Russian political activist, analyst and Professor at the Washington-based Hudson University Andrey Piontkovsky talks about the verdict against Ms. Tymoshenko and dictatorship in Russia
To Putin’s regime Andrey Piontkovsky is known as the “apocalypse prophet”. He was the first to define the “fight against oligarchy” in Russia as a mere replacement of the Yeltsin-era oligarchs with those loyal to the new regime of politicians with backgrounds in the secret services. Recently, Mr. Piontkovsky presented The Third Road to Serfdom, his new book on Russia. The title clearly refers to The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich von Hayek who described the first two ways of fascism and communism.
U.W.: How should the West react to the sentence and the new criminal case against Ms. Tymoshenko?
The West should grasp the full sense of this Kremlin-plotted intrigue. It is critical for Moscow to prevent the signing of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine which is planned for the end of this year. Mr. Putin has declared the so-called Eurasian Union as the priority of his future presidency. This union is impossible without drawing Ukraine back into the Russian orbit. According to some well-informed sources, Mssrs. Putin and Medvedev clearly told Mr. Yanukovych on 24 September: you want to put Tymoshenko in jail, do it, but don’t use any charges based on the Putin-Tymoshenko talks; we can offer you two other options. This was how Ms. Tymoshenko ended up facing new charges brought forth by the letter from Russia’s Defense Ministry sent to Kyiv. Moscow wants the Tymoshenko case to continue as this will keep her in jail and while she is there Europe will not sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine. I think the EU should act wisely and sign the Agreement without requiring the release of Ms. Tymoshenko. Yet, it should use all possible political leverages to pressure the Ukrainian government to have her released. One option here is to sign the Association Agreement because doing the opposite means giving Ukraine up to the Kremlin. The other is for the EU and the US, along with human right campaigners, to press Ukraine’s government and demand that it releases Ms. Tymoshenko via all possible channels.
U.W.: What did Mr. Putin mean when he said the verdict against Ms. Tymoshenko was an anti-Russian move by the Ukrainian government?
This verdict cast a shadow over Mr. Putin’s policy since the Ukrainian government wants to revise the terms of the contract he made with Ms. Tymoshenko while she was Prime Minister. You have to remember he is not only Russia’s Premier, but a trader, too. Gazprom’s Mr. Miller is just a pawn. Through Gazprom, Mr. Putin is an emissary of the company that trades most of Russia’s oil. The verdict against Ms. Tymoshenko undermines Mr. Putin’s personal and business interests as Ukraine will go to Stokholm arbitrage court to have the contract revised. Russia’s Premier wants two things: to keep the existing gas sale scheme, which is his personal ambition, and to prevent the EU from signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine, which is his political goal. The EU must understand this extremely complex situation and not refuse to sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine in any case.
U.W.: You say “forcing Ukraine into friendship” is Russia’s neo-imperialistic complex and claim it cannot be fulfilled. Why is that?
The tragedy of the Kremlin’s policy is that they don’t understand that nobody needs them with their neo-imperialistic ambitions. Its attempt to drag Aliaksandr Lukashenka into Russia, which has been going on for 15 years, is a perfect illustration of that. Russia’s policy in the FSU is anachronistic. Its post-imperialistic complexes are on the one hand, and the egoistic interests of energy companies, which in reality are run by the country’s leaders, are on the other. Yet, it cannot implement its imperialistic ambitions as the national idea already sits deeply in the minds of both the elite and peoples of post-soviet countries, while the urge to milk as much cash as possible out of them for fuels only pushes them away from Russia itself.
The Nord Stream opening highlighted to me how totally insane Russia’s policy is. At that point, Mr. Putin reported to Mr. Schroeder in his broken German that Ukraine was in an extremely difficult situation. This looked like an episode from 1942 when the volksdeutsche reported to their German master that the strategic task of crushing Ukraine had been accomplished. Gazprom’s Aleksei Miller once said, “Germany pays less because it’s closer to Russia than Ukraine, we have economic ties to Germany.” Thus, Russia openly admitted that Germany was closer to it than Ukraine; still it wants some normal relations with Ukraine and sends its Patriarch Kiril to spread myths about the Russian World, spiritual proximity and unification of the two nations. This policy is absolutely insane; eventually, it might repulse both Ukraine and Belarus no matter what direction their leaders look in.
U.W.: In January 2000, when Mr. Yeltsin made Mr. Putin his successor, you wrote an article ‘Putinism’ as the “Top and Final Stage of Bandit Capitalism in Russia”. It projected a future crushing of democratic freedoms and human rights, media brainwashing, isolation from the outside world and further economic degradation. Had there been any other option for Russia back then? How do you see the evolvement of Putin’s model of power in the Russian Federation?
