Don’t Make Putin a Martyr, Says Khodorkovsky in Vilnius

January 16, 2015

The following speech, as prepared for delivery, was given by Mikhail Khodorkovsky today in Vilnius at the second annual Snow Meeting organised by Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry in cooperation with the Eastern European Studies Centre.

Russia and the PROSPECTS for EUROPEAN Security.

FUNDAMENTAL PREMISE: Europe is going to have to carry out a transition from emergency measures for containing aggression to long-term integrated plans.

1. The events of the past year have shown that Europe has moved right on up to a zone of turbulence. Inter alia, the Ukrainian crises has become a new constant in European policy. It is not going to end tomorrow, so it is therefore necessary to be psychologically prepared to use “long-lasting” tools and solutions intended to function not for one year, and perhaps even not for one decade.

2. For a long time Europe has ignored the disturbing signals about the violation of human rights, about the destruction of the judicial system, and about the degeneration of democracy, deeming these to be “mere trifles” that should not influence “big policy”. But now, when Ukraine has flared up, Europe has woken up with a shudder and discovered that it needs to learn how to co-exist with an aggressive regime that is hostile to core European values.

3. For now the only international tool for containment of the Kremlin’s aggression are economic sanctions. These sanctions were adopted as an emergency measure in emergency circumstances, when what was at stake was preventing a large-scale war in Europe. Today, looking back, we can confidently say that the sanctions played their positive role, but that a long-term effect in their current form looks questionable.

4. The sanctions have substantially narrowed Putin’s economic opportunities. But this is not even the main thing – they have demonstrated the unity and decisiveness of the West, which the Kremlin had not foreseen. Putin was stopped not by economic difficulties as such, but by the impossibility to calculate in advance how far the West was prepared to go in its support of Ukraine. Uncertainty and ambiguity are always more frightening that real threats.

5. But at the same time the sanctions contributed to the consolidation of the elite and society around the regime (something that always happens when the image of an “external enemy” appears). In this way, by narrowing his economic opportunities, they expanded political opportunities, and gave that level of support on which he could not have counted in other conditions. This is a political airbag, as strange as it may seem, in and of itself it is a factor capable of provoking a new flare-up of aggression.

6. At the same time, the sanctions evoke serious dissatisfaction in the economic and political circles of Europe itself. We can see that Putin’s popularity among the extreme right-wing parties of Europe (and, indeed, partly among the left-wing ones as well) is growing. European supporters of Putin, about whom it is not worth forgetting, are going to strive to undermine Europe’s unity, gradually forming a “tolerant” attitude towards the Putin regime. I have no doubt that the famous Putinite corruptional practices are going to find the broadest possible application here.

7. Sooner or later all of this will lead to a corrosion of the sanctions policy and to a substantial reduction in its efficacy. Breaches are going to start to develop in it, first in one place, then in another, and the overall effect of the sanctions is going to get blurred. It is precisely for this reason that one should start thinking even now about a new strategy of containment intended for long term.

8. This does not at all mean that Europe has to capitulate before the Putin regime, to “forgive and forget” the Ukrainian military adventurism and the plain-as-day political blackmail. It is just that one ought to seek measures of influence that are more effective, more selective, intended for lengthy application, and the boomerang effect of which in the long term will not outweigh their constructive impact. Europe needs to think about how to suppress the expansion of the corruptional and revanchist forces in Russia without encouraging the rallying of the nation around them. A good example here is the Magnitsky law.

9. I will never tire of repeating – a distinction needs to be made between measures undertaken against the Putin regime and measures undertaken against Russia and the Russian economy as a whole. I deem that the latter need to be gotten rid of with time, replacing them with targeted sanctions against the “true and loyal Putinists” and those on whom they rely, first and foremost economically, against the siloviki who have transformed all of Russia into a “prison zone”, against the criminal element which, as we have been convinced, often becomes a tool of aggression.

10. One should not create for Putin and his friends inside Russia an image of a martyr and fighter for the preservation of the “Russian world”. On the contrary, Europe has got to show that blatant, boundless, and illegal enrichment is these people’s only real goal, that under the cover of talks about the greatness of Russia they are plundering their own country, depriving the future generation of any prospects.

11. There is much that Europe could say on this subject, but it is bashfully keeping silent. It turns out that it is much easier to adopt sectoral sanctions against entire branches of the Russian economy than to openly tell about what kinds of benefits the regime’s officials are enjoying in the West and who is coming out in their support and why.

12. The regime is not floating in thin air, it is actively supported by people who have learned how to extract no small benefit from its existence. This is both the bureaucrats who have worked their way into business and the captains of business who have fused together with and become factually the trusted managers of the assets belonging to the state. This is also the “siloviki” who carry out the terror and the propagandists who vindicate it. They all serve the regime not without their own ulterior motives. All of them together buy up, intimidate, and deceive the Russian people, turning it into an obedient instrument of manipulation. It is against these people, and not against the Russian people that has already suffered from them, that effective intervention needs to be aimed.

13. Oftentimes no extraordinary measures of any kind are needed in order to have an impact on the Putin regime. All that is needed is the thoughtful and systemic application of existing laws, the aim of which is to fight against the exporting of corruption and money laundering. But it emerges that what is simple is exactly what is the most complicated. At the same time as the simple honest Russian entrepreneur finds it impossible to even take a breath in Europe freely – this is how all the simplest of procedures are over-regulated – highly-placed gangsters and thieves from the treasury pass right through all existing restrictions like a knife through butter.

14. I understand that this is not a simple task – and an unconventional one at that. Europe, I am convinced, has not ever yet had to encounter such a large-scale export of corruption, and coordinated at the state level at that. There are no ready-made solutions and mechanisms to fight this. But there is one tried and tested means.

15. Information about what the Russian elites own or owned in the West, to where and from where the financial flows from Russia go with whom the members of Putin’s inner circle have arrangements and about what, needs to be open. Russia needs to know who its “heroes” are, while Europe needs to know its own and those of others.

16. The building up of a system for containment of one of the mightiest corrupt regimes in the world is no simple task.
But containment alone is not sufficient. The pro-Europe-attuned part of Russian society needs to understand that its, oftentimes selfless efforts do not remain unnoticed. The task of “engagement” needs to continue being resolved, only only not in relation to the Kremlin regime, but in relation to Russian society. And in an absolutely practical manner at that: in questions of visa policy, support for mass communications media etc.

The tasks are not simple, but they need to be resolved, not so much in the interests of Russia or Ukraine as much as in the interests of Europe itself.

Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky