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Mikhail Kasyanov speaks at MU about present and future of Russia

Former Russian prime minister and economist Mikhail Kasyanov gave the audience an overview of the past decades in Russian history. He recalled the achievements and problems of the state and discussed the future of the Russian Federation.

Mikhail Kasyanov and Andrei Zubov before the start of the lecture.

On 20 March, Masaryk University offered a space at its Faculty of Arts for a lecture by Mikhail Kasyanov entitled “After Two Decades of Wasted Opportunity: Where is Russia Heading?” Interest was so great that the large faculty auditorium was filled beyond seating capacity. Kasyanov was welcomed by the Rector of Masaryk University Martin Bareš.

The lecture was introduced by the Vice-Rector of Masaryk University Jiří Hanuš. Together with Andrey Zubov, a Russian historian, religious scholar, and political scientist, who has been a professor at MU since 2022, they introduced the lecturer and outlined the basic scope of the lecture. Kasyanov was prime minister of the Russian Federation from 2000 to 2004. In 2008, he attempted to run for president but was not allowed to do so. He left Russia in 2022 and is currently described by Moscow as a foreign agent.

Mikhail Kasyanov, Jiří Hanuš and Andrej Zubov at the opening of the lecture.

Kasyanov began his speech by giving thanks for the invitation and recalled the legacy of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in Czech-Russian relations. In particular, he highlighted the so-called Russian Relief Action of 1921, when, after the Bolshevik Revolution, Czechoslovakia helped refugees from Russia.

He went on to discuss the complicated transition of the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation and the difficult years of the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin. “Yeltsin's government today, in hindsight, should be evaluated as something positive,” Kasyanov said.

With the turn of the century, he said, an “atmosphere of fear” came to Russia. At the time, the little-known Vladimir Putin won the presidential election. According to Kasyanov, it was the last free election. Kasyanov's government was in place during the same period. “It prepared many reforms in pension policy, insurance, and the oil industry,” he said, adding that although Russia was experiencing an economic boom and relations with foreign countries were more than good, the situation soon changed. The invasion of Georgia brought about a deterioration in Russia's relations with the West.

“The change of the constitution in 2011 resulted in a very dangerous atmosphere,” Kasyanov stressed. He referred to the following period as the Putin era. Economic stagnation, armed conflicts, and problematic relations with the West continued to deepen. Kasyanov also did not hide his surprise at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “No one anticipated, not even me, that something like this would happen.”

Still, Kasyanov believes the situation will improve. “Russia has a chance for a good future,” he said. Free elections are essential, he said, to kick-start the process of democratization.

At the end, Kasyanov answered students’ questions. He commented, for example, on his work in the government and on the issue of national minorities in the Russian Federation.

Mikhail Kasyanov was also welcomed by Rector Martin Bareš.

The whole event was a success with the audience and especially with the students. “I liked the lecture very much. Firstly, because it is related to the field I study in international relations, and secondly, because Mr. Kasyanov is a great figure who visited Masaryk University and Brno. This doesn't happen every day,” said Maroš Dufala, a first-year student of international relations and security and strategic studies, sharing his impressions of the lecture.

The author of the article is a student at the Faculty of Social Studies.