Mikhail Khodorkovsky: In A Pseudo-Election, There Are No Winners

December 11, 2017

Dear friends, colleagues and like-minded people.

We are gathered here at a difficult moment, when on the one hand a window of political opportunity has opened up in Russia, while on the other a thief appears standing by the window with a club in his hand.  We do not have long to make use of this window of opportunity.  We will even pay dearly for the few words that we manage to say in the time that we have.  Therefore, it is necessary to formulate our position clearly and precisely.  The Open Russia Movement’s position will be determined by this conference.  I can say a few things from my own point of view.

We are accustomed to saying that nothing will change in Russia.  This has become a bad habit.  The only thing that won’t change is the name of the president, of whom we said earlier this year we had had enough.  Few joined our ranks as a result.  Today even the Kremlin does not deny this.

Earlier this year we announced in straightforward terms that we will not accept any form of leadership monopoly, no matter who is in charge.  Today there are two politicians who share our values in the centre of the election fiasco: Alexey Navalny and Kseniya Sobchak.  As you know, they also rely on our movement, Open Russia.

A year ago we promised to provide our country with new political players, and in September we managed to show the fruits of our work in the Moscow municipal elections in our support for mayoral candidate Dmitry Gudkov and his team.  Now we have a new goal: our mutual success.

Russia is currently being prepared for a pseudo-election.  There will not be an election in the conventional sense, even if Alexey Navalny and Kseniya Sobchak are allowed to run.  Why? Because in a genuine election the electorate can remove those in power, if it so wishes.  In a pseudo-election, the electorate does not have this power.  This is made certain because of crooked laws, overwhelming access to administrative resources, electoral sultanates and the National Guard with Zolotov at the head which is ready to open fire on its own people.

For this reason there are no spoilers: there will be no election.  There are people who are ready to articulate the political interests of their groups and there are jesters who make noise, distracting society from the county’s genuine problems and their solutions.

I welcome Alexey and Kseniya as our allies, as people who are attempting to overturn the dismal scene set up by the Kremlin, as people who are advancing our values of parliamentarianism, federalism and the rule of law in society.  I pay tribute to Grigory Yavlinsky, who has been maintaining these positions for decades.

Both Alexey and Kseniya have their own methods and their have their own conceptions of what the main tasks at hand are, but they both know that they are deprived of victory in Putin’s game.  There are no conceivable circumstances under which this ‘game’ will become a real election, and I hope everyone will remember that.  For this reason we cannot say that someone is hindering another’s chances of being elected.

We must ask ourselves: who is opposing what in Russia today?  Do we oppose the Russian people, as Kremlin propaganda tries to convince us?  Of course not!

We do not stand against the Russian people, not even against the state, whether good or bad, and clearly not criminal, as it was in Nazi Germany.

We oppose the Kremlin organised crime syndicate.  It goes under the name of “the court”, “the Kremlin”, “the entourage” — in fact it is one (and not even the biggest) of around 150 criminal gangs in Moscow.

This syndicate consists of no more than 50 people close to Putin, and their clientele.  But they have the most important advantage: they have taken control of the president and his signature.  Through the president they have captured control of the state apparatus.  This is how they obstruct judicial authority of the courts while simultaneously exercising control over the the law enforcement agencies and parliament.

Their goal is totally normal for any criminal group — accumulate wealth and escape accountability.  Our goal is to call this group by its real name and seek the correct, lawful punishment for its members, and, if possible, prevent them from looting the country while defending the innocent civilians that end up in their path.

The Russian people should establish their own sanctions list, naming those who violate their right to live well and peacefully in their own country.

We oppose precisely this criminal group which has usurped power in Russia.  There have been historical precedents to this situation in other European countries.

Our task is not only to remove this criminal group from authority, but also the causes that led to such a group taking power — therefore, I am against simply replacing a “bad Tsar” with a “good Tsar”.  Our authoritarian system of government has made the state particularly susceptible to such criminals.

I do not believe that replacing Vladimir Putin with a “good Tsar” will lead to the evolution of democracy and human rights.  Freedom is taken, not given.

Democracy is not about selecting the next Tsar from 10 or 100 candidates.  Democracy is when people are able to take their future in their own hands on a daily basis through their political representatives.

Democracy is when each and every one of these political representatives depends on the one hand on the willingness of the people to defend their interests, and on the other on hand to negotiate with other people.

For this reason I am not only against Vladimir Putin as president; I am against the very position he occupies.  I am in favour of a parliamentary republic, for a genuine federation, for strong government that is accountable to parliament, for the opportunity for regional political centres to independently determine the tempo and shape of their own socio-political development.

Once more I repeat: When one refuses to recognise these elections as real elections, while advocating the change not only of the head of state, but the whole system he represents, it is not possible to talk seriously about supporting any independent candidate in these pseudo-elections.

It would be wrong for the Movement, which advocates changing the system, to fight for changing the figure at the head of such a system.  That’s what personalistic parties are for.  Even the Kremlin crime syndicate is concerned with this now; they are looking for a replacement boss for the future.

This is what I think is right for the Movement: to support all of those who share our values.

The Movement should continue to defend civic activists and political actors who face violations of their civil rights for advocating democratic values.

The Movement should say straightforwardly and honestly that this is not an election.  We are not going to place bets in your game, but we do have our own.  We will not be silent, we will not sit around at home, we oppose your game and we we oppose the pre-determined winner.

We have our own vision of the future.  You don’t want to hear it?  We will use your own mediocre show to project our vision to the people.

You think this is funny? Do you believe that your mafia clan has everything under control?  We may lose ten times, but eventually we will win.

And finally, December 12 will mark the Day of the Constitution.  I stand with you in honouring this day, as it’s because of this imperfect constitution that I and my friends, alongside thousands of others, were prepared to give up our lives on the barricades.  What we are doing today is constitutional and lawful.  Yet, those who live off of public money and who are attempting to prevent us from gathering peacefully and without weapons; what they are doing is criminal and punishable by law.  Happy Day of the Constitution!


The Open Russia Movement conference took place on December 09 2017 and gathered over 100 Open Russia delegates from across the country.  The Movement got together to discuss their official position on the 2018 Russian presidential elections, as well as the increasing use of force and harassment on members of the opposition by the law enforcement authorities.  Numerous Open Russia delegates had been warned officially by the FSB not to attend what they called a gathering of representatives of an ‘undesirable organisation’.  Up to 40 policemen crashed into the conference hall during the discussion and attempted to break up the meeting.