“Putin said quite important things — although in an evasive form”
Political expert Dmitry Oreshkin — about the meanings laid down in Putin's words at the press conference
The main event of the week in Russia is the traditional press conference of President Vladimir Putin. Dmitry Oreshkin, a well-known Russian political expert, gives his opinion on the main things that the head of the state expressed during his communication with the press for four and a half hours in an interview with Realnoe Vremya.
“There was a pause in the Navalny case for two days — there was a certain shock at the top, and they did not understand what to say”
Mr Oreshkin, how do you assess the press conference?
It was, of course, predictable. Basically, everyone was waiting to hear what Putin would say about the latest investigation into Navalny's poisoning, and Putin said some pretty important things, albeit in an evasive way.
Putin, in fact, said that the eight people involved in the investigation are really from the special services and explained that since Navalny is a CIA agent, then, as Putin said, they should keep an eye on him. So, he admitted that Navalny had been followed by a team of eight people on all his routes for the last 2-3 years.
At the same time, Putin left out of the brackets why this team of people who kept an eye on Navalny included people associated with the operation and testing of chemical weapons from various research centres and institutes, although the point of the Bellingcat investigation was to show that Navalny was not just under surveillance. But it would be too naive to expect Putin to say much on this issue.
Besides, it seemed to me that when the question about Navalny was asked, apparently, by some coordinated journalist, and Putin answered it, the president felt some relief — and in the future felt relaxed. And then everything went as usual — the current difficulties, problems, unity, successful overcoming, recognition of the difficult situation with the coronavirus and at the same time — a charge of optimism for the audience, and thus we heard nothing new.
Putin firmly said that the investigation with Navalny is the work of the CIA, but for some reason, he did not give evidence. Why?
Well, how can such things be proved?" Putin in such cases uses the following technique — he says that he knows that all telephone conversations are now controlled, that the billing of calls is controlled, and since all this is known to the US intelligence agencies, it means that this is the leakage of the US special services. Earlier, by the way, well-known propagandists Sergey Markov and Sergey Mikheev spoke about such conclusion, but they ran ahead of themselves and said that all this was done by the British special services. It turns out that this was the “intelligence” of the United States — Vladimir Vladimirovich “corrected” them, and now these people are forced to reformat to the United States.
About Britain, this is, of course, a small but interesting detail: in connection with Brexit, the UK has a new political subjectivity, separate from the European Union, and Putin hopes to build some kind of relationship with Britain, because his relations with France and Germany have deteriorated.
The relations with Britain have also long been spoiled, but it is likely that soon the British leadership will have a new foreign policy course, and it will probably be possible to somehow play it out. Just as the Kremlin once tried to split Turkey, put it at odds with NATO and sell it nuclear weapons, thereby creating a common interest between Erdogan and Putin, so now the Kremlin may be thinking about Johnson's interests. That's why it was said not about Britain, but about the United States!
But, again, it is impossible to prove that much in the Navalny case is connected with the CIA — no one can find out where and which special service buys these merged data on billing, flights in Aeroflot, hotel guests and so on on the market. And it can be interpreted by saying that all this was done by the Americans, and Navalny is a CIA agent, because such “conclusion” will quite suit both Putin's “listeners” and the majority of Russians.
It would be strange to hear “nonsense, mud and compote”.
Instead of Putin, this has already been said by Lavrov, Zakharova — that, they say, this is nonsense, mud and complete nonsense, ahead of the Kremlin. But they rushed because, if you noticed, there was a pause in the Navalny case for two days — there was a certain shock at the top, and they did not understand what to say. And although those people who were resolute in voicing their propaganda point of view voiced it, it was a violation of subordination: it was at the top that they had to decide what kind of go-ahead propagandists should use — so Putin gave it on December 17, saying that all this was the work of the American special services in order to elevate Navalny to the level of the main opposition leader, to raise him to the level of Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin will be talking more on the subject of Navalny in the next couple of weeks or it is closed for him?
Now this topic will be developed only by statists — they will “reveal” the machinations of “American intelligence”, since the instruction is given to work in favour of America.
