12 February 2023
Rights in Russia is asking a number of human rights activists, commentators and experts ten questions. You can read their answers here.
1) Was there a real opportunity in the 1990s to create a democratic state based on the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Russia? If so, what went wrong?
– There was an opportunity, but it was wasted, blithely leaving the CPSU (albeit under a different name), the KGB, and their leaders without trial.
2) How would you characterise the different roles of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin in these years?
In the 90’s Putin was a nobody, Gorbachev towards the end of his term as head of state started trying to ‘leap the chasm in two jumps,’ and Yeltsin missed the opportunity to radically change the country in the direction of democracy by making wrong decisions (Chechnya, Putin).
3) What has been the role of the FSB in post-Soviet Russia?
The most despicable and destructive: realizing their absolute impunity after the 1991 coup, they pursued what was in fact an entirely self-serving policy of seizing power, subjugating everything to themselves.
4) To what extent does Russia’s ‘imperial’ past explain its failure to become a democracy?
I do not think that an imperial past can prevent the establishment of democracy (the examples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the British Empire suggest this is possible).
5) What is the main reason Russia invaded Ukraine again on 24 February 2022?
The term “large-scale invasion” is more commonly used. The reasons are probably that Putin’s usurpation of power gave no possibility to stop his madness (absence of any real opposition or criticism in the country); his striving to improve his image and to write himself into the history of Russia as the new ‘gatherer’ of the Russian land; and to humiliate the West.
6) What do you predict will be the outcome of the war? What will be the consequences if Russia is able to make further territorial gains as a result of the war? What will be the consequences for the Putin regime if Russia is defeated in the war? What are the chances of bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice?
The war must end in defeat for the Kremlin. I cannot imagine the Russian Federation gaining and taking over new territories torn away from Ukraine. Defeat in the war must lead to the fall of Putin. I believe that those responsible will be brought to justice. It is only a matter of time, but I wish it were sooner.
7) Why has the Putin regime closed down Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Sakharov Centre? What is left of civil society in Russia today?
From the beginning of his rule, and especially since 2012, Putin has been carrying out a scorched earth policy with regard to civil society institutions, sincerely believing that the NGOs listed, as well as other Russian NGOs, are paid agents of Western domestic influence planning a revolt from within.
8) What do you think will happen to Aleksei Navalny in the future? And other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience such as Ilya Yashin and Dmitry Talantov?
They will all be released unless they are killed in the camps and prisons.
9) Russia has left the Council of Europe. Is there a chance Russia will return to this international body in the future?
It will probably not happen any time soon.
10) In terms of human rights, how much worse can things get in Russia? How do you see the future of Russia?
There is no limit to the deterioration of the human rights situation: The majority of the population don’t give a damn about human rights. The degree of indifference of the public (74% support the war and Putin) gives no chance for evolutionary change in the foreseeable future. A Black Swan event or international influence in circumstances of the aggressor’s clear military defeat could enable the establishment (at some more distant time, I fear) a pro-democratic regime in Russia.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove