A chance for democracy in Russia?
Mikhail Kasyanov might not look like your image of a Russian dissident, with his big grin, comfortable belly and deep laugh.
But then, as he says, Russia is not yet fully a dictatorship, either. Under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it is an authoritarian country, heading in the wrong direction, but still with a chance to turn things around and return to a democratic path.
Kasyanov, himself a former prime minister, dropped by The Post on Monday -- the same day, as it happens, that Russia's president was awarding the highest state honors to Anna Chapman and her band of sleeper agents who spent years waiting to spy on America. He was visiting America, he said, to gauge whether Americans still care about Russia -- and, if so, whether he can persuade us that "reset" ought to become "more principled."
"Reset" is the term President Obama gave to his effort to improve relations with Russia, and Kasyanov said he supports increased cooperation on Afghanistan, nuclear non-proliferation, Iran and other issues. But when it comes to human rights and democracy, he said, the United States ought to speak out more clearly.
"We all know that Putin and his group in power -- they're not indifferent to foreign opinion," Kasyanov said.
Kasyanov was himself a prime minister when Putin was president, but Putin fired him in 2004 and Kasyanov moved gradually into a stance of open criticism. He formed an opposition party that managed, despite being shut out of any television coverage, to garner 2.5 million signatures to put Kasyanov on the 2008 presidential ballot. But Putin's bureaucrats kept him off.
Last month Kasyanov and three other opposition figures announced a coalition -- again, state-controlled television boycotted the news -- to contest next year's parliamentary election and the presidential election scheduled for 2012. Most observers think the only suspense for 2012 is whether Putin's hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, will seek another term or whether Putin will shoulder him aside to move back into the Kremlin. But Kasyanov said there's still a chance to make 2012 something more than an "imitation" of an election -- "to force authorities to add a few elements that would make it closer to free elections, at least allow the opposition to participate."
As to the great guessing game in the West about whether Medvedev is seeking to supplant his patron, Kasyanov just laughed. "Medvedev is simply a senior assistant to Putin, temporarily occupying the position of president of Russia," he said. "He can't accomplish anything that Putin doesn't allow."
| October 19, 2010; 10:21 AM ET
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