On November 11, Russia's daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets removed from its website (Mk.ru) an interview with one of the most influential and highly quoted intellectuals, Professor Valery Solovei, where Solovei predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin "may be absent from the public spotlight for a few months or appear there very infrequently," before the next presidential elections in 2018. Solovei is the chair of department of public relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Moskovsky Komsomolets described him as a political analyst, who has "the reputation of a person who knows a little more than ordinary mortals about what happens beyond the Kremlin wall." The Russian daily mentioned that Solovei announced already on August 1 on his Facebook page that "A specially entrusted person – Anton Vaino – will be the head of the president's administration... Vyacheslav Volodin will become the chairman of the State Duma. According to the principle 'You shall rule those you have chosen yourself'." Moskovsky Komsomolets added: "We remind you that the country was astonished to learn that Sergey Ivanov had been dismissed from the post of the chief of staff of the presidential administration, and Anton Vaino had been appointed to it on August 12. And the fact that Volodin, at that time first deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration, was "recommended" by the president for the post of the Duma chairman was revealed only on September 23. In short, any discussion of Russia's most immediate political future cannot dispense with a person like this [i.e. Valery Solovei]."
Below are excerpts of the interview with Solovei, titled "The Storm of 2017: Putin May Be Replaced By A Successor In A Few Months."
Valery Solovei (Source: Youtube.com)
Solovei: '[Putin] May Not Participate In These [Presidential] Elections'
Q: "As far as I can understand, it is futile to ask you about your sources of information on the plans of those in power. I know that you usually answer that you keep an 'astral channel of communications with space' open. So let's talk straight away about what 'the stars can tell us'. First of all: do they confirm the version about early presidential elections?"
V. Solovei: "Only very recently this was one of the most discussed topics in the corridors of power. But the meetings of the deputy head of the presidential administration Sergey Kiriyenko with political analysts gave us to understand that the elections will take place as usual. Nevertheless, I would make a cautious assumption that one cannot completely rule out the possibility of early elections. In this case, they may take place next spring. In any case, the situation will become completely clear in December of this year."
Q: "But is it even worth it? However thorough the preparations for early elections may be, the political system will be seriously overloaded in any case. What unpleasant and dangerous things for the authorities can happen between spring 2017 and spring 2018 to make this big rush worth it?"
V. Solovei: "Yes, you are right: the risks may considerably outweigh any positive results. But there are two considerations. The first is related to the fact that the socio-economic situation will get worse. And that means that public sentiment will get worse as well. All analysts speak about this today – including those who serve the powers that be. They say that in this respect the outlook for 2018 appears very unpromising. And, therefore, it is inexpedient to wait till 2018. The other reason: by force of certain circumstances although the credibility of this information is unclear – it is not unlikely that the current president may have to be absent from the public spotlight for a few months or to appear there very infrequently. As you understand, this hypothetical situation is very fretful in the context of Russian politics."
Q: "Could you explain this point? Does the president have health problems?"
V. Solovei: "Allow me not to explain, I have said enough. I will emphasize once more: this information is not absolutely certain. Still, we must not dismiss it."
Q: "So, it makes sense to hold the elections beforehand'..."
V. Solovei: "Yes, before this situation arises. And the most startlingly unexpected idea that was discussed in connection with this is that the current president may not participate in these elections."
Q: "Because of 'certain circumstances'?"
V. Solovei: "Partially by force of these circumstances, partially because of geostrategic considerations. I mean, first and foremost, relations vis-à-vis the West: while Putin is president, they can hardly be fundamentally improved."
Q: "Even after Trump's victory?"
V. Solovei: "Nobody knows what to expect from Trump now. From the look of it, the Russian leaders really have certain positive expectations from his victory. But so far, there has not been any reason to think that after Trump comes to power, Russian-Western relations will thaw dramatically. If we assume that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] considers improvement of relations with the West an important national need, then it's easy to predict who will be his successor. And there is already a counter-intrigue against this potential successor. Because his candidature is not liked by many. Firstly, by those who are called 'security forces lobby' today."
