"I WAS INVESTIGATING CORRUPT PRACTICES IN THE FSB. GENERAL FEOKTISTOV’S MEN MADE AN ATTEMPT ON MY LIFE. PUTIN DOES NOT LIKE TO WASH DIRTY LINEN IN PUBLIC"
- Being a wealthy and well-connected person with a famous wife, how come you failed to find your place in Russia to carve out your niche and live in peace?
- I ran for a State Duma seat in 2011. I funded my campaign on my own, without attracting oligarchs, personally held all the meetings without spin doctors. There were still signs of democracy in 2011, when I was elected to the State Duma. This coincided with beginning of protests at Bolotnaya Square, and it seemed to me that these were whispers of freedom that will trigger positive changes. But they were violently suppressed. And the power started to become more and more authoritarian. I again ran for the parliament in 2016 but this time the elections had nothing to do with democracy. I won the elections but the authorities openly and cynically exerted pressure on members of election commissions and rigged the results at each polling station.
Current Russian political system is designed to eliminate everyone who is not integrated into it. Notions and principles are being substituted. The laws, the rights of voters are being violated. Those doing this are actually the traitors. But the notions are substituted, so now they call me the "fifth column," me who made no profit of the power, who took no part in siphoning off public funds, who was never involved in corrupt practices and tampering. And those in power trumpet about their patriotism louder than anyone else to present their private interests as the national ones. Just like Saltykov-Shchedrin wrote: “They started talking about patriotism, so probably they’ve been caught embezzling.” They say I am a criminal. A criminal is a person convicted by a court for commission of a criminal offense. What court and when exactly was I convicted? I regret to say that the current Russian legal system tends to convict. According to the Supreme Court, one in three men in Russia aged 20 to 60 either has a criminal record or faced criminal indictment. What does it mean? This means that the law works improperly. It is possible to hold any person criminally liable at any time or trump-up a case. Do you know why? What if a person starts barking, talks against the authorities, is out of step with everyone else. Dig hard and you can find dirt on anyone. They call me a “fugitive MP” as if I have no right to choose where to live. And who did I escape from? Everyone in the Russian Federation knows the names of all these petty journalists making news as directed by the authorities. I believe they should be sued for slander and Goebbels's propaganda.
- The Russian media reported that a criminal case was filed against you in April 2015. Please tell us about the case and the charges?
That’s a strait up lie. But first things first. The Federal Service for Drug Control headed by Army General Viktor Cherkesov was created [in the Russian Federation] in the early 2000s. He was Putin’s right-hand man then. Putin also charged Cherkesov to head a campaign against smuggling. I, as a military lawyer, was appointed to a high post in the new agency. I became the head of a department and was promoted to colonel. We took a resolute action against smuggling. Our goal was to identify the masterminds of these practices. 16 FSB (Russian Federal Security Service – Ed.) generals and a number of linked prosecutors were dismissed as a result of our activity. It was the first ever cleansing of the ranks of the security officials of this scale. And that was only the beginning – we were making great progress in the investigation.
Then we managed to prove in one of the cases that FSB top officials were personally involved in smuggling and the contraband goods were delivered directly to their military units. They were making billions of dollars over the years. We unveiled this practice, identified most of the persons in charge, and stopped this activity. It became known as the Tri Kita Company case. A certain Mr. Zuev was drugged and taken to Germany where he transferred ownership of his business to Chechens whom he allegedly employed as loaders. They were to transfer ownership to another person. But we have unearthed all of this. We were proud of the results and the progress of the implementation of the task the government had set us.
But the result came as a surprise: we failed to bring the investigation to the conclusion. Many of my colleagues involved in the probe were arrested by the FSB under trumped up charges, while the Drug Control Service was virtually destroyed. In October 2007, General Cherkesov wrote an article titled "We must not allow fighters to become traffickers." He wrote about disastrous consequences for the country that could be caused by impunity of high-ranking corrupt officials. But he was fired because of this article and the Federal Drug Control Service was disbanded.
Then everyone understood that Russia changed its course. It turned out that Putin does not like it when someone washes dirty linen in public, especially when this linen belongs to his closest friends whose involvement in corruption was not a crime as it turned out. In fact, the case against FSB members involved in smuggling determined the direction of Russia’s further development.
