Ekaterina Vinokurova, Znak: ''I think that Medvedev is an underrated president''

How Navalny is similar to Putin, whether there is a fight with corruption, and why Rustam Minnikhanov is criticising the federal government

Ekaterina Vinokurova, Znak: ''I think that Medvedev is an underrated president'' Photo: gdb.rferl.org

Will Dmitry Medvedev be Putin's successor? Why has Shaimiev become an adviser to Kiriyenko? Whether Rustam Minnikhanov should expect a harsh response for his speech about the regions-donors? A Russian journalist, a special correspondent for the online newspaper Znak.com Ekaterina Vinokurova answered these and other questions of Realnoe Vremya. The Russians remembered her for her question to Vladimir Putin about the salary of Igor Sechin at the last press conference of the president.

Underrated Medvedev and ''who is Mr Navalny''

Ekaterina, you pay special attention to the political topics, so I want to ask you about the presidential election, which will take place soon. Is there any successor to Putin and who they can be, in your opinion? Many think it is Medvedev, by the way.

I will probably tell a terrible thing: I think that Medvedev is a very underrated president. I know we all laugh at for his love of iPhones, at his phrases ''we have no money but you hang in there''. However, I remember that under Medvedev it was adopted the liberalisation of the Criminal Code. I think, maybe in 100 years, it will be written about it in future history books.

''I think that Medvedev is a very underrated president. I know we all laugh at for his love of iPhones, at his phrases ''we have no money but you hang in there''. However, I remember that under Medvedev it was adopted the liberalisation of the Criminal Code.'' Photo: kremlin.ru

What can you say about that if suddenly it is not Mr Putin: there are high chances that Medvedev will be recommended for a period of time until they know what to do next. Because a Russia's problem today is that we have no tool for a peaceful transition of power and there is no tool that guarantees the safety and the interests of all power groups. At the same time, these groups run the risk because they forget about the public sentiments, which can change at any time. But on the other hand, these people have a very difficult life: they are living in a paranoid world where all are fighting against all, in which no publication is published for no reason (this is definitely someone's order). It is possible that Medvedev (not the strongest figure at this stage) can be some transitional option. But I'm afraid, of course, I am only guessing, maybe I do not see or do not know something.

By the way, one of my friends, who usually gives me very good forecasts that almost always come true, believes that there is still a possibility that Putin is elected in 2018, but he will not be a full term. It can also be.

How did you react to the fact that Navalny ran for the president? One more question, who is Mr Navalny?

I've known Navalny, probably, since 2006. I took my first ever interview with him for a student publication, in which he explained that happiness is not about cocaine… But it's the lyrics, of course.

As for who is Mr Navalny: I treat him in a difficult way because, on the one hand, this man is persecuted, his brother is in jail, and he himself is under criminal charges. When a person is in such situation, it is difficult to say about him bad things. On the other hand, Navalny is not a democratic politician, he is totally an authoritarian leader. In this respect, he is similar to Putin. He is very tough on those people, who do not show enough loyalty to him, and that is a huge problem.

Again, the fans of Navalny alarm me, they behave exactly the same as the radical fans of Putin, and for whom Navalny is an icon. I want to change not a human, I want to change the system itself, but the system ''Who if not him?'' is the preservation of the old regime with a completely personal preference, unsaid truths or distortion of the facts.

''I treat him in a difficult way because, on the one hand, this man is persecuted, his brother is in jail, and he himself is under criminal charges. When a person is in such situation, it is difficult to tell say him bad things. On the other hand, Navalny is not a democratic politician, he is totally an authoritarian leader.'' Photo: vistanews.ru

''Chosen'' Shaimiev and the federal response to Minnikhanov

Why do you think Kiriyenko appointed Shaimiev as his adviser?

First, Shaimiev is one of the founders of the United Russia. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that Shaimiev will advise him on communication with the governor corps.

Honestly, I find it difficult to answer why he has chosen him, but I think that Shaimiev as a figure, who stands along with such ex-governors-titans like Rosell, he was chosen as a kind of above-figure whom younger governors will take seriously.

You probably know about the last statement of Rustam Minnikhanov that, roughly speaking, the centre milk the regions but does not give money. How do you think, what consequences for this statement can be?

I avow that I love your region. When I come to you, you see… Roads, for example, are of much better quality than in neighbouring Bashkortostan. Your region is much more well-kept than the average in Russia. I think you know that.

