Mikhail Khodorkovsky: ″ Putin’s regime is strengthened through dialogue ″ | Europe | DW

DW: Alexei Navalny was poisoned about a year ago. What impact did this event have on political life and the opposition in Russia?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Fortunately, this event did not come to a sad end: Alexei Navalny is in prison today, but he is alive. Nevertheless, the poison attack was of course a further step on the way from a normal state to a paradise for bandits, in which one can not only criticize one’s opponents, but also put them in prison and ultimately kill them.

Many political scientists and journalists used to claim that Putin’s regime, while authoritarian, was not dictatorial. Could one say that there has now been a change from an authoritarian to a dictatorial regime?

No of course not. A dictatorial regime forces people to actively support its ideology. Putin’s regime has no ideology. This regime is about money, not some big idea.

Michail Khodorkovsky speaks with Konstantin Eggert from DW

But Putin pays a lot of attention to World War II and the rehabilitation of the Soviet period, as does Ukraine. While money is likely to interest everyone, including Putin, he obviously has an idea, a philosophy, about the nature of Russia and its place in history.

Maybe he has this idea. However, he lacks the education and a global approach to form a uniform concept from his idea, which is pieced together in small pieces from different works, and to make it his life’s work. I claim that he lacks this – luckily for all of us – because otherwise I can imagine what this concept would look like. There is no interest in a glorious Russia. The interest is yachts, rooms full of fur coats, locks and so on. You actually want that. The idea of ​​glorious Russia is just a fig leaf.

And what about Georgia, Crimea, the conflict with Ukraine?

In these cases there was a very pragmatic interest – maintaining power and ensuring personal security. With the help of Georgia, all Medvedev’s reformatory efforts were buried. (Editor’s note: Dmitri Medvedev was President of Russia during the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. After the war over the South Caucasian province of South Ossetia, despite international protests, Russia recognized these and Abkhazia as independent states.) The (annexation of) Crimea increased the population’s trust in Putin, before that his popularity ratings had fallen to 30 percent. After that, they rose rapidly and only fell back to their previous level in the past half-year or year. With the help of Crimea, Putin secured five to six additional years of personal security. It was not his strategic decision to restore the Russian empire. If that had been a strategic decision – I beg your pardon – in the current situation Ukraine would have been annexed to Russia.

Should you – especially the West – talk to Putin’s people at all?

Difficult question. Putin’s regime is a danger, also for Western countries. You can’t afford not to talk to him. One should just be clear: Putin’s regime is strengthened through dialogue. This gives him additional legitimacy that he lacks because there are no fair elections. The meeting with Biden, Merkel’s visit and the like give the regime legitimacy. Neither elections nor domestic economic successes nor the country’s system of government do that.

Russia |  Moscow |  PK Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in August 2021

This outside legitimacy should only be granted to the regime in exchange for something important. When it comes to the risk of accidentally pressing the button for a worldwide nuclear war, then of course you should talk to every bandit in order to avert this risk. When it comes to the release of political prisoners, one must undoubtedly talk to the regime as one talks to bandits about hostages.

But if you are trying to talk about a topic like a green economy, then you should be aware that there cannot be any strategic collusion with these people. You basically lie. You can make short, understandable deals with them. You’re talking to a bandit. Is it necessary to talk to bandits every now and then? Is it. Should an alliance be forged with these bandits? No, you shouldn’t – unless you’re a bandit yourself.

Will Putin hand over power to himself in 2024 or will there be a change of power?

I am convinced that he is currently preparing for a move. But both I and those around Putin believe that at the last moment he will say: “Who else, besides me, is able to continue to be behind the wheel here?”

So a transfer of power from Putin to Putin in 2024?

From Putin to Putin. However, he will then face a really serious problem, which is called the Double Loyalty Crisis. The average age in the state apparatus is 40-45 years, that remains stable. And when you are 60 years old, you can guarantee every single official in the state apparatus that he will succeed in ending his career under your leadership. Therefore, he will obey your orders.

But when you are 70 years old, you are no longer a guarantee for a 40-year-old employee of the state apparatus, because these people will definitely have to end their careers under another ruler. And for them the search for alternatives begins. This is exactly where the crisis of double loyalty arises: the division of the political elite. I suspect that 2024 will be the beginning of an extremely difficult period for Putin.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is an entrepreneur, former head of the oil company “YUKOS” and the richest man in Russia. After a ten-year prison sentence, he lives abroad as a critic of the Russian president. In 2021, a number of affiliated organizations in Russia were classified as undesirable.

The interview was conducted by Konstantin Eggert.

Adaptation from Russian: Katja Raiher

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