After Putin

September 14, 2016

At a recent press conference, Mikhail Khodorkovsky announced that he is looking for a candidate to run in the 2018 presidential election, to replace Putin.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

“Good day to you all and many thanks for coming here. At the end of 2015 we announced the launch of the Open Elections project. The task we set ourselves was to select 20 young independent politicians to take part in the 2016 election campaign. This we did, and we have been supporting them throughout the campaign. There were several conditions attached to this support: agreement on the question of human rights, the right to vote out a government in free and fair elections, and a readiness to state publicly and to all that they were part of the project.

“We realise that these are quasi-elections to a quasi-parliament but we want to make use of this political event; to show society that there is an alternative, in both people and ideology. The competition attracted more than 400 applications, from which we selected 25. Of these 19 were officially registered as candidates.

“They have worked very hard indeed and the voters appreciated this. It was their first experience of big elections, but the results of the social surveys we commissioned have been amazing, both in their “visibility” i.e. recognition factor, and the electorate’s willingness to vote for them.

“People are clearly sick of the fact that the current political elite cannot be voted out, though it is unable not only to develop the country, but even to limit its own appetites. Our candidates were closer to people, who found them easier to understand than anyone expected. We wish them all success this week – both to Russians and to Open Russia candidates.

Russia in the 21st century deserves a different kind of destiny 

“But this is only the beginning! Now we are setting ourselves a new goal, but this time we are doing it together. We want to help our fellow citizens answer the question, “If not Putin, then who?” We are convinced that there is nothing worse than a government, which cannot be voted out. This kind of power is a synonym for corruption, bad governance, and a state, which, though cruel, is weak and has no basis in law. Russia in the 21st century deserves a different kind of destiny.

“This is why we are announcing our new project “Replacing Putin,” which will introduce new political faces – potential candidates for the post of president of Russia. We are sick of our unchanging government and the pseudo-opposition. We can already see that we are many, so we will be able to effect the necessary changes.

I will now ask Timur Valeyev to tell us a bit about the initial part of the project.”

Timur Valeyev: Thank you.  Today we launched the site “Replacing Putin” and it is already accepting registrations. Seven experts have registered so far and started working with us on this project. They include Stanislav Belkovsky, Vladimir Milov, Yevgeny Chichvarkin, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Yevgeny Ass, Dmitry Gudkov and Alexander Morozov.

“These experts have presented their choice of candidates for the current moment. The first names are Mikhail Kasyanov, Alexei Kudrin, Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Yevgeny Roizman, Lev Schlossberg, Grigorii Yavlinsky, Tatyana Yumasheva and five others, 13 in total.

“The alternative election for a possible future candidate will be very simple: any Russian citizen can register on this site, and not only vote for candidates who have already been proposed, but also put forward their own candidate. To join the experts you have only to have the support of one of the “Replacing Putin” existing experts, or of Mikhail Borisovich (Khodorkovsky). To become a candidate, you have to be registered on the site, have the support of at least one of the experts and then, once the editors have approved, you will be listed as a candidate on the site.

“During the first stage, almost anyone will be able to vote. During the final stage, nearer to the presidential race – if everything goes according to the rules, this should be spring 2018 – only the members of the jury will be entitled to vote. I think it will be best if Mikhail Borisovich tells us what kind of support this candidate can expect from Open Russia.  Are there any questions?”

Stanislav Grigoryev, Ren TV: Mikhail Borisovich, could you explain what you mean by support for the candidate? Will you personally finance them, or how will it be?

MBK: In the presidential election, candidates have to follow certain rules.  We too will, of course, adhere to these rules. Any support we offer will comply with legal restrictions.  If, for instance, a candidate needs to collect voters’ signatures to register, we will try and help them with this.

Journalist: But will you be giving them money?

MBK: As a Russian citizen, I am entitled to offer my own money to candidates who are running for various posts in Russia. How much and how it is done is regulated by the law and I comply with this law.

Journalist: Who is Maria Monakhova?

MBK: Maria Monakhova is my assistant.

Journalist: But why does she control your money?

MBK: I control my own money, you know. I do not intend to say anything more on this subject.

