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CSTO: What ya gonna do when they come for you?

Posted by democratist on August 16, 2011

August 16th 2011,

According to yesterday’s Russia Profile, leaders of the post-soviet states that make up the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have recently been banging their heads together at a summit in Astana, in an attempt to avoid the revolutionary fates which have befallen some of their colleagues in the middle East.

As such, while CSTO has, since its creation in 1992 been essentially limited to a collective security set-up for Russia and the six states over which it retains some degree of hegemony (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), it is now beginning to take on an additional hue, seeking to collectively prevent the political destabilization of member state regimes.

Discussion has centered on the following suggestions;

Firstly, it looks like the future for Twitter, Facebook and other potentially “destructive” social media is looking somewhat dicey in CSTO countries, as they seek to create an “impregnable wall” to shut out colour revolutions (although whether this means regulation, a total ban, or rather just switching these sites off during periods of unrest remains to be decided).

Secondly, external military intervention by a shared Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) to prevent revolution in CSTO states has also been mooted, principally by embattled, but newly Russia-friendly Belarusian President (and current CSTO chair) Alyaksandr Lukashenka. However, this approach looks less plausible as part of a CSTO-wide strategy, since few of the other leaders trust their colleagues enough to give them a pretext for invasion.

With regard to social media, from Democratist’s perspective, despite the wailings of Russia Today and other propagandists, the revolutions in the middle East have not been the work of outside forces, a “CIA plot,” or other self-serving conspiracy tripe, but rather an inevitable result of the internal economic and social development and contradictions of Middle Eastern states, combined with popular attraction towards an ideal manifested externally (the relative political and economic success of a growing ”core” of democratic countries).

All seven CSTO states are likely to face a growth in similar pressures over the coming years, which may be exacerbated by renewed global downturn. However, regulation of the internet is unlikely to make much difference; it is technically difficult to pull off effectively over lengthy periods, and in any case many alternative sources of information already exist (or can be created) in terms of satellite TV, shortwave radio, and the circulation of books, periodicals and newspapers.

Additionally, such restrictions are likely to act as a yet another reminder to the populations of these countries of the repression to which they are subject. Nor is the internet decisively important as a tool for revolutionary organization (as we are now witnessing in Syria). It is certainly useful, but plenty of revolutions took place before internet age, and will surely continue to do regardless of whether populations have access to the internet, mobile phones or other devices.

However, Lukashenka’s position is more proximately precarious than those of other CSTO leaders, and gives some indication of a possible future scenario in Belarus if things were to go seriously awry. Moscow is keen to maintain control of Belarusian energy transit and oil refineries, and Lukashenka has been forced to the table by internal political and economic developments. In our estimation, the Russians would almost certainly be willing to use military force to ensure control rather than risk the emergence of a less pliable government in the event that Belarus entered into a period of serious internal unrest.

Posted in Belarus, Central Asia, CSTO, Revolutions, Russian Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Bunga Bunga! Russia Today lends an old friend a hand.

Posted by democratist on April 15, 2011

15th April 2011,

A wonderfully bonkers piece of dezinformatsiya on RT this morning (“Silvio and I are closer together than ever” – Berlusconi’s Russian flame”), that seems to owe more to the News of the World, or Channel Four’s 1990’s comedy “documentary” Eurotrash than what one might normally expect of the average international news channel.

The main point of this “exclusive interview” with Berlusconi’s, “reported Russian flame” Raisa Skorkina is that, in Ms. Skorkina’s opinion, allegations that Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage prostitute (the trial began on April 6th, but was adjourned) must be false because he is “simply too attractive” to resort to such “desperate measures”.

Quotes from Ms Skorkina, fashionably attired in a pink suit and white bandage-like bandanna (which gives the unfortunate impression that she may have recently suffered a severe blow to the head) include the following gems;

“Silvio and I are closer together than ever. Earlier, we were together like this [holds hands to heart], but now are much, much closer together!” 

“I can’t even explain what I felt inside when I met him, he gave me goosebumps, when I saw him, because he’s a very handsome man. It was love at first sight. He’s such a gentleman. 100% percent man in every sense!” [covers face to hide girlish blushes].