In order to ruin the cases against the FSB leaders, they started to prosecute employees of Drug Control Service. Oleg Feoktistov, head of the 6th service of the FSB was in charge of it. Today Feoktistov is the head of the security service of Rosneft Company. Our showdown started back then. Feoktistov was tasked with prosecution of Drug Control Service employees who were involved in investigations against FSB leadership. They decided I was one of the key elements of this operation.
- What did they do to you?
- In 2007 they committed an attempt on me in Moscow’s downtown. They fired upon me. It was in the midst of the Tri Kita case. I am certain that Feoktistov’s men were behind the attempt. I was lucky to survive, but was wounded in my leg. I’ve undergone 12 surgeries. A criminal case of the attempt was initiated, but they found no one. The media ran paid news about me — he was drunk, he fell and broke his leg. That ’ s what they usually do. You should not underestimate them.
- After this war with the FSB, could you remain a civil servant?
- No. We all left. All staff of the Drug Control Service left in 2008 following Cherkesov. Make no mistake about it: those who stayed were fired anyway, including janitors! Cherkesov is a wise, right and honest person. They decided to move him and all of us away from the power. In 2011 both of us were running for the State Duma. They somehow missed it: they thought I was so far from the politics so that I could never get elected. You could only change the country as a Duma member; no more options left for us in Russia. The State Duma has been always regarded as a platform for taking independent positions of governors, auditors, mayors. This was the reason behind my balloting. I was kicked out of the law enforcement agencies forever, but I wanted to serve my country so I became a politician.
- Who was receiving money from FSB-covered smuggling? Russian media state that Feoktistov is Igor Sechin’s man, and Sechin is Putin’s close friend?
- The case has not been finished, we were not allowed to. [We didn’t find out] How many years the system existed and who was profiting from it. It was supposed to be done in the framework of the criminal case, as well as assessing the people who were involved. I only had the materials of the criminal intelligence analysis. We didn’t have time to find them all.
- How did you work in the State Duma? Have you succeeded in “changing Russia” just as you expected?
- I realized that in order to gain some results, one needs a strong rear area. The State Duma back then offered a theoretic possibility to do so. I joined the Communist Party faction, which is deemed opposition. In 2012 the Communist Party recommended me for the post of an auditor of the National Audit Chamber. This is an influential post in the Russian Federation. So here come these evil FSB employees and make their best to prevent me from being appointed to this post. I had been approved by the presidential administration; the FSB had checked my previous employment and education; and then the Internal Affairs Department of the FSB interfered. On the “friend-or-foe” scale I was a foe, and nothing else interested them. Prior to the last stage — approval by the president — they announced me almost a criminal who could not be appointed. The mechanism of appointment is as follows: a faction proposes a candidate; the Presidential Administration checks everything; within this check, the FSB is involved; if they approve of it, the president proposes the candidate to the State Duma, and the MPs vote. Anyway, I wasn’t allowed to become the auditor either.
“FOR PUTIN, THE STATE DUMA IS NOTHING. FSB RUNS THE WORLD”
- Tell us about the case that had been opened against you. What were you charged with?
- They haven’t brought any charges against me. As well as there is no case against me. One of trumped up criminal cases features me as a witness. The case was faked exactly when the faction proposed me as a candidate for the auditor post. The FSB claimed there was a case initiated in relation to illegal reregistration of a building. Then they change it to fraud (article 159th), which is a graver offense, relocate from one district to another (as is convenient for them), and create a group of 25 investigators. The FSB does it all through the Investigation Committee, and they start to make up a case especially for me. The funny thing is that the building was not reregistered, it had the same owner. I learned later that some tax officer attempted to reregister it and died under strange circumstances two weeks later for some reason. Possibly, some former FSB employees were committing illegal seizures without sharing with their bosses. All these people, whom I don’t know and never seen, never said my name or spoke of my illegal activities. However, only until each one of them was arrested and placed in Lefortovo remand prison. Now they started giving correct testimonies about acting jointly with Voronenkov. After that, they signed their plea deals and were released under suspended sentences. Again, my status was and still is the status of a witness. Russian legislation has this ‘plea deal.’ It’s when a person confesses to his/her guilt and says: Well, I did it, but together with this guy. He/she only offers his/her word, no more proofs. But you can get convicted based on it. In 2014 only, 500,000 people were convicted under this rule (I sent a request to the Prosecutor General’s Office). Together with colleagues from other factions we drafted bills and amended this article 90 of the Criminal Procedure Code of RF in 2016. Now the law stipulates that a full-fledged investigation should be conducted regarding a person who wasn’t aware of the case. Me personally, I would love this case to be heard in any European court, so that the monstrosity of distortion and insignificance of charges were seen. After that, those who investigated the case should be charged with a criminal offense.
