Does Putin have to Die: Interview with Ilya Ponomarov Episode 5


This article is the transcript of a live ‘interview’ show done regularly by journalist Gregg Stebben and Ilya Ponomarev, the only member of the Russian Parliament to vote against Putin in the annexation of Crimea and now a Russian dissident and Ukraine supporter. Please excuse any transcript errors in this article.

Gregg Stebben and Ilya Ponomarev Interview: Does Putin Have to Die?

Ilya: Yeah, sorry for, being late guys. It’s a good hectic here with all these power shortages and the internet going up and down.
So actually I was just starting the show and it appeared the internet is down. I was thinking, well, not again, but I rebooted all the routers and they started working. So sorry for being late.

Gregg: Well, I am gonna say we are all very glad to see you, not only because it’s been a long time since we’ve seen you, but this means you have power and internet in your house and that must be very exciting.

Ilya: That’s correct. That’s correct. That’s correct. In Ukraine right now, the power goes up and down all the time and we have scheduled blackouts for hours. We have power, but for hours, we don’t have power. But probably the worst thing is not to have or don’t have power. The worst thing is to have or not to have internet.
Yes. Cause, you know, when we are out of power then internet providers also stop working and sometimes the cellular towers also are, are not working. That’s why, you know, I’m ready to be in the dark. But sometimes it’s, it’s, it’s impossible to be in the dark without a connection.
Yes,  I have Starlink which is my option to have an internet connection. But then, without power, there is no Starlink. So either one or another.

Gregg: Well, this is a whole other conversation, but Elon has a solution for that too. It’s called a big Battery on the side of your house, but we’ll save that for another time.
So, I guess the first thing I should ask you is just, are things in Keve, have the number of attacks reduced, or, or is this just a constant that you’re all living with?

Ilya: They’re coming in waves. In waves. They’re large-scale attacks and, all the time, something is coming in. So there are days without attacks. But it’s unpredictable. Mm-hmm. , they’re targeting the infrastructure. But sometimes they miss, and they were hit in several residential buildings recently, once again, when they were trying to hit something in the center of the key if  I don’t even understand what they were actually targeting ads, but, they hit residential buildings.
But their main objectives these days are they, it’s not even power plants, it’s power distribution points. So it is not that they’re attacking the generating facilities. They are attacking these nodes of power grids.
 To disrupt the power supply. And, they are more, it turns out they’re more vulnerable than the power stations themselves.

Gregg: Hmm hmm. This has been going on for weeks now. And how are people, are people sort of accustomed to it and dealing with it? Are people reaching a state of freight ends, or how would you characterize the mood of people today?

Ilya: People are just getting angry and angrier. That’s as simple as that. If Putin wanted to consolidate Ukrainian society more, he achieved that? Yes. So people are not getting, probably his bet was that Ukrainians would somehow rebel against their own government and would start telling Zelensky, you know, hash down, you know, let’s not attack Russians.
No, and vice versa. People, people say give us more weapons. We will go and kill the pastors themselves, ourselves. That’s the general attitude. So people are getting angrier and angrier.

Gregg: So the last time we talked to you was, I think in the week leading up to the Congress and um, I, I think it would be very interesting for us to hear you give kind of a short summation of what you think was accomplished there.
And then, I know there was an exec, I think an executive committee meeting yesterday. It would really be great to hear about what was accomplished there. So we get a sense of the ongoing progress since the congress.

