The Anti-Putin Brigade

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Alexey Navalny: Lawyer, social activist, founder of the RosPil anti-corruption portal

"It does not matter whether it is March 2012 or 2013. In general, dates and deadlines don't matter. The specific date of the elections doesn't matter. Putin and his gang have exercised their political will in usurping power in Russia, using it for their own enrichment. They will remain in power as long as we do not exercise our political will and do not remove them from power. Therefore, the forecast does not depend on what Putin does. The forecast depends solely on us."

This and the following portraits are part of a unique portfolio by noted photographer Kirill Nikitenko, and curated by Elena Khodorkovskaya, in conjunction with the Institute of Modern Russia. They are on exhibit at the 25CPW Gallery in New York City, through Dec. 12. 

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Boris Nemtsov: Politician, co-chairman of the democratic opposition movement Solidarity, and one of the founders of the People's Freedom Party

"In the broadest sense, I believe that Russia has a 'bright future,' but if we talk about the short term, i.e. March 2012, I am afraid there will not be much good news. I think the Putin kleptocracy will remain, and the police state, despotism, and uncontrolled abuse of the courts will only get worse. This does not mean that we should throw up our hands and despair that all is lost. Quite the opposite: we need to fight. We are currently creating a political party under the slogan 'none of the above!' the goal of which is to bring the number of voters rejecting all candidates to 40 percent. If that happens, the elections have to be declared invalid. This is not the same as a real political party, of course, but it is a genuine citizens' protest. And it is civil, non-partisan structures like these that will be the vehicle for us to continue the struggle.

It is tragic that the next generation is lost to our struggle. I naively thought that our children would be more freedom-loving than us, but that is not the way it turned out. Surveys show that it is young people under 25 who are the most loyal to the regime. This is a generation that grew up watching Putin's TV networks; it is deeply cynical and pragmatic. This is mostly a generation of kleptocrats and parasites looking to buy patronage and protection. They dream of getting close to the state budget, to live and steal more easily. Organizations like Nashi [the United Russia youth party] are built on a myth of upward social mobility: acting like a spineless lackey is supposedly a guarantee of material success. Young people will do anything to make money and have a career, but they are not ready to join a fight, if they do not know when they can collect their winnings.

It is clear to me that the current regime is doomed; it could survive until 2024-2025, but the economic crisis in Russia and around the world, is Putin's albatross. The entire strength of the political leadership rests on expensive hydrocarbons and brainwashing via the federal TV networks. They want to build a new Russia on cynicism, lies, theft and cruelty. But a cesspit is not the best foundation for a house, let alone a whole country.

More than this, the number of people refusing to live in a rotten, stinking regime is growing day by day. Soon they will reach critical mass, and they will not be ignored any longer."

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Yevgenia Chirikova: Leader of the Eko-oborona ("Eco-Defense") social movement and the unregistered Movement to Defend Khimki Forest

"I think that if Putin will return in March 2012 as president, his term of office will stretch into twelve years. During this time, he may come up with some interesting new ways to stay president for life.

Making predictions here is simple. The current trends are continuing. The political elite is in bed with both Russian and foreign big business, and will further enrich itself using the country's resources. Resources that are located far from Moscow - oil, gold, diamonds - will remain under the control of this handful of people. As for the Moscow region, the resource here is land, so construction on every patch of it will continue, and the conditions will be terrible. Russia will slowly become like Rwanda.

Ordinary citizens are our only hope because all the state institutions will degrade and turn into smokescreens. More and more people will be convinced that the state has no future. And this will happen at an exponential rate. So nothing good will come of another Putin presidency."

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Lyudmila Alexeeva: human rights activist, Chairperson of Moscow Helsinki Group, Soviet dissident

"I have a feeling that this election will be different from the previous one, but not because something has changed among the authorities. The authorities, unfortunately, will continue to strive for the victory of the United Russia party. But if before you had people saying that they cannot affect the situation and are helpless, now they are angry. People no longer respect their own state. And I'm not the only one who sees this.

In August, the Levada Center published the following survey data: 64 percent of respondents said they do not trust the State Duma (the Russian lower house) and United Russia, 58 percent disapproved of the current deputies' activities, 19 percent said they were more or less satisfied with them, and only 1 percent were completely satisfied. Moreover, 55 percent said that authorities were concerned only with their own well-being, and only 12 percent described them as a good team of politicians who are leading the country in the right direction.

These elections will be rigged just like the previous ones. Here's some more data: In 2011, 62 percent of respondents said that the 2007 elections were rigged in favor of United Russia.

But waiting for decisive action of the kind we saw in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia is impossible in such a large multi-ethnic country as Russia.

