INTERVIEW with Grigory Yavlinsky – Russian Economist and Leading Opposition Politician
EUBULLETIN: The EU-Russia relationship is now as bad as it has been in decades. How could this strategically important relationship be improved? I don’t think that you can do that only by providing a couple of hundreds of scholarships to Russian students.
Yavlinsky: Today, it’s not the right time for creating that kind of plan since a short-term educational program can’t change anything, but it is the right time to think more thoroughly about the strategy, which is necessary in the long run. I think that the vital interest of Russia is to be part of Europe and it is in the vital interest of Europe that Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia and the whole region are part of Europe as well. So, it’s a win-win situation.
Basically, at the moment, Russia has made a very big, very serious mistake with Ukraine and even more so by changing the course of the country when Russia adopted an anti-European course. So, when that this era is over, this strategy would also be finished because it is dead-end – and then it would be the right time to think about the future of the EU-Russia relationship. So, at the moment, everybody has to support Ukraine and to make clear to Russia that it has made a very serious mistake.
EUBULLETIN: In one public debate, you argued that the EU and the US can’t do much to influence Russia and where the country is heading simply because they don’t have enough power. This is also because we are no longer in the Cold War era, so Russia has many choices what to do – it can shift its attention more to the East, for example, to China, and they have actually shown its willingness to do exactly that. Do you really think that it’s not really much that Brussels and Washington can do divert Russia from its collision course?
Yavlinsky: This is true that earlier, after the Cold War, Russia had many more possibilities or options. But now, for a while, Russia does not have that many possibilities. The main thing is that, at the moment, Russia must first sort out its own problems by itself. The EU and the US must now simply keep their strength, maintain their course and not to compromise with Russia. That’s it.
EUBULLETIN: Do you agree with the argument that the Western powers could have somehow prevented the current situation or setbacks to democracy in Russia, had they been willing to support Russia during the economic hardship some 10-15 years ago.
Yavlinsky: During the economic reform, Russia made a lot of very, very serious mistakes and what we have now are the consequences of those mistakes. And the EU and the US were at that time just very friendly but they were not prepared to understand Russia’s real needs and the real threats.
EUBULLETIN: Do you see a bright future for the Eastern Partnership or do you rather see it, in light of the latest developments in Ukraine, as a stalled process?
Yavlinsky: To put it simply, Eastern Partnership is a concept which was productive, it is productive, but for the moment it is facing big difficulties because it is confronted by the big crisis in Ukraine. But when the crisis would be over, then we can expect the Eastern Partnership to continue to develop.
EUBULLETIN: Can you imagine the situation that one day, maybe 5 or 10 years down the road, Ukraine would finally be invited to join the Western structures, the EU or perhaps even the NATO?
Yavlinsky: Even only to discuss if such a thing is possible, Moscow would first have to change its policy to change Russia’s course. When Russia would start moving into Europe, then it would be the right time to start discussing these issues. When Russia wants to take Ukraine to the other direction, then there is no point of even contemplating these issues.
EUBULLETIN: How do you feel as a leading opposition politician living in Russia now? Your views are, I guess, quite opposed to the views of the Russian establishment. How does it affect you, your every-day life, your work?
Yavlinsky: I feel that I am living in Russia. (giggling) I feel myself that I am living in Russia. It’s a transition time – 25 years is not enough.