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Archive for September, 2010

Peter Hitchens; selling Russian revanchism.

Posted by democratist on September 29, 2010

September 29th 2010,

Democratist has just finished reading this pathetic offering by the reliably mediocre Peter Hitchens in the Mail Online.

Faced with such a shameless and dreadful example of propagandistic hackery,  it is hard to know where to start;

Hitchens’ opens with a superficially reasonable comparison; the current relationship between Russia and Ukraine in relation to Crimea he claims, is similar to a situation in which “some future Brussels edict has finally broken up Britain and handed Devon and Cornwall over to rule by Wales.”

Putting aside Hitchens’ foaming-at-the-mouth attitude towards the EU, we will accept that this hypothetical comparison has at least some elements of validity to it, although it willfully ignores many of the subtler historical differences in the two cases.

Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine (both of which were “Republics” of the USSR at the time) under Khrushev in 1954. Crimea had previously been a part of the Russian Empire since 1783, but it should be noted that it had been conquered many times throughout its history and was also (for example) part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th to 18th Centuries. This is not really comparable in the modern history of Devon and Cornwall since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the 6th-9th Centuries AD, especially in relation to Crimea’s more diverse ethnic composition: According to the 2001 census, Russians make up 58.32%, Ukrainians 24.32% and Crimean Tartars 12.1% of the population respectively, so the political situation is more complex than Hitchen’s implies (“Sevastopol belongs to Ukraine, but hardly anyone here is Ukrainian”) because the second two groups have a far more ambivalent attitude towards Russia than the first).

Democratist would also conceed that there is much resentment in Crimea (among 58.32% of the population at least) about the “Ukrainization” that has taken place in the region since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991; although we would note that much of it has been whipped up by Moscow, especially since 2004.

But the notion that the Orange Revolution was “misguided”or that the election of the (comparatively) Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovich this February marks the end of “the flirtation” between Ukraine and the west is frankly little more than an insult to the millions who played a part in the protests that appeared throughout the country (including in Crimea) calling for an end to corruption, murder and electoral fraud in late 2004, as well as to the  51% of voters who did not vote for Yanukovich in the second round of Presidential elections on 7th February this year, and the several hundred opposition members of the Rada.

The idea the  that they are somehow acting on behalf of the EU is laughable, comparable to Russian sponsored propaganda at the time that the Orange camp were secretly in the pay of the CIA (and presumably from the same source).

Hitchens’ continues; “I think our treatment of Russia since the fall of communism has been almost unbelievably stupid and crude. We complain now about the autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin. But it was our greed and our bullying of the wounded bear that created Putin and his shady, corrupt state….We sponsored annoying mini-states next door to Russia”.

This is just nonsense: Apart from anything else it presupposes that the west was in a position to dominate Russia under Yeltsin and therefore to “create” Putin.

This notion that the West was responsible for economic and social disasters that befell Russia in the 1990’s is, just like the “Orangists are all working for the CIA” lie, a paranoid myth that has been propagated by the Putin regime in order to justify its continued repressive policies (“We have to crush the NGO’s/the opposition/the oligarchs/whoever we don’t like this week, because they’re western spies.”)

In fact much good western advice in the early 1990’s was ignored, and the main causes of Russia’s problems back then were essentially the same as they are today; economic stagnation stemming from the unreformed remnants of a command economy and an over-reliance on the export of hydrocarbons; massive corruption and organized crime (much of it “organized” by the state itself) and the political influence of the former KGB.

As for Hitchens’ claim that “We sponsored annoying mini-states”: This statement is such a willful belittling of the historical suffering of the occupied Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and so many others, and of their struggle for independence, as well as such a clear example of regurgitated Russian nationalist arrogance, that Democratist has nothing but the very deepest contempt for it.

Hitchens then opines on the current weakness of the Russia Black Sea fleet, asking “And this is supposed to be a threat to the mighty and prosperous West?”

Oddly, he omits to mention that the Russian navy is about to embark on a decade long spending spree, seeking to develop (among other things); nuclear-powered submarines, aircraft carriers (with embarked fifth generation aircraft), guided-missile cruisers, an enhanced amphibious capability, enhanced Command, Control and Communications, and enhanced computing, intelligence, and surveillance capabilities. Russia also has a controversial agreement with France to buy four very modern and effective Mistral-analogue power-projection battleships, and is negotiating a number of other similar foreign deals.