Well, in addition to them, through various kinds of attracted “specialists” on TV, they will say what they previously told about the actions of Novichok — that, they say, Russia doesn't have it, and if they wanted to kill Navalny, they would have killed him for sure.
“We did not manage to collect any laurels in the Belarusian field, it is better not to talk about Belarus”
If the press conference of the president of Russia was held not in December, but in September or October, I am sure that there would be more questions about the difficult situation in Belarus. Why did Putin not devote more time to the events in Russia's most brotherly country and why he did not disclose the details of the talks with Lukashenko to bring some important clarity to this topic?
I just did not expect that he would talk about Lukashenko. Why? For Putin, it is desirable that this topic quickly cooled down — this topic is painful for him, not a win-win. Because Putin is forced to support Lukashenko, which, in general, he does not really like, since he has been dancing all sorts of complex dances with Lukashenko for 20 years, and it cannot be said that with great success. You see, Lukashenko is such a “political animal” who puts his interest in the foreground, violating often unwritten rules of decency. For example, he takes money from Russia, while openly threatening it that otherwise he would reorient himself to the West (although he also took money in the West he, but much less than in Russia), but at the same time, he does not fulfill “conceptual” obligations: Lukashenko did not recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and he did not support even the Crimean epic, which from the point of view of Kremlin strategists is unfair — if you feed with Russian oil and gas, then you at least correspond to important things.
Yes, Lukashenko is disliked in the Kremlin, but an even worse alternative for Putin is that the Lukashenko regime can be removed as a result of mass outrage, that is, what is called an “Orange Revolution” in the Kremlin language. And if Lukashenko leaves power in this case, it will be a clear signal to the Russian society that mass outrage can displace this kind of leader.
Besides, the Kremlin believes that American special services are behind the " colour revolutions”, which in the case of Belarus through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and other satellites are shaking the Lukashenko regime. And so Putin is forced to support this disliked regime, choosing between two evils. The idea that voters can influence the electoral process is deeply alien to people who build vertical schemes. Hence the conclusion why Putin did not dive into the topic of Belarus at the press conference — since no laurels were reaped in the Belarusian field, it is better not to talk about Belarus too much.
And besides, even last summer, many Belarusians looked at Russia with positive expectations and were terribly disappointed that Putin took the side of Lukashenko, which means that Putin's popularity in Belarus is very much going downhill, which, in turn, looking at what happened in Ukraine, means that the concept of the “Russian world”, with which Putin came to power, is bursting at the seams.
The “Russian world” cannot offer anything positive and attractive in its project, even for its Slavic neighbours, and if this does not fit into the ideological concept of the “Russian world” at the moment, it is not worth talking about it and it is better to put aside this topic, which was done.
“Putin can make a decision on the elections tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, or in a year”
On December 17, they could not help but ask Putin about the State Duma elections — the main political event of 2021. Putin said that there are now 16 parties in the country that can go to the Duma without collecting signatures, and that he does not consider the current opposition party members of the Duma to be outdated because they have proved their patriotic position in their activities. Does this mean that the Kremlin will also help these 16 parties and the parties of Messrs. Mironov, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky?
In the Kremlin, there are intelligent, very informed people, and people with a very clear motivation — they need to preserve the system of vertical power, the beneficiaries of which they are all, and this is a single, consolidated, general ideological and material interest for them. Of course, the elections for the Kremlin are a kind of turbulence zone, and they understand that, to put it mildly, the mass voter is disappointed with what is happening in the country, if it does not apply personally to Putin.
Public opinion is trying to “save” Putin, preserving his teflon image, responsible for geopolitics, defense, for the fight against the machinations of the United States, but everything else — economic stagnation, monopolisation of the economy, reducing its efficiency, slowing down GDP growth and, accordingly, income growth, belonged to Putin's inner circle-ministers, parties, parliament, local authorities, governors, and, in my opinion, this system for the Kremlin should remain, and it will remain.
