‘In eight years, Elon Musk built a spacecraft sending four people to space, whereas we haven’t managed to achieve it even in 60 years’
Because we have backward elites, political campaigner Alexey Kurtov believes
Joseph Biden’s victory in the US presidential election made different experts talk about possible disagreement in ruling Russian elites. There is an opinion, for instance, that security elites will lean towards China, which business elites won’t like. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, President of the Russian Association of Political Consultants, political campaigner Alexey Kurtov explained if such an assumption can exist and if goals of Russia’s political elite can be understood in general.
“From a perspective of domestic policy, neither Biden nor Trump is our friend or foe”
Different political commentators are prone to raise the topic of disagreement or possible schism between the elites from time to time, due to some tumultuous events. How to tell if there is a schism or its signs? In other words, how to learn the real picture? I understand that the system is closed, but anyway.
The recipes are simple. Fact-checking without which I think life is impossible now goes to the first place for me. Our Telegram channels are mostly anonymous, and I try not to read them, while personal channels of those people who are interesting for me should be read, which I do. And if a person is really an expert, I accept his opinion. By the way, it is very stupid when some try to prohibit fact-checking like our lawmakers want to do now — they think that if fake news appears, this must simply be forbidden. But nothing can be forbidden.
But back to your question. One should simply carefully consider what you consume as an irritant of inner reflection. Secondly, resources must always be compared: if I am written something important about a person but this doesn’t contain resources, what can be done? If you want to understand a process like a fight of elites, you should understand if these processes have resources and what’s going on with them. It is important to look at a person’s resources, not only the events linked with him. A lot of events take place, but I rarely see resource-rich events.
As I understand, hasn’t this system of fact-checking detected any tension among the elites, if not schism so far?
This system allowed focusing on other things, not who from the elite said what, who took away something from somebody and so on.
Of course, we have recently noticed that the very close connection between the political and economic elite has been very noticeable in the country. Yes, political instruments are used in economic affairs, economic experiments are done in political affairs. Again, we should look not at what is done but at what goals the political elite pursues, which is at the moment hard to understand.
How do you think Biden’s victory in the US presidential election has influenced the elites? Once he advised Putin not to run for the third time as the Russian president, and it isn’t excluded that this will somehow influence their relationships and the countries’ relationships.
Biden’s victory hasn’t influenced the Kremlin at all (laughing). In general, from a perspective of domestic policy, neither Biden nor Trump is our friend or foe. We aren’t members with neither military nor political alliances with the Americans: we cooperate with them in global tasks such global warming, greenhouse emissions, stabilisation in such “hazardous” areas as the Near East, but all this is an external environment, not domestic policy.
Another thing is that it is very convenient for somebody to change aspects of internal debates and start to make up domestic foes or, on the contrary, new friends. And all this used rather for propaganda than considering real life.
In general, from a perspective of domestic policy, neither Biden nor Trump is our friend or foe. We aren’t members with neither military nor political alliances with the Americans: we cooperate with them in global tasks
Does it mean that public opinion journalist Prokhanov with his Russia’s U-turn towards China provided just fuss, nothing more?
It is rather distraction, some smokescreen. Grannies’ life somewhere in Vologda Oblast won’t change because Biden or Trump again will be in the White House, no granny’s life will change.
“We learn about the elites’ children when they start to occupy some government posts”
Who are the elites in Russia today in general?
Talking about the elites ruling the country, there is a problem that’s very characteristic of our time — we have a poor understanding of the elites’ real goals in administration, we don’t know who are in the elite administration in fact, what instruments managerial elites use at work and what resources they have, we don’t know what responsibility these elites have and so on.
Of course, if we ask a person in the street if he knows who is in the country’s elite, he will say: “I do, of course, it is the president, the prime minister, ministers”. Some will name the last names of those who are considered President Putin’s immediate entourage — the Rotenbergs, Kovalchuks, and that’s it. And it turns out that we have to use these last names in the information space, and it turns out that we don’t understand how this system works inside, how figures interact with each other and how the system interacts with the external world.
Yevgeny Minchenko promotes some model of description of elite groups in our country, as you know, he named it Politburo 2.0. I don’t know how to evaluate it from a perspective of authenticity, from a perspective of the attempt to describe what elites is and their actions inside the country, such a model in general is good. Again, we don’t know how true Politburo 2.0 is because we live without feedback, which is bad. Let’s say, the system of robotics, radio equipment starts to lose its balance without feedback, and we start to make up something, start to attribute something to the system, while in the theory of information management this is called information distortion.
So it turns out we live in a distorted world in which Russian elites for us are a very closed stratum.
Judge yourself, we learn about the elites’ children when they start to occupy some government posts, but we don’t always understand why this child occupied a significant post, not another. And due to this there is a feeling of cautiousness, the feeling that they treat you unreasonably when you don’t understand the motivation of people who make influential decisions.
