Putin challenger: I’m ready for a fight
M.P.: Always glad to oblige.
RT: Do you really think you can be the next president?
M.P.: I always aim high, and whenever I launch a project I’m always in it to win it. Taking part in this presidential election is definitely the most important decision I've ever taken, and I'mready for a fight. If you aim high in other things, you definitely should aim high in politics.
RT:People often ask you if you are a Kremlin project, but I’d like to ask you about something else. You are very rich, you’re smart, you have the reputation of a maverick, and you have a strong team. How did you end up in a situation where no one believes that you are not a Kremlin project? And it keeps snowballing: when the news came that Yavlinsky was not registered as a candidate, straightaway people said, “It’s because they want Prokhorov to get more votes.”
M.P.: I think almost anyone who join the presidential race is automatically labeled as a Kremlin project. I've always wanted to know what it means. I was a successful and wealthy person even before Putin. I don't rely on government contracts….
RT: But we’re talking about politics. Politics is different.
M.P.: People keep saying I can’t be independent because I have a lot of assets. But I had most of those assets before Putin.
RT:People outside Russia, on the other hand, don’t really care if you’re a Kremlin project. Let’s say you make it to the run-off where you run against Putin. What would people outside Russia know about you? First, they know you’re a tycoon. Then, they know about the scandal in France, where you were practically accused of being a pimp; and also, the fact that you own the New Jersey Nets. Why should the West take you seriously?
M.P.: The point isn't whether it should or shouldn't. It's up to me and my team to explain to people that my goal is to change Russia. I have a specific program for integrating our country into the international community and making it a world leader. The whole world is changing; all nations are having a hard time. Unless we change our country and develop it, our relationswith other countries will only become worse in the future.
RT: Let’s talk about the US. Over the three years of resetting relations, Russia and the US have fallen out on quite a number of issues: Iran, Libya, the spy scandal – notto mention missile defense. How would you build our relationship with America?
M.P.: The first thing I'd do, I would abandon the whole idea of the West versus Russia. I think it’s about time we learn to differentiate. Our relations with Europe are one thing, and our relations with the US are a different matter. Russia and America have many things in common: the nuclear shield, the fact that both our countries are large and multicultural… We face similar challenges, say, immigration issues, even if the reasons are different. Both countries have vast territory. The only problem with America is that despite all that we don't really have economic ties with the US. Russia’s share in US trade is less than that of Thailand, below one percent. If we build a purely political relationship, it proves to be unstable and often emotional.
The world is changing, and the old system of checks and balances is not enough now. I would suggest replacing NATO with a pan-European security system.
RT: But that’s what Medvedev has suggested – and nobody takes it seriously.
M.P.: The world is changing, and people don’t take new ideas seriously. But I believe there is no alternative. I think Russia and Europe should have a common market. As the next step, we could consider introducing a new global currency based on the euro and the ruble.
RT: Can Russia join the European Union?
M.P.: I think we should actually make it our strategic goal. Of course, we’ll need to consider how to organize this common market. But strategically, I agree with General de Gaulle, who said decades ago that we need a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
RT: These days, all you hear in the news is Syria and Libya…
M.P.: There is also Iran.
RT: Right. Should we protect Syria and Iran against the West? Or should we yield?
M.P.: I believe that Russia, being an international leader, should go together with the rest of the civilized world. But at the same time, we must be given clear guarantees that our national interest will not suffer. Take Iran, for example.Let’s say, a war erupts there tomorrow. Iran is right on our southern border, right next to the Caucasus. Imagine the flow of refugees we are likely to get. Millions of people!Iran is right on the Caspian Sea – that’s where the Volga River flows to. So, there is no way this issue can be decided without Russia. We must be present at the negotiating table and have a say in decisions regarding Iran. Needless to say, no one in the world would want Iran to haveweapons of mass destruction.
RT: What about Syria? Why are we defending it so much? It is not our neighbor.
M.P.: It involves our geopolitical interests. If there is a war close to our southern borders, this will affect our neighborsand the situation in the Caucasus. There will be millions of refugees fleeing from war. And all this will be happening close to our borders. We should be fully aware of that.
RT: Do you regard Russia as a superpower?
M.P.: I believe our country has an important mission. By virtue of our history, we should set high goals and achieve them. Of course, we haven’t been doing that lately, so many of our people have lost this vision. In our past, we colonized vast territories like Siberia. Russia is a special nation that likes extreme challenges. There is a downside, of course. What I mean is that individual people are considered insignificant and are sacrificed for the sake of a great goal – but that was before me.
RT:What do you mean, “before you”? Before you become president?
M.P.: Yes, before I become president. We need to change that completely. People should be at the heart of every grand undertaking. People should be the top priority.
RT: What is the first and most important change you will make if you become president?
M.P.: My very first step would be to ensure competition in every area. Equal opportunity means that talented and ambitious people should be rewarded based on their merits. But there should be equal opportunity.There should be competition both in politics and in the economy. We should provide an outlet for our people’s energy. Currently, there is no social mobility.
RT:You make it all sound very nice, but if you come to power you would have to make really tough decisions: reducegovernment spending, reform the entire economy. This is a much more difficult job than managing a company you built from scratch — no matter how big it is.
