Interview by Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Die Tageszeitung

June 10, 2013

The German newspaper Die Tageszeitung published the following interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The original version of the interview, in Russian, is available on the website of the Khodorkovsky Press Centre and can be read here; it also appeared in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung on June 2.

The transcript is below:

You write in your book that you are not an emotional person, does this help in jail?

In jail, emotional stability is vital for life and health. It is much harder for my slightly more emotional friend and partner Platon Lebedev.

Do you ever fear forgetting your past life? Or would you actually want this?

The Lord has made me a kind of person who is more logical and less reliant on memories. My wife compensates for this shortcoming. When she is by my side…

Do you not at times catch yourself thinking that really it ought to be Vladimir Putin behind bars instead of you?

I don’t consider that my opponent ought to be sitting in jail. To say the least, this isn’t sporting.

The first civil society mass protest against the ruling regime first appeared a year ago. Did it have an impact on the way prison officers treated you?

Substantial changes for me took place earlier, when the previous head of the Prison Service, Mr. Kalinin, was replaced. For example, they stopped throwing me in solitary confinement after each of my articles came out. Incidentally, I now hear, Mr. Kalinin is working in Rosneft, for Igor Sechin.

But in general, the situation here is changing, as it is in the rest of the country. People are starting to think.

Putin’s star is on the wane and people are often looking at you as a future president. Does your moral lead and strength in adversity give you cause to fear that those with a criminal mentality might be encouraged to take extreme measures?

I am not seeking a political career for myself, as I have said many times. But this, of course, does not reduce the risks. I have been lucky once before – at night while I was sleeping, a person stabbed me with a knife in the eye, but he missed and only injured my face. But it’s impossible to be afraid for ten years. You gradually become a fatalist. This has already happened with me.

Why did you not leave Russia before you were arrested? Is it because you never imagined that the law could be perverted to such a degree?

I did imagine that they could imprison me for many years, but I never believed they would be capable of holding a public trial on such absurd charges. It was hard to believe not only for me, but for highly experienced lawyers too.

Over the past ten years, since the “YUKOS affair”, the quality of the evidence required to prove someone guilty has fallen radically. But the big surprise was the persecution of innocent people, who were used effectively as hostages in the criminal process. I wasn’t ready for this perverted justice.

Actually, it is precisely because of the ‘hostages’ that it was impossible for me to leave: I was taught not to abandon your own.

The view in the West that the Yeltsin period was lawless stubbornly persists. Do you agree? (A recent poll of Echo Moskvy listeners found that 85% of people believed that the rule of law was more robust in Russia in the nineties than now.)

Under Yeltsin, the courts also permitted unjust rulings, but these were the personal decisions of the judges, they were not part of a system, they were not state policy; and as such the degree and prevalence of the perversion of the law was lower then, than it is now.

It is not for nothing that even when YUKOS was politically crushed, not a single one of the previous court decisions adopted in the company’s favor was challenged by citizens or our counterparties.

Does it therefore follow that the ruling elite were prepared to overstep the generally accepted boundaries of legal proprieties to – putting it bluntly – enrich themselves? As such, doesn’t it also follow that the essential corruption in the system took root in the time of President Putin and the siloviki?

I am convinced that a large number of Vladimir Putin’s team are seeking personal enrichment and using pseudo-legitimate force as the means of achieving it, although, of course, everything is unclear there too. But what is much worse is that this behavior has been copied widely by the broadest circles of bureaucrats and employees of the law-enforcement bodies.

Today, in essence, every official, every policeman, considers that he has the right to enrich himself at the expense of ordinary citizens. Of course, some people do have a conscience, but it then becomes complicated for them to keep their posts.

Corruption exists in any state, but only a small number of political regimes make it the load-bearing element of their design. I believe that this was a conscious choice by Vladimir Putin, who decided that this was how he would keep control of the elite. I regard such an approach to be a mistake, and I spoke about that openly in February of 2003. [In February 2003, at a televised meeting of Russia’s business leaders with the President, Khodorkovky directly challenged Putin on corruption – Ed.]