Q: "So who is this peacemaker?"
V. Solovei: "It's not hard to guess, since there aren't many options. It's déjà-vu – Dmitri Medvedev. The only high-profile liberal in the list of potential successors. Which of the security officials could it be is still unclear. At first, the current governor of the Tula Oblast, Aleksei Dyumin, was mentioned as a possible choice. But it looks like the president is disappointed in his security forces succession pool. Disappointed in their ability to engage in, so to speak, peace politics. They may have been brilliant guards and good soldiers. But they obviously can't cope with economic and administrative tasks. Nevertheless, security forces men count on having their own candidate there. But there is nobody so far, except for Sergey Ivanov [former head of the presidential administration]."
Tula Oblast Governor Aleksei Dyumin (jpgazeta.ru)
Q: "So, Sergey Ivanov's removal from the post of the head of the presidential administration is not a downgrade?"
V. Solovei: "The statements Ivanov made lately indicate that he retains the aspirations and the power to speak on behalf of the head of state. Note how negatively Ivanov reacted to the possibility of uniting the state security related structures. He called the idea of creating a Ministry for State Security [MSS] 'foolishness'. In order to speak like that, one must be self-assured and know the president's attitude on the issue."
Sergey Ivanov (Vestnikkavkaza.net)
Q: "Does it mean that there will be no MSS?"
V. Solovei: "Not in the most immediate future, at any rate. The reason is, first and foremost, the National Guard: its creation can hardly be called a successful experiment. As a result, the Ministry of the Interior became weaker, and the Guard is, in many respects, only a token structure. It turned out that it's impossible to create a structure like that quickly, that it upsets the balance, that elite communications are disrupted. For the same reason, it is doubtful that the idea of returning the Investigative Committee to the Public Prosecution Office, which has been much talked about lately, will be implemented."
Q: "The resignation of [Aleksandr] Bastrykin [as the head of Russia's Investigatory Committee on September 20, 2016] has been talked about even more, but it hasn't happened yet. Were the rumors exaggerated?"
V. Solovei: "Not quite. It's just that two important issues have to be resolved beforehand. First: should the Investigative Committee be maintained as an independent organ or should it be united with the Public Prosecution Office? The administrative logic says it would be best to merge them, but the National Guard experience says it's better not to change anything. And the second reason, which arises from the first: if the Investigative Committee remains as is, who will replace Bastrykin? It is known that [Georgy] Poltavchenko, the current governor of St. Petersburg, aspires to this position."
Solovei: 'Real Power Will Be In The Hands Of The Head Of The State Council, A Post That Putin, Naturally, Will Assume'
Q: "Speaking about the recent informational 'strike' on [Russia's Prime Minister Dmitri] Medvedev, one couldn't help noticing that the prime minister was attacked by, among others, or even primarily, by [the prominent opposition figure and anti-corruption campaigner] Aleksei Navalny. Does this mean that Navalny and the opposition forces united around him play on the side of one of the Kremlin parties?"
V. Solovei: "I am certain that Aleksei Navalny pursues his own political goals. He considers himself to be a politician with a future, and he has every reason to do so. Navalny is interested in discrediting the elites, no matter on whose suggestion. In some cases, his interests may coincide with those of some of the Kremlin groups. By the way, the initiative of a plot against Medvedev came from the presidential administration, as far as I know, and was supported by the silovki."
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Dmitri Medvedev (Source: Rt.com)
Q: "And how high is Vyacheslav Volodin's stock now? Some experts consider him to be an ideal successor."
V. Solovei: "Volodin is trying to uphold this reputation. He gives promises to his confidants: everything will be more than just fine, it will be great. But malicious gossip has it that Putin mistrusts him. They say that it was Volodin's ambition that worried the president. Many complained to Putin about him, including people Putin trusts. Trusts a lot. Either Volodin himself never concealed his far-reaching designs, or his rivals informed on him. The latter is more probable. And one can guess who has fanned the flames.