“For me he’s always been like a “guardian angel”, as he puts it himself. In my heart, my feelings for him sparkle, and he knows it. This is going to stay for ever. You should understand that, even if I fall in love or marry, my husband might resent it, but Silvio will stay in my heart forever. [Smiles and licks lips] I’m going to cry now.”  

And who could be behind this clearly unfair “media campaign” against Il Cavaliere?

“It’s the communists! Of course it’s them, who else would benefit? They want to get rid of him as fast as possible, by any means…I don’t know, they might even bring something from the Moon and say that Berlusconi did something there.”

While the allegations against Berlusconi remain of the sublunary variety for the time being, we at Democratist have certainly also been moved to tears by Ms. Skorkina’s story of her “romance” with the Italian premier.

And it is surely entirely coincidental that Skorkina has been implicated as a central participant in the Berlusconi “harem” (and may have acted to procure other women), or that Berlusconi is known to be personally close to Vladimir Putin, or that wikileaked State Department cables describe Berlusconi as acting as a “mouthpiece” for Moscow in Europe over the past few years, and suggest that he may have been “profiting personally and handsomely” from secret deals with the Russian prime minister.

And doubtless, none of this could possibly have affected the decision of the “editorially independent” (although 100% state-owned) Russia Today to run this story.

Posted in Russia and the EU, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, Russian Corruption, Russian Foreign Policy, wikileaks | Leave a Comment »

The Enduring Relevance of NATO in “an Asian Age.”

Posted by democratist on March 21, 2011

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March 21st 2011,

Over the weekend Democratist has been watching a video of a recent public debate at the LSE entitled, “Out of Europe? The United States in an Asian Age.”

The debate brought together three highly respected commentators on international relations; Professors Niall Ferguson, Michael Cox, and Arne Westad; each of whom took it in turns to give their respective opinions on the extent to which US engagement in Europe is likely to wane – or not, over the coming years, as Asia becomes a more important focus of policy.

The lecture is certainly worth exploring in its entirety, but rather than give a blow-by-blow account, we would like to highlight what we thought were some of the most perceptive points.

These were;

  • Despite the headlines of a new US orientation towards Asia, transatlantic relations will continue to be important because the United States’ global reach will remain connected to the transatlantic economy, NATO, and its political relationships with the Europeans.
  • The decline of American “empire” has been repeatedly over-predicted since the 1960’s, and while the financial crisis and rise of China have contributed to a renewed “decline debate”, the US retains a great deal of (what Susan Strange identified as) “structural power”; major economic, geographical, historical, political, and cultural advantages, which no other country is able to emulate.
  • While an economic shift is underway, this does not imply a contemporaneous power shift. The US will remain at the heart of the international order in terms of military power, and indeed this order is currently incapable of functioning without it.
  • While US economic problems may imply some drawdown in overseas commitments, this may not be the case in Europe because continued US involvement in the middle East/North Africa imply that Europe will remain a strategic base for the US. The purpose of NATO/Europe is changing, and it is becoming an appendix to American power projection “out of region.”
  • NATO will remain fundamentally demand driven. It provides a security guarantee, especially for states in Central and Eastern Europe, but equally there is no appealing alternative to the US security umbrella: Many Europeans want the US to stay because, given the history of the 20th Century, they fundamentally distrust themselves, as well each other: NATO prevents the renationalization of foreign policy in Europe.

Regular readers will not be surprised to discover that Democratist finds considerable solace in these words. We remain resolutely Atlanticist: While the US may have made a number of mistakes since the end of the Cold War, it is a fundamentally democratic country which mixes both realism and liberalism in its foreign policy. Its presence in Europe guarantees internal peace, and counters attempts to “divide and rule” from outside.

