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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 23, 2021 4:30am-5:01am BST

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this is bbc news. the headlines: dozens of people have been hurt in clashes in eastjerusalem amid rival demonstrations by palestinians and a far—right jewish group. there were confrontations between the two sides and palestinian demonstrators and the israeli police who are trying to keep the groups apart. joe biden has pledged to more than halve the united states�* carbon emissions from past levels by the end of the decade. the president set the ambitious target during a global video summit, with many other world leaders also promising to make big reductions. and hundreds of mourners have attended the funeral of a young black man who was shot dead by police in the us city of minneapolis. daunte wright was killed during a routine traffic stop. the service in minneapolis heard impassioned appeals for police reform.
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now on bbc news: hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. the imprisoned russian opposition leader alexei navalny describes himself as a "walking skeleton". he's refusing food in protest at his medical treatment. thousands of russians joined protest to show their solidarity. the kremlin seems intent on destroying navalny�*s movement, irrespective of internal dissent or international condemnation. my guest is vladimir ashurkov, key navalny ally and the executive director of his anti—corruption foundation. is putin about to eliminate his most dangerous opponent?
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vladimir ashurkov, welcome to hardtalk. thank you for having me. i think we have to begin with the very latest news you have on the condition of yourfriend, your ally, alexei navalny. what are you hearing? so today's the 22nd day of his hunger strike. i remind you that he demands just the medical attention, an independent doctor to see him, because his health deteriorated in prison. we were particularly worried on friday when we got the blood test results and they showed abnormal level of potassium, which is associated with imminent kidney failure and heart issues. so that's why we have been pulling all our strings. we accelerated the date for the mass protests. it happened yesterday.
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but before we get to the mass protests, let's continue with the medical condition. it's several days now since you publicised this news about the dangerous levels of potassium. you talked about organ failure being imminent. so right now, what is happening to him? is he getting any different treatment? we only get sketchy information. a lawyer is allowed to see him for about an hour on weekdays. we know that he has been transferred to a tuberculosis ward in a different prison and that he's been on vitamin drip. that's the extent of information about his condition that we have. do you think that the russian authorities — and i'm going to be brutal about this — want him to die? because i've seen word from some of your colleagues in the movement saying that they believe, quote, "the putin regime is trying
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to kill him slowly, painfully for the whole world to see." that was from vladimir kara—murza. do you share that feeling? well, one doesn't have to look far to find facts confirming this. he was poisoned in august of last year with a military—grade nerve agent, and the subsequent investigation showed direct link of the poisoning to russian security services. so i think putin, of course, would like to eliminate navalny, who, over the last year, has emerged as the most serious opponent to his regime. i've described you as notjust a political associate of his, very heavily involved in his anti—corruption foundation, but also a friend of his. when he told you — and i'm assuming you talk quite frequently when he was having the medical treatment in germany — when he told you of his intention to go back to russia, did you advise him against it?
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i was thinking about this all the time since the time of poisoning and when he was still in coma, that it was my duty to — not to dissuade him from going back to russia, but to explain to him that he has options, that he needs to weigh them carefully — returning, not returning, organising his work from outside of russia. but when he came out of coma, when he started talking, writing, we spoke. he was determined to go back. so, there was no really... no point in me, you know, talking him out of it. but i'm just mindful that you took a very different decision because, you know, our audience won't necessarily know the detail, that you left with your young family. you left russia in 2014 as you were being investigated by the authorities over allegations of financial embezzlement, fraud. you chose to flee and you haven't gone back, and you now do your political work overseas from london.
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he could have made a similar decision. i suppose some in the movement might say he'd be more useful right now were he in better health, maybe in europe, than he is inside a prison in russia. it's true. different people have different levels of resilience. it's not for nothing that navalny became the leader of russian opposition. his moral authority, his moral stance is what really underpins his position as the leader of opposition. and his return was really not a calculation. it was a matter of principle for him to return. why shouldn't he? he has done nothing wrong. the work of his life is in russia. he's built a strong political organisation. there are millions of supporters. why shouldn't he return back to his home country after medical treatment?
