My wife, Debbie, and I were visiting West Palm Beach’s Anne Norton Sculpture Garden with fellow attendees of the Cato Institute’s February Benefactor Summit. On the tour with us was Andrei Illarionov, whose presentation I was much looking forward to hearing the next day.
Illarionov’s speech, “American Adversaries Big and Small,” alerted attendees that the word election is not used in Russia but rather selection. And the selection of a Russian president is hardly free and fair.
In 2005, Illarionov, who had assumed office as senior economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2000, was the central figure in introducing the 13% flat income tax.
Unfortunately, by 2006, conditions in the country had deteriorated to the point where Illarionov no longer considered Russia to be a democratic or free country. The following year, he joined Cato Institute.
Illarionov is one of 34 first signatories of the online anti-Putin manifesto “Putin Must Go.” After his excellent Cato presentation — and a rousing “thank you” from a jam-packed ballroom — I was able to spend a few minutes with a most gracious, warm and open Andrei Illarionov.
I asked if he could come and go freely today from Russia and whether he and Putin were likely to get together for lunch on a visit to his homeland. I got a smile to my first question and another smile and a shake of the head — unsurprisingly — to my second question.
I asked if Putin would win the upcoming “selection.” Yes, advised Illarionov, but with perhaps a 30% to 32% real headcount, not the 58% headcount that will get fed to the public. He told me that Putin must pay for support demonstrations (sounds familiar).
Illarionov also informed me that Americans should be prepared for a ramping up of anti-American rhetoric and a massive buildup in Russian defense spending as a percentage of GDP.
Over the almost three days Debbie and I spent with Cato scholars, staff and attendees, I was able to ask many questions on a variety of subjects. I never cease to be amazed at both the quality of Cato’s policy team and the well-informed, focused and committed nature of its events’ attendees.
This is an edited version of an article that can be read in full at RichardCYoung.com.