Even if these next elections go the way authorities want them to, I doubt that the ones afterward will follow the same recipe. Something will happen in the interim. The regime won't necessarily fall, but one thing is clear: By forcing the desired result for the parliamentary and presidential elections, Putin will not be able to feel and rule the same way as in the previous presidency. He will have to have more consideration for the people."

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Valery Borshchev: Politician, human rights advocate and journalist, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group; head of the public committee to investigate the death of Sergei Magnitsky

"The landmark event of recent years was the second trial against Mikhail Khodorkovskiy and Platon Lebedev. This event concerned everyone-both liberals and social democrats. If the first trial did not affect a very broad section of the population, the second one literally awoke everyone's interest. The arrogance and the insolence with which this trial was run could not fail to insult civil society. I was present at the hearing, and I was shocked by the pitiful standard of the prosecution. Even Judge Danilkin could not hide his contempt of the prosecution.

The reaction in society to the guilty sentence was both loud and consolidated. People saw that injustice was being done, and that turned out to be the key issue. Release on parole was rejected with such rough, absurd clumsiness that it was clear this trial was bought and paid for, and that the authorities' legal position was actually one of weakness.

The artificiality of the whole situation gives us hope. And here the role of civil society, whose reactions and opinion have been snowballing, are crucially important. I remember the consolidation of civil society in 1991, and society was victorious back then. It seems to me that something similar is taking place now. I think there is the chance of a new victory."

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Garry Kasparov: Multiple world chess champion, politician and public figure

"I think that Russian authorities will be able to push through this farcical election cycle. But afterward, even Russians who are far removed from the opposition will wonder about their own future and that of their children. And the answers to their questions will be heard in the form of the harshest accusations against the current regime.

The world is on the verge of great economic turmoil. It is clear that Putin's Russia is absolutely unprepared for the challenges of these times. Therefore, the forecast should be for the next 12-15 months and not the next 12 years. I think the reference point will be February 2013. The global crisis will gain momentum at this time. Adjustments to oil prices are possible. Markets will fall. Most likely, the ruble will continue to lose value. In this case, I'm afraid that the analogy with Egypt might be too weak. There is no doubt that Putin would give orders to fire on his own people. He is ready to fight and spill blood because he has nowhere to go. The question is whether there are enough people willing to resist.

Therefore, the opposition should realize that parallel alternatives must be created. Today, there are several interesting projects related to the creation of alternative Internet spaces and online independent television outlets. We just have to distance ourselves from this government and build our own. We need to build links between the hundreds of thousands of people who are ready to do something, but who are still in a vacuum. They must be linked together via horizontal networks that will, in time, save the country from the inevitable collapse of the regime. Russia should not perish along with the Putin regime, but unfortunately, the likelihood of such a catastrophic scenario increases every day.

People who are active, hold a clearly defined position, and who are ready to act as free citizens could quickly create a qualitatively different situation in Russia. So the answer to the question of what happens during the regime's death throes depends on the willingness of many people to take part in these changes."

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Mikhail Kasyanov: Politician and former Russian prime minister (2000-2004), leader of the political movement Russian Popular Democratic Union, and co-chairman of the People's Freedom Party

"Unfortunately, it is already evident that after March 2012 the situation in the country will still be under the control of Putin and his circle. I think the future promises to be a tough one, especially for independent people who want to live in a free country and build their future independently. There will be a negative trend: people will begin to leave in massive numbers. They are already leaving, as they see no future for their families here (the director of our school, for example, told me that thirty families had withdrawn their children over the summer, and sent them abroad).

This negative vector of national movement was pre-determined by Putin's understanding of the concept of managing a country, which makes it impossible for any genuine force of opposition to challenge the vertical of power. This is not politics, but the rigid administration of a political system using the methods that Putin learned in the KGB. Therefore, we will be living in a very negative atmosphere for the foreseeable future.

In order to placate public opinion, soon after returning as president Putin will pretend to introduce various reforms-not actually conduct them, but just pretend to do so. He will say pleasant words about modernization, liberalization and the prosperity of the nation. I would not be very surprised if he mentions releasing Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. However, I do not expect any genuine "top-down" change; once again it will just be words, words, words.

Putin is driving the country into a dead-end. I cannot rule out that everything could end with calls for revolution, mostly from the young people of the country, who have no education, no jobs, and can see no future for themselves in this country. This new generation is virtually devoid of values, and that is a huge tragedy for Russia, and for us all.

The Putin regime has no potential for development. I think that it will cease to exist earlier than we expect, but it will be a very painful process. We have to do everything that we can to soften the consequences of the natural collapse of this unnatural system."

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Sergei Kovalev: Famed Soviet dissident, human rights advocate and public figure

"The way that the Russian center of power operates is certainly not going to change, for the simple reason that the people who created that structure are not going anywhere. Moreover, they did not create this system by accident or incident, but deliberately and for specific reasons. This is a power structure that wants to continue re-appointing itself indefinitely. Such a system brings in healthy profits, but that is not the main goal. The ones in power are pursuing other, intangible goals.