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yeah, that's a big claim — "millions of supporters". it's hard to know quite how deep and wide the support is. but what we do know is that when you and your organisation called for supporters to take to the streets just 2a hours ago to support navalny�*s stand, demanding independent medical attention, you got hundreds, maybe a few thousand onto the streets of st petersburg and in moscow, and a few other cities all the way to the east. but you didn't get the tens and tens of thousands that you were perhaps hoping for. i think you're wrong on that. in moscow, the independent count of protesters is from 30,000 to 60,000, which is... those aren't the estimates i've seen. i know you like to say there are a lot there, and there clearly were a significant number. but most people who watched it, who are independent, didn't think they were quite that many there. it was a short period of time for preparation. we announced itjust three days before mass protest.
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it was a weekday, but a lot of people came. it was probably on par with the mass protests that happened in january. isn't the truth, though, that it is getting extraordinarily hard for people to take to the streets in support of mr navalny and your opposition movement? because they know that if they do, they very likely will get arrested. they more than likely will face punishment of one form or another, including possibly losing theirjob and maybe losing theirfreedom for a time in prison. this is not a decision that many russians, even those who deeply sympathise with your cause, can easily take. it's true the brutality of police against the peaceful protesters has increased over the last months.
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but still, there are tens of thousands of people who take to the streets, notjust in moscow and st petersburg, but yesterday, we've seen protests in over 100 towns and cities throughout russia. it looks as though the kremlin, mr putin and his associates have the intent to destroy your movement. two of the key figures around mr navalny, media and communications people, two women were arrested, both of them very senior in the movement. and the message seems to be for all of you who are closely involved, the authorities are going to get you. 0ur organisation has been under constant pressure since it was created in 2011. a number of our senior managers are under house arrest, and you mentioned kira yarmysh, our press secretary, who was under house arrest. she was still without access to internet and she was still detained and charged and got ten days�* sentence for allegedly inciting this
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protest through internet. and lyubov sobol, as well, another key member of the leadership team. that's right. so my point is that your organisation is gradually being reduced. the level of attrition is now very high. i spoke to another exiled leader of your movement, leonid volkov, not long ago, and he had all of these grand ambitions for a grassroots organisation that would look to the duma, the parliamentary elections in september, and would ensure that mr navalny�*s message was getting out there to every town and village across russia. my point to you is, thatjust doesn't look possible. 0ur organisation has grown quite significantly over the last few years. we have about 200 people working full—time with us, scattered throughout russia. unfortunately, due to this political persecution, a growing number of our activists are relocating from russia to europe, but we still operate seamlessly with our people outside of russia, inside of russia.
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we see increased pressure. it's not the first time that we see it. we have adjusted before. we'll adjust our work now. so our activities will definitely continue. this is a hard question to ask, and it's probably an even harder one to answer — but what happens if alexei navalny dies in prison? maybe he's an abstract person for you and for most of your viewers, but for me, it is a friend, a live being and i'm not ready to... i have to say i have interviewed mr navalny on hardtalk, so i have some experience, i've spent time with him in moscow.
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i know him as a personality, as a person, but i suppose i'm also exploring what it means politically if the man who so dominates the opposition movement and for whom you and others, you know, you work with this sense that he is the leader. if he is no longer there, what do you do? he's alive now. we're applying all our efforts to put domestic pressure on russian authorities, international pressure. we are not ready to entertain this thought just yet. and as a friend of his, would you... if you could get a message to him, and i dare say through lawyers, you are getting messages to him, would you say to him, "alexei, we understand this hunger strike, but you have to stop. we need you to live"? he is a person that makes his own decisions. he has proven that he has moral
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courage to do what he does. hunger strike is the measure of last resort. it's not something that people take to lightly. he had his reasons, and it's his decision on whether to stop it or continue. do you think, in some ways, he went too far in the personal crusade against vladimir putin? i'm thinking of the viral videos we saw of this vast palace on the black sea that alexei navalny said had cost many hundreds of millions of dollars, which he said was, you know, full of the most extravagant furnishings, which was, he said, vladimir putin's personal palace. it seemed, with all the detail about those gold taps and everything else, that he was trying to humiliate and ridicule vladimir putin. and ijust wonder, again, given the situation we see today, whether that perhaps was going too far?
