15 November 2018, Thursday, 17:53
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Olga Romanova: Russia's war of clans

Sechin, Putin, Shoigu and Gazprom cannot agree on who gets the power.

Olga Romanova, executive director of the Sitting Rus (Rus Sidiashchaya) movement and former member of the Coordinating Council of the Russian opposition, said about it in interview to editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina.

- Olga, Last time we met Mikhail Khodorkovski was released. Today Russia is in a full-scale war with Ukraine, repressions against the Russian opposition have become harder. What is happening?

- A stage that I would probably call something like “cultural Crimea-campaign” is over. The time of search and identification of national traitors and the fifth column is close to its end. I would say that we are facing very interesting choices. It seems as the popular Russian game – devouring each other – is about to begin.

Let me give you an example: the unexpected arrest of chair of the board of AFK Sistema Vladimir Yevtushenkov. The thing is that Yevtushenkov purchased Bashneft on the personal request of Vladimir Putin who at that time was the head of the Russian government. I emphasize: it was not a permit but a request. From what has happened to the businessman we can see that the center of power in Russia has shifted from Putin to the force structures and siloviks.

A struggle among silovks is about to begin. During the past 14 years we have managed to balance between four different clans: special services headed by Sechin, military with defense minister Shoigu, Putin’s friends (the Rothenbergs, Kovalchuks, Timchenkos) and Gazprom-clan (Miller-Medvedev). Today one can say with certainty that the clan of Putin’s friends has lost.

There are two excellent proofs. Firstly, the Rothenbergs who used to be engaged in the production of pumps for Gazprom all these years have been estranged from the project by Sechin’s team. The second proof is the law that regulates foreigners’ involvement in the media. We all think that this law is targeted against us; or against Axel Springer – the Russian publisher of Forbes, an opposition-oriented magazine; or against Vedomosti whose ownership is basically split between Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, we forget that the National Mediagroup chaired by Alina Kabayeva owns the entire First channel via offshore funds. Compared to the First Channel, both Forbes and Vedomosti are not that powerful.

- Does that mean that Putin’s power is at risk?

- It seems that Putin has lost the clan of his friends. Previously, siloviks have eliminated liberal Gref and Kudrin from the political stage. Soon a chase of the president’s former friends will begin. I believe that Yevtushenkov is the first prey. As far as I know, there are 6 criminal cases against Chubais.

- Why is Vladimir Vladimirovich letting it happen?

- I guess he can’t do anything because he himself is a hostage in the struggle of two remaining powerful clans, Shoigu’s army and Sechin’s FSB. The events in Ukraine are another result of this struggle. Strelkov and Borodai are Sechin’s people.

Their involvement is much weaker today, because Sechin (presently as Rosneft’s stakeholder) suffers great damage from the sanctions, and I believe that he is very eager to put an end to the conflict, unlike Shoigu whose budget benefits from the entire situation. Shoigu’s people are fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

People from Putin’s team will be victims of the ongoing struggle. There has to be someone to blame. The economic crisis began for a long time ago, but very soon it will hit the nation hard. Everyone will notice.

Any claims that Romanova, Shenderovich and Makarevich are to blame, will be ridiculous and will only give us more points. We do understand what our role in this situation is. We have no administrative or financial resources, no tool of influence. Someone else has to take the blame because it is completely meaningless to call us the worst foes.

- In other words, Putin became a hostage of the system that he himself created?

- I would say that he is basically done. His presidency is more of a shopping window for the rest of the world. Today’s war is between two other presidents – Sechin and Shoigu.

- Presidents?

- Yes, the two persons who are in fact ruling Russia today. It is not Putin anymore, he is for Merkel. Inside Russia, it is these two powers that matter.

Vladimir Vladimirovich is trying to resist. He is making fuzz around the home ministry, like the cases against generals Kolesnikov and Sugrobov. Right now he is trying to appoint his former bodyguard and a very close friend Zolotov the home minister instead of Kolokoltsev. The home troops that are mostly used against the opposition have been answering to Zolotov for a while. We are well familiar with these people.

Several armies operate in the country: the home army headed by Putin’s bodyguard Zolotov, Shoigu’s army, the FSB army and, for example, Yakunin’s railway army. The Duma is currently considering a bill on private military enterprises, which may result in one more army from Gazprom.

Can you imagine Gazprom’s army against Shenderovich or Makarevich? It is ridiculous. Obviously, it will have a completely different target. These armies are going to fight each other. There is an ongoing struggle within the clans. Although it will be very hard, but we still have a chance to survive. These enormous forces are not interested in us. Moreover, we are too loud.

