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?

Okay. That’s our first try…

Gregg: Hey everybody. It’s a learn-as-we-go experience. Welcome does… Oh, there you go. Brilliant. Does Putin have to die with Ilya Ponomarev? I’m Greg Stebben here it’s an interesting turn of events here, Ilya, for the past eight or nine months, I’ve been hosting you on the Beams platform, and now you’re hosting me on YouTube.

Gregg: So does that mean you’re gonna be interviewing me now, instead of the other way around?

Ilya: That’s a good idea. That’s a very good idea. But still, I just finished my own show, and I think that we need to change, so probably, probably now it’s still your show.

Gregg: All right. Fair enough. So, you know, it’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve talked to you and, a lot has gone on, in Ukraine, in relationship with the US and the rest of Europe…

Gregg: Particularly with the tanks and things, I want to talk about that. But I think the first thing we should do is have you just give us an update on what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been seeing relative to the Congress and, of course, the second meeting of the Congress, which is coming up.

Ilya: Well, you know, first of all, I was flying a lot and, throughout last week we have been in five different places. Primarily we were preparing the pieces of legislation that would be introduced to the Congress, on the 20th to the 23rd of February because we need to finalize the text so that they would be discussed and voted on…

Ilya: So there was a meeting of working groups you know, which, were in different countries and first very important piece of legislation that we were discussing was an Act on administration which is basically the restriction of current KGB officers, Putin cronies, you know, people who were still in mining…

Ilya: From state budget and Russia restriction of them to participate in the future system of power. It’s in a sense, it’s a certain compromise, right? That’s we are not putting you to jail at least immediately, but we restrict you from participating in future political activities in the country.

Ilya: So it’s kind of, it’s a compromise.

Gregg: Is it, is it a little bit of like a form of amnesty?

Ilya: Yeah. In, a sense. And that’s actually, that’s what we were discussing. Actually, you know, it’s funny because when we were discussing the illustration thing probably the longest discussion there was on the criminal punishment.

Ilya: For those who would try to get around that law. Because the whole idea is that since it is a compromise, guys, we are not engaging you in any sort of criminal prosecution, or something. But you agree that you are no longer part of the future government. And to me it’s fair, but if you will try, to play games and you will try to hide that, you fall under registration.

Ilya: You try to mislead people, and you are trying to falsify data, which obviously we think that a lot of former FSB, KGB, whatever officers would try to, then. You know, sorry guys. Then it would be a full-scale criminal investigation and prosecution and, and everything. And that’s what we were discussing.

Ilya: So what that would be, you know, to what scale it should grow. So that’s that’s the one thing. Another thing. Was a discussion on freedom of speech law. Mm-hmm. prince New Law and media on this whole industry. So it’s a very large life. The law registration is not so long.

Ilya: It’s, I believe, three or four pages of text. Then the Freedom of Media Act is 60-something. That details on how the industry works how the TV channel works, how radio, what’s YouTube, you know, what’s internet sites, what’s printed media. So it’s very sophisticated stuff and obviously we took the existing war.

Ilya: And for a while it was working perfectly in the 1990s. Then Putin started to tweak it. So we cleaned out those malicious tweaks and we modernized it to match the current realities in the industry and technological reality. So that’s, you know, Netflixes, you know, of the world are illegal and, you know, nobody can, can prohibit them, to be working on the Russian territory, but also how to make sure that no longer would be a state monopoly on the media.

Ilya: And also there were two very interesting discussions. One discussion is that in general, should the government be allowed to keep at least one media or not? And there was a debate because originally it was positioned that government should not be a player in the media market. Then on the previous congress, you know, many people are saying, okay, let’s allow the government to keep…

Ilya: Like one newspaper, one TV channel, and one YouTube site.

Gregg: And just to be clear, a commercial versus, like in the United States, we have public television and public …

Ilya: No, public. The public is different. Okay.

Gregg: So I wanted to make that distinction.

Ilya: Yes. No, it’s it doesn’t matter whether it’s commercial or not commercial.

Ilya: Mm-hmm. question. The difference between public television and state television is who gives orders. It’s public television. Yeah. It’s been funded with public funds, but there is no department or ministry who will say, okay, that’s the host, you know, you would say this and that, and then whatever, as you know, an owner.

