Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Without Institutional Change, Replacing Putin with Someone Else Won’t Matter Much, Khodorkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 23 – Russian political discussions at present are focused on who might replace Vladimir Putin, but Mikhail Khodorkovsky says that unless institutions of the Russian state and of the Russian presidency in the first instance are transformed, changing the name of the president won’t matter as much as most think.

            On the basis of his career as a businessman and political activist, the former political prisoner says he is by conviction an institutionalist.  “I believe in institutions and am absolutely convinced that institutions form the people in them” (

            He suggests to his interviewer from the Znak news agency that if she agreed to go to work as a journalist at the Russian government’s First Channel, “after a certain time we would see in the mirror a completely different person.” The same thing in spades is the case with those who might become president of the Russian Federation.

            “Institutions form the personality of those in them to a greater degree than an individual – sometimes strong and confidenet – can oppose this and think that he can do so.  Therefore, I am an opponent of the idea that the presidency in its current form should be occupied by anyone, including [Aleksey] Navalny.”

            “This is not because I think he is a bad man. Simply, this post is a cursed place. A curse. And you will not be able to do anything with it even if you want to.” In many respects, that has been true of Putin himself: he is the product of the position he occupies as much or more than he has made that position his own.

            “I want that we break out of this closed circle,” Khodorkovsky says. “And we are completely capable of doing so because we are a very European country by all measures. People in fact would be surprised how similar their problems, and their reactions to the problems and their proposals on how to solve them … are European in nature.”

            There is of course one significant difference, he continues, “but it is situational. We have a low level of trust in state institutions.”  But “if other governmental institutions are put in place, there will be a different level of trust.”  The task of the opposition is to come up with ideas that build trust by promoting institutions that deserve and require it.

            “If people do not believe one another, they will look for a master who can control their relations,” Khodorkovsky says. “If they believe one another, then they won’t need a master: they will solve problems

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