Lawyer Alexander Lebedev: "How to live in a country where there is no law?
Alexander Lebedev is a lawyer from Chelyabinsk. He was brought up in an orphanage, and at the age of 21 became the youngest deputy of the district council in the Chelyabinsk region. Worked in the State Duma in the "Just Russia" faction and assistant to deputy Alexander Ageyev. In 2016, Ella Pamfilova offered him a job at the Central Election Commission. Then Alexander ended up at the Russian Foundation for Free Elections, from which he left with a scandal. He participated in the gubernatorial elections in the Chelyabinsk region. He hosted the program Legal Grinder on OTV. Lebedev left Russia soon after the mobilization was announced. Why do only those without principles stay in the state system? Alexander Lebedev talked about this in an interview with Eyewitnesses on February 24:
Tell us about yourself.
- My name is Alexander, I am from Chelyabinsk region, Troitsk, Troitsk district. I was brought up in an orphanage in the village of Stepnoye. For 8 years I lived and worked in Moscow. The last 3 years I lived in Chelyabinsk. By profession I am a lawyer - not a paper lawyer who just sits and deals with documents, but more of a political, public lawyer, associated with the promotion of the protection of rights. On the example of a particular person I defended the rights of many people. When there was a pandemic, we had to deal with the accrual of benefits. One person turned to me, then another, and as a result in the Chelyabinsk region we were solving the problem of payments systematically. Also with bailiffs, with justice of the peace. Then I was offered to become a television presenter on the basis of this legal activity. I refused for six months, I thought that I could not: it is the same difficult - to talk and tell. I refused for six months, but finally I agreed and became a TV presenter on the regional television. But I warned at once that I could not and did not want to lie, that I would not be a propagandist who couldn't care less what he had to say. They told me: "No, don't do that, it'll be all right. Help people, tell them, defend them. In the beginning it was OK, but as the ratings rose, the program quickly became one of the top 3 TV channels, and even one of the top 1, and, of course, restrictions began to pile up. And when the war started, at first we were told just not to criticize the actions and decisions of government agencies, plus we introduced an article about fakes, but after a while I was told that we had to actually support all of this. Of course I couldn't stand it, although of course the level of income I earned at the state television channel - 100 to 200 thousand rubles a month - was quite a good level, higher than many other journalists. But I considered that conscience is not for sale.
You have experience in lawmaking. What laws have you helped bring to light?
- I worked in the State Duma for eight years, developed more than 100 bills, and more than 30 laws were passed. This is, for example, protection of children's rights: a bill that if a person does not pay child support, he loses his driver's license. I've developed a bill to ban officials from having a staff overseas. This is one of the bills that - amazingly - the president has amended. Usually the bill is withdrawn. We have seriously simplified life and registration in Russia. Now in Russia, you don't have to get registered within one subject if, for example, you live in Troitsk and you come to Chelyabinsk. When you come to another subject, you can stay off the register for 90 days. Moscow and the Moscow region, St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region are one subject, you can stay off the register. This is, of course, serious, because we understand that most people do not live in their place of registration.
Do you remember how you felt on February 24, 22?
- I could not imagine that in the 21st century someone could violate international law. On February 24, unsuspecting, I posted Zelensky's address to the Russians with the thought, "Save it, remove the leadership, don't step in there and there. I didn't see anything wrong with that. I thought, "Well, that's a reasonable, sensible suggestion - not to enter the territory of another state." And I posted Putin's appeal. My position as a journalist, as a fair man, as a public figure, as a lawyer has always been to give the opinions of all people. And then I got a phone call from the management of the TV channel, from the leadership of the region, and they said: "Are you crazy by any chance? I mean, are you putting Zelensky out there?" I thought at the time that maybe the Security Council or the president really knew something. People tell me now that I'm over-shadowing myself when I say I'm against the war, that I don't support this story here. You can look at my post of February 24, '22. It clearly says, "The President and the Security Council hopefully know what they are doing, and they will be held accountable for all the consequences." I've been to three funerals from my village, and I've always said, "God willing, this will be over." In February you could still say that Putin was misled, it's not like he's really sitting at the front, he's not talking to ordinary citizens of either Russia or Ukraine, he's watching his own propaganda, and the propaganda and the military are saying what he wants to hear. But when the mobilization was introduced, I understood that it was not profitable for the country or for the political rating. The authorities make it so that a lot of people die. I'm annoyed by the patriots who sit on the sofa and say that others must die, but not them. If everyone supports the president - about 85% - then why can't 300,000 volunteers be recruited? Why is everything plastered with these ads? It's just mental insanity.
