Opposition leader Dmitry Gudkov, a former deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, was forced to leave Russia in June 2021 under the threat of arrest in a case of causing property damage. DW met with the politician in Berlin and talked about the activities of the Russian opposition in Europe, the war in Ukraine, and how Alla Pugacheva and municipal deputies are bringing the end of Putinism closer.
DW: Are you talking to politicians in Germany now, in Europe? What are you telling them about?
Dmitry Gudkov: We are now creating an organization in Brussels to work with the leadership of the European Union, with deputies, with politicians and diplomats. Because, in my opinion, the time has come for us to build systemic relations. How do we see Russia after Putin? How to solve various issues: from a visa ban to, for example, support for independent media or the formation of a “road” map for Russia’s future development? There must be work with Western politicians, because some sanctions are effective and some are counterproductive and even help Putin
– Are you talking about the ban on issuing visas?
– About visas, but not only. Much was taken in the heat of the moment, in emotions. Could have hit more effectively under the Putin regime. And help those who are actually struggling with it.
It is important for Europeans to understand that if they close Russia forever, enclose it with a six-meter fence with barbed wire, dig a moat with crocodiles, then they will get even more problems in the future. Because there will be poverty, and the collapse of the country can be bloody. But nuclear weapons will remain, and it is not known where the missiles will fly then. It will be a headache both for Ukraine and for everyone. And this is what needs to be explained today.
– Isn’t it too early to think about Russia after Putin, when there is a war in Ukraine?
– War is one of the areas of discussion: what should be done to stop the war? Ukraine should receive support. Only military defeat can rid us of Putin. Military defeat of the Putin regime.
– Is this a real prospect?
– It depends on Ukraine, first of all, because they courageously resist, but without weapons, without financial support, it can drag on for years and no one knows how it will end. And that means that it will largely depend on the West too.
– When communicating with Western politicians, do you discuss issues of military assistance to Ukraine? Do you demand, for example, that the German Foreign Minister supply tanks to Ukraine?
– Of course, we are talking about it. I tell politicians in the West: if you don’t support Ukraine, it will drag on for a very long time. Easier help Ukraine at a normal pace so that it ends quickly.
– That is, you think that Russia is still waiting for defeat in this war?
– On the territory of Ukraine, at least. I do not think that Ukraine will go further. I don’t think they need it. It is important for Kyiv to liberate the occupied territories. But this will be perceived in Russia as a military defeat.
– Occupied territories, including Crimea?
– Well, at least to return to the borders before February 24th. But also Crimean issue – is no longer a distant prospect. Crimea will return – it’s only a matter of time. There is no longer a discourse “not everything is so simple.” When I was still in Moscow, I said that Russia, of course, violated international law and definitely someday the time will come when Crimea will need to be returned. But through what mechanisms, the devil knows. And now everything is clear.
– We are talking to you on September 20, the day when the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted amendments that introduce the concept of “mobilization”, “martial law” and “wartime” into the Criminal Code. Does this mean that Russian troops in Ukraine are so demoralized that such a legislative norm was needed?
– This suggests that the mess in the army. This suggests that the authorities are inadequate. In fact, Putin has built such a system where there is a complete mess, theft everywhere and the absence of any motivation.
– But Russians are still being told on TV that the support rating for the “special military operation” is high. How about really?
– I believe that, just as Putin pretends that this is not a war, but a special operation, so most people pretend that they support it. But as soon as they are forced to go there with a machine gun in their hands – and this is a one-way ticket – then nothing will remain of this support.
I think that sooner or later everything will end with protests, because no one wants to fight for Putin. Moreover, no one sees any point in this war. Except for some very “hawks”, supporters of the empire. There are not many of them, I think they are 10-12 percent. But they, by the way, are very dissatisfied with Putin and the Ministry of Defense. And it is very difficult for them to part with the myth that the Russian army is number two in the world. And the war in Ukraine shows that this is not so. Therefore, Putin may lose support on this flank as well.
It is very difficult to talk about real numbers of support in wartime conditions and the risks associated with it. But, at least in 2014, this popular support for the annexation, “the return of Crimea to its native harbor,” was felt. And now, in my opinion, there is no broad popular support. It’s just that when you can be imprisoned for the word “war”, it’s scary to oppose it.
– But, as we see, not all. What is the meaning, in your opinion, of Alla Pugacheva’s statement, her request to be included in the list of “foreign agents”?
– Alla Pugacheva found the language that influences the doubters. Many criticize her: why didn’t she say anything about the war? She did everything right. Because if she started talking about the war now, then perhaps she wouldn’t there would be such a resonance. And this statement of hers reached the audience whose support Putin is most afraid of losing.
She, in fact, turned the whole chessboard on which games with “foreign agents” were built. After all, if Alla Borisovna Pugacheva wants to be a “foreign agent”, then, in principle, being a “foreign agent” is cool, honorable, even patriotic.
– Can it somehow change the discourse in people’s heads, or does it indicate that such a change is already happening?
– Alla Borisovna put an end to the discussion: who are patriots and who are “foreign agents”. Because the main task of the regime is to put a label: a foreign agent is a person who works for foreign intelligence, right? Well, Pugacheva can’t work for foreign intelligence, can she? If Pugacheva wrote such a post, then all these games of “foreign agents” are attempts by a criminal corrupt regime to punish good people who oppose it.
– Do you think she will be declared a “foreign agent”?
– I think no. They have zugzwang practically: whatever they do, everything worsens their situation. Well, well, they will declare Pugacheva a “foreign agent”, then a dozen more people – representatives of show business, culture, intelligentsia – will write hundreds of such letters, and it will be impossible to stop. And most importantly, Putin has finally become a petty political figure from the time of Alla Pugacheva. Against her background, he turned out to be just a petty war criminal.
– Municipal deputies, first from St. Petersburg, and then from other cities, called for the impeachment of Putin. What consequences can this have?
– In fact, here it is necessary to pay attention to something else. Many deputies, politicians, activists at different times spoke about the impeachment of Putin. But for the first time it had some kind of resonance. Because, obviously, the topic is overdue.
– Because Now is the time, when “Down with the Tsar”, understand? Here he is (the politician puts his hand to his throat. – Red.) for everyone, for elites, for society. Even jingoistic patriots who want to fight, even in them, with his salutes, at the moment of retreat from the occupied territories, causes such a reaction. As if everyone suddenly thought: and the king is naked, Akella missed. Everything needs to be changed.