‘Blaming Russians for not overthrowing Putin is bullshit’

Alexey Navalny’s ally Leonid Volkov reveals his thoughts on partisan warfare, Navalny in prison, municipal elections and donations to Ukrainian army

‘Blaming Russians for not overthrowing Putin is bullshit’
Leonid Volkov. Photo: Jörg Carstensen / Getty Images

On the last day of August, Alexey Navalny’s team announced another round of Smart Voting, a controversial voting strategy with the aim of depriving the ruling United Russia party of votes. This time, the strategy will be used only at the municipal elections in Moscow. In an interview with journalist Ilya Azar, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation Leonid Volkov talks about why local elections in Russia are still relevant during the war, how to treat Russians unable to overthrow Putin, and why Navalny’s team is not ready to call for partisan warfare or urge their supporters remaining in Russia to donate money to the Ukrainian army. According to Volkov, the team’s Popular Politics YouTube channel is a better investment than Bayraktar drones, and after Russia loses the war, the elites will no longer tolerate Putin, leading to a “religious crisis” that the opposition must use to their advantage.

Why do we need Smart Voting today? When there’s a war going on, people are dying, what significance do municipal elections even have?

Their significance is not as great as it was before, when the elections were naturally the main point of consolidating protest activity, and it’s clear why. The Kremlin cannot win anything at the elections: they can’t get even more power, even more money, even more mandates than they have. But still, they have to hold elections, even though it always bothered them terribly, because they needed to do something that didn’t really benefit them.

As for us, we saw the elections as an opportunity to ruin their game. Because those elections have always been very significant events that led to major political tensions.

This year, it won’t be like that, because naturally, these elections are an absolutely secondary element of the political agenda compared to the war and other events. So, we had some doubts: should we even get involved this time? Is Smart Voting even needed in any form in 2022? We actively discussed this among our team and decided to do it anyway, and here’s why.

Firstly, whether we want it or not, the elections will still take place. And either they’ll take place without our participation or with it. In the first case, there will be a very unpleasant narrative. In any case, the 2017 municipal elections in Moscow led to a big defeat of United Russia: hundreds of lost mandates and several constituencies that went to independent MPs. It didn’t have a lasting political effect, but at that moment, it was considered a major political defeat for the government, of course.

I think there was a lasting effect, actually, because many local MPs became significant political figures by 2019.

Okay, it may be up for debate. As you know, I’m not a fan of finding MPs through ads (he is referring to Maxim Katz and Dmitry Gudkov’s 2017 project aimed at involving people with no political experience — author’s note). I think that teams that consciously went into politics had a more significant effect.

What’s more important is this: if we don’t do anything at all in 2022, we run the risk of giving it up for United Russia which will be interpreted like this: “United Russia’s support is rising even in protest-ridden Moscow, which means Putin’s support, ergo support for the war, is goes up, too.” And then: “Let’s take away visas from Russians”. It’s a joke, but what’s not a joke is that there will be a narrative of growing support for Putin and the war, which isn’t true and is actually harmful.

The second thing is the candidates themselves. Against all odds, hundreds of active young people have gotten involved despite the big risks, big problems and big pressure. Candidate Burtsev had his spine broken, but people still try to be elected, and they put effort into it. Lobanov and Zamyatin’s Nomination platform, Kisiev’s (from the Yabloko party) team, some scattered fragments of Katz’s project, district teams from Sergey Tsukasov to Nadezhda Zagordan and so on: all of them deserve our respect and our support, even if this year, it won’t be as significant as before.

Vladimir Putin on General Election day. 10 September 2017. Photo: EPA-EFE/YURI KADOBNOV

Vladimir Putin on General Election day. 10 September 2017. Photo: EPA-EFE/YURI KADOBNOV

But at the 2017 elections you didn’t support those amazing young people, you only supported Ilya Yashin.

We supported the political teams of Yashin, Konstantin Yankauskas, and Maxim Motin. But we see 2017 as a political mistake of ours. We think that we should have gotten much more involved in Moscow’s campaign. To be frank, no one really expected it to go so well, no one expected that these local elections would interest anyone. But we didn’t have any instruments to get truly involved back then, we didn’t have Smart Voting, our supporter base wasn’t complete yet until the end of the presidential campaign. Besides, we only dealt with Alexey’s [Navalny] regional trips and building a network of regional offices back then. We were very busy.

