Mikhail Sokolov: So you mean that in the coming decade Russia is doomed to give the world yet another negative lesson of the kind it gave in the past: we’ve had Communism and Stalinism, and now Russia is to be run by the secret police, or corporations composed of Putin’s managers?
Yuri Felshtinsky: In your question I hear a note of sad reproach, but in fact one can take a slightly different view of the way the world sees Russia. It’s really a matter of comparisons. The West and the whole of the rest of the world have to compare Russia’s present leadership with, for example, Stalin and Khrushchev. Of Stalin, of course, the less said the better.. Khrushchev beat his shoe on the podium. Brezhnev – also the less said the better. Now and then Yeltsin was drunk in public. Listen, against that background, Medvedev is quite simply the flower of the Russian intelligentsia. And against that background even Putin, on the whole, is a young progressive politician who knows how to smile, talk, behave himself more or less, not always, not everywhere, we know about all the blunders he committed as leader of the country: like when he joked about the sinking of the “Kursk” submarine, or when he told a journalist to go and get circumcised, and when he talked about flushing the Chechens down the toilet. We know about all that, the list is too long to enumerate. But even so, if we compare this with Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, then sorry, it’s not surprising that the Western community thought Putin was the best Russian president it had ever had to deal with.
On this level Medvedev is even better, because they don’t even have to deal with him, because they know that he doesn’t decide important policy matters in the country. So in that sense what awaits the West is not such a bad option.
The West takes a cautiously sceptical view of Russia. Russia is like the classroom bully. Between ourselves, no one ever expects anything good of Russia. Everyone expects something bad. When bad things happen, like the war in Chechnya or the war in Georgia, everyone says: “Yes, well, of course, what else can you expect of them? And when bad things don’t happen, they put a tick in the checkbox: “Listen, it could have happened and it didn’t.” In other words, Russia is treated like this naughty boy who is a member of the family but whom no one can do anything with, he’s just there.
And (this is a serious point, by the way) they all understand that that Russia is there, that it was there in the past and that it will go on being there in the future. Russia will be there both as a participant in all the political dialogues [with the West] and as a very important economic partner, especially for Europe. So we all have to live with Russia. And it is absolutely the task of everyone to make life easier for ourselves, to make this life together with Russia as easy and painless as possible.