"They said that Volodin allegedly built the following scheme: he would lead United Russia to victory during the Duma elections and become the head of the presidential administration; then he would ensure the successful re-election of Vladimir Putin and would become the prime minister and successor. I repeat – it is unclear whether Volodin said so himself or this was attributed to him. But in any case, the president started treating him with some wariness."
Q: "And Volodin was 'exiled' to the Duma."
V. Solovei: "Yes. Despite the high-sounding title of his new position, it can hardly be called a promotion. The power and influence wielded by the head of the presidential administration are incomparably greater than those of the State Duma chairman. Of course, Volodin is a strong and talented political manager, and he can increase his political weight under certain circumstances. But so far, we have not seen anything momentous.
"Besides, Volodin failed to keep his influence in the administration: [Tatyana] Voronova, the former head of department for domestic policy, had to leave and go to the Duma. Volodin's supporters are gloating now that Kiriyenko did not manage to put his own man in her place. But schadenfreude is hardly a sign of strength."
Vyacheslav Volodin (Sputniknews.com)
Q: "What about [Sergey] Kiriyenko [former CEO of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation, who was recently appointed as First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office], do you think he has come to stay?"
V. Solovei: "It's hard to say. They say he did not want to go into the administration at all. He was pressed to do it, mostly because the slot of Rosatom chief had to be vacated. By the way, Kiriyenko was not the first candidate for the position vacated by Volodin. There was another one with a chance of getting the post. I will not name him, he is a very influential person in the mass media. Extremely influential. But he managed to worm his way out of it, he found convincing reasons for the president. And Kiriyenko did not."
Sergey Kiriyenko (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Q: "Some people think that Kiriyenko as a talented manager was brought in to solve the tasks related to the oncoming presidential election."
V. Solovei: "I am not quite sure of that. There was nothing to correct in the domestic policy area. You may think of Volodin what you wish, but everybody acknowledges the fact that he was very effective in his area. He has built a well-oiled machine, and it has produced results. I don't quite understand how Kiriyenko can improve it. And I am not sure he understands it himself. Volodin's and [presidential aide Vladislav] Surkov's 'sympathizers' comment on Kiriyenko's first steps in the new job with great sarcasm. There are even rumors that he may have to turn to Volodin for help. By the way, according to rumors, Kiriyenko's first task is to tackle the problem of [Valery] Shantsev, the governor of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast."
Q: "What is the problem? Is he too hard to remove?"
V. Solovei: "Not at all! The problem is finding a replacement. At the moment, the personnel problem is very acute. You can talk to any high-ranking official, and he will not complain about a shortage of money, but about a shortage of people capable of doing their job competently. It was no accident that Putin started to appoint his security guards as governors but in desperation."
Q: "Lately, there have been active rumors about a large-scale constitutional reform allegedly being prepared by the authorities. The reform suggests either complete abolition of the presidential post or a radical reduction in its powers. And, as far as I understand, you do not rule out this scenario."
V. Solovei: "That's right, I do not rule out this scenario – under the conditions that I have listed: by force of certain force-majeure circumstances, Vladimir Vladimirovich will have to withdraw into the shadows for a while.
According to the new model under discussion, the president will have mostly ritual and representative functions. Possibly, he will try to patch up relations with the West. But real power will be in the hands of the head of the State Council, a post that Putin, naturally, will assume. At the moment, the State Council is a consultative and extra-constitutional organ, that's why a constitutional reform is needed."
Q: "A variation of [Chinese leader] Deng Xiaoping?"