What can I say about the statement. It is clear that there is a dissatisfaction among the governors from affluent regions, such as yours, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, Tyumen. Money became less, and the federal center takes all and allocates them on some strange projects. For example, in the Caucasian republics they sometimes implement some giant, with very questionable effectiveness projects.

It was the statement that sounded quite logical. However, it alarms me that there will be a harsh answer to your leader. It just might lead to some very dangerous stories when there can be flirting with extremist, radical factor, in order to besiege it.

I have travelled around Russia a lot recently and I see this creeping vector of decentralisation. I see a growth of dislike to Moscow, and there is the request for greater autonomy, that the country was federated, because it is unitary.

You sit so that the top official could see you, and you try to draw attention: I look at him, wave my hand, and if he pays attention, I try to explain silently that I need the most

Loss of controllability of the system

Ekaterina, as a journalist I can't help but ask you — how do you manage to ask Putin questions regularly at press conferences? Do you have a personal recipe for success in this case?

The first time I managed to generate the recipe at the end of 2012, when I was working in the Gazeta.ru and when my editor, sending me, clearly stated, ''Go there just for the fact of attendance, you have no chances because a number of journalists already have preliminary agreements, and we do not have them this year.'' You know, when they say that I have no chance, I automatically decide to try.

What I did: I wore a bright dress (as the press conference took place in December, the majority of participants were in black and grey), I also decided not to take any posters. Instead, I took a bright red scarf. And then the system is following: you set yourself a task that in the next two hours you do not have other purposes, except to ask a question. You sit so that the top official could see you, and you try to draw his attention: I look at him, wave my hand, and if he pays attention, I try to explain silently that I need the most.

Was there any effect from the previous questions?

You know, the effect always was, and it was always very quick. I remember I asked, in 2013 I believe, about the case of a political activist Daniil Konstantinov: he was accused of committing a murder. But the problem was that exactly at that moment he was in another place, on the birthday of his mother in a restaurant. This was confirmed by checks, billing — everything. The next day after I asked Mr Putin the question, the court remanded the case to the Prosecutor, and in the end, Daniil was released.

There have been other cases. Every time I mentioned any specific precedents, the problem was solved. What is more, in a matter of days because, as far as I know, at the end of a press conference they write assignments. All this is documented and then goes for work.

In general, a press conference is an effective tool for solving specific problems or for raising global issues. For example, I have raised the global issue for several years that our justice has accusatory bias and that it needs serious reforms.

''Every time I mentioned any specific precedents, the problem was solved. What is more, in a matter of days because, as far as I know, at the end of a press conference they write assignments. All this is documented, and then goes for work.'' Photo: kremlin.ru

Were you satisfied with the reply of the President in 2016?

Yes and no. As always, by the way. Look, I asked him a question that he actually says things that are hard to argue. For example, in the last message, it was very important for me that he said about the need for national reconciliation and consent. I think this is the kind of idea that we need now.

He also said that the officials need to be more modest (the question about the head of Rosneft Igor Sechin — editor's note) but the problem is that exactly the opposite is happening, and a particular danger is posed by so-called radical patriots, the so-called radical believers who really do everything so that believers became less. They are doing everything to distort the concept of patriotism because they call for reprisals on the ideological basis. I believe that this is unacceptable, especially in such beautiful country like ours, in a country with such a complex history. Officials have just drowned in luxury, despite the fact that the population in recent years has become living worse and it is no secret — it is Rosstat. On the one hand, it was important for me that he clearly stated that it is necessary to be more modest, but on the other hand, he did not give an answer to the problem of loss of controllability of the system. In many cases, he says one thing and people do the opposite.

I also turned to him with a request for two specific criminal cases. First, it is the case of a journalist of RBK Aleksandr Sokolov, who is accused of extremism, even though what we see from the case, the prosecution is a nonsense. His investigative journalism has caused concern to officials, including the power unit. Second, Eugenia Chudnovets, and I've been digging into this case: there are three people who are in jail now and not only Evgeniya is innocent but also a camp counsellor Daniil Bezborodov. I studied all the materials, they simply have no evidence.

Unfortunately, this time I'm honestly shocked because the system started to do exactly the opposite of what I asked of the president. Despite the fact that the president said he would handle this and it is true what I was saying, the case is horrible. But instead, they began to push on people even more. To leave a woman at 30 C below zero in a punishment cell called ''hole'', to mock her – it means to kill her on principle ''no person — no problem''. I hope that after all the people around the president will see that they just let him down, that they expose him as a man who does not keep his word. It is the loss of controllability of the system. Basically, a collapse of the state starts with this. It is a very dangerous situation.

To be continued…

By Lina Sarimova