This piece is a badly written, willfully misleading, dangerous apologia for the advancing specter of revanchist Russian imperialism (“it was always absurd to try to dislodge Russia and the Russians from the great plains of Ukraine and the shores of the Black Sea. In this part of the world, Russia just is…”). It is designed precisely to put the public off guard in the face of an emerging threat. As such, it appears to be part of a wider PR job aimed at fostering complacency and a subsequent enhanced international legitimacy for the Putin regime in the west over the next few years. But make no mistake, for all the talk of modernization and reform, Putin has made his longer-term intentions perfectly clear; the re-establishment of Russia as a great power.

As for  Peter Hitchens, it is interesting to note that the main source quoted in the article is a “former” Russia Naval Intelligence man: this article has the Kremlin’s fingerprints all over it. 

Democratist wonders who paid for Hitchen’s trip? Perhaps he employs the same travel agency as Mike Hancock?

Posted in Russia-Ukraine Relations | Leave a Comment »

Russia 2012: Towards an “all new and improved” simulacrum of democracy.

Posted by democratist on September 23, 2010

23rd September 2010,
As Democratist’s teacher and mentor, Fred Halliday (1946-2010) was very fond of pointing out, the limits of the predictive abilities of the social sciences ought by now to be better recognized than they are;
What political scientist or “policy specialist” predicted the Lebanese Civil war (1975), the Iranian Revolution (1978-79) or the collapse of Soviet Communism (1989-91) with any kind of serious foresight?
Answer: Not a single one. No one managed to predict any of these critically important events with any kind of meaningful foresight or accuracy.
But this should hardly come as a surprise. Even in the natural sciences prediction is not as precise as commonly assumed; just ask a meteorologist, seismologist or demographer. The world of human affairs and politics, is by its very nature necessarily uncertain; and will doubtless so remain. 
Since this is the case, Fred very wisely recommended that the task of social science was essentially to concentrate on explanation of what had already occurred, rather than predictions of the future: The best we can hope for is the identification of significant contemporary trends; the rest is “speculation.”
But the problem is (for Democratist at least) that while the identification of trends is jolly good fun, the temptation to additional “speculation” (especially when it comes to the “dogs under the carpet” world of Russian politics) is even greater.
So, it is therefore with Professor Halliday’s eminently sage words ringing in our ears, that Democratist will now ignore (at least some of) his advice, stick our collective neck out, and gaze into our crystal ball so as to outline, on the basis of observed social trends and speculation alike, how we see things shaping up for the 2012 Russian Presidential elections. 
Social Trends.
As mentioned in previous posts, Democratist sees contemporary Russia as a product of a number of identifiable political, economic, social and international forces, most of which find their historical roots in the Soviet period, and in the collapse of the USSR in 1991:
The “transition” as it has taken place in Russia since 2000 has clearly not been to democracy or liberal capitalism, but to a repressive political system based on a “corporatist” economic model; a regime essentially composed of, and subsequently molded by a reconfigured Soviet nomenklatura, itself dominated by former members of the KGB centred around Vladimir Putin. This regime has consciously sought to move away from the “western” template of market economics and political freedom introduced in the 1990’s,  because it considered that these reforms had failed (culminating in the national humiliation of 1998).
Instead, the new system introduced since 2000 has promoted and maintained an authoritarian concept of the state, in which the elite maintains a decisive and guiding, albeit sometimes informal, control over key aspects of the economy. Despite the rhetoric of “modernization”, there has been very little meaningful economic diversification since 1998, despite repeated promises that it would take place, and the period since 2003 has seen the re-nationalization of much of the raw materials and other “strategic” sectors (only superficially altered by recent “reforms”). Similarly, much of the limited flow of FDI that has found its way to Russia since 2008 has been channeled into joint ventures with cossetted “state corporations”, therefore keeping these within the corporatist system whilst avoiding any requirement for wider economic reform. 
Politically, the media has been largely co-opted; parliamentary political parties such as the Communists and LDPR tamed or inventions of the regime; elections progressively rigged, and genuine opposition repressed and sidelined. The Duma has long been a rubber-stamp; many MPs little more than regime appointees. This has been accompanied by a culture of nearly all-pervading corruption and rent-seeking; a problem that has expanded to include almost all sections of society, and which has become an integral feature of how the country is governed.
The regime is equally the inheritor of the KGB’s instrumental “end justifies the means” attitude towards ethics, as exemplified most prominently by the FSB’s probable involvement in the September 1999 apartment bombings, which were used, in conjunction with the resumption of hostilities in Chechnya, as a platform to generate support for the (previously largely unknown) Putin in the March 2000 Presidential elections. Since then the regime has also been complicit in the development of a  culture of impunity, and in the encouragement of violence towards those who are prepared to criticise it (as exemplified by the Klebnikov, Politkovskaya and Litvinenko cases).
