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Boris Nemtsov: “Khodorkovsky in jail is the symbol of Putin’s power”

Below is the continuation of Grigory Pasko’s exclusive interview with Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who talks about the Putin-Medvedev diarchy, Gerhard Schroeder, Barack Obama, and the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Read part 1 of the interview here.

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Andrei Illarionov, appearing before the foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representatives, characterized the country as a territory that had been captured by a Corporation; when real political power in the country belongs not to one person, not to a family, not to a military junta, not to a party and not to an ethnic group, but to a corporation of special services employees. Moreover, the characterization of this corporation almost completely coincides with the classical definition of a mafia. A question: how can one fight a mafia using non-mafia methods?

The fact is that I don’t know of a single example of successfully fighting a mafia using mafia methods. I know that mafias fight with each other: narcocartels, there was such a fight that went on in Italy. As a rule, they would destroy each other or one of the groupings would have the victory. I don’t agree that you need to fight the Putinite mafia using its own means. This isn’t right. First, because the opposition doesn’t have such resources. Second, our strength – is in our convictions. And their weakness – in the absence of convictions. Their convictions – power and money. Alexander Nevsky once said «Not in strength is God, but in the truth!» Their strength – power, money, informational resources and a machine of repression. Their weakness is in the fact that they have no ideology, convictions, principles. We’ve got all that.

Our weakness is that we don’t have informational resources, special services, a machine of repression. We – are antipodes. Why do they despise us – Illarionov, Milov, Nemtsov, Kasparov – more than the communists, the Nazis? Because we’re an ideological opposition. An opposition of ideas, a spiritual opposition to Putin. He considers that Russia – is a half-finished, Asiatic country, one that hasn’t yet matured enough for democracy, that our people – are cattle. This is why he doesn’t need freedom, elections, honest courts. That’s what he considers. He’s got a deeply contemptuous attitude towards the people. By the way, there’s a paradox in this: he despises and fears the people, but the people love him. This often happens in families where there isn’t mutual love. Some love, while another allows them to love him. Although to love a power – that’s perverted. You can love children, mother, women, father… But towards power you can have an attitude of trust-distrust.


You need to go to the people with a plough and a book…

Right. That’s why we’re going to the elections to the Moscow CityDuma. Of course, this is a special operation, and not elections. Butthis is a rare opportunity to appeal to the people with our slogans, totell them about the 300 steps to freedom. And we went to the electionsin Sochi. We understand this. This is a not-simple matter. Ourpolitical enemy is cynical.

The Communists – children by comparisonwith the Putinites, they weren’t so avaricious and cynical. They werecompletely mad from the point of view of economic construction. Butnobody has ever found any party gold. Or any mansions to speak ofeither. Private planes and yachts – even less so. But these fellows,they’ve got something to lose – billions, villas…

Those who considerthat it’s easier to pick on the Putinites than on the Communists don’tunderstand a thing. They’re more nimble and cunning, more adaptable tolife. If even Bush saw a cross in Putin’s soul….I, of course,understand that Bush – is a few cards short of a full deck.

…Schroeder seemed to see something in his soul too.

Schroeder saw money there. …That is, a long, serious war lies ahead.This is an endurance race, not a sprint. We’ve got to outlive this: weneed to have health, we need to be in good shape.

I read in your book about the secrets of longevity.

I’m healthy not because I engage in gerontology. I’ve got a political task – to outlive them.

Someone once said that in Russia, in order to attain anything,you’ve got to live a long time…How do you deal with the problem ofquestioners about how «Nemtsov has already been in power, and, thismeans, he can no longer be trusted and there’s no point in voting forhim»?

I am absolutely not ashamed of what I did in the 90s. I wasn’t a badgovernor, and even my enemies admit this. And I worked honestly in thegovernment. It is another matter that oil then cost 8 dollars a barrel,and it was hard to save Russia. If oil would cost 8 dollars right now,they’d lift Putin up with a pitchfork and toss him into Butyrka[Moscow’s largest investigative isolator prison–Trans.], he’d have toanswer for his connection with Abramovich, for Beslan, Nord-Ost,Gazprom and for the Khodorkovsky affair. The whole deal, no holdsbarred…

We saved Russia back then. Yes, we weren’t lucky then with themarket situation. Plus the Soviet Union was bankrupt, we had to nurseit out of intensive care. And nobody got out of intensive carerosy-cheeked. I am not ashamed about that time. But it’s not reallyabout me. It’s about «Solidarnost» – a movement in which there arepeople who have no connection whatsoever to the 90s. Kasparov, Milov,Yashin, Davidis, Ponomarev, Bukovsky, Kara-Murza… These are thosepeople to whom I am gladly prepared to pass on the baton of thestruggle for democracy. In «Solidarnost» there are adult people, in thesense of age and their fate, people who have been around, let’s put itthat way, and there are young people.

What’s happening is like in arelay race: one passes the baton to another not instantly, butcontinues to rub alongside him for a period of time. They runconcurrently in a corridor. Right now we find ourselves in thiscorridor. My mission in «Solidarnost» is to pass on my experience, todo everything so that «Solidarnost» would happen, and so that the youngwould gather political weight and be able to continue our rightfulcause. My role – that’s of a mentor, maybe that sounds a bit loud. Iconsider it’s a very important role. I’m proud that I and my comradeshave succeeded in creating such a movement. Despite both the skepticsand the powers.