Russia, despite its current (largely self-inflicted) military weakness and reformist rhetoric, is run by a small, autocratic, highly nationalistic clique of nomenklatura; its foreign policy is essentially guided by realpolitik, with little regard for democracy or human rights beyond what is politically expedient (just ask a Belarussian or Georgian). The nomenklatura respects and understands power, and will always be tempted to exploit any perceived European weakness for its own advantage. An American presence in Europe will therefore remain an important counterweight to Russia for at least as long as the nomenklatura remains in power; and – as a source for internal European stability – may well remain relevant for far longer.

Posted in Human Rights, NATO, Russian Foreign Policy, US - Russia | Leave a Comment »

Decision time for Moldova’s Constitutional Court.

Posted by democratist on February 8, 2011

8th February 2010,

An interesting day for those of us who concern ourselves with the (rather convoluted) domestic politics of Moldova;

Itar-Tass reports that the constitution court is due to hold a session to decide the time limits by which the president should be elected by parliamentary vote.

This was brought about through an appeal from the Moldovan Communist party (PCRM). They believe Moldovan Constitutional law requires a vote be held within two months of the resignation of the last holder of the post (in this case Mihai Ghimpu, who resigned on December 28, 2010).

But figures from the governing Alliance for European Integration (AIE) claim that this provision does not apply in the case of an interim President being in place, and that therefore there need not be any deadline in the situation as it exists at the moment, with the AEI’s Marian Lupu filling the interim role.

If the court decides that a vote does indeed need to take place within two months (i.e. by February 28th), it seems unlikely that the Communists will provide the two additional votes the AIE require to reach the sixty-one vote threshold. Instead of Lupu being officially appointed President, the most likely outcome is that he would continue in the interim role, and the country will return to the polls for the fourth time in three years, in early 2012.

However if they accept the AEI’s position, it looks as if Moldova might be able to muddle along under the current arrangement for the full length of a presidential term (i.e. until 2014).

Either way, Moldova looks likely to remain the object of ongoing geopolitical jockeying from both Russia and the EU. The Russians are currently touting cheap gas (possibly in return for basing rights), whereas the Europeans have offered a comprehensive trade deal as part of an Association Agreement.

Posted in Democratization, Elections, European Union, Moldova, Russian Foreign Policy, Western Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Egypt: US versus Russian foreign policy.

Posted by democratist on February 4, 2011

4th February 2010,

Over the past week or so Democratist has once again been bemused by how faithfully and obviously Russia Today provides an almost direct representation of Russian government policy on any given issue, at any given time, despite it’s stated claim to editorial independence and posturing as left-wing “alternative” to the mainstream media, especially in the US. While RFE/RL or CNN may sometimes reveal a pro-American bias (and Fox News remains as dreadful as ever), nothing beats the “straight from the Ministry of Information” feel of so much of RT’s reporting. 

A week after the clearly one-sided use of Wikileaks reports to argue that the revolution in Egypt was being directed by the CIA, RT’s latest position alternates between yet another barrage of faux outrage at the shortcomings of American Empire (what right does the US have to interfere in Egyptian affairs, after having supported Mubarak for so long?) combined with an undercurrent which reveals the Russian MFA’s true intentions; an eye to profiting from the West’s potential alienation from autocratic regimes in the region (one of RT’s correspondents today commented that Obama’s calls for a rapid transition of power in Egypt was a message “to friends and foes alike, when the going gets tough, don’t call on us”).

In this regard, Democratist has found RT’s recent interviews with journalists and anti-American peace campaigners critical of US financial support and weapons sales to Egypt rather unconvincing, given that since 1991, the Russians have, just like the Americans (but without the United States’ enduring relationship with the regime, or its deep pockets) been happy to “do business” with Mubarak, and agreed to sell the Egyptians a nuclear energy package worth $2 billion back in 2008, in addition to selling weapons to Syria and Iran.

From our perspective, it would be fairer to point out that, while both the US and USSR/Russia engaged in realpolitik and interference in the internal affairs of third countries in the Middle East and elsewhere during the Cold War, and have both continued to do so to differing extents subsequently (e.g. in Ukraine and Georgia in the Russian case, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere for the US), the Russians have remained wedded to an unswervingly nationalist and realist outlook (attempting to topple regimes they didn’t like or bolster those they did, happy to deal with anyone as long as it supports their national interests), whereas the United States has, in addition to its morally questionable but strategically driven realist maneuvering, also consistently defined a separate liberal, democratizing ethical role for itself, including in the middle East.

