Vladimir Ryzhkov: Lukashenka can take Russia’s ambassador Surikov hostage
15:05, — Interview
The Belarusian regime is bankrupt without Russia’s oil, Vladimir Ryzhkov is convinced.
Co-chairperson of the political party The Republican Party of Russia – People’s Freedom Party (RPR-PARNAS), former first vice-speaker of the State Duma Vladimir Ryzhkov replied the questions of charter97.org editor-in-chief Natallia Radzina during his visit to Warsaw.
- You are in Warsaw. Whom have you met here? What was your message to the Polish government? How is the situation in Russia perceived here?
- The Russian opposition has solid connections with Germany, France, the UK, the European Parliament, but with Poland, our major neighbor in the West, we have, in fact, zero contact. So the main purpose of my visit is to get acquainted with the major parties, talk to them, tell them how we see the situation in Russia.
I have met with the leaders of the two top parties, Civil Platform and Law and Justice. This is my first visit and I would like to establish contacts for the future. But in fact, I have previously met with prime-minister Donald Tusk when he was in Moscow, with Aleksander Kwaśniewski when he still was the president. But those were sporadic meetings, we have no regular contact. My goal is to establish such contacts.
Unfortunately, as I have realized during these two days in Poland, there’s a poor understanding of what is going on in Russia. For example, not many have heard the story of Sergei Magnitski well-known all over the world: the US has adopted the Magnitski act, there are constant debates in the European Parliament, in Germany, Holland, the UK… Basically nobody has heard about the “swamp” story, while it concerns almost 30 persons who face actual prison terms for having taken part in a peaceful demonstration. So I want to tell Polish politicians what the situation in Russia is and what processes are going on there.
- Russia has recently had elections with very low rates of participation. How can you explain that? For example, in Belarus people have been boycotting elections because everyone knows in advance that the votes will be falsified.
- Something similar is happening in Russia. In the 90s there was a real fight, relatively fair elections, the opposition could win or lose, but at least people came to vote. During Putin’s rule the institution of elections has become so discredited that people say that: a) everything will be falsified, b) the opposition has no chance, c) the voting is of no significance, politicians still lie to everyone.
In other words, there is a negative attitude towards elections in general; either lies or falsifications, and any winner will cheat. The low rate of participation relates to low levels of trust to politicians and elections.
- This time the opposition has chosen to participate in the elections, but only some candidates have been elected deputies and they are not likely to change the political system. What other mechanisms do Russian democrats intend to use to change the power?
- Obviously, we still have street rallies. We have always been active with street rallies and will continue to participate. We also do information work; our party has published several well-known reports, “Putin. Results.”, “Putin. Corruption.”, ”Olympics in subtropics”. Today we’re working with a report on corruption in Gazprom that hits Russian households’ economy, because gas fees stand for 80 percent of communal fees.
The strategy of our party RPR-PARNAS is demonstrated by the formula: elections, street, information. In other words, we take part in the elections, go out to the streets and explain to the people that it is time for changes.
The forecast regarding the street rallies is positive; we have had successful rallies in Bolotnaya street and Sakharov square. During the biggest rally of 2011, 120 thousand people came to Sakharov square. Then it went downwards and it seemed that the people’s entire energy and emotion burst out that day and nothing is left. But it wasn’t the case, and on May 6, 2012 a huge amount of people went out to the streets. Equally massive rallies followed in June 2012 and then early this year in January, when the Duma adopted the law of Dima Yakovlev prohibiting adoption of Russian children by foreign families. The people were so shocked by the law that the rally got 50 thousand demonstrators, right after the New Year holidays, despite the cold winter weather.
It shows that there are really many people who are ready to come to the square. The protest is there, in Moscow, in the country. Moreover, my prognosis is that it will grow, as long as the powers demonstrate corruption, inefficiency and incapability to solve day-to-day problems. The street activity will have significant perspective and impact.
