In a Russia where opinion is controlled and repressed by law (up to 15 years in prison for any statement aimed at discrediting the action of the army), Leonid Gozman is an opposition figure who expresses himself without taboo on social media. On Twitter, the president of the “Union of Right Forces” – a political party dissolved and later suspended from the 2011 elections – describes Vladimir Putin as “war criminaland ask for a procedure of “the impeachment process” since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. In 2014, he compared the invasion of Crimea with the connection of Austria in 1938 by Hitler, also explaining the concept of war”hybrid“, “where are our soldiers in Ukraine without being there”. He also predicted at the time an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.
This former adviser to Yegor Gaidar, Boris Yeltsin’s Finance Minister at the end of the 1990s, today coordinates from Moscow what remains of this movement that no longer has political representation. He is also a professor at several universities, including the Moscow Free University. His manifesto remains: to be”liberal, favorable to the free market, human rights and the development of Russia with Europe.“Between 2008 and 2013, Leonid Gozman was also one of the leaders of Rusnano, a state-owned company specializing in nanotechnology.
LA TRIBUNE – What are the consequences of the sanctions today for Russia?
Leonid Gozman- They are destructive. In fact, Russia is much more integrated into the global economy than people think. All products here have foreign components. Therefore, they destroy all sectors of the economy. Russians are beginning to feel the effects, with prices rising sharply in stores and sometimes doubling. People in Moscow are depressed and many have already left. Despite this, the population still does not blame Putin, preferring to condemn Europe, the United States and the Ukrainian “fascists”. Right now, people don’t want to listen to Western thinking that casts nice Americans against evil Putin. But this cannot last. Sooner or later, the Russians are going to start blaming Vladimir Putin because life is going to get too 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 attitude because he has gone too far. He can no longer take into account the consequences that have become secondary to him.
Advance the sanctions that are driving Russia into a deep recession, some key economic indicators of the last twenty years (GDP, life expectancy, education, poverty) have improved during the mandate of Vladimir Putin. Many Russians think that their daily lives have improved thanks to him, after dramatic years during and just after the USSR, are they wrong?
In reality, the Putin administration benefited from the reforms carried out under Boris Yeltsin. These were important reforms to put Russia on the path to a market economy, open to the world, that have rebuilt agriculture, or reduced the deficit. It was not until the end of the Yeltsin era that they began to bear fruit. From then on, it was under Putin that people were able to start enjoying a stabilized economy. In fact, the beneficial effects of these reforms could have been even ten times greater if corruption had not been so high in recent years.
To counter Western sanctions, President Putin announced that he was going to take advantage of this context to facilitate procedures for business creators, reduce costs, create a “free” internal market, while supporting the ruble. Can these sanctions develop certain parts of the Russian economy?
No, because it won’t. Why didn’t she do it before? Why use such a crisis to do it? The interests of the ruling elite are at odds with these principles of freedom, making it difficult to change. The current government will do everything possible to maintain the current system and not change anything. Mr. Putin must go. He is destroying the country, but the Ukraine will survive.
Are these aspirations towards more freedoms compatible with the culture and history of Russia attached to other values such as family, state, patriarchy…? This conservatism also finds support in Russia but also in Europe.
These are myths. 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 always emigrated and prospered in these host countries. From now on, it is in Russia that concern for individual freedom grows. Russian youth are European in their attitude, their way of life and their goals. Even before this disaster, they intended to leave. Now is the exodus. Those who support Putin are uneducated or marginalized. This is also the lens he likes.
On the support side, make no mistake, sympathy for Putin’s policies is not that high. It is simply due to the propaganda of this government that offers self-esteem. They create myths that we are the best and that everyone hates us because we are -precisely- the best. For them it is very important to convince the citizens that we have been attacked. Therefore, all the victims of Boutcha are those of the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians bombed Mariupol, according to this administration. This is the beginning of a dictatorship. In the end, it is a mixture of positive ideas and aggressive myths. Without a doubt, the western political system is going through a deep crisis, like the symptoms of Trump, Brexit and the popularity of Marine Le Pen. But can we find the ideal system or diet? The western system has at least one chance to improve, while in Russia everything is based on propaganda.
How will the situation in Russia evolve with the continuation of the war?
It will get worse, especially in international relations. In the immediate term, of course, I understand the help for the Ukrainians. But you also have to give support to the Russians. For example, the credit cards of Russians who have emigrated are blocked. It is a similar problem as it was 100 years ago in the 1917 revolution. The Europeans welcomed the Russians and kept those fortunes at home. But this is a mistake because they can be useful to your country of origin. The Russian emigrants who left the country are allies of the European Union. They are the ones who will rebuild a new Russia after Putin leaves. However, many are blocked on residence permits, visas or in their bank accounts. It’s unfair and it’s counterproductive. Do not interfere, they need minimum conditions to live and develop the future… Despite this, I remain optimistic. Russia is a European country. After Mr. Putin, we will have a democratic government, allied with Europe and its civilization. We will have to be part of that. China cannot be an ally. With a population ten times larger, an economy ten times more developed, and a more stable political system, Russia can only become a Chinese colony.
Interview with Jeanne Dussueil