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Archive for November, 2010

Book Review: “Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can” by Michael McFaul.

Posted by democratist on November 29, 2010

29th November 2010.

As Michael McFaul, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, and latterly Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the US NSC notes in his preface to Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). “After eight years of the George W. Bush Administration, most Americans, as well as many people around the world, had grown tired of the United States’ efforts to promote democracy in other countries.”

And yet, while the paramount objective of US foreign policy has always been to defend the security of the American people, from the very beginning of the republic US leaders have consistently defined a special, ethical role for the US in world affairs.

McFaul argues passionately, persuasively, and in great detail against the adoption of a narrowly “realist” or isolationist foreign policy in reaction to the mistakes of the Bush administration, and for the continued relevance of democracy promotion for reasons both ethical and practical.

In the introductory chapter, he neatly summarizes his perspective in a single sentence; “Under democracy, people around the world enjoy better government, more security and economic development. In parallel, the advance of democracy abroad has made Americans safer and richer.”

At the core of his argument is the claim that, “The history of the last 200 years, but especially the last 80 years, shows that American security, economic and moral interests have been advanced by the expansion of democracy abroad, while reliance on realpolitik frameworks [i.e. alliances with autocracies] as a guide for foreign policy has produced some short-term gains, but many long-term setbacks for American interests.”

Advancing Democracy Abroad is therefore essentially an expanded, detailed and very timely restatement of the Kantian argument for the international benefits of the spread of democratic government, in light of  the practical concerns of foreign policy, and as such, equally a statement of Democratist’s own broad core position.

McFaul points to the long-term security advantages for the US that have stemmed from enduring alliances with other democracies, as well as democratization, and the economic and reputational dividends of democratic expansion. By way of contrast, he considers the three main problems of alliances with autocratic states have been sustainability (e.g the Shah in Iran until the 1979 revolution), consistency (Nasser in the 1950’s, or Saddam in the 1980’s and 1990’s) and cost (billions of dollars given to Iraq for its war with Iran in the 1980’s).

As such, McFaul calls for a  pragmatic and commonsense foreign policy based on “Wilsonian liberalism with a realist core.” He argues that, while at times the US needs to work with autocratic regimes to pursue vital national interests, it must never lose sight of its values, or of the critical importance of internal regime type for its ongoing relationships with other states.

In this regard, he devotes a detailed and useful chapter considering the wide range of instruments the US and its allies have available for the gradualist facilitation of democratic development. These include “dual track” diplomatic engagement; trade and economic incentives; security guarantees,  the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US’ participation in the OSCE, funding for foreign domestic NGOs and election observers, media resources such as Radio Free Europe, and the International Republican and National Democratic Institutes.

McFaul is also fully aware that the United States’ democratic and human rights failings over the last decade have considerably weakened America’s standing in the world, and made it much harder for US leaders to call for democratic practices in other parts of the world.

As such, the renunciation of military intervention as a tool of democracy promotion, criticism of autocratic allies (including Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), and the reassertion of democratic values at home are, he suggests, important prerequisites to the successful promulgation of liberty abroad.

Posted in Book Reviews, Democratization, Human Rights, OSCE, Russia - US Relations | 9 Comments »

Belarus: The Geopolitics of the “Black Revolution.”

Posted by democratist on November 23, 2010

23rd November 2010.

More evidence is beginning to emerge of the Russian government’s all-but-openly-declared plotting to oust President Alexandr Lukashenko during, or shortly after the Belarussian Presidential elections due on 19th December.

In this regard, last Sunday Russia’s Channel One (also widely available in Belarus) ran a propaganda piece relating to the pre-election situation.

This declared that Lukashenko was “weaker today than he has ever been before” due to Belarus’ economic and other problems, and predicted that the country will likely face a currency crisis early in the new year.

More significantly, the programme (Vremya) also attempted to pull off what we can only describe as an impressive attempt at doublethink, as it tried to paint the EU as having been supportive of Lukashenko (employing a recent ill-judged quote by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite) while Russia was recast as a stalwart defender of the Belarussian opposition (or at least of two pro-Russian opposition presidential candidates; Andrei Sannikov and Stanislau Shushkevich).

Thus, Sannikov was quoted as saying (in a line presumably scripted in Moscow),“We should proceed from the real situation. If Europe speaks about supporting Lukashenko, while Russia speaks about the opposition, we should take this into account and welcome it.”

And Shushkevich was permitted to chip-in with a spot of rabble-rousing anti-Lukashenko xenophobia; “You know, I have only Belarusians among my ancestors. [Lukashenko’s] nationality is unknown: maybe he is of Roma origin, or of Jewish origin. In any case, he is definitely not a Belarusian.”