Has the US been hypocritical? Certainly this is true to an extent; the US may be more likely to play up human rights abuses by opponents than allies (Iran or Syria versus Saudi Arabia or Turkey). In the case of Iraq, the neo-conservative interpretation of liberal interventionism (“freedom at the barrel of a gun”) has resulted in disaster. And in the current Egyptian case, it seems likely that State Department officials are working with elements of the old regime to make sure that things don’t change too quickly (whilst probably also seeking to bring together oppositionists to help govern the country in the interim before an election).

Nonetheless, as the Wikileaks cables  (which RT did so much to publicise last week) demonstrate, the US has also worked behind the scenes to gradually foster democratization in autocratic allies such as Egypt. This is because as Michael McFaul has observed, it recognizes the long-term security advantages that stem from enduring alliances with other democratic countries that similar agreements with autocrats cannot provide. These include sustainability (how long the relationship lasts), consistency (the threat of internal instability), and cost. The latter two problems are apparent in the Egyptian case.

However, in relation to Russia’s own foreign policy, realpolitik continues to dominate almost completely. Apart from their willingness to sell regional autocrats both weaponry and reactors, the Russian attitude towards democracy and human rights can be gauged by (taking an example closer to home) their actions during last December’s elections in Belarus, before which they provided media and financial backing to the opposition, only to cut a deal with Lukashenko at the last-minute, and then have President Medvedev describe it as an “internal matter,” when 600 people (including 7 of the 9 opposition candidates) were arrested for protesting the subsequent widespread electoral fraud.

Posted in CIS Media, Egyptian Revolution, Revolutions, Russia Propaganda, Russian Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Russia and the WTO: Not so fast, Seymour.

Posted by democratist on January 12, 2011

12th January 2011,

Last December’s agreement between Russia and the EU, and the subsequent speculation about potential accession to the WTO at some point in 2011, has prompted Democratist to cogitate upon the likely impact of international economic integration on Russia over the next few years.

While the agreement with the Europeans may have brought accession further towards reality, there remains a great deal of protectionist sentiment domestically within Russia. This is best exemplified by Putin’s own attempts last year to modernize domestic industry through a renewed emphasis on industrial policy (to be funded by raw materials rents). A lack of cash seems to have put paid to that strategy for the time being, but Democratist maintains that a rise in raw materials prices beyond a certain point will likely prompt a shift back towards protectionism.

However, while we cannot yet be fully sure that it will finally happen, the prospect of accession looks like being one of the Kremlin’s key trump cards for 2011. In the face of western investor scepticism, anger over the second Khordokovsky trial and the imprisonment of Boris Nemtsov, Medvedev will doubtless find it convenient to offer up the prospect of Russia’s eventual WTO accession as an indicator that the country is basically on the right, liberal path.

This will play well with many Western leaders as it appears to accord with liberal political theory. According to this perspective (often attributed in origin to Seymour Lipset’s 1959 classic Some Social Requisites of Democracy), WTO accession will act as an anchor for long-term reform and increase economic growth, leading to the consolidation of a democratically minded middle class. Seen in this light, the privatization program that began in Russia last year promises a lengthy pull-back by the state, and continuing rapprochement with the West as Russia seeks support for modernization.

But we might wish to refrain from opening the champagne for a second; Democratist has long argued that whether Putin or Medvedev wins the Presidential election in 2012, any liberalization in Russia will remain tightly constrained by the interests of the nomenklatura. The current government has demonstrated comprehensively over the past decade that the manipulation of public opinion is one of the few things they genuinely do well. In this regard, in contrast to the rosier expectations of some of our liberal friends, Democratist suspects it may take several decades for economic development to provide a basis for the promotion of the rule of law and a broader liberalization.

