Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Khodorkovsky: “Economic Diplomacy” is a New Name for Realpolitik

As French President François Hollande arrived in Moscow, the French financial newspaper Les Echos published an interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky offered his views on “economic diplomacy” and the challenges for Western countries doing business in Russia, given the country’s issues with corruption, the absence of the rule of law and the lack of guarantees for property rights. He also expressed the hope that the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year will “not only be a propaganda manoeuvre.” In response to a question regarding his role if and when he is released, Khodorkovsky reminded readers that, “I must first wage a daily personal struggle.”

Meanwhile, Pavel Khodorkovsky echoed his father’s comments in an interview to French radio station, France-Info. He stated: “My message is very simple: European leaders always try to deal with Russia without asking for democratic progress, leading the way to a Realpolitik which has no benefits for Russian people; Mr Hollande, please put an end to this and try to explain to Mr Putin that things must change.” Pavel Khodorkovsky’s comment can be heard HERE 

A full English translation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s interview can be read below and the original interview in Les Echo can be found HERE

François Hollande has arrived in Moscow with many French businessmen and France is seeking to sign as many contracts as possible with Russia, in the name of what is called “Economic Diplomacy”. Do you think it’s a good angle to deepen the France-Russia relationship?

What you call “Economic Diplomacy” seems to be a new name for the very traditional Realpolitik. Increasing business between the two countries is excellent, as long as it is a fair exchange, in the context of a more global and political relationship. Because an “economic diplomacy” without a “political diplomacy” does not mean much. Western countries must understand that when they deal with today’s Russia, it is not only a matter of selling more cars or motorways and buying more oil and gas: there are also political, moral, and legal questions. France is supposed to be “the country of human rights”, as the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, recalled recently. When the “country of human rights” visits contemporary Russia, there are things that need to be said. How can you have a fair and mutually beneficial long-term relationship with a country where there is no rule of law, where corruption has reached historic highs, and where property rights are not guaranteed? 

Do you think it’s appropriate to support the South Stream project, as France does, when at the same time Europe is supposed to be supporting Nabucco?

European consumers today are seriously concerned about diversifying their sources of energy. It is precisely this fact that makes South Stream a somewhat riskier project, while projects like Nabucco or deliveries of liquefied gas are much more in demand.

Would you call the TNK-BP deal with Rosneft the biggest nationalization in Russia in the past 10 years? 

Without a doubt, the biggest “nationalization” was the transfer in 2004-2006 of Yukos – a company with an oil production of 80 million tonnes per year – to Rosneft. Now it’s TNK-BP’s turn.

Gazprom has problems with its Shtokman project, in which Total is involved. Do you think this big project will ever happen? 

From a commercial point of view, this project is not at all a top priority for Gazprom. I believe that it is not going to be realized without a heavy-handed political decision. And if there is such a decision, then the project won’t be commercial.

French companies are very actively involved in the work related to the Sochi Winter Games. Would you say this is a good opportunity for France? 

The Sochi Winter Games is an obvious propaganda exercise by our authoritarian regime. If French companies earn money on this, well, good for them. But they should keep in mind that both we Russians and French citizens have the right to expect from them a demonstration of the finest examples, worthy of emulation, of how to deal with the problems of corruption and the environment, and not a borrowing of the worst examples. Olympic Games provide an opportunity for the organizing countries to show to the world how developed and wonderful they are. Let’s hope that these Sochi Games will not only be a propaganda maneuver but will also provide the Russian people living there an opportunity to see their lives improved in a sustainable way.

You are entering your tenth year of imprisonment. Are you afraid of a third trial against you when the end of your sentence (October 2014) approaches?

For almost ten years, my life has been a daily struggle. If that were to happen, I would do what I have always done: fight.

After the massive demonstrations in Moscow last autumn, liberals hoped that Putin would have understood the message. Do you think that what is going on now – even more arrests of opponents, new laws against NGOs, judicial harassment – puts an end to this hope?

This hope was not reasonable. The same people have been ruling the country for twelve years already. Things cannot improve, only worsen, as the younger generation grows up and society awakens. This is frightening for the Kremlin. And it reacts the way it always does: by tightening the screws. If anybody thought that Putin would behave in any other way, they are naïve dreamers. I am skeptical about the effectiveness and longevity of such a “long drawn out” construction. Our cultural traditions are different from those in China, and labor “under pressure” does not give high rates of growth here, but irritation does build up. What is important for us Russians is for the inevitable destruction of the current authoritarian regime to take place without excessive cataclysms, and for the “end product” that we get to be not a new authoritarianism, but a modern democracy. Therefore, an ever greater part of the opposition-minded population is beginning to act. Even if they are doing so ineptly for now.

The Russian opposition needs a clear leader. After your release, could you be this leader, capable of offering an alternative to Putin’s regime?

There are some new leaders in the opposition. But they need to organize themselves in a more efficient way. I have been behind bars for nearly ten years, and I must first wage a daily personal struggle.

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