Ilya: Let’s, let me start from the Congress. The Congress is the new alternative parliament.  And the main achievement, obviously, is that it was created and it started,  working on several legal acts.
Um, it’s initiated the process of creating a new constitution, um, and it initiated several other legal acts like the ACT illustration. Which is crucial right now because it’s the tool actually to influence the Russian elite. Because this act has a provision of, representatives of this regime would switch sites before a certain date, they can be relieved of illustration.
So it’s an encouragement for them to flip as soon as possible so that they can avoid future problems. But there are a number of other, other things. In general, we plan to create 18 legal acts, including the draft of the Constitution, which covers the basic questions of the society.
And these are the legal acts. That could be enabled the very next day after Putin has got, so basically they shape how the new power, how the new authorities, would look like. What they want to do and where they planning to go. Um, and that’s obviously what we think is crucial for Russians to understand and for the rest of the world to understand.
Because this is the question that all the people ask all the time, you know, what’s sache, right?  So that’s, that’s one thing. The second thing, obviously that.  We,  strive to demonstrate the alternative legitimacy to the existing,  Russian authorities. And, obviously, the legitimacy of the current Putin’s parliament and the government and Putin himself is very low, if not negative because, firstly, we all know the quality of the elections these days. Secondly,  Putin distorted the Constitution recently, two years ago, and changed it significantly and legally. And thirdly, that the current,  parliament and the President, were elected with the participation of the occupied territories, which also, makes them illegal.
So for these three reasons, they are not legitimate. On the other hand, deputies that were gathering there at the Congress were elected during times when the elections were considered free and fair. Plus, we have several deputies which are still in the office of municipal level.
Also, the municipal level, in that case, is considered to be free and fair. The federal level is not, but the municipal level is and we calculated that all together. We had an attendance of 59 deputies from 32 Russian regions. And, they constitute approximately 4 million voters that were voting for them in the past.
And, 4 million voters. Is it a lot or is it a small number? The usual. State Duma, is being elected with 45 to 50 million votes. Mm-hmm. That means that the current,  set of this Congress is, has approximately 10% of the legitimacy of normal Russian, which from one hand. It is not as much as the normal parliament from another hand.
 It’s a significant portion. So it’s a large faction. It would be the second-largest faction. In the state, Duma, if we will look at the current outline of the Russian Parliament. 

Gregg: In other words as, as like a, as like a party. They would be the second-largest party.
Is that what you’re saying?

Ilya: Yes, yes. Mm-hmm. , yes. That’s, that, that, that is right. So, we consider it as significant. Um, not overwhelming, but,  significant. And,  I think that this number would grow because there would be more deputies joining Congress during the next convention and the legitimacy would grow as well.
And, about the executive council that, Greg, you have mentioned. So the executive council is a kind of executive board that is created by Congress so that it can do different tasks in between. And the tasks are like establishing diplomatic relations with other countries, parliaments and governments,  and do certain practical things in between the congresses.
And, that’s what we were doing yesterday. So we appointed ambassadors in the countries. We think that we will have several very high profiles. Meetings are not formal recognitions but nevertheless step in that direction in Ukraine, Poland, and within Europe Parliament. And that’s what we will try to do in the coming weeks.

Gregg: Is it fair to say that if a country, a poll, or a Ukraine or even the EU meets with you, Already some level of recognition, not formal recognition that you ultimately wanna reach, but the fact that they’re willing to, to have a meeting, does that already signal progress in the direction of getting international support?
Ilya: That’s,  exactly right.  what we wrote in our appeal to,   parliament and the governments of, the anti-Putin coalition, we consider countries that are participating in Ramstein process as the countries of the anti-Putin Coalition.  we wrote them the suggestion that,  we understand that they need to interact with Putin and,  his structures,  because they defacto,  control the Russian state.
But,  we suggest,  them to stop recognizing them as,  representatives of Russian people. And,  to establish a relationship with Russian people. Let’s deal through us,  those who were elected,  during normal relations,  elections. And,   we are, we want to say that,   Putin does not have,   the support of the majority of Russians and let’s not paint all Russians with one color because there were Russians who voted for different deputies and for different authorities.

Gregg: So talk to us about the story that appeared in the New York Times yesterday. I, I put a link to it actually in the chat box. People can open it. The title was, What Will Russia Without Putin look like?
Maybe this, but maybe this frankly is your Congress, which is pretty exciting to see that kind of recognition in the New York Times. But talk to us about the points.  that they made in the article that you think,  are, gives the greatest legitimacy to the work that you and your fellow delegates are doing?

