Khodorkovsky talks to Die Welt

May 12, 2015

Khodorkovsky talks to Die WeltOn May 8, Mikhail Khodorkovsky attended a commemorative ceremony in the German Bundestag on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. During his short visit to Berlin he met with journalists from Die Welt, one of the leading national German daily newspapers.

Here are highlights of his talk, during which he spoke in particular about the nature of the current Russian regime, and the relationship between Russia and the West.

Welt am Sonntag: How powerful is Putin? To what extent does he control the situation?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Putin is able to control a limited number of issues with relative effectiveness. He can resolve a handful of crises simultaneously, even if they’re relatively serious. That’s the advantage of authoritarianism, but an authoritarian system suffers from massive drawbacks as well. He’s incapable of resolving a vast multitude of issues at the same time. In a country where state institutions such as an independent judiciary, parliament and local self-government have been destroyed, the system is incapable of presiding over complex societal processes. We have a highly centralised but anaemic government.

What could prove dangerous for Putin? Is a palace coup a possibility?

A palace coup would become a possibility in the event of a conflict involving the security agencies. It would be beyond any other players. [Yet] such a conflict can indeed arise.

The USSR fell apart peacefully. Are peaceful transformations possible in today’s Russia, or does regime change necessarily entail bloodshed?

Regime change cannot happen without bloodshed. Thousands of people realise that they’d be held personally responsible in the event of regime change. But regime change isn’t the most critical situation for Russia. It’s certain to happen within our lifetimes.

Nemtsov’s death has made the opposition in Russia even weaker than before. Is it nothing more than a group of dissidents, just as it was in Soviet times?

Even in the circumstances we have today, 14% of Russians remain publicly opposed to the regime. The opposition movement in Russia has robust foundations – around 10-15% of the population – and these foundations can be expanded.

Russia’s most popular opposition leader is currently Aleksei Navalny. Should the opposition unite around him?

It would be wonderful if the opposition consisted of several disparate forces that’d unite if the need for joint action were to arise. I intend to help make the next election process fairer than the previous one. And I want to help opposition candidates who stand a chance of victory in their regions.

Today some people believe that Russians want a strong leader rather than democracy.

I was speaking to Germans today. They assure me that Germans want a strong leader as well, but that they also recognise the value that a democratic state offers them.

Strong leadership doesn’t preclude robust democratic institutions.

How should the West deal with Putin in the current situation?

People in the West who allege the viability of long-term agreements with the current regime are either fools or liars. Any such agreement would only be considered by them in terms of the expediency of violating that very same agreement. Does this mean that we shouldn’t bother to negotiate? No – people talk even in wartime. But it’s important to understand the tactical nature of these arrangements. The regime is de-institutionalised. Even in Soviet times you had the Politburo, the General Secretary wasn’t unconstrained in his decision-making. The system allowed the regime to be predictable. But Putin’s destruction of state institutions in recent years now means that Russia lacks any system of checks and balances.

Read the full interview (in German) here and (in Russian) here.