Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Our Future Russia Needs a Powerful Parliament, Regionalism and Free Press.

November 28, 2018

Over the course of the Russia vs. Putin conference in Prague, Mikhail Khodorkovsky spoke openly about the details of the future Russia that he envisages, as well as the deteriorating relationship between the Russian people and those in the Kremlin. He also talked about the personal risks that people in Russia must accept if democracy is to be achieved. The full interview in Russian was originally published by Radio Liberty.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky understands that the current presidential model in Russia is “damaging and dangerous” for the country. When asked about what he suggests as an alternative to this system, Mr. Khodorkovsky said the following:

My dream is, of course, [to establish] a parliamentary system. In this case I firmly believe that a parliamentary republic in Russia cannot be based exclusively on a partisan system of governance […] If power in the partisan system is not balanced [between different parties] then the balance of power be decided by [Russia’s] regions themselves. This means Russia should be a de facto state of regions.”

Khodorkovsky stressed the importance of balancing power between different administrative nodes in a future Russia, stating:

“Parliament should appoint a powerful government, and the strong government should be balanced out by powerful regions.”

For Mr. Khodorkovsky, to achieve a so-called Russia of regions, the nation would have to undergo a process of decentralisation:

“Decentralisation [is needed] without any doubt. [Russia needs] not one megapolis like it currently has, but at least 10-12 across the country.”

The current regime is dominated by a group of political elites who do not understand that basic principles of successful governance, Mr. Khodorkovsky argues. Kremlin politicians seem to think that the Russian people must answer to and obey them, whereas in democratic societies politicians must answer to the public.

When you are a leader of a small city, let alone the leader of an entire country, you are obliged to build a relationship with your constituents. Constituents must live under your jurisdiction. And you can’t just say to them: if you don’t like me then leave.”

“Say I was the mayor of the town Zhukovka, I couldn’t just go and say: we want to build a stadium here. If you don’t like this, then move out of Zhukova.”

In addition to the arrogance of many current politicians, the interference of security services (siloviki) in politics presents a serious obstacle to the democratisation process in Russia.

Instead of operating as counterintelligence or as a guarantor of the Russian constitution Mikhail Khodorkovsky believes that the Federal Security Service (FSB)

“[..] is a de facto second governing institution in the Russian Federation. This means, [the FSB] serves as a duplication of the government thanks to its employees and agents in the government. It also exerts control over the real government.”

Mr. Khodorkovsky also notes that Kremlin-controlled media is contributing to the deterioration of Russia.

“All of those charged with communicating news to the public (kommunativny klass) are either members of Putin’s wider circle [as opposed to inner], or have no experience in journalism […] I believe it is extremely important to have public communicators, but not those like we have today [in Russia] who work for Putin.”

In reference to the tragic deaths of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic, Mr. Khodorkovsky spoke about the serious threats that independent journalists in Putin’s Russia face:

“I believe that the journalistic profession is an extremely dangerous one. It is a dangerous and honourable profession precisely because that those in the profession are genuinely risking their lives.

Despite the many flaws of the current regime, the route to democracy is not straightforward. Civil society has been eroded under Putin: access to and funding for education is limited and many young people live in poverty with few career prospects. Mikhail Khodorkovsky believes that rebuilding civil society will open the way for democracy in Russia:

“Currently, I am working as a civil activist. And it is most regrettable that any form of civil activism in today’s Russia is considered political action.”

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has funded several educational projects in Russia. Alongside the Open Russia Movement, these projects lie at the core of this rebuilding process.

Amongst citizens of Russia there is a growing desire for regime change and democratisation. Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s initiatives were set up to equip ordinary Russians with the skills and knowledge needed to set Russia on the path towards this change.