Wasserman: ‘If nothing tragic happens to Mr Lukashenko, it won’t be possible to topple him’
An interview with the famous opinion journalist, political consultant and polymath about the recent events
Anatoly Wasserman visited Tatarstan last week — it was his first trip outside Moscow since the self-isolation period. Realnoe Vremya had few talks with him and talked about what Wasserman thought was going on in Belarus and what had happened before the election, what the protest would end with, the underpinning of Sergey Furgal’s arrest and if the vaccine against the coronavirus should be received.
“Lukashenko’s opponents made a strategic mistake: they began to go by Sharp’s guidebook wrongly”
Mr Wasserman, what are the odds everything happening now in Belarus will go badly for Lukashenko?
There is some chance. He can, for instance, have a stroke or heart attack. He is aged when, unfortunately, this should also be taken into consideration. But if you are wondering if the “protestutes” will manage to topple him, I think there is no chance. The case is that it is a very significant element of the colour riot — it isn’t opposition to the power. And this non-opposition is achieved quite simply — some of the key people in authority are threatened that in the case of opposition he will lose his assets in banks of the countries participating in staging the coup. As I can judge, neither Lukashenko nor those people whom he relies on have assets that succumb to the American press.
Moreover, it is important that Lukashenko’s opponents made a strategic mistake: they began to go by Sharp’s guidebook wrongly — they began to organise disorder, arson, run into the police and so on. I mean they immediately showed most Belarus’s people who they were and what methods they used. And now, as far as I can say, the people doesn’t buy into ladies in white (so that possible blood would be more visible) handing over armfuls of flowers. They know what these flowers can turn into. This is why I think if nothing tragic happens to Mr Lukashenko, it won’t be possible to topple him.
So are your sure that the protests aren’t an initiative of the people itself and somebody is managing them?
I am sorry but I am familiar with this guidebook. I have read it. I have seen a paper on this guidebook (unfortunately, not first-hand but mainly on the Euronews screen). So I don’t think, I know.
Is Tikhanovskaya an independent figure? What’s happening to her?
It is her husband and sponsors. She went into politics after her husband was arrested for officially stealing much money from Belgaz[prom]bank. As I can judge, this accusation looks plausible. And when she went into politics understanding nothing about it, of course, she turned out a captive of the opinions of those who are financing her activity now, while their number is big. It seems they haven’t agreed yet on how to fight more effectively. It is quite possible [that she is daily receiving new instructions and following them].
Is it possible that assistance for Lukashenko will go to Belarus from Russia?
It depends on what assistance you mean.
Military assistance won’t certainly appear. There will be no need in general, neither will there be other types of help. But I think that some of our advisors are working with him now and indicating where and how to direct forces.
Lukashenko’s opponents made a strategic mistake: they began to go by Sharp’s guidebook wrongly — they began to organise disorder, arson, run into the police and so on. I mean they immediately showed most Belarus’s people who they were and what methods they used
“Illegal arrests happen when any popular unrest is dispersed”
Belarusian security workers are acting very harshly. How is the police’s such cruelty justified? Because they could have acted softer.
I suspect that these stories are primarily included in the same script. It is clear that it is not always possible to arrest people who are seriously armed and count on foreign protection without a problem. Moreover, these people are deliberately trained to act this way so that as many people in the neighbourhood as possible will get into trouble, and this is why it is completely obvious that such illegal arrests happen when any popular unrest is dispersed. Unfortunately, Belarus isn’t an exception.
But those who seemed to get into trouble by mistake have already begun to be released in Belarus. By the way, this is already included in the standard script. Knowing that most arrested people will soon be released, organisers of popular unrest always require to immediately release all participants. And when people who aren’t implicated or have little implication began to be released, the organisers shout: “All’s right, the tyranny wimped out, the tyranny caved in, the tyranny gave up!”
As for some specific examples, let’s say, a lot is written about firing at windows, but it is delicately omitted that not flowers are flying towards the police from these windows. I remember it recently flashed in the news how a massive door was thrown into a police car from a balcony...
But stories about beaten teenagers are appearing. Because one thing is to arrest and jail, another thing is to cruelly beat.