When the country no longer has elections with transparent equal political competition, as demanded by the Constitution, when there is no court that is independent of the central authorities (or bribes), when there is no independent media (and the bravest timidly feel for the limits of their courage) then there is not even a shadow of democracy. But, here, only autocratic despotism can replace democracy.

Despotism as a management model is the goal-the ideal-of this cynical, clumsy and ultimately hopeless power structure. Such an ideal is not new for the leaders of today's Russia, who came straight from the KGB. They have simply reverted back to their professional activities under Soviet rule.

However, the larger problem in Russia is not even that. There is still no civil society that could comfortably play the role of head of the household. Thus we get the leaders that we deserve: aggressive and pretentious, but artless and weak. Here is the mortal flaw in our deeply imperfect, but nevertheless democratic Constitution-it was not written for us, but imitates democracy for an external, indifferent and superficial observer. When I was in a work camp, I remember the public prosecutor saying that article 125 of Stalin's constitution was written not for us, but for African Americans, so that they can see how happily the Soviet people live.

I can only see one, incredibly difficult, but bloodless way out of our tragic situation: forcing those in power to enter into an open dialog with the opposition that is beginning to form (unfortunately, it is still fragmented and ineffective). This would be like the Polish round tables of 1980 and 1989. The alternatives to this fantastic option are unpredictable and possibly even terrible-fascist revolts, chaos, and cruel totalitarianism.

It looks like Putin is starting to worry now that he sees his popularity waning. We have no-one to depend on but ourselves."

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Marianna Maksimovskaya: TV presenter, host of the show "The Week with Marianna Maximovskaya" on REN TV

"The first thought that comes to mind is fairly banal. Today, many people say that if oil prices do not change dramatically, then the situation will remain the same -- we have gotten used to it over the past 11 years.

Of course, nobody wants a new stagnation. Of course, we do not want this stifling atmosphere. Of course, we want a sense of freedom. But after all, who cares what we want?

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Tamar Morschakova: Lawyer, judge of the Constitutional Court of Russia (retired)

"There are no objective reasons to even mention a positive direction of development. All of the actors on the political scene remain the same, their programs are nothing new, and they do not entail favorable change. The statements that were made just before the electoral fakery announced that the country has allegedly successfully weathered the crisis years, yet the well-known prescriptions for the future development are absolutely no cause for hope. Given the collapse of the democratic electoral process, the de facto abolishment of elections, business rapidly leaving the country, and the administration explicitly pulling strings, we can't consider such claims as plausible.

Efforts to develop a democratic state in Russia are being feigned more and more, and the true basis for such development -- the democratic principles of the Constitution -- is not seen as a model of the future, but as something that requires correction for the preservation of unlimited power. This has historically never led to effective development."

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Leonid Parfenov: TV host, creator of the popular shows "Namedni" (The Other Day) and "Rossiyskaya Imperiya" (The Russian Empire), the first laureate of the Vladislav Listyev television award

"The future is easy to predict. Expect only stagnation from Putin's return to power -- the agenda is exhausted, and the 2010s are doomed to repeat the previous decade. Putin has been in power for 12 years. If you add at least another six, then we will have [Leonid] Brezhnev's 18, but, of course, he won't come back for six years, or even 12, but rather for life."

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Eldar Ryazanov: Film director, actor, screenwriter, People's Artist of the USSR

"At one point, I thought that elementary democratic changes in our country were still possible. Now, in light of recent events, it has become clear that the rule of law will be a long time coming, if it will ever come.... Unfortunately, this country will rot for a long time."

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Vladimir Ryzhkov: Politician, co-chairman of the People's Freedom Party

"What will happen if Putin returns to the presidency? In Russia, the crisis of leadership will grow because Russian society is already noticeably tired of Putin and his party United Russia. This is particularly felt in the large cities, where his approval rating has fallen drastically, and his party's rating is less than 30%. Putin and United Russia increasingly irritate people because of their inefficiency and corruption.

The most active part of Russian society does not accept the results of the parliamentary and presidential so-called elections because for them it will be obvious that this is a clumsy theatrical production with an obvious outcome, massive fraud and a ban on the participation of real opposition. So in spring 2012, when Putin will take the oath of office, he will face a deep crisis of confidence and a crisis of legitimacy. In the end, he will be a weak president.

A president, who will try to hold the old hard line, but will not have sufficient resources to do so. He will face opposition to his reforms and his actions with mass protests, low polling results, and the cold shoulder and alienation around the world. That is because the world will not accept his fake and unjustified return to the Kremlin. Putin will become weak, floundering leader, unable to implement clear socio-economic and foreign policy. I do not believe that Putin will have a smooth ride in his new six-year presidential term."

