In a long interview with the Moscow Activist outlet, Russian historian Valery Solovey commented on Russian domestic policy but started with a look at Ukraine that has been a focus of attention due to its free elections and the prospects that a maverick could beat the establishment. Looking ahead to the second round of the Ukrainian elections, scheduled for April 21, 2019, Solovey opined that comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, from the Kremlin's point of view of the Kremlin, is a suitable candidate. "He has no political experience… he will have no time for Russian-Ukrainian relations, because he will need to form a government and made this decision through the Rada. And given the specifics of Ukraine, it will be a very difficult task. In this sense, the Kremlin is in a winning position, as it does not need to do anything, just wait," Solovey stated.
Commenting on Zelensky, Solovey stated that the Ukrainian leader exploited Ukrainian society's war fatigue in his electoral campaign. In this sense, Solovey opined, Ukraine is similar to Russia. " Formally we are not at war, but Russia lives in a pre-war situation," the Russian historian said, "All of our policies are of a mobilization nature: all these arrests, the concentration of resources, the KGB who are initiating cases under economic articles - all these are the signs of Russia’s transformation of into a mobilization camp. In our country, everything is justified by the war preparations and by the need to confront the West. So, at least in this, Ukraine and Russia are alike."
Solovey then pivoted to Russia's economic situation. The Russian historian remarked that Russia is a country inhabited mainly by poor and impoverished people, with a great percentage of Russians living on the verge of poverty. He believes that the state is indifferent to the Russians' social and economic conditions, because it has only one thing in mind: to prepare for war and modernize the country's infrastructures. However, Solovey noted that many of these projects meant to modernize the infrastructures, in reality, are designed to "appease conceit and vanity," and have no practical meaning.
Solovey then commented on the recent arrest of former Russian minister Mikhail Abyzov, charged with fraud and organized crime. According to Solovey, Abyzov's arrest does not represent a genuine anti-corruption drive. "The explanation [of Abyzov's arrest] is simple: if you want to control the elite, you need to seek loyalty. For the Kremlin, this is problem number one. They are very afraid of betrayal, conspiracy… The best way to keep the elite on its toe is arrests. All decisions on ministers that are taken cannot be made without approval from the top. All this is political," Solovey explained.
Concerning protests in Ingushetia against the transfer of some of its territory to Chechnya, Solovey mentioned the information embargo that was imposed by the presidential administration on news coming from the North Caucasus region. "We in Moscow do not know anything. This is how the transition of quantity to quality happens. This how the return of politics happens in the Russian Federation, when the legitimate, normal demands of people are not only left unsatisfied, but the state is brazenly poking its fists in the faces of people and saying: 'shut up, cattle!'. Naturally, this can only cause outrage. And the outrage can lead to certain actions," Solovey stated. He then predicted that next year there will be more local demonstrations until they will merge into the "all-Russian wave of protests."
Commenting on the demographic decline in Russia, Solovey stated that Russia is an "aging" and "dying" country. Women do not want and cannot give birth, they have no money; they have no housing… We have 40% of the families in Russia taking out loans for the purchase of food provisions. People have nothing to eat," Solovey added.
The Russian media outlet Moscow Activist and Solovey then concluded that the only way for Russia to overcome its problems is for regime opponents to "unite, organize and resist".
Below is Moscow Activist's interview with Solovey, published on April 4,2019:
Valery Solovey (Image: Presprikaz.ru)
- Valery Dmitrievich, I would like to start with the elections in Ukraine. Such an unexpected result of Zelensky - what was it about? Revolt against the elite?
- I must say that sociology predicted this result. The distribution of votes in the top three was more or less predicted. We must pay tribute to Ukrainian sociology as well as to the voter, who in general, unlike the Russian voter, does not hide his true feelings and moods.
Additionally, this is a universal trend or at least, I would say, not only a European one. This is really a vote against the entrenched political and economic establishment. In Ukraine, of course, this is exacerbated by its local specifics: the total corruption of the elites and by their unwillingness to carry out any reforms, which the Western interlocutors constantly complain of.
They say: “No matter how much we ask or insist, we are constantly being played for suckers, deceived, given promises that are not delivered.” And then, the extremely successful Zelensky, the strike of a billiard ball into the pocket of a mass need. Here you just need to remember that he already had –Ukraine-wide recognition thanks to his television career. And the fact that he is known as a comedian doesn't bother. Trump, too, acted the role of a hardly serious politician, he too a “comedian”, but this did not prevent him from becoming president of the United States.
