Mayoral Candidate Dmitry Gudkov Discusses Russia’s Future at British Houses of Parliament

February 5, 2018

On February 5 Russian politician Dmitry Gudkov, renowned for his opposition to Vladimir Putin, and American journalist David Satter took part in the discussion ‘Russia’s 2018 Presidential Election: What To Look Out For’ at the British Houses of Parliament. The wide-ranging conversation encompassed the pair’s thoughts on the impending presidential elections, Vladimir Putin’s style of governance and the possibility of future reform, corruption and the infamous ‘Kremlin Report’.

Dmitry Gudkov, a former State Duma deputy and future candidate in Moscow’s mayoral elections, commented on the upcoming 2018 presidential elections, calling Vladimir Putin’s impending victory “the beginning of his fifth term in office”. While it is indeed true that Putin is considered the only candidate capable of winning, this is primarily due to a lack of genuine opponents, in particular Alexey Navalny, who is now barred from running. Instead, both Gudkov and Satter threw their weight behind Navalny’s call for voters to boycott the election. In their eyes, a depressed voter turnout would delegitimise a Putin victory in the eyes of the political and business elite. Other solutions to combatting the election are irrelevant, according to Satter, as the systemic opposition cannot use the limited resources available to them without giving an image of legitimacy to Putin’s victory.

Although Gudkov conceded that Putin would inevitably win the March presidential election, he expressed higher hopes for the September 2019 local elections in Russia. The opposition politician has recently set up a new initiative in coordination with Open Russia, aiming to unite Russian opposition democrats under one project entitled ‘United Democrats’. The movement, inspired by the success of independent candidates in Moscow’s 2017 municipal elections, aims to avoid the disunity of recent years in the democratic opposition. As disunity inevitably leads to failure, ‘United Democrats’ intends to become a vehicle for coordination, a chance to ensure that like-minded democrats do not end up fighting one another in the elections. Gudkov highlighted that, “while the opposition has no access to the mainstream state media and therefore struggles to transmit its message to a wider audience throughout the Russian regions, volunteers on the ground are key to raising awareness of their goals.”

Another aspect of the event concerned Putin himself and his style of governance. Gudkov maintained that figures putting Putin’s approval rating at 80% are erroneous. The truth is more likely to hover around 50%.  Gudkov referred to the fact that historically Russian leaders’ approval ratings have been susceptible to radical change almost overnight, citing the instances of Mikhail Gorbachev and former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov.  Highlighting the obstacles places against independent candidates, Gudkov claimed that “there will be significant barriers to success in the upcoming Moscow mayoral elections; we must get through the municipal filter”, referring to the elaborate process of acquiring enough signatures to get one’s name put on the ballot box, a common tactic of the ruling party in keeping out ‘undesirable’ candidates.

Satter, meanwhile, commented on Putin’s use of war as an instrument of internal policy, and accused the regime of “lawlessness”. He identified the murder of Boris Nemtsov, the 2004 bungled rescue operation by special forces in Beslan and the recent terrorist attack on the St. Petersburg metro as three examples of morally-decayed leadership.  Satter referred to the fact that the European Court of Human Rights recently declared that the victims of the Beslan terrorist attack were “denied the right to life” by the brutal operation of the Russian special forces to take back control of the school after hundreds of children were taken hostage. Finally, he questioned the validity of the government’s version of the St. Petersburg metro attack, going as far to imply that the government itself could even have been implicated in the attack. All three examples, according to Satter, showcase the regime’s lawlessness and callousness.

Gudkov and Satter further discussed corruption in Russia and the much-discussed ‘Kremlin Report’ published recently by the US Treasury, listing influential politicians and businessmen close to the Putin regime. Satter believed it inexpedient to pressure the Kremlin over its track record of corruption, as the concept itself permeates almost every level of Russian society.  The Kremlin Report, although described by Gudkov as “confusing”, owing to the presence on the list of anti-Putin individuals, does have its uses.  Gudkov claimed that the report is damaging the reputation of those on the list, and that “global businesses have already started to suspend business relations with one or two names on the list.”

The discussion moved to the possibility of future reform in Russia. Both Satter and Gudkov were both under the impression that the future contains few bright prospects in this respect.  For significant economic recovery and trust to reappear, the Kremlin would have to share power with accountable institutions; something which Putin has been unwilling to do. Gudkov, however, was merrier in his attitude to reform. “A country”, he said, “cannot survive without political and economic reform that responds to the pressures of the day. If Putin continues to repress change, something will have to give.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email