is now a generation coming of age who has not had the opportunity to participate in this process that is inheriting this system of power in Russia and whilst there are some things we are happy to inherit from our parents, systems of power relations are often not one of them. Particularly when that system of power seems to place something that looks like a veto on the future that Putin’s message, his narrative about, sorry I will say this on how we were told on the radio this morning, a right of centre think tank but it is very much a conservative ideology – this is the way Russia is we are sticking to values that are somewhat imaginary but what we have had for centuries and the future is not going to only look like today but really very much like yesterday. Tell that to young people and then you circulate or you are allowed to circulate viral videos of school teachers telling teenagers that their political opinions don’t matter and of course you are going to get large numbers of young people on the streets.

Now where is this going? I think peacefully or not there has been some discussion from both of the previous speakers about what sort of the goals of the movements is and NGOs and civil society are, it appears to me and maybe I am wrong that there is an overarching goal of disruption. Putin’s greatest asset is his own sense of inevitability, it is a risk to him and that’s why he thinks he may feel more vulnerable than we think he should. Inevitability as a political leader you can’t be kind of inevitable, you are either entirely inevitable or you are gone. So he has to do everything he can to control the media space, control the streets in order to make it continue to seem possible or anybody could possibly replace him.

What these protests do again purposefully or otherwise, the images of young people being dragged off the streets, all of these questions being raised in media and around kitchen tables what this does is it begins to puncture this sense of inevitability, begins to make it possible to think that maybe this grip on power and on the future isn’t as ironclad as it might have seemed and that makes it possible for people to take these sorts of risks because they might actually lead somewhere. Now whether or not the disruption and the chaos that comes with it will guarantee a victory for Nalvany come elections in the Spring I think is an open question. Any sense of deflation of that inevitability, any sense of political chaos in Russia I think almost inevitably guarantees defeat for Putin. I will leave it at that.

Lord Trimble

Great, thanks Sam. Well now we come to the question of inviting questions and to have a discussion. All I would ask is that if anybody does want to say anything please indicate clearly and then I will do my best so that everybody gets in and the other thing I want you to do is say who you are.

Question 1

I just wanted to ask, Putin’s strategy towards the opposition is in one way fairly simple so is there anything that the West could do to help you retain that platform?

Vladimir Ashurkov

The matter of making Russia a different place, a more democratic place is a matter for the Russians so there is limited scope and possibilities for the West to really effect the historical processes that are happening in Russia. Attention to the human rights in Russia, to political prisoners of course help but we understand that the West has more important considerations when dealing with Russia and its authorities than the internal politics. We are considerate of that and the West, in different Western countries in different forms but will continue to engage with the Putin regime and try to seek common strategy and interjection on judicial, security, energy etc. I mean for me and people in our team we don’t harbour much hope for the West really being some sort of decisive influence in what goes on in Russia.

Question 2

My name is Elizabeth Teige and I have a question for Vladimir please. I was very interested in what you said about the idea of the roundtable to discuss the way forward when the regime gets into trouble. I wonder if you could say more about what policies you would bring to the table, who you would think to talk to and possibly most importantly, is there any feedback from people that you have received from people within the authorities who might be interested to talk to you?

Vladimir Ashurkov

First on the roundtable, there is a possibility that it will be a real roundtable where a few people or few dozen people would gather to discuss how Russia will be governed something similar to what happened in Spain after Franco or Poland. But more realistically it will be a roundtable or a battle in the minds of Russians and the minds of educated class active people and when the system will start to change there are a lot of interests who will want to shape how Russia will be governed at the next stage of its development. Obviously it will be some people from the current political elite, there will be business people who have a very significant stake in what and how Russia will develop in terms of economic relations and politically there will be sort of the public opinion and mass media and there will hopefully be people who have over years fought for political change for liberalisation of the autocratic regime like us so that is kind of roundtable which I talk about.