The third factor is the most important one. We have a supporter base, and we can say it in these terms: “We are responsible for those we tame”. We have been pushing this political project for four years, and all this time, we kept explaining how important Smart Voting is, we kept hammering it in, we were building a basis for it.

And finally, we did an email survey and a phone poll in Moscow, and 75% of our supporters are saying they want to participate, and they are waiting for our recommendations. As a political organisation, we must take note of their opinion. It causes much less enthusiasm than it did in 2021, but still, there is a clear demand among our supporters.

You call these elections “the last legal opportunity to protest”. It’s clear that peaceful protest is out of the question right now, and mass rallies are impossible. What is your stance on the so-called direct-action protests, when people are torching conscription offices with Molotovs and derail freight trains?

I have a very positive attitude towards direct-action protests. Putin is waging a criminal, aggressive, bloody war against a neighbouring state, and everything that puts pressure on him, everything that makes it harder for him to kill Ukrainians is wonderful and absolutely legitimate.

We need to treat this in the same way we treat German anti-Nazi resistance during WWII. And if anyone goes and shoots Putin in the head, he will be a national hero. Just like Claus von Stauffenberg who tried to assassinate Hitler.

In this sense, all these actions are amazing. But we can’t call on anyone to do those things, because we don’t know how to organise them, we don’t understand how it works and we realise that it endangers the lives of those doing those things.

This is why we have a very negative view of provocateurs like Ilya Ponomarev, who create some fake non-existent partisan organisations that will ultimately be used as traps for naïve young people and will lead to a huge number of terrible criminal cases with long sentences.

I’m ready to admire any person that goes to torch a conscription office or derail a freight train, but I don’t understand how to make this more organised.

I think that in the current situation, an organisation of this kind is simply dangerous. The balance of risks and benefits is incomparable. If we set up such an organisation, there is a 99% chance that it won’t do anything and everyone goes to jail, and there is 1% chance of success. I think that the actions we sometimes see are done by lone wolves like Ilya Farber. It’s a completely unmanageable process.

Ilya Farber with his son. Photo: Facebook

Ilya Farber with his son. Photo: Facebook

So, it’s not even worth trying? You’ve already got nine criminal cases or something to that extent, you don’t have to mull your words.

Yes, this is why I’m thinking about this rationally. My latest criminal case is for me saying live on air that if someone shoots Putin in the head, it will be a charitable deed. [The Russian government] considers this justification of terrorism. I truly do think this way, and I don’t plan to revoke my opinion.

Then maybe it’s a real goal that you should be working on?

But it’s impossible! There are echelons of security [protecting Putin]. It would have been the best decision to end our planet’s suffering, but it’s impossible.

So, the terror of Narodnaya Volya [a 19th-century terrorist organization in the Russian Empire that conducted assassinations of government officials in an attempt to overthrow the government, including the successful assassination of Emperor Alexander II] is impossible now?

It’s become absolutely clear to me now why they used those methods. In the 19th century, a major hidden organisation could exist, but now, when each building in Moscow has a surveillance camera that is part of a united network, things are not like they used to be in the 19th century, to put it mildly. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, I think there will be more of those cases in the future, anyway. When Daria Dugina was killed, I was surprised, and then I thought about it and realised that I was surprised that it happened so late, why there aren’t more cases like this. 3.5 million Ukrainians have been forcibly displaced to Russia from the occupied territories, hundreds of thousands of them lost their loved ones, their homes, or both, in this war. Thousands of them have military experience and can make explosives or a Molotov’s cocktail; hundreds of them are likely ready for radical action.

The case of Natalya Vovk looks credible: there are too many details for it to be completely fake. And if we accept the theory about this lone terrorist who just decided to kill someone in revenge, we need to ask ourselves why it only started happening now and why we don’t see dozens or hundreds of such cases.

And what was Vladimir Putin thinking about when he brought three-and-a-half million people from the occupied territories to Russia? They speak Russian and they are indistinguishable from Russians at first glance: they can act without causing suspicion.