V. Solovei: "Something like that. Deng Xiaoping or the Supreme leader of Iran [Ali Khamenei]. Under the current power system, a constitutional reform is a task more technical than conceptual. If the Kremlin wishes, it could be done at a very swift rate. The problem is of a different kind – to explain what's going on to the elite and to the public. For changes of this kind can potentially [make] mass consciousness schizophrenic. People will no longer understand who is the country's leader, which czar, so to speak, is the real one [a reference to a popular Soviet cult movie, 'Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession', where an impostor impersonates a czar]. All the intra-elite communications that have been built over dozens of years will be broken'... That is, the risks are colossal. And this is probably the main obstacle on the way to early elections and changing the form of government."
'We Are Far From Stalin's Repressions Yet, But The Actions Of The Authorities Are Becoming Harsher, More Severe'
Q: "Summing up the parliamentary election, you wrote an enigmatic phrase on your Facebook page: "The electoral way to power is blocked for the opposition. Which does not rule out other ways. In about a year, brand new developments will begin, and a window of opportunities will be open". What does it mean? Should we expect a revolution?"
V. Solovei: "Revolution is one possible form of political changes that exist in the modern world. But what did I mean in this specific case?
"There are at least two serious factors that can start in 2017. The first is related to the presidential election. If the election takes place early, and especially if a new government system is proposed, this will inevitably provoke a disruption of the elites. The second factor is related to mass sentiments. I think they will change faster than it is expected today. Currently, the changes are not very noticeable; they do not manifest themselves in any social or political behavior. But they accumulate under the surface. To put it briefly, it is no longer about the public rejecting the authorities, it is about opposition to authority.
"There is a kind of axiom in political prognostics: we can predict entry into a crisis, but not the way it will develop or its results. Nobody in the world has such predictive methods. But the crisis' inception can be predicted with a high degree of reliability.
"I have a feeling that next year we will enter this kind of political crisis. Most likely, it will not be instantaneous but will take some time to develop. This new development will open a window of opportunities for all those who have the will, strength and desire to exploit the new situation."
Q: "But if we believe the sociologists, the system's safety margin is quite considerable. Don't you believe sociologists?"
V. Solovei: "I do, some of them, at least. But I know what they are talking about besides opinion polls. I talked to sociologists I trust. Some of them work in VCIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center), some – in the Levada Center. And they say about the same things that I've just said to you: changes are being accumulated now that will bring about a qualitative breakthrough in the public consciousness. This is first.
"Secondly: poll results should not be trusted quite so much, because people are afraid to speak the truth.
"And thirdly: the axiom that everyone who's interested in political sociology knows – mass developments are unpredictable. Today everybody speaks about their loyalty when answering questions, and tomorrow the same people are seen protesting in the streets and squares. This has happened many times throughout history, including our recent past."
Q: "In this connection, I can't help mentioning your new book. Its title may scare some people and inspire others: The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Struggle in Modern Times. When discussing the so-called 'color' revolutions, you include the Russian events of five years ago in the list. You call the actions of the opposition an attempt at revolution that the authorities successfully nipped in the bud. How probable is it that Putin's team will cope with new similar challenges?"
V. Solovei: "That depends on two things. Not on the quality of Putin's team – it is known to us and will hardly change. But, firstly, on a combination of circumstances, or, to reduce it to lowest terms, on good or bad luck. And, secondly, on the quality of opposition.
"If it has the good sense to understand that it is its one and only chance, that there will be no other, then it will behave differently than in late 2011 – early 2012. The 'white ribbons' failed to use a unique opportunity then; they did not put the right pressure in the right place at the right time, when the authorities were already prepared to agree to significant concessions. Including restaging the parliamentary elections [a tacit admission that the elections were tainted by fraud].
"If the opposition again stops short of challenging the powers that be, I'm afraid they may later have to clean the White Sea Canal. Not figuratively, but literally."
Q: "Aren't you being an alarmist?"
V. Solovei: "Not at all. We are far from Stalin's repressions yet, but the actions of the authorities are becoming harsher, more severe. The repressive machine is becoming more and more total. However, the authorities risk a lot, too, by increasing the pressure. Remember Vladimir Vladimirovich's famous story about what happened to him when he was a child. Nobody should be driven into a corner: neither rats nor, especially, people. [the reference is to a story on how Putin, as a boy, cornered a rat, which, seeing it had nowhere to go, turned around and attacked him.]"