So, a fascinating scenario is emerging: The Belarusian electoral administration is massively dominated at all levels by Lukashenko loyalists. It is no exaggeration to say that the Territorial Electoral Commissions (TECs), which oversee the key organizational aspects of the process have been specifically designed to allow them to co-operate with local authorities (since they are largely composed of the same people) to allow them to use their influence in universities, hospitals and Belarus’ many state-enterprises (who employ 51.2% of the workforce) so as to both “get out the vote”, and pressure individuals to vote for the incumbent.

As long as this system remains functioning, there is no chance of any opposition figure being declared winner of the Presidential elections. Even if it does break down to some degree, the most popular Belarusian opposition politician (according to the independent IISEPS research centre) Russian-backed Vladimir Neklyaev, currently has only 16.8% of support in the opinion polls, while Lukashenko remains the most popular with support from about 48% of the electorate, regardless of recent external media pressure. Additionally, Sannikov himself is currently polling about 8.6%, with Romanchuk’s taking about 6.1% and Mikhalevich’s on 6.4%.

Thus, the most likely outcome is still a Lukashenko victory in the first round. While a second round run-off remains a possibility, we suspect that the key move (if it comes) will have to be during the days immediately after the first round poll, presumably in the shape of a coup dressed-up as some kind of popular revolution (a “Black” revolution), with one of the opposition candidates as a figurehead.

For the most part, the West, which (as the history of much of the last two decades has demonstrated) has limited political or economic  influence in Belarus, will be forced to watch from the sidelines as the drama unfolds; their main strategy (apart from calling for a transparent vote) is likely to be to act as quickly as possible to build up an enhanced relationship with the most likely future “candidates” (although these may be somewhat reluctant to play along, because they know Russia remains the only serious player).

If they do decide to go ahead with such a scheme, the Russians will be gambling that the US and EU are unwilling to risk the recent political and strategic advantages they have secured from the “reset,” to a lengthy spat over a coup in a country over which they have never had any significant control.

Posted in Belarus, European Union, Russia Foreign Policy, US - Russia | Leave a Comment »

Viktor’s “very legal” business.

Posted by democratist on November 17, 2010

17th November 2010,

Democratist has been delighted to see the return to the screen of one of our favorite Russia Today semi-regulars, thereby once again reassuring us that conspiracy theory continues to maintain a central place in the Russian disinformation pantheon, despite the “reset” with the US. 

The last time we saw Madrid-based “investigative journalist” Daniel Estulin in early July, he had been given a 10 minute prime-time slot on RT’s news programme, during which he (heroically) managed to keep a straight face while expressing the view that the US was building 13 “secret bases” in Afghanistan, “for the forward push to an eventual war against Russia,” as part of a complex plot involving the IMF, George Soros, and the Bilderburg group. (Democratist especially appreciated the inclusion of Soros, as it tellingly underscored the historical use of Jews as scapegoats in Russian disinformation operations, going at least as far back as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; secretly published by the Tsarist Okrana in Paris in the early 1900’s).

This time Estulin (who sports a fetching “slav nationalist chic” ponytail and goatee combo, and whose grandfather was, according to the biography on his web site – surprise, surprise – a colonel in the KGB) has been dragged out to do a similar job in relation to yesterday’s extradition of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout from Thailand to the US.

Thus, whereas Bout was today charged in New York with arms dealing and conspiracy to kill US officials, Estulin has been backing the Kremlin’s claims that he is the victim of a “grave injustice” and comically stated in an RT interview (among other things) that, “[Bout] was not involved in gun running. He was involved, to a very small extent, in shipping arms; but again, shipping arms is not illegal, it is a very legal business.”

And guess what? RT informs us that Estulin is currently,working on a book about the “conspiracy” against Viktor Bout.”



Posted in Russia Propaganda, Russia Today | 3 Comments »

Tough times ahead for the SVR

Posted by democratist on November 16, 2010

16th November 2010.

There’s nothing like having one’s opinions confirmed, especially if the person doing the confirming is in a very good position to have an idea of what was really going on.

Thus last Saturday, Democratist suggested that the systemic corruption we have witnessed in Russia over the last decade was a key enabling factor in allowing the defection-in-place of Alexander Scherbakov, former head of the SVR’s elite “illegals” programme in relation to the “main opponent”; the US. 

We have therefore been delighted to hear, via the offices of Russia Today, that we have an unexpected ally in  former Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel (and now deputy head of the State Duma Security Committee) Gennady Gudkov.

