Originally appeared at “Current Commentaries” (actualcomment.ru), translated by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
Upon the request of “Current Commentaries”, the director of the Center of Political Trends Aleksey Chesnakov conducted an IM-interview with Vladislav Surkkov.
–On January 25 you said that you are leaving state service and will spend a month on meditation. It’s been a month. How did the meditation turn out?
It had results. Not that I spent the whole month in the lotus pose or in the hanging bat pose. There are different kinds of meditation. I practice the sort called absence of thought. Because I became very scared as a child when I realized that I always and constantly thought about something. That my head is always invaded by various thoughts—good, bad, clever, dumb, own, foreign, very many, too many thoughts.
And, most importantly, these thoughts come of their own, against my wishes. Their flood is beyond control or regulation. There are too many of them, and there are always more and more. But my head is not made of rubber. And pretty small to boot. I was little then. So I thought: “well f**k.” And I felt my poor little non-rubber head would burst. My brain will choke on thoughts.
So I tried to stop that flow of consciousness. It was not easy. Stopping thinking is like stopping breathing, you can’t do it for long. How long can you not breathe? One minute. 2-3. 5, if you are really out there. But almost nobody can do it for 15-20. Those who can may be using some sort of trick, I don’t know. You likewise cannot stop thinking for more than 5 minutes. If you are a normal person. I, since I started these exercises as a child, can do it for 15 minutes. That’s a limit. No need to try to repeat it.
Non-thinking is not some sort of relaxation to the sound of sitar. It’s not spiritual meditation where people fall into stupor through monotonous chanting. Which is for some reason called enlightenment. Not-thinking is something that’s employed only in utter necessity.
Why do we hold our breath? Not to learn the truth, or to relax or detox. In order to survive in an environment where breathing is impossible, for example, underwater. Holding our thoughts is just as important when you are in a situation where thinking is harmful or impossible. So you do it to survive in that situation.
Yes, up to a point
–You promised to explain the reasons behind your dismissal…
I already have. I was hoping to talk about and distract with the discussion of meditation. To whom are these reasons interesting, anyway? Maybe next time?
–No, let’s do it now. Some will find it interesting.
I don’t know. On the one hand one can’t lie, but also cannot say too much…My main focus was Donbass and Ukraine. The context, shall we say, changed. That is, I am supposed to continue working on it. But the context is different…Let’s go with that. I will not explain anything here myself. But I will also not totally avoid answering either. I was able to read some comments on my departure. Some are quite correct. Not exact, of course, missed some details, of course, and not overly kind, but overall they are correct. Back then, in January, Vladimir Solovyov described the reasons. I am not referring to the author to “Three Discussions about the End of World History”. Also not referring to the respected Vladimir Rudolfovich. I mean the Solovyov from Kommersant. Even Lesha Venediktov laid it out pretty accurately. Already after the decree. So, those for whom this is of interest can find those commentaries themselves.
–Did you ask for the dismissal yourself? Or were offered to write “upon own initiative”?
Myself. Entirely on my own.
–Dmitriy Peskov announced that you were visiting the president shortly before the decree on yoru dismissal was published. What did you talk about?
That which the president saw fit to speak. For my part, I was glad to express to him my enormous gratitude. That he let me work for him for 20 years. To participate in great accomplishments up to the level of my ability. It was awesome. Big honor for me.
–Why was there so much time between your announcement and the decree?
I don’t know. One clever woman told me this when the delay occurred: “They are giving you time to think it over, fool”. But I think it was simpler than that. It’s clear that my resignation was not a high priority item. It spent time going from one office to another…
–Not sad to leave? You won’t miss working on such big things?
I would be sad if I hadn’t left. I’d grapple with it. I’d accept the changed context. But it was long time to go.
–You wanted to leave back in 2013…
I realized already then there was no place for me in the system. I, of course, created this system, but was never part of it. It’s not the problem of the system, it’s my problem. I feel alienation. Not because I don’t like something. I do like it. I simply don’t know how to continue doing anything for more than 5 years.
I like to work in the genre of anti-realism. That is, when one should act against the existing reality, change it, redo it. While the project is undergoing its genesis, development, growth, it’s interesting to participate in. There’s room for new ideas. When the concept clashes with reality, old structure collapse and new synthesize, the process releases energy. It’s fun. But when the new is established, it rapidly becomes the old. The project enters the phase of stability, it becomes reality itself. Its level of energy declines. It becomes routinized. You’re not asked to come up with anything new. Only repeats. Why do that? Others can do it after me.
I was long involved in domestic politics. The political system and the basis of new statehood were established. So it was time to leave in 2013.
So I left. But then I returned to state service. There were reasons. Also because I had the unique opportunity to choose the project for myself. I chose Ukraine. Out of sheer intuition. Nobody nudged me in that direction and I didn’t know anything myself. Nobody knew, probably. I simply felt, or rather sensed that big things were afoot. I guess this before anything began happening, before there was a real struggle with the West. A serious struggle. With casualties and sanctions. Because the West wouldn’t shrink from one or the other. And we also won’t haggle over the cost. True, I had a premonition. I am now amazed at how I predicted this in the summer of 2013. In the total calm that existed back then. And then it all happened. I’m proud to have participated.
But it’s been five years…This project has also began the natural process of slowing down. In an ordinary situation, I would not have asked to leave such a critical sector. Because it would be irresponsible. But the sector has cooled off. I could not spend five years moving in one direction, and then sharply yank on the reins and go in the opposite one. I would never convince myself to do it. That’s how I obtained both the reason and excuse to leave for good.
–For good? You mean there are no plans to return?
No plans. That would be impossible.
