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?

Gregg: So I’m gonna give you a chance to,  re-answer the question about 2023 because we lost you about halfway in.

Ilya: Okay. So,  what I was saying is that I think that 2023 would be the year of,  the victory of,  Ukraine, and I think that 2023 would be,  the year when the new Russia was born.

Gregg: Very nice. I, I think I can speak for everybody here that we’re looking forward to that as much as you are.

Ilya: We,  actually yesterday,  finished,   the first draft of the new Russian constitution and,  it would be discussed on the dedicated commission of the Congress of people’s deputies in January.

Ilya: And,  at the end of February, we will discuss this already on Congress, and,  then,  we’ll publish it.

Gregg: Is there a planned next physical meeting or is this all being done virtually?

Ilya: No, I think that both the,  working groups and the Congress itself obviously would be,  offline.   the Congress has planned for the last,  week of February.

Ilya:  would, would, when would, it would be a one-year anniversary of the invasion in,  Ukraine.  and,  most likely it would happen in Poland as well. Okay.

Gregg: And are these documents, for instance, this draft constitution, is it one of the documents that are available now, on the website for the congress?

Ilya:  Not yet because,  on the website, it’s,  the concept that was,  adopted by the first Congress, but now we’re talking about the actual,  document. So, the actual draft, but,  it would be published,  as a draft as soon as it would pass, the working group. Before that, it’s all amendments that are being collected together, and then they would be systemized, and then it would be put,  in public for discussion.

Gregg: So in our previous conversations and in our working together on the book, obviously there was a lot of discussion about a new constitution for Russia. Are you finding that this document is developing faster than you expected or is this about the kind of timeline that you thought would be required?

Ilya: No, that’s about the timeline. Yes. I think that we are very much on schedule.  anyway, the Constitution needs to,  be discussed by,  society in general. And it would be a certain crowdsourcing exercise.  and I think it’ll be discussed throughout a year after the regime change and until it would be actually voted put for a vote on the national referend.

Ilya:  So it needs to be a discussion period. We don’t want to rush. We want it to be democratic. We want that people would actually feel,  what’s written there, understand, and make a conscious,  but, to put something for discussion, that’s the job that Congress,  needs to, needs to do now, because it has to be the sort of starting point for this discussion.

Ilya: Yeah.

Gregg: I guess I’m gonna ask a question, do you see that there’s a way for Russian citizens to have input on this constitution or this draft of the constitution even while Putin remains in power?

Ilya: Well, theoretically, yes, but practically it doesn’t make much sense, because anyway, it would be a general, discussion…

Ilya: After the regime change. So to create,  sophisticated,  secure methods with authentication, whatever, without having a government behind you, you know, it’s,  no, it’s expensive. And, yeah, it doesn’t make much sense right now.  It’s better to,    draft it and,  think it over,  thoroughly. And I see that Emma is asking…

Ilya: About the key changes. And indeed we have taken,  the current Russian constitution,  which is in force right now and, changed it a lot.  the main changes, obviously they are,   within the political system. The new proposals, they,   very much,  they very much resemble,  the political system of the United States.

Ilya: To my mind, we have, at least, learned from the example about the balance of powers,  et cetera, et cetera. Now, then,  obviously, there were a lot of changes in,   the structure of the federation,  and,  municipal, authorities. Everything has been shifted so,  to the bottom.  So the center, it, it’s not now,  how it was previously when the center delegates certain powers to the regions, but it’s the other way around when the regions delegate certain power…

Ilya: To the center again,  very much like it’s done in the United States.   and,    finally, a lot of changes in the judicial system.     right now in Russia, it’s very weak,  and,  very fragmented, and very dependent,  on the executive.   it’s all changed.  we introduced,  again,  the Supreme Court, which is very much the same as it is in the United States,  with Chief Justices.

Ilya: And,  a lot of changes in how the particular courts, federal courts, and,   local courts are being structured.   we’re now introducing the elections of the judges,  but also,    a lot of changes again in the prerogatives and the jurisdiction.   the courts and how they’ve been informed and how they are independent, et cetera, et cetera.