M.P.: You're absolutely right, but what if a person who comes to power does not even have the experience of running a big company? That would be even worse! Of course, running Norilsk Nickel is not the same as running the whole country, but at least I have this experience. There's also a strong team of managers who work both for me and in other companies. Over the 25 years of my business career, I have worked with hundreds of highly qualified managers who could be useful in the new process. We need new faces, new ambitious and honest people who have already achieved success and who would like to change the world. I understand them very well, because I also want the same thing. I want to change my country in such a way that we could travel abroad and tell people there that we live in Russia, and they would look at us with envy.
RT: Can you say that you are never afraid of anything?
M.P.: Of course I have fears. I'm a human being. I have doubts and fears. But it’s a matter of priorities. It’s normal to have fears. But you need to know how to overcome your fears. If the future of your country is at stake, and you are willing to assume the responsibility,it is not a matter of having no fear. It’s a matter of realizing that your country is capable of doing this, and that you can make a contribution to your country's development. I'm actually very proud that I'm participating in the presidential election. It’s not everyone that can achieve this. I treat this job and this choice with great responsibility.
RT: It actually seems like a very spontaneous decision. This isn't something you've been planning your whole life. Or have you?
M.P.: I make decisions quickly. I guess they first develop within me over a long period of time. And then, when conditions are right, I get a kind of signal that it’s time for a change. So when I realized that I had to change something, I turned to politics. Back in April, when I just joined the Right Cause project, I knew there would be rallies on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Prospect. That’s why I went into politics.
RT: What do you mean “you knew”? Nobody knew it.
M.P.: I got the signal. This happens to me. Say, I foresaw the crisis, and I sold my assets in advance. And this time, it was the same thing.
RT: Is it intuition?
M.P.: I don’t know, I guess it’s a bit more tricky. It’s a combination of knowledge, experience, being aware of the current situation in the country and worldwide, and intuition. Added together, all these things enable you to make the right move.
RT:Recent polls indicate that the people of Russia see Putin as the next president. If Putin returns to the Kremlin, and it seems that he will, what would that mean for the Russian economy?
M.P.: If nothing changes, the policy of stabilization will continue, and this will seriously undermine the competitiveness of our country. We have to change because we’re behind. If we can rally the nation, and this has happened before, although, unfortunately, it happens only at the time of war, we can defeat any foe or any rival. What we need today is we need to realize that we are at war, but this is an economic war. This is a war for the future, for a slice of the global pie. We need to get our slice of the pie.
RT: People often ask you who could be your prime minister. If you could choose between Khodorkovsky and Putin, whom would you pick as prime minister?
M.P.: Again, you are asking me to choose between two alternatives, but you need more options. In fact, I don’t think you can consider Putin as a candidate for the prime minister’s job at all. He’s been running the country for twelve years, and I think that’s enough. More than enough.
As regards Khodorkovsky, I know Mikhail on a personal level. We used to have a lot of contact. He is really effective as a manager. But first he needs to be released, and then we would need to meet and discuss things. But of course I think we should take advantage of such people with their experience, including their experience in politics.
RT :I assume you would release him if you were elected president?
M.P.: Of course. I would pardon him immediately.
RT:You also said you would turn the Kremlin into a museum. What would you do about Lenin? Would you keep him there, like a mummy in a pyramid, or bury him?
M.P.: Personally, I think Lenin should be buried. But this should be done respectfully with regard to the people who disagree. I would hold a referendum on the issue.
RT: I don’t think my next question needs a referendum. People often ask you whether you are going to get married or not. I only ask about this because of protocol. I really don’t know of a single president. If we take a look at Russia’s history, Russia has never had a single president, or a single leader. You say, you are waiting for your love of a lifetime. But your love of a lifetime may come tomorrow, or in ten years. And you want to be president today. Are you ready to get married if this helps you become president?
M.P.: No, of course not, if you put it like that. I genuinely believe in love, and I really hope it comes to me, sooner or later. I work a lot, and perhaps I don’t give enough time to other things, including dating. I guess my work takes up too much of my time. It’s either that, or bad luck. I am lucky in many other things, but I’m not lucky in love. But I should be lucky sooner or later.
RT: You have been extremely lucky your whole life, and you always emphasize the importance of good luck. Have you ever considered why you are so lucky?
M.P.: Actually, I think that to be lucky you have to work a lot.
RT: I often observe various politicians and the way they talk to the media, especially during the campaign. They often try to win you over with passion, or emotion. But you are a very reserved person. At least, that’s how you appear to the media. Also, when you talk, you say all the right words, but it all sounds like math. It’s as if you are reciting the multiplication table. For example, I remember how you once described marriage as the most complicated deal. Now you are saying that you are better suited to run the country because you have the experience of running a big company. You say you knew about the rally on Bolotnaya Square beforehand because you got a signal. Do you ever get sentimental?
M.P.: Everyone gets sentimental once in a while.
RT:What can move you to tears?
M.P.: Let it be my little secret.
RT:That’s what you tell everybody! When was the last time you cried?
M.P.: That was back in my school days, when I was bullied by three boys who were older than me. They cornered me, and there was nothing I could do. The whole class saw it. But later I caught them all, one by one.
RT: Thank you very much for the interview.
M.P.: Thank you.