Political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky: life in Putin’s Russia

Ekspert magazine’s website organized an online question-and-answer session with political consultant and analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation. He answers a wide variety of questions about the political situation, and makes some predictions.

Last week, Ekspert magazine’s website organized an online question-and-answer session with political consultant and analyst Gleb Olegovich Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation.

Question: Why is life in Russia only getting harder, rather than improving? Why is there such squalor in Russia? And why do our leaders take advantage of that, creating profits for themselves?

Gleb Pavlovsky: I don’t know. I’ve lived a hard life since my youth, and eventually I could no longer tell the difference. But for some reason, life in Russia always improves before wars and before revolutions.

Question: You once said that Russia now has a new ruling class – a middle class, replacing the Yeltsin-era oligarchy. How does this fit in with the ongoing restriction of people’s ability to influence the authorities? How does it fit in with the lack of any party to express the interests of the “ruling” middle class? You probably forgot to add that not all of Russia’s middle class is the ruling class – only that part of it which works for the state or for Gazprom.

Gleb Pavlovsky: The urban middle class is a growing potential force. All of you: become a real force.

Question: There was a time when the authorities didn’t want your services. Your views were regarded as almost on the fringe. Are there any political analysts around now whose services might be wanted after yours – or, for example, after 2008?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Don’t be afraid of being on the fringe. There’s more freedom outside the mainstream. The most interesting things in Russia aren’t reported in the newspapers. And we won’t be followed by political analysts – it will be a time for defense analysts, financial analysts, and cultural analysts.

Question: What effect, if any, will the change of administration have on the form in which the state’s financial reserves are accumulated and used? These days, it’s all about sterilizing “superfluous” money – but what about the future?

Gleb Pavlovsky: As long as there isn’t a war, that will be the big issue for the new administration: a new financial strategy. But alas, it is not my fate to enter the brave new world of the financial future.

Question: Where do you see a possibility of cooperation between the authoritarian executive branch and mass public movements?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Russia’s present-day system of governance is in the process of being established and founded. It is re-emerging, and it’s authoritarian in its techniques, but not in its policy program. It still doesn’t know what kind of system it wants to be or is capable of being – that depends on how it is programmed in the future by people – that is, by you.

Question: What is the essence of the differences between the Other Russia opposition alliance and the United Russia party? Don’t they have the same ideologies? Don’t they both service oligarchs? Thanks in advance for a precise answer.

Gleb Pavlovsky: The Other Russia is a workshop for selecting skeleton-keys to the real Russia. Read their writings. They’re concerned with only one question: how to topple the Putin system – that is, how to leave all of us without a country.

Question: What does President Putin think of Stabilization Fund money being transferred abroad? If he’s against it, why doesn’t he forbid it? If he’s for it, could it have something to do with the Year 2008 Problem – I mean, what will he live on after he leaves office?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Before every upheaval of the 20th Century, Russia’s opposition accused the authorities of “transferring money abroad.” And this always turned out to be nothing more than empty propaganda – from 1914-17 to 1991. In fact, money was transferred abroad after the revolutions, bearing the brand of the “people’s government” or “victorious democracy.” The only real way to plunder by “transferring money” is changing the political order, thus annulling all of the state’s debt obligations. As soon as Russia becomes “another Russia,” all property will be transferred, since it will belong to nobody. And the nation will be told that “it was all devoured by the old regime.”

Question: How did Moscow’s policy on Ukraine change while Viktor Yanukovych was prime minister?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Yanukovych’s years as prime minister of Ukraine coincided with Russia’s discovery of the delights of a strong foreign policy based on energy resources, an investment boom in Russia, and – to be honest – our new self-confidence. Ukraine is one of the countries that are of interest to us. The details of Ukrainian politics are intra-Ukrainian, non-convertible political valuables. The Kremlin is playing on Ukraine across the entire political keyboard, from the prime minister to the president, the faltering opposition, and further still.

Question: Do you think that Russia could bring down the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, like the West did in Ukraine and Georgia, and install a normal, liberal leader who favors Russia’s interests?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Technically speaking, any regime can be brought down. There’s no particular merit in that. As a rule, it’s a way of ending up with more problems than you started with, at your own expense. Belarusian politics should be paid for by the citizens of Belarus.

Question: Are Putin’s system of power and Russia one and the same? What kind of system do you see? Is it all about getting rid of anyone who’s not on our side?