Gregg: So in other words, controlled by? controlled by them

Ilya: Yeah, so that’s why it’s, it’s either around, our idea is to make all the media public and allow them by being such, being dependent from big money. So we are not prohibiting people from like making normal commercial TV or radio, whatever media outlets, you know, obviously, you know, you advertise, you take a subscription, you know, whatever…

Ilya: So you make money. It’s not, it’s a normal business, but those journalists who don’t want to be engaged in business, They can be independent on this system that we have right now on YouTube, basically would be applicable to all media that exists in the country. So if you have a certain number of viewers, subscribers, readers, you are eligible to take certain funding unconditionally.

Ilya: And nobody is giving you orders. You, you just take these funds and you use them to be independent media-only viewers. That’s what matters to do that. That was not discussed that much. What was discussed much is in general, is should we allow the government to have a Tv channel or not?

Ilya: And at the end of the day, it was voted that no it should not, but it was a very difficult discussion on this.

Gregg: What was the case for allowing it?

Ilya: Well, it was in general, one channel. Why not? You know in theory, yes. If it is just one, it’s, it’s a competitive market. Mm-hmm. So in general, to allow to a certain position to be presented, the official position of the state.

Ilya: So theoretically, why not, but people were so fearful about this monopoly and the influence and manipulating the audience. So they decided no.

Gregg: Before you go on, I want to ask you one thing about this. You said that you started by going back to the law before Putin began monkeying with it.

Gregg: Mm-hmm. . So previous to Putin, did Russia have good solid laws that supported free press? 

Ilya: Yes, actually the original law that was passed it was, very end of ages, beginning of nines. That was still the Soviet Union in place. This law was quite good. Mm-hmm.  Then it was a little bit modernized in Democratic Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Ilya: And then it was only one major amendment several years later. Because the original law was more towards printed media and less so about, television. And there were, there were certain amendments, which are specifically applicable to the tv industry. But besides that, it was working nicely.

Ilya: It created Chinese walls between the owners and the editorial boards and how influence and censorship and everything was pretty nice. But you see the problem with the current state of media in Russia is that formally, there is virtually no censorship censorship in Russia is prohibited by the Constitution.

Ilya: And formally, there’s no such guy who is calling a media saying, you should cut this off. What is actually happening is that the Russian State controls the owners of the media, and they being owners, steer their media in a certain direction. And then the journalists also, usually they’re not being told even by owners what they should or should not write.

Ilya: But firstly, they hire certain people and fire certain people and everybody understands why without being told specifically that you should write or shouldn’t write, this and that. Secondly, people do understand what kind of oppression they may face. You know, for writing or saying certain things.

Ilya: Not as journalists, just as citizens of the country, so on, in the media, formally, you know, no censorship, but in reality, the risk. And that’s why what we’re trying to do is objective number one, was that cut this financial dependency, that the media should not be on a short leash. With the possibility at any time to pull the trigger and, and force them to do or not to do certain things.

Ilya: Secondly, to make them properly funded so that it’s a competition and that the industry would grow and, that there is a whole variety of different opinions and not only like mainstream media, but you know, so, but all different. All the different political, opinions are there. But also the last one was a strange say several times because that’s I was shocked myself that people decided to vote for this.

Ilya: Is when we were discussing regional media. The discussion went into national media, so Russia has a lot of different ethnicities and a lot of national republics and a lot of different languages, and at the end of the day, people said we should provide guarantees for national media to exist.

Ilya: And so now by law, it would be a provision. That the state should finance like to bring a comparison with the United States. Say NAV TV is being created, you know, or TV is being created. Mm-hmm, it should be funded by the state to make sure that technical minorities and all the different engineering groups and whatever, should have their voice bylaw.

Gregg: Hmm. And that surprised you?

Ilya: Mm-hmm. that, surprised me because it was not a mainstream discussion before. It very much correlates to what Ukrainians did in Ukraine to support Ukrainian media. Mm-hmm. , they introduced this language quarters and I was not thinking that in Russia, you know, people would actually decide to do this, but, you know…

Gregg: So you actually, see it as a really positive thing that this came up from the group itself?

