The Russian political scientist Sergei Aleksandrovych Markov (born 1958) works as the director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow in the present. He is at the same time the head of the Foreign Political Department of the influential internet portal Strane.Ru which is close to current governmental and presidential circles. He is a lecturer at the M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University. Simultaneously, he is a deputy in the Public Chamber of the Russian Parliament established in 2005 on the initiative of the Russian President Putin. He cooperated with the pro-Putin youth movement “Naši”. In 2004, he was a co-worker of the Viktor Yanukovych’s electoral staff in Ukraine.
In the past, he worked as an aide to the President of the Russian Federation with the Security Council (in 1992), he completed a training period at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (from 1993 to 1994), afterwards he was the co-chairman of the Carnegie Moscow Centre up to 1997. In the 90‛s, he engaged in pro-democratic forces, firstly on a platform of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, later on with social democrats and in the Democratic Russia bloc. In 2002, he was a member of the Union of Right Forces delegation that was supposed to meet the representatives of Belarusian opposition in Minsk.
Presidential elections await Russia next year. Why has Putin become such a popular president according to you?
There are several grounds for Putin’s popularity. The main reason is that he held the office of president. This function consists in taking decisions relating to key issues and at the same time not being afraid of accepting responsibility for them. Boris Yeltzin, his predecessor, used to avoid responsibility and failed to solve key issues. The next reason is the fact that Putin carried out a programme which was considered to be the most important from the viewpoint of the majority of citizens. It was the programme of state restoration. This programme was in fact shaped by Russian people and Putin had just taken it over and afterwards he started to put it into practice.
What was the essence of this programme?
The first point was Chechenia. The West perceives Chechenia differently in comparison to Russian public opinion. The public opinion of the West takes into account to what extent is the State of Russia able to solve problems in a forcible way through mass violation of human rights. The point of view of Russia and Russian public is completely different. The primary question for them is whether the State of Russia is allowed to wipe out the enemy which presumptuously occupies our territory. Prior to Putin, the answer was “No, it isn’t”, after his power assumption it was “Yes, it is”. It was a great event that evoked zest. The enemy was beaten and the victory in Chechenia is quite overt nowadays.
The second point was the fight against regional barons. In the times of Putin’s power assumption, one quarter of regional laws was contrary to federal laws and regional leaders took control of local politicians as well as economy themselves becoming uncontrollable at the same time. Putin entered the scene and deprived them of their immunity from criminal activities, banished them from the Upper Chamber of the Parliament and thus deprived them of independent power. Russia had been gradually transforming itself into confederation before Putin took his office. Putin stopped this process and led Russia into a stage of semi-federative, or rather, semi-unitary state. On the one hand it stirred up dissatisfaction among regional leaders, but on the other hand these steps were positively accepted within the public even in regions suffering from the high-handedness of regional barons.
The third point was the fight against oligarchic structures.
Oligarchs, however, have still remained in Russia…
Oligarchs haven’t been annihilated, but new rules of the game have been established. Based on them, they were forced to surrender into the hands of the state the central political weapons effect of which was, shall we say, equal to that of nuclear weapons. In Russia of the 90‛s, the grip on federal television channels and private secret services was equal to such a nuclear weapon. All this was banned and all the tools mentioned were nationalised. Those who disapproved of new rules were expelled from the ranks of oligarchs. Among them were the cases of Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Chodorkovsky etc. The remaining ones were given the opportunity to act not as oligarchs but as the representatives of big business. They were told: “You can do what you want, do your business, we will lend you a helping hand. However, you have not the right to own television channels and secret services. They belong to the State.” Since there are relatively weak political parties in Russia, television channels play an extraordinary important part. These measures were taken very positively among the public. Putin was successful, the devaluation of the rouble was conducted and the competitiveness of Russian goods was significantly stepped up which contributed to the economic growth. Apart from that the oil prices rose which meant the influx of further means into the budget and it also enabled to solve a range of social issues.
That was apparently not sufficient for Putin’s popularity to remain at such high level for seven years.