As for the “fact” that Zelensky during his campaign was addressing only Russian-speaking regions, this is untrue. The political geography of the vote distribution does not show this. He won almost evenly across Ukraine, except for, if my memory serves me right, two regions.
Another thing that we must bear in mind when talking about Zelensky is that he exploited Ukrainian society's war fatigue. People are tired of war, tired of war-related agitation, and tired of the fact that war is used to justify all the muck and nastiness that are happening in Ukraine.
War is a great excuse, everything will be written off thanks to it. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to Russia. Formally we are not at war, but Russia lives in a pre-war situation. All of our policies are of a mobilization nature: all these arrests, the concentration of resources, the KGB who are initiating cases under economic articles - this all are the signs of Russia’s transformation of into a mobilization camp. In our country, everything is justified by preparation for war and the confrontation with the West. So, at least in this, Ukraine and Russia are alike.
- Some analysts say that one of the possible options for the Kremlin’s assuming Zelensky wins decisively, could be a full-scale war with Ukraine.
- Technically, yes, it is possible. But politically and strategically it makes no sense. This war definitely would not be a cakewalk, as it could have been in 2014. Now this will be a real bloody war with heavy losses. And more importantly, it would have brought nothing to Russia. I am sure that the position of the Kremlin in this sense is more realistic. Kremlin awaits the winner and anticipates his first steps. Zelensky, from the Kremlin's point of view, is a suitable candidate.
He has no political experience, he can be shaken down, for a long time he will have no time for Russian-Ukrainian relations, because he will need to form a government and get it through the Rada. And given the specifics of Ukraine, it will be a very difficult task. In this sense, the Kremlin is in a winning position, as it does not need to do anything, just wait.
- Valery Dmitrievich, about the mobilization model of economics and politics. Someone, it seems, Professor Petukhov said that we have a “wartime economy”. Recently, Rosstat published the results of a study where it became clear that every fifth Russian economizes on vegetables and fruits, every second family cannot afford a an annual week's vacation a year, in 35% of cases citizens are unable to buy two pairs of shoes for each family member for the next season.
- Petukhov is right in his assessment. What you brought up is a sad truth. Russia is a country inhabited mainly by the poor, the impoverished or on the verge of poverty. It is a shame and a disgrace for a country with so many natural resources and with the cost of resources already exported from it. I’m talking about trillions of dollars. It was possible, if not to get rich, then to live much better, at least to live with dignity, and not to plunge into such poverty, which deepens, and there are no chances to get out of it. The state does not care. They give people just enough so that they do not die of hunger. These are handouts so that the people do not get resentful. Although they are already getting indignant. For the state, the main thing is to prepare for war in the full sense of the word and modernize the infrastructure: the road that [Arkady] Rothenberg is building, a communication system project where other people close to the Kremlin participate, other mega-projects that do not have much sense, existing only to satisfy the appetites of these sustainable "support groups". This is the main thing.
And society receives what is left by the residual principle. Society’s needs have never been interesting to anyone in Russia. And now the current government demonstrates the worst traditions, the worst attitude of the Russian authorities over the course of centuries: "People will somehow survive by themselves. Honestly, why can't they gather tree fiber and make sandals for themselves? After all, the nettle gathering season is on the way, various herbs grow all around, and they complain of hunger". In fact, we are in a state of social and already anthropological catastrophe, judging by the size of mortality in Russia.
- We have mentioned construction, the Rothenbergs and the armed forces, but forget how much money is invested in diversions on an international level - Olympiads, all sorts of championships.
- These are projects that are designed to appease conceit and vanity, and which have no practical meaning. Moreover, they consequently turn into a disgraceful fiasco, as happened with the Olympic Games in Sochi, the results of which are flushed down the toilet in the literal sense of the word [as part of the doping scandal]. And this trend is everywhere. The Kremlin is not interested in people. People are only auxiliary material for solving national and state problems, only material.
- Source of budget revenues.
- Absolutely right. It is believed that the population has a lot of money in their stashes. Self-employed, small and medium businesses also have a lot of money. The total amount is estimated at 30-50 trillion rubles, so it is necessary to squeeze these [assets] out.
- And former ministers, too, apparently, have a lot of money, like Mikhail Abyzov, for example.
- Yes, but there are not many ministers, but a lot of poor people.
Abyzov behind bars (Source: Newiz.ru)
- Still, what happened to Abyzov, in your opinion?
- I am not looking for complicated interpretations. The explanation is simple: if you want to control the elite, you need to seek loyalty. For the Kremlin, this is problem number one. They are very afraid of betrayal, conspiracy. Already since 2014, the Kremlin believes [we are] in a pre-war situation, therefore, any hint of disloyalty is considered a political betrayal.