–You are not disappointed in the system that you created but which did not save a spot for you?
Naturally, no. Rather the opposite. It’s a strong system. One the country needs. My vanity is forever satisfied by me having applied my hands and my head toward the construction of the new Russian state. And if one hired bricklayer fell off the scaffolding in the process of building this mighty building, this did not make it lower or weaker.
People better than me were not able to find a place in their own projects. Steve Jobs was dumped by Apple at some point. No big deal.
–Will you be engaged in politics?
Yes, of course. I was always interested in politics. Before coming into state service. And after.
–How will that express itself?
Since I don’t have any big projects right now, I will practice small political forms. Specifically: kitchen debates. Or appearances in pubs for little known fellow drinkers. Or writing a not-for-publication treatise on giving partial electoral rights to bots as a first step toward emancipating virtual personalities.
–How about a serious answer?
That was a serious answer. The future is not maturing in the mainstream. Not in presidiums. But in kitchens and pubs. In strange treatises. On the dark and quiet bottom of the information stream.
–What ideas will you promote in these kitchens?
You already know. By political conviction, I’m Russian. By political preference, a Putinist. Of a somewhat heretical nature.
–What do you think of Ukraine, its future, its relations with Russia?
There is no Ukraine. There’s ukrainness. A specific disturbance of the mind. An amazingly extreme form of infatuation with ethnography. Blood-dripping local history of sorts. Chaos instead of state. There is borshch, Bandera, bandura. But there is no nation. There is a brochure titled “Independent Ukraine”, but there’s no Ukraine. It’s only a question of whether Ukraine already doesn’t exist, or still doesn’t exist?
Oddly enough, I’m an ukro-optimist. I believe Ukraine still doesn’t exist. But with time it will. The “khokhols” are stubborn folk, they’ll get it done. However, what kind of Ukraine it will be, in what borders, or maybe even how many Ukraines there will be, these are all open questions. Russia will one way or another have to participate in addressing them.
Relations with Ukraine have never been simple, even when it was part of Russia. Ukraine was always troublesome for imperial and Soviet bureaucracy. Either Ataman Half-Boot will fail you, or the westernizers will join Hitler. Forcible imposition of brotherly relations is the only approach that has, historically, shown its effectiveness in the Ukrainian case. I don’t think another one will be found.
–What is Donbass to you?
For me, Donbass is not a what but a who. First of all, people. Amazing people. Zakharchenko, Khodakovskiy, Borodai, Pinchuk, Bolotov, Bezler, Tolstykh…and many others. I apologize for not mentioning them all. And that I have no right to name them all. And that I listed the living ones alongside the dead. They are genuine warriors. They are not to be idealized, of course. War attracts all kinds. War is confusing, dreary. But necessary. They undertook this difficult work. And were up to the task.
Life is not sugar there for civilians either. Everyone there was heavily tested. It’s hard there now. They are all heroes. Just as there are hero-cities, there is an entire hero-nation there.
–Will Donbass return to Ukraine?
My imagination is not strong enough to imagine something like that. Donbass does not deserve such humiliation. Ukraine does not deserve such honor.
–You saw Zelensky at the Paris summit. What impression did he make? What can you say about him?
He’s no sucker. In Paris, at any rate, everyone took him to be president…He has an unusual lightness of thought [Here Surkov appears to be quoting Gogol, where that phrase means lack of seriousness].
–Did you take an interest in the upcoming Russian constitutional reform?
I don’t know about these plans. I haven’t studied the documents. I’ve read what was in the news. Moreover, the final text was not there yet. It’s too soon to judge. Although there were some encouraging reports. They should uproot that subversive thesis that international agreements are above Russia’s own laws. It’s high time to remove that norm. While it exists, our democracy cannot be considered to be wholly sovereign.
I also hope we’ll end the supposed independence of local self-government from state authorities. Everyone knows there are no economic, social, or psychological bases for such independence. Ask any governor, and he’ll tell you, off the record of course, but he’ll tell you nevertheless that is high time to make municipalities part of the overall power hierarchy. And stop engaging in profanation for the sake of visibility of Western values.
If presidential powers are also clarified, and that was also mentioned, legal logic will require one to start the presidential term count anew. Because the new powers will create something of a different institution of presidency. It might include the current limits on presidential power. In any event, if the authorities to not restart the presidential term count from zero, it will seriously violate legal purity. That’s my personal view, of course, But one based on legislative experience.
We have established, through natural processes a de-facto not presidential but hyper-presidential system of government. It’s an organic part of our political culture and, in my view, it ought to be formally enshrined in law.
But, I repeat, it’s too soon to draw conclusion, the final text hasn’t been published, discussions are still ongoing. We’ll see what will come out.
–The idea of mentioning God in the Constitution has provoked many disagreements…
I’ve heard. But I haven’t given it thought. I don’t know. It’s possible, of course…But it makes no real difference.
In my view, God doesn’t care one way or another, whether he’s in the Constitution. If anything, he’d find it comical. In any event, the God I’m dealing with.
–Where do you plan to work?
Listen, don’t hurry me. I’ve seen life only through the windows of my personal car for twenty years. Let me look around. I’ll stroll around the market, find something. I’m not hot property, not with my array of sanctions and political toxicity. Rather the opposite. Potential business partners run away when I show up. This makes it all the more interesting.
–Do you have enemies? Can you name them?
I hope I have enemies. I’ve been trying so hard. It’s not proper to name them without particular reason. Enmity is an intimate thing.
–Nothing sensational for the interview? Some insider stuff, perhaps?
Under no circumstances. Corporate ethics: always say what you think, never say what you know.