Viktor Vasilyev, Voice of America: Mikhail Borisovich, could you comment on the way the parliamentary campaign is going? Taking account of the upcoming court case against PARNAS and the recent film, which you know well, do you think the authorities have managed to withstand the drive toward democracy? Who do you think the producer and cameraman were for this film and how is it possible that a state TV channel has used filming forbidden by law?

I said that we would have quasi-elections and that we have a quasi-parliament

MBK: Listen, you know how it all works. I said that we would have quasi-elections and that we have a quasi-parliament. Even in these conditions we can, and should, carry on with our political work so we can offer the Russian people an alternative. The fact that the secret services are unlawfully tailing our candidates, that the eternal dustbin for these sorts of stories is publishing specially edited material – well, that’s their right. The only thing I would say here is the sole result of this TV item is the recognition that, as I promised the candidates, I am helping and supporting them through Open Russia and everything we do is within the law.

Journalist: Mikhail Borisovich, can you tell us if you are intending to put yourself forward as a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections? Is there anyone you would consider an ideal candidate?

MBK: We still have time to find new people. I am not planning on putting myself forward, but am always willing to back democratic candidates in Russia when needed.

At the moment I don’t want to name an ideal candidate – that’s why we are holding the competition. But the way I see it, this person has to be someone who is firmly convinced that he is putting himself forward for a period of no more than 8 years in total and is doing it to serve his country. This is the kind of candidate, preferably a young politician, I should like the project to find.

Varvara Nevskya, Rossiya-24: Are you counting on Open Russia candidates really getting elected? If not, will you be lobbying for your candidate at the presidential election?

The current political regime makes voting out the government at an election impossible

MBK: I have not changed my position. The current political regime makes voting out the government at an election impossible. What we have are quasi-elections and we can all see what’s happening with the election for the State Duma. I’m absolutely certain that it will be the same for the presidential election. But it would be a mistake not to make use of this political event.  That’s our goal: we will introduce new people, so that, when the regime does change, which will happen sooner or later, there will be a choice: who can we trust to rule Russia so that we can stop flailing about trying to solve the problem of who could replace Putin. I find this a very strange question in a country with 140 million people – I should think a million people probably could.

Journalist: Timur Valeyev said that to become a candidate, you only have to have the support of an expert and then be registered. What else do you see as being essential requirements of this candidate?

MBK: An expert will hardly give his support to a candidate who does not share our views on human rights, normal views, which exist today in the civilised world, and on the necessity of being able to vote a government out. I don’t think there are any other restrictions. The experts only have to assess which person would be able to become the face of Russia.

Journalist: Ren TV again. Do you know Vyacheslav Maltsev? What do you think of him? Would you take him into your campaign?

MBK: Vyacheslav Maltsev has already made a name for himself and it’ll be up to him to decide which views he defends and which campaign he wants to join. When he does this is not up to me, but we will be able to discuss it.

Journalist: Voice of America again. Do you think Russia can endure another term of Putin in power?  Will this not condemn Russia once and for all to being a third world country?

Each new term of Vladimir Putin in power renders Russia less able to meet new challenges

MBK: Each new term of Vladimir Putin in power renders Russia less able to meet new challenges. We can see clearly that the country will either stand still or slip backwards and this is in all areas: social policy, law, science and the development of society. How long a huge and rich country like Russia can survive this I don’t know.  I do know that we don’t want Russia to collapse under the strain.

Marina, De Standaard (Belgium): You have travelled around the small villages of Russia and there is enormously strong support there for Vladimir Putin. Do you not think your project might be a waste of time?

MBK: People are interested and willing. That they don’t see things clearly is the fault of the opposition, though the current regime is chiefly to blame for having done all it could to ensure that society has no alternative. We hope that, through our projects, we shall be able to show people there is an alternative, that they can make a conscious choice: is this what they want, or do they want something else?

Journalist: Mikhail Borisovich, how many parties do you think are being directly funded by the Kremlin during this election campaign? Why is the Kremlin doing this?