The best way to keep the elite on its toes is arrests. All decisions on ministers that are taken cannot be made without approval from the top. All this is political. What was the rationale behind the corruption is undisclosed to the public. Moreover, society understands this. Society does not believe that these arrests are related to the fight against corruption. People believe that this will not affect corruption. This once again confirms the thievery of government officials from the public point of view. There are sociological studies that support this thesis. People, in fact, evaluate it all very realistically.
- And how can you explain that both Navalny and the siloviki, and to an extent some Kremlin propagandists joined together in approving this arrest? How is this explainable? Does this fit in with a large-scale struggle to diminish Medvedev and his entourage? Could this be one of the tools?
- I understand. I think that each of the parties that you have enumerated has its own reasons for rejoicing. Navalny had previously exposed Abyzov, so now he can say that he was right, and even the authorities were forced to admit it and react. In fact, we need to pay attention to the fact that this is the first arrest of a man exposed in corruption by Navalny. As for the political designs of Abyzov, Medvedev, I can assure you that Medvedev will not be affected in any way. Medvedev is a confidant of the Russian Federation's president. This might be depriving him of some connections, but this is unlikely. He is a confidant; he will maintain his position exactly as much as V.V. Putin needs. I would not be surprised if Dmitry Anatolyevich becomes president of Russia in the future
- Yes. Could we see though a repetition of the Molotov case, whose wife Polina was arrested? He, too, was in some sense the confidante of Stalin. And when he finally made up his mind and asked why his wife was under arrest, Stalin replied: "I have no idea, Vyacheslav, they imprisoned all of my relatives too.
- Well, you can remember: “the security organs do not make mistakes. The court will figure it out.” Speaking seriously, compared with Stalinist times, manners are now almost vegetarian. Imprisoned, but not yet shot. I assure you that there are “enthusiasts” calling for tougher and more massive measures. They are preparing for this. Lists of those who need to be detained without charge, were ready by 2012 and are being updated. In Moscow there are about 1.5-2 thousand such people. It is believed that if these people are interned, then any political movement will be beheaded. And these "enthusiasts" complain that there is no hard-line. Putin, if you like, is actually holding them back. I am not at all ironic. There are people who are ready to act more decisively and harshly. But if they would act in this way, the consequences most likely could be unpredictable for them as well...
- Regarding arrests and increased stringency, and that’s all. Ingushetia. The situation is such that people first raised in protest because a piece of land was transferred without their knowledge to another federation entity, although local legislation implies that this is all should be done through a referendum. Later, when people were simply ignored, they began to put forward demands to remove Yevkurov.
- The law and the right are personified by the figure of the chief. Everything else is just words, even if they are written on a paper. This what is important to know about the interpretation of the law in the Russian Federation, and that is commonly the case. As for Ingushetia, this is a classic example of how power persists in its own mistake, and thus creates a serious problem. This is the usual line of conduct. We will never admit that this is a mistake, we will not retreat, we will crush down [any opposition]. Ingushetia – a very small region with a population of half a million. And there were serious problems before the information embargo imposed by the presidential administration on the appearance of any information from Ingushetia. I mean television, traditional media.
Not on such a large-scale, but a somewhat similar event now tis aking place in the Arkhangelsk region in Shiesa, where people came out practically armed to prevent the arrival of a transport carrying Moscow’s garbage, do you understand? There is also an information embargo on this event. We in Moscow do not know anything. This is how the transition of quantity to quality happens. This how the return of politics happens in the Russian Federation, when the legitimate, normal demands of people are not only left unsatisfied, but the state is brazenly poking its fists in the faces of people and saying: “shut up, cattle!”. Naturally, this can only cause outrage. And the outrage can lead to certain actions. I am inclined to believe that next year such actions for local reasons will multiply, until they will merge into a Russia-wide protest wave.
- And what about the fact that they turned off the Internet in Ingushetia? And, not the first time, I might add, they also disconnected the republic from the mobile Internet completely last fall. It was not clear on what legal grounds, because a state of emergency was not introduced.
- Let's say it bluntly, there was no legal basis. This is the technology that has already been prepared. I can assure you that in the event of some political and social conflicts, wherever they occur, the Internet and mobile communications will also be disconnected in Moscow. From my point of view, this would be wonderful, since it sharply increased the dynamics of participation in any actions, because it immediately makes people interested in what had happened.