Another political inheritance of the Soviet period, and especially the collapse of the USSR in 1991, is that the nomenklatura is distinguished by its strong nationalism and desire for national resurgence. This contemporary revanchism also reflects and magnifies an enduring and often overriding historical preoccupation with the importance of military competition against comparatively advanced western nations, which runs throughout modern Russian and Soviet history at least as far back as Peter the Great, and finds its contemporary expression in the “modernization” drive which began during the late Putin presidency, but has come to the fore under Medvedev.
The current situation, and predictions.
On the basis the above trends, and of Russian and international press reports over the last few months, Democratist suggests the following analysis of the current situation, and (doubtless highly speculative) predictions for the 2012 elections; 
The “modernization” promoted by President Medvedev, to the very limited extent that it has had an effect on the Russian political system or economy at all, has put a very large degree of emphasis on technocratic/institutional, as opposed to broader political change. Thus in Yaroslavl on 10th September 2010, while rather unconvincingly suggesting that Russia has already achieved some limited form of “democracy”, Medvedev repeated implied that meaningful political change is a long-term aspiration that will broadly follow technological modernization, rather than accompany it.
Unsurprisingly, given that the different paths to “modernization” were already laid out while he was still in power, Putin’s position has remained very similar to that of his protégé; both stress the need for technological modernization and foreign investment; both push political reform to the side. The main difference is one of presentation; where Putin is blunt and confrontational, and puts greater rhetorical emphasis on “stability”, Medvedev is more diplomatic and prone to talk up “modernization” and “innovation”. While, as The Economist noted on September 9th, this is an essentially stylistic distinction, it is also, rather tellingly, one that both President and Prime Minister have recently been seeking to play up.
It is logical to suggest that many in the nomenklatura identify themselves far more readily with Putin (since he shares their background), than with the academic Medvedev. Additionally, the overriding emphasis placed on maintaining “domestic stability” by the elite (and FSB) over the last decade, the usefulness of hydrocarbons as a tool of foreign policy, and the corporatist nature of the contemporary Russian state itself tend to imply a preference for an “energy and raw materials” path of development, with the “innovation” path remaining under tight state control. Therefore, in as far as there is a difference between the two main potential candidates, this key constituency would probably broadly prefer Putin’s return to the Presidency, as an additional insurance that things will not “get out of hand”.
From Putin’s perspective then, given that he has the domestic situation pretty much wrapped up, the challenge is to leverage the forthcoming elections in order to achieve the somewhat contradictory goals of maintaining internal stability, encouraging growth, innovation and foreign investment (in what has become a tougher international climate), and improving Russia’s international position and military capabilities.
Now we come to the speculative part: One way of moving towards achieving at least some of these disparate and contradictory goals (as well as preparing a future path for the longer-term achievement of the others) would be to use the 2012 elections to gain the regime increased international legitimacy by enhancing the ongoing illusion of Russia’s “democratic development” through a poll that apparently offers more genuine political competition than was the case in recent times (although one in reality whose parameters have been carefully determined in advance).
How could this be achieved? The answer is slowly emerging: In line with the image of a “limited” democracy that Russia is now promoting for itself internationally,  Democratist suspects that the 2012 elections will present a superficial electoral choice between an emphasis on “stability” or “modernization”; which is to say a choice between Putin or Medvedev.
If Medvedev wins, then things will remain broadly as they are; Putin will stay as Prime Minister with the ongoing support of the nomenklatura. If Putin wins then Medvedev will take on some lesser role such as Prime Minister and continue to tout the virtues of modernization from the sidelines (or Putin will find someone similar).
Either way stability is to be maintained while fostering a greater illusion of political pluralism. To aid this process, opportunists from every field will doubtless soon be mobilized; MPs from the Duma will form or manage parties to support one candidate or another, the state-controlled media will enjoy giving equal coverage and support to both main candidates – thereby proving their “impartiality,” (while ignoring or bad-mouthing all the others), the many foreigners and their PR men who want better relations with Russia to serve their own commercial interests (as well the crooked politicians on the Kremlin’s payroll) will talk up Russia’s new “democratic turn”. Even the OSCE will be forced to admit that the elections “marked a significant improvement on previous polls…” in their preliminary statement, as direct electoral fraud is limited in favour of subtler techniques.
In this regard the artificial political lines are already starting to be drawn up; both Putin and Medvedev are acting as if they intend to stand; both are already “campaigning” in their own differing styles.
Many commentators are already linking the recent media campaign against Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov as an early offensive by Medvedev related to the 2012 elections. Yet, in this regard it is interesting to note that Putin has chosen not to come to Luzhkov’s aid – even though Luzhkov  has been loyal to him for years.
Putin in fact appears quite happy to have the Moscow vote go to the supposed “young reformer” in 2012, further suggesting that he is essentially unconcerned at the prospect that Medvedev might beat him. 
But then again, given that he appointed Medvedev in the first place, why would he be?  