You mean that once again, it won’t be the actions of Russians. Like everyone says: Russians are not ready to overthrow their dictator and torturer.

Russians are not ready to overthrow their dictator. It’s true. But you can’t reproach them for that. I agree with the first part, and I strongly disagree when it starts to sound like a reproach.

The Germans could not overthrow Hitler, and the Spanish could not overthrow Franco, who was in power for nearly 40 years. They laughed at him when he was older, no one loved him, but no one could overthrow him, because he had a powerful repression system; this is how totalitarianism works. It’s not overthrown from within usually, because it is based on a massive repression system of the military and the police.

And when people tell me that Russians are to blame, I get very angry. For 22 years, Putin has put Russians in jail, beaten them up, stolen enormous amounts of money from them. What we know about Russia’s corruption, having studied it for 12 years, is just the tip of an iceberg. We still don’t see the real scale of it: trillions were stolen!

This is actual domestic abuse. A man is beating his wife, takes her money and spends it on booze, and then 20 years later he goes out on the street and starts beating and raping the neighbour: he is confident he won’t face any consequences. Russia is a victim of Putinism.

Navalny during a videocall with court. Photo: SOTA

Navalny during a videocall with court. Photo: SOTA

Navalny is in prison, and he has been sent to solitary confinement for the fourth time recently. He says that this is because of “The List of 6,000” [a list of pro-war officials and public figures that need to be sanctioned compiled by Navalny’s team] and that he is ready to be placed in solitary for the cause. But how does him being there affect your work? What if he’s sent to solitary 50 times?

Firstly, they tell him directly that this is how it’s going to be, that they won’t let him out until he learns his lesson. Which means never, because he will never do that. This is how Alexey is.

When [Navalny’s brother] Oleg was in prison, every time Alexey announced a rally, Oleg was placed in solitary confinement for 15 days, in very harsh conditions. But there was always an understanding that we should ignore that and do what we must; even Oleg told us that.

There is definitely such an understanding with Alexey. We stay in close contact with him, thank God. He oversees all our work at a strategic level, and all the projects that we do are either the implementation of his ideas, or something that he approved.

We understand very clearly that if we give them an opportunity to influence our work through pressure on the hostages, if we make them see that this is possible, it will be the absolute lowest point, because then, torture of the prisoners and pressure on them will only grow. Ivan Zhdanov’s father Yury is in jail, so is Liliya Chanysheva, [Ksenia] Fadeeva. We stay in touch with Chanysheva, too, and her position is literally this: do what you must.

Do you think that the attempt to assassinate Navalny was part of the preparations for the war?

Now I do. We didn’t realise back then what was going on. I’ve lived in Vilnius for three years. I had to leave after the Anti-Corruption Foundation case, where I was the main suspect. They decided to declare all our donations over the years as money laundering. Suddenly. That is, there was the Anti-Corruption Foundation, there were our regional offices, and we thought there was a fragile balance that Putin was fine with, more or less. “See: I have opposition! You’re saying I’m not letting them take part in the elections or register their party? It’s because their lawyers are doing a shit job, they forgot to put a comma in paragraph 2, line 17. When they do, we’ll let them in.”

And suddenly, they do a 180: they freeze all our accounts, search the homes of 200 employees, and they try to completely demolish our organisation. It was a miracle we survived. We were on the brink. I got so many grey hairs in the fall of 2019, when I had to pay salaries to 250 employees, half of whom were in detention centres, plus their bank accounts were blocked, and so were the accounts of our organisation. We survived thanks to a miracle, the Holy Spirit and the Bitcoin, and I wouldn’t wish what we went through on anyone. But we made it.

Then 2020 came, and boom — Navalny was poisoned. It was completely unexpected: Alexey was strolling along the Moscow streets, he greeted people, and rode the metro like a regular person. And it was a miracle he survived, too. It was unbelievable. Never in my life have I been so close to an event that is hard to describe in any other terms but religious ones. And once again, why?

Then another wave of escalation came in 2021. Everyone was declared extremists and terrorists. Now we understand that they were clearing out the field to ensure the home front is quiet in the run-up to the war, so that no one would make a fuss, no one would protest. They didn’t want there to be a major organisational structure, and we had 45 regional offices with over 200 staff, 1,000 volunteers and activists, and up to 2 million people in our email database. Looking back at it, they should have gotten rid of us in 2019, but they could only do it by the autumn of 2021.