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vladimir putin is the architect of this system of political and economic corruption that we see in russia, and he is the person responsible for all the corruption and injustice that happens in our country. so how can a politician like alexei navalny not point to this hypocrisy of, you know, this billion—dollar palace, just one of many that was built for putin? it's just political logic to expose it as much as i can. and people — you know, this video on putin's palace, it clocked over 100 million views on youtube... i'm very well aware of the impact it had, but i'm just thinking,
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both for yourself — because you're a very key figure in the anti—corruption movement — and for alexei navalny, when you personalise it so very clearly, when you talk about putin sucking the blood out of russia, when you talk about putin running a kleptocracy, an association of thieves, do you understand that putin — and we know his nature — putin is going to regard this as deeply personal and is going to go after navalny, maybe even yourself here in london, in a very personal way? we wouldn't be in this line of work if we were thinking about security and what's better. it's not politics as in western countries, where you participate in elections, you run campaigns, you talk to the media. the political work in russia involves risks —
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and navalny understands it, all our team members understand it. we are building our campaigns on transparency and accountability, and that means that we need to live by this principle as well, so our audience expects straight talk from us. if we think putin is a crook, we'll say it. but there is a pragmatic context, as well. you need to be able to operate in some form or other. within the next few days, declaring you an extremist organisation. the implication of that is that anybody involved with your organisation faces at least six years in prison and, essentially, will be treated as something akin to a terrorist. that will, if it passes, mean that it's completely impossible for you to be active in the political arena. well, with all the channels of participation in political life closed — there are no elections, our candidates cannot get on the ballot lists — the political life is fossilised. we are...
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forgive me, but am i right in thinking this will involve the progress party that you organise, as well as the anti—corru ption foundation? so, all of the hopes that leonid volkov talked to me about — about building grassroots organisation across the country, about establishing offices that can work with other opposition political parties, create a coalition of interest against putin — all of that will become impossible. we'll have to wait and see. the implications of this motion are not known. but our opponents, they have all the administrative power, all the power of law enforcement. they pretty much can do what they want. that doesn't mean that the people who work with us, who support us, will be subdued in this respect. we'll find other means for working.
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you wrote a letter to the new us president and his team a few weeks ago, asking, demanding, much tougher sanctions against russia, in the context of what was happening to alexei navalny. now, since then, the eu and the us have targeted some new russian individuals for sanctions under the so—called magnitsky principle. they do not appear to have targeted the big fish that you wanted. are you disappointed? i don't think this is the end of the story. i don't think the sanctions saga ended with the sanctions that were announced in february. i would like to see the real kleptocrats, people with interests in the west, to be sanctioned because that's where it hurts... you said — if i may quote you,
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you said, "the west must now sanction the decision—makers who've made it national policy to rig elections, stealfrom the budget, poison people." you said there must be real action against "the cronies and wallets of putin". well, as far as i can understand it, the really senior people that you are fingering, they're not on any of these lists. this is not true. it's a mixed bag. many people in the security apparatus are sanctioned in the us, in the eu, in the uk. they haven't sanctioned the so—called wallets of putin's regime, the abramoviches and usmanovs of this world. but i think this is on the agenda, both in washington and in brussels. i don't know if you saw it, butjust a few days ago, angela merkel said that germany was still committed
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to the nord stream 2 gas pipeline project, massive project with russia to bring gas into germany and into europe. we also saw the eu foreign policy chief, josep borrell, go to moscow and have a rather embarrassing exchange with his counterpart, sergey lavrov, just a few weeks ago. do you think the europeans in particular are serious about getting tough on russia? these two are separate issues. i think mr borrell went to russia with good intentions of trying to establish some sort of dialogue. it's not his mistake that this dialogue failed, because you need two willing parties to start this dialogue. with respect to nord stream, we advocate personal sanctions against the people, the perpetrators of corruption and human rights abuse.
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the economic sanctions, we really don't have a position. we believe that germany and other countries involved in nord stream — their governments are capable enough of making their own decisions in this respect. itjust seems to me you have to tread a very delicate and difficult line when you appeal to the international community to take actions against the russian state, because vladimir putin is adept at playing the nationalist card. i mean, we see him do it all the time. we see him do it in the context of ukraine and many other matters. but right now, he portrays people like you as puppets of enemies of russia in the western world. 0ur position has been clearfrom the beginning of our activities. we advocate sanctions against individuals involved in crimes of corruption and human rights abuse. we don't have a position on economic sanctions that would impoverish russian people. so, we realise that they may come as the consequences of the actions of russian authorities, but we don't have a position on sanctions other than personal sanctions.