Did you expect such a wide-scale protest movement a year ago – and how can you explain it?

The protest that began more than a year ago is now going into decline. But at the same time the dissatisfaction with the regime is growing, and this was predicted by many. Vladimir Putin’s big political cycle is ending. In Russia the political cycle lasts approximately 15 years. Russian history suggests that a serious war or radical political changes can extend the cycle. If things carry on as they are today, we can assume that the “Brezhnevization” of Putinism is inevitable. [Putin’s presidency will end in stagnation – Ed.]

History shows that a period of stagnation in Russia can last a long time, but always ends in strife. The “trigger” for change is either the physical infirmity of the leader or some kind of chance crisis.

Does Putin believe in his nation and does he trust it?

This is the fundamental problem of our president and his retinue – they do not believe in their nation, because they view the nation as being politically inactive and separate from the ruling elite.

In the Putinist picture of the world, there are three parts of Russian society, a non-self-sufficient majority, a hostile (or bought by enemies) minority, and Putin’s retinue. He cannot believe in the existence of an honest, self-sufficient, and responsible opposition. Meanwhile his retinue will always gladly supply “proof” that all opponents work for the “State Department”.

European politicians believe that Putin want to modernize Russia on the western model, but isn’t his style more clannish and closer to the Asiatic model of governance?

I maintain that the model being latently realised by Putin is the East German model that he knows well, with a hardline political position, puppet multi-partyism, and a state monopoly in the core sectors of the country’s economy. Of course, it isn’t an absolute replica, but the general approach is similar. The problem is that Russia is much bigger and not as homogeneous, and this style of government doesn’t work as well on a bigger scale. And besides, it didn’t bring particular success for East Germany. Therefore, the majority of the regions are only pretending to adhere to the “general line”, while in fact they are adopting their own models, often not simply Asiatic as in Kemerovo Oblast, but outright clan/tribal ones, as in the North Caucasus – and the situation is getting worse.

What is your assessment of today’s fight against corruption? Is it being taken seriously and can this fight be successful if it doesn’t affect the very top?

Putin has without a doubt sensed the danger of today’s orgy of corruption and is attempting to “rein it in”. However, corruption is the backbone of the regime. In order to “do away with” corruption, you need to replace people with others who have a different motivation and allow for political competition – for real interchangeability of the ruling team. That is, in the end, to give up power. I’m afraid neither Putin nor, and all the more so, his team are ready for such self-sacrifice. It is possible to reduce everyday corruption among teachers and doctors, for example, only this would automatically intensify the public’s dissatisfaction with the behavior of the siloviki and the “leadership” – the world, after all, has become transparent thanks to information networks. It is transparency which has caused the number of people tried for corruption to decrease if we look at the statistics supplied by Russia’s Supreme Court.

Putin’s image must inevitably change – from macho man to wise patriarch. Will the nation accept and understand this new image?

Putin had a chance to realise the Deng Xiaoping model. However, his return to the Kremlin at the insistence of his retinue was a strategic mistake, and now it’s hard for me to imagine Putin successfully recreating his erstwhile popularity.

About yourself you write: “I feel myself to be a Russian”. What do you mean? The more severe the conditions, the better it is for you?

You have a somewhat strange notion about Russians. A readiness to endure adversity does not equal an unwillingness to live better. But to be Russian signifies the feeling that you are among your own in the Russian cultural milieu – the linguistic, the everyday, the literary, etc. I love rye bread, shchi soup, and the frost, I quote from the movies of Gaidai and from Raikin’s stand-up routines, I sing the songs of Vysotsky and “Mashina vremeni” music band, and I find it pleasant to be among those who understand me.

What are you worried about right now?

What I’m worried about most of all is my family: children growing up without a father, ailing parents, a wife who has been waiting for ten years already. Everything else – somewhat less.

How would you assess the political development of Russia in the next few years?