And now I think that the fact that we held on, that we did all this, may have postponed the war by two or three years. And who knows how it would have turned out had it started earlier. If there were no us at all, if there was no resistance against Putin’s regime. The fact that he was planning to go further after Crimea and seize more territories seems absolutely obvious now. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for our resistance, the war would have started in 2019, and it is not clear at all whether Ukraine’s army would have been able to put up a fight for their country back then.

In this sense, do you still think Navalny’s return home wasn’t a mistake? If he were here right now, maybe your actions would be more effective.

We never thought it was a mistake, and we still don’t. First of all, because the word “mistake” can be used when there is a choice. We’ve never discussed whether he should come back or not, what are the advantages, the disadvantages, the pitfalls. Alexey is a Russian politician, he didn’t do anything wrong, he wasn’t planning on becoming a political emigrant, he knew perfectly what awaited him.

It’s always easier to find mistakes when you look back at things. Now we look at him and say: “What if he had stayed?” But had he stayed then, we would have lost all our support that we gathered. He would have become another one in a line of political emigrants. It was a completely conscious decision: he’s coming back, and we save the political structure that implements his projects and continue our work.

Some say that Russians need their own Tsikhanouskaya (Belarusian 2020 election candidate who was forced to flee Belarus after the government’s crackdown on protesters against voter fraud — translator’s note).

Tsikhanouskaya’s legitimacy is built on the fact that she won the election. And we need to understand what criteria we use to determine her actions as successful. She is a rather controversial figure in Belarus.

I think our situation is simpler and clearer. We have a political leader who does what many other notable political leaders in non-democratic states did at various stages of history. From Mandela to Havel. Navalny is in jail, he is the moral compass, and he formulates strategic ideas. But what’s different about his situation is that he has a political apparatus that he can lean on, that can fulfil his objectives, continue his work and even try to be more effective.

We’ve got people who can meet world leaders, we’ve got people who can do international politics, investigations and many other things.

When they pushed us out of Russia, we had every right to go into mourning, pull out our hair, cry and do nothing. Because the situation was perfect for us to go into a depressive episode. I had spent four years building our network of regional offices, I spent months on planes and trains, I held over 2,000 job interviews to find coordinators, train them, and make strong politicians out of them. This is what we did with Ksenia Fadeeva, Liliya Chanysheva, Sergey Boyko.

Liliya Chanysheva during a protest rally in Ufa, 2016. Photo:

Liliya Chanysheva during a protest rally in Ufa, 2016. Photo:

And then bam! One signature from Moscow prosecutor Denis Popov, who has villas in Montenegro, destroys this wonderful network that thousands of activists had gone through, that truly caused a political revival in Russian regions. It hurt a lot. Did we allow ourselves to think about it? This was our position: Putin needs to regret pushing us out of the country. We will not concentrate on the things we lost, but on new opportunities that the situation brings to us instead.

Say, when we were in Russia, we couldn’t get a penny from abroad, and now this barrier is gone. We can expand our crowdfunding, hire more people and do more projects. When we were in Moscow, we could only afford a modest studio with a cheap camera and lighting equipment, because they seized our equipment once every three months. There isn’t such an obstacle in Vilnius, so we have been using expensive video production tools since the first day of the war. We release many more videos on Popular Politics that reach a much wider audience. We have a monthly audience of 12 million unique views. We couldn’t even dream of this in Russia.

We do this all day and night. So, I don’t think there is something wrong with us, and to be honest, I don’t think I can say that we could have done something better.

Navalny says that building pressure upon Putin’s corrupt elites until they crack up is the most important thing now. The List of 6000 is your biggest project currently, isn’t it?

Let’s put it this way: it is one of our most important projects, yes. It’s funny to hear when people tell us what our top priority is really. We have the Smart Voting project, we have the List of 6000 project, we have our Popular Politics YouTube channel, and we have our investigations, too. I’m not sure which one of those kids of mine is my favourite.