And now a few words about the visit of USA president Obama toMoscow. He repeated his commitment to the values of democracy and saidthat that protecting human rights – is an absolute value, not dependingon borders.

He – is the American president, moreover dark-skinned. He’s got somany problems in his own country, as well as in the internationalarena, that it would be naïve to assume he’s going to devote a lot oftime to Russia. He’s certainly not going to betray his principles, thatfreedom is better than non-freedom. And this isn’t Medvedev’s words inKrasnoyarsk. Only a democratic country could have elected himPresident. Therefore, for him, democracy – is not book history. This is- his personal fate. His personal success, and that’s important. Hisattitude towards this is different from that of many others.

As concerns us. Nobody will give us deliverance, neither God nortsar, and certainly not Obama. His meeting with us – this is ademonstration of the fact that he considers that Russia – this is notonly Putin and Medevedev. He understands that there is the officialpower and then there are those who are not in agreement with it. Heobviously empathizes with the democrats, because he’s one himself. Themaximum that can be counted on – a strengthening of people-to-peopleexchanges: between journalists, politicians, human rights advocates,environmentalists… Such a kind of contacts under Obama are going tointensify, because he himself is a product of non-governmentalorganizations. There’s no need too count on him, meeting with Medvedevand Putin, raising the question of Khodorkovsky, Sutyagin, Danilov, ifyou were sitting [behind bars] – about you. From personal experience Ihave become convinced of this: I showed him the revolution initiated byhim, Biden and McCain with respect to the Khodorkovsky case, and asked,had his opinion on this account changed? He did not answer thisquestion.

His position – is such a, I would say, two-stream diplomacy:with Putin-Medvedev he resolves tactical tasks, important this veryminute for America – the deployment of missile defense systems, armsreduction, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Georgia.., leaving the development ofthe country in parentheses, understanding that these people areincapable of perceiving obvious things in a rational manner.Simultaneously strengthening relations with the opposition. Politicianshave such a technology: it is much more effective to meet with peoplewho are neutrally inclined towards you than with your enemies. Theyyell shake their fists, you trot out your energy… This looks pretty ontelevision. From the electoral point of view the effectiveness of suchmeetings – zero. It’s very hard to persuade someone of the opposite ofwhat he believes in. Obama understands that speaking with Putin aboutdemocracy is the same as me trying to convince Zyuganov to support theSPS. Pointless. In his speech in the economics school he said that nota single state can in the 21 century count on success if it is notdemocratic and is not found under the control of society..

The role ofObama in the history of the democratization of Russia is negligible. Hecame and he went, but we’ve remained. Imagine to yourself, I show up inthe Far East and start criticizing Darkin. Darkin might even hear meout, inasmuch as he’s a smart and crafty chap. Then I’ll leave, whileDarkin will continue to do his thing. Nothing will change goingforward. Therefore the business of democratization and getting ourcountry in order – this is our business, and not Obama’s. …I wassurprised, to be honest, why he didn’t start raising the question ofKhodorkovsky seriously. He answered this question for «Novaya gazeta»rather respectably, but, by all appearances, he didn’t even raise itbefore Putin and Medvedev.

By the way, is there any sense about the outcome of the Khodorkovsky case?

I’ve got not a sense, but an understanding…

…I don’t even have an understanding any more.

…I’ve been there in court two times, Misha and I spoke with eachother in the language of gestures. This is my understanding:Khodorkovsky in jail – this is the symbol of Putin’s power. The symbolof Yeltsin’s Russia was Yeltsin on the tank. Come on, you agree, don’tyou?

I’ll agree that standing on a tank is cooler than holding someone in jail.

Well, naturally. And one shouldn’t go confusing a divine gift withscrambled eggs. Yeltsin – this is a historical person. He’s complex,with all his squiggles, as he used to say. But he’s a real large-scalehistorical personality – serious, deep, I would say, tragic. And Putin- totally different story – spiteful and petty. As long as Putinremains in power, Khodorkovsky will remain in jail.

But Putin’s going to remain in power another 15 years…

And so Khodorkovsky will remain sitting in jail. As lamentable asthis may sound. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t fight. Forexample, when you were there, who knows where…You, of course, aren’tKhodorkovsky, please excuse me, but for me it was perfectly obviousthat the fight for you, this is like a fight for myself. I didn’t evenknow you, but I could see that you’re a decent person….Back then publicopinion had significance, back then a ruckus was raised. They wereforced to reckon with this. Now they’ve simply gotten completelyinsolent and audacious. Putin is pathologically afraid of Khodorkovsky,considers him an utterly powerful person – organized, serious,unbreakable. Exactly all those qualities he himself is short on,Khodorkovsky’s got in abundance.

Thanks for the meeting!

Afterword. Of course it’s hard to talk about everything at once in asingle interview. But I hope that I will have a chance to meet againwith Boris Nemtsov – perhaps the brightest opposition politician intoday’s Russia. May God grant him health and the same kind of vigor asnow. And I’d also like to wish him …caution. The recent incident withthe surveillance device planted on his car says a lot.