Ilya: No. We’ll see how it would work because from one side, we made the particular mechanism as not restrictive mechanism. So it’s not that, you know, somebody mandates, you know, so the media to speak in a certain language and if not, you know, we cut your balls, no, but financial stimulus.

Ilya: Mm-hmm. To be this and that. And your media would get in certain privileges if they do in certain languages according to this language quarter. To provide national content they would receive additional funding. So it’s a possibility to actually raise more money, to sustain themselves, you know, through creating national content.

Ilya: But we’ll see how that would work again because we didn’t try it before and, it’ll be a certain experiment, but I think just by this experiment happening, it’s already a positive signal that it’s no longer the Russian Empire when everybody should be Russian and speak Russian and forget about the, yeah, sorry.

Ilya: Yes, we are broadcasting.

Ilya: 10 minutes.

Gregg: So we have, we have good company here, and we’ll share them at another time. So when it comes to all the laws that the Congress is looking at, I mean, you know, we’ve been talking about restoration and media. I’m asking that one of the things you do in crafting these new laws is look around the world at other countries…

Gregg: That have been in a position where they’re rewriting laws or rewriting a constitution and say, what did they do right? How well did it work? And can we use their work as a template to begin crafting our own laws?

Ilya: No, definitely. When I was in Parliament I spent many years in this professional committee on media.

Ilya: And I was particularly in charge of protecting internet freedom in Russia. Mm-hmm but also in general our position was to make sure that no amendments in the media law would be passed by United Russia and Putin’s cronies. Yes. So obviously you know, we had a lot of arguments prepared as our munition, you know, to fight all the attacks, you know, how that happens in this country, in this country, in this country.

Ilya: And it’s very funny that they even Putin is they always we’re trying to bring international examples of international practice usually, you know, misinterpreted. Yes. But they were referring to international presidents and, one of the, worst laws in modern-day Russia law and so-called law and foreign agents actually was justified that the United States have foreign registration on foreign agents.

Ilya: Mm-hmm. and United Russia was always referring if Americans were doing this and following the best democratic example in the world by introducing the same piece of legislation in our system. So to combat this, you need to understand very well what’s actually inside this international legislation and be able to debate.

Gregg: Mm-hmm, the spirit of the thing instead of that. Yeah. And, and, and I do wanna point out if you’ve picked up Ilya’s book, does Putin have to die? I mean, things like illustrations are talked about in-depth there, and I think for a lot of people in the West, it’s a very foreign concept because we haven’t gone through this kind of revolutionary period.

Gregg: So the idea that these kinds of laws are necessary, once you’ve begun to study it, it’s obvious. But the fact that they’ve been done and done successfully, Is just supports the idea that yes, this can be done, this is, you know, lots of other countries have successfully made this transition and there’s no reason why Russia can’t do the same thing.

Ilya: Yeah. And I would say that yeah, this concept is maybe pretty alien. For the United States in particular, although the United States, actually enforced one of the worst, in terms of quality of implementation, registration practices in the world history, which was in Iraq after the second war in the Gulf.

Ilya: So it was an American idea to clean up all the former bus party members. Which resulted in a total collapse of the management of the country. So it has to be always a very balanced approach. But at the same time the illustration process which happened after World War II in Germany, it was pretty successful.

Ilya: It was balanced and tested and understood. And after the collapse of the Soviet regime in Europe, the majority of western European countries went through the registration process. Ukraine recently went through registration processes. It had both ups and downs. And we learned a lot from this experience.

Ilya: What did work and what did not work? Both positive and negative things. And that’s why the Russian law accounts for it. But nevertheless the dominant position of the Russian opposition right now is that we didn’t have an illustration process after 1991 and that we allowed part and KGB guys to remain in power.

Ilya: That was a great mistake. And that’s very much resulted in such people as Putin coming into power. Because if frustration would have been administered by that time, neither Nielsen nor Putin would be allowed to be in power. And actually, that’s the reason why it didn’t happen, you know, because Nielsen clearly understood that it would affect him…

Ilya: And his friends and his people, and that’s why they turned it down.

Gregg: Which is actually the case for why you need it.

Ilya: That’s exactly the case. Why we need it because we don’t want to repeat, this experience. And again, we take it as a compromise. So as guys, otherwise you would be put in jail, so, right.