You see, there is no silver bullet, if there was, we would have already used it. We believe that maximum pressure on every single front will lead us to regime change and Putin’s defeat in the Ukraine War. We change the way Russian people feel about the war using the Popular Politics YouTube channel, this is very important. The sanctions pressure that we build upon Putin’s elites is our effort to put them against each other, turn Putin into a toxic figure, to put him under isolation. This is also important. Our investigations on Russia’s corruption are important, too, as they help the West freeze the assets of those people. Placing our stakes on one single project would be a wrong tactic, there’s no way to defeat Putin like this.

Do you think the List of 6000 tactic works? How many entrants to the list actually faced sanctions?

The List of 6000 is a freaking awesome idea. When we first published the list in late April, we received tons of political support. Although Western red tape works really slow, the European Parliament issued an order in support of the list. Additionally, about 15 US senators backed us, too, and the sanctions department of UK’s Foreign Secretary also works with us. For instance, they requested a list of top-200 crooks from us recently. The US Department of State barred 900 people on our list from entering the country, although their assets were not confiscated, unfortunately.

We continue working on this project, even though it bogged down a bit in July and August since the world politics took a small break, but our major plan for September is rebooting this process.

I think it is really important how this project affects the people on the list. We’re getting on the nerves of Putin’s elites, so it works, I believe. They send us letters every day, saying: I don’t like staying in Russia, I wish I could leave, I’m afraid. Around 50 people of the 6000 contacted us already. This might not seem much, but it’s a considerable figure given that our list has not been officially implemented in any country. Once it does, it’s going to be a hell of a panic!

Who exactly contacted you?

I won’t tell you, sorry.

Why? If those are bad guys and you demand that they be sanctioned, then you may tell us everything about them, right?

Those are bad guys who wish to become good guys.

Do you mean like Kabakov and Kukharenko, founders of NtechLab, a face recognition system that helps police track down Putin’s critics and activists?

Kabakov and Kukharenko contacted us and told us they wished to quit and were ready to do certain things to restore their reputation. So, we made a deal with them.

This turned into a scandal, however?

What scandal? Do you mean Mikhail Svetov’s Twitter? This has nothing to do with real politics! Twitter is an overly marginal social media service.

Mikhail Svetov. Photo:  Wikimedia Commons

Mikhail Svetov. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

However, you said earlier that creating a partisan organisation in modern day Russia is impossible because of the face recognition system they created.

They were very specific on who installed those cameras and how they work when they contacted us. Now we know the details behind the system, and this is going to help us a lot in our future projects.

The most important thing about the List of 6000 is that one can be removed from the list. A major problem about Europe’s laws is that if they sanction an individual, there is no way back. They only remove people from their sanctions lists once they’re dead.

So, this forces sanctioned individuals to rally behind Putin. If the West take everything from an oligarch, all he has left to do is to go back to Moscow. This way he becomes more Putin-dependant. This is a huge systemic problem; Europe leaves no chance for oligarchs to switch sides. If you leave Russia, condemn Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, donate half of your wealth to Ukraine, then you should be exempt from sanctions. This sort of things makes Putin weaker, while the current Western sanctions actually make him stronger.

Our ultimate goal is to defeat Putin and stop the war. The sanctions are not a goal in itself, although most of the people on the sanctions list are indeed truly despicable. The sanctions are an instrument, and we believe that they would be far more efficient if they affected way more people, but those people must have an escape route, a chance to restore their reputation. This way we’ll create a rift among Putin’s elites.

You never announced publicly what exactly those two did to be removed from the list.

But it’s our list, you see. They did enough upon our criteria. Those criteria are pretty formal; the two men in question not only left the company they worked for, but they also co-operated with us which turned them against their former friends and colleagues, which we consider to be a good thing.

Some people may think they bribed you.

Well, we faced a lot of hate, and, from some perspective, that was well-deserved. We did not explain why we made this decision, that was our fault. We’ll do better next time.

If Igor Sechin (one of Putin’s closest oligarchs — translator’s note) goes abroad and donates all his wealth to Ukraine, will he be removed from the list?

Look, active repentance must be proportional to one’s guilt. If someone worked as an independent director of a state-owned company and now wants to be removed from the list, he simply needs to quit his job. That’s it, we find this enough.

