An interview published on September 29 with a key adviser to President Vladimir Putin, deputy presidential administration chief Vladislav Surkov, has elicited comment from a number of Russian observers. Komsomolskaya pravda, which conducted the interview, noted that President Putin had declared in his speech following the tragic denouement of the school siege in Beslan, that Russia was now at war. The newspaper asked Surkov why Russia had found itself in this situation.
Surkov answered, “You know, among the people who make decisions in America, Europe, and the East, you can distinguish two main groups, which differ in their attitudes toward our country. Representatives of the first [group] believe in the prospects for our democracy, support us, direct their efforts toward the revival and strengthening of Russia as an important element of the world geopolitical balance, as a significant sales market, as a good neighbor, and a reliable ally. The second group, it seems to me, is made up of figures who continue to live with the phobias of the Cold War, who have viewed our country as a potential enemy and impeded the implementation of a total financial blockade of the terrorists and their political isolation. They [the second group] consider their contribution to the practically bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union and are trying to further [that] success. Their goal is the destruction of Russia and the filling of its huge area with numerous dysfunctional quasi-state formations.”
Interestingly Surkov’s allusion to an international conspiracy against Russia echoed Putin, who said in his post-Beslan speech, “Some want to tear away the fattest possible piece [of our wealth], while others help these aspirants in so doing. They still believe that Russia poses a threat to them as a nuclear power. That is why this threat must be eliminated, and terrorism is just another instrument in implementing their designs” (Itar-Tass, September 4).
Surkov, however, went further than his boss by identifying left-wing and liberal opposition parties as domestic enemies. “In fact, a fifth column of left-wing and right-wing radicals has emerged in the country,” he said. “The lemons [a reference to Eduard Limonov’s National Bolsheviks] and some apples [a reference to Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko] are now growing on the same branch. The fake liberals and real Nazis have more and more in common. Common sponsors of foreign origin. Common hatred. Toward Putin-ite, as they say, Russia. And, in fact, toward Russia as such. There is nothing surprising about this. Dostoyevsky wrote about such people. Today all of these Smerdyakovs and Lyamshins [negative characters in The Brothers Karamazov and The Possessed, respectively] are having a good time on various committees preparing for 2008 [a reference both to the next presidential election and, apparently, to Garry Kasparov’s Committee 2008-Free Choice democratic opposition group], where they advocate the expediency of the defeat of their own country in the war against terrorism. God will judge them. We’ll cope without them” (Komsomolskaya pravda, September 29).
Moskovsky novosti chief editor Yevgeny Kiselev, who is a member of Committee 2008-Free Choice, dismissed Surkov’s comments about Western conspirators seeking Russia’s disintegration as propagandistic scare tactics. “In fact, the break-up of Russia is a . . . nightmare for any somewhat responsible Western politician, military man [or] diplomat,” Kiselev wrote. “Do you really think that any of them are attracted by the prospect of instability in a huge nuclear power?! That someone might like the idea that a powerful modern arsenal will suddenly fall under the control of some capricious governor like the suspended general Shamanov?!” [In early 2000, before becoming governor of the Ulyanovsk region, Vladimir Shamanov was removed as a commander of forces fighting in Chechnya after some of his troops allegedly massacred civilians-EDM].
Responding to Surkov’s allegations about internal enemies, Kiselev wrote, “So here we have it. No more or less. The country is living by the laws of wartime — meaning there is not opposition; there is high treason. There aren’t political opponents; there are traitors, betrayers, and enemies of the people in the service of those same foreign sponsors spoken about above. This is splendid. The only thing to determine is who is the real author of these ideas? Is deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov speaking for himself or in the name of the so-called group of siloviki or in the name of and on the instructions of the president?” (Moskovsky novosti, October 1).
Political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky called Surkov’s comments “the irresponsible and outrageous escapade of a person who imagines himself a major figure and the organizer of Russia’s fate.”
“It’s a shame that there are still such people in the president’s entourage,” Piontkovsky said, “a shame that Surkov in that post forms the position of the president, who seems less and less an independent politician, acting on the orders of such ‘titans.’ As for the opposition, it must stick to the line for which it has been reproached. And not talk about leaving Russia, but on the contrary — one and all should chip in for a ticket so that Surkov can leave” (Polit.ru, September 30).