Why did you leave Russia?
- How do you live in a country where there is no law? I'm a lawyer. Earlier, I understand, we could not get the right of election. In Chelyabinsk, human rights activist Kazantsev was jailed for 4 years for alleged fraud, although there was a civil contract for legal services. The man performed, the other side did not like it - fraud. The man says to him, "Let me give you your money back", he gives the money back, and he sends it back to him. In Troitsk, two women were defrauded by swindlers. The prosecutor of Chelyabinsk region personally promised to look into the matter. In the end - silence. In other words, there is a gang of swindlers operating in the center of Chelyabinsk, charging 50-100 thousand for checking credit history of pensioners and taking loans from microfinance organizations, and the government does not see it through.
You were part of the state system. At what point did you finally become disillusioned with it?
- From time to time I managed to work with the authorities, and I found it useful for the development of something. For example, in 2012 in Moscow, I worked for the party "Just Russia", but I was not a member of the party. I have always been non-partisan. It was with "Just Russia" all the members of the election commissions were from independent organizations: "Golos", "SONAR", "League of Voters". We created the standard of elections in Moscow. I was never part of the system, because I was never fully trusted, because I could always give up something. I have never betrayed anybody and I have never made sure that somebody would go to prison because of me, God forbid. There is no dirt on me. Many people who have been in power for a long time sincerely believe that it is really necessary to kill everyone, that there are traitors and enemies. Because everyone gets funding, and they are "just" here. So what if Naryshkin's wife or deputy defense minister went to Italy or Spain or France. The rest of the enemies want to undermine the country, while they are sincerely fighting from morning till night for the development of the population. Although, of course, a lot of people in the Central Election Commission, and in the State Duma, and in the Federation Council, and even among the staff of the Federal Security Service, the Investigative Committee, and the Interior Ministry are not happy about this situation. In conversations with staff members of the Federal Security Service, for example, I hear: "Geez, the mass media have now disappeared. I say: "So you yourself killed them. You killed the media yourself, and now you say they are gone. That's the thing, if the media does not exist, officials will become completely impudent.
You worked in the Central Election Commission. Are its members responsible for what happens?
- They create conditions for falsification. While Armenia or Kyrgyzstan have fingerprints or eyes to prevent multiple voting, Russia removes all such things. Even the late Churov, for whom I now have more sympathy than for Panfilova, did not think of this - to cancel the members of the commission with the right to advisory vote. They made the observation process very difficult. In 2012, nothing prevented the installation of cameras at all the polling stations, and then they were not installed at all of them; then there was limited access. In the last Duma elections of 2012, for example, the Yabloko party was given 10 accounts [to monitor]. And what is this, how do you control it? As a member of the regional election commission with consultative voting rights, I did not have access to video surveillance. So by their actions, the Central Election Commission is making the elections in Russia unfair. Ella Panfilova has absolutely no understanding of electoral legislation and, unfortunately, during her 7 years of work at the Central Electoral Commission she has never understood it. No one has ever disgraced herself the way she does. And of course her main task is to reassure the public and the candidates. For me it was a huge disappointment when she did not interfere in the situation during the elections in the Chelyabinsk region last year, where I was a candidate. My signatures were rejected out of hand, and she did not interfere. Although she personally promised twice to look into the situation. I am in favor of digitalization, but where it can be controlled, where it can be developed. I spoke out against DEG, remote electronic voting. I was invited to the round table on DEG, and I harshly criticized it. I said that it was illegal, unverifiable, and so forth. That the electoral system of Russia lags behind the electoral system of Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and many CIS countries. And Bulaev, Panfilova's deputy, told me: "You have a black mark on the entrance to the CEC." That is simply for the opinion black mark. How's that? And then Panfilova and Bulaev threatened me several times in messages that the authorities would deal with me.
