Archive for category Russia
A year or so ago, while doing research for the post-BRIC Russia report, I spoke to a US diplomat dealing with Russia about the ‘reset’. He sounded (naturally) very positive about its effectiveness. Among its two key achievements he mentioned cooperation on transit to Afghanistan and halt of anti-US propaganda on the Kremlin-controlled media and a subsequent decrease in anti-Americanism in Russia society.
With Putin’s return, protests in Russia and the US elections all talk is now about the end of the reset. In the last few months anti-American propaganda made forceful comeback in the Russian media. Many thought it was just electioneering in the run-up to the March presidential elections. But that was too optimistic, it seems. In the last few weeks things became even more heated. NTV, a Russian TV channel owned by Gazprom Media, has been following US ambassador Michael McFaul pretty much everywhere, which lead to an outburst of indignation from McFaul, as well as accusations that his phone (and therefore calendar) is hacked, and a formal US State Department protest over the harassment of the US ambassador. McFaul also claimed that upon arrival to Moscow last January he felt like he was back in the Cold War and that ’it has been surprising that there was so much anti-Americanism, because we thought we were building a different kind of relationship, and it makes some people nervous that it could so quickly and reflexively go back to – in terms of rhetoric – an era that we thought was behind us’. Then, on a different occasion, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called McFaul ‘arrogant’. In other words, the dismantlement of what was considered a key achivement of the reset is well advanced. Read the rest of this entry »
Brussels might have started to get used to the sharp-tongued former Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, but Moldova is only in the early stages of doing so. After a stint in Brussels, Rogozin moved back to Moscow last December to be appointed deputy prime-minister in charge of the military-industrial complex. Rogozin is a Russian populist nationalist politician with huge
(rumour has it that presidential) ambitions. A couple of weeks ago he was also appointed special representative of the Russian president on Transnistria (rather than on conflict settlement in Transnistria) and co-chair of the Russian-Moldovan intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. The move was badly staged. The Moldovans learned about it from the media. The appointment came in the same package as the nomination of two Russian regional governors (of Krasnodar Krai and North Ossetia) as ‘special representatives’, read overseers, for the adjacent Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And Rogozin on the third day of his new appointment called Moldova a ‘hencoop’ on his twitter account.
The Moldovans are worried, the EU unimpressed and both irritated. Clearly the appointment of Rogozin shows a much higher Russian political interest in Transnistria. The trouble is that when Russia would rather put up a show instead of cooperating – Rogozin is the right person to (mis)handle dossiers. Given that in the last couple of months there have been some hopes regarding conflict settlement in Transnistria after the long-serving Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov lost power to the younger Evgeny Shevchuk and Moldova finally elected a president, the appointment of Rogozin is an ever bigger nuisance. Rogozin is likely to be more concerned with self-promotion than pursuing conflict-settlement. Read the rest of this entry »
The result of the Russian presidential election brought two months of euphoria to a shuddering halt. The expectation that Putin would return with a weaker mandate was crushed by his unexpectedly high 63% of support. And even allowing for massive fraud – a lot of it well documented – Putin emerged from this election stronger than many predicted. Most of even his staunchest critics concede that he probably obtained more than 50% of the vote even without the rigging. But while Putin is jubilant, the Russian opposition is more demoralised and disorientated than at any time since December. Between euphoria and depression, it is important to understand where Russia – its government and society – stands after this election.
The weakness of the strong
Putin is both weaker and stronger. He is stronger because he ran a successful election campaign, managing to mobilise his voters through a combination of bribing specific social groups and playing on their fears of instability and animosity towards better off Muscovites. He also (out)played the opposition at its own game by organising even bigger rallies and speechifying at meetings.
The institutions built up by Putin over the last 12 years may not be strong enough to fight corruption, improve the business climate, modernise Russia or fight forest fires, but they have proved capable of delivering vote rigging on an industrial scale, getting people into the street, and disorientating and discouraging his opponents. This machine has also learned to adopt the opposition’s weapons, such as mass rallies, and reproduce them on a similar or grander scale. Read the rest of this entry »
All authoritarian regimes are based on a mix of coercion and inspiration, fear and promise, trickstery and grand narrative. But to be successful, authoritarian leaders need to stand for something. The more convincing their ideational offer, the less coercion they have to use and the cheaper and more lasting the system is likely to be. Thus, the autocrats of this world routinely use various ideologies – from Islamism to communism and from monarchism to anti-colonialism – as their ideological foundations. But the moment they exhaust their ideational drive, their countdown starts. This is the situation Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, finds himself in.