We learn about the elites’ children when they start to occupy some government posts, but we don’t always understand why this child occupied a significant post, not another
Is it hard for us to understand what managerial elites and their groups are because of the power’s low profile and closed nature?
The low profile and closed nature are a consequence, the cause is different: our top functionaries don’t know how to work in an open space. We have entered a new reality that the technological revolution linked with digitalisation has brought us in the last 20 years. We know that humankind’s history was formed not by people, not the weather but technologies changes that were brought to the world either through discoveries or history: iron, bronze, the wheel and so on. If we have a look at recent history, machine tools that making mechanical processes move appeared, developed cities servicing a lot of people appeared, and cities didn’t became the place one can hide from the enemy’s attacks but became a place where a commodity is made, there is commodity exchange, then electricity appeared that changed the appearance of our world, then communications appeared, with wires first, then contactless.
Now we live in the digital era and already ask what digitalisation is: a goal, an instrument or a system in which we have to live for some time. And it turns out that our citizens and elites, of course, appeared in a new technological environment we can’t escape — ban, close something in this environment, but you can’t escape from it! And the fact that the elites don’t know how to live in this environment, their undesire to expose information leads to a conclusion that it is unclear who the country’s real elites are.
And digitalisation envisages interaction in all social spheres of people’s lives — from citizens who never go to elections (but who need to interact with the authorities, parties and so on) to the top of the authorities for whom digitalisation is Facebook that must be banned or YouTube that they try to ban across the country for various reasons.
We see the authorities don’t know how to work in an open space, which is bad. Otherwise, you won’t understand what will happen to the country tomorrow, you won’t understand what administration system we need in the future and how we can build it. Digitalisation makes us understand a lot — including to what system of life we will transition in the next years. But the elites aren’t ready for it.
Digitalisation makes us understand a lot — including to what system of life we will transition in the next years. But the elites aren’t ready for it
“Power like generals always prepares for the past war”
Don’t you think all this resembles the USSR in which Politburo 1.0 also paid attention to the technological perspective of life, which laid a mine under the Soviet Union in general? Have these things been forgotten?
People say that history teaches, but I think that history doesn’t teach but punishes. It punishes those who don’t want to understand it. The problem of the Soviet authorities in the late 70s and early 80s was that the whole world started making breakthroughs in new technologies, openness and democracy, which is in general is an invention of humankind, but Soviet ideologists kept closing more information, limiting people’s initiatives to stay in power — they simply didn’t understand how to survive in the new conditions.
In the end, all this was followed by economic stagnation, and without a democratic state in the 70s, the USSR lost that initiative of the citizens. And the loss of the initiative leads to technological losses, losses in education and so on. This is why the situation is similar, of course.
Power like generals always prepares for the past war. In fact, one just needs to be braver and move forward.
What is this situation with keeping power fraught with for the current closed Russian elites in some 10 years? Is it fraught with, for instance, the Belarusian scenario?
I rarely use the word “fraught” when talking about political processes. Every country goes on its own road, and a developed society that knows how to use modern trends and technologies makes two steps, while we will spend ten steps, and all this, first of all, is fraught with the country’s backwardness.
Here I am not saying that the order will change, people will take to the streets, I am saying that we constantly corner ourselves in a situation when we lag. Look, why did Elon Musk who got just $3,5 billion from NASA manage to build a spacecraft in eight years that is already sending four people to space? Whereas we haven’t managed to achieve it even in 60 years.
Backwardness is the main problem for Russian elites, first of all, it is backwardness in socio-political processes like it was in tsarist Russia.
Why did Elon Musk who got just $3,5 billion from NASA manage to build a spacecraft in eight years that is already sending four people to space? Whereas we haven’t managed to achieve it even in 60 years
I would like to resort to the events earlier this year. What did the amendments to the Constitution mean? Can we firmly say that it wasn’t a reaction of one elite group, let’s say, that’s linked with security, to another group’s possible ideas?
It was a preparation for that new reality that began to form in our executives’ heads. Sometimes you prepare for one thing but get another, and at some point, the country’s managers — those who we call elites — began to compare what they tried to do in the country with what they have in fact. And the obtained result didn’t always satisfy them.
Again, due to the closed nature, incapability of using digital technologies and democratic institutions, the system is getting the skills it possesses back. And this is why the extension of the term, maintenance of the status quo as a leader and that elite we are talking about became the goal they are trying to achieve first of all. Again, this is the undesire to live in the new conditions, which means that they have to change the current conditions in their favour.
What can you say to those who like to talk about the possible schism between the elites?
We will never see this schism as a process — we will see only consequences and secondary signs with which we can guess what is rotten in the state of Denmark. As for the schism... We already went through it in the late 90s when this schism between the elites was seen in public debates in the mass media some elite groups owned. And now they don’t have such an opportunity anymore.