- The opposition in Russia has been properly “cleansed”.

- The opposition in Russia has been properly preserved and basically left alone. We get time and strength to consolidate. We get time and strength to mature. Just look how quickly Navalny is growing during his home arrest. I am watching the boys from the protest movement mature and become adults. I am watching Yankauskas, who has been under a home arrest for about half a year. He’s just 28, a boy, but very smart and talented. I am watching Liaskin grow.

- Age doesn’t seem to do Navalny any good. Do you share his position on Crimea?

- I said that he is growing, not that he has grown up. Firstly, there is no politician who has never said anything stupid. Secondly, the more discussion there is, the more meaningful it becomes. He is not yet 40 and he is growing like a weed, he has no opportunity to go through the school of political development via elections, debates etc. We are growing up in prison.

I have the same claims to every oppositional politician in Russia. We say so many stupid things. But we are learning all the time. Politicians, no matter if they are federal or global, mature in local parliaments, while our only public platform is in the social media.

However, I am ready to justify Navalny only until he comes to the power. I’m afraid that when this times comes, I will join the opposition. Today everyone needs to be given a chance. We’ll die sooner than find an ideal person.

- Why does Russian liberalism end where Belarusian or Ukrainian issue begins?

- I wouldn’t call any Russian politician liberal. In my view, liberalism used to be a fetish but has become a scarecrow. We cannot say that Yeltsin’s liberal politicians actually were liberal. Is Alfred Kokh really that liberal? I’m sorry, what is at least a bit liberal about him?

- Kokh is very popular in the social media.

- Liberalism is not about cursing everyone. Kokh is a good writer, but talent is not the same as liberalism. Limonov, too, is a tremendously talented person. Does it make him a liberal?

- Let’s get back to Ukraine and Belarus who gave up nuclear weapon for guarantees of independence.

- Personally, I think that every letter in the Budapest agreement must be followed with no exceptions. No exceptions at all! Otherwise, how can we trust politicians? That’s why I question the position of the West and those who signed the agreements. One of the parties, Russia, violated the agreements. There are explicit instructions about what has to be done when the agreements are violated. Why aren’t you doing anything?

Ukraine is an independent state and its borders must remain intact. Crimea is a marvelous place. It is strongly connected to the Russian glory and literature, before that – to the Tatars, before – to the Turks, before – to the Greeks and so on. Its border must remain intact, otherwise there will be war!

- According to palls, the majority of Russians support the war against Ukraine, despite the fact that hundreds of coffins come back from Ukraine carrying bodies of Russian soldiers. How do they manage to conceal it from the people? Do Russians choose to ignore the truth?

- I grew up in a garrison of a military town. One half of my former classmates died in Afghanistan, the other half perished in Chechnya. I remember when coffins were coming from Afghanistan, it was prohibited to speak about it, and a denial of the sacred international responsibility equaled a national treason.

There are no controversies about what this affair actually is. The people will surely wake up, just like before. Before Luzhkov resigned, he had support of 72% of the residents of Moscow. Two days after his resignation, he had only 2% left. That’s exactly how the “Russian world” functions.

The people who went to the streets in 1991 are still there. The people who were singing along with Tsoy about changes in the 80s are still there. But something has happened to their mind. It must have been rinsed by the propaganda: reports about the “atrocities” of the Ukrainians pour from everywhere.

Recently I have seen on the TV a report about the anniversary of the liberation of Donetsk from the German troops. The people in the video footage were saying: “The Germans who were here were fascists. They gave chocolate and candy to the children. They were better than the Ukrainians that have come here now.” This is a justification of fascism. Unthinkable things are being verbalized. Meanwhile, we expect the papers and TV to deliver the truth. For example, I have never seen the concierges that work in shifts in my building open a book during their 24-hour long shift. They spend all this time staring at the TV, absorbing everything, even commercials. They are so glued to the screen that they don’t even greet the residents.

People are being turned into zombies, their minds are being rinsed. Moreover, the education system is basically ruined, the moral has been demolished. When you are constantly told that killing is fine, that for killing you’ll get a medal or a bonus or promotion, when you’re told that stealing is good and that it can give you a job at the Russian Railways, Gazprom or make you an oligarch, sooner or later you may actually choose this path. The number of bustards has always been pretty much the same; but it grows when people realize that being a bustard gives a market advantage.