Posted in Russia - US Relations, Russia 2012 Elections, Russia Foreign Policy, Russia Propaganda, Russian Politics | Leave a Comment »

An introduction to the “Historical Sociology of International Relations”

Posted by democratist on September 15, 2010

15th September 2010,

Since his unexpected and premature death in late April, Democratist has continued to explore, and learn from the many works of our former teacher and mentor, Fred Halliday.

As such we have re-read a number of his books over the summer, not least Rethinking International Relations, and The World at 2000, as well as such transcripts and lectures as we have been able to find on the web.

More recently, we have been pleased to discover that Fred’s rich  intellectual legacy, and especially the theoretical approach to the academic study of International Relations (IR) that helped to found, the “Historical Sociology of International Relations” (HSIR) has continued, and is indeed flourishing under the aegis of former colleagues and students.

A good introduction to, and overview of this work is provided in the “Historical Sociology” entry in the 2010 Wiley-Blackwell International Studies Encyclopedia (Ed. Robert A Denemark), written by John Hobson, George Lawson and Justin Rosenberg.

While the intricacies of IR theory are certainly not for everyone, those who do have an interest in IR, and in its broader place within the social sciences could do far worse than have a read.

However, for those who lack the time for this (but mostly in order to improve our own understanding) we have made the following notes;

What is the Historical Sociology.  of International Relations (HSIR)?

The key theoretic insight of Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR) relates to the importance of Sociology for the study of International Relations (IR).

This approach takes much of its inspiration from The Sociological Imagination, a book by the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills (1959), which underscores the centrality of historically specific social structures (patterns of social relationships) for Sociology in particular, and the Social Sciences in general.

HSIR applies these insights to IR, in contrast to “realist” claims of the “autonomy” (Bull 1977) and “enduring sameness” (Waltz 1979) of international relations.

Instead, the agenda of HSIR includes such questions as how international relations are connected – both in general terms and in particular historical cases – to the basic patterning of the human world (structure), how international relations have varied across, and change across, historical time (history), and finally, the consequences of the interactive multiplicity of social orders for our conceptions of social structure and historical process (international).

As Hobson, Lawson and Rosenberg note, “In its broadest sense, Historical Sociology aims to unravel the complexity that lies behind the interaction between social action and social structures (understood as relatively fixed configurations of social relations). Hence, for advocates of HSIR, international factors are juxtaposed, conjoined and inter-related with domestic processes [my italics] with the aim of finding patterns that explain important historical processes, including the general and regional crises that provoke wars, process of state formation, varieties of capitalist development, forms of imperialism and so on.”

HSIR also rejects “realism’s” ahistoricist assumption of anarchy as a trans-historical logic, but is instead concerned with both the dynamics of change in IR, as well as the processes of continuity; with recognizing the contingency of events, alongside the identification of deep-lying structural patterns: HSIR argues for an understanding of the contingent, disruptive, constitutive impact of local events, particularities and discontinuities.

There have been three broad “waves” of HSIR;

The “First Wave” of HSIR

In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, a small number of IR scholars drew explicitly on historical-sociological insights in order to counter the direction the discipline was taking.

Scholars, led by Halliday (1987) saw Weberian (and other) Historical Sociological approaches as providing a useful means of providing an alternative. These drew on Skocpol (1979) Mann (1986) and others.

The initial link between these historical sociologists and IR theory lay in the fact that they sought to combine developments in the international realm with domestic or national social processes.

The promise of Weberian Historical Sociology (WHS) rested on four key claims;

  • WHS placed significant ontological weighting on the domestic sources of state power (unlike neo-realism and neo-liberalism).
  • Bringing state-society relations “back in” was coupled with a focus on the interaction between the national and international realms. Here, special emphais was placed on revealing how pressures from the international state system came to reshape national societies; e.g. Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions (1979).
  • Third, WHS seemed to contain the capacity to overcome the mainstream emphasis on materialist ontology – and give weight to ideology.
  • Fourth, these writers emphasied the importance of international discontinuity, in contrast to structural stasis.