After stating that all SVR officers should be forced to take lie detector tests to avoid similar situations in the future, Gudkov is reported to have stated that, “The main reason behind any treachery is corruption…if those in charge of fighting corruption are corrupt themselves, and as long as there is no truly efficient control, there is no way to avoid similar situations of betrayal in the future.”

We fully agree with Gudkov’s analysis. But we would add that it has become fairly clear over the past few months that the almost no one in the nomenklatura has any intention of seriously tackling Russia’s massive corruption; they are almost all implicated, and corrupt practices have become an integral part of how Russia is now governed. 

So corruption, including at the highest levels of the SVR will continue largely unchecked. Since lie detector tests are fallible (as SVR staff should know; Aldrich Ames passed at least one, and a number of countries refuse to use them), it seems likely that many mid-level personnel, suffering from a mixture of jealousy/disgust at their bosses’ antics/the state of the country in general, will continue to offer their services to the CIA.

Additionally, the sulky, and almost certainly empty claims that the SVR plans to send a “hit team” after Scherbakov, will only serve to strengthen such a trend, since;

 i) The Russians are very unlikely to be able to pull off such an action now Scherbakov is under FBI protection, making them look foolish and ineffectual.

ii) Such threats (combined with the recent beatings of journalists etc) will act to convince additional SVR employees that they are essentially working for a bunch of gangsters, encouraging more defection (much as the suppression of the “Prague Spring” in 1968 was a factor in the Mitrokhin case).

The way the case has been handled so far displays an extraordinary lack of understanding of basic human psychology by the SVR senior staff, and is likely to be extremely counterproductive over the medium-term. 

More generally, it serves to act as yet another example of how high-level corruption has considerably weakened the Russian state.

Posted in Russian Corruption, Russian Espionage | 4 Comments »

What the Shcherbakov story tells us about contemporary Russia.

Posted by democratist on November 13, 2010

13th November 2010,

One of the many insightful literary themes to be found in the novels of John Le Carré is the notion that the espionage apparatus and modus operandi of the intelligence services of different countries reflects their national character. 

Thus the British upper-middle classes, with their public school gift for deception, even among their closest friends, are represented by the Bill Haydon/Philby character in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, American post-9/11  aggression and hubris is given an ample airing in A Most Wanted Man, and efficient, ideologically driven Soviet ruthlessness exemplified in the figure of Karla in Smiley’s People.

But if Le Carré is really onto something, then what do the recent revelations of the defection of Colonel Alexander Vasilyevich Shcherbakov and their aftermath tell us about the state of Russia, and the Russian intelligence “organs” over the last decade under Vladimir Putin?

Evidently, the picture they paint is not a flattering one; it would appear that, through Shcherbakov’s defection, the FBI had been onto the “illegals” for some years, and allowed them to remain in place as they slowly built up a picture of their activities and methods, while none of the “illegals,” (supposedly the “best of the best”) cottoned on to the fact that they were being observed.

Which demonstrates just how inept and corrupt the SVR has become since 2000: Far from being the shining example of Soviet self-sacrifice that so captivated the young Vladimir Putin (capable of cultivating an Ames or a Hanssen), under his watch the SVR has declined to the point that is apparently easily infiltrated, while the kind of personnel security safeguards that should have raised the alarm some years ago (e.g. the fact that Shcherbakov’s daughter was living in the US) have not been functioning effectively, because they are easily subverted due to contemporary Russia’s all-pervading culture of corruption.

But this is hardly surprising; it has already become clear that the senior ranks of the SVR (such as Vasily Kushenko, Anna Chapman’s father) had been enrolling their own children as a way of giving them access to cash and connections, rather than for anything to do with serving the motherland, so why would anyone care if the head of the “illegals” section dedicated to spying on the US (surely one of the most sensitive posts in the Russian intelligence community) would have sent his own daughter to live…in the US?

Posted in Russian Corruption, Russian Espionage, US - Russia | 2 Comments »

Keeping Russia’s (other) army fed.

Posted by democratist on November 11, 2010

November 11th 2010.

Democratist has been interested to read that Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin recently officially announced that Russia plans to spend $63 billion during the coming year in an attempt to bring her dilapidated armed forces up to date.

This marks a considerable increase over the original figure of $49 billion, and is part of a proposed decade-long $730 billion Russian military spending spree.

Democratist is not surprised to see that a great deal of this cash has been earmarked for military R&D, as we have already written at length about the implications of  Russia’s pronounced and increasing national inability in the sphere of technological innovation for her status as an international political, economic and (especially) military player.

