This is the third and final installment of the quasi-debate organized by the RBC media outlet between the parties competing in the September 19, 2021 elections. This segment covered such hot-button issues as mandatory Covid vaccines, burying Lenin's mummy, the black list of countries unfriendly to Russia and perhaps the most sensitive question of the breakaway pro-Russian republics in Ukraine. It is a bit fanciful to believe that the debate had an impact on the voting. One takeaway is that United Russia generally occupied a centrist position in the debate. Perhaps, as a party of power it is careful not to veer towards extremes or perhaps it was good politics to appear the centrist against opponents.
The State Duma building (Source: Realnoevremya.ru)
The issue of burying Vladimir Lenin's remains has been repeatedly raised by many public and political entities, starting with parties to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Union of Architects. Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, termed the proposals to bury Lenin's body or make the CPRF bear the expenses of the Mausoleum operations blasphemous. RBC asked other parties what they think about Lenin's burial.
Question, "Should Lenin's body be buried?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "This is very controversial and sensitive topic for many. There are quite polarized opinions on the issue. I believe that no decision should be made as long as no consensus exists within society."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov. The party didn't answer the question.
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "It [the burial of Lenin] should've been done long ago. The body should be buried in Simbirsk [sic. Ulyanovsk actually] next to his father's grave, or in St. Petersburg next to his mother's grave. This page of history should've been turned long ago. After all young people don't know history. A boy asks his mother, "Who was Lenin?" and mom answers, "He came from abroad to dethrone the regime, destroy the state and become the ruler." Is this an example to follow? We don't need such symbols."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Gennady Semigin, "There is no need to do that as long as our fathers and grandfathers are alive. Then time will tell."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "The reburial of Lenin's body is a symbolic gesture, which will finalize the De-Stalinization process. Yabloko advocates deep and comprehensive De-Stalinization, i.e. full access to archives [of the Soviet era]; restoring of historically accurate naming of the streets; deconstruction of the Soviet leaders' monuments; and (this is the main thing) renunciation of Bolshevik principles in politics and state management. Authoritarianism, state lies, and repressions are the result of the renounced De-Stalinization process and a refusal to officially assess the Soviet period."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "Lenin, as the saying goes, is always alive. [the author hints at Lev Oshanin's song "Lenin is always with you".] Thus, it doesn't really matter whether his remains will be buried or not. There are many people, who have nothing better to do, so let them decide whether we should rebury Lenin, rename Volgograd into Stalingrad etc. Our party thinks of future, of development. We are building the country, in which our children will live. We [all] should stop wasting time quarreling about the past. These arguments have no effect on life and the people's well-being.
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "It's mandatory to do that. We should rebury not only Lenin but the entire Necropolis of the Kremlin's Wall. After all there are various celebrations, concerts, book fairs held there. In the winter, people skate there… And there is a cemetery right nearby! For me, as an Orthodox Christian this looks very bad. I believe a separate memorial should be erected, and rebury all [bodies in the Kremlin wall]."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "Yes, it must be done. [Lenin's body] should be reburied in St. Petersburg according to Orthodox rites. The Mausoleum should be remain a museum. This is not an issue of the Communists or their ideology. They have full right to the latter. However, to continue in the "heart" of Russia a rite (which is rather dubious from a moral and religious standpoint) around the remains of a politician, who died a century ago, is blasphemous.
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "This issue is often used to incite unrest in our society. There is an enduring interest in Lenin worldwide. Each side has its own arguments. We believe that now there is no need to make this issue a political one. It will resolve itself in time."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "We categorically oppose Lenin's reburial and we will hold protest rallies if someone decides to do that."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "I don't care at all about this issue. Believe you me, Lenin himself would've have said the same. I regard Lenin with respect and consider him to be the father of nation. However, in my opinion, it's much more important to study Lenin's political legacy and analyze it, rather than his remains."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "There are much more important questions. Today [the Mausoleum] is a cult building, a temple of atheism first. And though this confession isn't registered and doesn't have an organizational structure, it unites many people and exists under a common law. The CPRF has nothing to do with it. When and if this confession abandons the perception of the Lenin's body as a cult object, this will become a question of monuments and of historical and cultural legacy."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "The traditional worldview of the majority our citizens stipulates that everything should remain in its place. However, personally I believe that Lenin's body should be buried, thus effectively closing this ridiculous many years-long argument."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "It definitely should be done. The millions spent on tending to Lenin's body, could be spent on the living."
