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Kyrgyzstan uprising to strain US-Russian rela -

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Kyrgyzstan uprising to strain US-Russian relations

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: And joining us now in Moscow is Dr Andrei Kortunov of the New Eurasia Foundation. Dr
Kortunov was one of the signatories to an open letter last month, addressed jointly to the
presidents of Russia and the United States as President Bush met his Russian counterpart in
Bratislava. The letter called on both men to address the growing tensions and suspicion between
their two countries.

TONY JONES: Andrei Kortunov, these latest events in Kyrgyzstan are likely to increase suspicion
between Russia and the United States are they not?

ANDREI KORTUNOV, PRESIDENT, NEW EURASIA FOUNDATION: I think so. I think there are many people here
in this city that have the same siege mentality they had during the Cold War. I don't think you can
change it, at least not easily.

TONY JONES: Now, the pattern of what is happening in Kyrgyzstan is now very familiar after the
people-power revolutions in Georgia and the Ukraine. It's no secret that many Russians believe that
US agencies are actually backing these democratic revolutions. Do you get the sense that's what the
Russian administration thinks?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, I guess that they believe that there has been a lot of foreign involvement
in events in Georgia, the Ukraine and even in Kyrgyzstan. They will give you a lot of
circumstantial evidence suggesting that private foundations who are technical assistance agencies
were breaking their position - were trying to undermine the ruling elites in these three countries.
However, of course, they sometimes fail to know that, for example, in the Ukrainian case, the
Russian Government was also involved and it lost. If there was a competition between different
forces, unfortunately Russia found itself in isolation from the rest of the world.

TONY JONES: How do you think then that President Putin is going to respond to this latest outbreak
of democracy? It is starting to happen in too many places for him to simply ignore it, isn't it?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well I think that this is a real challenge because for a long time Putin was the
one and the only on the territory of the former Soviet Union. He was the only statesman able to
generate some kind of vision and energy and who could offer his own model of modernisation. This
model turned out to be quite authoritarian. It was about management, it was about guidance, but the
idea was there are no alternatives. Right now one can argue that there are alternatives and a
Liberal democracy might be one of them. Of course it is yet to be seen what might happen in Georgia
and Ukraine. Whether new Ukraine will be successful, whether Georgia is going to overcome its
current social and economic crisis, no one knows what will happen in Kyrgyzstan. But if these
countries are ultimately successful, it will be a very powerful challenge to Mr Putin because no
longer will his chosen path will be considered as the only path possible.

TONY JONES: Alright, let's put the events in Kyrgyzstan aside just for a moment and look at the
implications in Russia itself. How significant is it, do you believe, that President Bush has begun
to challenge in a way the legitimacy of the democracy in Russia?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, it's too hard to tell. We have very mixed signals coming from Washington. On
the one hand, indeed, there is a lot of criticism coming primarily from private sources and some of
his speeches. President Bush raised concerns about Russian democracy, but as we could see from the
results of the last summit between the two men, which took place in Bratislava, President Bush is
still very cautious. He doesn't want to make life difficult for Mr Putin. And I presume that's not
just because of personal chemistry, which does exist between the two men, but also because the
United States needs Russia. The United States needs Russia on a number of issues and issues like
Iraq are much more important for the United States now than any issues related to democracy in the
Russian Federation.

TONY JONES: Andrei Kortunov, there was news only a few weeks ago that the Kremlin is taking counter
measures just in case there is an uprising, a people-power revolution or an attempt to stage a
people-power revolution of some kind in Moscow. It's actually creating, it appears, pro-Kremlin
youth organisations, called Nashi, which confront demonstrators on the street. How do you read that
development?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, you will always find people who are interested in getting up to serve the
Government and to serve the presidential administration and of course the opposition to Putin, to
the extent the opposition exists in this country, is in no way monolithic. You can use one faction
against another faction. However, I really question the ability of the current leadership in the
Kremlin to mobilise the youth, because the youth is very difficult to get involved politically.
They don't care, they are not interested, they are very pragmatic - they might be even cynical in
certain ways. It's very difficult to imagine that anyone in the Kremlin can really pull together a
very active and very powerful coalition of young people who would try to defend this particular
leadership. Especially if you look at some other steps by the Government, they might create a lot
of problems with the younger generation. For example, we are in the middle of a major, major reform
in education. It means that students will soon have to pay tuition fees. There are also issues of
conscription. Quite often most young people in Russia can be drafted to the armed forces. It's not
a popular measure and I think that it might well create a lot of opposition within the younger
generation.