- The Coordinating Council of the Russian opposition elected online announced its self-termination. Belarus was advised to use this experience. Why was this initiative so brief?
- I didn’t take part in the elections to the Coordinating Council, although I had been asked to. I said at once that this whole thing will not work. I had following reasons to think so: first of all, it was not clear what it was that we were to elect. In other words, was it supposed to be a parliament, or just an institute of massive rallies? The organizers urged us to start with the elections and to figure out the purpose later. But here, it was elected, and still couldn’t find its niche.
The second reason was the artificial union of liberals, left-wing politicians and radical nationalists that created a specter from ultraliberal Boris Nemtsov to ultra-nazis. There were three quotas, five persons each: liberal, left and nationalist. So even if nobody voted for the nationalists, they would still get five chairs. As a result, the total ideological incompatibility tore this coordinating council from inside, and it just disappeared. This council only discredited the opposition because any failure is discrediting. The Coordinating Council was definitely a failure.
- And of course, we should take into consideration the impact of the special services on these “elections”.
- Obviously. We should not forget the special services, provocations, people who were thrown to jails, who had to flee the country. For example, bloggers Rustem Adagamov, Anastasia Rybachenko, Aleksei Sakhnin left Russia. Those who are not in prison couldn’t trust anyone due to unsolvable disagreements. Even though the special services are a significant factor, I would say that the unclear functions of the council and incompatibility of its delegates are the number one reason.
- Any autocratic or dictator regime craves legitimacy in the civilized world. One way to achieve this goal is to create a “tamed” opposition just to be able to demonstrate it to the West. What is Kremlin doing today in this direction?
- The thing is that everything has already been done. In the 90s, we had regimes of 7 bankers, then 7 boyars, then 7 parties. When Surikov was in Kremlin, he banned all parties, including our Republican party, but seven – seven heads of one dragon. This was the controlled political system with an imitation of opposition, but in reality it was just a closed private party.
This system was broken after the rallies of 2001-2012, when parties could register freely. Now parties can be divided into three categories. The first is the old 7-party category that has discredited itself mostly by its cooperation with the regime. The second category includes the new “fakes” (a dozen communist parties, dozen liberal and dozen patriotic parties like the For All Good, For Beloved City parties; party of citizens, party of peasants, party of settlers, party of women, party of the best women, Pensioners For Justice party). The purpose of these “fake” parties is to confuse voters and steal votes. People come to the voting station and go crazy when they see five communists, six liberals, three pensioners, several ecologists and have no idea who these candidates are.
And the third category is us, the real opposition, who is neither controlled nor “fake”. When a person enters a store and is frustrated by all these packages, all so alike, they need to find the symbol of our party, the little red bull horning the dirty brown Putin’s bear (United Russia). We have to explain to voters that we are the real opposition, not the “compromisers” or “fakes”.
- Actually, when I was looking at the logo I couldn’t see the bull.
- This is modern art, Kazimir Malevich, born Belarusian. Black square, red bull, and this is a stylization: a jumping bull and horns.
Well, this is our present party system with three elements: old compromisers, new ”fakes” and the real opposition. Today we have registration, but we still need to reach voters, tell them about ourselves and get their support.
- Recently spontaneous rallies have been held in Moscow after an immigrant had murdered a resident of the district Biriuliovo. Can Russia function as a multi-national state without ethnic conflicts?
- Russia has always been a multi-national state; it has never been the state of the Russians, no matter what nationalists say. And if Russia cannot be multi-national, it will just collapse.
The pogroms in Biriuliovo were provoked both by migrants, police, corruption and the state’s poor job. But this is common xenophobia that can be found in any country – Belarus, Poland, France, anywhere. It is crucial that this common xenophobia doesn’t take the form of a political program. It is crucial that nobody takes pogroms to the political level.
And this is where Navalny’s rhetoric got dangerous. Yes, formally he speaks about migrants and visas, but pogromists hear a different tune. He says one thing and they hear another: migrants are bad and should be beaten. They switch immediately, and that’s what’s dangerous about this rhetoric about migrants. You say A and they say B for you.
