An evening with George Soros at Open Russia Club

Posted on June 28, 2016

George Soros, financier and philanthropist, came to the Open Russia Club to talk about his long involvement with Russia

The normally reclusive financier and philanthropist George Soros broke with his usual habits, and put in an appearance at the Open Russia Club, telling Lenny Benardo about his life, about his collaboration with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and about his foremost accomplishment – the Open Society Foundation.

Revolution

“In a way, vicariously, I lived through the first Russian revolution because my father was in Siberia and he lived through it.”

Refuseniks

“I actually went to the Soviet Union in the 70s. I had a list of refuseniks and dissidents that I took with me. I gave my minder the slip. I took special precautions meeting the first one, taking the lift a floor higher, that sort of thing. But he said, ‘you’re making a mistake because my security depends on people being seen visiting me.’”

Andrei Sakharov

“It was Christmas of 86 when he [Andrei Sakharov] received a phone call from Gorbachev in Nizhny Novgorod, where Gorbachev asked him to return to Moscow … and when I heard about it I understood that something had really changed. That was when I decided to return to the Soviet Union.”

“When I told him [Andrei Sakharov] that I wanted to set up a foundation in the Soviet Union, he said, ‘young man, you are going to fill the coffers of the KGB. Actually the KGB played an important role in the setting up of the foundation. It was a reformist cell and they took me in their confidence.”

Dollars

“This was a time when the dollar had tremendous value in the Soviet Union. 500 dollars was enough for a family to live for a year. [For me] it was a way to preserve natural science in Russia. I gave a 100 million dollars for that foundation.”

Marshall Plan

“I proposed this [new] Marshall Plan [for the Soviet Union], in Germany to Foreign Minister Genscher, and the representative of Margaret Thatcher broke out in spontaneous laughter when I suggested the European Union should pay for it.”

Oligarchs

“All the oligarchs came to Davos and I met with them, and I urged them to support Yavlinsky … Berezovsky was against it. This was to do with the loans for shares, where the loans were never to be repaid, and that was the beginning of the oligarchy. He [Berezovsky] was a really evil influence, he was the source of corruption of that [Yeltsin] family. He had more leeway than he thought he had in changing the system. He said to me, ‘you don’t understand, if I don’t kill them, they’ll kill me.’”

A failed revolution

“If you compare it to the French revolution, it [post-Perestroika Russia] did not revert to the ancien regime. Napoleon was the restitution but he actually changed France fundamentally. Unfortunately in the case of Russia it was a failed revolution because it led to a revival of the Russian imperial dream.”

Then and now

“The big difference between what happened then and what happened more recently is that the dominant belief then was international governance, you had the Communist Party with the Internationale and you had the European Union trying to do on a small scale what would have been a model for global governance. But that old ideology has been replaced by a new ideology based on nationalism, which was first implemented in the West by George W Bush.”

Russia and the EU

“Then, the European Union was emerging, and the Soviet Union was collapsing, now Russia is emerging and the European Union is collapsing.”

Soft power v hard power

“When it comes to soft power enormous advances are being made uncovering corruption, promoting new standards of governance, disclosure of beneficial ownership. Unfortunately, when you have a conflict between soft power and hard power, hard power prevails.”

Putin

“Right now, Putin is the embodiment of a certain form of nationalism, and this nationalism resonates in Russia, so Putin has managed extremely well in gathering the support of the country for his brand of nationalism.”

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