You try to arrest an 18-year-old teenager, an ignorant who did training, moreover, not necessarily in some special camp for militants. For instance, football fans seriously train wrestling skills as well. So this is, unfortunately, inevitable.
You know, everything you are enumerating is different sides of one and the same script that was described in detail and thoroughly studied. It is known as Sharp’s guidebook because Gene Sharp explained the takeaways of this script in the book From Dictatorship to Democracy. Going by this book, any democracy can turn into dictatorship, not vice versa because any real dictator will make sure there will be nobody to make the second step anymore if one tries to go against him in this book.
So I am answering your questions so easily since I am familiar both with Sharp’s guidebook and the practice of its application. Because all this has already been studied.
It is completely obvious that such illegal arrests happen when any popular unrest is dispersed. Unfortunately, Belarus isn’t an exception
“Neither fish nor flesh”
Strange events happened before the election in Belarus — Russian citizens were arrested, there was a scandal. What was it?
Materials from the arrested people’s email were published as early as last Friday. It seems that they gave the passwords to our prosecutors. It turns out that Ukrainian special services staged the provocation, but they had accomplices in Belarus itself as well. It is particularly those who pour all this rubbish into Mr Lukashenko’s ears. Most importantly, Mr Lukashenko himself was bought into it.
He seemed to decide he could go through the western blockade after the election this way. Because the West quite seriously restricts Belarus’s possibilities in both economic and political cooperation. But as I noted in my comments, he was very mistaken — he tried to repeat the policy Kuchma and Yanukovich had. They hoped that their main electorate — Russian majority of Ukraine’s citizens — wouldn’t disappear and tried to pouch the anti-Russian minority. And at the same time, they tried to show the Americans like: “We are against the Russian Federation, give us something for this”.
Did Mr Lukashenko make a wrong stake? How fatal will it be for him?
It won’t be fatal. He was elected anyway, but by a notably smaller minority. And it will be like in the fable “neither fish nor flesh”. I mean ours will control him more, of course, and the Americans will give him nothing. It is his guilt, he will take the rap. This won’t influence economic relations with Belarus. Politically, I think when Mr Putin called Mr Lukashenko on the eve of the election, he gave him to understand that that could happen only twice — for the first and last time.
There have been a lot of talks about integration, nearly the creation of an allied state in the last years...
There is a subtlety. Belarus has an economic management system, which is in some respect better than in the Russian Federation. But this happened mainly because Belarus’s economy is incomparably simpler. It has much fewer different areas of activity, this is why the state can pay more attention to their coordination because the amount of cooperation between activities is the square of the number of these areas. Therefore the Belarusian management system can’t be applied to the Russian Federation technically (at least now).
By my estimate, the computing capacity it takes to switch to qualitatively different management methods will be accumulated in the world in some ten years. Consequently, I think the level of integration that has been achieved is the best. But as the mathematical perspective of the management theory is studied comparably little and isn’t understood by the masses, many seriously misunderstand the range of problems. This is why it is necessary to explain this level of integration provoking demonstrative conflicts from time to time. And seems that Mr Lukashenko has gone too far and is already taking this conflict seriously.
Lukashenko was elected anyway, but by a notably smaller minority. And it will be like in the fable “neither fish nor flesh”. I mean ours will control him more, of course, and the Americans will give him nothing. It is his guilt, he will take the rap
“A lot of people who invested money in the voting for Furgal haven’t offset their costs”
The election in Russia will be soon, some protest activity broke out after the Khabarovsk events against this backdrop. How do you evaluate what is happening?
A lot of factors overlapped in Khabarovsk. Firstly, Furgal, in fact, was chosen during the protest voting against the United Russian governor who didn’t act in the best way, to put it mildly. Moreover, Furgal himself didn’t have the time to accumulate negativity because he worked comparably little. And people considered his arrest as punishment for this protest voting.
Secondly, a lot of people who invested money in the voting for Furgal haven’t offset their costs. This is why they tried to invest in the promotion of the protest hoping they would manage to get something. In fact, Furgal is, indeed, one of those who became famous in the turbulent 90s and, as I said in one of the talks with my colleagues, “Sergey Furgal has been overtaken by his criminal past”.
So many years later.
