Natalija Zverko, LRT.lt. Nov 7, 2022
Vladimir Putin and Russia’s missile carriers / AP
As long as Vladimir Putin is in power, the Russian society has no chance of changing their government’s direction, only a palace coup does, believes opposition politician Leonid Gozman.
Gozman, who currently resides in Germany, describes himself as President Vladimir Putin’s “personal enemy”. “He knows me, he dislikes me a lot and he has given certain orders regarding me,” he says in an interview with LRT.lt.
Gozman left Russia at the start of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine but later returned. He was arrested on September 13, just after leaving a detention centre where he spent 15 days, and was sentenced to administrative arrest for publicly comparing the USSR with Nazi Germany. On September 14m he was once again arrested for half a month under a similar article.
In an interview with LRT.lt, he argues that the situation in Russia could only be changed by the success of the Ukrainian army and Western sanctions, while Putin’s successor would be forced to stop the war, withdraw the troops and try to make peace with the West.
Leonid Gozman / AP
You recently published a heartfelt post where you say that the war in Ukraine has been eight months of hell and all-consuming shame. And you wonder: given that Hitler lasted five years after the start of World War Two, will it take that long for Putin to go? How long and what do you think it will take to change Russia?
The situation in Russia can be changed by two collective actors. The first is Ukraine’s armed forces, and they are certainly changing it. […] The second collective actor is the West that can use sanctions to cause a split in Russia’s upper elites close to Putin.
In this situation, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] himself will never budge. If he makes concessions, he will lose power, and with it, possibly, his freedom and life.
His elites, who are not interested in Russia or Ukraine, but in their own personal fortunes, want of course Western opportunities, they want to use their Western-based wealth, their real estate, bank accounts and so on. So they want peace with the West and they can affect a palace coup.
I don’t see any other option. As long as Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is in power, Russian society has no possibility to influence the situation today.
And yet when the war started, you were among the ones to come out with an anti-war placard. Do you think this kind of brave action can set an example and push society into action?
There are far more brave people than me and, second, I was very scared. Someone has said that only a fool is not afraid. Courage is not about not being afraid. Fear, as one of our priests who spoke out against the war – and his parishioners ratted on him – said that fear is a gift from God, but cowardice is a mortal sin.
But I did it without the hope of igniting something in people, I did it for myself, to preserve my sense of dignity.
Protests against mobilisation in Russi / AP
Of course, there are people in Russia that oppose this war and are ready to protest. They are few, but they are there. They understand and recognize the threat.
Some of them have already left the country simply because it’s no longer possible to live there, some of them understand that any movement will be punished very severely and that they will either end up in prison or in exile, like myself.
But a large part of the population doesn’t feel depressed, they approve of the war, they believe we are under attack by an enemy. Who these enemies are is not very clear.
The main enemies seem to be the Americans, but they are assisted by gays, Ukrainians, Balts, sometimes Turks, sometimes Poles, Jews. They [Russians] are not happy about the war, they are not happy about their sons being sent to battle, but they do not question what is at the core – and the core is that we are the good guys and everyone else is bad. […]
Is it possible to change this?
It will take many years, unfortunately. There’s a children’s game where you drive a ball on a flat surface and when it hits a hole, it sits in it very stably. We are in this hole.
You think that Russia will be better off if Putin is gone. But even if Putin were to leave, would that be enough?
It would at least be a step in the right direction. Vladimir Putin’s successor, however insignificant, will be forced to take some inevitable steps to stop the war, withdraw the troops, try to make peace with the West. To reconcile with the West, he will have to demilitarise, because the West will not trust this military system, and rightly so. There will have to be some internal liberalisation and so on.
Leonid Gozman / AP
All these steps will of course be very half-hearted, this will be a Brezhnev- or Khrushchev-type liberalisation. However, they will make way for the next steps. […]
Of course, removing Putin is not enough, because Putin’s system will remain, his people will remain in power, but they will take the steps that need to be taken, steps in the right direction, steps that are in the interests of the country, in the interests of the Russian people, in the interests of humanity. Later, people will come who will take the next steps. We will move forward little by little. […]
But as things stand now, the Kremlin is imposing martial law in occupied Ukrainian territories and there have been reports in the media that the next step could be martial law in Russia.
They say that an airplane has no reverse gear and can only fly forward. And this process that Vladimir Putin started, to the detriment of the whole planet, has no reverse gear. So yes, of course, they will declare martial law in parts of the territory, then the entire country. There is no other way.
I think Putin will introduce the death penalty in Russia because he is trying to please people. Amid global economic, military and other kinds of defeat, he is trying to keep the sympathy of those people who still have some.
There are not as many of them as before, so he is trying to mobilise them using hate against those that everyone hates. He’s now lashing out at the gay community, passing some crazy law banning gay propaganda. […]
Leonid Gozman at a protest rally in 2019 / Shutterstock
The imposition of martial law is actually supported by a lot of people too. People think there will be more order. In fact, martial law will be a mess. When all power is in one pair of hands, there is nothing but mess and corruption.
Can Putin use tactical nuclear weapons as a last resort?
Of course, he can. If his frontline collapses. And the morale of the Ukrainian army is at its highest, incomparable to the morale of our army, since they defend their motherland, while ours does not know what they are doing there.
So first [Russia] can strike at Ukraine, and then everything will depend on the reaction of the West. If, for example, they hit our silos, we will have no chance to start a nuclear war.
But one has to wonder about the real state of Russia’s armed forces and the state of the nuclear triad. Do they fly at all or not?
Years ago, I was at an officer training camp and there was a tank division in an artillery regiment. There were ten tanks in the division. All the soldiers and we, the cadet students, knew that only one of the ten actually worked. All the other tanks had their parts stolen or were just rusted out. So there was only one tank that was taken out of the hangar when the bosses came and the other nine were just junk.
It is possible that the nuclear triad is in the same condition. But I don’t know it, and I don’t know if the president knows it either, because apparently, he does not know all the things, not everything is reported to him, and he apparently does not want to be informed.
The war with Ukraine started largely because Putin believed – and it was all over the television – that the Ukrainians would not fight, that they would surrender, that they would sell arms, that they would welcome our troops. And a couple of days after the war started, he appealed to the Ukrainian military to take over the government. He just didn’t understand who he was going after.
So this war is a consequence of his inadequacy, and by the same inadequacy, he could unleash a thermonuclear war.
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