Staunton, Feb. 10 – If Russia is to avoid either a continuing dictatorship or disintegration, Mikhail Khodorkovsky says, it must do away without a strong presidency and become a parliamentary republic. If it continues with a presidential system, it will face either dictatorship or, when that weakens, disintegration.
In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Blick, the émigré Kremlin critic says Russia has two paths: “The first is the Yugoslav model, in which Russia will be divided into several states. This would be very dangerous and could lead to nuclear conflicts and new dictatorships” (blick.ch/ausland/er-plant-im-exil-den-aufbau-eines-neuen-russland-ex-oligarch-michail-chodorkowski-59-im-blick-interview-wir-muessen-putins-experten-abwerben-id18303087.html).
The other less dangerous and thus far more preferable path is for Russia to become a genuinely federal republic without a president so that all interests could be represented and so that no future president would be able to amass so much power in his hands and thus become a a dictator.
Making this change, Khodorkovsky says, won’t be easy and will require “no less than 20 years;” but unless it is made, Russia will remain either a dictatorship or it will disintegrate. Both paths threaten not only the peoples of Russia but that country’s neighbors and indeed the entire world.
The opposition figure’s words are important both as a proposal and as a judgment about the mistakes of the past. As a proposal, they represent an effort to find a way forward that would hold all or almost all of the country together without it remaining a dictatorship given to repression and aggression.
As a judgment about the past, they are implicitly but nonetheless in fact a damning finding about the decision of Mikhail Gorbachev to create a Soviet presidency and Boris Yeltsin to continue that office in the Russian Federation, decisions that were enthusiastically welcomed by Western and especially American leaders at the time.
Both the peoples of Russia and the leaders of the West failed to see that any president would be tempted to arrogate to himself so much power that the possibilities for democracy and federalism would almost inevitably be undercut by the Russian traditions of centralism and authoritarianism, as in fact happened with Gorbachev, Yeltsin and especially Putin.
Had post-Soviet Russia become a parliamentary republic instead of a presidentialist one, it is likely that it would have lost some of the non-Russian republics on its periphery; but it is also likely, as Khodorkovsky clearly understands, that there would have at least been a real chance for democracy and federalism for the rest.
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