We have a very clear picture of all the techniques the Kremlin is using officially and this is enough to turn any election into a caricature

MBK: As of today’s date we have a very clear picture of all the techniques the Kremlin is using officially and this is enough to turn any election into a caricature. I’m talking about exploiting media monopolies, electronic media, using defence and law enforcement agencies to target the people who can give politicians their support, in whichever direction they think necessary: to compel people to give (or not to give) money. I am nevertheless convinced that the Kremlin has enough volunteer helpers keen to ingratiate themselves, to have their actions approved at the highest level – perhaps even with a bit of government money added in to the mix. I really hope that these people will realise before too long that this is not just a way of earning money, but that they are contributing to the destruction of their country. I think that sooner or later people will get the message, and then this regime will come to its natural end.

Timur Valeyev: Thank you, Mikhail Borisovich. Now I should like to introduce Open Russia’s federal coordinator, Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Thank you, Timur, and thank you, dear colleagues, for being here. We are very glad to see you in the Open Elections office and particularly glad to welcome the NTV camera crew over there in the corner.

“In presenting our “Replacing Putin” project I want to quote two figures to you – 17 and 119. 17 is the number of years without a break that one and the same group, headed by Vladimir Putin, has been in power in our country. 119 is Russia’s 2015 ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. That’s 119th out of 167, between Guyana and Sierra Leone.  Unfortunately, these two figures are linked, because history has shown without exception that the kind of power which cannot be voted out in an election is always corrupt, fostering abuse of the law and stagnation. Let us reflect for a moment that our fellow citizens who will be 18 in 2018, and voting for the first time in the presidential election, were born under Vladimir Putin’s rule. And this is frightening. Because when a princeling or a leader goes on for ever, hanging on to power for many years like a Ben Ali, Mubarak or Mugabe, this is firstly a characteristic of a third world country, and secondly never ends well. We want another destiny for our country, which is why the chief aim of this “Replacing Putin” project, being launched today, is to blow out of the water the myth that there can be no alternative to the current government and president.

It’s true that searching for an alternative in Russia today is not easy

“It’s true that searching for an alternative in Russia today is not easy. One of the obvious opposition presidential candidates, Boris Nemtsov, was murdered last year on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge in Moscow; others are either compelled to live outside Russia, are in prison or in some other trumped-up way, victims of all kinds of pseudo-court decisions which make them ineligible to vote or take part in elections.  But, even in this situation, we think it outrageous in a country with 140 million people and an abundance of strong, talented, experience and successful people, to say that only one man can be president.

The “Replacing Putin” project was conceived to lay the foundations for a discussion in society, before the presidential election in 2018. This discussion will encompass various options, political views and answers to the question “If not Putin, then who?” some of them we have already seen and the list will, of course, grow. But the conclusive answer to this question can only be given by our fellow Russians.

Journalist: I should like to ask why you have chosen to announce the presidential project now, when the agenda is full of the parliamentary election.  Is this a conscious decision or simply that you were ready to do it now?

Timur Valeyev: It’s a logical continuation to the Open Elections project, which supported candidates in the State Duma and St Petersburg Legislative Assembly elections, a first step, a toe in the water. We put forward 24 candidates, of whom 19 were registered – 18 for the State Duma election, and 1 in St Petersburg. Two candidates achieved registration by collecting signatures, not an easy task in our country. This is a very good result. The social surveys we ran in many regions showed us that our candidates are doing much better than other opposition party candidates. Many of our candidates are fighting for a good second place, perhaps even a win. Will their victory be stolen from them or not? That’s another matter. These days, politics is not something that you dabble in – you have to do it properly. Our contention is that the State Duma election is the beginning of the process, not the end. Next year there will be municipal elections in Moscow; the year after, there are the gubernatorial elections in some parts of the Russian Federation, in which we also intend to take part in some way. The logical conclusion of the project will, of course, be the presidential and Moscow mayoral elections in 2018. Open Russia and the Open Elections project intend to take part in all these elections.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: I should like to add here that eighteen months is not a long time in politics and that’s how much time we have before the presidential election. The current regime has for many years been carrying out a scorched earth policy in Russia’s political space, using all the resources at its disposal, so society’s discussion about finding an alternative will take some time – it can’t be done in a week, a month of six months. Now, with just six days to the elections and eighteen months to the presidential election, it seemed just the right time to kick off with this discussion. The launch of this project today is the first step, the very beginning.”