- Yes, just a question in this regard, do you think that the Internet shutdown affected protests in Ingushetia? As far as I know, people did not have mobile Internet, they filmed on the phone, then drove to the house, connected to Wi-Fi, and were still able to transmit everything. Someone went to the neighboring regions, it is not such a long distance, everything was downloaded to the web there.
- These are different things. Information and coordination. The authorities wanted to prevent coordination of actions by the protesters. In this sense, they managed to partly interfere. This is for sure. Though the opportunity to communicate with the world still remains, it is certain. I can say with certainty that it will not be possible to deprive potential protesters in Moscow of either the ability to coordinate their actions or the ability to communicate with the world. There is a radio, there are satellite phones, satellite communications. People in Russia, in Moscow, at least, are very prepared for any kind of “accident”.
- On the Moscow City Duma elections: what are the risks, in your opinion, that no bright oppositionist will be allowed to enter the race? For example signatures [on their petitions] could be invalidated...
- I tend to believe that those risks are very high. But if the candidates manage to collect reliable signatures, then pressure on the mayoralty, both public and not entirely public, can be organized in order that they allow [a candidate to be allowed to enter the elections].
- But in your opinion, is it really possible to create pressure in summer?
- Yes. You can at least try. There are people who have some social weight and influence, those who are called "public opinion leaders". They are ready to do it now. They would like to see intrigue in the elections, competitiveness if only for decency's sake. They treat the opposition very well in practice, at least some of those who expect to become candidates. So, I would not rule out the appearance of such bright oppositionists. Although, as far as I know, the Moscow mayor's office is configured to avoid all risks.
- Understood. By the way, about the anthropological crisis. It turned out that in January 2019, the natural population decline in Russia increased by almost 32.5% as compared to the same period in 2018. Would you comment on this?
- Well, it seems to me that everything is obvious. No comments are needed here. Russia is an aging and dying country. And this is a national disaster. Women do not want and cannot give birth, they have no money, they have no housing. How can you have children if you have nowhere to live? How can you have a second child if you can barely maintain one? We have 40% of the families in Russia taking out loans for the purchase of food provisions. People have nothing to eat. In the literal sense of the word. And what we sell in stores under the guise of food is outright rubbish. Even if it costs a lot of money. It is necessary that people could live on their salaries, and not just barely survive. It's a shame! What kind of country is this, where a working man is a beggar?
- In this regard, I want to ask a question. An anthropological crisis, a decline in the birth rate… and here in Zyuzino there is an interesting story unfolding. The authorities almost a month are trying to close the maternity hospital, despite the protests of local residents, despite the protests of the staff, despite the fact that expensive equipment was brought there six months ago, the elevators were changed there, an expensive children's resuscitation equipment was delivered. As far as we with Varvara know, we have a strange thing happening in Moscow. Every year expenses on landscaping grow, and on medicine and education decrease
- Reducing the budget spending on medicine and education it is their "optimization". This is the goal of the Government. It is necessary to reduce costs. They believe that in this way they save money. Money needs to be sent to other areas.
- On tiles.
- On the tiles, on some fireworks, on the decoration of the capital. See how prettier Moscow has become under [Mayor] Sergei Sobyanin! I understand that it sounds awful, but it is what it is. The same misanthropic approach in the full sense of the word. People bother them. Do you understand? People interfere. They walk, scurry about, demand something. Tiles - is a great opportunity to spend a budget. With medicine, it will not work so well. Purchases grow, only nothing is operating, because nobody uses it. The doctor earning 30 thousand rubles is not interested in using an expensive device.
- He isn't able to do this.
- It’s not that he does not know how, he was not taught, he has no incentive. This is similar to Roscosmos. Engineers earn 25-30 thousand rubles, save on lunch, and you want them to make rockets that would successfully take off. It will not be, it is impossible.
- Then in the continuation of this all: optimization of medicine by the increased mortality. The number of migrants involved in the labor market in Moscow is constantly growing. Many already simply say that the government wants to replace the most fussy Muscovites with migrants in the housing and utilities sector and at construction sites.
- Everything is quite obvious here. Many things are on the surface. Let look at the replacement migration: they can be paid less, they have no rights. That's all. It's profitable. The facts that the quality, the level of wages are declining, and the Muscovites are being crowded out does not interest anyone. Only the money that will go into the account and in the pockets of the people who run Moscow is interesting. Pure economic efficiency alone. Nothing else. In this economic efficiency there will be no place for people, for Muscovites.
- I think this still is of dubious effectiveness. This they think that this is effective. And in the long run it is not effective, because real taxpayers, once they get impoverished, stop paying taxes.
