Wednesday, 15 July 2009

My meeting with Russia’s Leader of the Opposition

I was invited to a small gathering from the Henry Jackson Society at Legatum Think Tank to meet Boris Nemtsov, who is the former Deputy Russian Prime Minister. He is currently the head of the Solidarity Party which is the united liberal opposition. Nemtsov was also the minister of Labour and Energy. His report of activities in Russia was very revealing. Vladimir Putin strength and weaknesses are not all known to the international community and Boris Yeltzin had placed Putin in his position as he trusted him due to his impeccable ex-KGB credentials and loyalties. Yet Nemtsov admitted that it is a dangerous position to be in the opposition, he recently had ammonia thrown at his face. Since the Litivenko affair, the British authorities are extremely cautious granting visas to those travelling from Russia. It took Nemtsov one month to receive a visa to travel to Britain.

The secret of Russian success is its gas and oil prices. In the current financial crisis, people have lost jobs in the private sector. Putin however has created 800,000 bureaucratic jobs. 20% of the population are Muslims which amounts to a figure of 30 million people. 200,000 of the wealthiest Russians are in London. In comparison to the EU where 67% of people are involved in small businesses, in Russia only 12% are involved in small businesses.

Nemtsov believes that there will not be a Western freedom and democracy to be in place in Russia until 2025. This would be a 40 years time span since Perestroika. The next elections will be in 2012 and the constitution cannot be changed for another 12 years. In my opinion, the EU should create a type of Barcelona process that promotes trade ties between EU states and Russia while offering incentives for Russia’s economy to liberalise. This will smooth Russia’s transition to becoming a vibrant democracy hopefully in the near future.

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