And of course, the leading role of the United Russia will remain — there is no doubt about it, and there seems to be a consensus among political scientists that the majority of votes in the 2021 elections will be reserved for the United Russia, but the accumulated disappointment of voters must somehow be channeled. And so the voters are offered new parties, albeit mixed up in the old yeast: an artificial party is being built for the so-called liberal public New People, a new party is being built for the patriotic public For the Truth. There is also the Greens party, which is concerned about environmental problems, which is associated with the growth of cities, urban population, who feel that something is wrong with the urban environment and it is necessary to somehow improve the situation, and here is the Greens party.
It is clear that these parties are quite manageable, grown in a “Kremlin test tube”, but the “alternative” has been created, and impatient voters can vote for them. Well, it is clear that these parties will slightly bite the leaders of the old parties — for example, Mironov, who as a politician is no longer any and will not be able to invent any new ideas.
Here Zhirinovsky has his own 10 per cent of the electorate, and he will be able to consolidate them in the 2021 elections, and the Communists are sliding down, and here, accordingly, some left-wing party is needed as an alternative, and young parties should cheer up the old horses, which Putin, of course, is not going to send to the meat processing plant — they work and that's it, and here enough is as good as a feast. However, although the Duma parties are fed from the Kremlin's spoon, they still need to be stimulated.
Besides, there is another pragmatic point regarding the new parties — the electorate that is not attached to the United Russia is obviously disintegrating, fragmenting into some pieces, and if one of the new parties gets 3 per cent of the vote at the threshold of 5 per cent, it will be very convenient for the United Russia, because the votes of those voters whose parties did not pass the State Duma are distributed among the winners. And since the first among those who got to the Duma will be the United Russia, it will get most of the restless votes. And this will be very convenient for the United Russia, which ideally should receive two-thirds of the vote or a constitutional majority.
Therefore, if representatives of the non-systemic opposition do not participate in the elections due to that they will not be registered, these elections will not pose serious problems for the Kremlin.
At the press conference, Putin said that he had not made a decision on participation in the 2024 elections, to which he had the right in connection with the amendments to the country's constitution adopted this year. How can this be regarded? In 2012, Putin said that he did not rule out the possibility of running for president in 2018, and here before the elections, roughly speaking, 3 years, and even Putin does not dare to say “do not rule out”. Why?
Putin said the same thing in 2012, only in a different wording: yes, he said that he did not make a decision on 2024, but he can make this decision tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, or in a year — depending on the situation. It seems to me that we should not pay attention to any formulas here — the phrase “I has not made a decision” is equal to the phrase “I do not exclude”.
Why would Putin limit himself to a corridor of opportunities, for example, by making some promises? What if he wants to shift the centre of gravity to the State Council, so as not to risk elections if the situation is critical by 2024? If it is really critical, then Putin will simply, in accordance with the resources laid down in the constitution, make the State Council the main body in the country and become its permanent head, retaining real power and not risking prestige in the 2024 elections.
A couple of years ago, in a radio broadcast, Vladimir Zhirinovsky confidently and categorically said that those who are now in power in Russia will accurately manage it until 2030. So, can everything really be clear with the winner of the 2024 elections?
Zhirinovsky, of course, sometimes says very reasonable things — or rather, he says them often, except when they interfere with his political status. But here it is clear to any person that if Vladimir Putin is all right with health and if the political situation is sufficiently manageable, he will not give up power in 2024.
Another question is on what basis will the government be built. At the election ones or as from 2008 to 2012, when he ceded the formal role of president to Medvedev, but at the same time, pulled huge powers over himself as prime minister, or as I already said about the State Council? To date, Zhirinovsky is right, there are no questions — in 2024, the winner of the elections will be Putin, but it is still much time until 2030. Theoretically, the constitution does not prohibit Putin from being in power until 2036, but this may not be necessary — the power structure can simply be reformatted, and the person will be in power for longer.
“COVID-19 is a universal explanation for all current difficulties”
Why did putin also say little about Karabakh?
Karabakh can be interpreted as a victory, but at the same time, as a geopolitical defeat of Russia. It is already clear that the absolute dominance that Vladimir Putin sought in the post-Soviet space, in the case of the South Caucasus, clearly does not work — Turkish weapons fought on the side of Azerbaijan, people who were hired through Turkey in Syria fought in Karabakh, the parade is hosted by Aliyev and Erdogan, and at the end of the day, we have a reduction in the military and political influence of Armenia — its defeat is obvious, we see an increase in Turkey's geopolitical presence.