Ilya: Well, um, indeed.  yes. We’re very thankful for the journalists who recognized what we have, what we are doing, and,  she understood,  the importance of,  of this process.  for us, obviously,  right now, um, um, a lot of problems is, a lot of problems is coming from the jealousy of other Russian opposition groups, which,  from the very beginning took us as…
a new political party, you know, a new political group itself. And we are not like this, you know, we, we are saying and stressing this all the time that we are not a new,  political organization. We are. The proto-parliament which is to turn out to be the real parliament in the moment of change.  and that’s why we are an open platform and,  there is no alternative to this platform because,  those deputies who are ready to,  do something, they united on this platform.
Yes, there is simply no other, you know, so they can be.  but we already have,  the majority of of their,   outstanding,  deputies, but,  you know, still obviously other.  people in that position, they kinda say like, who, who you are and why you say that you are the parliament if you were elected in the past.
And that’s,  the, the subject that was touched,  in the New York Times article, but at the end of the day, the bottom line. And,  I’m very thankful that,  the journalists recognize this,  that,  it’s as simple as that. There are simply no others. Yes.  and,  no others could, could,  could appear because,  but the, the, if we, in general, think about certain legitimacy, which is not,  coming from,  the…
The number of Twitter followers,  or the viewers on YouTube.  the only other legitimacy is through legitimate elections. And,  and that’s what we have and that’s why we start in drafting legislation, not discussing, you know, it’s good or bad, you know, to, to shape future like this or like that.  which is nothing because,  the government makes certain formalized decisions and,  these decisions need to be put on paper.
Otherwise, there are no decisions. They’re dreams. Yes, and  to my mind, a lot of,  people in the opposition. Firstly, most people. in so-called non-system opposition. They just never war in,  in the skin of a government official or even in the skin of an elected deputy.  and,  they just don’t know how to actually,  write,   a decision how to write a legal act, how to design the law,  how to make a government order.
  it’s just technical knowledge. It’s nothing special about it, but it has to be done, and,  it has to be done on the very first day after the change. Yes.  so somebody needs to be doing this. Um, and,  there is a great distance between,  what you write in the book,  better this or better that, and the formalized…
  document on how these ideas are being implemented. And,  Greg, what we have written together with you in our book, does Putin Have to Die?  I’m glad that many of the ideas that,  we wrote in that book,  the Congress actually recognized and started shaping into the actual act.

Gregg: Well, you’re kind to give me credit, but it’s, it was, it was your work with a little massaging from me.
but I’m thrilled that Congress is able to use it. I mean, obviously, that was the whole point of creating the work was, to alter the future of Russia for better, for a Democratic Russia. So, I have a couple of questions for you. One is, um, you’ve talked now about this moment of change. I don’t understand how that happens.
I mean, and in the book you were, I think, found a very clever way to address this question because there’s an faq, the last chapter, and one of the questions in the FAQ is, you know, what happens the day after and the day after and the week after. And I, and I think I can almost quote your response, which was, it won’t happen the way we’ve planned, but there is a plan.
Are you able to, in some way, express to us, you know, Putin’s gone and in that moment of change, here’s how this becomes the new constitution and this group becomes the new leaders? Is, is there some way of explaining that, even taking into account that there are a lot of factors we don’t understand today?

Ilya: Well, yeah, there are two very separate things.  one thing is about the mechanism of Putin’s removal. Mm-hmm. . And,  another thing is,  how to institute,  new,   new circles of power. Yes.   so,  in terms of Putin’s removal,  my belief.  is that it comes, though,  an armed process,  an armed protest…
And,  that’s what we are doing. And again, nobody else is doing what we are doing in terms of,  putting up,  the armed resistance within Russia and the armed resistance outside Russia in terms of the.  units,  which are right now fighting alongside the Ukrainian army. Yes.  against the invaders.
and that, I believe, would be the key,  levels of change if the situation would follow a different path. And it would be,    I dunno, palace school, you know, some,  treason within elites and whatever. If that would be a positive change, I believe that my friend and colleague Miki would be able to influence it significantly because that’s what he is focused on and working on.
I do believe that the initiative would be anyway with the people,  and with the revolt,  from below. But if it would be driven from the top, I think we still would have,   a common, common approach in both situations. We are coming. To the work that Congress is doing,   which is shaping these laws.
And, then we just, announce this as a, as a, as a new parliament,  the very next day and,  start,  enabling the legislation,  as official decrees.

Gregg: So part of what I imagine the job of the Congress is today, in addition to creating documents like a new constitution, is getting the Russian people to know that this Congress exists and that this constitution is being formed so that they’re not hearing about it that day, but have already begun to,  be aligned with it.
Ilya:  um, I would say yes and no.  first of all, I would stress that the constitutional process, to my mind,  has to, has to be way more democratic than something that has been written by a certain Congress. Mm-hmm. , I think that the constitution has to be,   a fruit of a crowdsourcing process,   with all these citizens of the country.
Mm-hmm. ,  more like,  the Constitution of Iceland was,  created,  not so long time ago. And,   what Congress is doing is,  drafting. The seed text,  of the Constitution, which would be put up there,  for discussion and amendments and changes. And then it has to be adopted,  nationwide.
  and nothing else should work.  that’s why the transitional period is, would inevitably take Okay.   and I believe that the transitional period should be two, maybe two and a half years,  during which all, all this would happen because like the first year.  discussion and adoption of the constitution, the second-year formation of the political parties, and the political system according to that Constitution,  with,  the nationwide elections at the end of this year.
Um, so I think that’s. Basically, that’s the only way how, how that can technically.  happen. But, certain laws, which are coming more or less within the framework of the existing Constitution,  and the existing legal system, but they are canceling the most notorious acts,  that Putin’s government, has adopted,   over recent years.
Um, that’s what we need to do.  These transitional laws and the new parliament, the permanent parliament,  the parliament, which would be elected under the new Constitution, would have to either support those decisions or revise them. But on the transitional period, you need to have something because some of the most bad and, non-democratic decisions that Putin was making, they, they need to be canceled right away.
The illustration needs to happen right away. The piece needs to be, established right away. And these all are legal decisions, which need to happen on the very first day.