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but you know what they say in moscow — that people like you are in cahoots with british intelligence, for example. do you have a lot of contact with the british government, british security services? no. do you at least get protection from them? because i'm sure you are much more mindful than me, even, of what happened, for example, to alexander litvinenko, what happened to sergei skripal. do they offer you protection? i'm in contact with the metropolitan police. i don't think it would be appropriate for me to say any more about the measures of security that are in place. but, given the history that i just outlined, are you fearful? well, of course, ifeel much safer on the streets of london than i would have been in russia.
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at the same time, i have no doubt that russian security services are capable of conducting assassinations anywhere in the world. you talked a lot in this interview about determination — navalny�*s determination, your own determination — which i guess has come through in this interview. but how dispiriting is it that, for all of the efforts you are making and for all that alexei navalny is going through, if one looks at what is happening in russia to mass public opinion — and it's very hard, and i know that you will say you can't take opinion polls too seriously, but the best efforts made by people like the levada center suggest that putin still commands 60%, 65% approval in russia today, with everything that's happening. how dispiriting is that to you? i think, for a person, it's important to live up to your own values and beliefs. that's a reward in itself. nobody goes into russian opposition politics expecting fast results. it's a long road.
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but if you think... that's how i came into opposition — that you don't like something in the world around you, in your home country, you need to take steps to change it. i think you once said that you believe, truly believe, that within ten years, you would be back in russia and russia would be a very different place — and vladimir putin would be for the history books, not for the kremlin. do you still believe that today? of course. i don't have the time frame, but i believe that history has only one direction, and change is the constant throughout historic process. russia belongs to europe historically, culturally, religiously, so it will only be natural for russia to resume its path towards the umbrella of european and, more broadly, western civilisation. and we're working
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towards that goal. vladimir ashurkov, i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you. thank you, stephen. hello. we're seeing big temperature differences from night to day at the moment. we started yesterday morning at around —6 in a few spots. thursday afternoon, under clear skies, sunny skies — you can see from the satellite imagery — we got to 17—18 degrees. problem is, as soon as you lose that sunshine, the temperatures plummet again. and this morning, another widespread frost across the country, maybe as low as —3 or “4 in some spots of england and south—east scotland. frost—free towards the north but that's because we've got
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more cloud, even though we're under this same area of high pressure — that's what's keeping things dry at the moment. but around it, we are seeing some blustery conditions, particularly towards the far south and the west. most, though, light winds through friday, early morning mist and fog patches quickly clearing. that cloud stubbornly persistent across the far north—east of scotland, maybe a few showers for shetland. high cloud may turn the sunshine hazy in one or two spots but overall, it's a sunny day for many. a windy one, though, through the english channel and the south—west. the winds could gust in excess of a0 mph, whipping up some rather choppy seas, and that will limit the temperature rise here to between around 12—14 degrees for many. it may get up to 18 on the north coast of devon and around these western areas, 18 celsius quite possible. northwest england, north wales could get to around 20 degrees during the afternoon. but for all, just about, away from where we've got the cloud in the north—east of scotland, it's going to be a day of high tree pollen. now, as we go into friday evening and overnight, we could see the odd mist or fog patch form. the cloud still there in the far north—east of scotland but for most, it's
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clear skies into the weekend, and high pressure is still there as we start it. now, with that high pressure strengthening a little bit to the north—east of us, it does mean the winds across the south and the west will start to strengthen a little bit more, so it will be another blustery day across southern and south—western areas of the uk. breeze picks up a little bit for the rest of us, still some cloud in the north—east of scotland. a bit of patchy cloud forming elsewhere but for most, it's another sunny day. cool down some of those eastern coasts but in the west, we could still get up to around 17—18 degrees. the frost becoming less abundant as we go through this weekend as the breeze picks up. and it will pick up further into sunday, bringing more cloud across the country. cloudiest of all, central and eastern parts of england. best of the sunshine in the west with the highest of the temperatures but a cool day down those eastern areas, especially where the cloud lingers, and there'll be more cloud and cooler conditions next week, too.
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hello. this is bbc news. with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. dozens of people have been hurt in violent clashes in eastjerusalem involving palestinians and a far—right jewish group. there are running battles now between the palestinians and the israeli security forces. they're trying to move them back here. that's a stun grenade. the uk closes its doors to india as the country records the world's highest ever number of new infections in a day. the us leads several countries in announcing ambitious new targets for tackling climate change at a virtual summit hosted by president biden. ahead of this weekend 0scars ceremony we talk


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