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: Welcome. I hope all is well there in, in Kyiv.
Ilya: Yeah, it’s actually, getting relatively warm. So the extreme colds are gone and, the situation is better. We have more light than we had before because when it was cold, the light was going down most of the time, so, which was really inconvenient, I would say.
Gregg: Yes. I can only imagine. and, and it’s pretty amazing how well you and all, all the, all your, fellows, Ukrainians, coped with this. I want to talk about the Congress and get some updates from you.
Before we do though, I’ve been noticing particularly on Twitter, that there seems to be some real moment in terms of other nations coming forward with even more weapons, even more advanced weapons in advance of tomorrow’s meeting in Ramstein. I don’t know if I’m saying Ramstein right or not.
Ilya: Ram Ramstein? It’s German, right? Ramstein.
Gregg: Ramstein. Can you talk about what you know about that event and, and why we think, why you think we’re seeing so much activity in advance of the event?
Ilya: No, it’s, it’s, I wouldn’t say that it’s kind of a turning point, but, in general, the research feel is that it’s, almost there. because just a month ago, most of the western nations were not talking about providing, assault equipment. they were talking about only the defensive equipment.
And that’s obviously the result of the recent actions that Mr. Putin had undertaken, with the bombing of the Ukrainian series during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and the recent events in the Dnipro, with the residential, with the residential building, which was very visible.
And yeah, it looks like the dam is about the burst. And at the end of the day, everybody understands that those weapons, are needed. just nobody wants to be the first, and here is the psychological question when certain nations start to deliver. And that’s why, surprisingly, a very important role was played by France when President Macron announced that he would deliver…
Ilya: Okay lightweight tanks but nevertheless, tanks to Ukraine. And, if you notice immediately the very next day, polls announced that they are to give,, 14, Leo Park too, heavyweight tanks to Ukraine. And that, again, shows this domino effect that is happening. And actually yesterday, it was a very funny thing at World Economic For, where it was actually our guy from our channel, February morning…
Ilya: who asked chancellor Schultz questions? So what the hell? When you are going to give tanks to Ukraine, Schultz was flip-flopping for like five minutes. talking how great Germany is and what important role Germany is playing, and that it is a large donor for Ukraine…
Ilya: But, never said a single word about tanks. And, then he was pressured more, and then it looks like he got an idea, which kinda could backfire in a very curious way because Schultz in the evening of that day said that, okay, Germany would deliver Leo parts if Americans would deliver Abrams.
Ilya: And I think that right now this thing is really on the table and now Americans can deliver Abrams and from that, actually may happen…
Gregg: Yeah. Well, my next question was going to be about Germany. , Do you wanna predict an outcome here? What do you think is gonna happen?
Ilya: As you saw they just changed their minister of Defense.
Actually, the new guy was sworn in just I believed an hour ago, something like that. So definitely was happening today. And he’s a capable guy. he’s more deceptive than his predecessor. , but still, I think that the problem is with Schultz himself in general, more with the position of social democrats…
Ilya: They usually were traditionally the party that was the most affiliated with Russia. And, we understand that, for example, council Eroder, who is, the chairman of North Stream, he also was coming from social democrats. He was a counselor from social democrats. And his influence there was still pretty significant.
Ilya: So, that’s a general, position of the party, but it’s moving, like everything in Germany, very slowly but very orderly and, and steadily in the direction to help, Ukraine more in the military sense.
Gregg: So I wanna get an update from you on the Congress. We have some new people here. So I just wanna explain really quickly that this is a congress that has been formed by deputies of previously elected officials in Russia. the first meeting was held in Warsaw in November. You’re meeting again at the end of this month, correct? Or early February. And what Congress is doing is forming a new government for Russia.
So a new constitution has been written, and other laws are being written. A big part of what Congress is doing is now reaching out to other governments to work with them, to get recognized by them. And I’m wondering, you know, you, you just used the frame, it feels like there’s a turning point in terms of the meeting tomorrow.
It also feels like there’s a turning point with the EU. Just a few hours ago there was a vote to have a special tribunal for Putin. I’m ass ing that all of this moment on other fronts is also very, very useful for you in terms of the work you’re doing with Congress, particularly in your relationships with other countries.
Ilya: No, that is that is correct. And we are to have a large event in the European Parliament at the end of the month. also, and yes, we are gradually building these relationships and connections with different international governments and, and parliament. That’s a work in progress, which is happening right now, but, indeed, yes.
I still think that it’s one of the keys and prerequisites to change Putin is to construct a political alternative and it’s like it’s a snowball process. it’s the same as we are delivering weapons. So we start small and some people tend to ridicule it when it’s at the beginning, but then it’s growing larger and larger.
And we’ll already see some, people which were very skeptical to what we were doing at the beginning starting to join us. And so, so it’s growing. Again, we are talking about serious things about the new legislation for New Russia. , and later you are absolutely correct about creating the first shadow and then the real government of Russia.
Just again, it takes time, but it’s moving exactly in that direction.