- But still, what is the point of the very case against you? I would like to know how far current Russian justice is from standards of 1937.
- Today’s justice could not be compared with that of 1937, it’s much worse. During Stalin’s rule people were mostly convicted under article 58 in political cases. In the rest of the general criminal cases, 20 percent of sentences were acquitting. Currently, Russia sees less than 0.5 percent of acquitting sentences. Political cases are rarely initiated because they are loud, and the West doesn’t like it; so it’s easier to make a person a criminal. Any independent person has done something on his/her own: had a business, a real estate property, a restaurant, construction, so has always been targeted by the Russian Criminal Code. This created a new category of those sentenced: by analogy with the ‘fifty eighth’ they are called ‘the one hundred fifty eighths.’ This article covers fraud and is applicable to pretty much everyone. It’s a grave offense with up to 10 years in prison.
In my case, they said the documents for a building in Moscow’s downtown worth $5 million had been changed. Who evaluated the building? Where did they get the amount from? Later it turned out it was a kiosk in Moscow suburbs. I do not even know where this street is. But they needed a nice picture. I am a well-off person and have a lot of property declared as I was conducting business legally. Yes, I have accomplishments, and my income has been declared. In mid-2000s I was dealing with real estate. Nothing new: you buy lower, sell higher, and earn the difference. For that purpose I needed legally clean transactions and documents. So there was one person whom I gave $100,000 in total and he was supposed to sell me a building. However, he just double-crossed me and disappeared. So I went to meet with the head of the investigation committee and filed a statement. They subsequently turned the case upside down against me. And this man turned out a drug user and their agent, some Krylov, a lawyer, no degree, previously convicted for drugs. They told him to state that I was giving him the money to steal the building. They did it so primitively. What Russian authorities do with TV propaganda, they also do regarding every single person. I had a lot of people who supported me in Russia, they knew I would never do that shit. But now all of them are like “it’s not my funeral,” and not many of them supported me. So it was just me and the system, face-to-face. You cannot fight legally against someone who’s acting illegally. How can you speak of the law with a criminal? And in modern Russia, the major criminal is the state. That’s the problem. Certain people, like Feoktistov, have usurped the punitive function. They decide on their own who to punish and how to act.
- Have the people of Feoktistov offered you to close the case?
- Yes, I received many offers, and amounts were voiced. They did approach me, but I rejected them.
- How big was your business?
- It just happened that a square meter [of real estate property – ed.] that cost $1,000 in Moscow cost $8,000-$9,000 a year later. It occurred after I left the prosecutor’s office, around 2000. I was not a civil servant at that time. Prior to becoming a Duma member I quit from all companies because I understood clearly that as a deputy I make my businesses a direct target. So I conducted some diversification, and it was right because I would have had nothing now.
- In addition to the conflict with the FSB, did you have any other issues with the authorities?
- I had no conflicts with anyone. The most interesting thing is that I’ve never seen Mr. Feoktistov in my life; we’ve never met.
- Alexey Navalny wrote that acting head of the Intelligence Service of Russia Sergey Naryshkin sang a song at your wedding with Maria, is that correct?
- Yes, it’s not a secret. Naryshkin was a Duma MP and our colleague at that time. Many people we worked with and communicated with within the authorities came to our wedding.
- Navalny is critical of you, says he does not believe that convictions can change at a border crossing.