You say that illegal migrants should be stopped, and they say that it’s no need to wait for visas and that the migrants should be beaten up right now. The position of our party is as follows: we do not accept any form of nationalism, anything that incites hatred and xenophobia. We want the police to do a good job. If a migrant commits a crime, the police should find them and put into jail. If pogromists crush a vegetable market, they should be found and put into jail. If politicians incite hatred and violence, they should be found and put into jail.
How should the work with migrants look like? They need socialization mechanisms; they and their children should learn Russian, our Constitution, legislation. In other words, we should work very hard to help them adapt. And the Russians should learn how to live with them, because the world is different now, and it will never be what it was before. It is impossible not to live side by side with Uzbeks, Tajiks or Kyrgyz.
Just look how many migrants there are in Sweden – 20 percent. In London it’s almost half of the population. In the US, there are 12 million migrants, and the number is growing. This is the new world. And we have to explain to people that they have to live with it. This is the solution. But the nationalists only suggest cutting everyone out, murdering, moving out, banning and so on. This is not a solution but populism, nationalism and xenophobia.
- So what you’re trying to say is that Navalny’s rhetoric is partially to blame for what has happened in Biriuliovo?
- Partially, yes, and I say it openly. I mean not only Navalny’s rhetoric; I don’t think that everything is just about him. I’m sorry, but when his rival Sobianin says the same thing, what difference does it make? These days Sobianin has suggested things like “inspecting the places with high concentration of migrants.” They are people, not insects! This is a purely pogrom rhetoric. Matvienko has recently called to “intensify control over migrants”. In other words, she already applies the presumption of guilt to millions of people, and in advance proclaims them unreliable. Interior minister Kolokoltsev said that the police will perform anti-migrant raids every Friday.
Not everything is about Navalny. It is much worse. Had it only been Navalny, it would have been less painful. But when several highest authorities of the country start to use such negative xenophobic rhetoric in their speeches, it becomes really dangerous, and this is what we oppose.
- Have I understood correctly: cooperation between your party and Navalny is under threat? You have always left all opposition unions with radical members.
- Yes, it is under threat, because there was no consensus already when we made him a mayor candidate from our party. But there was one condition: he had to participate in the elections with the program of RPR-PARNAS. However, he took a different program, where migrants were issue number one. And if we don’t reach an agreement before the elections to the Moscow municipal duma, there won’t be any union.
- Let’s move to the topic of the ”union state”. How would you comment the arrest of Uralkali general director Baumgertner in Minsk?
- Well, you know Aliaksandar Rygoravich Lukashenka and his methods better than I do. Lukashenka’s classic method is blackmailing and threats. He can blackmail Russia with turning to Europe or even somehow to China flying over Kazakh deserts. He can also threat with finding a way to get rid of Russian military bases from Belarus.
Each time he blackmails, he does it to bargain. Right now he’s probably bargaining about a new loan, maybe something directly about Uralkali. Putin has got what he wanted, so I expect Baumgertner to be released and Lukashenka to get a new perk – loan, property or other economic bonuses or concessions. This is pure blackmail and extortion, if I may use the language of the criminal law.
- What was the reaction of the Russian business community?
- They are in shock. They try to put themselves in Baumgertner’s position: the Belarusian part invites you to come to Minsk and throws you to jail. Obviously, this is a complete shock for the entire Russian business community. And this is a signal that doing business in Belarus involves tremendously high risks.
I believe that this will have a very negative impact on the Belarusian economy. Who will want to work with such government?
- Do the Russian powers have any strategy regarding Belarus?
- The strategy is the same: to keep Belarus in the field of their influence, by their side and on the next chair. And much can be forgiven in the name of this strategy. Many of Lukashenka’s tricks will be forgiven as long as Belarus is an ally. He’ll get away even with arresting Baumgertner or suggesting adding the Kaliningrad region to the territory of Belarus and thus opening a window to Europe (just like Peter the Great) and gaining access to the sea. Lukashenka’s eccentricity and crazy actions are forgiven because there is the alliance.