Besides his policy the people are also very fond of Putin’s style of political leadership. Putin is young, sporty, healthy and sober, he doesn’t babble and keeps his promises. Just take a look at the Kursk submarine affair. Putin stated: “We will pull Kursk out of the sea.” His aides discouraged him from doing so, they maintained that it will be very expensive and that such deed will break with the naval tradition, according to which the victims of such disasters are buried in the sea. Putin asked afterwards whether the nation is in need of either sticking to naval traditions or trusting the President of Russia. The answer was clear and he kept his promise. Putting promises into practice contributed to the raise of president’s popularity.
Since Putin claims that he will not stand for re-election, will the next year’s presidential election mean that the Putin Era is really at an end?
This question remains open. Putin won’t run for the elections, but his popularity will last. In addition to this, the central question that the voters will ask the candidates is if they are capable of granting the continuation of the Putin policy. Putin will have the right to judge and take decisions on whom to support and, on the contrary, whom to reject to the very last moment. He will retain popularity even after he won’t be president any longer. This type of public as well as political support will enable him to become some kind of “Russian Teng Siao Pching” i.e. a moral and political leader of the majority of the nation. It is difficult to predict what the situation will be like in the future. Anyway, it is clear that the set course will be maintained. Also his final annual message addressed to the Federal Assembly relates to the political course being set not only for one or two years, but for ten years minimum.
So you don’t expect any fundamental changes within the interior as well as foreign policy of Russia?
I don’t expect any sweeping changes, nevertheless there will be some changes in particular areas. The fact remains that Putin restored the state, but he finished this work yet two years ago. The liquidation of the Yukos company became the symbol of this. Meanwhile, the federal power hasn’t fulfilled the whole plan, because it dealt with federal sources that time. Economy has been stabilised and external debts have been completely erased. Vertical power has been established and the largest energetic companies have got under state control. The system of managing of the most important mass media has been created. New political parties have arisen, namely the United Russia, the Fair Russia and also a strong youth movement. Another tool of power, the Orthodox Church, has been united. Presidential rating is extremely high. The state’s sovereignty has been restored. Although these sources accumulate, they aren’t utilised. Nowadays, there are several spheres they should be applied in. The first one is the sphere of social justice, because there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. The second problem is the necessity of the modernisation of the country. It is essential to construct new airports, roads, hospitals, schools, universities, production facilities etc. The third issue is the question of the fight against corruption which has grown during Putin’s reign. The fourth problem, the solution of which Putin has ignored and is not willing to deal with, is the ethnic one.
And didn’t the defeat of the Chechen separatists mean its solution?
This question resonates rather strongly among the public. It is connected with the so called “Russian question”. The essence of this problem is that the Russians comprising from 80 to 85 per cent of the population have a low ethnic status. The trial with a newsstand robber serves as an example. The culprit maintained that he tried not to rob the Caucasians, but solely Russian entrepreneurs. He claimed that he did so, because he had dreaded the Caucasians but not the Russians. This relates to the fact that the Russians are an imperial nation in a positive sense, that means constructive in terms of creating a state. It was exactly the Russians who worked on country-wide projects, who carried out the missile programme, nuclear programme and the state project of the annihilation of Nazi Germany. They conducted the industrialisation, built the science and education system and so on. After the state had lost its influence on economy, the Russians went lost. They lost their positions of authority and high salaries while other nations, for instance those with long history like Jews and Armenians, are perfectly experienced in organising themselves. They don’t need a state, they are able to organise themselves in terms of their communities through which they manage to change their social status. The Russians are dissatisfied with this condition and call for a change. That’s the reason why Russian nationalism is growing. It is not quite sure what the solution of this problem will be like.
Another problem to sort out is the spiritual and moral crisis. The murders of village clergymen are the clear manifestation of it. While elsewhere, the village is the linchpin of belief and morality, it is exactly the country where the severest demoralisation is to be found in our state. The same holds true for the Russian television which belongs to the least moral in the world. Different issue is the lifestyle of Russian parvenus.
What is the difference between the view of Russia and the US on the spread of democracy around the world?
Their opinions are the same to a large extent. The position of Russia and the US doesn’t vary too much. The former as well as the latter are rather cynical. They admit in fact that democracy is just empty rhetoric and that own geopolitical interests are decisive. The difference is that the US put it into practice though they are silent about it also as regards the relations with Russia. A typical example is the support of non-democratic regimes in Latvia and Estonia where one third of the population has neither civil rights nor passive or active right to vote. And the only reason is that they are Russians. Owing to geopolitical reasons, the military regime of Saakashvili in Georgia and the current coup in Ukraine undertaken by Yushchenko are considered to be democratic. Thus the US acts and simultaneously subjugate democracy to their strict geopolitical interests.