When we talk about specific policies without going into too much detail on what is written in our program, first of all it is restoration of the feedback mechanism between the society and the authorities, the representative political system through mass media, independent judiciary. Next is social inclusion because there is too much wealth inequality in Russia and social standards that people have become used to in Soviet times are eroding or have eroded already. The third would be less government in everything, in people’s lives, in economic regulations, in economy in terms of ownership of various economic assets, so these would be the three main things.

In terms of talking to other political figures we, over years, we have been in contact with most of them and certainly with Kudrin but we really we see no common ground. We all know and there have been a number of strategies for reform written for Russia including those supported by Kudrin, by our group, they all would be good for Russia if only there was the political will to start them and we don’t see that coming from Putin’s regime or from people who are associated with it such as Kudrin or others.

Question 3

My name is Simon Cosgrove, I have three questions. First question is in the UK we are living with this Brexit effect I don’t know if it is comparable but the Crimea effect in Russia where has it gone it was so strong has it gone anywhere as anticipated or is it still there? Second question, we all remember what happened to Boris Nemtsov – is Alexei Nalvany safe? We read about him being attacked in the street, in jail for 25 days and so on but do you think he is safe? Polina said that she was phoned by a governmental opinion poll, my question would be about Open Russia, will it be able to continue to working in Russia?

Polina Nemirovskaia

If I can I talk about the Crimea factor a little bit because this is just the way people feel emotions. If you always play bigger, if you always make people feel more angry or more passionate or more patriotic, you should always play bigger. If you give them a big bit you should give them something bigger afterwards and after the Crimea we had this effect for like a year and after that there was elections to our state parliament on which the strategy was to brighten as much as they could in government and to make people forget, make people not interested because they wanted the show up to be low so that there wouldn’t be any political leaders or new coalitions, they were just cleaning up the field. Of course after that, people burned out so the Crimea effect just burned out. Some people are still imitating this patriotic mine fight with Ukraine but it all seems a little bit dead by now.

So about Open Russia. We have experienced some troubles recently because well some of the business entities which is based in the United Kingdom was suspended by the Ministry of Justice it was announced the unwanted organisation in Russia but nobody in Russia was and is connected to this business entity. Anyway of course there were many statements by general prosecutor and by the same Ministry of Justice that this decision of them wouldn’t effect anyhow the activists of Open Russia within Russia because we have like more than 1000 activists in different regions, we have our departments in 63 regions of Russia. As I said the general prosecutor and the Ministry of Justice announced that they won’t be touched and of course they lied. Our coordinator was recently prosecuted for participating in activities of an unwanted organisation and this participating was looking like waving a flag which said Open Russia on it. The prosecutors wrote that she was with the flag which means that she is connected to this business entity in the United Kingdom which made them fine her and now a similar case has opened in another area against our activists and for now those are only fines but if anything like that happens for a second or a third time there is grounds for bringing criminal charges.

However of course this is no reason to close Open Russia and say ok we are done here let’s move to Ukraine and make an Open Ukraine that is not going to happen. Where still going to exist and I think it is a very important job that we do because people have to be occupied with something there are big things like the Crimea factor, Alexei Nalvany’s Presidential campaign that personally I would like to ask Vladimir this question later because I don’t know what Alexei Nalvany will do if he is not registered on the elections which is very much possible. What we do is were trying to keep people occupied within their regions and keep them aware and involved in what is going on right around them, not in Moscow, not in St Petersburg because in my opinion it is the only way that we can build a new Russia some day because even if Putin is a bad, repressive, authoritarian Putin is replaced by a new leader who will be very good, he will be bright and smiling and of course he will be a democrat but still this would be a layer system and a layer system wouldn’t help because there is no guarantee if Nalvany is elected he will maybe be a good President but when he will go away and he will go way if he is a good President there should be something left after him. Those are democratically institutes and those are democratically structures which have to be start building now so that is what we are trying to do. Of course we wouldn’t stop that work only because local prosecutors do not obey their colleagues in Moscow.