I often think about Havel and his brilliant essay ”Politics and Conscience” where he writes that the politics is in fact a extension of the moral. People change when the power goes to Havel or Gandhi.

- The West shares Havel’s values and seeks moral in politics in each country. Why can’t the West resist the immorality of the dictators like Putin and Lukashenka?

- Remember what Soviet shop attendants used to say? “You’re so many, I’m alone.” We are many, but there was only one Havel. There cannot be enough Havels for everyone. In my view, Merkel is a very interesting politician. She is certainly different, but her moral identity is very strong, not only because she is a woman but because she is smart and fair. She is under the pressure of gas contracts and the need to keep Germany warm. But I believe that Merkel understands a lot.

However, Italy is the most vivid example. The country was completely different under the rule of Putin’s best friend Berlusconi. Now, I read about arrests of Rothenberg’s property, arrest of runaway head of Rosgranitsa Bezdelov. Italy has become a new country where events that are crucial for Russia take place every day. Dear people of Italy, thank you so much, I love you! Awesome!

I am closely watching France, especially after they fired an official who had sent Rogozin an invitation to sign a contract with Mistral.

In other words, it is moral to arrest Bezdelov or Rothenberg’s villa. It is moral to fire the official who sent an invitation to sign a contract with Mistral to Rogozin. It is moral to look at Putin the way Merkel looked at him after the joke about the first wedding night. I am convinced that Berlusconi would simply laugh at that joke.

- Nonetheless, the ”immoral” trade of Russian oil and gas never stopped. This trade is what keeps your regime alive.

- Of course, I disagree with their politics, but I am not in the position to demand something. If Merkel refuses to sign the contract with Gazprom and it will make a German student freeze and starve, then she has a problem. She must always keep the best interest of the German people in mind, just like the Italians do. Unfortunately, nobody cares about us.

I believe that the Slavic brotherhood will be the main driving force of our region in the near future. By this, I mean the brotherhood of states - Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, not nations. We need each other. We have to save ourselves, not by uniting into one state but by uniting our strengths in the struggle against this filth.

Of course, our and your fate is being decided in Ukraine. It is weird, and it makes me sad, because the Belarusians and Russians have fought and suffered just as much as the Ukrainians. But we do know: if it works in Ukraine, it’ll work here, too.

- Let’s get back to the beginning. Don’t you think that it would be much worse if a silovik with nuclear arsenal replaces Putin after the war of clans?

- Russia is standing before a very interesting time. From May to August poultry prices rose with 200%. Some products disappeared – basic products like vegetables and cottage cheese, not parmesan and jamon. I haven’t seen decent fish in the food stores for a while. My husband is a businessman. Because of the rubble inflation, his income doesn’t increase. However, we are well off. Still food is rather expensive for us today. I don’t understand how households with low income survive.

Just according to the plan, the year 2014 was the first year of the deficit budget. But we have to add Crimea, the war, the sanctions, inflation, skyrocketing prices. One dollar may cost 60 rubbles or more at the year-end 2014. This year’s crop will last till February. There’ll be no import at all, or only from China – not the kind of products that the Russian people are used to.

Spring 2015 will be a serious test. The euphoria “Crimea is ours” will not last long. Another unpleasant event is coming: since siloviks, deputies and senators cannot travel to the West, what will their wives say? A glamor protest! “I don’t care that you’re a public prosecutor. I want to Dominicana.” ”There’ll be no Dominicana, not now, not ever.” ”Why is that? Oh, Putin?!”

However, it will give Russia a chance, because we will be economically exhausted by the war. The “March of the empty pots and pans” heated by the injustice can result in a serious protest. One or several groups around Putin can benefit from this protest.

Indeed, a really terrible person can replace Putin: Sechin, Rogozin or Shoigu. But it’s nothing to be afraid of. The sooner they take the throne, the sooner they leave. Any replacement will definitely be less popular than Putin, no matter how hard political PR works, because the new ruler will come to the power during an economic decline, unlike Putin who became the president during a rise.

The regime is alive because of the airbag of foreign currency that for the first time can actually be measured. The airbag will not grow unless something changes. It will last three years. If the oil prices continue to fall, it will last only two – one and a half. And then it will be the end.

It doesn’t play any role, what person will replace Putin. All this person will get is the size of currency reserves divided by the coefficient of stupidity, insanity or aggression.

The clock is ticking. We can make it tick faster, but it will never slow down. Impossible!