- In my view, Navalny is a man driven to despair, who now charges at everyone without going into details. I think it's strange when people sort things out while being attacked. I had my good reasons to change views and review my life and values. I'm not going to enter into an argument with anyone, it makes no sense. I sacrificed too much when I left Russia, and I won't argue with anyone.
- With your contacts, didn't you report the situation to Putin?
- The State Duma is nothing for Putin, a zero. It plays a minor role in the state power system in Russia. Elections and democracy mean nothing, they are just a technology.
- Are you saying that all Russian elections are rigged?
- Absolutely. All of them, from municipal ones to federal. Leaders of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, including Zyuganov, are well aware of my situation. He signed many letters in my defense. They were ultimately outraged, but the level of their influence in the Russian state power system is not that high, unfortunately. You always have a specific set of requests which can't be endless. This request list had the surname Voronenkov somewhere at the bottom. So now these people have no moral right to say that I acted wrong in some way. They did nothing for me, while I did much for them by taking part in elections and advertising their brand. And I owe them nothing.
- Didn't the Communist Party stand up for you?
- I would like to know who they ever stood up for. They talk about some mythical struggle for human rights. But this struggle is limited to demagoguery. Of course not. They signed some letters that remained unanswered. They are educated people, they have long been in the state power system. They could figure it out working together for five years. During seven years, in violation of the law, I’ve been under around-the-clock surveillance (and I knew about it). All my phones were tapped; all members of my family were constantly watched. Media published details of my personal life, where I lived, where I traveled and with whom. Even Suvorov Military School, which I graduated from 30 years ago, received a request to characterize how I behaved and whether I enjoyed authority among mates. They checked my professional background and whether I accepted bribes. They could find nothing. Then they found Vitaly Kachur, an acquaintance of mine and one of the major cashers [a person who launders money by cashing it via fake firms – ed.] in Moscow. He wasn't hiding and worked with their permission. So they bring him in and ask him to say that he lent me a million dollars seven years ago and that I failed to return the money. They needed it because I didn’t benefit from the alleged crime. Fancy a man who gave me a million dollars and never reminded about it during seven years! He just never asked me to give the money back! Of course, he had no receipts, agreements or anything else; he allegedly just gave me a million and forgot about it. And remembered only when he found himself in Lefortovo jail. Apparently, this is the only place where your memory starts functioning well. This man is still jailed so as, God forbid, he doesn't recant his testimony as long as they are dealing with me.
- Can I conclude that Russia is being ruled by the FSB?
- A separate group of people in this body has usurped security powers on behalf of the state. They alone decide who to execute and who to pardon. The FSB has completely demoralized and disintegrated the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while the Prosecutor General's Office has been stripped of its supervisory functions. FSB runs the world. And to counter this... I thought we should try to counter this. Alas, I overestimated my capabilities and the scale of the problem. I would like to add that you are the first journalist who is interested in the actual circumstances of my discredit. Unfortunately, everyone in Russia is working off their fee.
- How does Putin influence the mafia and the FSB? Does he actually influence them?
- At the beginning, Putin was a different man. He delved into problems and understood that the state was only stable with a system of ‘checks and balances” in place. Now it’s gone. That’s why they behave like this. Even if you approach him, he will inquire with the FSB. Today, Russia's basic document for all occasions is a security notice by the FSB, while such a document is not stipulated by the Criminal Procedure Code. Putin is guided by the same principles. If he hadn't wanted to destroy the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General's Office, this wouldn't have happened. If there was a system of balances, at least some balance would exist. This system is long gone in Russia. If you are in conflict with these people, then you're done. I am in conflict with them. Their key principle is who you share the earned money with? I have never shared money with them. When I served, I wasn ' t engaged in business.
VORONENKOV’S WIFE MARIA MAKSAKOVA WHILE PREGNANT LOST TWO BABIES OVER STRESS CAUSED BY FSB PRESSURE ON HER
- What do you think could happen to you if you did not leave?