Ilya: So, a lot of pretty serious changes,  like visually it looks,  similar to what it was before, but,  the changes are really profound.

Gregg: So I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people as I’ve been discussing the work you and the Congress are doing, and I want to ask you two of the questions cuz I’m very interested in hearing how you respond.

Gregg: One is, the term regime change is always part of this conversation but is it? Could it actually be considered a political change versus a regime change? I mean, when the US, as an example, went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, dramatic changes happen. Not a constitutional change, but it was a political change…

Gregg: Is it necessary? Is the term regime change, the most accurate, or is it overstating what could potentially happen here?

Ilya: It’s understating. It’s not overstating.    what we envision is that Russian Federation Would no longer exist. Okay, It would be, it would be a new country, Russian Republic.   and,  there would be a new structure of power.

Ilya:  It’s, a new administrative division, and new regions, like new everything.   some of the regions I think would eventually leave.   and so it would no longer be the empire.  it would be,  a genuinely free union.   and again, to bring the analogy, which,   should ring the bell for, the American people and American lawmakers, it’s the same change that happened between,  the articles of association and the passing of the new Constitution.

Ilya: So it’s, it’s like,  it’s the same territory in general, but it’s a profound change in how it’s been governed.

Gregg: Yeah.  and just to clarify, you’re talking about the Articles of Confederation, which was the structure of the first government in the US, and then there was a, I don’t remember the exact year, 17, whatever it was…

Gregg: Yeah. They…

Ilya: They lost it for like 12 years or something.

Gregg: That’s right. And, then there was an adoption of the constitution.  I think that’s a really great analogy. The difference here, of course, is that change in the government was a peaceful change. It was a collaborative change, and I think we’re all agreeing that that’s unlikely to happen in Russia.

Ilya: Yeah, I agree. But I also think that the degree of violence,  should not be,   that farfetched,  you know, as many people would suggest. I think, yeah, it,  it would be,    a change,  with the using of the military force, but I do not expect,  some,  like serious bloodshed.

Gregg: So, Emma asks a question, how do you think, where will it happen?

Gregg: I have a similar question, so I’m gonna l  p them together here, and that is, I’m curious about how you as a group look at the timing of this. What happens if Putin’s gone tomorrow versus a month from now, or six months from now?

Ilya: I think that the very next day will be in Moscow,

Ilya:  Everything is ready for that.  I don’t think that he would be gone tomorrow, but I think that would happen at some point in 2023. Obviously, we are preparing for this, but seriously speaking, I don’t think,   it’s,  theoretically possible. Some point in March, or April. Mm-hmm. But,  any given moment after that?

Ilya: Yes, it’s a possibility. Obviously,  all the major events would happen in Moscow, in the capital,  where the power structures are, and the heart of the system. But,  in general,   our intention is to move the capital elsewhere. Hmm. And my,  ideal place in Russia is K Monis in Western Siberia.     I want to find a place where no,  government bureaucrat would go voluntarily.

Ilya: That’s the idea.

Ilya: And I think that was very much,  the similar intention when,  George Washington was looking for a place for District Columbia and he found the perfect swamp,  on the border between, Northern and the South States. I really want to say.

Gregg: So I guess the next question is Putin, something happens to Putin…

Gregg: Let’s say it happened. You’re speculating it doesn’t happen between now and March, but let’s say it does. You and your delegates are ready to go to Moscow and take control, but what about others who have the same designs or the same plans? How is that? There’s gotta be some kind of either collaboration or power struggle…

Gregg: To see who ends up actually running the government. How does that work?

Ilya:  Can you provide me with a list of others?

Gregg:  Well, I’m thinking about people around Putin.  I don’t think I need to give you a list. I think you know who the list is.

Ilya: We’ll have, we, we’ll have to deal with it.