- Varvara, well, these people, they who consider this as cost-effective, for them it is a cost-effective situation. They do not want to stay here in this polluted city. They expect to leave. They are here on an assignment, keeping watch.
- In addition, taxpayers will pay their taxes… and that tribute, that black cash collected from migrants, nobody counted it.
- These are gigantic funds. Hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of rubles.
- If I remember right, we have already spoken a little about the occult interests of the authorities. You wrote about it again, having reposted information from the Ministry of Defense magazine about a detachment of combat psychologists who read documents in a foreign language unknown for them. Hacking computer programs. I liked it. They break down the equipment by the power of thought. Are they really serious?
- This is absolutely serious. This is a steady tend in the Russian special services. At least since the end of the 80s. In the 90s these themes bloomed wildly. Then they stopped writing about it, they stopped being frank. But it is not gone anywhere. This is what infected a significant part of the Russian elite. There are various occultists, magicians, esotericists, all the other oriental dregs, fortune-telling systems, it is enormous. People belonging to the Russian elite meet with shamans who are brought to them from the Amazon. Or they fly to the shamans themselves, accompanied by the sorcerers. There is a situation of fundamental uncertainty in Russia now. Therefore, people are trying to cut down the last piece, grab the dough and hide the stash somewhere. The stronger this uncertainty, the greater the need to find some kind of clue. Rational knowledge is not able to give an answer. People turn to sorcerers, magicians and esoterics. It`s natural. The scale of this phenomenon you cannot even imagine.
- I, as a woman, sometimes accidentally get into circles of not highly educated and not very deep ladies. All these wonderful practices are very popular among them. When you realize that the level of intelligence and perception of reality in people of the elites is about the same as in narrow-minded "housewife", it is getting depressing.
- Well, the structure of consciousness is the same. Why do you expect them to be so much smarter? You need to remember how they came to power. This was a game of chance. Remember. Did they have long fought for power, or have achieved some success, or have gone through some kind of school? No! They just took off like a rocket. They don’t believe that this is all natural. A very strong and deep fear resides in them.
- We have a lot of cadres from St. Petersburg making it in federal politics.
- Note that you have said this about Peter, not me.
- Actually it is true. Because when Shnur says that Peter owns Moscow, I only later understood what he meant.
- I would put it more strongly. The growing madness owns all of Russia.
- By the way, lets talk about shamanism. Maybe there is still some moral wormhole periodically eroding the people, and a desire to calm yourself appears? They cannot possibly fail to notice the results of their policies, the dying out population, repressions against those who are just fighting for a normal environment, so that children will not breathe landfill gas. They understand the situation in which they brought the country.
- I think you overestimate the moral side of these people. These are the people completely devoid of morality. I assure you. You are right though in that sense that it gives them a certain psychological certainty. Those with whom they communicate (and some of them "deceive" their clients) they tell them that they would like to hear that people of the elites are on the right track, that everything will be all right… just giving them a psychological certainty. But this has nothing to do with morality. That is absent.
- So this is, this is not absolution from sins, but “The One Ring” about which we talked earlier?
- Absolutely. They are very much disappointed in Russian Orthodoxy, because there one needs to repent, to talk about sins. They belong to a different biological species - they are the elite. We cannot talk about any morality. They believe that they should be judged by other standards. This is another anthropological phenomenon.
- The psychology of a sect?
- It's not really a sect, but yes, if you will, the messianic complex. Imagine how you feel about rats? You do not consider them equal to yourself. So should they consider us equal to them? They speak about it frankly. Listen, do they treat us like people? How can you treat your peers like that?
- Yes. We still can recall the law on "respect for the authorities".
- It was necessary to adopt a law on respect for the authorities, so people would come, bowing to the waist. Power deals only with those who resist. As soon as you start looking for compromises, believe me, you are nothing to them, right away.
- One conclusion - to unite, organize and resist.
- Yes, the recipe is very simple.
The interview was conducted by Varvara Gryaznova and Yuri Ivanov.
 Activist.msk.ru, April 4, 2019.
 Alexei Navalny Russian political activist. (translator’s note)
 A politician or official from military-style uniformed services. (translator’s note)
 Vyacheslav Molotov - Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union. (translator’s note)
 Yunus-bek Bamatgireyevich Yevkurov - Head of Ingushetia. (translator’s note)
 An administrative district in Moscow (translator’s note)
 He refers to a yearly change of pavement tiles in Moscow (translator’s note)
 Saint Petersburg (translator’s note)
 Sergey Shnurov - musician and songwriter (translator’s note)