What Putin stood for?
Over the years Putin became associated with a set of ideas he stood for and campaigned on. These ideas were convincing and appealing to most of the Russian public. When he came to power in 1999-2000 Putin’s key selling point was the promise of wiping out terrorism and fending off threats to Russian territorial integrity. With a new war in Chechnya raging and bombings of apartments blocks in several Russian cities including Moscow this was both urgent and salient.
In the 2003-2004 election cycle Putin launched and then rode a wave of anti-oligarchic sentiment with promises to fight corruption, clean up the economic system and squeeze the super-rich. As part of that campaign Khodorkosvky was put in prison. The 2007-2008 campaign season was all centred on Russia’s newly found geopolitical greatness and ‘standing up from its knees’, as the phenomenon was advertised by pro-Kremlin loyalists. It was all expressed through intense anti-Western hysteria invoking the dangers of US-sponsored a colour revolution and geopolitical encirclement. This is how over the years Putin chipped into the ideological profile of what could conventionally be termed as Putinism.
But Putin has nearly run out of ideational appeal. He has preciously few new ideas to oil his frailing political system. Read the rest of this entry »
The existence of divisions among Russia’s democratic forces is proverbial. But the same can be said of Russian nationalism. Nationalism is a movement that is not only increasingly split between an imperial, expansionist and (sometimes) cosmopolitan version, on the one hand, and an introvert, defensive and anti-immigrant one the other, but also in the throes of mutation as it attracts moderates and democrats who would previously have given it a wide berth.
This presents different challenges for everyone. The Russian government fears that a nationalist-democratic consolidation on an anti-Putinist platform would make a much more formidable adversary than the ‘official’ opposition allowed in parliament. Russian democrats also have their own dilemmas as their flirtation with nationalism is on the verge of evolving into a marriage of convenience, a combination that could produce either their elixir of life or a toxic poison.
From imperialist to defensive nationalism
Nationalism is like software that can run on different platforms – from Windows to Android. As nationalism normally has little to say about economic or social policies, it can easily merge easier with other left- or right-wing ideologies, increasing exponentially the number of mutations to which it can be subject. Read the rest of this entry »
OpenDemocracy.net: The preliminary results from Russia’s parliamentary elections are bad news for the Kremlin. Putin’s pet party, United Russia, got slightly less than 50% and it lost its constitutional majority in the Duma. That translates into a 14% fall from the last elections in 2007 for a party that had never seen its share of the vote decline at federal elections. The question now asked is a simple one: is this just a temporary setback or the beginning of the end for Edinaya Rossia and the Putin consensus?
By the standards of Western democracies, falling just short of the 50% mark after three years of global economic crisis and 12 years in power would be a stellar victory. But in Putin’s Russia this is a serious setback for two main reasons. First of all, the elections were neither free, nor fair. Evidence of ballot stuffing is already swirling around the internet, and the election campaign was heavily biased in favour of United Russia. Federal TV channels and local authorities worked hard to persuade and pressurise people to vote for United Russia. Under normal campaign circumstances and with no ballot stuffing Putin’s party would perhaps have got somewhere closer to 30-35% of the vote. The authorities know that. This is hardly a rock-solid foundation for the supposedly Teflon President Putin who wants to be a fatherly leader of the nation for a life-time. His lifetime. Read the rest of this entry »
I just co-authored a new ECFR report on Dealing with a post-BRIC Russia, some kind of a follow-up to the 2007 Power Audit of EU-Russia Relations. This new report deals with the impact of the economic crisis on Russian foreign policy and Moscow’s relations with China, US, the post-Soviet space and the EU. Among many other things the report argues that the EU is more united on Russia than it was a few years ago, less vulnerable to potential energy pressures, but that the EU is still underachieving in relations with Russia. The EU should stop treating Russia like a ‘small China’ and aim at more than trade-related objectives. The EU member states should better coordinate their bilateral Partnerships for Modernisation, and should also move as quickly as possible towards a visa-free regime with Russia (and EaP states), but even before, the EU that can drastically improve travel conditions through the adoption of an electronic visa system that would allow travellers who have already had a Schengen visa to get print-at-home visas.