Ilya:  No, seriously speaking. You know, I think that there are a lot of people who are talking about this. Mm-hmm. But nobody is actually preparing for it. And I think that the actual competition may come from, two different sides, like, so besides us, different other actors can pretend to be part of the change.

Ilya: The part which looks, usually more dangerous,but to me is actually less dangerous and less probable.these are people like Prego, right?who have independent,military force inside the country and, who may pretend,to grab the power as well. Why? I think that it’s less likely because,for any revolution,to be successful, you need to have…

Ilya: At least significant,  part of the elites, if not the majority of the elites who would support the change.   Otherwise, it’s doomed to fail. And I don’t think that anyone would support,  people like proportion because it’s,  obviously against,  every interest of,  Russian upper society.

Ilya: That means,  very dangerous developments. It means more conflict,  with the West.  it means more personal problems for them.  it means less personal security for them. So there are a lot of reasons why they wouldn’t support us.  We actually have something to offer them the specification with the West.

Ilya: But Pregos,  does not. Yes.  the other option, which to my mind is probably the most dangerous.  is the so-called Russian system of Liberals.  so these are people who identify themselves as liberals, but who are in, Putin’s power circles. And, but that’s, that’s the real, problem because the West, would be very much tempted to make it better on those guys.

Ilya: Yes. Because they kinda already had power.   they are known, they’re understandable. There is no fundamental change.  it’s more predictable,  et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But,  again, to bring the historical analogy, that means like,   we are changing Hitler to maybe not Hitler, but I don’t know, Warman or,  spare, you know, so somebody,  within the…

Ilya: Leadership. So the ray would be preserved in this, in this situation.  It doesn’t mean that the Holocaust would stop. Yes, so that’s why,  yeah, it could look very tempting and very convenient and very safe,  but it does not solve the problem fundamentally. And, that’s why this is the scenario that we need to fight the most.

Ilya: And that’s why again,   we created this Congress, which is the political face, of this, new Russian opposition and, who can be, understandable, transparent, and nice, with, all the international stakeholders in the process.

Gregg: It’s also, incredibly useful that you have a media channel broadcasting into Russia called February morning so that you are actually able to inform the Russian people for those that are willing to make an effort to know about the Congress itself.

Ilya: Yeah, absolutely. I would be probably cynical here, that I think that,  elites at this very moment are more important than ordinary people. Mm-hmm.     because the way Putin has made everything,   they would have very little voice,  in general, in the process of the change.  but obviously, they need to support this after the change.

Ilya: Yes. And,  they need to understand,  where to look for the position of the new authorities in the process of the change,  having an independent media too, is also extremely important.

Gregg: Well, transparency and a track record of communications will also, at some point, it’s an investment for the future, right?

Gregg: Because you can point to it and say, you know, we’ve been transparent about what we’re doing and our goals and our philosophies and our plans. Since the beginning, we didn’t just start, you know, we didn’t start making this stuff up yesterday,  I, I think in, I think it’s an incredible investment in the future, whether it pays off today or until then. Anyway…

Ilya: I hope so. I, I totally agree and,  I think that’s,  extremely important. And without this,  the change just technically would not be possible.

Gregg: So the last thing I want to ask you, Ilia, is something you posted on Twitter and I think Facebook also about some changes, some legal changes involving you inside of Russia from Moscow if I understand correctly?

Ilya:  No, that’s not a legal change.      I already told,   well in, our previous shows that,  during this year another four criminal cases were opened against me.  for president fakes about the Russian military,  for terrorism.  something else.  so,  and,   they already,  made several raids,  with detentions of certain people in Russia.

Ilya:   so today the third wave,  happened.  but they still are chasing people who have no relation to me at all, whatsoever.  so they’re just picking up some random people. Some of them are generally known, some are unknown, some of them are journalists, and some of them are political activists. And they publicly claimed that they’re detained,  based on,  the criminal cases that they are investigating against,   someone, Mr. Panari.