However, this work gave rise to criticism concerning the way in which “first wave” Historical Sociology tended to conceptualize the international realm as one of anarchic geopolitical competition between states, and above all, on how national processes tended to be informed by a geopolitical logic derived, in turn, from the timeless presence of international anarchy.

The “Second Wave” of HSIR

The antidote that second-wave HSIR provides is an historicist approach which is able to construct a narrative while simultaneous being open to issues of contingency, unintended consequences and the importance of context. Second wave scholars have sought to transcend the tempocentrism of mainstream IR, and some first wave HSIR by examining the differing contexts that inform the conduct of “actual existing” international relations (e.g. Rosenberg’s The Empire of Civil Society (1994). They demonstrate that contemporary world politics is historically double-edged, having one foot in the past but also being, in certain respects, singular.

Neo-Weberians have demonstrated how varying state-society relations promoted distinct trade regimes (Hobson’s The Wealth of States – 1997) and have studied the ways in which forms of radical change have both constituted, and been constituted, by the broader relationship with the international realm; Halliday’s Revolution in World Politics (1999) and Lawson’s Negotiated Revolutions (2005).

Proponents share a conception of both the centrality of discontinuity, and how social structures shape international events. They seek not just to provide hostorical analysis, they also aim to generate powerful theoretic explanations.

The “Third Wave” of HSIR, towards “International Historical Sociology.” (IHS)

IHS seeks to define a core, trans-disiplinary intellectual agenda for IR. It also provides a chance to exorcise the specter of the separation of the domestic and international spheres of enquiry (one also present in “classical social analysis” – which does not attempt to introduce the effects of inter-societal coexistence and interaction into the basic conception of “development”). The consequence of which is that the “international” has be externalized from the object-domain of social theory.

Any solution to this impasse would have to involve a reformulated concept of historical development, which by incorporating  the interactive multiplicity of societies, would bring inter-societal relations and effects within the compass of social theory.

One historical sociological approach which employs this revised concept of development (and the sociological concept of the international which it enables is the “theory of uneven and combined development” first employed by Leon Trotsky (1980/1932).

This theory traces the very existence of the international to two features intrinsic to social development. On the one hand, it holds human development is at any given moment expressed in a multiplicity of differing societies: considered as a whole, it is inherently uneven. On the other hand, because these same societies co-exist concretely in space and time, they affect each other. Their individual development thus has both reproductive logics arising from their inner form and interactive logics arising from their coexistence with others: it is combined development. Recent examples include Rosenberg’s Anarchy in the Mirror of “uneven and combined development”: An open letter to Kenneth Waltz. (2010).

Posted in Fred Halliday, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR) | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

State liberalism, anyone?

Posted by democratist on September 15, 2010

September 15th 2010,

Democratist has greatly enjoyed reading this extraordinarily insightful article, (“Behold! The New Russian Smartphone”) from The Russia Monitor (TRM).

TRM notes the announcement of a number of suspiciously similar recent strategic partnerships matching Russian “State Corporations” (“private” company structures, which nonetheless remain majority state-owned) with major Western companies in the form of joint ventures, and suggests they are central to Russia’s ‘modernization’ plan over the foreseeable future.

He notes, “This change in strategy is a response to the global financial crisis, which has allowed Russia to evaluate the outcomes of its previous development strategy.  The previous strategy largely consisted of taxing the hell out Russian oil companies, buying up U.S. Treasuries, reducing capital controls, and hoping for ‘rational’ loans by Western banks to Russian companies.  The result was a full-scale evacuation right after the Georgian War and a bunch of overly leveraged domestic companies in bad need of a government bailout.  And over that gangbusters period of 2004-08, Russia saw little if any ‘greenfield’ foreign direct investment in the country (i.e., no new factories, no new technology, no modern business practices implemented)….The new strategy takes a novel approach by leveraging the technology and know-how of the best Western companies that make things, not loans.  Ironically, the strategy also leverages Russia’s horrible investment climate.  How?  In exchange for establishing production facilities in Russia, Western companies presumably bypass all the corruption, red tape, and enemies that come with investing in Russia by having the best krysha or cover that money can buy: participation in a majority state-owned joint venture.”  

From Democratist’s perspective, far from heralding a new dawn of foreign investment, this tactic appears as further evidence marking a shift away from the apparent original liberal ”innovation scenario” (mentioned in the March 2008, “Russia 2020” policy document), which presupposes the development of a national innovation system, competitive human capital, regional development centers (and other liberal reforms) as a way of attracting western FDI, towards a significantly different approach that is much more in line with what we have come to expect from the way in which the Russian state has typically “done business” since 2000.