Ilya: You know, instead of, you know, creating a witch hunt in the country and a lot of trials and everything Let’s, let’s compromise on something. You know, you are not in politics anymore and we are not touching your past deeds.

Gregg: I want to be clear about something when the illustration process prohibits them from being in politics anymore, it also means that, excuse me, it also means that they’re not allowed, I’m asking it means they’re not allowed to engage in the business of government, so they can’t have government contracts that can do business.

Ilya: That’s right.

Gregg: So it’s not just about the power position of the government, but. The flow of money of government.

Ilya: Yeah. Our decision, our ruling is that it’s government positions, government contracts and public appearances. So we don’t want them. To be publicly active anymore.

Ilya: They can do whatever you want to be in business. You know you travel, you enjoy your life, like whatever, but you don’t teach kids you are not speaking on public tv. And obviously not dealing with the government.

Gregg: Does this conflict with a lot of calls for there being tribunals? or trials of the Hague and things like those?

Gregg: Present a different level of participation.

Ilya: No. Yeah. War crimes, particularly war crimes are excluded from this. But in the tribunal, you know, also how many people were tried at, Newberg tribunal, for example, several hundreds out of all those millions Yes. Who are committing crimes?

Ilya: In our case, it would be more or less the same. You know, so we think, you know, that yeah, maybe several hundreds, maybe a thousand. Mm-hmm. , you know, that’s basically the scale, but it’s people who are directly involved in the war crimes, the particular commanders, those who gave them orders, those who started the war.

Ilya: And yeah, most likely, you know, people like Serge would be Hagued. So there’s, there’s no illustration. . Yeah. There was no illustration for Putin. Yeah. Putin has to die, but…

Gregg: good title for a book…

Ilya: But many people who are just subordinates mm-hmm. , you know, they were part of the system. Mm-hmm. And from one side, they would always say that they were just following orders.

Ilya: That they formally did not violate any law that they were just executing what they have been told to do and they themselves didn’t pull any triggers and whatever, but nevertheless, they were part of the criminal system. Yes. And of course, deep in their minds. They could not not realize what they’re doing.

Ilya: So that’s why it is an illustration. So that’s why we are not doing trials with them. But no guys, this hypocrisy needs to be stopped.

Gregg: So one of the things I want to ask you is t the second meeting of the Congress, it ends on the 23rd. Obviously, there’s an anniversary of the invasion on the 24th. Was there a deliberate reason, I’m asking it was deliberate to plan the second Congress to come inside, but is there a reason it’s not meeting on the 24th I want to follow up by talking about…

Gregg: You know, there’s, there’s the speculation that there’s an offensive coming from Russia on the 24th. I wanna hear your thoughts on all that.

Ilya: Yeah, yeah. Obviously it’s not linked to the offensive.

Gregg: Well, no, I didn’t mean to link it, but it’s, you know, it’s a significant date, obviously. Right?

Ilya: No, it, it is a very significant date and that’s exactly why we wanted to finish before, because we want, by this date already have devoted to Act on Peace.

Ilya: Mm-hmm. Which is set in the framework on how the reoccupation of Ukraine would happen, how it would stop the war, what does it mean? What does demilitarization of Russia means, and this kind of thing? So we want this document to be ready before the 24th. On the 23rd. And we want it to be discussed widely, publicly, at that very date.

Ilya: Yes. Because if we’ll pass it later, you know, then people will not discuss it. It would…

Gregg: So it’s relevant particularly, yeah.

Ilya: So that’s, yeah. So that’s why yes, we deliberately set up those dates. But speaking about the offensive, yeah Putin, put his address to the nation. State of the Union type thing, which he is doing every year on the 24th of February as well.

Ilya: Yeah. Many people anticipate that they may start an offensive. I personally think that it’s more probable that this would be the Ukrainian army. Mm-hmm. , which would start the, it’s gonna be my next offensive,

Gregg: It’s gonna be my next question.

