Valery Solovei, political scientist, historian, and former head of Public Relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), was interviewed by Olivier Védrine for EUtalk and The Russian Monitor on the Russian opposition’s future.
As new pro-democracy demonstrations are announced this Sunday in Russia, what future for the Russian opposition? How much weight will the Russian political opposition, the United States and Europe carry in what, for some, already looks like a possible turning point in post-Soviet history, coupled with a whispered decline in Vladimir Putin’s health?
Arrested on 17 January on his return from Berlin at Moscow-Cheremetievo airport – Alexander Pushkin, will Alexeï Navalny be the trigger for the end of Vladimir Putin’s reign or, at least, for a revival of the Russian pro-democratic opposition?
For the dissident and political scientist Valery Solovei, former head of the public relations department of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), interviewed by Olivier Védrine for The Russian Monitor and Eutalk, both the arrest of Navalny and the publication by his anti-corruption foundation Fond Borby s Korruptsieï of its investigation into Vladimir Putin’s 1 billion euro Palace affair on the shores of the Black Sea could ring the hour of such an awakening.
“The look in the eyes of ordinary people is changing. Demonstrations such as those that began on Saturday 23 January have not been seen since 2012! What is interesting is that we have not only seen the big cities mobilising, but also the small and medium-sized ones. And this is probably just the beginning”.
The possibility of a changeover is taken all the more seriously here as the longevity of the Russian head of state is now being questioned. “The power in place is trying to hide this reality” but it must be noted that there are insistent rumours about Vladimir Putin’s state of health which, “from different and reliable sources”, insists Valery Solovei, is suffering from “aggressive cancer and neurobiological disorders”. And “this dual health problem limits his ability to embody his role as a public figure and leader”.
In the mysteries of power, several scenarios are therefore being studied, starting with the one consisting of preserving the “Putin system” in the absence of the one that inspired it. From this point of view, a return to Dmitry Medvedev would be considered credible, with the liberal opposition – to be distinguished from the nationalist opposition embodied by Navalny – possibly joining him in an effort of democratic transition.
On the other hand, some party cadres consider any peaceful transition unlikely, to the point that some members of the Kremlin administration have in recent days leaked documents to Western intelligence agencies in a proportion never seen since August 1991. This was done in order to open up a few exit doors for the future.
On Putin’s side, the risk of a coup d’état would also be taken seriously, the Russian head of state bearing in mind that the implementation of American economic sanctions against his relatives could cost him their support, as they would be very likely to choose the defence of their private interests over those of their leader, Solovei warns. As for the European Union, apart from a few façade gestures, the political scientist notes, it should not step out of its role as an “observer”.
“Europeans will not put pressure. They will not intervene. And they will wait for a political solution to the current crisis to emerge on its own. Clearly, European bureaucrats do not believe in the emergence of democracy in Russia. Only an “aggressive” stance from the United States could promote “a turning point in post-Soviet history”.