The report has been endorsed by several foreign policy personalities in Europe. Here are some of the endorsements:
“This report is an important analysis of where Russia stands today and what opportunities this brings for the EU. It will open a much-needed and interesting debate.”
Javier Solana, former EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy; former Secretary General of NATO
“This report is extremely insightful both for its great analysis as well as policy recommendations proposed which touch upon both foreign, economic and energy policies. The report is indeed a real working agenda for the European Union.”
Massimo D’Alema, President, Italianieuropei Foundation; President, Foundation for European Progressive Studies; former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
This is a continuation of Part 1
EU member states differ widely not just in the application of visa procedures, but also on how fast the EU should move towards a visa-free regime withRussia. Russia and the EU apparently agreed on a set of common steps to undertake towards the visa free regime and should make the agreement public at their next summit in December. The ‘common steps’ are presumably supposed to be quite similar to the EU action plans on visa free travel offered to Moldova and Ukraine.
From an EU perspective there are two possible approaches to the issue of liberalising visas for Russia. One approach is to set the bar high (as the EU did in the Western Balkans), and demand not just improvement of border-management and security of documents, including biometric passports, but also wider and deeper reforms of the law-enforcement agencies, fight against corruption and improvements in the human rights record. Some officials in several EU member states, including Germany, suggest that the EU should link the EU offer of a visa-free regime to Russia to some political or security issues where the EU wants to see some progress. In such a case the EU would treat the offer of a visa-free regime to Russia as the highest possible prize for which Russia should sweat a lot. Under such an approach fighting corruption would minimize the dangers that the Russian passports might be acquired/bought by potential third country illegal migrants as a one-way ticket to the EU; and improving the human rights record and fighting torture would dry up the legitimate reasons for Russian to claim asylum status in the EU (data in Part 1). Finally, the EU then has to inspect and monitor Russian compliance with EU demands.
The problem is that such a strongly conditional approach has worked on Serbia, might work on Moldova, but is unlikely to work on Russia. Read the rest of this entry »
A visa-free regime with the EU is perhaps the one thing that most Russians want most from the EU and is a key priority for Russia’s EU policy. The EU and Russia have agreed on a set of ‘joint steps’ towards a visa-free regime. The issue of visa is hugely important for the EU as well. It resonates with domestic debates on immigration. It also poses huge logistical challenges for EU member states. The highest number of EU visas in the world is issued in Russia and in the top ten EU consulates worldwide judged by the number of visas issued, nine are in Russia. So, here are two blog posts looking into some of the issues related to the perspective of EU-Russia visa-free travel. The first deals with the state of play in EU and Russian visa policies, and the second will deal with the perspectives for visa-free travel in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
On a recent trip to China, I asked Chinese thinkers and researchers how do they see Europe, Russia, the Putin-Medvedev dynamic and the post-Soviet space. Virtually all were very positive about Russia. Despite a lack of trust between Beijing and Moscow, the relationship seems to be better than almost any time in modern history – economic exchanges are booming (increased by 43% in 2010 reaching USD 55 bn), and China’s border with Russia is one of China’s most stable. But scratching a bit deeper beyond the surface the picture is unsurprisingly more mixed. And not necessarily reassuring for Russia. As a Chinese put it, the relationship is good because ‘we know that when two tigers fight, both are likely to be wounded, and we want to avoid it’. This is hardly a positive way to start a partnership.
China and the break-up of USSR
A colleague of mine and I asked the Chinese how do they see the break-up of USSR. Here is the answer we got:
‘We had a big debate about whether this is good or bad for China. Some ideological people were saying this is bad because it undermines the attractiveness of Communism. But the pragmatists were saying this is good for China. And it is true, after the break-up of USSR we have very good relations with Russia. Better than ever before.’
The untold part of the answer is of course the fact these ‘better than ever’ relations are build on a very different balance of power and a Russia that is much weaker than USSR. As I wrote previously, Chinese views on the post-Soviet space do not differ much from those in Europe or the US. They differ in style (China is more deferential to Russia), but not in substance. Read the rest of this entry »