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My objective is to see Russia advancing as a modern civilized country.

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7 November 2011 

Mikhail KASYANOV: Despite the internationally accepted stereotype of the strength of Putin`s regime, its resources are waning by the hour, while problems keep multiplying

Mikhail KASYANOV: Despite the internationally accepted stereotype of the strength of Putin`s regime, its resources are waning by the hour, while problems keep multiplying

Last week an article, co-authored by Belgium.s ex-Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Russia.s former head of government, Mikhail Kasyanov, was published in The International Herald Tribune. The article, headlined "Helsinki 2.0: Supporting Democracy and Rule of Law in Russia," emphasizes, among other things, that "the federative structure of Russia is broken down," "the principles of rule of law are questioned on the daily basis," "dissent cannot count on legal defense," while "democracy is obviously degrading." According to the authors, "the elections to the State Duma, scheduled December 4, are already compromised." Proceeding from this - despite the fact of Russia`s being "deeply integrated in the solution of strategic security problems and in international economic relations," the former prime ministers of Belgium and Russia believe that "time has come to acknowledge it frankly and honestly that Russia is no developing democracy. Instead, it is an increasingly unstable state run by an authoritarian regime capable of jeopardizing not only its own citizens, but the entire world around it as well."

The authors persist that "the European nations and the US must decide how they should interact with this real and not imaginary Russia." Therefore they are initiating a forum for democracy and rule of law in Russia, which is to be held in Helsinki this November.

Verhofstadt and Kasyanov offer a series of concrete steps. "It should be advisable to refuse to acknowledge genuine legitimacy of the oncoming election in Russia by default," "it is necessary to put an end to an exclusive treatment of Russia`s authorities in the Council of Europe and the OSCE," whereas they find it "quite sensible if the EU postpone the summit meeting with Russia, scheduled for December."

The Day interviewed Mikhail KASYANOV, co-chairman of the People`s Freedom Party and head of Russia`s government in 2000-04, on the problems brought up in the article, and on the upcoming Helsinki 2.0.

- In the article you speak right to the point about real Russia and imaginary Russia, about that it is time for the world to get rid of illusions. Who do you think is responsible for creating this dangerous illusion? Why its appearance became possible, if Russia.s main problems did not just emerge yesterday, they have existed for centuries.

First of all I disagree with your idea of Russia`s special, "age-long" predisposition to a certain set of problems. In any case, there is no such thing as a negative historical predestination, and Russia is quite capable of becoming in a very brief time a modern, democratic power.

The idea of Russia continuing to be a democracy exists due to tactic reasons: it is convenient for both Russian leaders and their Western counterparts. The former are interested in remaining in power, by hook or by crook, and therefore they are trying to preserve some sham democracy and to keep from cutting the West to the quick (although often they fail to restrain from it). Meanwhile the latter prefer to turn a blind eye to the developments in Russia in order to avoid the aggravation of mutual relations and keep up cooperation, which is indeed of crucial importance in a number of spheres such as economy and strategic security. In this respect, the situation is really reminiscent of the Soviet time, the only difference being that the USSR hardly ever put on a mask of democracy, and had no relevant obligations to other countries, like those Russia has within the framework of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Thus, the idea of Helsinki 2.0 is no mere coincidence.

- Recently some information appeared about the fact that French MP Jack Lang.s inquiry about the "Magnitsky list" adoption by Alain Juppe would be ignored. To what extent is Europe with its Realpolitik ready to reconsider its relations with Russia? Is it ready to leave its illusions behind? Which of the governments can really support your initiative? Because the stakes are very high... On the other hand, can you rely on intellectuals like Vaclav Havel (who is known to have opposed Putin being awarded with Quadriga) for help?

- You speak of illusions all the time. As far as I know, nobody has any illusions concerning democracy in Russia. The point is that the West possesses two contrary opinions on the matter. The first one states that Russia is still a barbaric country with a nation that is not ready for democracy yet. Accordingly, it should be left to itself, present government of Russia should be indulged in all possible ways, and one day Russia will come to democracy naturally. That is what you called Realpolitik. But the incident with the Quadriga Award shows that even the most ardent followers of this point of view are finally ashamed.

People who share our opinion have another view of the situation. Russian nation is no different from other European nations in their inclination to democracy. Politicians who usurped the power simply deprived it of an ability to acquire the proper skills. I am sure that if the people regain and are truly guaranteed an opportunity to decide which course to follow, they will use this opportunity wisely. That is what we, Russian democratic opposition, are striving for.

Are we being naive? Once a slogan "Abide by your constitution" by few Soviet dissidents directed towards Soviet government and a request to comply with the Helsinki accords, especially the third basket that contained principles of human rights and freedoms, seemed naive too. But shortly after that dissidents won and destroyed the totalitarian monolith. I think that we can reverse the situation as well. And to do this we need the support from Russian and foreign politicians and public people, and Vaclav Havel is one of them.

- Which way of behavior towards Russia would be the most appropriate for European countries and the US nowadays? Because Russia is truly deeply integrated in strategic security problems solving, as well as in international economical relationships. One more evidence to this fact is a statement made by James Appathurai, The NATO Secretary General.s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, who said that today "relations between NATO and Russia are wider and deeper than ever before.

- This is a diplomatic statement and it indulges in wishful thinking. It is a fact that during the last NATO Council, the Russia-NATO Coulcil meeting hasn`t occured. And it is still not decided if a summit Russia-NATO that was planned for May 2012 will be held at all. All this is a clear evidence of some serious problems in relations. And these problems are unavoidable due to opposite values of both sides. In my opinion, Europe and NATO tend to realize that it is in their best interest to cooperate with Russia that has similar values, than to conduct quid pro quo bargains with an absolutely extraneous partner.

We do not offer to give up very important trade and economical connections. Moreover, we plan to actively develop them in the future. We are against the pattern in which this partnership is traded in for an ability for Russian government to destroy democracy and derogate the freedoms in the country. The West should not turn a blind eye to this!

Who will participate in November forum in Helsinki? What are your expectations of this forum? What prompted Helsinki 2.0, given that the negative tendencies that are mentioned in your article have been an obvious fact for years?

- This forum is initiated jointly by ALDE and us right now because due to recent events in Russia (non-admission of the independent parties to the election and the declared swap of posts between the president and the prime minister), all the unbiased observers inside and outside of Russia finally realized that there will be no modernization and progressive reforms from above. Institute of democratic elections that was designed as a reform tool is eliminated completely. We want to discuss the current situation in Helsinki with representatives of Russian civil society, human rights activists, leading experts and people who share our opinions, public figures and politicians from Europe and the US.

- What threats does the further captivity in Russia-inspired illusions harbor?

- The desire to leave everything as it is and passively watch the events as they unfold is tempting. Nevertheless, I am sure that in this case Russia will not lead a peaceful life until the next elections. Despite our vision of Putin.s regime as a strong one, his financial, administrative and just purely moral resources, are decreasing swiftly, and problems in all aspects of life keep on building up. We do not want the violent revolution to take place, though it seems to be the only way out of the future crisis in case of the absence of elections. That is why we urge Russian and Western elite to think about the threat of the scenario that is about to evolve before our eyes and to take action..

By Maria TOMAK, photos by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

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