An insider’s view on Putin’s politics
Paul Jay talks to Oksana Chelysheva
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Vast oil and gas reserves and an almost Soviet-style control of the media have helped make Vladimir Putin Russia’s most popular leader. Putin says he’s guiding dramatic economic progress and saving the country from corruption and the rule of the oligarchs. His critics say he rules like a dictator, has a brutal human rights record, and defends the very system of corruption he claims to oppose. Putin’s last term as president of Russia is coming to an end in March 2008. But is he really prepared to give up power? Putin has lent his name as the head of the United Russia Party, likely to sweep the upcoming Duma or parliamentary elections taking place on December 22, 2007. Most Russians believe he will use the United Russia Party to create a base to retain personal power, possibly with the title of prime minister. New rules have excluded dozens of smaller parties from the coming Duma ballot. And election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have withdrawn, saying too many obstacles have been put in the way of any real attempt to verify the fairness of the election. Joining us to comment on these events is prominent Russian journalist and the deputy director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (a human rights organization), Oksana Chelysheva. Oksana, it seems pretty clear President Putin wants to maintain his power in Russia, but most Russians seem to want it. So what’s wrong with that?
OKSANA CHELYSHEVA, JOURNALIST (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): In the last few months Putin indeed has stopped hiding his intentions to remain in power by any means possible. And he’s got quite an arsenal of methods at his disposal. When it comes to Russian people’s unconditional support of Putin the fact is that people in Russia have been put in such a situation where they don’t have any opportunity to proclaim their opinion. And the repressive measures that Putin’s administration takes against those who nonetheless dare to voice their disagreement with Putin’s course signifies that the government is afraid of the people. The government that is confident in itself would give people an opportunity to speak openly. And when Putin pointed out that there are people in our country, who are jackals of western foundations, that are doing everything in their power to ruin Russia, I was terrified, because it is hard not to remember the Stalinist period of Russia, when all government’s efforts were dedicated to the search of the enemies of the state.
JAY: Many people characterize Putin’s leadership as having saved Russia from chaos, the corruption of the 90s under Yeltsin and the oligarchs, the kind of Mafia-style corruption at very high levels. And Putin is perceived by many in the West of saving Russia from this chaos and creating a more modern country. Is that the truth of it?
CHELYSHEVA: Yes it’s a very common opinion. This is also what a lot of westerners believe. But this is a conviction of those, who do not know the whole story. Let us not forget about the nightmare that is taking place in the territory of the Northern Caucuses [sic]. And although Putin’s declarations about the restoration of peace in the Caucuses and the so-called support of the Chechen government is the one side of this medal [sic]; on the other hand we see more and more cases of people being kidnapped in Ingushetia, constant conflicts in Dagestan and Chechen territory as well. All of this demonstrates that our country’s leaders demagogic arguments on how they saved Russia from the destruction, the war in Chechnya could have caused, can be disputed.
JAY: What do you make of the argument even made by the reporter for the ‘Guardian’ who was covering Russia who just retired, moved back to England? He made the claim that the only way out for Russia was this strong hand of Putin, that the kind of chaos that was existing in the 90s would have destroyed the country, and that without this kind of tough Putin’s regime, Russia would have disassembled. How do you answer that?
CHELYSHEVA: Why always think that Russians expect brutal force and require a tough guide, and if it wasn’t for Putin Russia would not have been able to recover from its truly difficult state? Let us not forget that Putin was not an independent politician when he came to power in 1999. He is a person who was placed in high position by the same people who brought the country to its destruction. So it is possible that his goal was not to save Russia but to ensure his own safety as well as the safety of Boris Yeltsin’s family.
JAY: What do you expect will happen? There are major demonstrations planned for Saturday, protesting against Putin. The elections will be following not long afterwards, on December 2. What do you think we will see in the coming weeks?
CHELYSHEVA: I am hopeful that these demonstrations “Marches of the Discontented in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Orenburg, Astrahan and Nizhny Novgorod, will happen; and will happen without any violence on the part of enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation. Although we have been receiving information from Moscow as well as other regions, that the leaders of the “March of the Discontented” are facing serious prosecutions. We have also received information on possible provocations against Boris Nemtsov and The Union of Right Forces. Yesterday, mass media spread out the news that the Other Russia Party of St. Petersburg is sponsored by criminal sources. All of this is pointing to one tendency, the tendency to suppress any form of protest…
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.