Nemtsov: «Now is the absolute lowest point»

Boris Nemtsov: FT interview days before he was murdered
Edited highlights from discussion with politician

Kathrin Hille in Moscow March, 1, 2015

I met Boris Nemtsov in the early evening last Monday at Shamrock, an Irish pub downstairs from the Ekho Moskvy radio station, where he was due to go on air two hours later.

He was wolfing down a salad and drinking big glasses of multivitamin juice because he had flu. He was coughing all the time, but that did nothing to diminish his energy.

It turned out to be one of Mr Nemtsov’s last interviews before he was shot dead in Moscow on Friday evening.

What follows are edited highlights from our discussion.

On the state of present day Russia:

Compared with 2012, we live in a different country. A country of war, of humiliated, hypnotised people, who in 2011 were nostalgic about the empire and now think of themselves as great. Mass hysteria about annexation of Crimea, aggressive propaganda — that the west is the enemy, and Ukrainians fascists etc.

Putin uses this — he’s following the principles of Goebbels: propaganda must be primitive, the truth has no significance, the message has to be simple, and must be repeated many times. And must be extremely emotional.

Putin has brought Nazism into politics.

On the need for ‘healthy patience’:

Public opinion can’t continue to be like this forever. Like little children, they stop crying eventually. Putin lies. But he can’t hide things forever. There will be more and more graves. And people will feel it’s bad that he’s fighting with a brother nation. Hitler had a reason for not attacking Austria.

We need healthy patience. I believe we will have to struggle with Putin for a long time, it will be a long battle. We’re talking about 2024. Why am I an optimist? Because I believe that you can achieve nothing with cynicism. Putin uses cynicism.

On Putin:

He is a totally amoral human being. Totally amoral. He is a Leviathan.

Putin is very dangerous. He is more dangerous than the Soviets were. In the Soviet Union, there was at least a system, and decisions were taken in the politburo. Decisions about war, decisions to kill people, were not taken by Brezhnev alone, or by Andropov either, but that’s how it works now.

On Putin’s inner circle:

The people around Putin are rich and weak. There has been a selection. There is not a single bold person left who can influence him. They’ve all left to somewhere. Including [former finance minister Alexei] Kudrin, the boldest of all. So they can’t influence him, they can only adapt.

We chatted about German chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Mr Nemtsov likes and knew from her days in eastern Germany. He recalled defending her to then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

She also hated Putin. I met her around her last birthday. And she still asked me: ‘Is he gone?’” And then Mr Nemtsov laughed so hard it triggered another cough attack.

On Putin’s future:

So I think the key thing will be that Putin’s rating will fall, gradually. That will take years.

Look at [Serbian president Slobodan] Milosevic and sanctions. Within one-and-a-half years or two, the people will start understanding that Putin is responsible. Therefore, my job as a politician and a blogger is simple: Show them that Putin means crisis, Putin means war . . .

The opposition will appear in the army, and in the special services. Why? Because they will start to realise that Putin betrayed the army. Look, the army is fighting in Ukraine, but he says it isn’t, they get killed, and he doesn’t help them. The people who know someone who has experience that will be more and more. And from that will rise a deep disgust, in the army and in the special services. He’s not a traitor of Novorossiya — forget about those, they are freaks — but of the real army. Pskov division, Ulyanovsk division, Bryansk division . . .

The second is business. Once Putin’s rating falls, they will start financing us. The high support rating — that is fear. And when it falls, the fear will recede.

On ‘the absolute low point’:

I don’t see a revolution scenario. Only countries which have energy have revolutions. We don’t have any energy. For that, you need youth, and Russia has very few young people.

Look where there have been revolutions in the past few years — all countries with lots of energy, and lots of young people. The only exception is Ukraine, and Ukraine was the only country where there hadn’t been ANY reforms for the last 20 years.

In 2011 there was an opposition. Now there is no longer an opposition, only dissidents. Now is the absolute low point.

On Russia’s state TV:

State TV as developed by Putin — that’s a diabolic machine. [All the disinformation programmes about Ukraine] This is recruiting for death. The people who produce this — they are criminals. The west needs to stop treating them like journalists. I’ve told those morons that they have to understand that these people are not journalists, they are propagandists. They work in the FSB, in the presidential administration, they are not journalists. Why are you not putting them under sanctions?

We ended our discussion on the subject of Russia’s war dead in Ukraine, and the risk they pose to Mr Putin’s grip on power:

They are burying them quietly, because he understands that. That’s why he hides this. I am working on this now.

«Financial Times»

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