- Starting a new life somewhere else when you are 45 years old is a very hard decision, which is far from easy to make. But I no longer want to be afraid. I knew that anything could happen to me after I lose the status of the MP. I am an enemy to the people who, unfortunately, enforce the law in my country. I know that the FSB uses psychotropic medication to suppress the will and the subordination of people in Lefortovo pre-trial detention center. It started back during Feoktistov’s day, and I have no desire to become the next victim. Detained General Kolesnikov, for example, was thrown out of the balcony, declared a drug addict. They said his wife was trying to smuggle drugs for him in her shoes. Or, for example, Investigative Committee member Maksimenko also did something wrong and has been turned into a “vegetable” in Lefortovo. And I realized I would also face distinct approach over my open struggle. My life and health were at stake. Several high-ranking officials said straight that I was overestimating my capabilities, and it would better for me to leave Russia. I took these warnings very seriously.
- The Russian media reported that your wife, State Duma deputy Maria Maksakova was under a lot of stress over these persecutions when she was pregnant and lost two babies in 2015. Is it true?
- Unfortunately. These people are scum. Investigative Committee member Markin delivered charges against me intentionally on my birthday on April 10, 2015. The pressure was being built up in all directions: the FSB sought to make all my friends to turn their backs on me after this campaign. Maria witnessed all of this tying herself up in knots... She was three months pregnant... This tragedy had a big impact on me and made me start seeing many things differently. There is no choice when your family suffers.
- Did you understand that if you left for Europe you would not face such stark reaction given that Moscow now calls Ukraine Russia’s main adversary?
- They were hinting me not even to think about moving in this direction. But I was too independent, too self-sufficient for them while our confrontation was pretty obvious for Russian establishment.
“I DID NOT VIOLATE THE OATH. I HAD A CHOICE WITHOUT A CHOICE: EITHER THEY DEAL WITH ME OR I LEAVE ”
- Do you understand that the Kremlin's propagandists will turn you into an enemy of the state? Do you understand that they will try to trample your name and tar as label you as a member of the fifth column?
- They are the fifth column on the first place. They insult others, insult the state, unleash wars. These bastards have done nothing for their country in their entire lives, including the fulfillment of their constitutional duty— they have never served in the army.
In my country, I rose through the ranks from cadet to colonel, from teacher to professor, did a PhD degree, served in the army for a long time, worked inside the Arctic Circle, was the State Duma deputy, and none of my actions damaged Russia.
I did testify in the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine against ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, who actually betrayed his country, who was involved in mass slaughter, who had fled to the foreign country and urged foreign troops to slay his people. I believe this person should have received not asylum but a fair trial in Russia. And this trial is very important for a democratic country. I am not a traitor, I love the country where I was born and achieved success. I betrayed no one. I did not violate the oath. If Putin has for a friend Yanukovych with his two criminal records, I need no friends like that.
I even think that they do not care at all that Yanukovych is being tried on treason charges. They understand that his half a billion dollar worth assets can be confiscated. This is what all these efforts are about. Economy determines the policy. Hard lot of many people is a consequence of the choice they have not once made. I have made this choice and I am proud of it.
- Why did you vote for Crimea accession in 2014?
- Personally, I did not vote. Someone used my card to do it. The decision of the Communist Party faction was to support accession of Crimea, and they used my card to cast a vote instead of me, although I gave no letter of attorney to vote. Then I saw what grave consequences this vote caused and I consider it a major mistake today. My mistake and Russia’s. And this mistake must be corrected.
I believe that the last invasive wars ended in 19th century when other countries were annexing territories and pumping out resources. Having annexed Crimea, Russia began to invest a lot of money there. These funds are used to the detriment of other native Russian regions. Russia's most impoverished regions are indigenous Russian regions such as Ivanovo, Ryazan, Vladimir, Vologda, Pskov Oblasts. The imbalance in supply for the regions is huge. The Caucasus, for example, receives billions of dollars in subsidies. Entire Russia has been stripped of financing in favor of Crimea. The consequences for the country are heavy, they hamper any development. Having committed an act of aggression against Ukraine, Russia quarreled with the world community. This was done even in violation of the Russian federal law on referendum. Now that Russia is under sanctions, anti-Russian sentiments in the world are swelling, investments have been cut and access to Western credit resources has been denied.
