Editor’s Note : National Interest editor Jacob Heilbrunn interviews Andranik Migranyan, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations ( an academic institution run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia ) about why “Trump is not the solution. He is the problem in U.S.-Russia relations.”
JH: Were you expecting Vladimir Putin to announce once again that he would run for the Russian presidency—or were you surprised?
AM: I was not surprised. Even a year or two years ago, I knew that he was going to run. He is a man on a mission. He has not accomplished his mission. I hope that he is going to accomplish it during his next six-year term.
JH: What is the mission?
AM: In 2012, right on the eve of the elections, the previous elections, I together with a small group of political scientists had a meeting with him outside of Moscow. He talked a lot about the steering of the governmental machine, and when you are manually steering it. His idea was that in such a large country, you can’t manually steer everywhere. Instead, you need to have well-established and developed institutions. This is my memory of that meeting--he said he’ll be satisfied if institutions will work and he will not have any problems when he leaves. He feels sure everything will work in a proper way when he leaves. That’s why for me it’s not a surprise. This mission he has not yet accomplished. I hope this is the problem he will address in the six years.
JH: But in Russia today, there isn’t a succession plan. On the contrary, power is centered around Putin with no real plan for the future. How do you alter that?
AM: He wants to transfer from personalistic to institutional power. How do you do that? This is the most important and difficult task. I think he will try to go in way of redistribution of power between executive and legislative. Who knows? There might be some changes in the constitution.
JH: What kinds of changes to the constitution?
AM: In 1993, we created a new Russian constitution. The president was granted vast powers. At the time, I wrote that it was a good thing because this was a period when very serious changes—privatization, radical reforms—had to be carried out. Already in 1989 I wrote that Russia needed an iron fist. But Mikhail Gorbachev failed and the country collapsed. In my view, when you are doing radical reform you need very strong executive power. It’s an enormous problem when you are doing reform. To prevent a revolution you need to amass very strong power. That’s why the current situation was understandable for me. But it must be on a temporary basis. Afterwards, you need to redesign the institutions and create a real system of division of power, checks and balances. Not the American type, it made the American political system absolutely unworkable. Too many checks and balances is bad, but some degree is very important.
JH: What role will Ksenia Sobchak, a television star, actress, and socialite who is sometimes described as “Russia’s Paris Hilton,” play in the upcoming election?
AM: I don’t think she can play an important role. Her role might be to activate youth electorate, youngsters who are not ready to participate in elections. She has a lot of admirers. Some people who are her followers. Nobody perceives her as a politician. She might attract some people to participate. The major problem of this election is that everybody knows Putin is going to win. The people who are in the Kremlin, they would like to have participation about seventy percent of the electorate, in order to make this victory more impressive, which would at least prove that really society is behind the leader and that he can have a mandate and implement his electoral promises.
JH: Is she there to weaken an Alexei Navalny candidacy?
AM: I don’t think so. He has no right according to Russian law to participate because he was sentenced in February 2017 to a five-year suspended prison sentence. I’m not trying to say it’s right or wrong. But this is the law. Ksenia Sobchak said if Navalny would participate she would cancel her campaign.
JH: Is Navalny to the right of Putin?
AM: I don’t have any clear idea. As a whistleblower he is pretty good. As a politician, I can’t see him as a politician. His base is very narrow. His activities are revealing corrupt events in Russian society, especially among high-ranking officials. It’s good he’s doing something. Some people are challenging him. He’s bringing some appropriate facts. I can’t see him as a politician. What is his ideology? In the Russian context he is rather marginal, though the western media is trying to heroize this opposition figure. In your own history, you’ve had a lot of these kinds of guys—he’s a kind of anti-system guy intent on destroying the existing order and creating everything from scratch.