Reposting this because it got deleted off my other blog, and I want to keep this memory on the internet.
September 20, 2012
Today I was fortunate enough to attend a small press conference with former Prime Minister of Russia, Mikhail Kasyanov, organized at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Mikhail Kasyanov is a leading member of the Russian opposition to Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia”. He worked with President Putin as Prime Minister from 2000 to 2004, just after Boris Yeltsin, before he was abruptly dismissed by Mr. Putin.
As Mr. Kasyanov explained to the small group of students and reporters gathered in Maastricht, when he was Prime Minister, he was working on a number of reforms to Russia’s rapidly deteriorating social infrastructure.
In the years since Mr. Putin put a stop to all of his reforms (and fired him), Mr. Kasyanov has emerged as a strong opponent to President Putin, calling for democracy, anti-corruption and European integration.
He told us that his party, just barely a month ago, was finally allowed to register as an existing political party, after being denied for 6 years – and this was only because the European courts stepped in and enforced official policy, not because Mr. Putin changed his mind.
According to Mr. Kasyanov, Russia was heading in the right direction until 2004, when Putin’s autocratic rule came into full swing. He has a vision for Russia to get back on track.
First of all, he says, the demonstrations need to continue. He explained that Putin has long lost the support of the intellectuals and the young people, especially in the big cities, and is now targeting fringe groups that are easy to influence for support. Demonstrations keep putting pressure on the government, and this is what’s needed to keep reminding them that they do not have rational support behind them.
The second thing that needs to happen is that Europe needs to get involved. Mr. Kasyanov explained that European governments are afraid (quite understandably) of getting into a conflict with Russia, so they tend to write off Russia as a strange scary land full of strange people. But it is not the people that are the problem, it is the government. And Europe has power to influence that. If Russia wants to integrate with Europe, they have to adhere to the same standards as the other European countries, in terms of avoiding monopolies (i.e. Gazprom), having real opposition parties instead of puppet parties, and in general abiding by the rules of democracy. European governments have the ability to put pressure on the Russian government to change, and this is what they need to do. Perhaps (and this is my opinion), Europe should open borders and remove the visa regime with Russia in order to encourage their integration, so that there is more open communication and thus more influence can be exerted by the European Union.
It was really an honor to meet Mr. Kasyanov, and definitely visit his website if you are interested in more information about him and his vision. It was very inspirational to hear him speak and I believe he has a very interesting perspective, having worked hand in hand with President Putin until 2004.