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Russia: Former Premier Warns Of Political Crisis

(RFE/RL) On July 11, RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Mikhail Sokolov spoke with former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Kasyanov, who has declared his intention to run for president in 2008, was a leading participant in the Other Russia conference in Moscow, a two-day gathering of nongovernmental organizations and activists that focused on countering the Kremlin's policies in the areas of politics, media, and civil society. Kasyanov spoke about the conference's achievements and about the political situation in Russia as national elections approach in 2007 and 2008.

RFE/RL: Were you surprised by the news that [leading liberal parties] Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) refused to participate in the conference?

Mikhail Kasyanov: I found out a few days in advance, naturally, from the conference organizers that these two parties would not participate. Yes, about two or three days in advance.

RFE/RL: Today I spoke with one of the organizers of the conference, [former presidential economics adviser] Andrei Illarionov and he said that [Yabloko leader Grigory] Yavlinsky and [SPS leader Nikita] Belykh, as well as the leaders of the Communists who also decided not to come, have in some sense ended their political careers, inasmuch as they have shown they can be managed. That is, they responded to pressure, apparently, from the Kremlin political handlers. Do you share this opinion?

Kasyanov: I would suggest that their constituents and their supporters should make that judgment. I think that, definitely, such judgments will be made. Every leader, every activist has to make their choice, so everyone has their own reasoning and arguments. They, most likely, will give some sort of arguments in response to the questions that their party members will ask, are probably already asking.

RFE/RL: Would you say that the non-participation of these parties -- when, say, the Vladimir Ryzhkov's Republican Party is participating -- will close off some avenues of the unification process? After all, in 2007 there will be parliamentary elections and, one the one hand, everyone agrees that there should be one column of liberal parties, some sort of coalition, but, on the other hand, there seems the be an ever-increasing number of columns.

Kasyanov: You know, I have a completely different take on these processes. The thing is that the rules that the authorities have created now are artificial rules. And I simply don't accept these rules. Therefore, what is happening today -- a conference at which virtually all public organizations and political forces representing both the left wing and the right wing are gathered and all are unified by a single base: the Constitution of the Russian Federation. And all the leaders of these organizations have signed a declaration that says, "We are in favor of the democratic development of our country." These are the basic principles of the constitution. This is the foundation. And everyone, even the representatives of what in the past were considered very hard-line organizations, have signed up to this now.

RFE/RL: Like Viktor Anpilov, for example, a radical communist?

Kasyanov: But now everyone has signed on together. It is important to note that there is complete agreement on the basic principles by which we must live, which are written into our constitution. If other people are confused or if for one reason or another are unwilling to join in this support, then that is their personal choice at this moment. They might wander around and then come to us to join up. Of course, we won't turn anyone away. But for today, it is clear who is ready to say, "We are in favor of Russia proceeding along a democratic path" -- who is ready to say this openly and together with everyone, and who is not yet ready or who is no longer ready. Time will judge.

So, under the rules by which the authorities are controlling us -- things like "unite into one party"-- there are no such calls. No one has dared to make such calls, give such orders. Especially since today this is done, this has been reduced to the level of bureaucrats in various ministries, particularly the Justice Ministry, which registers [public organizations]. Who to allow [to register] -- that is the right of bureaucrats to decide.... And this is written into the laws -- how many commas there are supposed to be, imprecise data, and so on, which allows the bureaucrats to determine the fate and political views of millions of people who are ready to vote for one party or another. These are impermissible, antidemocratic measures. And they will be overturned. The authorities must understand that they have no choice. If the elections are not democratic, there will be a crisis.

RFE/RL: But is it practical to fight against this? They are passing a whole raft of various amendments to the electoral laws. Take advance voting. We know that they bring whole busloads of people from factories directly to the ballot box. And then there are laws that close the mouths of critics, the proposal that public slander of officials is extremism. There is the expanded definition of the term "extremist" -- sort of like the old "enemy of the people." In my opinion, all this is creating a completely new system, which doesn't really allow for participating in elections according to the rules. If this system is finalized, will you -- simply as a citizen -- even go and vote?

Kasyanov: You ask the right question -- is it possible to try to do anything in such a situation? Yes, it is possible. It is still too early to wonder whether or not to go and vote. Such a time might come, but it hasn't come yet.

Mikhail Kasyanov during the July 11 interview (RFE/RL)

At present, the task of everyone -- including first of all the participants in the current conference and the public organizations that make up Russian civil society -- to not be silent. Instead they must do what is being done today -- speak out about everything that is happening in the country, or rather about the lion's share of what is happening, which is unacceptable and does not correspond to our understanding of constitutional norms, these anticonstitutional actions. And we must demand from the authorities -- not ask, not try to negotiate -- demand from the authorities that they repeal the antidemocratic changes that they have introduced. Repeal them! Otherwise, there will be no elections. The will be formalities, there will be the naming of a technical successor, which will lead to a political crisis.

RFE/RL: And who will the successor be?

Kasyanov: That doesn't matter. I'm not even interested in that question.

RFE/RL: You mean, [Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei] Ivanov, [First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev, [Russian Railways head Vladimir] Yakunin -- it doesn't matter?

Kasyanov: I'm simply not interested because I am opposed to such a scenario in general. I think this is the worst possible scenario, the worst possible scenario.

RFE/RL: You mean, a third term for Putin would be better?

Kasyanov: Considering the situation and in order to avert any antirevolutionary development, that is probably better. It is unacceptable, but considering the bad things that could happen to us, that most likely would be better. But it is unacceptable.