Gleb Pavlovsky: At present, Putin’s system of power and Russia are one and the same. Putin is making the rest of the world get used to a fact it doesn’t like: the existence of a strong national Russia, “Putin’s Russia.” Russia without Putin is geopolitically impossible at present – it would simply be no man’s land. All other details should be considered in that context.

Question: In your view, what is the purpose of recent amendments to electoral legislation? Abolishing the minimal voter turnout requirement, raising the threshold for party representation in the Duma, abolishing the “against all candidates” option, and so on. Do you think Putin will become the United Russia party’s leader after 2008? What will his political future be like?

Gleb Pavlovsky: That is Putin’s plan. His reasoning is fairly simple: reducing the number of participants in the political process to a limited list of groups and forces, so that there’s a realistic chance of making them observe at least some rules. According to this plan, politics should become a team game for parties, cities, and corporations. In “non-team” politics, Russians will always remain colorful and untrainable, and will always try to cheat everyone. The question of establishing a framework for functional democracy is the central issue in the viability of democracy in Russia. After 2008, Putin will become stronger; he will be able to act more freely and boldly in politics than he could before 2008. Over the next decade, the political fate of Putin will be synonymous with the fate of the Russian state.

Question: President Putin’s greatest achievement is that he has managed to structure a simple and comprehensible system, almost completely, for the Russian Federation’s vital activities – he has made it function quite effectively. I’d like to hear your opinion about the capability of Dmitri Medvedev – as a likely successor – to strengthen that system and make it function even more effectively.

Gleb Pavlovsky: Dmitri Medvedev has an excellent coach: Vladimir Putin. See how the latter coaches the former, even during their televised meetings. Imagine what happens when the TV cameras aren’t there.

Question: What do you think needs to be changed in order that many acute issues in our country can be resolved without the president’s direct involvement? We’re seeing a kind of paralysis in government, when vital decisions are either postponed or not made at all – until Putin intervenes personally.

Gleb Pavlovsky: I think we need to elect a new president – someone who won’t be regarded as being “responsible for everything.” We’ll have a two-party system and an incumbent president, with Putin standing as a political leader, the moderator of the democratic game, and Russia’s first citizen: this will introduce the required minimum of polyarchy into our political culture – that is, internal multipolarity.

Question: Do you think that the activities of Economic Development Minister Herman Gref and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin are beneficial for Russia?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Yes, they are moderately beneficial. Don’t forget that we are the citizens of a country that was destroyed. We’re the survivors of a shipwreck. There are still too few among us who are willing and able to get things done, rather than just hissing from under a rock. Most of the capable people are dishonest. But we have to work with what we’ve got.

Question: How do you account for the increasing political apathy among Russian citizens? Our era seems to lack outstanding thinkers who could come up with an idea (ideology) that is comprehensible for ordinary citizens and capable of attracting mass support.

Gleb Pavlovsky: Russia’s entire population has been caught up in great political projects several times over the past century. Afterwards, every time, the nation’s wholesale involvement steadily decreased. The politicized state of mind is always temporary – it’s not entirely normal for people. Right now we’re experiencing a quiet period, a period of outward peace (it probably won’t last long), a period when we reconcile ourselves to a quiet, non-wealthy existence without any great and high-risk prospects. Just pray that this period lasts another four to eight years.

Question: To what extent will the threat of Russia’s disintegration increase if Kosovo is granted independence?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Independence for Kosovo is practically inevitable. It poses no threat to Russia. But we can’t stand by in silence and watch such a flagrant violation of international law. We must force the sponsors of Kosovo’s independence into a debate on all the unresolved questions relating to the international order. At the same time – a separate issue from Kosovo, but this is actually necessary for Russia – it’s time for us to withdraw from that idiotic agreement signed by Gorbachev and Reagan: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The fuss over Kosovo will distract attention from our withdrawal.

Question: I’d like to hear a coherent answer about the process of merging and enlarging Russia’s regions. Why is this being done? For whose benefit – the people or the elite?

Gleb Pavlovsky: In my view, the process of regional enlargement should be suspended for a while. Otherwise, there’s a danger that some of these projects might disrupt the federal balance. For example, it’s clear that merging the city of Moscow with the Moscow region, or the city of St. Petersburg with the Leningrad region, would create a de facto dual power situation in Russia.