Why do you think none of the deputies of the State Duma spoke out publicly against the war?
- Deputies are a cross-section of society, but not the best. Because if you have a conscience and principles, you probably won't sit in several convocations of deputies. I can tell you about a deputy I worked with that he was kicked out of the State Duma because he didn't support something. You say society protests. Where does society protest? In Chelyabinsk, 10 people came out against the war. Society is not protesting. If you take Narusova's vote against electronic subpoenas as a percentage, that is, at best, 1% of society that is against it. Let me say again, the public are ordinary people, and their voices are clouded by propaganda. Yes, I think that Europe will not accept these people [deputies] very much either. Many won't be released. Many will have some stories, things, questions. Because almost every deputy can be prosecuted for more than one criminal case. They were heads of cities, they were directors of factories, steamships. And then you can seek their extradition.
Do the Duma and the Putin administration understand how many people in Russia support the regime and how many do not?
- They both know and don't know. If they didn't know, they wouldn't be pushing for DEG. They wouldn't be tightening the issues. You see, in order to stay on the sidelines, they changed the law and now, for example, refusals to register candidates cannot be appealed to the CEC. This should remain at the level of the regional commissions. The same Kiriyenko, Peskov, who uses the Internet, and not Putin, who does not use it, they understand everything. They analyze the whole situation. But Peskov is not a strongman. You see, for example, Prigozhin - Valeria's husband - is not touched because Valeria is a friend of Navka, Peskov's wife. It would seem, how much more discredit? So someone, of course, he protects, but his own. And to protect the entire society, unfortunately, he can not. And apparently, he can't, because Putin is closer to the party of war than to the party of peace. And if they understood that it is really a small mass of people who oppose these actions, that this mass of people live in poverty, they would not have used such repressive measures. And what about Kara-Murza, Yashin, Navalny, the guys from Bakal with the military recruitment office? Why, for example, in Kazan a girl received a year and a half of probation for burning the military recruitment center, and in the Chelyabinsk region in Bakal - 19-20 years? Because those were from the Emergency Ministry and the Federal Guard. You can not show that already system people do not believe in the system. I think the main culprit is propaganda. Because if Simonyan, Solovyov, and Kiselev hadn't broken up the propaganda, Putin, I think, would have retreated a long time ago, said: "The goals are accomplished." I think he would have stayed somewhere where he is now. And now they can't just retreat, because society won't understand. Because of propaganda, the government itself is so deadlocked that any truce with Kiev, any negotiations, will be perceived as weakness and betrayal by people who don't think critically, who don't read the Internet, but watch TV.
Will you go back to Russia?
- I do not plan to return to modern Russia voluntarily. Only by force, legal or illegal. Because I am, of course, wary. There are still attempts to bring criminal cases against me, there are still attempts to search for me. So there are certain things, including the fact that I worked with Panfilova and with the governor of the Chelyabinsk region, Teksler, there is a certain dissatisfaction. He has oligarchs, he has opportunities, influence. And the siloviki, for example, tell me: "You understand that Putin will leave, but we will stay. I say: "You'll all change your shoes, just like you did under Gorbachev and Medvedev. All the same, it's important - the president plays first fiddle. The president can replace the head of the FSB, the head of the Investigative Committee and the head of the Supreme Court. Of course, I believe that if there will be changes, it is necessary to begin with the General Prosecutor's Office and the Supreme Court.
When will change for the better begin to happen in Russia?
- I expect that by the end of the year there will be serious changes, something will happen. So all in all, unfortunately, the potential, in my view, is 3 years. On the other hand, it is not enough that the Russian society has been deceived for so long - 30 years, taking 25% of the military budget - but the Russian society continues to support and tolerate. It is not clear how much longer the society is ready to tolerate all this and feed on illusions. Because probably many people already understand, but are afraid to admit to themselves that they have been deceived.