Russia is now approaching yet another cross-road. With economic stagnation, a police state and rigged elections, the emigration of a large number of educated young people from the country becomes more and more probable. However, there is still hope of that protests will become properly mobilized, that the ruling elite will split and that the country will return to the trajectory of building the institutions of a democratic society.

One often hears that the Opposition movement has neither structures nor leaders – maybe this is in fact an advantage – taking personalities out of politics – do you agree?

De-personalising politics does not mean that organization and leaders are not needed. However, the new leaders will not be able to impose their agenda, their interests, on society. Now the task is to address Society’s demands and to create organizational structures which will achieve results.

In the absence of infrastructure, isn’t the internet the tool that can give the nation a chance to develop a sense of community and solidarity for the first time in Russian history?

Without doubt, modern information technologies and the internet allow for the curse of distance, the solitude of thinking people, politically active people and intellectual minorities in the provinces, to be overcome for the first time in the history of my country. They have thereby united the country, transcending regional boundaries and notwithstanding the bad roads. But we must not expect the web to provide the solution to all problems, as suggested by some of its advocates. Otherwise “reality” will make itself felt with the knock of a rifle butt on the door. So we’re still going to have to build both roads and democratic state institutions.

Who can be dangerous for Putin? Is not his retinue a greater threat than street protests?

I am convinced that in the end Putin will be destroyed precisely by his retinue. The street protests will become merely the catalyst for a conflict within the elite.

What consequences and difficulties may arise because of economic uncertainty?

Uncertainty in relation to the right of property ownership and the rules of the game, along with systemic corruption, the lack of an independent judiciary and the expansion of the state monopoly, is leading to many long-term investments being abandoned. What is the worst of all, is that this long-term investment is not just about money (the state does have money), but intelligence and the fate of people who possess it. The result – a loss of the country’s competitiveness, apart from in the raw-materials sector, and a degeneration of culture.

Do you think that with Russia being in the difficult situation that it is now the State will continue to resort to provocation to continue its existence – do you foresee a scenario involving force?

The situation is even worse than that. Our state consists of groups conflicting with one another. The use of provocation against third parties in their struggle is the norm for them. There are also those who consider that they will win in a scenario involving force. Putin is attempting to balance these conflicting groups, but his opportunities are ebbing.

What is the difference between the leaders of December’s “mink revolution” and the “veteran” leaders? What responsibility must the older ones take upon themselves?

I do not agree with all these designations: “mink”, “revolution”, “leaders”. What took place was people’s spontaneous indignation at unfair elections. What happened concurrently was the appearance of new faces – political and public figures. So far they haven’t been able to become the leaders of the protesters. Just like the “veteran” leaders, by the way. And the protesters were not aspiring to take power. I find it interesting to communicate by correspondence both with my old acquaintances and with new ones. The process of establishing an opposition is moving along, but it takes time.

What will Russia be like in 20 years time?

I want to believe that we aren’t going to waste these twenty years on yet further stagnation, otherwise Russia will become irreversibly locked into an economy based on its natural resources and will be unstable because of the low standard of living and therefore aggressive. If we succeed in returning to building a democratic law-based state in the next five years, then by 2030 Russia will achieve an industrial renaissance based on deep integration with the European Union. As a result, the world will adopt a new political and economical structure which will combine a high dynamic of development with social standards.

Do you agree with the adoption of the “Magnitsky Act” in the USA?

I am very sad for my colleague, MSU and Harvard graduate and subsequently YUKOS lawyer Vasily Alexanyan, who could have lived many more years had they not thrown him in jail and deprived him of timely medical treatment – demanding that he commit perjury in exchange for his release. The names of these “persecuting prosecutors” are well known. I hope their conscience torments them.

I understand what happened with the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. I have personally read investigative documents of absolutely analogous content [to Alexanyan’s case Ed.] – about the death of a person in that same jail, which the authorities claimed was accidental.

I don’t think that these “statesmen” (that’s what they call themselves) wanted somebody’s death. They were simply indifferent, and this is frightening. It is frightening that today in Russia bureaucrats, workers in the siloviki structures, are the true masters of the lives and property of Russian citizens. But to solve this problem is up to us alone.

