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“Stop Bothering Us with Your Democracy”

Some highlights from Sergei Ivanov’s big interview in the FT:

He believes Russians do not want a fully “Anglo-Saxon” style of government. Neither does Russia want a new cold war, though it feels betrayed by the west’s behaviour since the last one. Above all, he says, anyone standing in the election on a ticket of repudiating Putinism will fail. … His western experience also sets him apart from many peers. “I see myself as a fairly liberal person, mainly because I spent a large part of my life living in European cities,” he says. Life abroad made him respect democracy; he likes Churchill, quoting his maxim that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. Yet different customs and mentality mean Russians want something other than a copy of western-style democracy. “Russia is a huge country and, mentally, unfortunately the majority of the population still relies on the tsar,” he says. “Russia will never take its model of management 100 per cent from the Anglo-Saxon political elite. Whether you like it or not is a different question, but I’m telling you how it is.” Russia will be a democracy, he says, but should be allowed to find its own particular form as others have done. “How many years has the Liberal Democratic party of Japan been in power? Sixty years, without change. [He overlooks the LDP’s brief period in opposition in 1993-94.] Is anyone going to say there is no democracy in Japan?” Or take America. “In the US, there is democracy,” he continues. “But in the US is it possible that a minority of the people can elect the president? Yes. What would you say if this happened in Russia? You would vilify us,” says Mr Ivanov, his lips tightening. As for western-backed “beacons of democracy” around Russia’s borders – Iraq, Georgia, or Ukraine, where parliament is engaged in a stand-off with the winner in the 2004 revolution – the tightened lips become almost a sneer. Ukraine “completely undermines democracy. Because people, having seen this total mess, will say, ‘We don’t need your democracy. Appoint us a tsar, give us our wages and stop bothering us with your democracy’ ”.