This “state liberalism” clearly possesses a number of advantages over the old-fashioned “liberal” liberalism for the nomenklatura; not least, it skirts around the need for any genuine economic or political reform. It also allows them to concentrate on the alternative “energy and raw materials” development path, whilst maintaining a thin veneer of “modernization.”

Evidently, since “state liberalism” excludes genuine economic or political reform outside the krysha of joint ventures with the state, the system will remain much as it is at present, complete with the “corruption, red tape, and enemies” mentioned above: So, while we may see the introduction of some additional FDI into Russia, “state liberalism” does not imply any wider reform or diversification of the domestic economy. Any “innovation” will be limited to a small number of joint ventures, in a small number of industries. 

However, we wonder what the full extent of take-up is likely to be, given the Yukos, BP-TNK, Renaissance Capital, and other similar cases?

Posted in Russian Economy, Russian Liberalization | 1 Comment »

The “Inertia Scenario”, Part Two: Russia’s Naval Ambitions

Posted by democratist on September 14, 2010

14th September 2010,

In recent posts, Democratist has sought to highlight the significance, historical and contemporary, of Russia’s preoccupation with military competition – above all in relation to (comparatively advanced) western nations.

In the contemporary case, we have noted that Russia is continuing to fall behind in terms of its industrial, technological and scientific capabilities, and this has already started to have serious implications for her continued status as an international political, economic and (especially) military player.

We consider this (combined with a more general need to ensure foreign investment and growth, given the global financial crisis) as a key motivating factor behind the ”modernization” drive first proposed during the late Putin period, but which has become more publicly evident under Medvedev.

As such, we gave been extremely interested to read this recent report by the Research and Assessment Branch of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom on, “The Russian Federation Navy: An Assessment of Its Strategic Setting, Doctrine and Prospects” which we feel gives considerable additional empirical weight to our argument.

Among its key findings are that;

  • Russian grand strategy and military strategy is focused on the protection and projection of Russia’s position as a Great Power.
  • Russia identifies itself as a world power and the principal threat to its position as emanating from the United States and NATO.
  • Russia is looking to invest in a substantial expansion and enhancement of its naval forces over the long-term.
  • Russia’s renewed interest and investment in sea power is a component of its increasing assertiveness and desire for global influence and power.

In this regard, key planned areas for development include;

  • Nuclear-powered submarines.
  • Aircraft carriers (with embarked fifth generation aircraft)
  • Guided-missile cruisers;
  • An enhanced amphibious capability
  • Enhanced Command, Control, Communications.
  • Computing, intelligence, and surveillance.
  • Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance capabilities.
  • Naval strategic nuclear forces
  • Conventional strategic systems and nuclear sub-strategic weapons.

But, as report makes very clear (and in line with Democratist’s comments about the state of the Russian economy, and the impact that Russia’s extraordinary corruption has had, especially on state-dominated sectors such as the arms industry);

  • The Russian Navy continues to have major problems with readiness and the quality of both personnel and equipment.
  • The industrial base also remains a significant area of concern.

All of which reinforces our earlier conclusion that  in the likely continued absence of innovation from within the domestic public or private sectors, or from foreign investors, over the next few years the corporatist Russian State will have to seek much of the innovation it sees as essential in order for it to remain militarily competitive with the west through a renewed emphasis on military and economic espionage.

This seems likely to remain the case despite France’s 2009 agreement to sell Russia four Mistral-analogue power-projection battleships, and a number of other similar foreign deals currently under discussion. This is partly because these deals now appear somewhat stalled, as the French seem unwilling to let the Russians have access to some of their cleverer on-board gadgets (and are almost certainly under considerable international pressure not to do so) , and also because the electronics of the other (Dutch, Spanish) ships that the Russians have looked into buying from Western firms, include US-made components, the transfer of which to Russia (or to other non-NATO countries) would necessitate US clearance, which Democratist suspects is unlikely to be granted.

But even if the Mistral and other deals do go through in some form, they will only go a very limited way to fulfilling the Russian’s requirements as outlined above.

Posted in Russian Corruption, Russian Economy, Russian Espionage, Russian Military | 1 Comment »

Planning for the “inertia scenario.”

Posted by democratist on September 8, 2010

September 8th 2010,


As stated in previous posts, Democratist sees Russia’s pronounced and increasing national inability in the sphere of technological innovation as one of the key motivating factors behind the apparent current “modernization” drive.

