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
It is clear that the Euro-crisis has and will have huge implications for EU foreign policy. A lot depends on what happens in the next months – the solution to the Greek or Italian problems, the contours of a multi-speed Europe and how messy a solution or non-solution to the euro-crisis will be. Things can get worse, or they can get better. But it is already possible to take a snapshot of the foreign policy implications of the Eurozone crisis. The picture contains a push to the background of all foreign policy issues, followed by fewer foreign policy resources and a coma for EU soft power, made worse by the fact that the EU understanding of power is so unhedged. Read the rest of this entry »
This will probably make boring reading, but for those with some stamina to go through typically unreadable, but important, EU-speak here is a comparison of how Ukraine and Moldova perform on their way towards a visa-free regime with the EU. The assessment is based on the recent progress reports by the European Commission on the implementation of the Action Plans on visa liberalisation by Ukraien and Moldova. (The relevant documents are here: Action Plans for Ukraine and Moldova outlining the conditions; and the progress reports for Ukraine and Moldova evaluating progress September 2011).
The progress reports are mainly concerned with legislative adjustments, which correspond to Phase 1 of the Action Plan. Evaluating realities will come next years. In order to somehow quantify the conclusions I also decided to give a ‘plus’ to the country that is ahead with some reforms, and a ‘minus’ to the country that lags behind the other (a simplified version of what ESI did with the Schengen White List project). Giving just plusses and minuses is of course quite simplistic, but nonetheless a useful exercise for a ‘quick and dirty’ look at where Moldova and Ukraine stand in relation to each other. I also decided to give additional bonuses in the form of half or full plusses to some areas which are much more important than the others (like introduction of biometric passports – a full plus, or half-pluses to having a half-functioning migration service or having implementing protocols for readmission agreements with EU member states). Read the rest of this entry »
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 »