We continue to maintain that, in the absence of a serious political and economic reform program, President Medvedev’s project to create a Russian military innovation powerhouse (similar to the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), will suffer the same fate as so much Russian public spending since 1991, and that a big chunk of its proposed funding will be rapidly and unceremoniously trousered by Russia’s other army, of crooked officials.

So, while this announcement is unlikely to do that much good for the Russian armed forces (who are also likely to be scaled back as part of the “modernization” programme), it is excellent news for bankers, real estate agents, hoteliers and restauranteurs in London, Zürich, Nice, and elsewhere.

Additionally, as we have also already stated, in the continued absence of innovation from within the domestic Russian private or (especially) public sectors, or from foreign investors (and with a continuing “brain-drain,” as many of Russia’s most talented people leave to pursue careers abroad), regardless of any arms deals that might be struck with France or other countries, Russia will be forced to seek the bulk of the innovation it sees as essential to remain militarily competitive with the west through a greatly enhanced reliance on a tried and tested method employed extensively during the Soviet period; espionage. 

But given the ineptitude, corruption and penetrability of the SVR, as demonstrated over the summer, the ultimate beneficiaries of such a tactic are, in the end, most likely to be….bankers, real estate agents, hoteliers and restauranteurs, rather than the Russian state or people.

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

Azerbaijani Democracy and Europe’s Gas Supplies

Posted by democratist on November 10, 2010

10th November 2010,

Democratist has been disappointed, but not surprised by the conduct of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections last Sunday, 7th November.

The results, and the way in which they were obtained, reflect a long, and now deepening tradition of post-Soviet authoritarian rule there. 

As far as we can gauge, all the standard dirty tricks were applied in abundance (media manipulation, voter intimidation, ballot-box stuffing etc.) in what was basically a textbook case of widespread and methodical electoral fraud, with an added dash of nepotism to underscore  just how little the Aliyev clan, buoyant on both the financial and geopolitical advantages of Azerbaijan’s vast oil and gas wealth, is concerned to maintain the facade of democracy for either domestic or international purposes. 

Opposition parties, predictably, took only two of the 125 legislative seats on offer, while the president’s wife, uncle, and indeed his cousin’s husband were all elected easily.

The main message of these polls therefore, was that the regime feels that its current position is so secure that is no longer answerable to anyone; neither its own citizens, nor foreigners. 

But if there are redeeming aspects to this sorry business, they are:

Firstly that, having learned from the fallout from the Azerbaijani Presidential elections in 2008, and despite expectations from many that western organizations such as the OSCE would go easy on the regime, the OSCE Election Observation Mission (EOM) did in fact stand up for the principles it embodies, spoke truth to power, and criticised these elections for the sham they were. 

In the words of the head of mission, Audrey Glover at the 8th November press conference, “Regrettably, our observation of the overall process shows that the conditions necessary for a meaningful democratic election were not established. We are particularly concerned about restrictions of fundamental freedoms, media bias, the dominance of public life by one party, and serious violations on election day.”

This is good news for the West’s somewhat tattered reputation among the Azerbaijani opposition, and for the OSCE’s reputation throughout the region.

Secondly, that both the EU (in the form of an admittedly rather weedy statement from Catherine Ashton) and the US, in a separate comment by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley, have fully backed the OSCE’s findings.

And therefore it would seem that the EU and US are less willing to put up with the regime’s shenanigans than might have been the case before the 2008 economic crisis.

But perhaps we should not be so surprised, since lower hydrocarbon prices, and the rapidly increasing diversity of Europe’s gas supplies, which are now staring to include the re-export of formerly US-bound Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) cargoes, may well be mean that the Aliyev regime’s international position is no longer as strong as it was.

Posted in Azerbaijan, Democratization, Elections, Electoral Fraud, European Union, Hydrocarbons, OSCE | 1 Comment »

Lukashenko maintaining tight grip on electoral process.

Posted by democratist on November 4, 2010

4th November 2010,

It looks like President Lukashenko of Belarus has so far managed to keep the electoral process well under control in the run up to Presidential elections due on 19th December.

According to the latest report by Democratists’ friends over at Viasna, a Belarussian Human Rights organization, “Nomination of candidates for inclusion in the 6,346 Precinct Election Commissions (PECs) [i.e. polling stations] finished on 31 October…Opposition parties have put forward only about 1,000 candidates out of 84,024.”

For the uninitiated, this basically means that the ruling party will nominate, at a minimum a little under 99% of all the people that will be working in the polling stations in Belarus on election day.