Under the pension reform passed in 2018, the retirement age will be gradually increased to eventually reach 65 for men (previously it was 60 years) and 60 for women (previously it was 55 years). During the important second reading, 326 deputies (72.5% of total number of the State Duma deputies) voted in support of the bill, 59 (13.1%) voted against it, 64 (14.2%) didn't vote at all and only 1 deputy abstained. RBC found out what the parties think of pension reform.
"How do you feel about raising the retirement age?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "It has to be done. Pension system operated properly in 1970, when the [ratio] was one pensioner per every four working citizens. Now the ratio is two to one, and the gap widens along with life expectancy. Thanks to the reform that raised the retirement age we've managed to stabilize the pension system and continue to improve it. Many issues still remain such as indexing the pensions of military pensioners and certain categories of working pensioners. We will work on this issue."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "The CPRF not only opposed the pension reform, but also assessed it as a perfidious, blatantly anti-social and essentially criminal action aimed at plundering and violating the rights of those, who worked honestly their entire life." [The CPRF voted against the reform]
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "We are categorically against raising the retirement age. Back in 2018 we voted against this law. [This is factually untrue. The LDPR deputies simply didn't vote, and one deputy voted for the reform.] Half of Russian males don't make it to retirement age."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Zakhar Prilepin, "We perceive the reform as a mistake by the state. In addition to nullifying the retirement age altogether the Pension Fund should be disbanded. We will open Lenin and Stalin centers in their premises (and other useful institutions). There will be enough space to hold modern art. Let the youth gather there and sing rap music. Let's open offices for the war veterans' [organizations] there so they would be able to work with the youth. [I want to thank] the Pension Fund for building such great buildings. We will need them."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "Our party is against raising the retirement age, we believe this issue should be discussed by the new State Duma Convocation. The state robbed the people of 800 – 900 thousand rubles, and gave these assets for the officials to spent. These assets are being spent not on investments in the economy and social assistance but on the arms race and geopolitical expansion. We need to reform our tax policy, stop spending money ineffectively, fight corruption, stop writing off debts to dictators. Then we'll have enough money for the pensioners."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "Of course we condemn the reform. Is there anyone in the country, who regards it favorably? Even those who voted for the bill don't like it."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "We strongly condemn the law! Back in 2015 Rodina, categorically opposed raising the retirement age, when this issue just appeared on the socio-political agenda. I personally voted against the bill. We believe that the previous retirement age frameworks should be restored. And a genuine pension reform should include elimination of the Pension Fund and a substantial increase of pensions."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "We condemn the reform. It should be reversed. [The previous frameworks] reflected the true arrival of old age and the diminishment of our citizens' health, should be returned. Unfortunately, this is a very sad thing."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "We are against the reform. We put forward our stance, "to not allow hasty and ill-conceived raising of the retirement age," back in the 2016 campaign manifesto. We believe that it's necessary to return to the previous retirement indicators and that people should be able to decide when to actually retire upon reaching a certain stage. After all a person should have a right to decide for himself: either to retire, or to continue working and keep the indexation of his pension." [currently the pensions of working pensioners are not indexed against inflation.]
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "From the very outset, we opposed the increase of the retirement age. In the first days, since the bill's passage, our party conducted protest actions in many of the country's regions. Many people participated in them."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "I oppose this reform. The raising of the retirement age was done in order to deal with the budget deficit, and not for the people's or business' sake. They [the authorities] spent big money on the Olympic games, world championships, and decided to offset budget deficit at the expense of the people. "Let the slaves to work longer. Work till you collapse, and we will take taxes from you," [think the authorities]. It was a cynical decision to deal with the holes in the budget. There was no other logic to the [pension age] raise."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "I'm against it. I voted against the pension reform."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "Considering the extreme climate conditions of our country, I believe that the retirement age shouldn't be increased, but decreased substantially. However, a person should have a choice: to continue working or retire. If one feels strong and be willing to work, let him work on."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "We oppose the pension reform. The first thing to do is to create the conditions to achieve greater life expectancy."