Gregg: So, I’m guessing, A military force is very important in this whole equation. Yes. And how does that work
Ilya: with,  you know, rifles and machine guns?

Gregg: All right. Well, I mean, so, so whoever steps into power in that moment of change needs to have the military behind them. Correct?
Ilya: Absolutely no other way. Look at what’s happening in Russia. Yes. Today,  with,  Mr. Prego and with Mr. Kdiraff and with all others,  there right now dozens of military and paramilitary foreign information in Russia…
That was created recently during,  this war, and all would compete for power. And, I do believe that law enforcement would actually disappear in the moment of change. Mm, that’s what they were doing in the past. So I, I think they are very dangerous and,  we need to pay a lot of attention to them at this very moment when they’re still in, in, in, in power and they feel strong.
But,  in the moment of change, they tend to vanish usually.  and I think. That is what would happen. But,   the vacuum would be filled,  with a lot of different bad guys,   which need to be dealt with. And,  if you don’t have,  a significant,  military force behind you, it’s,  it would be impossible.
But I don’t think that would, would be a deficit of this.  firstly,  we have already formed,   the Russian Nationals formations inside the Ukrainian military. Second, there are so many Ukrainians who volunteer,  to help us, you know, at the moment, of change. So I think that we’ll have enough and enough experienced people.

Gregg: Mm-hmm. . So that’s also another thing that sets you apart from these other opposition leaders is I don’t think any of them actually have the might to take control of a government, whereas you’re describing that you do.
Ilya: I think so. Yeah. Um, I think that the major bets,  of the existing opposition leaders, are more with elite changes rather than grassroots processes. Um, Naval, just because he’s in jail, he needs just to wait and he’s waiting for something to happen. And for him being released from prison, there is zero hope that Putin would do this. Um, um, Kovski is making a bet on the upper circles.  and mainly, he associates The potential for change with the regional governors of Russia.
which I agree with him would probably be the most,  promising,  force. I believe that many of them would, would flip,  again [00:28:00] at the moment of change, but I don’t think they would be the driving force for the change. Yeah. Um, Casper of,  is associated himself and working with the immigration and,  his bet is that somehow things in Russia will change and then he will return back home with a lot of talented people that,  fled Russia and they would take part in the formation of the new go.  but obviously, you know, I don’t think that those would actually do the change,  would just give away power for somebody who did not participate in the change. I think that you know, whoever is coming back, they’re more than welcome to,  participate in the elections when they would happen.
  and that’s fantastic. But,  you know, you cannot,  make your claims for power if you are, if, if you are not part of the revolution reform? No. And,  who’s left?

Gregg: Well, so I do wanna ask, and it’s interesting, the last time we saw you before the Congress, you brought up this idea that there was a competition within the opposition for leadership, and, ever since then, I’ve been waiting to talk to you about this and teasing it with our audience, so I’m glad we’re talking about it now.
I guess my last question for you is this, do you see that you and these other opposition leaders will at some point come together and begin to work as a team, or do you think there’s too much distance between some or all of them and that just can’t happen?

