• Putin's 'Rasputin', Crimea's New Orthodox Leader and One Day All of Russia

It's been exactly 20 years since Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Moscow, 1963) went from being Russia's richest oligarch to becoming the country's most famous prisoner. He served 10 years in jail in cells overlooking the ice and today he sports the same shy look that always made it hard to believe he was Vladimir Putin's most hated opponent.

The Russian leader himself ended up granting him a pardon at Christmas 2013. Since then, he has lived in exile in London, where he continues to get into some puddles. He explicitly supported the armed rebellion of mercenary leader Evgeny Prigozhin even though he had no sympathy for the Wagner chief. "When Putin arrived, it seemed to me that we were heading towards a truly democratic path, but I was wrong," he told EL MUNDO during a brief visit to Spain, a country whose transition model interests him. He believes that "since 2014 Russia has been falling, step by step, to a practically formalized regime of dictatorship."

Is the end of the regime near because of the war? Or did the war happen because the regime has no future? During his terms in office, Putin on four occasions undertook military actions to solve the problems of his government. Now he has started a war again because he has felt that his support within Russian society is falling. You called on the Russians to support the mutiny of Evgeny Prigozhin. Do you not trust in a democratic transition? For regime change apart from a general atmosphere in society, there has to be a collapse, a failure within the regime. Sure, there's going to be bad guys on both sides. Prigozhin was one of those bad guys, but he weakened the regime significantly. A peaceful demise of the regime is possible, provided that the regime realizes that there are other options. Let me give an example so that I can be understood. Around 200,000 to 300,000 people took to the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in 2020. They were protesting against the falsification of the elections of the president of Belarus and had the support of Belarusian society. However, when they approached the prison where the political prisoners were held, the doors were closed and they stopped there even though they could have broken them and freed the inmates. That was the end of the Belarusian revolution and the beginning of a period of reaction that has left all opponents emigrated or imprisoned. What happened in Belarus teaches us a lesson: if you are not willing to go all the way, don't take people out on the streets. Everything seems to indicate that this will be what will happen. If Putin had left power for good in 2008, he would have gone down in people's memories as a not-so-bad president. When he returned to office in 2012, people already took it worse. In the Spanish transition, which I know a little about, there were a series of guarantees [for the previous regime]. After 2022, I don't think anyone can guarantee Putin anything. Because Putin's surrender is worth a lifting of sanctions, and a future Russian government is going to be willing to hand Putin over [to international justice] on those conditions. He knows this perfectly. That's why he's going to hold power as long as he can. If Putin takes Kyiv, if he takes over most of Ukraine and looks victorious, what will he do next? That's what I'm trying to explain to European politicians. Imagine: you are president of Russia, you have occupied Ukraine, a place where two-thirds of the population hates you and you have been set up by a guerrilla, partisans. You have destroyed territory, and you have to spend money on reconstruction, otherwise there will be waves of refugees to Russia. It also has a million people who are already used to getting paid to kill, because they have gone into combat to earn 10 times more than before and, of course, they want to continue with the 'banquet'. At that time, it has been 10 years in which the country's economy is not growing, so people's well-being is falling. And on top of that, the sanctions are not taken away from you. What are you going to do? Go for more. In my opinion, it's obvious. And what exactly would it mean to go for more? People forget Putin's ultimatum at the end of 2021: to withdraw NATO to the 1997 borders. That means: Baltic countries, Poland... You may even decide to include East Germany. Putin's thinking is that Europe is ultimately going to hand over Ukraine. And then he's going to hand over the Baltics, and with that NATO breaks up, so then he can do whatever he wants. Putin [with Kiev already subdued] would try to recruit people in Ukraine for his army: the country would be collapsed, with nothing to do, there would be people willing to fight against Putin and also for him: that is the model of Donbas. I estimate that he could recruit a million people, enough to take the Baltic states.How did Putin go from the almost bloodless annexation of Crimea and covert and limited interference in Donbas in 2014 to the full-scale invasion of 2022? Undoubtedly, these wrong decisions were made because their environment was reduced as a result of COVID. We know the names and surnames of the people who led him to those wrong decisions. [The Entrepreneur] Yuri Kovalchuk, [pro-Russian oligarch] Victor Medvedchuk and [FSB intelligence service general Sergei] Beseda. Kovalchuk's ideology is known to us: imperialist and traditionalist. Medvedchuk did it more for money: he has invested more than $1 billion corrupting Ukraine, and it worked for him. And the other [Beseda] told Putin that the regions of Ukraine were going to receive him with flowers. It seems that the regime swindled itself. This is how authoritarian regimes usually end: they lose their link with reality. Between 2013 and 2014 there was only one big difference between the two countries: Ukraine was more or less democratic and Russia was more or less authoritarian. If Putin had been in a different state of mind, he would have been able to buy or lease Crimea. We could have been like France and Belgium. The situation turned out to be completely different. Ukraine began to consolidate itself even more as a nation, in ten years Ukraine has made great progress and Putin finds himself with a state that considers itself totally different from Russia. 2014 was Putin's mistake, and 2022 is its continuation.What attitude should Europe have towards Russia? There are two bad ideas. The first is to talk about Russia disintegrating, which is unrealistic and if it were it would be dangerous. And if anything, it serves to scare people and rally them around Putin. The second bad idea is sanctions: Europe is a state of law, so every limitation of rights must be described by law. Unfortunately, it has been almost two years of sanctions, and there are still no strict rules on how to get out of sanctions. What do you think would happen if Putin dies tomorrow? If Putin gets a bark in his head tomorrow, [Prime Minister] Mikhail Mishustin would be the successor. Russia's history suggests that it would not retain power for long: there were periods of transition after Stalin and after Brezhnev. One of the main missions of the opposition, apart from stopping the war, is to influence that process. To overthrow a dictatorship, apart from a general atmosphere of society, there has to be a collapse within the regime itself: that the army is not willing to shoot at the people.

  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Ukraine-Russia War