|CRACKING PUTIN’S CODE
MOSCOW. (Politichesky Zhurnal – RIA Novosti)
Vladimir Putin met with participants in the Valdai Discussion Club on
September 9, but it has taken until today for an adequate response to come
out of the event.
The Valdai Club unites leading political scientists, experts on Russia,
and heads of major foreign policy and research centers. The president’s
message to the political elite, the main audience, reveals a covert
ideological struggle in the top echelon of power. Chairman of the Council
on Foreign and Defense Policy and Deputy Director of the Institute of
Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergei Karaganov attended the
meeting with Putin. He talks about the problems raised there with
Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation and member of the
Karaganov: “The road we are following has not yet been defined.”
Nikonov: What were your impressions of the meeting with Putin? How sincere
was the president, and what signals did you receive from him? What was his
message to the West?
K: He said that Russia was following a normal and natural road, and that
we were not going to attack anyone. He also said we would be pragmatic to
the utmost and pursue our national interests without any illusions about
our partners and friends.
N: What was the format of the discussion? On the one hand, it was held
behind closed doors, while on the other, it was clearly designed for
dissemination by the media. What was the reason for that?
K: The discussion wasn’t closed. There was no press, but all
participants were allowed to quote from and comment on the meeting.
N: But was it assumed that the discussion would be covered?
K: Of course it was. After all, one third of those present shape Western
attitudes to Russia at the expert level. It would be more precise to say
“world attitude” because there were participants from China as well.
N: There are many disagreements here about Putin’s interpretation of
“sovereign democracy” at the meeting. Ostensibly, the West made the
conclusion that Putin was giving up this idea. Later on, experts in Moscow
said that in reality the West misunderstood him. Could you please comment?
K: Putin said that there were debates on this issue, that this expression
contains ideas from different spheres and is not based on ideology. But
there is a search to define the system which we are building. It is
abundantly clear that we are building a democratic and strong power, but
the road we are following has not yet been defined. “Sovereign
democracy” is one of the definitions, but Putin distanced himself from
it. He also gave up the label of “energy super power” and made a point
of doing so.
N: But there are people who think that it is not at all important what
Putin says on this score, because today he may say one thing, and tomorrow
he will come up with something else. We’d simply like to understand what
motivates him when he says so.
K: The world is a stage for the struggle of ideas. Militarization affects
some aspects of politics, but ideology determines it all. This is a fait
accompli. A country’s weight in the world depends on its image, on
perceptions (either right or wrong) of its goals, might, potentialities,
and its leader. In the last few years, our leader has been trying to
create what he sees as the image of a strong, confident, and independent
N: But one word may prevail over the other in the expression “sovereign
K: Please don’t ask me. You should address this question to the author
of the expression. I don’t think this is a good definition, and I have
even written on this score. It’s an oxymoron. Democracy can only be
sovereign because it means the power of the people. True, some countries
with a democratic faÚade are being controlled from abroad. There are also
autocracies which are controlled in the same manner. And finally, there
are sovereign autocracies. Kim Il-Sung’s country is the most sovereign
autocracy. China is more advanced and flexible. As Putin said, we want to
be as sovereign as Japan, Germany, and the United States.
N: Some Western political scientists have also interpreted what our
president said. This is what they quote: “Russia is not seeking the role
of a superpower, but wants primarily to use oil and energy in general to
upgrade and diversify its economy.” In Russia, these words were
perceived as all but defeatist. What happened? What is the problem with
the Energy Charter? Judging by the verbatim report, Putin was very
emotional about this. He repeated more than once: “We are not throwing a
K: No, he wasn’t very emotional. He explained for the umpteenth time
that we do not want to let anyone control our gas pipelines. That’s all.
No emotions involved. When renouncing the status of energy superpower, he
said that this definition was no good because such powers cannot exist.
This term is being imposed on us in order to portray Russia as a menacing
power. We don’t want to be such a power, and we cannot and will not
N: Two other ideas stunned me in the verbatim report. The first one is
about the participation of top government officials in managing big
companies. In effect, Putin has approved of this idea. The other idea
seemed quite absurd to me. He said that oil money from the world markets
will not go into the economy, and that we’ll be looking for other
K: As for the second idea, I either misunderstood it, or didn’t
interpret it as you said. As for the first one, Putin explained it by the
need to consolidate the state’s role in key industries. He said that
with time we’ll be able to switch to a system of independent observers
who would represent the state’s assets on the board of directors.
N: Yes, that is what we heard. Do you agree that a manager stands to gain
from the assets he controls?
K: That question is not for me, either. -0-