- Do Russian democrats have a strategy regarding Belarus?
- Our strategy is very simple. Due to understandable reasons, 99 percent of time we work with the internal situation of Russia, and only 1 percent with foreign politics. We want Russia to become a European democratic state. We want Belarus to become a European democratic state. We want Ukraine to become a European democratic state. We want Moldova to become a European democratic state, and all of us to become a part of united Europe, even if it can happen in a remote future. This is our strategy.
- Today the customs union is called “a union of dictators” and “terrarium”. What are its perspectives now, after the Customs union of the EU, US and Canada has been established and the EU announced the plans to sign free trade agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine?
- Speaking in the Valdai club, Putin said that the Customs union and the future Eurasian union can be equal competitors to the EU, US and other blocks that you have just mentioned. How plausible is it that the economies of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia in their present state can compete with the highly developed economies of Western Europe and the US? I believe this is a rhetoric question.
So this is just an attempt to slow down the process, win some time in the competition and preserve the geopolitical influence in the region. The situation with Ukraine shows that Putin fears geopolitical consequences of Ukraine’s association with Europe more than economic. He is afraid that other countries of the Eastern Partnership (Moldova, Georgia, Armenia) will follow Ukraine’s example. And with this harsh reaction he signals that if Ukraine starts to get closer with the EU, if any other country starts to do the same thing, they’ll face sanctions and other problems.
- According to Russia’s Energy Ministry, Minsk will not get the 23 million of Russian oil this year. What stands behind the “thriftiness” of the Russian powers and what can that mean for Belarus, in your opinion?
- You know perfectly well what is behind this. Belarus doesn’t have oil, and yet it is a huge oil exporter. This “economic miracle” that we witness annually can be possible only if there is another country that gives its oil for further re-export, and so on. This process has been on for 20 years.
Every year I read in papers about this trade. Moscow promises to cut down oil supplies to Belarus, while Belarus brawls. Maybe they will take Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Surikov whom I worked with in the Altai region a hostage. Maybe they will throw into prison someone else, unfortunate enough to come to Minsk, even as a transit point.
I believe that this will be an ordinary scandal: Lukashenka will try to intimidate, seize, throw to jail and blackmail. And finally it will all end with him getting those 23 million tons, re-exporting the oil and benefiting from the deal. Just the usual annual scenario. If a miracle happens and Moscow refuses to give these 23 million tons, Belarus will face bankruptcy.
- Some European politicians urge the West to engage Lukashenka’s dictatorship in a dialog. They assure that otherwise Russia will absorb Belarus. Lukashenka himself uses this argument when he is in need of western loans. In your opinion, how real are these threats?
- But this “engaging politics” is not new; the Germans have already tried it. What was the result? – Massive arrests of nearly all presidential candidates, a huge number of political prisoners and a new wave of repressions in Belarus. If this politics has proved completely inefficient and naïve , what is the point of testing it once again?
In the reality, there is a solid union of Moscow and Minsk. It has existed for the last 20 years. And no “engaging politics” can change anything, because it is a powerful strategic politics of the two capitals. One dictatorship sits in Minsk, the other in Moscow, and they support each other. And let’s not forget the geopolitics, transit, Kaliningrad, military infrastructure, radars and military trainings. Everything is so profoundly rooted there that we can very well say that Belarus has been absorbed or that this is a strategic union – but this phenomenon does exist.
And that is why I am convinced that these European politicians are either cynics, or very naïve people which I don’t believe. But if they pretend that they can change anything this way, they’re wrong.
- You know Vladimir Putin pretty well. What is his real relationship with Lukashenka?
- They hate each other, but the iron necessity of the geopolitical union pushes them into each other’s arms.