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‘In Russia, it’s either Putin or Navalny’ ‘New People’ party leader Alexey Nechayev on the recent elections, building coalitions, and changing the system from the inside

Source: Meduza
Sergey Karpukhin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Alexey Nechayev, the founder of the beauty and apparel company Faberlic, is the leader of “New People” — a newly established political party, which managed to win seats in four regional parliaments during the September 2020 elections. New People has now become the most successful political projects among the number of new parties that emerged simultaneously about a year ago, all of which are rumored to have the Kremlin’s support. In conversation with “Meduza” special correspondent Andrey Pertsev, Alexey Nechayev talks about the recent elections, the potential for building coalitions, and his stance on cooperating with the authorities (the following is a summary of their conversation — the full Q&A is available in Russian here).

After Russia’s unified day of voting on September 13, New People’s candidates had won seats in four regional parliaments and the city council in Tomsk. But according to party leader Alexey Nechayev, they went into the elections with higher hopes. “The maximum agenda was to get through in all regions where we applied [to participate] in the elections: to six regional legislative assemblies and the municipal councils in Tomsk, Krasnodar, and Rostov,” Nechayev recalls. “The minimum programme was in four regions and two cities.”

Nechayev says they barely failed to make the cut in Krasnodar, falling short of the five percent barrier needed to be elected to city council by a hair: “Our result was 4.99 percent, then it dropped to 4.96 percent. These figures are too telling, we believe that we did in fact get through there. The minimum is to get through wherever we were allowed [to run], it’s been fulfilled.”

According to Nechayev, the wins the party did secure are thanks to their candidates, many of whom were little-known before the race. “We found good candidates, people who had done something themselves, who are independent from the government, they don’t work for government agencies or corporations and they don’t receive grants,” he explains. “It’s a new type of candidates, who didn’t imagine themselves in politics.”

A New People campaign poster in Voronezh ahead of the elections. August 16, 2020.
Oleg Kharseev / Kommersant

Given United Russia’s significant loss in Tomsk, where it won just 11 of the 37 seats on the city council, there’s now an opening for the creation of an opposition coalition with a majority vote. Asked if New People’s representatives would be willing to join forces with other political groups, Nechayev insists that this should be left up to the people on the ground. But it seems as though he does have some reservations about making alliances, particularly when it comes to the two representatives from Alexey Navalny’s local office, who were elected as independent candidates. “What resources do Navalny and his people have? We have more activists in Tomsk than they do. Two of their people got through. Well let’s get to know each other. In Russia, it’s either Putin or Navalny, black or white. But there are shades, let’s look around,” Nechayev says. 

He also has a bone to pick with the Communist Party (“They’re no different from United Russia, when they’re in power”), but appears to think New People could find common ground with Yabloko: “We aren’t liberals, [but] democratic values are close to us. Are Navalny and his supporters democrats? I’m not sure.” 

Asked to comment on the claims about New People being a “Kremlin project,” Nechayev points out that his party actually “took votes from United Russia” during elections. But he sees no point in trying to dissuade those who don’t see the party as an actual opposition force. “We see how and what Kremlin projects can do [...] We see from last year’s protests in Moscow — that’s how Kremlin [projects] work,” he says. “It suits Navalny to think of us as a Kremlin project, it suits him to think that he’s the only remaining oppositionist.”

Alexey Nechayev during a press conference in Novosibirsk. July 22, 2020.
Vlad Nekrasov / Kommersant

Going forward, Nechayev says New People is still focusing on growing its base. “We’re building the party, day by day, month by month. We’re building our assets, we built them in 12 regions, now we’re starting to build them across the country,” he explains. “We brought people from all over the country to the regions where there were elections. Now, they’re returning home, incensed by the campaigns.” 

Looking ahead to the 2021 State Duma elections, Nechayev has no doubt that the party will be ready to compete. “Did you think that we’d be able to get into the State Duma in January? You thought we were some strange guys. But we won wherever we were allowed [to run]. So they’ll rise, you just have to do the job,” he says. 

New People’s party congress in Moscow. August 8, 2020.
Alexander Kazakov / Kommersant

When it comes to the question of cooperating with the authorities, Nechayev maintains that “to do something, you have to do something,” so you can’t completely disengage. The way he sees it, real change comes from those working on the inside:

“If you don’t get into the process, you don’t understand how it works. We have our own progression: if we ensure our participation in municipal councils, regional parliaments, and the State Duma, then we will have the experience of a real political struggle [...] If you participate, write inquiries to the Attorney General’s office, then you begin to understand something. You gain experience, and when the moment of change comes — be it ‘Belarusization’ or a thaw — you understand what needs to be changed. Civil servants can be greater oppositionists than you and I: they know how everything is built and what needs to be done.”

With that in mind, Nechayev insists that he isn’t going to impose a “power vertical,” but rather let his party’s representatives find their own way. “You have to believe in people, I’m not a fan of verticals,” he says. “Our people are honest — if we become disappointed, then we won’t repeat the same mistakes again.”

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Interview by Andrey Pertsev

Summary by Eilish Hart