Totalitarian regimes evolve under a general rule. They are very similar: each starts with a myth that brings the regime forth once it takes over a sufficient number of people. The October Revolution and the faith in Communism gave birth to the Communist regime, for instance. After some time, the myth exhausts itself and fades away. That’s when even the elite, its oracles, no longer believe in it. That was what happened in the USSR when the communist religion died even within the Communist Party’s Central Committee, let alone the hearts and minds of the people. Then the party leaders conceded to the so-called perestroika, the reconstruction, while in fact they just converted their power into private ownership.
Putinism is a caricature of a great historical style. Over the past 10 years, the Russian Federation has replicated the entire cycle of the soviet regime as a caricature. Only Putinism rolled through all stages of the totalitarian regime evolution over 10 years, not 70. The myth it rose from was the Second Chechen War and its biggest success was the pathetic “victory” over Georgia, not the triumph in the Second World War, as in the Soviet Union.
Currently, the regime is fading in front of our eyes: Putinism is dying even in the hearts of the so-called elite. Based on the historical pattern, the Russian elite is now supposed to destroy this regime in a similar way to how the communist regime in the USSR was destroyed by the top party administration, not rebelling workers and farmers.
So, why is the Russian leadership doing nothing about it? It has three advantages over traditional elites within the final stages of an authoritarian regime. First of all, they are incredibly wealthy. Never in imperialistic or communist Russia’s history has the establishment been as rich as the nouveau riche now, even on a world scale. They have a lot to lose. Soviet bonzes were not afraid to step up against Khrushchev once he became inconvenient for them. The current rich cannot risk their giant capital because they will lose their illegally gained wealth if a rebellion against Mr. Putin and his regime fails. But the same will also happen if they succeed as new democratic information channels, mass media and the Internet will spread the stories of how they became oligarchs in the first place. Secondly, they fool themselves with new hollow assumptions: Mr. Medvedev will come and start liberalization, and so on. Their third advantage is a back-up airfield where they can board their private jets and take off for London, or the Canary Islands or anywhere else their property, wealth, children, wives and lovers have been sitting for a long time. This Russian kleptomaniac crowd, which has only the “Omertà of crime” in common, is as afraid of Mr. Putin as much as it fears facing society without him. This double fear paralyzes making their defeat virtually inevitable. Thus, sadly, we skip this assumingly natural stage of the rebelling elites. This process might last long enough and ultimately lead Russia to territorial collapse.
U.W.: Will anything change in the relations between Russian and Ukraine when Mr. Putin is back in the Kremlin?
Nothing will change. 24 September made it clear that there had been no Medvedev with his illusionary liberalism. My prediction is that he will never be a premier again. This person has been dropped so low publicly and Mr. Putin keeps digging him in deeper and deeper. After this, he cannot be put at the top of government. Ministries will not take him seriously. Watch the episodes where Mr. Putin talks to him as a school boy, smirking right in his face, demonstrating to him that he, Mr. Putin, was, is and always will be.
U.W.: Are any events possible before the election in Russia that can tilt Mr. Putin’s power?
Not one in the world, because the world will not react to Russia’s domestic affairs. For Europe, Russia is primarily the source of energy supplies. Why make life with it difficult by asking Mr. Putin uncomfortable questions about democracy?
Yet, what happened in Russia on 24 September filled many with disgust. Just surf the web and you’ll see it. Especially, the Russian youth - the graduates of top Russian universities who are in great demand in the West. I think the position of Russia’s young people will be a decisive hit in the future that will facilitate the collapse of the current regime. Sadly, though, it can hardly change anything in the upcoming illegal election in Russia.
Born in 1940 to a Moscow-based family of lawyers. His grandfather was a criminalist lawyer and his father was an Associate Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences and member of the USSR Supreme Court
In 1962, Mr. Piontkovsky gets a degree in Mechanics and Mathematics at the Lomonosov Moscow State University and a PhD in Physics and Mathematics
1970s, he works as a senior research assistant at the Institute of Systemic Analysis, Russian Academy of Sciences
In 1998, Mr. Piontkovsky starts his career as a political journalist.
In 2004, he joins Yabloko, the United Russian Democratic Party, and becomes a member of its Bureau
In 2008, he enters the Initiative Group to nominate Vladimir Bukovsky as a candidate for the presidency in Russia
In 2007-2008, the Russian court looks at his book ‘The Unloved Country’ upon charges of extremism, yet all of them are later lifted
In 2010, Mr. Piontkovsky is the third signatory in the Russian opposition’s letter called ‘Putin Must Go!’
In 2010, he joins the Solidarity movement political board.
Mr. Piontkovsky is a member of the Academy of Information Processes and Technologies; Member of the Russian Federation National Assembly; Member of the American Mathematical Society; Member of the International PEN Club; Winner of the Golden Gong 2001 award for international journalism. He has written over 100 scientific articles and several monographs on management theory, global modeling, nuclear strategy and computer models of the world designed by the Club of Rome. His works are published on the Grani.ru portal