Still, this compares favourably with the Territorial Electoral Commissions (TECs) [responsible for regional oversight], where only 14 members out of a total of 2000 (or 0.7%) are representatives of opposition parties.

The Belarusian electoral machine therefore appears to be functioning as per normal at this point in the process.

If the Russians really want to get rid of Lukashenko, it will be hard for them to achieve this through the ballot box.

Posted in Belarus, Electoral Fraud | 2 Comments »

When it comes to Ukraine, “fortress Europe” is no longer an option.

Posted by democratist on November 4, 2010

4th November 2010,

Democratist has been pleased to read in the Financial Times that the US embassy in Kiev has made a statement criticising the local elections held in Ukraine on Sunday, saying they “did not meet standards for openness and fairness”.

On the basis of our own experience in the field, we feel that reports from the professional and well-respected Ukrainian domestic observation organization OPORA that numerous procedural violations took place are likely to be accurate.

The poor conduct of these recent elections confirms an increasing trend back towards authoritarianism in Ukraine since Viktor Yanukovich won the Presidential elections this February.

This is especially disappointing because it marks a clear reversal from the huge improvements in the professionalism and credibility of electoral processes (and human rights in general) that took place after the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Yanukovich, having taken over the presidency in a generally well run poll, seems at best indifferent to the task of preserving Ukrainian democracy: This has been repeatedly confirmed over the last eight months by a series of media crackdowns, the harassment of the Universities and foreign NGO’s, judicial interference, and the reestablishment of a presidential form of government.

However, Democratist cannot help but feel that Yanukovich would be paying much more attention to his democratic credentials if the EU had, at some point over the past couple of years, offered Ukraine a serious (albeit long-term) prospect of EU membership.

More specifically, Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions (POR) apparat may have thought twice about interfering with the electoral process (for example in relation to the staffing for the Territorial Electoral Commissions) over the last couple of months if they had once again had 60 OSCE ODIHR long-term election observers breathing down their necks, backed up by 500 short-term observers on election day, and a little coordinated diplomatic pressure from Western embassies, as was the case earlier this year.

So, the West probably already possesses most of the necessary tools needed to encourage the Yanukovich government to return to the democratic path. The point, implicit in the United States’ statement,  is that it is now for the EU (especially those such as Germany and the Netherlands, who have reservations about Ukraine’s potential membership) to realize what is at stake both for Ukraine and the wider region, and act accordingly.

Or do they really think that a “fortress Europe” approach, with (yet another) increasingly corrupt, poor and resentful country on the EU’s eastern borders, is really likely to be in their own best long-term interests?

Posted in Elections, Electoral Fraud, OSCE, Ukraine, Western Foreign Policy | Leave a Comment »

The Ukraine, Brussels, sticks and carrots.

Posted by democratist on November 2, 2010

2nd November 2010,

Yesterday Democratist reported on questions surrounding the validity of Sunday’s local election results in Ukraine, and suggested it might have been preferable for the OSCE to field a more substantial team than the four international observers they employed for these elections.

Additionally in our opinion, these apparent recent electoral shenanigans do much to confirm the analysis set out in a recent paper by the Centre for European Reform (CER); “Ukraine turns away from democracy and the EU.”

The CER’s main point is that, while Ukraine has not yet turned towards Russia as such under Yanukovich, there has been a clear shift back towards authoritarianism since the presidential elections this February; opposition TV channels have been closed down, foreign foundations and universities harassed, presidential rule restored through a manipulated constitutional court, and criminal proceedings launched against senior figures from the previous administration.

Democratist agrees with the CER that it is high time for the EU to take note of what is going on in Ukraine, and act on it.

We need to see tougher statements coming out of Brussels and member state capitals; we need to see Catherine Ashton visiting Kiev, ideally accompanied by national leaders and/or other senior officials to underline the importance the EU attaches to Ukraine’s continued democratization (these could be linked to trade issues), and we need to see Ashton and others giving interviews to embattled local media outlets.

These issues should also be raised in detail at the next EU-Ukraine summit on 22nd November.

We also need to see progress on people-to-people issues such as the conclusion of  an “action plan” on visas, which would spell out the steps Ukraine needs to take for the EU to abolish visa requirements altogether. More scholarships for students would also be useful.

Ideally, of course, the EU should offer Ukraine a long-term membership prospective (although this seems very unlikely at the moment given the economic climate, and reticence from Germany and the Netherlands).

But, as the CER makes clear, the EU still has a number of both sticks and carrots at its disposal.

Posted in European Union, Ukraine | 2 Comments »