Anyway, democracy is supported also by the EU that often criticises Russia…
Russian representatives say. “Have a look, democracy is for all of them the same joke, they don’t give a damn about democracy.” Thus the same attitude, which is different from the European policy, is actually shaped. The Europeans place a higher value on European values. The European Union, however, has lost its moral authority as well, because it has betrayed democratic ideals in Latvia and Estonia, but also in Georgia, the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Ukraine. The West represented by the US and the EU enjoyed an enormous moral authority in Russia of the 90‛s. Afterwards, they discredited themselves thus much that they ceased to be moral authorities in Russia. To the contrary, when somebody deemed a sympathiser of the West, he is discredited in public’s eyes. It is equal to deem him a traitor capable of selling our Russians, who have become second-rate citizens in Latvia and Estonia, down the river. He is nearly compared to a Fascist, because Latvia and Estonia promote Fascists and wish to sentence those who fought against Nazism.
On the one hand Putin declared that his goal is the establishment of a democratic Russia. On the other hand, in today’s Russia, there are such phenomena which evoke disconcertment like certain measures against non-governmental organisations and the brutal suppression of opposition demonstrations. Why do such things happen when the support of the up-to-date course is so high among the public?
Putin is a convinced adherent to democracy whereas he assumes that democracy is supposed to have a solid fundament, namely first and foremost political stability, powerful political institutions and economic welfare. Democracy is not feasible in a state where the most of the nation suffers from famine, frustration and poverty and where a peculiar cold war is under way. That’s why he is working on the creation of fundaments for the functioning of democracy. He is at the same time fully aware of the fact that the control over public administrative is a prerequisite for the functioning of modern democracy. Without this control bureaucracy will be totally corrupted and the development of the state will stop. From his point of view democracy has an institutional character similar to that of a manager. Moreover, democracy is a value which itself has significance.
Why is it then restricted in Russia when Putin is reputed to be its sympathiser?
This happened in the aftermath of the so called “colour revolutions” during which the NGOs were used as the tool of foreign-political influence. Democracy, however, stands for the power of the people of this country, not of a foreign country.
However, there were concrete inhabitants of Ukraine standing in the squares in Kiev and not foreigners.
As regards the so called Orange Revolution, the statements that it was held by the Ukrainians are fairy tales from out point of view. The fact remains that those who stood in Majdan in 2004 didn’t get any money like present-day demonstrators do, but the organisers received whopping sums from abroad. Although Putin enjoys strong support, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this majority will gain power like it used to in the past. The nations of the Soviet Union voted for the preservation of the USSR. And where is the Soviet Union now… Nobody has even spared a thought for it, everyone doesn’t give a damn about it. As for Ukraine, it is a country divided into western and eastern part. The pro-Russian course is supported by most of the people, but they will was disregarded during the Orange Revolution. This choice was put into practice by means of mass actions like blockade etc. And what are the activities of the Other Russia movement like in the present? They are straightforward and say they are getting ready for power assumption without concealing it. They understand simultaneously that they won’t achieve it through election and therefore maintain that they won’t take part in them and will strive to assume power by means of the streets. It is true that the militia was too brutal towards journalists and accidental passers-by. Obviously, this has to be examined and the culprits have to be punished.
As for Ukraine, Yushchenko has won the elections after all.
No, he hasn’t won the elections. Ukraine was split the same way like it used to be before. Yushchenko has never won in honest and just elections. He would have never been able to win, because most of Ukrainian people think that they have lived along with Russia for thousand years and they don’t want to be torn from it. Yushchenko dished up an anti-Russian programme.
Elections were held which Yushchenko succeeded in after all.