Dr Sam Greene

I can talk about Crimea. There is a question that we are all worried about which is Nalvany’s safety but briefly I actually disagree a bit on the Crime effect. The Crimes effect was never about support for Russia there was a bump if you look at the independent opinion polls that were done and a lot of research has been done. There was a general sort of round area on the fly which lifted everybody’s ratings very briefly but then everybody else would fall back down when people realised that you can’t take Crimea but Putin’s didn’t. What Putin did and still does is to allow for approval of Putin to be divorced from what is going on in the country as a whole. Some people generally speaking in Russia understand the country as not well governed, the economy is not functioning the government has no idea what to do with the economy but they don’t blame Putin for that and they don’t expect that from Putin. There are exceptions but the average Putin supporter and there are a number see him as symbolic figure and it was Crimea and then everything which has happened in the relationship with the West since then that gives that symbolism some meaning and some traction.

As the economy continues to stagnate that will decline but when we have had sort of rally around the flag effects in other countries around the world, you think of George W Bush after 9/11, they dissipate much more rapidly because you tend to have things like debates in congress or in parliament about what foreign policy should be, you begin to have debates on television about causes and effects of policies and Putin doesn’t have to face that so he is able to make this last much longer than it would if you were governing a democratic country.

Question 4

My name is Dominic Howell and I am amongst other things an observer of the elections in various post-Soviet countries which leads me to my question what I think follows on from what you just said Dr Greene. The Duma actions in the Presidential elections are an entirely different piece when it comes to the changing of Russia because President Putin creates chaos in order to be the big man who can fix the chaos. So I would like to ask all of you what your prediction is for the importance, not necessarily the outcome, but the importance of the forthcoming Presidential election.

Vladimir Ashurkov

Our strategy and it hasn’t changed since Nalvany has announced his bid in December of last year is we understand that currently Nalvany is legally barred from participating in the elections we understand that this decision whether he can stand in the elections or not is totally controlled by the government and we believe that the decision will be made at the last minute, probably November even December. There are a number of legal mechanisms how authorities can do it and even in the case of Nalvany mayoral campaign in 2013 if we didn’t have certain help from the authorities we wouldn’t be able to run in that election so it is all possible. Our strategy and our goal is to run the campaign in such manner that allowing Nalvany to participate in the elections and admittingly it would be difficult for him to win or possible for him to win. For them to make a statement for him and to let him run and get 20% of votes would be a lesser evil than not having him on the ballot and delegitimize the elections, risk mass protest, risk low voter turnout etc. So that is our strategy and that is why these elections are important for us and we use all opportunities like the mayoral elections in 2015 these elections to increase political capital and to spread our messages across Russia.

Question 5

You did say there is nothing the West can do which I can see maybe internally so but what about sanctions against Russia, what about Russia’s deep interest in what’s its position is in the world, whether it is a world power or if it is a big influential country in Europe or in America and beyond?

Vladimir Ashurkov

Well on the issue of sanctions the history and international politics teaches us that sanctions usually imposed for certain specific issues if we look at North Korea, if we look at Iran, if Iran stops nuclear program sanctions will end and nobody would care about what would happen to domestic politics. Same with Russia if Putin tomorrow were to withdraw from Eastern Ukraine and do some deal with the US in the Middle East the most important sanctions related to Eastern Ukraine would probably be dropped and in Crimea there would be some mitigation so we understand that sanctions for the West are kind of a trading cheap and a bit of a game and nobody in the West sees it as an instrument to influence Russian domestic politics.