TONY JONES: President Putin is described by some critics as a soft authoritarian and some people
even compare him to a 21st century tsar. Let me ask you this - what would it take for him to
completely abandon the trappings of democracy and could you imagine him doing that?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, I don't think so. I don't think that Mr Putin himself is a person who is
committed to ruining democracy in Russia. I think that he believes that democracy, or at least a
certain type of democracy is something that Russia needs. But he would qualify democracy. He would
probably talk about immature democracy, non-consolidated democracy, managed democracy. I think that
a lot depends on nuances. But I don't believe that anyone in this country can really reverse the
trend that we experienced for the last two decades. The country is different. The social structure
of the country doesn't allow a strong authoritarian regime. The country is integrated into the
European environment. It is porous and I don't think you can introduce anything like we saw under
the Soviet rule.

TONY JONES: One of the ironies of the Putin administration is he has genuine reformers, or appears
to have genuine performers in key economic posts while his entourage, the people surrounding him,
largely come from security backgrounds like the KGB, as he does. Does this reflect in some way the
two-sided nature of the man?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Yes, I think so. I think that on the one hand he has a reformist agenda and he
would like to be the next Peter the Great - a person who can modernise the country, who can push
the country ahead. He understands the reforms are necessary, but at the same time he is a person
that doesn't trust too many people. He prefers to stick to those who he knows personally and these
people happen mostly to be uniformed men. He is also in the business of micromanagement. He doesn't
want to delegate. He's obsessed with control. At least it appears he is obsessed. Therefore, it is
a major obstacle on the way to a more liberal reform strategy that he would probably try to
introduce otherwise.

TONY JONES: He has been quite a successful economic manager though, hasn't he? He has pegged income
tax at 13 per cent. He's paying off foreign debt. Productivity is high. There is a trade surplus.
Growth is at 7 per cent. These are figures that most Western countries would be very proud of. How
significant are they? Are they genuine figures?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, I think that, of course, life is getting better in the country. People are
getting wealthier. You can feel it in the streets of Moscow or elsewhere. There is a lot of
construction, a lot of fashion boutiques right now in the capital. There is a lot of economic
activity. At the same time, one can question the importance of these trends, because, as we know,
the economy is highly dependent on oil and gas. There are no real structural reforms that can
lessen this dependence on oil and gas. We don't see a lot of investments in human capital. We don't
see a lot of small business start-ups. The economy is still quite oligarchic. So one can say that
Putin was simply lucky because he got high oil prices and was able to exploit delayed results of
the financial default of 1998. Again, you know, I don't want to question some of the reforms. Some
of the reforms - including the reform of taxation - were really important and were quite
functional, but at the same time it's not an agenda that was accomplished. It's not a mission,
which he can say he really managed to handle.

TONY JONES: Alright. Let's look beyond the past five years of Vladimir Putin's presidency and into
the future - the next three years. How do you think he will evolve?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, I don't think he himself is interested in seeing power beyond the two terms
which he is entitled to by the constitution. I think what he is doing right now - he is desperately
looking for his successor. It's not clear how to manage the transition of power right now because
there aren't too many bright figures around Putin. Partially he is himself responsible for the
situation because he didn't tolerate too many independent and assertive leaders around him. So the
issue of succession is probably the most important issue for Putin right now. Though, he still has
three years to run.

TONY JONES: There are reports that some of those people around him are looking now for ways to
change the constitution. You don't think that will happen?

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, I understand that there might be a lot of pressure on Mr Putin to stay and
to do he will have to change the constitution. I presume that there are many people around Putin
who argue that he is indispensable; that the country will not make without him, that he should stay
for another term and that the Russian people really want him to stay. There will be a lot of
pressure. The question is whether Putin might resist this pressure? But I guess that deep in his
heart he understands that his own agenda is more or less exhausted and there is not really much he
can add to what he has already done. I feel he is getting tired of his position. I don't think that
he will enthusiastically support the idea of a constitutional reform.

TONY JONES: Andrei Kortunov, we will have to leave it there. We thank you very much for your
insights into Russian politics tonight. Thank you for joining us on Lateline.

ANDREI KORTUNOV: Thank you.