Khodorkovsky went on to describe his priorities: big business over small and medium-sized firms, because it means higher productivity and efficiency; further urbanization; a strong, technologically independent military with high-precision weapons; trying to win and dominate external markets and “state protectionism within reasonable limits”; a parliament where legislators represent Russia’s diverse regions rather than political parties.
The former oil tycoon’s problems with the current regime have to do with how Putin approached a similar set of priorities. The Russian ruler, he says, has strengthened government by trampling the rule of law, bet on big business but allowed corruption and crony capitalism to flourish, sped up urbanization but made Moscow the country’s only attractive mega-city that vacuums up people and resources from other parts of the country, set out to build a modern military but lost technological momentum by alienating potential allies in the West.
“Giving up land to China, negotiating to hand over islands to Japan — these are the pseudo-patriotic undertakings of the government as it tries to win favor with eastern neighbors, having destroyed relations in the West,” Khodorkovsky said.
As I read this, I couldn’t overcome the feeling that Putin was being criticized for fumbling great-power policies, for incompetence and corruption rather than wrongheadedness. This is a different approach from that of the other visible Putin critic, Navalny, who’d written a platform for his presidential run earlier this year that was disallowed by the Kremlin because of Navalny’s conviction on trumped-up charges.
That document was a thoroughly populist program that called for big tax cuts, unrealistic spending increases, a utopian pension system based on putting all government assets in a fund that would provide the bulk of pension payments, and an all-professional military of 500,000 service members each making $3,000 a month — about as much as a U.S. staff sergeant makes. It called for “ending aggression against Ukraine” without handing back Crimea (instead, it called for “legitimately solving Crimea’s issue [sic] in favor of the local population,” whatever that might mean).
In Navalny’s Russia, high-technology business would thrive simply because it would be a nicer country with low taxes and little bureaucracy, so the brain drain would stop. Strict immigration limits, which Navalny advocates, wouldn’t hurt economic growth.