Has being imprisoned brought you closer to religion? What role does spirituality play in your life?

The voluntary or involuntary cloistering of anybody forces him to focus on the internal world. I’m no exception. With age in general you sense the boundary of the unknown and the unknowable more acutely and think more often about the meaning of life. For me this is a path to Faith.

What advise can you give to the average European entrepreneur who wants to work and invest in Russia? What can he expect? What should not surprise him?

If his business doesn’t have support at government level, then the most rational thing to do will be to resort to bank loans. This will ensure a certain level of safety. Corrupt payments are unavoidable, but you can find a more or less legal way of doing it. The attention of the law-enforcement bodies in 80-90% of the cases is either to increase the proceeds of corruption or to effect the transfer of the ownership of the business to them. If you do not succeed in reaching an agreement, don’t rely on the courts or the law: the district courts issue decisions in favour of the prosecution in 99.7% of the cases. And of the lucky 0.3 per cent of acquittals, 60 per cent get overturned by higher courts.

By the way, you can’t relax if you’ve got the support of the government either. The political landscape could change.

To put the question bluntly, do you think that Putin’s desire to remain in power in perpetuity signifies that he himself is not changing and sees his task as blocking changes and development?

I’m convinced Putin considers that right now he is the only motor of change (this is true), and that he is correctly identifying and effectively conducting the transformations needed by the country (different opinions exist about the correctness, but as to the effectiveness – it looks as if a negative consensus is forming). But the main thing, they assure us, is that there is no alternative to Putin, and this is an obvious lie, but many sincerely believe it, including Putin himself. A better alternative would be normal, democratic institutions of state, whose reputation the Kremlin is consistently demolishing.

Is a change in Putin himself possible? I doubt this due to character, age, and retinue. But miracles do happen.

The early release of Platon Lebedev is now looking possible. What do you think of this?

I think of it with guarded optimism.

(interviewer: Klaus-Helge Donath)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Interview by Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Die Tageszeitung

June 10, 2013

The German newspaper Die Tageszeitung published the following interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The original version of the interview, in Russian, is available on the website of the Khodorkovsky Press Centre and can be read here; it also appeared in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung on June 2.

The transcript is below:

You write in your book that you are not an emotional person, does this help in jail?

In jail, emotional stability is vital for life and health. It is much harder for my slightly more emotional friend and partner Platon Lebedev.

Do you ever fear forgetting your past life? Or would you actually want this?

The Lord has made me a kind of person who is more logical and less reliant on memories. My wife compensates for this shortcoming. When she is by my side…

Do you not at times catch yourself thinking that really it ought to be Vladimir Putin behind bars instead of you?

I don’t consider that my opponent ought to be sitting in jail. To say the least, this isn’t sporting.

The first civil society mass protest against the ruling regime first appeared a year ago. Did it have an impact on the way prison officers treated you?

Substantial changes for me took place earlier, when the previous head of the Prison Service, Mr. Kalinin, was replaced. For example, they stopped throwing me in solitary confinement after each of my articles came out. Incidentally, I now hear, Mr. Kalinin is working in Rosneft, for Igor Sechin.

But in general, the situation here is changing, as it is in the rest of the country. People are starting to think.

Putin’s star is on the wane and people are often looking at you as a future president. Does your moral lead and strength in adversity give you cause to fear that those with a criminal mentality might be encouraged to take extreme measures?

I am not seeking a political career for myself, as I have said many times. But this, of course, does not reduce the risks. I have been lucky once before – at night while I was sleeping, a person stabbed me with a knife in the eye, but he missed and only injured my face. But it’s impossible to be afraid for ten years. You gradually become a fatalist. This has already happened with me.

Why did you not leave Russia before you were arrested? Is it because you never imagined that the law could be perverted to such a degree?

I did imagine that they could imprison me for many years, but I never believed they would be capable of holding a public trial on such absurd charges. It was hard to believe not only for me, but for highly experienced lawyers too.

