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Aleksandr Buzgalin: Putin defends the Russian state against Western neo-liberals while pushing the same policies inside Russia

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.

In Moscow on Monday, Vladimir Putin was inaugurated again as president of the Russian Federation. Now joining us from Moscow to discuss all of this is Aleksandr Buzgalin. He’s a professor of political economy at Moscow State University. He’s also the chief editor of the independent democratic magazine Alternatives. He’s authored more than 20 books and hundreds of articles. And he now joins us. Thank you for joining us, Aleksandr.

ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMY, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Hello. I’m very glad to talk with you and with everybody who will discuss with us questions of modern Russian situation.

JAY: Good. Thank you. Now, in the West, especially American media, but I’m hearing it from BBC and others, they can’t talk about this inauguration without suggesting it’s some form of coronation, and I don’t see why this is any more of a coronation than when the president of the United States gets inaugurated, which is a spectacle that goes on for a week and is pretty much like bringing in the American king. I mean, is there anything more about a coronation of this, Putin’s ceremonies, than we see in the United States?

BUZGALIN: I can say something very critical about this, because if it is something in the United States or in other so-called democratic country, it’s inauguration; if it is in Russia, it’s incarnation—or, how to say, coronation (I don’t know very well this English word), like a king when he is coming to the power. But of course I don’t like both U.S. procedure and Russian procedure when it’s something like a show, like a show business event. And this is not the case for real democratic—it must be not the case for real democratic political system. But in Russia it’s the case, and I’m afraid that not only in Russia.

JAY: Okay. Well, talk a bit about the events on Monday and, you know, what your impressions were.

BUZGALIN: Really the question of modern problems in Russia is not this inauguration or coronation. The problem is real contradictions in my country. And yesterday we had very big protest rally, demonstration, with a lot of people. Up to 80,000 people came to the streets. And nobody expected, because for majority it was, I don’t know, like absolutely decided problem, absolutely solved problem with elections in Russia. But people showed that it’s not the case.

Again we had very brutal battle with police, special police, special troops. They attacked people. A lot of people were beaten, arrested. And today again a lot of people came to the squares just to say that they do not agree with this inauguration of Putin and they do not accept Putin as president of Russia, but they were arrested for nothing. Some of my friends are arrested now. And the funny and tragic thing in one sense, in one minute, is that there is no space in police departments, there is no prison for people who are arrested, and they’re still in automobiles who are trying to find prison for them. So this is a normal situation, when in the day of inauguration all prisons in Moscow are overcrowded by arrested people. So this is Russian democracy.

JAY: Putin has his fans in Europe and other parts of the world. For example, he has a pretty good relationship with some of the Latin American leaders. And they see him as someone who sort of safeguards the Russian Federation from the kind of more vicious neoliberal policies that one sees being implemented in Greece and Spain and some of the other European countries. And then they also see some of these protests as being attempt (you know, and certainly Putin says this) by the West to destabilize Russia. What do you make of this issue?

BUZGALIN: This is both truth and lie. Why I can say so? First of all because there are two types of the protest and two wings of the protest. One is far-right liberal protest against Putin because Putin is a supporter of one part of oligarchs, one part of Russian big business, interconnected with gas, oil, export of raw materials, and some other spheres where state is strong and where big huge corporations are strong. And, of course, there is business oriented on the West, oriented on their other type of activities. And this type of business is not satisfied with Putin’s policy. Also, in some aspects Putin is supporter of strong Russian state, and this is not—how to say?—this is not positive for officials, for leaders of NATO and NATO countries.

But from other side, Putin is supporter of right-wing economic and social policy in my country, and during his governing, both as president and as prime minister, we had the same policy. The number of oligarchs increased. In the same time, we had and we have still big problems in education and health care. We have growth of prices for poor people much more than for everybody, for rich people. We have growth of social differentiation. And this is basis for the left protest, protest of the people who wants to have more left policy, who wants to have progressive income tax, who wants to have free-of-charge education and growth of expenditures on education, not on police and KGB and so on. And this is different protest.

That’s why Putin is contradictory person. From one side, he is protector of strong Russian state. From other side, he’s far-right politician. And that’s why we have these contradictions in my country.

JAY: So in terms of what he’s about to do, what would be some of the litmus test issues for you on whether this Putin presidency is—what can I say?—joining more the sort of neoliberal economic policy, or whether he might do anything to push back against that? Or you don’t have any expectations of that?

BUZGALIN: I must stress that before or during electoral campaign, Putin made a lot of promises. He said that he will support Russian working class, that he will support ordinary intelligentsia, students, everybody, teachers. But this was typical, I think, propaganda, and I do not believe that when Putin is again president he change something radically, because he had more than ten years to show that he is defender of interests of majority of Russians. But he showed that he is defender of oligarchs and interest of bureaucracy together with oligarchs, not interests of ordinary Russians.

You can ask why more than 50 percent supporting Putin even if we take into the consideration all falsifications. I can say it’s partly because people are very afraid of any changes. After 1990s, period of terrible catastrophe, we have now, more or less, stabilization, and even bad stabilization for a lot of Russians is better than changes. That’s why Putin received this 50 percent support. But now people are waiting something new, and Putin will not do this.

JAY: One of the things that people outside Russia look to Putin for is, again, to push back a bit against the dominant position of the United States in international affairs, so, for example, on Syria, to some extent on Libya. But do you see him playing more of that role? And what do you think of U.S.-Russian relations and where this might head now?

BUZGALIN: I do not think that Putin is ideal person to oppose to NATO aggressive policy. And, I can stress, I think that NATO is realizing aggressive model of foreign policy. Of course, Putin is not 100 percent supporter of NATO and U.S. government initiatives, and this is not bad. But I think that it’s necessary to have solidarity of nongovernmental organizations, social movements, other forces which are really fighting for another globalization, for another integration, for another rules of the game in world politics. And Putin is simply trying to support Russia as one of the players, not to be 100 percent puppet of NATO. Now not—or now Russia is, let’s say, 80 percent puppet of NATO, and this is better than 100, but I prefer to have different model, where both Russia and other countries will be real independent players and NATO will be just one of the blocs and not absolute dominator, not absolute empire.

JAY: And just finally, when people from the outside are watching these big protests in Moscow and across the country, and you say that part of these protests are from the right and some are from the left, how do we tell when we’re watching? Is there any way to know?

BUZGALIN: So, first of all, you can see maybe in the—if you can see the protest which took place yesterday, it was much more red flags and slogans, symbols of left positions than before, and this is very positive. But the problem is some left are together with right because both wants to have more democratic system in Russia. In social and economic questions, they have very big contradictions, two types of opposition to Putin. But in struggle for democracy, they have some common platform, some common aspect in their platform. And that’s why they’re together. From my side, from my point of view, it could be better if we have two meetings, two rallies, two demonstrations, left and right. But the reality is like we have, not like I am dreaming.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Aleksandr. We’ll come back to you in the next few weeks.

BUZGALIN: Thank you. Goodbye. And I hope to have contacts in future.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Aleksandr Buzgalin is a Professor of Political Economy at Moscow State University. He is also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives, and is a coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives, author of more then 20 books and hundreds of articles, translated into English, German and many other languages.