In a Russia where opinion is controlled and suppressed by law (up to 15 years in prison for any statement aimed at discrediting the work of the military), Leonid Guzman is an opposition figure who expresses himself without a ban on social networks. On Twitter, the head of the Union of Right Forces – a political party that was dissolved and then suspended from the 2011 elections – described Vladimir Putin as “A criminal of war“calls for action”Isolation“Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. In 2014, he compared the invasion of Crimea to annexation Austria in 1938 by Hitler, also explaining the concept of war “hybrid“,”Where are our soldiers in Ukraine without them being there?. He also predicted at that time an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.
This former advisor to Igor Gaidar, Finance Minister Boris Yeltsin at the end of the 1990s, is coordinating from Moscow the remainder of this movement that no longer has any political representation. He is also a teacher at many universities, including Moscow Free University. And her statement remains: to beliberal, Favorable for free market and human rights and for the development of Russia with Europe.Between 2008 and 2013, Leonid Guzman was also one of the leaders of Rusnano, a state-owned company specializing in nanotechnology.
Don’t Tribun – What are the consequences of sanctions today for Russia?
Leonid Guzman – It is devastating. Russia is already more integrated into the global economy than people think. All the goods here have foreign components. So they destroy every sector of the economy. The Russians are beginning to feel the effects, with prices skyrocketing in stores and sometimes doubling. People in Moscow are depressed and many have already left. Despite this, the population has not yet blamed Putin, but rather prefers to condemn Europe, the United States and the Ukrainian “fascists.” Right now, people don’t want to hear Western thinking offering nice Americans versus mean Putin. But this cannot continue. Sooner or later the Russians will start blaming Vladimir Putin because life will get more and more difficult. The only unknown is when this change will occur. Also, despite the sanctions, rest assured that they alone will not be enough to change Putin’s position because he has gone too far. He could no longer take into account the consequences that had become secondary to him.
Before the sanctions drove Russia into a deep recession, some key economic indicators over the past 20 years (GDP, life expectancy, education, and poverty) had improved during Vladimir Putin’s terms. Many Russians think that their daily lives have improved thanks to him, after dramatic years during and immediately after the Soviet Union, are they wrong?
Indeed, the Putin administration has benefited from the reforms implemented under Boris Yeltsin. These were important reforms to steer Russia toward a market economy, open to the world, that rebuilt agriculture, or reduced deficits. They did not begin to bear fruit until the end of the Yeltsin era. Since then, under Putin, people have been able to enjoy a stable economy. In fact, the beneficial effects of these reforms would have been ten times greater if corruption had not been so high in recent years.
To counter Western sanctions, President Putin announced that he would take advantage of this context to facilitate actions for business creators, reduce costs, and create a “free” internal market, while supporting the ruble. Could these sanctions develop certain parts of the Russian economy?
No, because he won’t. Why didn’t he do it sooner? Why would we use such a crisis to do this? The interests of the ruling elite conflict with these principles of freedom, which is why it is difficult to change them. The government in power will do everything in its power to maintain the current system and not change anything. Mr. Putin must go. It destroys the country but Ukraine will survive.
Are these aspirations towards more freedoms compatible with the culture and history of Russia, which are linked to other values such as the family, the state, patriarchy…? This conservatism also finds support in Russia but also in Europe.
These are legends. We also had republics and reformers in our history like Tsar Alexander II, Alexander Kerensky, Gorbachev, Khrushchev… Our history is not as primitive as people say. Russians have long immigrated and thrived in these host countries. From now on, interest in individual freedom is growing in Russia. Russian youth are European in their attitudes, way of life and goals. Even before this disaster, they had intended to leave. Now it’s a mass exit. Those who support Putin are uneducated or marginalized. This is also the goal he loves.
On the support side, make no mistake, sympathy for Putin’s policies isn’t high. It is simply because of this government’s self-respect propaganda. They create myths that we are the best and that everyone hates us precisely because we are the best. It is very important for them to convince the citizens that we have been attacked. Therefore, all of Bucha’s victims are Ukrainians and the Ukrainians bombed Mariupol, according to this administration. This is the principle of dictatorship. In the end, it’s a mixture of positive thoughts and aggressive myths. The Western political system is certainly going through a deep crisis, like the symptoms of Trump, Brexit and Marine Le Pen’s popularity. But can we find the perfect diet? The Western system has at least a chance for improvement, while in Russia, everything depends on propaganda.
How will the situation in Russia develop as the war continues?
It will only get worse, especially in international relations. In the near term, of course, I understand helping the Ukrainians. But there is also support to be given to the Russians. For example, credit cards of Russians who have emigrated are banned. It is a similar problem to what happened 100 years ago in the revolution of 1917. Europeans welcomed the Russians and kept those fortunes at home. But this is wrong because it can be beneficial to their country of origin. The Russian immigrants who left the country are allies of the European Union. They are the ones who will rebuild the new Russia after Putin is gone. However, many residence permits, visas, or their bank accounts are blocked. It is unfair and counterproductive. Don’t get involved, they need minimum conditions to live and develop the future… Despite that, I’m still an optimist. Russia is a European country. After Mr. Putin, we will have a democratic government allied to Europe and its civilization. We must be a part of it. China cannot be an ally. With a population ten times larger, an economy ten times more developed and a more stable political system, Russia could only become a Chinese colony.
Interview by Jane Doswell