Over the past ten years, since the “YUKOS affair”, the quality of the evidence required to prove someone guilty has fallen radically. But the big surprise was the persecution of innocent people, who were used effectively as hostages in the criminal process. I wasn’t ready for this perverted justice.

Actually, it is precisely because of the ‘hostages’ that it was impossible for me to leave: I was taught not to abandon your own.

The view in the West that the Yeltsin period was lawless stubbornly persists. Do you agree? (A recent poll of Echo Moskvy listeners found that 85% of people believed that the rule of law was more robust in Russia in the nineties than now.)

Under Yeltsin, the courts also permitted unjust rulings, but these were the personal decisions of the judges, they were not part of a system, they were not state policy; and as such the degree and prevalence of the perversion of the law was lower then, than it is now.

It is not for nothing that even when YUKOS was politically crushed, not a single one of the previous court decisions adopted in the company’s favor was challenged by citizens or our counterparties.

Does it therefore follow that the ruling elite were prepared to overstep the generally accepted boundaries of legal proprieties to – putting it bluntly – enrich themselves? As such, doesn’t it also follow that the essential corruption in the system took root in the time of President Putin and the siloviki?

I am convinced that a large number of Vladimir Putin’s team are seeking personal enrichment and using pseudo-legitimate force as the means of achieving it, although, of course, everything is unclear there too. But what is much worse is that this behavior has been copied widely by the broadest circles of bureaucrats and employees of the law-enforcement bodies.

Today, in essence, every official, every policeman, considers that he has the right to enrich himself at the expense of ordinary citizens. Of course, some people do have a conscience, but it then becomes complicated for them to keep their posts.

Corruption exists in any state, but only a small number of political regimes make it the load-bearing element of their design. I believe that this was a conscious choice by Vladimir Putin, who decided that this was how he would keep control of the elite. I regard such an approach to be a mistake, and I spoke about that openly in February of 2003. [In February 2003, at a televised meeting of Russia’s business leaders with the President, Khodorkovky directly challenged Putin on corruption – Ed.]

Did you expect such a wide-scale protest movement a year ago – and how can you explain it?

The protest that began more than a year ago is now going into decline. But at the same time the dissatisfaction with the regime is growing, and this was predicted by many. Vladimir Putin’s big political cycle is ending. In Russia the political cycle lasts approximately 15 years. Russian history suggests that a serious war or radical political changes can extend the cycle. If things carry on as they are today, we can assume that the “Brezhnevization” of Putinism is inevitable. [Putin’s presidency will end in stagnation – Ed.]

History shows that a period of stagnation in Russia can last a long time, but always ends in strife. The “trigger” for change is either the physical infirmity of the leader or some kind of chance crisis.

Does Putin believe in his nation and does he trust it?

This is the fundamental problem of our president and his retinue – they do not believe in their nation, because they view the nation as being politically inactive and separate from the ruling elite.

In the Putinist picture of the world, there are three parts of Russian society, a non-self-sufficient majority, a hostile (or bought by enemies) minority, and Putin’s retinue. He cannot believe in the existence of an honest, self-sufficient, and responsible opposition. Meanwhile his retinue will always gladly supply “proof” that all opponents work for the “State Department”.

European politicians believe that Putin want to modernize Russia on the western model, but isn’t his style more clannish and closer to the Asiatic model of governance?

I maintain that the model being latently realised by Putin is the East German model that he knows well, with a hardline political position, puppet multi-partyism, and a state monopoly in the core sectors of the country’s economy. Of course, it isn’t an absolute replica, but the general approach is similar. The problem is that Russia is much bigger and not as homogeneous, and this style of government doesn’t work as well on a bigger scale. And besides, it didn’t bring particular success for East Germany. Therefore, the majority of the regions are only pretending to adhere to the “general line”, while in fact they are adopting their own models, often not simply Asiatic as in Kemerovo Oblast, but outright clan/tribal ones, as in the North Caucasus – and the situation is getting worse.

What is your assessment of today’s fight against corruption? Is it being taken seriously and can this fight be successful if it doesn’t affect the very top?

Putin has without a doubt sensed the danger of today’s orgy of corruption and is attempting to “rein it in”. However, corruption is the backbone of the regime. In order to “do away with” corruption, you need to replace people with others who have a different motivation and allow for political competition – for real interchangeability of the ruling team. That is, in the end, to give up power. I’m afraid neither Putin nor, and all the more so, his team are ready for such self-sacrifice. It is possible to reduce everyday corruption among teachers and doctors, for example, only this would automatically intensify the public’s dissatisfaction with the behavior of the siloviki and the “leadership” – the world, after all, has become transparent thanks to information networks. It is transparency which has caused the number of people tried for corruption to decrease if we look at the statistics supplied by Russia’s Supreme Court.

Putin’s image must inevitably change – from macho man to wise patriarch. Will the nation accept and understand this new image?

Putin had a chance to realise the Deng Xiaoping model. However, his return to the Kremlin at the insistence of his retinue was a strategic mistake, and now it’s hard for me to imagine Putin successfully recreating his erstwhile popularity.

About yourself you write: “I feel myself to be a Russian”. What do you mean? The more severe the conditions, the better it is for you?

You have a somewhat strange notion about Russians. A readiness to endure adversity does not equal an unwillingness to live better. But to be Russian signifies the feeling that you are among your own in the Russian cultural milieu – the linguistic, the everyday, the literary, etc. I love rye bread, shchi soup, and the frost, I quote from the movies of Gaidai and from Raikin’s stand-up routines, I sing the songs of Vysotsky and “Mashina vremeni” music band, and I find it pleasant to be among those who understand me.

What are you worried about right now?

What I’m worried about most of all is my family: children growing up without a father, ailing parents, a wife who has been waiting for ten years already. Everything else – somewhat less.

How would you assess the political development of Russia in the next few years?

Russia is now approaching yet another cross-road. With economic stagnation, a police state and rigged elections, the emigration of a large number of educated young people from the country becomes more and more probable. However, there is still hope of that protests will become properly mobilized, that the ruling elite will split and that the country will return to the trajectory of building the institutions of a democratic society.

One often hears that the Opposition movement has neither structures nor leaders – maybe this is in fact an advantage – taking personalities out of politics – do you agree?

De-personalising politics does not mean that organization and leaders are not needed. However, the new leaders will not be able to impose their agenda, their interests, on society. Now the task is to address Society’s demands and to create organizational structures which will achieve results.

In the absence of infrastructure, isn’t the internet the tool that can give the nation a chance to develop a sense of community and solidarity for the first time in Russian history?

Without doubt, modern information technologies and the internet allow for the curse of distance, the solitude of thinking people, politically active people and intellectual minorities in the provinces, to be overcome for the first time in the history of my country. They have thereby united the country, transcending regional boundaries and notwithstanding the bad roads. But we must not expect the web to provide the solution to all problems, as suggested by some of its advocates. Otherwise “reality” will make itself felt with the knock of a rifle butt on the door. So we’re still going to have to build both roads and democratic state institutions.

Who can be dangerous for Putin? Is not his retinue a greater threat than street protests?

I am convinced that in the end Putin will be destroyed precisely by his retinue. The street protests will become merely the catalyst for a conflict within the elite.

What consequences and difficulties may arise because of economic uncertainty?

Uncertainty in relation to the right of property ownership and the rules of the game, along with systemic corruption, the lack of an independent judiciary and the expansion of the state monopoly, is leading to many long-term investments being abandoned. What is the worst of all, is that this long-term investment is not just about money (the state does have money), but intelligence and the fate of people who possess it. The result – a loss of the country’s competitiveness, apart from in the raw-materials sector, and a degeneration of culture.

Do you think that with Russia being in the difficult situation that it is now the State will continue to resort to provocation to continue its existence – do you foresee a scenario involving force?

