SPIEGEL: Mr. Kudrin, why have you described the past year as being, both politically and economically, a lost year for Russia? It sounds bitter.
Kudrin: Economic reform came to a standstill, and political reforms didn’t produce the results I had hoped for. Although people can now elect governors directly once again, there are too many obstacles for candidates that are not backed by the government. But I do see one important, positive trend: A new, active civil society has developed.
SPIEGEL: But isn’t it already on the wane once again? The number of people attending protests against President Vladimir Putin is declining.
Kudrin: You shouldn’t base your assessment of civil society solely on the number of demonstrators. And besides, only a radical minority was calling for Putin’s resignation at the first major demonstrations. The majority took to the streets because parliamentary elections were not being conducted fairly. But they recognized that a majority of the people elected Putin. Why then should Putin resign? The majority of the demonstrators didn’t want the government overthrown from one day to the next. But it does want fundamental reforms.
SPIEGEL: What is the first thing that should be done?
Kudrin: Russia needs free elections. It will be a difficult and protracted process, which is something I pointed out in my speech at the mass demonstration way back in December 2011. Simply repeating the bogus parliamentary election, as some were demanding at the time, wouldn’t have done much good. For the most part, it would have produced a similar outcome, because there wouldn’t have been any strong, new parties yet. We have to develop new parties and pass laws that prevent election fraud. Candidates should have equal access to the media, and business owners who fund opposition parties should no longer be punished for doing so. The apparatus of state cannot be used to support a specific party. This has been so widespread until now that we even have a term for it in Russia: “administrative resources.” Russia has to take a chance with more democracy.
SPIEGEL: Why didn’t Putin seek a dialogue with the opposition instead of launching a series of repressive laws?
Kudrin: In the wake of obvious election fraud, I went to see him and proposed precisely such a dialogue. The time is ripe for more political competition. Putin didn’t reject the idea at the time, but said that he would come back to it later on. Then he apparently weighed his options and chose a different path.
SPIEGEL: You and Putin have been friends since the 1990s and you could become prime minister if Dmitry Medvedev falls. You were also Russia’s finance minister for 11 years. Is the president open to criticism from you and others?
Kudrin: He’s a very good listener. He listens to all positions during meetings and then he makes his decision. Sometimes he supported me when most of the others were against me, and sometimes he didn’t. Above all, Putin is pragmatic.
SPIEGEL: How successful was your attempt to mediate between Putin and the opposition?
Kudrin: I failed, but I’m glad I tried.
- Dmitry Medvedev tells Davos fears for Russia’s stability are unfounded (guardian.co.uk)
- Political reform: there’s no turning back – Kudrin (rt.com)
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- After The Storm: Trends To Watch In Russia In 2013 (rferl.org)
- Russian defense industry chief denies excessive militarization claims (rt.com)
- Deputy PM and ex-Finance Minister in Defense budget row (indrus.in)