Yesterday, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa hosted a talk by Mikhail Kasyanov, Prime Minister of Russia between 2000 and 2004. Kasyanov put in his two cents’ worth about the evils of Vladimir Putin. Here are a few choice snippets from his presentation:
- ‘More and more every day we see features of Soviet style’. People remember the Soviet times, and as a result ‘people are scared’.
- Putin does enjoy large popular support, but in the big cities only 20%. The middle classes are against Putin, and he has given up on them.
- Aware that his regime is in danger, Putin has invented a foreign enemy (the West) to distract attention from domestic difficulties and to keep himself in power. ‘Putin needs these external problems’.
- Putin ‘started this aggression against Ukraine’. ‘Crimea was grabbed, and in the twenty-first century it is not allowed to act in this way. … It is not acceptable at all. Annexation of Crimea is not acceptable at all.’
- ‘It would be the wrong thing’ to strike a deal with Putin. The West’s weakness in the face of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia encouraged further Russian aggression. ‘You should not allow Putin to violate international obligations’. ‘We cannot find any compromise on Ukrainian affairs. Any compromise is a betrayal of the Ukrainian people. … There is no room for compromise on this affair.’ ‘For Russians, Ukrainian success is success for us.’
- ‘Who are those people fighting in Donbass? First, there are local criminals, next there are the crazy people coming from Russia. … It’s not local people’. The rebels use the population as a ‘human shield’. ‘These guys who are fighting should disappear. Mr Putin should take them wherever he wants.’
- ‘Sanctions as applied right now are o.k.’ as they don’t hurt the Russian people, just those around Putin. ‘We should add more sanctions.’
- ‘If we compromise now, expect next stage. Transdnestr or the Baltic states’. ‘We now have to have a tough position. … We must not trade with Putin.’
- Putin ‘has started to believe that he is if not God then something close’.
- Russia only has financial reserves for two years, then it will run out, and public opinion will shift against Putin. The next parliamentary elections in Russia will end with demonstrations such as those in 2012 or even worse.
I have several thoughts on all this:
First, I could not but wonder what Kasyanov would do about Crimea if he ever came to power again. Hand it back to Ukraine? There would be an instant armed rebellion in Crimea, and he would have trouble finding a single Russian soldier willing to obey his orders to force the Crimeans to submit. Telling Western audiences that they shouldn’t compromise on Crimea is telling them to continue living in cloud-cuckoo land.
Second, if Putin wants an external enemy, why give him one? If he stays in power due to his propaganda about the evil West, why does the West keep feeding that by expanding NATO, supporting revolution in Ukraine, and sanctioning Russia?
Third, Kasyanov seems confused as to the state of public opinion in Russia and as to the likely political effect of sanctions. On the one hand, he claims that Russians are living in fear, but then he grudgingly admits that in fact they support Putin. Next, he says that sanctions don’t hit ordinary Russians, but then he says that it is the economic problems in part induced by sanctions which will turn Russians against Putin. Kasyanov ends up sounding as if he wants sanctions precisely because they will damage the economy and impoverish Russian citizens, turning them against their president. That may not be what he intends, but it’s the impression he leaves.
Overall, Kasyanov’s discourse makes it clear why his clumsily named political party, the Republic Party of Russia – People’s Freedom Party, enjoys very little support in Russia, with just three elected representatives in regional councils throughout the whole of the country. No politician who calls for the international community to sanction his own country is going to draw an awful lot of votes.