The situation is even worse than that. Our state consists of groups conflicting with one another. The use of provocation against third parties in their struggle is the norm for them. There are also those who consider that they will win in a scenario involving force. Putin is attempting to balance these conflicting groups, but his opportunities are ebbing.

What is the difference between the leaders of December’s “mink revolution” and the “veteran” leaders? What responsibility must the older ones take upon themselves?

I do not agree with all these designations: “mink”, “revolution”, “leaders”. What took place was people’s spontaneous indignation at unfair elections. What happened concurrently was the appearance of new faces – political and public figures. So far they haven’t been able to become the leaders of the protesters. Just like the “veteran” leaders, by the way. And the protesters were not aspiring to take power. I find it interesting to communicate by correspondence both with my old acquaintances and with new ones. The process of establishing an opposition is moving along, but it takes time.

What will Russia be like in 20 years time?

I want to believe that we aren’t going to waste these twenty years on yet further stagnation, otherwise Russia will become irreversibly locked into an economy based on its natural resources and will be unstable because of the low standard of living and therefore aggressive. If we succeed in returning to building a democratic law-based state in the next five years, then by 2030 Russia will achieve an industrial renaissance based on deep integration with the European Union. As a result, the world will adopt a new political and economical structure which will combine a high dynamic of development with social standards.

Do you agree with the adoption of the “Magnitsky Act” in the USA?

I am very sad for my colleague, MSU and Harvard graduate and subsequently YUKOS lawyer Vasily Alexanyan, who could have lived many more years had they not thrown him in jail and deprived him of timely medical treatment – demanding that he commit perjury in exchange for his release. The names of these “persecuting prosecutors” are well known. I hope their conscience torments them.

I understand what happened with the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. I have personally read investigative documents of absolutely analogous content [to Alexanyan’s case Ed.] – about the death of a person in that same jail, which the authorities claimed was accidental.

I don’t think that these “statesmen” (that’s what they call themselves) wanted somebody’s death. They were simply indifferent, and this is frightening. It is frightening that today in Russia bureaucrats, workers in the siloviki structures, are the true masters of the lives and property of Russian citizens. But to solve this problem is up to us alone.

Has being imprisoned brought you closer to religion? What role does spirituality play in your life?

The voluntary or involuntary cloistering of anybody forces him to focus on the internal world. I’m no exception. With age in general you sense the boundary of the unknown and the unknowable more acutely and think more often about the meaning of life. For me this is a path to Faith.

What advise can you give to the average European entrepreneur who wants to work and invest in Russia? What can he expect? What should not surprise him?

If his business doesn’t have support at government level, then the most rational thing to do will be to resort to bank loans. This will ensure a certain level of safety. Corrupt payments are unavoidable, but you can find a more or less legal way of doing it. The attention of the law-enforcement bodies in 80-90% of the cases is either to increase the proceeds of corruption or to effect the transfer of the ownership of the business to them. If you do not succeed in reaching an agreement, don’t rely on the courts or the law: the district courts issue decisions in favour of the prosecution in 99.7% of the cases. And of the lucky 0.3 per cent of acquittals, 60 per cent get overturned by higher courts.

By the way, you can’t relax if you’ve got the support of the government either. The political landscape could change.

To put the question bluntly, do you think that Putin’s desire to remain in power in perpetuity signifies that he himself is not changing and sees his task as blocking changes and development?

I’m convinced Putin considers that right now he is the only motor of change (this is true), and that he is correctly identifying and effectively conducting the transformations needed by the country (different opinions exist about the correctness, but as to the effectiveness – it looks as if a negative consensus is forming). But the main thing, they assure us, is that there is no alternative to Putin, and this is an obvious lie, but many sincerely believe it, including Putin himself. A better alternative would be normal, democratic institutions of state, whose reputation the Kremlin is consistently demolishing.

Is a change in Putin himself possible? I doubt this due to character, age, and retinue. But miracles do happen.

The early release of Platon Lebedev is now looking possible. What do you think of this?

I think of it with guarded optimism.

(interviewer: Klaus-Helge Donath)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email