The introduction of mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 was also a controversial issue. In May, the government submitted a bill to the State Duma, which will include vaccination against coronavirus into the National Preventive Immunization Calendar. If the bill would've passed the vaccination for socially important professions (i.e. doctors and teachers) would become mandatory. However, before the second reading, the initiative had been withdrawn because the voluntariness of vaccination wasn't prescribed in the document. President Vladimir Putin also stressed that mandatory vaccination was inadvisable. Party representatives elaborated on what they think about the introduction of compulsory vaccination against COVID-19.
Question, "If the new convocation of the State Duma will deliberate on the issue of mandatory vaccination, how would you vote?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "Vaccination should largely be voluntary. There could be some exceptions for certain professions (i.e. employees that during the work have contact with a large number of people.). However, such exceptions shouldn't become the general rule. When such attempts are being made (as, for instance, it happened with students) the party intervenes and nullifies such decisions. In my opinion, vaccination is an issue of personal responsibility for your own well-being and for the health of the people around you. I got vaccinated some time ago."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "We are ready to vote for [mandatory vaccination], provided two conditions will be met. First, vaccines should be effectively available to all people in all the regions. Second, there should be no pressure on people, who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons, or for whom vaccination raises the risk to their life and health. If such people are being fired or persecuted than this is not a fight against the virus, but a violation."
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "We'll vote against mandatory vaccination. We did this back in the Spring of 2021, when the proposal to introduce COVID-19 vaccination to the National Preventive Immunization Calendar was deliberated. We won't force anyone to get the shots! We however advocate combatting pseudoscience and pseudoscientists and stepping up pro-vaccine information efforts."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Zakhar Prilepin, "I''' vote against. And advise others to do the same."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "It's necessary to vaccinate as many people in Russia as possible, however it should be an exclusively voluntary endeavor. The state's task is to provide vaccine and convince people to vaccinate. The authorities shouldn't force and threaten, but instead provide conditions for vaccinations and build confidence in the vaccines. Society's sentiments towards the vaccination proves the collapse of the current [healthcare] system. Vaccines should be made constantly available to all regions. The ban on the import of foreign vaccines approved by WHO should be lifted, so that people will have a choice."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "We'll vote against and advise others to do so."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "I'm strongly against mandatory vaccination. I believe it should be voluntary, as our president Putin stated. Thus, if this issue would be raised in the new convocation, we'll vote unanimously against it."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "I want to note that the Duma didn't deliberate on such issues, and even didn't even fight for its right to participate in this decision. Now the vaccination is conducted as it was in Austrian Empire's military recruitment office, as it was depicted in "The Good Soldier Švejk" book. Everyone will get a shot! This is wrong. First, foreign vaccines, approved by WHO, should be allowed in Russia. People should have the opportunity to choose."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "I believe the person should have a choice in this regard. If a person decides to get vaccinated (especially if he is over 60 years old), then the vaccination should be possible provided there is a medical necessity and recommendation from a doctor."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "We strongly oppose compulsory vaccination."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "Vaccination could be mandatory, provided that state will guarantee full medical assistance to the people. First people should have an opportunity to go through the diagnostics (the cost of which will be covered by state mandatory medical insurance) in order to understand, how the vaccine will affect their health. Second, people should be aware of possible consequences of this decision. The vaccine should be properly tested and people should receive comprehensive medical assistance. If these two things won't be provided, I'll vote against."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov. The party's representative stated that the party will vote against.
