Aleksey Kurtov: “Putin is inclined to consider the citizens even not as subjects but as children”
The president of the Russian Association of Political Consultants about the 20th anniversary of “Putin’s Russia”. Part 2
In the second part of the interview with Realnoe Vremya dedicated to Vladimir Putin’s 20 years in power, President of the Russian Association of Political Consultants Aleksey Kurtov says if the Russian leader is ready to build a state of justice and what a new class of citizens who need metropolis wants from him.
“We see Putin as a mixture of paternalism and liberalism”
Mr Kurtov, is it correct that today’s Vladimir Putin has completely and finally focused on foreign affairs?
In my opinion, Mr Putin has lost interest in the day-to-day management of the country in the last two years. Undoubtedly, strategically, he sets tasks and goals to himself and performs the tasks he thinks it is impossible to rule the country — the rest is done by his administration, that’s to say, the president’s administration, which deals with both domestic politics and regions and so on.
So now Putin is in a state of inner comfort and is doing what he wants at this moment. He will decide what will happen — domestic politics or a trip to find out what’s going on in the Far East with floods or fires — from a perspective of his comfort.
But I wouldn’t say that he has focused only on foreign politics, I don’t have such a feeling.
How normal is it to base on the state of inner comfort when managing the state, not the situation in the country?
As a person chairing the Russian state for quite a long time, Putin has an idea that the people are unreasonable, which means that he just needs to help them — to educate in a direction the authorities need, help think and reason in this direction. Putin is inclined to consider the citizens even not as subjects but as children who don’t understand many things, don’t know this life, hence his current interaction with society and its problems.
Now Putin is in a state of inner comfort and is doing what he wants at this moment. He will decide what will happen — domestic politics or a trip to find out what’s going on in the Far East with floods or fires — from a perspective of his own comfort
In my opinion, Putin’s paternalism is excessive. Many of us know from the course on social psychology that if a child constantly grows up in the care of his parents, he doesn’t grow up independent, but it is convenient for parents to manage the child this way because it is easier. The simplification of this task by Vladimir Putin now starts to play a negative role in society.
But if he decided to consider the common people as children, why didn’t he set a course for the creation of a strong social state, the state of justice?
At the heart, Putin is a liberal anyway, not socialist, and the liberal system of economic views has always been his feature, especially during the first term. Of course, liberalism talks about the person as a self-sufficient character of society, but at the same time, it says that every person must be responsible for his development himself. So the strange mixture of the president’s paternalism, that’s to say, when Putin allegedly knows what should be done to citizens as “children” and liberalism, in other words, I give you frames for development, and you can choose your life path, it is what we see now.
But such an approach is already logically becoming complicated. When Putin’s people control all the political and economic part of the development of our country, it isn’t a very liberal story. Yes, the Kremlin says that you can create a thousand parties, open your enterprises, but all this looks bizarre in the liberal model.
Is it a kind of 19th-century capitalism, not liberalism?
Liberalism can be different. Yes, protection of freedoms and possibilities of a person are the most important things in it. But there was Stalinist liberalism, which said that you can do whatever you want but under Comrade Stalin’s wise management. There also was Hitler’s liberalism, which said that all nations were equal, but some were more equal.
Putin doesn’t need to say anything in public — the opposition to unsatisfied people, the aspiration to show the power of the state suggests that this situation really concerns our state
“A big class of people expressing some other requirements to authorities who weren’t heard previously is growing up”
Can the events happening now around the election to the Moscow State Duma be considered as a wake-up call for Putin?
Yes, and I think it is a reason for Putin to think that a big class of people expressing some other requirements to the current political and economic system who weren’t heard previously is growing up. It is clear why these events are taking place in big cities and why there is no protest in small cities. Citizens of metropolises have three satisfied levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: safety in big cities was regulated, people can earn money there, which means they physiological needs are met, and these people have an environment they find comfortable to be in. And now they need to go to the next level, which is called by Maslow as recognition of these people’s status by the state, the need for a social experience and so on.
Today residents of metropolises see that they don’t have social recognition — they aren’t given a chance to express their will in this society the way they see it. For instance, they aren’t given a chance to choose the deputy they would like to vote for in the next election. Moreover, legislation excludes ticking the box “against all” in the election, which means that people can’t say that all candidates are bad. This big class that isn’t given a chance of normal choice is accumulated in big cities, and it will make itself known somehow in the short run.