As Dimitry Trenin has noted, Russia continues to fall behind in terms of its industrial, technological and scientific capabilities, and this is already starting to have serious implications for her continued status as an international political, economic and (especially) military player.

As an example, these technological limitations have already manifested themselves in Russia’s inability to produce and deploy an effective reconnaissance Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) during the 2008 war with Georgia: Related areas of concern (mentioned in a speech given by Medvedev to Russian diplomats earlier this summer) include genetics, space, IT, energy, telecommunications and nuclear power.

While superficially novel, this contemporary desire for modernization among a section of the elite reflects and echos an enduring and often overriding historical preoccupation with the importance of military competition against comparatively advanced western nations, that runs throughout modern Russian and Soviet history at least as far back as Peter the Great, and which has provided the impetus for various spurts of Russian and Soviet technological modernization.

Twentieth-century examples include Stalin’s preoccupations about the impact of economic and technological backwardness on the USSR’s military capacities as a central motivation for Soviet industrialization in the 1930’s, as well as for the development of the Soviet nuclear arsenal in the 1940’s. Military competition with the west was also a central early motivation behind the economic reforms of perestroika (“restructuring”) in the 1980’s.

Three Scenarios

With regard to the contemporary case, in The Russia Balance Sheet (2009) Anders Aslund and Andrew Kuchins note that, far from being the brainchild of Dimitry Medvedev, the Kremlin had already formulated all the main goals and strategies currently being considered in relation to medium-term Russian economic growth and modernization during the final months of the Putin Presidency.

This programme, called “Russia 2020, was outlined in a speech given by Putin in February 2008, with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade presenting a more detailed version a month later.

Russia 2020 outlines three alternative scenarios, in terms of the potential trajectories of economic development;

  • The first is the “innovation” scenario. This presupposes the development of a national innovation system, competitive human capital, and regional development centers, and requires a comprehensive reform and investment programme.  It foresees a subsequent average annual GDP growth of 6.5%.
  • The second is the “energy and raw materials” scenario, which is based on faster development and modernization of the extractive sector, and projects a subsequent average annual growth of 5.3%.
  • The third is the “inertia” scenario,” which assumes no significant improvement, and therefore forecasts an average growth rate of 3.9% per year.

In Democratist’s opinion, while over the last two years Medvedev has genuinely attempted to put some flesh on the bones of the proposed “innovation” scenario (introducing tax breaks, promoting technology parks, abolishing import duties on high technology equipment and encouraging foreign investment), over the past few months the “innovation” strategy has started to show signs that it is encountering increasing resistance from within the elite.

The reason for this emerging impasse is that many in the nomenklatura, grown rich under Putin on the proceeds of  corruption, are implacably opposed both to reform itself (which threatens their privileged position) and even more so to the implied political reforms which would be the backbone of an innovative economy, and which Medvedev tentatively began to promulgate over the summer.

In this regard, we consider Putin’s hints at the Valdai club meeting in Sochi on September 6th that he intends to make a return to the Presidency in 2012 as indicative of a broader reassertion of power by these interests, and an indication that the nomenklatura remains eager to avoid the potentially “destabilizing” effects of the political reform required to both attract increased western investment, and achieve the “innovation” scenario.

Instead, the elite appears to be hoping that a recovery in hydrocarbon prices over the next few years will allow them to return to a greater emphasis on the second, “energy and raw materials” development path, with its promise of a (still robust) 5.3% average annual growth.

This does not necessarily imply that the “innovation” scenario or its rhetoric is to be abandoned wholesale, or that Russia will instantly return to an openly confrontational and anti-Western foreign policy stance, but rather it seems more plausible that, over the next few years, where the needs of meaningful innovation come into conflict with intrenched elite interests (including in relation to  encouraging foreign investment), innovation will have to give way.

However, Democratist suspects, in contrast to the nomenklatura’s apparently rosy expectations, that Russia’s extraordinary and increasing corruption (which stems from the top, has become an integral part of how the country has been ruled especially since 2000, and which has been almost completely unaffected by supposed recent clean-up campaigns) will, in addition to putting firm limits on the “innovation” scenario, also put a considerable brake on  the development of the extractive sector.

Indeed, it does not seem implausible to suggest that, in the absence of serious political reform, within a few years Russia may be looking at growth rates closer to those of the “inertia” scenario than of the other two, as the system slowly begins to seize up.

