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Opposition, systemic and non-systemic (interview to TASS)

March 17, 2020

The 15th part of Vladimir Putin's interview to TASS News Agency has been published.

The 20 Questions with Vladimir Putin project is an interview with the President of Russia on the most topical subjects of social and political life in Russia and the world. Total recording time is 3.5 hours.

Andrei Vandenko: You actually gave the opposition a compliment by saying that we need the opposition, including the non-systemic one.

Vladimir Putin: It is not a compliment – this is what I think. I mean it sincerely.

Andrei Vandenko: By and large, objectively speaking, our opposition, well, what we call the opposition, is tame. It is hand-fed.

Vladimir Putin: No, that is not true. When…

Andrei Vandenko: Systemic. What we call systemic opposition.

Vladimir Putin: Listen, we have four parliamentary parties. Quite often they have their own view of things. True, United Russia holds the majority in the State Duma. Some may say: you know, it's … a little bit boring.

Andrei Vandenko: Window dressing.

Vladimir Putin: No. A little bit boring.

Andrei Vandenko: A decoration.

Vladimir Putin: No. A little bit boring.

Andrei Vandenko: Boring.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Andrei Vandenko: Pretty true.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes.

Andrei Vandenko: Honestly?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Andrei Vandenko: A little bit boring.

Vladimir Putin: I understand. Do you wish to jump for joy when they may be fighting there like they do in Ukraine or some other place?

Andrei Vandenko: ”Not the place for discussions,“ we remember.

Vladimir Putin: No. It is the place for discussions. But it is not a place for brawls or internal skirmishes. Or for showing off.

Andrei Vandenko: Well, you sound somewhat too radical – either a brawl or a swamp. What about taking some balanced position?

Vladimir Putin: This is what I am telling you. Listen to what Gennady Zyuganov said in his speech.

Andrei Vandenko: Oh!

Vladimir Putin: What makes you say oh? He has his own stance, and not only he, but other members of the Communist Party, too.

Andrei Vandenko: He and Zhirinovsky were philosophizing back when you were working in Dresden.

Vladimir Putin: It does not matter. It's not important.

Andrei Vandenko: In other words, a professional member of the opposition who lives at a state dacha [residence] belonging to the Administrative Directorate of the President, and drives a BMW with flashing blue lights is fine with you?

Vladimir Putin: Listen to me.

Andrei Vandenko: Is that so?

Vladimir Putin: If you wish to remain on the offensive yourself, you will not hear my answer.

Andrei Vandenko: I'm listening.

Vladimir Putin: And this non-systemic opposition – what is it? It’s legitimate parties. We have 50 parties altogether. We have liberalised the process of registering a political party. We have 50 of them.

Whether a member of an opposition party uses a car or not is a different question. What really matters is what attitude he takes towards the authorities and the decisions proposed by the Government or the ruling party on this or that issue.

You probably wanted to trip me up… You won't succeed. What I want to tell you is this… There is the United Russia party holding the majority.

Andrei Vandenko: Right.

Vladimir Putin: Right? There are other parties who quite often disagree – there are four of them in the parliament. They disagree with the ruling party's point of view. But you surely remember what there was in the 1990s, you are old enough after all. It was a mess of a parliament. Brawls were frequent and there was no chance to make a single decision. Still worse – do you know what was still worse? 

Andrei Vandenko: What?

Vladimir Putin: It was still worse that the decisions they made were impossible to implement. The economy was boxed into a corner. That's what it led to when there was no constructive discussion.

Now, my question is: Do you want to see them make a mess or make decisions of national importance?

In this connection, I cannot but recall one well-known Russian statesman: ”You want great upheavals, but I want great Russia.“ I believe, we all want great Russia, not stage shows at different levels of political power.

Andrei Vandenko: Absolutely. The opposition is also necessary to ‘put a hedgehog inside the authorities’ skull’, to make them move and work harder.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes, right. That's why I said that we need both systemic and non-systemic opposition. I'm saying so not as Russia's current President, but as an ordinary Russian citizen. We don’t need any mess. And we don’t need any shows. We need serious political activity.

Andrei Vandenko: You know, if the opposition is non-systemic it immediately, almost automatically becomes an enemy of the state.

Vladimir Putin: Nothing of the sort. Nothing of the sort. What makes you think so? Or do you wish to think so yourself? This has nothing to do with the reality. Why? We have 50 parties. Fifty. People must simply… You know what? You see, it is necessary…

Andrei Vandenko: People should have an opportunity to express their opinion out loud without any party… They should have this opportunity!

Vladimir Putin: The political consciousness of Russia's ordinary citizens has grown a lot over the past year. Yes. We may watch with pleasure someone's shocking escapades. Yes, we may like to see critics exposing somebody.

But! Even an ordinary citizen wants to see not only somebody criticize the authorities, but to hear and understand what is proposed by those who criticize; what solutions do they propose to the problems the country is faced with? When nothing but criticism is heard in reply, then the question arises: who is worth being voted for? Who is to be elected to the local or regional legislatures or the federal parliament?

You know, an ordinary citizen goes to work and back home every day. And still, a plain sausage will not be enough today for earning people's support.

Andrei Vandenko: I just consider you as a strong person.

Vladimir Putin: Hope so.

Andrei Vandenko: With a past in the martial arts.

Vladimir Putin: I still practise today.

Andrei Vandenko: You still practise, even more so. Not worth it to underplay – the opponent must be a worthy one. An opponent from among those who drive a BMW and reside at a state dacha, who is unlikely to argue with you in earnest.

Vladimir Putin: Listen to me. Do you think that in any other democratic country, including the United States, Congress or Senate members ride a goat to go to work…

Andrei Vandenko: It’s not just about the deputies…

Vladimir Putin: Or a lame mare? They use state cars there, too.

Andrei Vandenko: It’s not about the cars, really.

Vladimir Putin: No, this is exactly the matter. You have in fact hinted that they are sort of being bribed.

They use what the state gives them for performing their duties. They get it not from the current authorities. They get it from the state under the existing law. Be it a member of the opposition or not… Once the person takes a certain office, he gets everything the state has to provide him with in accordance with the law. For carrying out his duties, including those that person campaigns for and represented and that have propelled him to a certain body of power, to parliament, for example.

It's not the President who gives him a car. This is important. The President and his Administrative Directorate are obliged by law to provide this, regardless of whether he likes this or that deputy or party leader or not. 

Andrei Vandenko: It's not about members or their cars…

Vladimir Putin: That's the whole point. This means that the government is obliged to provide everybody with equal opportunities for performing their political functions.

Andrei Vandenko: My focus is rather on the political struggle, not specifically on some cars or dachas…

Vladimir Putin: That's part and parcel of the political struggle. The state has to create conditions for an adherent to any views to have an opportunity to work effectively. And not to permit a situation when the parliament speaker might say: ”Are you from the ruling party? Great. Here's your BMW to move around. And everybody else will drive a Zaporozhets [an economical supermini a working man could afford].“ No. Everybody must enjoy equal conditions.

March 17, 2020