Meanwhile, Putin hasn’t said anything about the protests directly. Can we evaluate the forced measures of fight against the protest (arrests, raids) as a “reply”?
Putin doesn’t need to say anything in public — the opposition to unsatisfied people, the aspiration to show the power of the state suggests that this situation concerns our state. The Kremlin wants to neutralise it, minimise it. I think that Putin is handling the situation this way.
Does it mean that he won’t make even such small concessions as registration of several candidates from the same Yabloko, which is a kind of part of the system?
Putin won’t make any concessions. If there is some concession or some reasonable settlement of the current situation, it won’t probably come from him. Though we remember the story about the church construction in Yekaterinburg where Putin had to interfere. But Yekaterinburg was simply lucky — the president was just in a bad situation, he had to express his opinion, this is why the decision to build the church was cancelled. I think Putin won’t do so any more.
The situation with Ivan was considered soundly, and our leading mass media worked as a team
There was Golunov’s case, too. Isn’t it a concession?
Golunov’s case isn’t political. The journalist was released not because of the public’s reaction but because of the circumstances: the situation with Ivan was considered soundly, and our leading mass media worked as a team.
Can we suppose that neither the Bolotnaya concessions — the simplification of registration of parties, the return of governors’ election and the mixed election system to the State Duma — were concessions to a considerable part of society from Putin?
The registration of parties wasn’t simplified to increase the political field but to spoil it. As we see, a lot of parties didn’t show off — they totalled 70 until recently, but a couple of months ago 15 of them were “closed” because the parties were created for parties. Is it concessions?
If we are talking about the return of governors’ election, it is also hard to call it a concession — the introduction of a municipal filter for them turned a concession into a sophisticated form of forced pressure on the election process. There weren’t concessions to the protestors after the events in 2011-2012, Putin doesn’t make concessions. He can deal with checks and balances, the expression of power, not concessions. Take the same international level where Putin both looks for partners and puts pressure to achieve what he wants but doesn’t give way.
Russia doesn’t have a system of such dialogue, interaction. It is considered at the top that only power, not dialogue, can win force. And concessions, if they are made, will become another way of putting pressure on the opposition and those people who want to achieve something.
Does it mean that the protest won’t give anything to the opposition and unsatisfied Muscovites?
Nothing will change. For instance, Petersburg, the same outrage is taking place there. You know, if Putin starts to cancel something step by step, the wave of desire and wrath will really spread across Russia: like if you can make a concession to Moscow, why not give way to our region?
Of course, we have last year’s precedent with the pre-election and its postponement in the Far East and Khakassia, but it is too remote territories from the densely populated centre. This is why authorities won’t make concessions to Moscow but will escalate the current situation until it reaches its height.
People are already looking at this situation differently. They didn’t see its benefit — domestic, foreign, economic. In addition, they made sure that Crimea isn’t adjusted for the holiday
“The current authorities can’t allow a transition period”
Famous economist Mikhail Dmitriyev said almost a couple of days ago that according to social surveys the “Crimean consensus” had ended. Is it true?
I agree, people are already looking at this situation differently. They didn’t see its benefit — domestic, foreign, economic. Besides, they made sure that Crimea isn’t adjusted for the holiday.
At last, is there any sense in talking about Putin’s successor now? Will there be any?
It is too early to discuss the topic of successor. And I don’t think the successor will be chosen — an operation designed to change the system is likely to be carried out, and it will be carried out very fast because the current authorities can’t allow a transition period, a transition period is a disorder in the system of political and economic elites, which can’t be gathered then. This is why if there is a desire to leave Mr Putin as the first person for many many years, it will change the landscape everyone will get used to.
Political expert Valery Solovey said that society doesn’t have a demand for a strong arm, a security official any more. Who do you think the people would choose now as president?
I can say for sure that the bulk of our people will base on the desire of justice, hope, confidence. And they will choose a young, handsome and smart head of the country — not a liberal, neither a security official but a person who understands the complaints of the people, who is honest and fair. In general, the people wanted such a president 20 years ago too.
Does it mean that the people want their own Zelensky?
Perhaps. Zelensky certainly has a half of such qualities.