- I found the article by Cherkesov “We must not allow fighters to become traffickers” of 2007 that you mentioned. He is describing three directions of Russian development during Putin’s rule. The first is creation of a civil society, the second is strengthening of the law enforcement agencies and building neo-feudalism, and the third is the Soviet one of stagnation and corruption that will lead to collapse. Which of them is Russia’s way?
- I believe Russia is on the second way gradually shifting to the third one.
A generational change is currently underway, and I can see the underlying principles — those of localism, protectionism, etc. You can’t change the state under conditions of negative selection. I was struggling to become a head of one of the regions, and I was really close. But they explained to me that I couldn’t be the black sheep. No one will ever allow you doing this. And second, if you were able to fight corruption and make life better in one region, as long as it is a small representation of the country, you might be able to do the same with a bigger region. Who would need an example like that? I realized they wouldn’t allow me do anything; my experience is not needed, and I would be just kicking the dead wall. During one Communist party meeting [its leader] Zyuganov said that the USSR collapsed because it was ruled by gerontocracy. This was said by the man who was 72, who had been ruling for 20 years — he didn’t see himself as gerontocracy. Yedinaya Rossiya party, which blames U.S. and Ukraine of all Russian problems, has been ruling for 17 years. There is this notion of institutional trap in economics. The entire world believes that 100% of income should see no more than 40% of taxes. If this rate is higher, no one would want to do business because there will be no opportunity to invest in production and pay decent salaries — this is killing the economy. In Russia, this rate is about 60%. So pretty much everyone who’s conducting business is doing it illegally through various forms of outsourcing. How can you change this if any changes are forbidden in the state? I authored a number of bills on offshore amnesty, on asset amnesty that were signed by President Putin. But the state is not interested in it. If any businessman is simply doing business and the state closes its eyes on violations, and tomorrow this businessman wants to speak up on a political issue, let’s say, on the Donbas, the state is able to create a criminal case against him straight away.
- But you were living with that for many years. What has changed?
- A person is free to choose where to live. I left because I no longer want to live in lies and hypocrisy. There are times when you have to decide — either you want to change something or you are willing to live a turncoat. I do not want to compromise. My wife keeps telling me that the deadliest thing in life is compromising. I agree with her. It’s a terrible thing for your sense of conscience. First you compromise a small thing, then you compromise something bigger. There are many people in Russia now who are expecting some changes in the authorities, but these changes cannot occur from within, because the authorities are content with how things are, and the system reject everyone who wants changes. It rejected me the same way. This is why it was the choice without the choice: either they deal with me or I leave the country. I agree with a statement by a well-known actor that Russia is a necrophilous country that loves dead people more than those alive.
“CRIMEA UNITED RUSSIA AROUND THE IDEA OF SWIPING SOMETHING FROM ITS NEIGHBOR. IT WAS MY MISTAKE AND RUSSIA’S, AND THIS MISTAKE MUST BE CORRECTED”
- You left still being a Duma MP?
- Yes, in October. We were to serve until Dec. 4. But we decided not to wait until our mandates end. We considered different options, but given the mentality, my origin, and my stance that I had voiced many times, we decided to move to Kyiv.
- Do you plan to become a Ukrainian citizen and settle down here?
- I am a Ukrainian citizen. On Dec. 4, my mandate of the State Duma MP terminated on Dec. 4, and on Dec. 6 I became a Ukrainian citizen.
- You were testifying in the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine. What was it about?
- I wouldn’t like to disclose materials of pre-trial investigation, but to be short… Yes, I testified in the case on Yanukovych’s high treason. I thought it was my duty to help my country and expose the rascal. This convicted criminal who betrayed his people, fled, and asked another state to invade his country and kill his compatriots. I believe these words and actions should be looked at from the legal point of view and given a legal assessment. Yanukovych is a puppet. He himself signed a disavowal, and his request to send in Russian troops was illegal. At first this request was to be written by Crimea’s [head] Aksenov. In Russia, everything is a secret but nothing is secrecy. Then the Kremlin was like — who’s Aksenov if Yanukovych is in Russia. So he was the one to write a letter to the Russian president about sending in the troops.
- How do you see the Ukraine events: the revolution, the independence war?