The elections took place and were accepted the same way the election of Hitler was or the election of Dudaiev in Chechenia was where none of the pro-Russian Chechenians took part. They were chockfull of mass falsifications in the west of Ukraine and the will of the people living in south and east was diminished. They were held in conditions where the people realised one thing, namely that the West was ready to hand the power over to Yushchenko no matter if they were against him. I share the opinion that the second leg was falsified, but so was in favour of Yushchenko in the west as well as Yanukovych in the east. There was also a constitutional solution presupposing new elections. Yushchenko and Tymoshenkova along with their guardians got scared of it, because in this case the two-time prosecuted Yanukovych could be replaced by other candidate from the southeast of Ukraine. And Yushchenko would have lost in competition with anybody else. He could have been an equal rival only to Yanukovych. The third leg was a betrayal of democracy which had nothing in common with a legal state. That’s why we have been telling the West that the stuff regarding democracy is a fairy tale. First of all, create a democracy in Latvia and Estonia, then abort the support of Saakashvili’s military regime and quit forcing anti-Russian policy to Ukrainian people that want to develop along with us. It will be not until all this is fulfilled that we take your advices. The current discredit of the ideals of democracy is a colossal tragedy. We have been deceived thus much that we ceased to believe. There are people afraid of the strengthening of Russia that will attack the most crucial thing. And what is the most crucial thing for Russia in the present? Putin, Gazprom and political stability. They will therefore be the first things to protect in Russia.
Anatoly Chubais defined the Russian policy on the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations as the course of “liberal empire”. Does the present power realise this course?
No, I disapprove of such an opinion. Talking about the “liberal empire” would mean that we consider the former USSR countries to be the room of our expansion.
And don’t you?
Not by any means. Just have a look at what the Soviet power did to Uzbekistan for instance. It was Moscow that built the entire industry in this country and in those days the Bukhara Emirate was at the same level as Afghanistan. Compare the present-day Afghanistan to the present-day Uzbekistan, they are poles apart, two completely different worlds. Therefore the perception of these states to be colonies is wrong in principle. They have never been colonies, but a room for joint development. Thus if somebody wants to perceive these territories as an object of exploitation, the peoples living there will never approve of such opinion. As far as those nations are concerned across the territory of which oil and gas pipelines lead, Russia is obliged to suggest them the project of joint development, joint economy modernisation and the project of joint accelerated economic growth. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan lag behind the EU in terms of the standard of living. That’s why we have to achieve a faster economic growth than the EU. Therefore we are interested in cooperation in terms of the European Economic Area and the Eurasian Economic Community. This has nothing to do with a liberal empire.
Notwithstanding, when Putin says that he supports the ideas of democracy, why does Russia support such regimes like, for instance, Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus or Karimin’s regime in Uzbekistan which can hardly be deemed democratic?
Russia is interested in maintaining the status quo. It doesn’t hurry any changes, it understands very well that political stability is one of the most important preconditions. We have been trying to push through the liberalisation of these regimes, but we want these regimes to liberalise themselves from the inside. We are against foisting changes and democracy on anybody. Democracy is not based on enforcement. Ethnocratic regimes glorifying the Nazis were established in Latvia and Estonia under the flag of democracy. Simultaneously, there are political repressions of the adherents of the union with Russia in Ukraine under way also under the flag of democracy.
Who did persecute the opposition in Ukraine?
The “Orange” adherents of course. The Governor of Donetsk was sent to prison for two months, Rinat Achmetov and Viktor Yanukovych had to leave the country. And those were just the leaders, how about the people removed from their positions, approximately 50,000.
After all, the elections were held and they returned to the Parliament…
They returned to the Parliament, or what do you mean? The “Orange” adherents came unstuck because they had pursued an unlawful policy. Prior to their power assumption, economic growth amounted to 13 per cent, afterwards only 2 per cent. It would have been inconceivable if the opposition didn’t return to the Parliament. In either case, the idea, the intention to conduct political repressions was present. Therefore, if we believe that under the flag of democratisation carried out from outside there will be a revolution in Belarus, such a revolution will not bring any democracy. The fact that the regimes in Latvia and Estonia were deemed democratic does’t necessarily mean that they really became that way. The same holds true for Uzbekistan. If procedural democracy was imposed quickly in this country, it would result in the arrival of the Islamists.
That may be true, but all the liberal streams were annihilated in Uzbekistan in the 90‛s.
Uzbekistan possesses some foundations for the creation of democracy anyway. Among them is the political stability curbing the room for political Islam and the onset of mayhem which rages, for example, in Kyrgyzstan. Is it democracy at all when the people are afraid of returning home without an arm? From the political point of view, the regime must be liberalised, but this must be carried out on own basis and it must be visible that the situation is getting better and not worse.