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Do Anti-Corruption Protests Pose A Threat To Putin's Presidency?


We are broadcasting from Russia on a day of anti-government protests. Arrests have already been made here in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, according to Reuters. The leader of these nation-wide protests, Alexei Navalny, has also himself been arrested in Moscow. And he has become the opposition leader in Russia. And if he can get on the ballot - and that is a big if - he plans to challenge President Vladimir Putin in next year's elections. Of course, Putin can pretty much decide who gets to run and who doesn't. So the question is, why, if you're Putin, would you let Navalny have a campaign at all? Well, I was chatting about that with Andrey Kortunov a couple days ago. He is director of a Kremlin-sponsored think tank called the Russian International Affairs Council. And I asked him if Navalny poses a real threat.

ANDREY KORTUNOV: I don't think that right now Putin is directly endangered by Navalny or whoever. People are concerned about corruption, and this problem cuts across all, you know, political parties. But everybody is concerned about corruption. So Navalny was able to put his finger on a very important and very sensitive issue.

GREENE: And you think Putin realizes that and realizes maybe having Navalny out there being able to speak about these things is a good thing for him? It shows...


GREENE: ...That maybe more - like, he's adapting.

KORTUNOV: It's hard to tell because it's too early. But definitely, people in the Kremlin should be concerned about this very rapid rise of Navalny. I don't think that they expected it, and they have to decide how they're going to cope with this new phenomenon, how they can deal with that. I don't think the question has an easy answer.

GREENE: OK, so as Putin looks towards a presidential election next year, what exactly is his vision? Few people are in position to answer that. But Kortunov is. And that's why it is worth squeezing into his schedule.

We rode in his car as he rushed to a meeting, and we asked how Putin sees Russia's position in the world.

KORTUNOV: I think that there are a couple of profound disagreements between Putin and his Western peers about the world, about the direction in which the world is going and about the preferred world order. One of the disagreements is about the main divide in the global politics.

The traditional Western perception is that the real borderline in the international politics is the borderline between democracy and authoritarianism, between freedom and tyranny. And if you're on the side of freedom, if you're on the side of democracy, you're on the right side of history. If you're on the side of authoritarianism or totalitarianism or whatever it is, you're on the wrong side of history.

GREENE: And Putin does not agree with that.


I think that right now he doesn't agree with that. I think that he would argue that, of course, you know, democracy is good, but the real borderline is the line between order and chaos. And if you intentionally or unintentionally support chaos, you're on the wrong side. And that's what he accuses the West offering places like Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or even Syria.

GREENE: Oh, yeah, that meeting Kortunov was rushing off to - it was with German diplomats. He wanted to convince them that Russia won't interfere in their election this fall.

Well, I'll let you get to your meeting. Thank you so much for letting us...

KORTUNOV: Well, thank you. I'm sorry for...

GREENE: ...Take the ride with you.

KORTUNOV: OK, I hope your stay here will be productive.

GREENE: That was Andrey Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council.

MARTIN: Albeit brief, fascinating interview. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.