Meet the Russian shadow delegation in Munich – POLITICO

MUNICH — “I’ve found I’m well-liked with Munich taxi drivers,” chortled Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He’s stunned they acknowledge him. They’ve been peppering him with questions on the way forward for Russia and whether or not its President Vladimir Putin will resort to nuclear weapons or can stay in energy. 

They aren’t the solely ones curious to get Khodorkovsky’s solutions right here at the Munich Security Conference. In the margins of the convention Khodorkovsky, former Russian tycoon, onetime political prisoner and now a number one Putin critic, is being sought out. And in bilateral chats, to the final question about whether or not Putin can maintain on to energy, Khodorkovsky says the solely approach the Russian chief will is that if the West provides a serving to hand by dropping its nerve, participating in untimely negotiations and pushing Ukraine right into a doubtful deal.

“Let’s name it Minsk 6,” he tells me as I sit with him and different Russian opposition figures in a resort bar after an exhausting day in the bustling Bavarian capital. The bar is stuffed with different huddles deep in earnest dialogue.

Whereas convention organizers spurned a delegation from the Russian authorities, Russia’s opposition politicians and activists, together with former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov and former impartial Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov, have been welcomed. Khodorkovsky’s first session was packed out.

Ukraine’s leaders stay cautious of Russia’s dissidents, arguing they aren’t immune from chauvinism and “largely ignored the eight years of conflict waged in opposition to us, even earlier than the February invasion,” as Ukrainian lawmaker Lesia Vasylenko just lately informed me. “So as to be a Russian whom we are able to belief,” Vasylenko stated, “it’s a must to actually show that you simply’re not simply in opposition to your personal regime in Russia, however you oppose the conflict in Ukraine and that you simply stand for all the values Ukraine is defending — specifically territorial integrity, Ukraine’s independence inside the internationally acknowledged borders.”

Right here in Munich, although, what Khodorkovsky and the others have been saying is music to the ears of the Ukrainians. On the spectrum between hard-liners and doubters who fear about escalation, they’re amongst the most militant and are decided to bolster Western nerve and dispel fears of nuclear escalation.

It goes again to Khodorkovsky’s “Minsk 6.” As ever, he argues in a methodical approach, inviting his interlocutor to comply with his argument step-by-step in imitation of the Socratic methodology, asking and answering questions to attract out concepts and underlying presuppositions.

Some Western leaders have expressed their worries to him a couple of coup in Moscow. They’re fearful that Putin will likely be changed by somebody worse. To this, Khodorkovsky says it might’t get any worse. He trawls by means of his cellphone to point out me a weird video clip posted to the web the place one in every of Putin’s prime nuclear advisers enthusiastically discusses how Russia will quickly be capable to racially enhance future generations by cloning and incubating by means of deliberate eugenics. Presumably the dissident gene will likely be extracted.

He senses some in the West need negotiations, are placing out feelers and are underneath the impression Putin would possibly need quickly to barter. “They’re testing the waters,” he says. However he’s adamant that talks would finish badly for Ukraine, the West and Russians.

“Allow us to assume now we have negotiations for a peaceable settlement. Let’s name it Minsk 6,” Khodorkovsky says, a hypothetical resurrection of the Minsk agreements that sought to finish the conflict in Donbas however that have been declared useless by Putin on February 22 final 12 months, days earlier than he launched his invasion.

He went on: “What does Putin get from this? He says, okay, I get to maintain Crimea and provides me all of Luhansk and Donetsk and I’ll return most of what I captured alongside the Black Coastline, however go away me a hall to Crimea. Let’s say Zelenskyy is squeezed and agrees to barter. You’d destabilize Ukraine, which might be thrown into civil battle as 87 % of Ukrainians wouldn’t abdomen such a deal — it could have the equal impact of, say, if Zelenskyy had taken up the American provide at the begin of the conflict and brought a elevate out of the nation.”

Khodorkovsky outlines what would then occur. Putin would regroup, mobilize extra, and draft individuals in the occupied territories, construct up his arsenal and replenish his depleted munitions. The Russian chief would then accuse the Ukrainians of not holding up their a part of Minsk 6, as civil battle raged in Ukraine, which he would say is a risk to Russians in the occupied territories and certain there can be occasional assaults on border posts staged or in any other case.

Dmitry Medvedev just lately warned that Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine may spark a nuclear conflict | Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP by way of Getty Photos

“You see Putin has no selection however to wage wars. His base of assist now’s restricted to the the so-called nationwide patriots — to get extra assist, he wants to enhance the financial well-being of Russians and he can’t achieve this due to corruption and cronyism and issues like that,” Khodorkovsky says. At the similar time, he must take care of the destroyed areas of Ukraine he occupies, and he’s confronted with Western sanctions “and no one will likely be in a rush to elevate them.” And his base of assist will say he has did not de-Nazify Ukraine or get NATO to maneuver away from Russia’s borders.

“He could have completely no selection. He should begin a brand new conflict. Solely now his eyes are going to be on NATO nations, primarily the Baltics,” Khodorkovsky concludes.

After Khodorkovsky breaks off to speak with extra interlocutors, Dmitry Gudkov tells me he agrees along with his compatriot. And he additionally shares his view that it’s unlikely Putin will resort to utilizing tactical nuclear weapons, regardless of the threats and saber-rattling and feedback by the likes of Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s sidekick and now deputy chairman of Russia’s Safety Council.

Medvedev recently warned that Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine may spark a nuclear conflict. “The defeat of a nuclear energy in a standard conflict could set off a nuclear conflict,” he stated in a put up on the Telegram messaging app. Gudkov sees such threats as empty however an train in intimidation aimed toward scary doubters and faint hearts in the West, and strengthening their hand in urging a winding down and cautious calibration of assist for Ukraine.

However Gudkov says Western leaders ought to hammer house a frequent warning of their very own to everybody in Russia’s nuclear chain of command. “They need to say repeatedly, ‘we all know precisely who you’re and the place you reside and in the event you push any buttons, we are going to goal and get you — and you’ll by no means escape justice and revenge’,” says Gudkov.  

Medvedev is one in every of Putin’s lieutenants who attracts particular derision from the Russian dissidents in Munich. As soon as eager to current himself as a reasonable, Western-tilted modernizer and reformer, his latest livid tirades have prompted many in the West to scratch their heads and ponder, “No matter occurred to Dmitry Medvedev?”

The general view is that he has gone by means of a makeover to accord along with his grasp’s voice however can be positioning himself to be extra related, very similar to the technocrat Sergey Kiriyenko, the former prime minister and present first deputy chief of workers in the Presidential Administration. Kiriyenko has taken to macho-posturing round the occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donbas decked out in camouflage.

However Medvedev’s feedback have had a particular toxic and excessive taste of their very own. He’s described Joe Biden as a “unusual grandfather with dementia,” dubbed EU leaders as “lunatics,” and promised Russia will guarantee Ukraine “disappears from the map.” All his genocidal rhetoric contrasts with the hip picture he as soon as introduced along with his love for running a blog and devices and a go to to Silicon Valley to be handed a brand new iPhone 4 by Steve Jobs.

So crazed has Medvedev appeared in latest months that it provokes Anastasia Burakova, founding father of the NGO Kovcheg (The Ark), which helps Russian political refugees abroad, to joke that he “have to be an American spy utilizing his tirades to ship secret data to the CIA.” Or possibly Putin desires him to say particularly mad issues “to make him look wise as a method to say to the West look, I might be changed by somebody worse than me.”

And right here we come full circle. In the end how lengthy Putin guidelines will largely be decided by whether or not the West holds its nerve, say the Russians in Munich.

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