Additionally, WTO membership seems unlikely to do much to promote the diversification of the Russian economy away from reliance on raw materials without a concerted effort to tackle corruption. Given that the current regime has itself acted as an important facilitator and beneficiary of corruption since 2000, Democratist is of the opinion that change in this area will take a long time to emerge, and will face many serious setbacks. If parts of Russia’s backward (and still largely state-controlled) industrial sector start to lose out after the country joins the WTO, causing unemployment and unrest, this may also prompt a return to a greater reliance on industrial policy, or back to protectionism. 

As is so often the case, much depends on the price of hydrocarbons; Russia requires deep and potentially unpopular reforms to diversify its economy, but many among the elite seem to believe that, despite the apparent lessons of the Soviet period, the economy can be developed effectively (and painlessly) through state-led industrial policy. If the money becomes available again, this would presumably be the prefered option. However, if prices stagnate or decrease over the coming year or two, the prospects for economic reform within the context of WTO accession will be somewhat better (although they will still face resistance from elements within the elite).

Posted in Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Corruption, Russian Economy, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Liberalization, Russian Middle Class, Russian Politics | Leave a Comment »

Moldova’s New Government: Still on a Knife-Edge

Posted by democratist on December 27, 2010

27th December 2010,

The month following the 28th November 2010 parliamentary elections in Moldova has proved fascinating in terms of Moldova’s own domestic coalition-building, but equally because the EU and Russia have both been jockeying, more or less openly, to influence that process.

With the first session of the new parliament due to take place tomorrow, and the election results finally approved by the constitutional court, horse-trading among the parliamentary political parties has reached fever pitch over the last couple of days.

The situation is on a knife-edge, and hard to predict, but following a period of several weeks during which it seemed that Marian Lupu’s Democratic Party might be able to form a coalition with the Communists (PCRM), those talks have stalled, and the main focus appears to have shifted back towards the reestablishment of the Alliance for European Integration (AIE), which has ruled the country since September 2009.

Although rarely reported in the mainstream Western press, these recent negotiations in Moldova have been closely observed by both EU and Russian diplomats; a Communist MP until 2009, Lupu has always been markedly more pro-Russian than the other two AIE leaders, and the PCRM themselves have retained their traditional pro-Russian stance with leader Vladimir Voronin stating in early December that Moldova might accede to Russia’s proposed customs union (as Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus recently agreed to do), as well as engage in a “deeper strategic partnership,” should the PCRM manage to form a coalition.

As such, it was hardly a surprise that Russian presidential chief of staff Sergey Nariskin visited Chisinau a few days later, offering cheaper gas and a resumption of banned Moldovan wine imports if the parties were able to form a pro-Moscow government.

Meanwhile, the EU have also played their hand in the form of a subsequent visit by Swedish and Polish Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski, apparently designed to shore-up support for a pro-EU coalition.

Bildt is reported as having later commented, “What there is on the European agenda for Moldova is the association agreement. If you look at what the Moldovan economy needs, it is deep and comprehensive free trade with the EU. That is what can over time lead to a better development of what is today the poorest country in Europe. I’m not saying that cheap gas is bad, but economies and prosperity can’t be built on cheap gas.”

So both sides have mapped out their visions of Moldova’s future. Democratist (unsurprisingly) recommends the adoption of the European model as the best option for eventual political and economic reform, but the situation remains fluid, and coalition negotiations could still go either way.

Posted in Elections, European Union, Moldova, Russian Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Belarus 2010: An “internal matter.”

Posted by democratist on December 20, 2010

December 21st 2010.

Democratist is disappointed and upset, but not especially surprised to learn of the results and fallout of yesterday’s presidential election in Belarus.

Since the signing of a series of economic agreements earlier this month, the Russians appear to have decided, in the words of Prime Minister Putin that “the Belarusian leadership has taken a clear course towards integration with Russia,” and suitably mollified, their desire for Lukashenko’s ouster has fallen by the wayside – for the moment at least.

Subsequently, reading between the lines of the OSCE’s sensibly diplomatic preliminary statement (which nonetheless provoked the ire of the newly confident Lukashenko), it appears that it was business as usual for the Belarusian electoral administration over the last few days, and the incumbent has been returned to office with just under 80% of the vote, according to the highly questionable official results.