Q: "What will be the main driving forces of the new burst of oppositional activity? Angry city folk again, like five years ago, or other sections of society?"
V. Solovei: "I think it will be similar to what happened in the USSR in late 1980s-early 1990s, when angry city folk, the Soviet middle class, i.e. the managers and technicians, protested together with the industrial working class.
As I imagine, protests in industrial cities caused by growing socio-economic problems will serve as the trigger. The old response methods will be inadequate in this case. You can easily disperse Moscow hipsters, but this method will be useless against Putin's electoral base.
"It was simple before – there was money. Now there is no money. By the way, Medvedev was the only person in power who said the truth. And suffered for it.
"These protests will not be political in character at first; people will not demand democracy. But it does not matter. What's most important is that they will create a very favorable background for political protests in the capitals. And, what's no less important, they will provoke the dissatisfaction of the elite with the leader.
Because from the elite's point of view Putin's chief task is to "retain" the voters. As soon as the elite sees that the public is getting out of control, its attitude towards Vladimir Putin will change immediately. The tension in relations between different power groups will rise sharply, potential fault lines will emerge clearly. 'The Kremlin towers' will turn into political factions."
Q: "And the number of democrats in power will start growing rapidly."
V. Solovei: "Moreover, they will explain to you that they have always been democrats; they have always supported the opposition; they have always aided it."
Q: "Approximately the same things we observed during the perestroika?"
V. Solovei: "Absolutely. There will be nothing principally new; processes of this kind always repeat the same pattern."
 Mk.ru, November 10, 2016. The removed article was available for a while for readers on webcache.googleusercontent.com. A copy of the original article in Russian was saved by the blog Verybigfish.livejournal.com.
 Navalny published the results of its investigation concerning Medvedev’s secret dacha. Opposition media outlet Meduza.io wrote: “The cottage is the estate of Milowka, located one kilometer from the center of Ples in the Ivanovo region. Though it was previously known that Medvedev and his family regularly visit Milowka, photographs of the residence, which is surrounded by a six-meter wall, had never been published before. In his blog, Navalny published aerial images of the residence. The oppositionist maintains that the estate occupies not two hectares as claimed by the media previously, but 80. The territory includes a private marina (land adjacent to the Volga River), a ski slope, three helipads, a few houses, a hotel and other buildings, and park-like facilities, including a giant chessboard and a house for ducks. The historic manor of Milowka itself is enclosed by an additional internal wall. The Foundation estimates that the cost of restoring the estate and of building the rest of the complex at 25-30 billion rubles (approximately $385.73 to $462.87 billion). According to Navalny, the territory was acquired by a foundation called Dar, using money provided by the shareholders of the company Novatek. The charitable contribution is estimated at 33 billion rubles (approximately $509.16 million). These funds were also used to fund the restoration. Dar, says Navalny, is closely associated with the Prime Minister’s wife Svetlana Medvedeva. The head of its board of advisors is also Medvedev’s former classmate Ilya Eliseev. After 2011, the complex was transferred to Russia's Foundation for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage. The dacha is, therefore, not owned by Medvedev, but the Prime Minister vacations there on a regular basis, as evidenced by the geo-tags of his photographs on Instagram.
Navalny sees the fact that the territory was acquired by a foundation affiliated with Medvedev as a sign of corruption.” Meduza.io, September 16, 2016. See Navalny’s video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMVJxTcU8Kg
 Neither Deng nor Khamenei held the titles of president or prime minister or in Deng's case the post of first secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Deng sufficed with the title Chairman of the Central Military Commission or vice-chairman of the party central committee.
 The White Sea Canal (Belomorkanal) was a Stalinist forced labor project connecting the Whie and Baltic Seas via Lake Onega. An estimated 12,000 gulag inmates died on the project.