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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

From Prison to Politics




A prominent player in Russian politics during the early 1990s, Ruslan Khasbulatov slipped off the radar screen shortly after he was arrested for his role in the now infamous events of October 1993, when the speaker of the outlawed parliament - together with then Vice President Alexander Rutskoi - led a coup against President Boris Yeltsin.


The 13-day conflict came to a head when Yeltsin sent in tanks to fire at the White House against his opponents, and many caught their last public glimpse of a pale and stone-faced Khasbulatov as he was escorted out of the burning building to Lefortovo prison. He spent over a year in jail before he was pardoned by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.


Since then, the Chechen-born economist has shied away from politics, returning to his first and favorite profession: teaching. The 57-year-old academic has returned to his job at Moscow's Plekhanov Academy, where he is a professor of international economics. But he is planning to enter the political arena once again, running as an independent candidate from the Khabarovsk region for the Duma this December.


Smoking his trademark pipe, Khasbulatov recently spoke with Alexander Bratersky at his office, where copies of his book, "The Great Russian Tragedy," line the shelves, and a small figure of an old Chechen warrior reminds him of his own clan, which is one of the oldest in Chechnya.


Q:


As a person of Chechen origin, how do you feel about the situation in your native land?


A:


It is real barbarism - a genocide taking place at the end of the 20th century. I have close relatives there now: my brother, who was a history professor at Grozny University, my sister, my mother. I am really worried about them because I have no news.


Q:


Who do you think is largely responsible for the current violence? Is it the Wahhabis?


A:


The Wahhabis are not the worst evil, although they have contributed a lot to the demonization of the Chechen people in general. But historically, they have nothing in common with Chechens. The Russian media keeps saying that [Shamil] Basayev and [Chechen warlord] Khattab are seen as national heroes in Chechnya, but this is wrong, since most of the people don't like them. Nobody needs them. Nobody needs [Saudi militant Osama] bin Laden. He has his own business. He is fighting with the United States and has probably heard nothing about Chechnya.


Q:


What do you think about [Chechen President Aslan] Maskhadov?


A:


He has done nothing for his country in the last three years in office. What has he done for the sake of his own people? He is worse than [Dzhokhar] Dudayev [the late Chechen leader], who was not as strong a nationalist as Maskhadov is and tried to maintain a more moderate position. Dudayev even had a Russian wife.


Q:


Do you think that if the Russian government had negotiated with Dudayev from the start, the [1994-1996] war with Chechnya would never have started?


A:


Yes. I was trying to meet with him [Dudayev] several times and I asked the Russian authorities to land his plane when he was flying back and forth on international visits. Why did they allow him to fly around the world with a Russian passport? They could have forced him to land, put him in a car and said: We want to bring you to your fellow Chechen, the chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet, and he will talk to you.


Q:


How are you personally trying to help your own countrymen?


A:


I am the president of a committee that was specially founded to help the people of Chechnya [by collecting money and food for refugees in Moscow]. We try to do what we can, but we don't even have our own building.


Q:


What about the rich Chechen businessmen in Moscow? Have you asked them for financial help?


A:


Rich Chechens prefer to deal with the current powers that be in Moscow, and they don't care about their own people.


Q:


If peace eventually comes to Chechnya, do you think it should be independent of Russia?


A:


An independent Chechnya is out of the question today. People need to be saved from the mass killing. Who needs the independence of a desert?


Q:


When you think back to the events of 1993, what goes through your mind now?


A:


First of all, I think that after [the events of 1993], the development of Russia reached a dead end. The parliament of the country - the most democratically elected one - was fired upon by the president. I was put behind bars and the whole world paid no attention to the matter.


Q:


What do your students think about your role in those events today? Are they supportive?


A:


Over the last few years, I have noticed that my students are becoming more interested in politics. Today, many of them believe that historical truth was on my side.


Q:


How do you see Russia developing in the next century?


A:


I am not optimistic. I think that Russia will go through some very hard years. The Russian government is completely incompetent - it is the trash of society that calls itself the "political elite." Just look at some of the regional governors who see themselves as God's representatives on earth.


Q:


Are you talking about Alexander Rutskoi, who runs the Kursk region as if it was his own territory? Thinking back on those days you spent together in the White House, are you now sorry he was there with you?


A:


I was sorry when he came to the White House in the first place, and that when he did come, he refused to leave. If I had known him better [before he was appointed vice president], I would have warned Yeltsin that he is not a very honest man.


Q:


After being the second most powerful man in Russia after the president, why have you decided to run for a Duma seat from the Khabarovsk region?


A:


Some local people whom I know very well asked me to become their representative to the State Duma. I don't really care. If they want to elect me, let them. If I can do something good for those people, I would be very happy.


Q:


If elected, wouldn't you miss your students and your life at the university?


A:


I will always find time [for that]. I love to teach.