Leonid Volkov, a 2018 Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow, admitted that he was an unlikely candidate for campaign manager and chief of staff for the leader of the Russian political opposition.
“My education and background are in math and computer science, which I realize is surprising for a political manager,” said Volkov, who was the chief of staff for Alexey Navalny, the leader of the Russian Party of the Future and a former World Fellow. “But we have to use internet technology in our political operations because we have no other choice, since for at least 10 years, we’ve been cut off from all mainstream media, and the Internet remains the most important medium and means for communication with our voters and supporters.”
Volkov was formerly a deputy of the Yekaterinburg City Duma and the head of the central election committee of the Russian Opposition Coordination Council. He currently oversees all regional political operations of Russia’s Party of the Future over the country’s 11 time zones. On Monday, in front of a packed room at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Volkov spoke bluntly about his experience working within the Russian opposition, the state of Russian domestic politics and the country’s uncertain future.
Although Volkov lamented the current state of Russian politics, he was hopeful that the opposition’s efforts would eventually succeed.
“Corruption is how Russia is run, organized, and governed these days — it’s a typical mafia state,” he said. “We have the godfather and his lieutenants, and those lieutenants are immersed in permanent conflict to curry the favor of the godfather.”
Volkov added that since Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia in 2000, popular support for most governmental institutions — the parliament, regional authorities, the army and others — has remained low.
Putin’s own personal approval ratings, however, have remained high because Putin places the blame for the country’s problems on other politicians, institutions and foreign powers. Volkov explained that Putin’s rhetoric forces members of the elite to pledge absolute loyalty to Putin in order to retain power.
Yet, with Putin aging rapidly, Volkov predicted that this paradigm is ripe for change.
“15 years ago the typical elite member would assume that Putin would be around forever, that they would die around the time Putin dies, but now that’s not true anymore,” he said. “The elite needs to start thinking about their post-Putin existence, they need to invest in their approval ratings and they need to invest in ways of solving conflicts not dependent on Putin.”
Volkov added that because the current system is based on “personal relations and agreements” with Putin, it will collapse once he loses his power. As soon as Putin is gone, “people will start fighting with each other to try and achieve a new balance,” Volkov said.
Volkov predicted that his party will see real success once that happens.
“Our basic strategy remains the same: to work hard, to grow as a political organization and to use anything that happens in the country as a tool to create stress, to create more pressure on the regime,” he said. “At this point the internal turbulence, the struggle within the political elite, is as high as its been in the last 15 years, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.”
The audience engaged with Volkov during the question and answer portion of the talk, and attendees interviewed by the News said they enjoyed the event.
Matas Zinkevicius ’21 said that he thought Volkov’s answers were “very solid.”
“He has a realistic understanding both of what is going on in Russia and what could change, so I’m pretty impressed overall,” he said.
The Greenberg World Fellows Program was established in 2002.
Jack McCordick | firstname.lastname@example.org .