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "Having myself been a victim of COVID-19, I'm for the vaccination. Vaccines are the most effective and safest way to deal with the disease. However, the use of a medical preparation, is the individual's personal responsibility. Even the wording itself "mandatory vaccination" sounds horrible. Strong arguments are required to violate human rights and freedoms. It's unacceptable to force people to get anti-COVID-19 shots through administrative pressure."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "We must hold an intra-party deliberation on this issue first. So far, we don't have a firm position on this issue. After all, it is the individual's personal responsibility."
About unfriendly countries
In May, Russia announced that the Czech Republic and the US were included at the list of unfriendly countries. The Czech embassy was allowed to hire only 19 Russians, while the US embassy was prohibited from employing Russian citizens altogether. RBC asked the parties what they think about this decision, and which other countries they would be willing to add to the unfriendly countries' list.
Question, "In May, Russia adopted the list of unfriendly countries, which includes Czech Republic and the US. Should it be expanded or decreased? What policy should Russia pursue in relation to unfriendly states."
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "One of the leaders of our federal election list, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, has already answered this question. From the very beginning, he claimed that the list is a response to unfriendly gestures by our partners. The list could be corrected (decreased or increased) in accordance to our relations with them. I believe it’s a rather sufficient explanation."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov. The party didn't answer the question.
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "We could include Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania on it for infringing the rights of the Russian population, for attempts to facilitate sanctions, or for attempts to exacerbate third countries' relations with Russia."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "The situation is ambiguous. There are countries, with which we have way more serious conflicts, that weren't included on the black list. I have a question, could the countries, which introduced sanctions against Russia, be considered unfriendly ones? I guess they could, but what next? I would be rather cautions using this means (country's inclusion on the list of unfriendly states), as such a decision assumes a change of approach in relations with such a state."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "Vladimir Putin's and the parliamentary parties' foreign policy has resulted in the fact that Russia currently has no allies. The most horrible thing is that our neighbors in eastern Europe have become "unfriendly states." Foreign policy and diplomacy seeks to create friends, not enemies. No lists of unfriendly states can improve Russia's foreign relations or guarantee the country's security. There should be a change in policy to renouncing confrontation, and improving relations."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "There are no unfriendly states or peoples, only unfriendly governments. We will survive the latter."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "I don't understand why the list doesn't include Ukraine, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania. The governments of these states should be clearly aware that Russia officially considers them unfriendly– with all the ensuing consequences. These consequences should be very harsh. After all our deputies are being beaten in Georgia, while their wine is sold in shops in Russia! Russia should toughen its political and economic reaction towards unfriendly actions. Other state should understand it's more profitable to build relations with Russia than to continue confrontation."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "Everyone has their own interests, and I would go further their own truth. I am certain that clowning has no place in our international policy. But it does happen at times. The world is changing. Russia must have a reliable ally, i.e. a strong and sensible economy, whose interests must be respected."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "Friendly" or "unfriendly state" are value judgements, not international legal definitions. Every strong state must treat its partners with respect. Thus, we advocate the restoration of a strong state, and effective economy and correspondingly respectful and fair intergovernmental relations."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "We treat all nations very well, but unfortunately, there are unfriendly states. The list should be expanded to include the UK and Eastern European countries (Poland and the Baltic states). I guess such a situation evidences to the fact that our foreign policy isn't very effective. We need to seek forces in these countries that are ready to fight for improved relations with Russia. We need to support such forces. There are unfriendly states, but we must transform them into friendly ones."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "I don't understand what status this list has. If it doesn't concern our citizen than I don't give a damn about it just like any normal person."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "There is no need to expand or decrease the list. It will serve as a warning against unfriendly actions, which could occur in every sphere. There are many more unfriendly states than the list contains."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "I believe that the list of unfriendly countries was an emotional reaction towards unpleasant assaults upon us. I take a philosophical approach towards this issue. One can create as many lists as you want, but the world is largely built on personal connections. Let the "lists" remain as a formal tool of the diplomacy. It is the business of diplomats to threaten each other to achieve geopolitical goals.
Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "There always be countries that will be friendly or less friendly to others. However, ecology doesn’t acknowledge state borders. Ultimately, all states must cooperate in order to resolve global environmental issues. The environment must be sound everywhere. Our party views geopolitics from this perspective."