- When the Maidan events took place, the part of the Russian elite that is adequate and thinking rejoiced that the Ukrainians kicked out corrupt authorities. Russia has the same. A small group has seized and is robbing the country. And the rest are being punished by Investigative Committee and the FSB. The thing is that Russia is much more amorphous than Ukraine and the possibilities to exploit it are more numerous. These possibilities keep the current leadership where they are. This is why the Kremlin was outraged and screaming that the events in Ukraine are ‘a U.S. hand.’ What if the same happens in Moscow? There are so many discontented there. That was the problem. To quash it and show that God forbid anything like that from happening here.
- What is your opinion on Russia waging war against Ukraine in the Donbas?
- It’s a huge problem. The current situation in Russia reminds that of the Nazi Germany during Hitler’s rule. Everyone knew he was killing the Jews but continued cooperating with him for many years, acting as if nothing was happening. The entire country went crazy in the pseudo patriotic frenzy. Many things are just the same in Russia. As one well-known writer put it, “What unites Russian Ivan and Magomed? An opportunity to snatch anything.” Then all national, religious and linguistic differences disappear. Crimea was this litmus test — it united Russia around the idea of swiping anything from its neighbor. And many citizens of Crimea would have acted similarly — they have the same way of thinking. If Americans came to Crimea and said it would be America, and pensions would amount to $1,000, they would vote for America. The war is a problem. Ukrainians should show as much willpower as possible. There will be casualties, but they need to save their territory. I see a huge patriotic surge here. There’s no other way of winning a war. Otherwise Ukraine would keep being suppressed and broken, the Kremlin will not stop. Modern Russia does not need a successful Ukraine. Only when this power is shifted, something could change, and enlightenment could occur.
- What would you say to Russians who go to the Donbas to participate in combat activities?
- Unfortunately, over the past 20 years Russia has lost its education system. Today it ’ s propaganda that educates. When young people with no degree, no profession (born to asocial parents) are being told daily about “Banderivtsi, ukrops, enemies” [the first two are derogative names for Ukrainians, — ed.], they start feeling this fake patriotism and they leave for the war. The first reason is that they are not needed and cannot find themselves in Russia. The state lives parasitically on them and uses them as ‘meat shield.’ The very Motorola [leader of Donetsk terrorists killed in 2016 – ed.] was a gas station worker. He never succeeded in anything, so he was an easy target for temptation with a fake social elevator. Such people live in each and every country.
- But why Ukraine? You could become a citizen of any country of the world. The situation here is complicated — the feudalism and corruption are present in our country as well, and the state itself is only beginning to shape, with volumes of chaos and disappointment. Living in Ukraine means struggling.
- In due time I earned enough money. But I realized it was not the goal of my life. The most important thing is to be needed, to be useful to the state and the public, succeed in my work, yield visible results and make life better around me. So you go where you can find yourself what to do. Ukraine is my second home country. My origins are here as well, in the Kherson region. So I don’t feel an alien here. Ukraine welcomes anyone who believes in it. There are many problems, but there is also a direction for the development, there is this spirit of freedom, and there are normal people. The first thing we noticed when we came here — the people are nice, adequate, no one’s angry. Kyiv is a place you don’t want to leave. In Europe, you would always feel yourself an alien. Only the third generation will not feel themselves immigrants. I have been a public servant all my life, what will I do there, serve who? My wife is sought-after, she often travels to Europe. I think Russia will start derailing her.
- Former Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed in a terrorist attack in Kyiv. He might have fallen victim of Russian secret services, as witnessed by circumstances. Are you not afraid that you are another possible target for Russian terrorist, and that they may hunt you?
- Any risk shouldn’t be underestimated. But I am a prepared person. There is a risk. But I risk in Kyiv as much as in Moscow. I am ready for the risk.
- What would you like to do in Ukraine?
- First of all, I would like to be useful for the country, with all expertise that I have. Russia does not need people like me anymore. I am in the middle of the negotiations. But I received the citizenship first because one cannot take a public post without citizenship. I need no privileges, I will try to find my spot just like others. I understand it would not be easy. But this is freedom. A person can make his / her choice. I have made mine.
Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET
Photos by Nataliia Sharomova, Censor.NET