Ilya:  But,  you know, looking at the names, I’m saying like, okay, so I heard, I heard some of those names before, but none of those people has any relations with me. Yes, I have a certain network in Russia, as you all very well know.  but they never,  arrested anyone from that network. They’re just picking up some random people.

Ilya:  And the only rationale, which I understand is that they are trying to actually. Inspire,  this,  political competition that you were,  talking about,  you know, among Russian,  liberals among our old opposition,  to start criticizing me that,     I am creating conditions that, you know, some people are getting arrested.

Ilya: Yes. I don’t think that the regime needs any protection to arrest anyone. And,  you know, if they’re arresting people who might have no relations.  so, you know, so what, you know, should I just do nothing? But, they can arrest them anyway, so they don’t need an excuse for this. So,  obviously, it’s a very lame suggestion.

Ilya:  But I just don’t see any other reasons.  Why they are doing what they are doing, doing. Anyway, we publicly announced that we would help everyone who would need any help in terms of like legal defense and, and stuff like that.  you guys participating in the show, your regular relation to this, bravery foundation that is,  being used as…

Ilya:  The wallets to finance, the legal defense of people who are fighting against the regime,   including these people, but still, you know, to understand, you know, who these guys are. You know, it’s puzzling.

Gregg: My interpretation of this when I read about it on Twitter from you, from your posts…

Gregg:  I think I also read about it on the telegram channel, is I looked at this and said, this is a validation of the success of the Congress and that in Moscow, they, they need to start chipping away at legitimacy now because they’re afraid of what this Congress will become if they don’t do things that are threatened.

Gregg: As you said, even turning people against you. Do you think that the successful movement of Congress is part of what’s motivating this now?

Ilya: That’s definitely, yes. I don’t think that,  with any such arrest or something,  People can carve out,  any of the Congress legitimacy that’s only increasing Congress’s,  yes, legitimacy because,  it’s, it’s a validation of its success.

Ilya: But, at the same time, obviously they want, firstly to scare people who may collaborate with us. Yes.  that is dangerous. Obviously, that’s always their top priority.  But also secondly, I think that they just need to report to their superiors and Mr. Putin personally that, the security forces have done everything.

Ilya: You know, that they,  They carried out their duty, you know, they protect the state, you know, and,  Putin would not know, you know, whether they arrested proper people or not proper people. They, yes, just report the numbers. You know, arrests were made. Mr. Putin. Yes. This is, this is the bubble…

Ilya: That,  dictators find themselves, often find themselves in, where people are just doing things because they’re afraid.

Gregg: All right, so I’m gonna ask; this is my last follow-up question on this. My name is below your name on this book. Should I be worried that some Russian agents are gonna show up at my house?

Ilya: Hmm. I don’t think so. I think that’s,   again, this is,  mafia people and you are under the protection of different mafia, which sits in the heat.

Ilya: Yes. So, you know, they wouldn’t interfere, you know, they,  think that they can,  attack anyone with a Russian passport, at least had Russian passport in the past because it’s like they’re the main, it’s like their voice. But yes, you know, an attack on a foreign citizen always would trigger a lot of backlashes, and I don’t think that would,  that.

Gregg: Well, I was a…

Gregg: Bit facetious about that. Before I let you go for the day, is there anything else you want to add? Anything else you want to tell us?

Ilya: I probably don’t want to add something. I just want to congratulate everyone, on the upcoming new year and,  wish everyone,  a peaceful New year,  and great success in the New Year.

Ilya: And,  since you all guys are so loyally watching our shows, that means that you already understand. We share a common success and,  our success will be your success. And your success will be our success. So, Happy New Year.

Gregg: Thank you, Ilia. Thank you very much. Happy New Year to you, all your team members, and members of the Congress.

Gregg:   I’m gonna let you go. I know you’re busy. I’m gonna keep talking for a few minutes and include among other things, a link to our page for the Bravery Foundation. Thanks again for being here.

Ilya: Thank you. Thank you, guys.