February 26. 2024. 4:58

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Russia very close to becoming dictatorship, says opposition leader Ribakov

Russia is “very close” to becoming a dictatorship and the longer the conflict with Ukraine continues, the more authoritarian Vladimir Putin’s regime will become, Nikolai Ribakov, leader of Russia’s only legal opposition party, the liberal Yabloko, told EURACTIV’s partner EFE in an exclusive interview.

“We are very close to being a dictatorship, but we are still at the stage of authoritarianism. But the longer the military actions last, the more authoritarian the country will become,” Ribakov told EFE at Yabloko’s Moscow offices.

Ribakov leads the only party that publicly opposes the military campaign, a pacifist stance it has maintained since the first Chechen war in 1994.

“There is a lot of negativity in Russia now. This is a time of hatred and contempt for human life. Stalin’s propaganda is being reinforced. In the last year many people have shown themselves ready to sacrifice the lives of others for the sake of a so-called victory,” he said.

However, he said that “Russia has not changed in the last twelve months”, but the military intervention has aggravated “existing anti-Western and isolationist tendencies”.

“There was an attempt to get out of that spiral in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but we got sidetracked very quickly and cynicism defeated compassion in politics and we soon returned to the Bolshevik dogma that the end justifies the means,” Ribakov said.

The result is a presidentialist constitution, a political system with no division of powers and the marginalisation of the people from decision-making.

Authoritarian drift

The most dangerous thing, he said, “is that the mechanism for the democratic and peaceful transfer of power has been destroyed. When everything depends on one person, the risks are very great, even more so in the current situation”.

The liberal politician regretted that the conflict in Ukraine “is pushing the country deeper and deeper into a quagmire from which it is necessary to get out as soon as possible”.

“Those who say that Putin invented all this, that he is to blame for everything and that if he leaves, the sun will rise from Kaliningrad to Sakhalin overnight and we will all be happy, that is not the case. Worse times may come,” Ribakov warned.

In his opinion, Russians are divided into two groups. “Some support the killing of people, whether they are those who advocate Russia’s victory or those who defend Ukraine. Others, far fewer, believe that people should never be killed,” he explained.

“Those who advocate peace are seen in Russia as half-crazy. Most Russians are bloodthirsty, both pro- and anti-Putin,” he said.

‘Putin is not bluffing’

Ribakov insisted that “Putin believes everything he says”, including when he talks about a possible nuclear war.

“Don’t doubt it. Putin is not bluffing. He has been anticipating every step, including the pre-war ultimatum. By now, everything he said he brought to reality.”

He underlined Putin’s narrative that “we as martyrs will go to paradise and others will just die. It’s not an allegory, it’s a direct message about what can happen.”

The same, he stressed, can be said when the Kremlin and its inner circle claims that “if there is no Putin, there is no Russia” and “without Russia, the world makes no sense to us”.

“For Putin, defeat in the war means the death of Russia. He has warned many times. Nuclear weapons will be used in case the country’s existence is threatened. And in his view, that scenario (defeat) would be that very threat,” Ribakov said, stressing the importance of urging Moscow to assess “the real threat of nuclear war”.

Urgent ceasefire

For Yábloko, the way forward is a ceasefire declaration, exchange of prisoners and investigation of war crimes as a basis for peace negotiations.

“The cessation of hostilities opens the way for peace negotiations. Without a truce, negotiations are impossible,” Ribakov said.

He said, however, that there are “only four people in the world who can achieve this: Putin, Zelenskyy, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping”.

“Defeat is unacceptable for Russia and also for the West. And if neither side finds defeat acceptable, then we will have to think about stopping the war.”