Question 6

Thank you, I am Neil Buckley from the Financial Times. I have two related questions for the panel – one do you think it’s at all possible that Putin could achieve a managed handover to an anointed successor a little bit like he did in 2007/8 not necessarily taking a role in which he comes back but could he preserve the existing regime by handing over to an anointed successor or do you think that’s not possible? My second question if I understood correctly Vladimir you said you would be happy for Nalvany to take part in the election, you recognise it would be very, very difficult for him to win. Isn’t there a danger that if he did that he would end up legitimizing Putin’s victory and the Kremlin can then turn around and say look we let Nalvany take part, got his 20% it is clear that Putin is the true leader.

Dr Sam Greene

Ok so could Putin achieve a managed handover erm I don’t think he can. I genuinely think he might of wanted to in 2008 but the problem is that power in Russia as we have heard what is written in the constitution doesn’t matter, you are not a powerful President in Russia because you sit in the Kremlin and you hold that office because you have the levers of informal power that allows you to manage relationships in the elite and in the bureacy and elsewhere and this has only become more and more true as there has become less liquidity in the system. There is more conflict and less work to do and there is less trust to go around. The only way that trusts transfers to someone who isn’t Putin is if Putin in not available for the elite to turn to when push comes to shove. He would have to find a way not only of handing over power but relingly and convincingly and disappearing and not being around as a fall back option. I think given what we know about his own risk aversion and risk aversion in the system as a whole I think that would be a very difficult calculus I do think however it would be a good idea. Even he understands the need for structural reforms for other things to be done to get the country moving again regardless of or politics aside.

The problem is this is the question do the Presidential elections matter, well the day after the Presidential election, assuming he wins, he becomes a lone duck of incredible proportions because the conversation begins immediately about 2024 and any policy that he puts in place reforming the financial sector, changing budgetary policy, working on federalism and distribution of power so the region will be interpreted in the light of who is going to be the successor in 2024 and because he will not announce that until the very last possible moment because allowing people to have any idea who that successor might be will allow them to manoeuvre and create great instability  he would then have to deal with. So if he actually cares about how the country runs the best thing he could do right now would be not to run in the spring, hand it over to somebody else, rule from behind the scenes as he did in the past if he feels like he needs to be around but at least allow for some policy making to go on.

The problem is that while Nalvany won’t beat Putin he probably would beat anybody else put up in an election so that is a risk he may not want to take.

Polina Nemirovskaia

The important distinction between the situation of end of the 90s with Yelsin passing over his power to Putin is well the fact that they are too much different. Yelsin was risky enough to trust in somebody apart from him and also he had drinking problems which Putin doesn’t have. Putin needs to find someone like him or someone who will replace him because now what Putin is building is a country where every question is decided by him which is supported by his online presence and press conference on the television where people from distant regions say tell Putin that there has been a problem with the threshold and Putin says hey move the threshold and everything happens.

Of course the West should think about what is going to be tomorrow not today because well answering the previous question my prediction is that Putin will win and so we will have some stable nothing for a couple of years. Even though there are Presidential elections something will happen during the football championship but that is it.

About something that you have asked I didn’t have the time to answer but I think that the importance of this election is the fact that there is a new generation of people who will be betrayed by the result of this election because in 2011 this was mostly upper/middle class people who went protesting in Moscow and there was a lot of them but it wasn’t so much in the regions. Now it wasn’t so much people protesting in Moscow but every regional coordinator I have talked to told me that they have never seen such an amount of people in the streets before in their regions and well that is a different class of people, not only the young people who will of course have their first election and they will learn by themselves that there is nothing they can change on the elections. Those are just working class people and I think this regime may have problems with that because basically they were the biggest supporters of Putin for the whole time except from people who were depending on the budget.

Lord Trimble

In fact it has just turned 7’o’clock so we have ran out of time in that respect. What I find listening to what has been said and what I find most striking about the comments Polina you have just made which echo some things that Vladimir said about how we have got a younger generation coming with a different set of values and what also impresses me is the videos which you are making with 20 million views that shows that there is something very substantial going on there. Could I invite you finally to show your appreciation of our speakers here. Thank you.


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