Experts repeatedly discussed the possibility of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics becoming part of Russia. However, the Kremlin stressed that Russia "has no plans to incorporate any territory." According to the Bloomberg agency, the EU fears that this scenario might happen. The parties explained how, in their opinion, the Donbass problem should be resolved and whether the republics should be incorporated into Russia.
Question, "How should the issue of Donbass be resolved? Should the republics be incorporated into Russia?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "Our leader, president Putin has repeatedly stated that Russian won't ever abandon Donbass. So, you should keep that in mind."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "Regarding the republics' incorporation, this issue should be resolved the way it was resolved in Crimea via a general national nation referendum (as happened in Crimea). I have no doubt that the majority would vote for unification with Russia. however, such a decision should be legally established via the free vote of the residents."
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "Not only Donbass but Novorossiya in its entirety should join Russia. The optimal scenario is to divide Ukraine in Galicia and Little Russia. All the Russophobes will gather in the western part and create their own state of Galicia from 5 western Ukrainian regions, with Lviv as its capital. Such a state would have a population of 5 million. The entire southeastern Ukraine will follow the Crimean path i.e. it will join Russia."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Zakhar Prilepin, "The entire Ukraine should join Russia."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "It is necessary to stop the military intervention in Donbass and recognize Ukraine's independence and sovereignty. A few years back, ago. [Yabloko's former leader] Grigory Yavlinsky proposed a 10-point peace plan: a peace agreement on the provisional status of territories with a special order of self-government should be concluded; law enforcement and judicial authorities will be transferred to international frameworks under the aegis of the United Nations Security Council; the guardianship of the Normandy Format countries should be established over the region; a special economic zone regime should be instituted. After the situation stabilizes, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will return to Ukraine."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "What about the Minsk agreement? Let's find out the sentiments of people in the republics and in Russia, let them decide."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "Today the republics of Donbass have a right to fight the Ukraine's fascist regime. This is a just, people's liberation war. I'm sure that Donbass will return to Russia sooner or later (as Crimea did). This is inevitable according to the Russian world's logic of history. And I mean not only the DPR and LPR but many other regions, which due to mistakes made by Soviet Communist authorities became parts of Ukraine."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "Russia should be governed not by emotions, but by its interests in this regard. And precisely whether greater benefit or harm will flow from this decision. So far nobody suggested such harm."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "The situation in Ukraine is the result of the USSR's collapse. This is nothing unique, similar conflicts have always existed (and will continue to exist) in many former Soviet republics. There is only way to resolve such issue – a historical one, which will consider people's sentiments in conjunction with international and humanitarian law."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "Our party advocates the recognition of LPR and DPR independence. However, the question of these republics entering Russia should be answered simultaneously by the population of the republics and Russia. Russia provides serious assistance, but conditions should be imposed on the receipt of such a help. We should understand on what the money is being spent to make the states modern, comfortable, democratic and safe for both their citizens and tourists from other countries."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "I cannot support annexations. I don't consider Crimea's case to be an annexation, because there was a referendum. Crimea had autonomy including an autonomous status in Ukraine. I support sovereignty for the LPR and DPR. Becoming part of Russia means falling under the authority of the oligarchs."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "So far, under the Minsk agreements (while they are in effect) the republics have no obligations towards anyone."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "For ecologists the issue of territorial integrity is relative. We think on a planetary scale. Weather, climate and pollution have no boundaries. The status of Donbas is purely an internal Ukrainian problem, and it is not up to us, the environmentalists, to solve it. We clearly understand our own challenges. Actually, we are truly concerned about the future ecological state of these lands."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service. The party didn't answer the question.
 Rbc.ru, September 8, 2021.
 For the previous installments see MEMRI Special Dispatch 9550, Russian Outlet RBC Arranges Quasi-Debate Between The 14 Parties Competing In The September 19 Duma Elections: Part I, September 15, 2021; MEMRI Special Dispatch 9553, Russian Outlet RBC Arranges Quasi-Debate Between The 14 Parties Competing In The September 19 Duma Elections: Part II, September 17, 2021.