How to kill a dragon and not become one yourself: Mikhail Khodorkovsky held two meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area - ForumDaily
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How to kill a dragon and not become one yourself: Mikhail Khodorkovsky held two meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area

Well-known Russian opposition politician, one of the co-founders of the Anti-War Committee, former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky met with members of the anti-war movement in Northern California and students of Stanford University. Both meetings discussed whether Russia has a chance to become a civilized democratic state, and whether the opposition in the current situation can influence the future of the country. In addition to Khodorkovsky, opposition politician, former State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov, human rights activist, founder of the Ark project Anastasia Burakova, as well as activist and former political prisoner Anastasia Shevchenko.

Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

"Time will be short"

As far as the possibility of democratic reforms in Russia is concerned, Mikhail Khodorkovsky's forecast was not too optimistic, but very real. According to him, in modern Russia there are hardly any forces capable of removing Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he will inevitably leave, if only because any person is mortal. It was then that a window of opportunity, albeit a short one, would open for the opposition.

«In 1991, power was literally lying on the ground, - Khodorkovsky recalls. - A similar moment may occur in the future, and we must be prepared for it, because we will have little time. However, it is important to understand that while Putin is alive, the situation is unlikely to change, since in the eyes of the population he is able to pass off even the complete loss of Ukrainian territories as a victory. Let us recall how, justifying the start of the war, propaganda frightened the Russians with the fact that otherwise they would be bombed. The very fact that Russian cities are not bombed Putin can present as his merit, although we understand that no one ever really intended to bomb them.».

At the same time, the former political prisoner emphasizes that since the beginning of the full-scale aggression against Ukraine, Russia has no opportunity for a peaceful change of power. The only realistic scenarios for regime change are force or the threat of its use, which is certainly preferable.

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«I was on the Maidan and saw with my own eyes that even if Yanukovych was not ready to shoot people, at that moment Putin was already ready to do it. The victims of snipers on the Maidan are connected precisely with the fact that Putin's people fired at protesters, - Khodorkovsky recalls. - There is no doubt that the regime will be ready to shoot this time too».

However, the opposition believes that after Putin they will have some leverage over at least part of his entourage.

Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

«A military defeat will be a trigger for a split in the elites. Putin's popularity will decline, and his entourage will realize that he is not fulfilling his main tasks: he cannot provide them with a high level of support from the population, he is no longer able to maintain a balance between various groups, and even more so, he cannot help Russian elites solve their problems in the West. On the contrary, it only exacerbates these problems. Under such conditions, the confrontation between various factions within the elites will escalate, and a new Gorbachev may well appear there.”, Dmitry Gudkov hopes.

“Forgetting about Russia will not work”

Another problem, according to the oppositionists, is that the West may not be ready for a change of power in Russia. Some Western politicians, for obvious reasons, would like to fence themselves off from an aggressive state, someone dreams of dividing Russia, and most Western leaders still hope that a “good tsar” will replace the evil ruler. It is precisely about the danger of this illusion that Mikhail Khodorkovsky first of all warns Western colleagues.

«The good tsar, having come to power in Russia, either loses his power, as happened with Gorbachev, or ceases to be kind, as happened with Yeltsin. The only way out is to change the very structure of Russian power“- he is sure.

«You can't forget about Russia, - Anastasia Burakova is in solidarity with Khodorkovsky. - Even if we try to do this, sooner or later it may again remind of itself with another aggression. Even after losing in Ukraine, Putin's Russia in a few years may attack one of the neighboring countries».

Oppositionists believe that the only insurance against future wars is the transformation of Russia into a parliamentary republic with strong federalization, since otherwise any Russian ruler will need an external enemy to maintain super-centralized power. At the moment, the Anti-War Committee sees one of its main tasks in working out a consolidated position of all Russian opposition forces on this matter.

It was for this purpose that Berlin recently adopted Declaration Russian democratic forces, proclaiming, among others, the idea of ​​creating a free, legal, federal Russia. Participants in the anti-war movement noted the criminal nature of the Putin regime and the war unleashed by it, and unconditionally supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Anti-war solidarity

The projects of the Anti-War Committee are aimed not only at helping Russians and Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, but also at consolidating grassroots anti-war initiatives both within Russia and abroad. One of these projects,Ark”, provides legal, psychological and other assistance to people leaving Russia because of their anti-war position. In a number of countries, Kovcheg has created coliving houses that provide forced immigrants with temporary shelter.

«After the start of mobilization in Russia, the influx of people into Kazakhstan was so huge that they literally spent the night on the ground. Kazakhs had to open shopping malls to let in Russian refugees”, – recalls Anastasia Burakova.

In addition, Kovcheg supports counter-propaganda initiatives and helps businessmen who have left Russia and are ready to do honest business abroad if they encounter problems not because of support for the war, but solely because of the presence of a Russian passport.

Anti-war initiatives are coordinated by Anastasia Shevchenko. According to her, it is extremely important to show politicians and citizens of Western countries, as well as Ukrainians, that not all Russian society supports the war. Anastasia notes that every time more and more people around the world come out to protest. At the moment, Anastasia Shevchenko organizes actions in defense of Ukrainian children and Russian political prisoners. This includes writing letters to those who are now in prison, and helping the families of political prisoners - an experience that has long been implemented by the Belarusian diaspora.

Do sanctions work?

Another important issue raised at the meeting concerned anti-Russian sanctions. Mikhail Khodorkovsky divided them into three types. According to him, short-term sanctions on the financial and energy sectors are very costly for Europe. The former political prisoner believes that the effectiveness would have been much higher if this money had been spent on weapons for Ukraine.

Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

The second type of sanctions concerns the ban on access to technology, which, according to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has a rather significant impact on Moscow's ability to produce new weapons. However, the oppositionist noted that the emigration of highly qualified technological specialists hits the Kremlin's capabilities even more than the restrictions imposed by the West.

If we talk about personal sanctions, according to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, they are very effective, although they do not achieve the goal for which they were originally introduced by the West.

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«Rich people in Russia are not really oligarchs, because they cannot influence the policy of the authorities. It would be more correct to call them agents of Putin. Therefore, it was very naive to believe that they would be able to overthrow the regime in order to get rid of the sanctions. However, sanctions reduce Putin's influence in the political circles of Western countries, and in this sense they work perfectly. For example, if Putin's friends were as influential in Germany today as they were a few years ago, the decision to provide military assistance to Ukraine might not have been taken by Berlin.”, Mikhail Khodorkovsky explains.

Summing up, we can say that the window of opportunity for building a democratic Russia will indeed be very narrow and short-lived. Nevertheless, there is still a chance to influence the future of the country if both the Russian opposition and Western countries understand very clearly what result they would like to see, and how exactly they should go towards this result.

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a meeting San Francisco Mikhail Khodorkovsky loudspeakers
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