Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who currently leads the extraparliamentary People's Democratic Union, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev in New York about Moscow's rights record, its "national disaster" of corruption, and who he thinks will become president in 2012.
RFE/RL: You speak about the need to support the principle of democracy and at the same time to apply pressure on the government to conduct free presidential elections in 2012. How do you see it in practical terms?
Mikhail Kasyanov: To support the [principle] of freedom, it is absolutely necessary to take a closer look at what the Russian government is doing to uphold the basic civil rights guaranteed by the constitution. These are direct civil rights and, of course, also the possibility to participate in elections -- to elect and be elected. Russian citizens are stripped of these rights; they are stripped of all the rights related to political freedom. To uphold the principle [of democracy] means to not tolerate all the violations carried out by the Russian government. It means there are grounds to criticize, a justified criticism toward the current regime for stripping citizens of their fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and by the international treaties Russia is party to.
RFE/RL: To what extent will President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rely on the Federal Security Service (FSB) apparatus during the presidential campaign?
Kasyanov: First of all, under the current circumstances I think it will be Putin who will become president; I think he has already decided so. He can change his mind, but in any case he will rely on the FSB apparatus -- in all the regions the system functions exactly like that. Information is being collected about the real sentiments of the people. Another area [of FSB work] is to influence those who may disagree. All these tools have already been tried and the important thing is to collect information and manipulate it.
RFE/RL: You mentioned that the middle class in Russia and small entrepreneurs have become so disillusioned that they don't see a future for themselves or their children in the country. What are their options?
Kasyanov: Yes, that's right. Because today, when people have lost all hope that the situation will improve by itself -- or, as some people thought, that Medvedev's election to the presidency will bring [positive] changes -- they were willing to close their eyes to the fact that he was not elected but appointed, and they waited for [positive] changes. Two-and-a-half years passed [and] there are no positive changes, there is only deterioration of the situation. In this context, when people realize that those who disagree, political opponents, are under pressure by the authorities, these people -- the middle class, the entrepreneurs -- don't see real options to change the situation. They don't believe that elections will be carried out as real elections.
That's why they are concerned about their future, they have started considering which places may be better for them to reside. The situation in the country is worsening by the day, pressure on [private] business, pressure on citizens is increasing. That's why those who have the opportunity are seriously considering leaving the country.
RFE/RL: Which countries are most desirable for these people to emigrate to?
Kasyanov: I was surprised to see that the wave of emigration among the Russian business community is increasing and we're talking not only about those who are very successful or very rich and can relocate to London or the United States, but there are already people who are relocating to the Baltic countries. People are relocating to Estonia, to Latvia, many have relocated to Latvia, people are leaving for the Czech Republic, Slovakia. I haven't heard about Ukraine yet, supposedly Ukraine is not yet that attractive to be considered for relocation but I won't be surprised if it happens -- for Russians to start relocating to Ukraine. It will happen if the situation will not change. But we believe that we will succeed at change, that's why our efforts this year are focused on applying pressure on the authorities to carry out free elections.
RFE/RL: If Putin becomes president again, what role will there be for Medvedev?
Kasyanov: I don't want to make predictions now but certainly Medvedev will be offered a position [in the government]. But it won't be prime minister, it won't be, as some think, a reshuffle -- with one as president, the other as prime minister. That won't happen.
RFE/RL: The message to Russian youth on Russian TV is that nothing can be achieved without money -- that's your claim. Can you elaborate?
Kasyanov: Yes, the idea [being propagated] is that money is the only mechanism to achieve your goals and also to support the regime. Supporting the regime is being propagated as a cool, fashionable concept among the youth, also the cultivation of chauvinism, arrogance toward foreigners and other nations. Regrettably, it is part of the propaganda aimed at youngsters by the current government.
RFE/RL: So, what's the remedy, propagating patriotism?
Kasyanov: Patriotism is first of all to feel your freedom and freedom of all in the country, to be able to achieve your goals in work and education. If there are imposed limitations or if people are being restricted in choosing their options -- that's not patriotism. Patriotism is when you are proud of your country, when people there live well and no one is deprived of their rights. Patriotism is when people respect their country because it's thriving, because there's rule of law and not lawlessness. That's why we call our coalition Russia Without Lawlessness And Corruption.
The corruption today is the other major issue which has permeated all levels of the Russian government, and people no doubt are weakened by it. Even though corruption has always existed in the Russian Federation, the heights it has achieved today are unprecedented, no one among the living generations has ever witnessed such widespread corruption. It is a major national disaster.