Yes, Russia's great merit in the Karabakh conflict is that peacekeepers were brought in and the destructive slaughter stopped, but at the same time, of course, Vladimir Putin's prestige in Armenia has seriously been damaged — he turned out to be not quite a reliable older brother, and Erdogan, as an older brother for Azerbaijan, acted more decisively and effectively. Besides, Azerbaijan has shown a reorientation towards Turkey and, accordingly, there is nothing particularly to boast about. Therefore, the topic of the press conference went into the background, as well as the topic of Belarus, where there is nothing to boast about.
Vladimir Putin commented on the arrest of Governor of the Khabarovsk Territory Furgal and former journalist of Kommersant Safronov — the first is suspected of contract killings almost 20 years ago, and the second — in treason. Is it possible to say that, according to Putin, who did not sow a shadow of doubt in the position of the investigation, both Furgal and Safronov will receive a serious sentence?
Yes, we can say that. In itself, the vertical system that Vladimir Putin builds on the late Soviet models is not totalitarianism, as under Stalin, but at the same time, there must be god's fear of the organs that are all-powerful, god's fear of the vertical and the nomenclature. For this, visual examples and lessons should be repeated to show what can happen to people who behave too incorrectly and harshly from the point of view of nomenclature.
This means that someone may well be imprisoned, like Kotov and Galyamina for participating in protest actions, or like Furgal, who, from the point of view of the nomenclature, violated the rules of the game, tried to build a fairly independent regional policy and did not always follow orders from the centre. This is insubordination and rocking the vertical, and the vertical does not forgive this.
It is important for everyone to see that attempts to break the butt of a weapon with a whip are futile and punishable, and the mythology of power, which is better not to mess with, should, from the point of view of Vladimir Putin, be supported, and it is supported, and the examples here are Safronov and Furgal.
Last year, we managed to break Golunov, whom the system (not Putin, but probably some generals) decided to punish for the fact that people like him flash where they shouldn't, interfere, publish investigations, annoy, and they need to be shut up so that others are afraid. Such system was typical of the late Brezhnev Soviet Union, when dissidents were imprisoned — their heads were not cut off, but they were given 8-10 years to know their place and so that they did not have followers. Lukashenko does the same — of course, this technology is not very promising for any government, but it gives the opportunity to provide what Putin calls the term “stability”.
At his final press conferences, Vladimir Putin usually does not announce any new ideas and solutions — they are always heard in the message to the Federal Assembly. This message is not far off. In your opinion, can we expect some serious decisions on the rapid exit of the country from the “coronacrisis”? After all, at the press conference, Putin only outlined the problems and successes, but no more.
I think that the message will have a fairly powerful section about coronavirus — a lot of applications from citizens were made on this topic already at the press conference, as they say. The problem with the vaccine, as I understand it, is partially solved, the problem is only in the infrastructure and personnel to establish its production. And this problem concerns both the population and the nomenclature very much.
Besides, COVID-19 is a universal explanation for all the current difficulties. GDP growth of about 1% (which was the last 10 years) continues, and now this slowdown can be blamed on the pandemic. Therefore, the coronavirus will be the number one issue in Putin's address, and the second topic will be social problems: people are accumulating serious and specific life problems — the right to work, to earn money, to protect health, to safety, of course, we will talk about pricing and the economy.
And, of course, all this will be decorated with a rosette of geoproblems — the whole world is against us, the whole world has gone crazy on Russophobia and we need to fight back Covid-19, the CIA, and temporary economic difficulties.
Is the Kremlin planning some serious reassurance of the population?
Probably, but the Kremlin's ideas will be new from the well-forgotten old — attempts to regulate prices will continue. Now the growth of sugar prices has slowed down, so other prices will also slow down, but I think that this will often wash out products with low prices from the sale, since it will be profitable for producers to send their goods abroad, where they will be bought for a good price, which means that the country may face a shortage and a card system with two kilogrammes of vegetable oil a month. Nothing terrible, of course, will happen — we will live, we will buy what will be able to.