Subsequently, seven of the nine opposition candidates that stood against Lukashenko have been arrested (including one who was dragged from his hospital bed after a police beating) along with 600 of the several thousand protestors brave enough to demonstrate against this charade of an election in Minsk last night.

While the Belarusian authorities have behaved abominably in both their conduct of the election, and the violent crackdown that has followed it, the reaction of the Russian government has served to underline their own extraordinary cynicism, and more specifically, Dimitry Medvedev’s real attitude towards the democratic process to which he paid so much rhetorical homage earlier this year.

According to Reuters, when asked, Medvedev described the Belarusian elections as an “internal matter,” and did not comment on the police crackdown.  He is quoted as saying, “I hope that as a result of these elections, Belarus will continue on the path of creating a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours.”

And for all its “strong condemnation” of the fraud and violence, and demands that the opposition candidates be freed, the West is left looking weak and ineffectual, with Lukashenko and the Russians the only game in town.

For the time being then, it seems that Belarus will only change when Russia changes its mind about Lukashenko. However, real support for democratization in Belarus (or indeed Russia) in Moscow is lacking, and will continue to be so, regardless of whether Putin or Medvedev wins in 2012.

Posted in Belarus, Elections, Electoral Fraud, Human Rights, OSCE, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Liberalization | 5 Comments »

A “Black Revolution”: Is Moscow planning to overthrow Aleksandr Lukashenko?

Posted by democratist on October 4, 2010

4th October 2010,

Things are really starting to heat up in anticipation of the Belarusian elections, due on December 19th.

On Sunday October 3rd, Russian President Medvedev released a new video blog criticizing Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s “anti-Russian rhetoric.”

Medvedev stated, “attempts to paint the picture of an outside enemy in the public mind have always distinguished the Belarus leadership. In the past this role was given to America, Europe, and the West in general. Now Russia has been declared one of the key enemies.”

Later he also “tweeted” rather ominously, “The senseless period of tension in relations with Belarus is certain to come to an end.”

This latest salvo in what has been an ongoing Russian media campaign follows claims by Lukashenko on 1st October that the Russian authorities are trying to depose him by supporting his opponents: According to Lukashenko, Belarussian authorities have recently detained a courrier who was trying to smuggle $200,000 for local opposition leaders over the country’s border.

Its is interesting that the Russians have not as yet sought to deny their involvement in this affair, but rather appear to be seeking to justify it.

In Democratist’s opinion, Medvedev’s message demonstrates that the Russians wish to make their position as clear and as public as possible; relations with Belarus will not improve until Lukashenko has gone, and they are actively working towards that goal.

It will be interesting to whether Lukashenko will be able to get the result he needs in December. Traditionally Belarusian elections have been tightly choreographed affairs which have benefitted greatly from Russian rhetorical and media support.  This time things are clearly different, and the forthcoming polls promise to be extraordinarily dirty, with plenty of manipulation, “black-PR”, kompromat and electoral fraud from both sides.

From our perspective, this raises the following initial questions;

1) The extent to which the increasingly isolated Lukashenko will be able to keep things together: How soon will it be before elements from within the administration, including the security forces (overtly or covertly) see the “writing on the wall” and start to defect to the Russian camp? Conversely, which tactics will Lukashenko seek use to shore up his hold on power?

ii) The methods the Russians will use to destabilize him: While the media campaign is already underway, there are also many other techniques that could be brought into play. Will they get behind a specific candidate? If so, who? Will they be looking to bribe Belarussian Election commission staff in order to get the “right” result, as they did in Ukraine during the second round of the Presidential elections in November 2004? Will they seek to use local patronage networks to “get out the vote”? Which of the many well -established techniques of electoral fraud might they be seeking to employ?

iii) If Lukashenko does manage to get re-elected (given that he remains quite popular domestically), will the Russians seek to topple him in a subsequent stage-managed parody of a “colour revolution”?

iv) What position is the west likely to take? Will they seek to benefit, and if so, how?

Posted in Belarus, Russian Foreign Policy | 3 Comments »

 
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