Additionally, a second (and more certain) effect of this reassertion of power by the nomenklatura over the next few years is that, in the absence of innovation from within the domestic Russian public or private sectors, or from foreign investors (and with a continuing “brain-drain,” as many of Russia’s most talented people leave to pursue careers abroad) the corporatist Russian State will seek the innovation it has historically seen as essential in order for it to remain militarily competitive, and additionally for many other industrial sectors (including hydrocarbons and arms), through a greatly enhanced reliance on a tried and tested method employed extensively during the Soviet period, namely espionage.

Conclusion – Planning for the “inertia scenario.”

Whereas the conviction and subsequent swap of 10 Russia Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) officers on July 9th in Vienna will doubtless have caused acute embarrassment to many in the nomenklatura, given the likely continued lack of domestic sources of innovation, and of foreign investment, while Russian foreign policy in general may remain less confrontational than that witnessed over the last few years for some time to come, Russian intelligence operations in the west are very likely to become considerably more extensive and aggressive over the next few years, with a greatly increased focus from both SVR and GRU on industrial and military espionage.

With this in mind, it is imperative that those same western companies that Medvedev and his backers have been trying to entice into committing to invest in Russia, as well as many others in the areas mentioned above, understand this increasingly virulent threat to their commercial interests, and therefore redouble their efforts with regard to both personnel and IT security.

Additionally, those western agencies tasked with dealing with this problem, might well wish to reconsider whether counter-espionage is not deserving of more than, say 3% of their budgets (as is apparently currently the case for the British Security Service – MI5).   

Indeed, in as far as the effects of a return to relative economic stagnation, coupled with an increasingly obviously technologically inferior military over the next few years are likely to strengthen eventual calls for a return to the “innovation” path, and for political reform, both from within concerned sections of the nomenklatura and the Russian public, western governments might start to consider counter-espionage activities, in relation to Russia at least, as an important aspect of their foreign, as much as security policies, and therefore provide them with a commensurate increase in funding.

Posted in Russia Foreign Policy, Russian Corruption, Russian Economy, Russian Espionage, Russian Liberalization, Russian Politics, Russian Science, US - Russia | 16 Comments »

Mr Hancock and the Azerbaijanis

Posted by democratist on September 1, 2010

1st September 2010

It is interesting to see that Mike Hancock MP has been in the news again;

It would appear that The Guardian is also now on the case, and is starting to ask some rather pertinent questions about Hancock’s relations with the Russians.

By way of contribution to the debate, Democratist remembers, at the time of the Azerbaijani Presidential elections in 2008, Hancock came out with the following statement – in his capacity as a PACE observer in the OSCE-led, joint Election Observation Mission – just after midday on polling day (i.e. a good eight hours before polling closed).

“The election process can be valued positively”, Member of PACE Observation Mission, British Parliamentarian Mike Hancock told APA. Stressing his observation mission during the previous elections in Azerbaijan, the British Deputy said he had observed the election process in seven polling stations in Yasamal and Sabayel districts. “I value the activity of the electoral commission members positively. It is observed that they mastered instructions on the organizing of the elections perfectly. Voters were also educated well”. Mike Hancock expressed regret that some opposition leaders did not join the elections. “It means that opposition is not active. It is not the fault of the President that some oppositional candidates did not join the elections. I consider that the opposition behaves undemocratically in these elections. It would be better if the opposition joined the elections even if they lost, because the election is important process for the political organizations”.

Quite something for one person to say, before polling had even ended – especially if they are supposed to be part of a team of several hundred people. And especially if they had been instructed not to make personal comments to the media, but rather contribute to the joint statement (as we believe is the case for all OSCE observers, even PACE MPs). Indeed, if we were more cynical, Democratist might suggest that the statement almost seemed as if it were prepared in advance.

Democratist was also informed that Mr. Hancock apparently managed (pretty much single-handedly) to make the OSCE preliminary statement on those elections far more positive than it would otherwise have been, through his influence as a PACE MP observer on the drafting process.

It is therefore also to be noted that, in addition to his cordial relations with the Russians, Mr Hancock has continued since 2008 to defend the Azerbaijani regime on many occasions.

Here’s a quick example, the relevant passage from which we reproduce below;

British deputy Michael Hancock noted that he sees Azerbaijan’s future positively and told that there is democracy in Azerbaijan. “There is democracy in Azerbaijan. Therefore, the Azerbaijani people voted for the current government. In this country there is no strong opposition, which refused to participate in the elections. The Government of Azerbaijan will continue to cooperate with the Council of Europe. In this direction is the political will of the authorities of Azerbaijan’, he said.

Posted in Azerbaijan, Democratization, Elections, OSCE, UK Foreign Policy | 3 Comments »