Gregg: Yeah. And if nobody does it and, and takes it on in that early stage where you get no support or maybe you’re even ridiculed, then it never gets done. Someone has to make that investment in the beginning and, and, you know, be the one who tilts windmills. Sometimes those tilted windmills change the world.
Ilya: No, absolutely. And, you know, I think that’s the key thing that needs to be done. It needs to be this armed resistance that needs to be nurtured and supported and make grow. And our legendary Russia is doing very well. And, it’s also getting recognized, again, the skepticism has vanished in front of our eyes…
Which was there definitely because people did not understand originally how come, you know, Russians are fighting alongside Ukrainians, you know, against Putin’s army. You know, that, that that could never happen. You know, now they see it’s, it’s real. , and that’s, that’s very important for us.
But also, again, in the position, they understand. So this is the real project. it’s not about talking, it’s not about media. It’s, it’s about real stuff. It’s about how Russia would actually look like tomorrow. And, actually, today was very final. So just to mention you, because it happened in the United States, there is a small scandal in social networks.
Because people recognized it was Naval’s ad on Times Square in New York. So, it was, so one of these large electronic billboards with the slogan Free Naval. And, you know, for, for from one side, I’m extremely glad that, you know, this message is, is getting across. From another side…
You know, people started to calculate how much money has been spent on this. What does the ad cost? Yes, the AD cost and for whom, you know, so on Times Square. so it is, it’s just, you know, showing off. And that’s it. Instead of spending money on the revolutionary process in Russia, which can actually liberate Navani, we have difficult relations with him personally.
But nevertheless, my activities directly targeted on letting him free from jail and he would be the first person to be released after the revolution, no doubt. And, so that’s what we need to work on. And, again, such scandals help us because, you know, people start to realize that, okay…
So, we better join forces with those people who are about action and not talking.
Gregg: Yes, yes. All right. We may come back to the Congress before I let you go today, but I wanna actually build on what we’ve been talking about here to segue to something you posted on Facebook a few hours ago. And by the way, before I go there, all of these things we’re talking about, it’s so interesting for me to listen to you talk about the Congress and, and, and these other movements.
Towards an alternative government for Russia because I helped you take a book you wrote in Russia and turn it in Russian and turn it into a book in English. And so I wanna point out, you know, if the things Ilya is talking about are of interest to you, go to Amazon and buy the book “Does Putin have to die?”
Because this is exactly what the book is about. And if you really want to have insight into what’s going on, a deeper historical understanding, it’s all there. So I really do encourage you to do that.
I want to talk about…
Ilya: And by the way, by the way, guys, who understand Russian, on my YouTube channel, I started publishing Russian, individual version format when I am just reading the book in public…
So, those who understand Russian. Welcome to the YouTube, stream. It’s happening every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday…
Gregg: And this is the original book that you had written that then was edited, as a collaboration between the two of us for this English version book and the title of that, excuse me, I’m congested.
The title of the book you’re now reading is The Red book. Where does that title come from?
Ilya: actually, that’s kind of maybe a tradition of certain, like revolutionary books. Mm-hmm. , which usually we were labeled in different colors. And my original idea was to call it a white book because the movement, which we had in the BNA movement was labeled as the white ribbon movement.
But, still, my political views are rather on the left side, and white is the color of surrender. So, we thought it over and decided, so let’s call it, you know, with something more aggressive, more energetic and something. And also, I don’t know actually, how it’s been in the west in Russia, the recession.
Because in our tradition, all the rare species, you know, power about being extinguished from the face of the earth.Yeah. They are being put in the book, which is called The Red Book. Hmm. Interesting. So, that’s also, you know, an illusion to that so, you know, it’s something which was almost extinct. and which we need to protect to preserve and make grow.
Gregg: But we’re okay if Putin becomes extinct…Okay. So, by the way, Lily, the answer to your question is the link I just put in the chat, the Red Book in Russian. Those videos are on the same channel where we will be doing this show starting next week. Correct. All right. Yep. So you put, you put something on YouTube about four hours ago?
It was a transcript in English of an interview. I think it was an interview you did with Mark Fagan or Fagan? And it addressed a question I was going to ask you about today anyway, it’s something I hear from people in the West. Every day they’ll say to me, Look at those Russians. Look at how they responded to the invasion of Ukraine.
They don’t care. They want a leader like Putin. They want a strong-arm leader. They want to be bossed around. And you and Fagan had a conversation, I think about that, which was translated into English. I really want you to explain who Mark Fagan is and then help us understand how it’s possible that the Russian people…
Can become part of a democratic government and if this idea that they really want to be, you know, lorded over by a strong-arm dictator, you know, is that true? And if it’s true, how do you transform them into people who want to be free?
Ilya: Yeah. so, to say a few words about Mark. Mark was the former Vice mayor of Samara, one of the largest cities in Russia on the Vulgar River.
and then he was, Member of the Russian Parliament of State D a. And then he turned out to be a human rights defender, a lawyer. He, as a lawyer was protecting a lot of high-profile cases in the courts. was the lawyer, for example, for a push, which is probably his most famous case. Then he was also forced into exile, and right now lives in France.