It is a pity, of course. But what can we do? Such cases have a period of limitation, but there is a detail: the period of limitation can be extended if new circumstances suggest that the investigation stopped improperly. Here it is the case: several people in law enforcement agencies, as it turned out, added Furgal to the documents with different mistakes. Consciously, of course. Consequently, the period of limitation was extended.
Why wasn’t he arrested earlier?
Firstly, because he was covered up this way. Secondly, because several accomplices of these crimes were recently arrested and they didn’t want to pay the full price, ratted on whom ordered this from them. This happens. Personally, I don’t think Furgal was arrested for political motives. Everything is within the Criminal Code.
A lot of people who invested money in the voting for Furgal haven’t offset their costs. This is why they tried to invest in the promotion of the protest hoping they would manage to get something
“I hope only for vaccination”
Do you think the Russian authorities have managed to defeat the coronavirus pandemic?
Judging by the experience of other countries, we’ve handled the pandemic better. We have come to the best compromise between keeping the incidence and economy. For instance, the Swedish ran a risk, almost didn’t impose quarantine. Consequently, their economic fall has turned out the lowest but the death toll per capita is almost like the one in the United States of America. While the Chinese went to the opposite extreme: they imposed quarantine in the regions till the end, but the economic activity in these regions has fallen almost to zero. This is why it seems that we have come to the best compromise mainly because we managed to restrict links with the countries that were already infected with the virus in time, this is why we get more time to choose a strategy.
What will happen next?
Let’s wait and see. I hope only for vaccination. Even if the immunity caused by the vaccine is short-term, as it is assumed now, literally 2-3 months, it will anyway be enough to break the chain of the spread of the virus. Then, the second vaccination will probably not be necessary.
A professor who is developing a vaccine in our university doubts that there will be enough production capacities at the beginning to make the vaccine to provide all people who want to be vaccinated.
We make a lot of different vaccines now, moreover, we provide not only ourselves but also many other countries. In the last resort, these production capacities will be repurposed for some time. The case is that a lot of vaccines are made with almost the same technology with few changes. This is why as soon as a relevant decision is made, the production will be provided.
Moreover, there is an agreement on joint development between us and an English company — the production will be set up both here and there. But in the West this was interpreted as an attempt of Russian hackers to steal English secrets, though, in fact, rather the English tried to steal our secrets if we stick to this logic... In a word, there will be enough capacities.
The vaccine of the Gamaleya Institute has already been registered. Are you planning to receive the vaccine?
I am sorry, I can’t do this now. The vaccine has been registered only for people from 18 to 60 years. I understand the reason: because the vaccine injected to the organism like any vaccine, in fact, causes different side effects. Do you remember Mr Putin saying that his daughter had a temperature of 38 degrees, the second day was better, on the third day she had nothing? So the older the person is, the more dangerous the side effects are. This is why there must be made up a separate list of contraindications to the vaccine for people above 60 years. And just smaller doses must be chosen for children. Both cases are a topic for independent research. But I am almost sure that the use will be permitted.
Maybe a bit later?
Yes, as soon as possible, as people say.
I hope only for vaccination. Even if the immunity caused by the vaccine is short-term, as it is assumed now, literally 2-3 months, it will anyway be enough to break the chain of the spread of the virus
“Structural changes in the economy are inevitable”
A number of changes have been made now to the Labour Code, particularly, the legal foundation for telecommuting has been regulated. Do you think that a lot of employers will take advantage of this possibility in the future after the pandemic?
It is really more convenient for many, and many will probably keep actively doing it. But I don’t even dare to guess who will and who will not.
What will be the consequences of the pandemic for the Russian economy?
The consequences are quite tough for the economy of the whole world because a variety of technology chains have been broken. It is unclear yet how to restore them. A lot of enterprises aren’t operating not because they can’t but because some of their partners aren’t working now. And the restoration of all these chains is a very complicated task. It isn’t compulsory to restore the old chains — new ones can be created. Both things are tough enough. Structural changes in the economy are inevitable — precisely because some technology chains have been broken. And it means that we will have to change many things in the whole economic structure.
What can it be in Russia? What exactly can be affected by these changes?
I don’t know. If I did I would probably try to run such a business.