RFE/RL: Sometimes one hears the opinion that those who favor a European path of development for Russia should be grateful to the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin. With him -- and maybe without you, when you were prime minister -- the bureaucracy would have developed on its own in such a way that would be even worse. And some experts say that the alternative for Russia -- a country where many approve of the slogan "Russia for the Russians"-- is some sort of nationalist, theocratic regime, perhaps similar to Iran's -- only instead of ayatollahs we would have some other kind of fundamentalists. Do you think there really is some danger of this?

Kasyanov: Regarding the future, considering the developments we see today, such prognoses make sense. But that would be under the circumstances (as I just said) if there are not legitimate elections, but rather the naming of a technical successor. That is, just an appointment, formal elections. That would mean that such a situation would emerge.

I would say that in about two or three years there will be a political crisis. But toward that time -- and this would be even worse -- the political crisis might be accompanied by a financial-social crisis. The price of oil could fall around then and, consequently, the price of gas.

RFE/RL: Why would they fall? China and India are demanding more and more.

Kasyanov: The situation is developing in such a way that the unpredictability of the supply of these resources to the market is growing. You know that 60 percent of oil-and-gas production is carried out in authoritarian countries. If you add to this the unpredictability of Russia, then that figure is nearly 90 percent.

So it is natural that consumers are busy searching for alternative sources of energy. And they are doing this at accelerated tempos. If you read foreign reports on oil and gas, you will see that drilling for oil and gas has been accelerated -- this has already been decided in the United States and Canada. The governments of these countries have authorized drilling on the continental shelf, which means that in short order -- two or three years -- production will be sharply increased. The growth in production will be considerably greater than the steady increase in demand from China and India.

This means that around 2011 (I'd say 2011-12) there could be a political crisis in Russia as a result of what the authorities are doing and that to this will be added external factors, which could lead to decreases in the prices of energy resources.

RFE/RL: As happened in 1985-87 [when a collapse in world oil prices led to a political crisis in the Soviet Union]?

Kasyanov: And what the authorities have done -- increasing ineffective spending many times over and conducting a de facto unbalanced [financial] policy -- will mean that revenues will not be sufficient to finance the social obligations to the population that have been taken on.

RFE/RL: What about the stabilization fund?

Kasyanov: The stabilization fund will hold out for a year, to finance the deficit. And that will be all.

RFE/RL: Gazprom paid $36 million for [the St. Petersburg soccer team] Zenit. I pay for gas, but I am not a Zenit fan. And I don't watch NTV anymore. Why should I pay for this?

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is Gazprom's chairman of the board, attend a June 30 shareholders meeting in Moscow (epa)

Kasyanov: Here we see a combination of the various vectors of economic policy and domestic politics in general. Of course, the government should not participate in commercial enterprises that must compete in the market. It must gradually step aside. I'm not saying this should be done immediately. It must happen gradually. So, in the transition period, the presence of officials [on the boards of state companies] is acceptable.

But as regards infrastructure -- and that includes part of Gazprom that should be separated from Gazprom, as well as Unified Energy Systems and others, there should be completely different control mechanisms. There must be rules, adopted laws, and all enterprises and entrepreneurs must know that everything is regulated by the law, not by the orders of some corporation which decides who will have access and how much they will pay.

RFE/RL: Will you try to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush when he is in St. Petersburg?

Kasyanov: I'm not trying to meet with anyone. I am working with our supporters in the regions and in Moscow. Today the main thing for us organizing conferences. And it is very important that representatives of foreign governments attend and participate in them, that they see that there are such people in Russia -- that there are human rights activists, environmentalists, politicians and so on who openly say that we are opposed to what is going on in the country and we want to change its political course. As you know from opinion polls, 50 percent of the public thinks the country is moving in the wrong direction. A year ago, that figure was 20 percent.

Other Russia

Other Russia

Human rights activists Sergei Kovalyov (right) and Lyudmila Alekseyeva at the Other Russia conference in Moscow on July 11 (epa)

STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES: Below is a translation of excerpts from the statement adopted by organizers of the Other Russia conference, which was held in Moscow on July 11-12. The conference brought together leading nongovernmental organizations and activists in an effort to show that Russian civil society continues to exist despite growing pressure from the Kremlin.

We are gathering because we are united by the most important thing -- our disagreement with the current course of the Kremlin and a growing alarm for the present and future of our motherland. We are gathering together, despite differences in our views about the past and the future of Russia. We are gathering together although we have differing conceptions of the paths our country must take toward freedom and development. Despite these differences, we are united by the following:
We, citizens of the Russian Federation, can achieve our stated goals only by observing, preserving, and demanding democratic principles of the organization of government and society; unshakeable human rights regardless of national, religious, or social status; respect for the views of others that do not contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation; freedom of speech; honest political competition; and justice in the distribution of the national wealth, which is created by free people.
We oppose the transformation of Russia into a country ruled by bureaucratic whimsy; where the institutes of popular power and civil society are systematically destroyed; where the electoral process is completely controlled by the executive branch and, therefore, turned into a farce; and where the authorities demonstrate contempt for the interests of the majority of the population.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Moscow Helsinki Group; Viktor Anpilov, Working Russia; Mikhail Delyagin, Institute of Problems of Globalization; Yury Dzhibladze, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights; Andrei Illarionov, Institute of Economic Analysis; Garry Kasparov, United Civic Front; Mikhail Kasyanov, Popular Democratic Union; Eduard Limonov, National Bolshevik Party; Yelena Lukyanova, lawer; Vladimir Ryzhkov, Republican Party; Georgy Satarov, INDEM foundation.


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