And, since the beginning of this war, he has had a daily show with Alexia storage, speaking about what’s happening in Ukraine in the field of war, which is probably the most popular YouTube show in Ukraine. And also very much watched in Russia. So he’s currently one of the most-watched Russian YouTube bloggers, and also he is the co-founder of the Congress of people’s deputies and a member of the Executive Council of Congress of people’s deputies.
So he is like he is a well-known figure, and, yes, we had a public discussion with him on this Russian character and what’s needed, et cetera, et cetera. And there are, I would say it’s like three possible takes on how the future leaders of Russia should be positioned within the country.
And it’s about mentality. It’s, you know, in different countries. It’s very different. say the Scandinavian approach is that people like, when the person is driving a bicycle, you know, you know, drives in the metro, and walks the streets, et cetera. For example, the very same approach in the very same Europe, in France…
It would not be accepted as something normal because, you know, a leader has to be respected somehow. It doesn’t mean that he needs to be a dictator or whatever, but he needs to be respected. In Russia, the tradition is that the leader is a sort of sacred figure. And that’s the tradition that goes to the times of the Empire when the leader was a semi-God.
And that’s the tradition that very much continues in Russia. So, the subject of the discussion with Fagan was, what should we do about this? And my approach is that we should give Russians a lot of taste for power at the very low municipal level when they need to feel it in their mouth so that they actually can decide things about what’s going on around them.
And Mark was saying that firstly people need to be led by force in a certain direction, but in the proper direction on the direction of democracy and freedom and whatever. I personally don’t believe in the reforms that are being done by force. I believe in staging, the conditions when people would start demanding…
Something and then offering them what they demand because they, in general, don’t know what they demand now. They never know. They just have some weak understandings, you know, of movement somewhere. But then it’s the job of the politician to actually make this proposition and put this proposition in front of them and make them feel okay. That’s what we want.
So that would be our job for sure, but I don’t think that we need to do it by force. But nevertheless, both approaches, one or another, assert that the transition period would not be democratic. like, the transition period and, after World War II in Germany, was not democratic.
They, for four years, had a very undemocratic government, which was just appointed, and installed on them by the occupants. But it was the transition to democracy, and that was the subject of our discussion.
Gregg: Hmm. I’m gonna ask a question about the past in Russia, and this may be a case where I show my naivety as a westerner.
But as you were describing this, this, this mindset of Russians over time, you know, you used the word semi-god. , could it be that one of the reasons the reforms of the Yeltsin and Gorbachev era didn’t take into account this sort of Russian mindset? Was there too much freedom too fast?
Ilya: , with Gorbachov? Yes. With Yeltsin? No. Mm-hmm. , I mean Gorbachov started his reforms, basically, it was a very similar situation like it was in China. And, to my mind, if Gorbachov had chosen an approach similar to the approach of Zaine in China, the results would have been way much better.
And in general, again, being leftist, I always think that you should start reforming the economy, the foundation, the basis, and then reform the politics, which is built on top of this economic basis. If you start reforming the basis in a more free way, it would require the political construction to become more democratic.
But in this situation, the country, would not be, would not have collapsed. But when Nielsen was coming to power, he already was coming to power as a star, just as a nice star, you know, you know, which tolerated people saying about him, bad words in the media, but nevertheless, the star. And he always had the capability, and he created the system that somebody would cross the red line, you know, he would be squashed immediately.
And, Putin just had a lower tolerance, you know, a lower, red line in different, in a different place. But nature was absolutely the same. So, Yeltsin restored monarchy in the country. It was not Putin who was the observer. It was Yeltsin.
Gregg: All right. So, I want to go back to what you said about Russia having a tradition of a leader as a semi-god. Does Putin think he’s a semi-god?
Ilya: Definitely. I am not sure about the semi, but definitely in that direction.
Gregg: And of course, when you present yourself that way, and you have all the power, particularly in a system that is a tradition, people fall in line and treat you that way. I would guess.
Ilya: Yeah, I’ll be satisfied with the position of superman. It’s okay.
Gregg: We have a couple of minutes left. Is there anything you wanna add in terms of updating us on the progress of the Congress?
Ilya: no, I think it will actually. This coming week would be very important because we have face-to-face meetings of the working groups, which are drafting the particular pieces of legislation…
The free media and the Constitution and the amnesty and illustration. And then, in February, we’ll already have certain drafts published before they will be introduced and heard on the floor of Congress. But I wanted to use these two remaining minutes. just to express my hopes that we all will meet on the good old YouTube on the new platform so that we will not disappear from each other.
We have a great community here which we built in the duration of almost a year. And I hope it will be preserved. I love you guys. I hope you like me a little bit, you know, but you’re still coming here, so let’s continue.
Gregg: All right, I’m gonna let you go. I’m gonna keep chatting for a few minutes, and I will share the YouTube link again.
Ilya, thanks for being here. We’ll see you next week and, let’s see. I don’t know if I let you go or you let you go, but I am gonna set you free so you can move on to your next thing. there we go. Let’s see how that works. Thank you again.
Ilya: Free, free forever. Yes. Thank you very much, guys.