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Viktor Shenderovich: Satirist, scriptwriter (in 1995-2003) for the popular TV show Kukly (Puppets), and public figure

"Universal experience tells us
That kingdoms perish
Not because the life is hard
Or the suffering great
They perish because -
And the longer it takes, the more painful it is -
People no longer respect
Their Kingdoms.

Bulat Okudzhava wrote this in reference to the Soviet empire.

If the Soviet empire ever had a serious ideology, then today everything boils down to snatching up and consuming more. This is a larcenous ideology -- it can't be sustained for long. And now the nation is holding on only thanks to expensive freebie oil. Any country where the government begins to associate itself with bloodsucking and pressure, where it impedes people's lives, eventually becomes unbearable. In captivity, man is not productive. His thoughts are not productive, and his soul does not grow. People start to run, and those who don't run take to drinking or build a cocoon around themselves. It seems to me that the most obvious possibility today is, unfortunately, ordinary deterioration, the slow hemorrhaging of people from the country. There doesn't seem to be a war, but one after another, people are leaving the country. Everyone who values dignity and doesn't want to live in the shadow of Lubyanka tries to resist in Russia, and the rest vote with their feet.

George Bernard Shaw said that the most important history lesson is that no one learns from history. But history is cruel -- it's a system of deferred penalties -- and those who are inflicting punishment on Khodorkovsky and Lebedev aren't thinking about the fact that a punishment awaits them and their children as well. One way or another, they will pay this delayed price.

Fidel Castro once said, 'Motherland or death.' Today, Russia faces the following choice (please excuse the grandiloquence): the motherland or the administration. I hope that, in the near future, we as a society will awaken and understand that everything happening in Russia has an immediate connection to our lives, and that we will make a choice in favor of our motherland."

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Aleksei Simonov: Writer, film director, human rights activist, Chairman of the Glasnost Defense Foundation

"How Putin will govern, I can imagine -- but how the country will live under him, that is difficult to imagine. Today, we live in a situation where there are two Russias: one on television, where information is controlled; the other on the Internet, more free.

When the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society had just been created, at its first meeting I made a speech in which I said that in a country where there is no freedom of information, the main hostage of this absence is the country's president. That any information from government agencies which he is force fed is always subjective.  Such information always serves the sources of the information, and not the least bit the person who is supposed to make decisions based on it.  You can imagine how enthusiastically Putin agreed to that!  The truth is that in the end, my efforts turned out to be pointless.  

Putin is not as uncivilized as he may seem.  But when he has to make decisions, both on the deeply internal level, and on the external, the instinct of the intelligence agency man dominates:  talk about yourself as little as possible, and learn as much as possible about your surroundings, use the latter, ideally without giving away the former. Unfortunately, a country ruled by officials of the state security apparatus is doomed to guard its own bosses from its own people.  And in that regard I don't expect any changes."

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Lyudmila Ulitskaya: Writer

"I have a feeling that the future course of events will have nothing to do with whether or not Putin is in power, because a flowerbed sown with thistle seeds, turnip seeds, and who knows what else cannot grow tomatoes, strawberries, or even pineapples. Today, there is no force capable of rapidly and sharply changing the current situation, which has developed over the course of almost two decades.

The consciousness of the formerly Soviet person, who has become a Russian, has not changed, and I would even venture to say that new traits, which are highly unfavorable for the development of the country, have appeared in him. The general corruption of our society has taken on an all-encompassing character.  It reaches not just the upper echelons of our state, but all of the lower classes as well. For this reason, serious changes to the life of our society, though they are desirable, will require more than one year and not just the replacement of one person by another.

We see the Putin-Medvedev situation -- they're practically one person. When Medvedev came to power as president, many Westerners asked me: 'How do you see this situation developing?' to which I replied (and it turns out I was correct) that the litmus test would be the Khodorkovsky affair. If Khodorkovsky was released, we would consider that the government had changed. If not, then the government had remained the same. Unfortunately, it turned out to have remained the same.

I don't think that the upcoming election can radically change the general direction of the development of our society.  I'm afraid that several decades of 'oil stability' await us, followed by severe turmoil. Will we be able to find a new way, to join the ranks of civilized nations who respect the law? That is an important question.

I'm not very optimistic, but on the other hand, I'm a realist with a sort of mystical inclination. In our situation, we can only have faith in some unforeseen event, which we could call a 'Black Swan' miracle (thank you to Nassim Taleb for this term). This black swan is an unexpected event that is totally unpredictable. My hope is for a good black swan to arrive, flap its wings, and cause a beneficial event that will change the direction we're moving in. This is, perhaps, the only hope that I think is more or less realistic."

KIRILL NIKITENKO

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