Sechin would need to do far more than that, obviously. Grigory Rodchenkov is a perfect example. He used to be a key figure in the systemic doping programme of Russia’s sports, but then he did a lot to cripple the system he created, so, in my opinion, he deserved to have his reputation restored and considered a hero.

Rustem Gabdullin [who used to be an investigator in both the Bolotnaya Square case and the Palace case (criminal cases that took place after mass protest in Russia — translator’s note)]resigned from his position and is now a lawyer, but that is not enough, of course. If he moves to the West and reveals in detail how Russia’s system of framing up activists and protesters works and shares the names of the people responsible for this, if he shows us some documents, then we might consider removing him from the list.

Why don’t you take part in the Free Russia Forum? It used to be a fringe assembly back in the day, but maybe now is the time to team up, don’t you think?

“To team up”, sounds great. However, it’s all about what they are aiming to do. The Forum is no longer a fringe assembly, that is true. There are a lot of fine people out there, we have a good relationship with many of them, but I simply don’t understand why I should waste my time on this. Join them to do what? What would be the outcome of our cooperation? We have only one life to live, our resources are limited, we all work 24/7. I might go there and spend three days with really nice people... for the sake of what?

For the sake of uniting Russia’s opposition.

I’ve never understood what’s so great about uniting the opposition to be honest. I believe that only practical advantages are worth spending time on.

Moreover, I don’t see any connection between what the Forum does and what’s going on inside Russia. It seems to me that their main focus is on the problems of Russian émigrés and the diaspora. This is quite an exciting thing to do, and I wish they could continue doing this. I think 300 or 400 thousand people left Russia since 24 February, and helping them is without a doubt an interesting activity. It’s good to know someone does this, but we’re more concerned about the 140 million Russians who are still there, that’s what we’re interested in.

You said that you were okay with the people who switched sides if they showed their repentance, but you went harsh on Rostislav Murzagulov, an ex-official who recently went on to host a YouTube show on Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s channel.

I didn’t see any repentance from him. Leaving Russia alone doesn’t mean anything. Instead, he gave several interviews where he said that he did everything right. Our ally Liliya Chanysheva, who is now in custody since November 2021, was dragged off the stage in Ufa at the public hearing by his order. She is a Deloitte-certified economist and auditor. She was beaten up, and Murzagulov said it was a right thing to do because Navalny’s people should not be given floor at public hearings. And he still insists he did everything right.

I gave a lot of interviews to Khodorkovsky’s media, but I stopped doing this when I found out they hired Murzagulov. Now I wish both Khodorkovsky and Murzagulov explained themselves. When we did our electoral campaign in Novosibirsk and Kostroma in 2015, I was managing the affairs in Novosibirsk while Andrey Pivovarov of Khodorkovsky’s team ran the Kostroma campaign. We spent time together and discussed how the campaign was going, and Khodorkovsky told us he had found a cool PR guy Murzagulov who had turned to the good side. He disappeared in a month’s time, and then he became part of Rady Khabirov’s team in Krasnogorsk. Khabirov is now a governor in Bashkortostan. So, we said: "Holy shit, there must be something wrong about Khodorkovsky’s hiring policy." Then Dmitry Gudkov’s party involved him in the local electoral campaign in Krasnogorsk, but later he joined Khabirov again as a PR manager and used to snub Putin’s critics really hard. And now he’s part of the opposition again? No way. So, Liliya Chanysheva is in jail now, and Khodorkovsky’s media recruits a smear campaigner from Ufa, Khabirov’s ally. What the hell is that I might ask?

The things are going as usual here, I see. You are being criticised for removing two NTechLab guys from your list, and keep talking about a Ufa smear campaigner. So, you guys keep fighting each other.

We don’t fight each other. Those are incomparable things. We have a list with our own criteria, and we have removed several dozens of people from it. Yes, we failed to explain why we removed these two. Stuff like this happens sometimes. But Khodorkovsky hired a guy who was responsible for political oppression in Bashkortostan.

What’s your attitude towards Marina Ovsyannikova?

What Ovsyannikova did is a textbook example of active repentance. Yes, she used to work for the propaganda, but she showed how a person can really switch sides.