Ilya: Look,  with,  we’re good friends. Mm-hmm. , and I don’t see much of a contradiction there.
I think that with Kovski key, it’s almost a hundred percent certain that we would work together,  but probably not before, because again, Kovski is. Is with the elites, and mine is with,  the revolution and for both of us as counterproductive to publicly.   confuse those two strategies together.
Mm-hmm. ,   but again, personally, we are very friendly. Yes.  um, with,  the rest, as I say, Naval, they, his group was criticizing me a lot and very fiercely,   in, in many senses unfairly, but it doesn’t really matter because he’s not part of the change. He’s in jail. We will,  no matter what his people are saying, we will do our best to liberate him and we will liberate him, obviously, as all other political prisoners.
That’s our objective. Yes.  but,  at the same time, he’s not part of the change. He will start doing something after the change. Yes. And that’s our objective. To let him, to let him do,  stuff. Of course. After the change, but he’s not part of the change. Um, and,  with Casper, I think that he’s a smart guy, but I believe that his strategy is right now outright counterproductive because he’s calling all Russians to leave Russia.
And,  I want Russians to stay in Russia because I want, and I need people,  who would be actually part of the change.  and,  he wants,   to create a virtual Russia when I need a real Russia. Yes. But, again,  despite the differences at the moment.  Again, because he’s focused on immigration and I am focused on doing things inside the country, those strategies, they don’t collide.
I mean, like, we are working in different dimensions and,  um, I don’t see much of cooperation during the change and,  mainly, people who are around Casper.  these are those people who are afraid of being part of the change. Mm-hmm. ,   that’s why they left. Otherwise, they would have stayed and,  and fought, for the changes.
But,  nothing restricts them from coming back,  after the change would happen. And,   and compete for power. Let them do it. You know, I would be very glad.

Gregg: I’m gonna ask you one last question and then I wanna just have you address Anna’s question in the chat box, but as I’m listening to you, and then this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last month or two, is are these competing opposition leaders, you and the other three we’ve talked about, is this in some way analogous to, for instance, in the US the primaries for the presidency.
You know, Kamala Harris attacks Joe Biden while they’re running against each other, but then she ends up his vice president because at the end of the day they have similarly aligned goals and confined ways to work together. Is there an analogy there at all, or am I over-westernizing it?

Ilya: You are over-westernizing it.
 But I would say that in my personal mind. Um, it’s more like what you have said. I mean, um, say, because I’m, again, for everybody to understand, and that’s written in my book, I am against preserving the position of the president. Yes. Um, I am for the collective leadership, for the Parliamentary Republic, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
but said that if,  we are imagining that,  the figure of an ultimate leader,  still exists,  for the sake of explanation of what, I mean, I would definitely invite Casper and Naval to become,  members of the team and to form a coalition. Yes.  they will not, you’re saying they would not invite you? Yeah, they both,  they both are unilateral leaders,  who take,  discussion,  very personally.
Mm-hmm. , because I like the discussion.  I think that it’s very good to debate.  and,  the truth is being generated in this debate. And,  I’m generally for the parliamentary procedure, which creates a compromise.  but they’re not for them. If somebody, criticizes their ideas, it means that he’s a personal enemy.
Mm-hmm. , unfortunately.

Gregg: Hmm. . Wow. Okay. Well, that’s a pretty serious difference between you and them. Um, do you wanna take a shot at answering Anna’s question in the chat box before I let you go?

Ilya: Yeah, and the answer is very simple,  patriarchy and most of the leaders of the current church would go under illustrations because it would be disclosed that the KGB officers, and that’s why I don’t think that is a problem.
Hmm. The problem would be for the church to find clean people,  who can actually replace them.

Gregg: All right. Well, I wanna thank you for being here. I know I speak for everybody. We’re thrilled to see you with the lights on. We know you’re thrilled.
Ilya: I, I’m really sorry that I, I was neglecting our meetings,  in the past, but that’s not me really.  I already, several times, made promises to Greg that I’m joining, and then boom, the power goes off, or boom, the internet is off, and I cannot connect. So when, when there is no light, even,  the even cell connection is not working. So yeah. Sorry for this.

Gregg: There’s no need to apologize. We know you would’ve been here if you could have been here. Uh yeah…
Ilya: The,  the grid company is promising that it’s,  it would get better.
in the coming days, but as,  we understand, they fix in problems, but new missiles are flying. So no, no guarantees that,  that it’ll be fixed, but I really hope so. Right now, it’s,  actually,  if, if it would not be restored,  um, and be reliable enough, I think we may return to what we had previously because in the daytime,  in the office, we have a triple reservation of,   of power sources, and that’s why our TV channel is working.
We have three providers for the internet and three providers for power. That’s why the light is on and at home, it’s not like this.

Gregg: That makes perfect sense. Well, thank you for talking with us today. I, I’m glad you were able to stay,  a good bit of time. Obviously, we had lots of questions.
Thank you for answering them. And fingers crossed that we will see you tomorrow with the lights on and the internet working,  selfishly. Yeah. But we hope, for your sake as well. Thank you.

Ilya: Thank you. Thank you very much, guys. Take care.

Gregg: All right. I’m gonna let you go, Ilia.