Ilya: Russia. I don’t see much of capabilities for an offensive, but I also. How the international community, to my mind, absolutely artificially try to scare away Ukrainians with these predictions of the offensive and of everything. I believe that certain forces in the world, try to force Ukraine to start negotiating with Russia. Mm-hmm, and by doing all the statements, how the Russian economy is doing great…

Ilya: You know, how they’re capable of a new offensive, you know, what are the plans and everything. I think that it’s a pressure that has been put on President Zelensky, but I don’t think that he would actually listen to such predictions and at the end of the day, it’s about us or them …

Ilya: and I think that Ukraine has all the chances to prevail.

Gregg: It’s also pressure on Putin, and I’m wondering if he has the resources to really pull it off.

Ilya: No, that’s absolutely right. But still, this prolonged war. Is more to Russia’s benefit and Putin’s benefit because Russia just physically has more resources.

Ilya: And that’s why that’s Putin’s bad. That yeah, Western leaders would grow tired, that Ukrainians would grow tired. That’s why they’re bombing all this energy infrastructure to make Ukrainians even more tired of what’s going on. So he hopes that you know, they would crawl on their knees and that you know, that he would just…

Ilya: Or leave that war because he’s more resourceful and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t allow him to do this because that’s his only hope at this very moment, I think.

Gregg: And it seems to me that the more the war escalates, you know, for instance, if there’s an offensive on February 24th, the resolve of the West just seems to be growing and growing…

Gregg: Not decreasing or diminishing.

Ilya: Yeah. That’s another thing. Psychologically all politicians in general, human beings, they want to be part of the success not a part of the failure. And that’s why when it was Ukraine’s advances next to Kyiv and then next to Kharkiv

Ilya: Everything. Okay. So yes. No, we did it. We did it together. You know, Ukrainians are advanced because we supplied them with its platform. Yeah.

Gregg: My team won,

Ilya: Yeah, we won. Yes. Now it’s a certain period without advances. Now again, oh, no, no, no. New advances are not possible. It’s too difficult and whatever. When Ukraine would do these advances. Again everybody would say, oh, you see, you know, we supply tanks.

Ilya: And that’s why they, they made this breakthrough. It’s our victory. Yes. Obviously, it’s human nature. So, at the end of the day we just need the victory.

Gregg: So the last thing I want to ask you is, you know, we didn’t talk for a couple of weeks. During that period, there was this whole escalation of the west…

Gregg: And Eastern European support of supplying tanks in particular. And, you know, there was Germany said, well, the US has to give tanks and everybody’s surprised the US did, so Germany did and all of that. And so that then, of course, raises the stakes. And so the next question is, when does Ukraine get F-16s?

Gregg: Do you think that, is this just a natural progression of the relationship between Ukraine and the West?

Ilya: I’m sure the F-16s will be there. I know that pilots are already being trained. So that’s why I think it’s just a matter of time. We are advocating for this all the time.

Ilya: I hope that at one moment, you know this decision would be made. And I think that right now we hear a lot of bargaining between the different nations. You know, who first, who next, how much, you know, at one point who would, again, take the credit but it would happen, it’s inevitable and victory would happen as well.

Gregg: From your view, is this, a tip of the iceberg kind of thing? The public is reading about and hearing about some level of discussions, but there’s a much larger iceberg under the water where there are lots of other things going on.

Ilya: Obviously. And I can tell you that some of the equipment is being announced when it’s already been delivered.

Ilya: For example, some things are happening without any public announcements. You know, so sit tight. Help the Ukrainian army, help the Russian region, by the way, very important thing because at the end of the day, this war would end not in Ukraine. It would end in Moscow. And we need to do it and somebody needs to do it.

Ilya: And the only force which is capable of doing this is a force of armed Russians, which are fighting in the front lines, alongside with Ukrainian army, against the Buchinist invasion. But they need to be supported, and that’s because of you. You know, they’re getting help and they continue to fight.

Gregg: I think that’s a pretty good place to end this. Thank you.

Ilya: Thank you very much. Yes. And it’s our inaugural session guys. So, subscribe to the channel put your like, and we see you next week at the same time. It’s 6:00 PM pm Kyiv time, 5:00 PM Central European time and 11:00 AM Eastern US time. So see you soon.

Gregg: Yeah. Thank you, everybody.

Gregg: Great to see you again. Take care.

Ilya: That’s the question. How we end…

Gregg: Well, there’s that.

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