Marina Ovsyannikova. Photo: Annette Riedl/picture alliance via Getty Images

Marina Ovsyannikova. Photo: Annette Riedl/picture alliance via Getty Images

Ukrainians think otherwise, they ostracised her.

I don’t read Ukrainian media, I’m a Russian politician. Although I really like Ukraine and believe that they should defeat Putin in this war, Ukraine’s media have their own agenda which I don’t find interesting.

What’s your opinion in the visa ban?

I discussed this with my colleagues and predicted there would be no complete visa ban. As you see, I was right. You know, it happens sometimes that politicians make up something that some people think is a good idea, and they use it for their own political gain. They find out later that what they came up with is very hard to implement, so they abandon it. It’s a storm in a teacup really.

Russians should not go on vacations to Europe while Putin is at war they say. Should Russians go back to Russia and try to overthrow Putin?

This "stay at home and overthrow Putin" rhetoric is bullshit because Russians are not obliged to overthrow Putin. Blaming Russians for not overthrowing Putin is bullshit.

But if we talk about tourism, I also feel disgust when I learn that Russians sunbathe at the Costa Brava as if nothing happened. If there was a way to ban tourism alone, this would be a great thing to do, but the problem is there’s no such way. Type C visas are given to tourists, journalists, scientists, athletes, students, all sorts of people. So, there’s no way tourists can be excluded.

Europe’s politicians keep saying that Russia must be defeated on the battlefield.

I agree with this.

Then there must be more help for Ukraine. Why don’t you urge your supporters to donate money to Ukraine’s army?

I think donating Ukraine’s army is a stupid idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, no crowdfunding campaign in the world would provide Ukraine with the amount of money they need to defend themselves. They need at least 5 billion euro each month, that’s a lot of money. Donations cannot satisfy Ukraine’s needs, it’s military support from the Western countries that matters. Secondly, urging Russians to donate money to Ukraine’s army means literally putting a lot of people’s lives at risk.

But Ukraine needs help, of course. We have a common enemy, his name is Vladimir Putin, and we are at war with this enemy. There are many dimensions this war is fought in: actual military combat, information, economy, politics.

It’s important not to engage oneself in stupid activities and keep sane. One must distribute their efforts intelligently in order to be as useful as possible.

Our advantage is that we know Russia’s voters better than anyone else, we know what they think of and how to deal with them. Here’s our contribution: we spent about 2 million euro of donations to create the Popular Politics YouTube channel from scratch. I think currently it is the largest anti-Putin YouTube channel available in Russian.

So, we spent 2 million euro to develop a channel that would have 12 million monthly viewers in Russia. A Bayraktar drone is worth 40% of this amount, and it would fly three miles it gets shot down. I believe that we are simply making a better investment. We are going to fight on the information frontline no matter what. Additionally, we know how Putin’s system works, so we have created our List of 6000, and we try to promote it. So, this is our contribution.

Ukraine’s soldiers are heroes; they risk their lives and die to defend their homeland. This is their contribution. Western economies send a lot of money to Ukraine and set up a 19°C limit on indoors heating. This is their contribution.

We’re going to defeat Putin altogether, but we shouldn’t turn hysterical. Everyone should do what they’re best fit for.

But if Putin’s defeat turns out to be Russia’s withdrawal from the newly occupied territories, there would be even more oppression within Russia.

A lot of Russians believe in Putin’s immunity from mistakes, they think he’s got all the correct data and that he’s never wrong. Russia’s elites and top military brass may tolerate a lot of what Putin does due to their irrational faith in Putin’s wisdom.

When Putin is defeated in this war, there will be some sort of a religious crisis, a crisis of faith in Putin’s policy. All those oligarchs had their palaces and private jets confiscated, they will no longer be able to go skiing in the Alps, and their children will longer study in the West, too. They’ve lost a great proportion of their wealth, and their lifestyle is now history. So, what is the purpose of the invasion if it turns out to be a disaster and disgrace for Putin’s plans?

This religious crisis will create an enormous turmoil, the one you’ve never seen in Russia’s politics. This turmoil will generate great opportunities for us, so we’ll need to take advantage of them. And we’ll do so, I hope to God.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.