The European Union and Russia
May 29th 2008 | BRUSSELS
From The Economist print edition
The European Union has agreed on what it wants from Russia. But not how fast
WHETHER it was brave or clumsy depends on your point of view. But Lithuania (population 3.5m) has nudged the European Union (population 500m) into a slightly tougher stance towards Russia. Talks on a (long overdue) partnership agreement were first postponed because of Russia's embargo on Polish meat. When that was lifted, the obstacle became Lithuanian demands for firmer terms concerning energy, judicial co-operation and Russia's treatment of countries such as Georgia.EU diplomats fumed about Lithuania's tactics, complaining of belated timing, poor preparation and unrealistic expectations. A few said this was just the sort of thing to strengthen the view in “old Europe” that letting neurotic and primitive ex-communist easterners into their club had been a mistake. Certainly some foreign ministers' meetings discussing the issue have been remarkably stormy by EU standards.But a meeting on May 27th agreed upon a new negotiating mandate, with small but significant changes on some points sought by Lithuania. “They have attracted attention to Russia's behaviour in Georgia, which is timely and good,” says an official from a neighbouring country. The talks on the partnership agreement will start at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia next month.The question is how fast they will go. Germany wants things sewn up, at least in principle, within a year. That seems too soon to countries that are hawkish on Russia, as well as to the European Commission. This camp wants a more detailed deal, in which Russia would have to make big changes on such contentious issues as its energy monopolies, investor protection and illegal migration. In return the EU would offer a laxer visa regime and let Russian energy companies expand westwards more easily. Other countries are moving to counter what they see as Germany's overly Russia-friendly policies. Poland and Sweden this week launched their own plan, called the “eastern partnership”, to offer generous trade and other co-operation to Ukraine and Georgia, as well as to other interested countries. The aim is to recreate the model of the “Visegrad” group of four central European countries in the early 1990s, which helped ex-communist states to prepare for what at the time seemed the highly uncertain prospect of EU membership.For the first time in any EU initiative, the plan explicitly includes Belarus (albeit only on a “technical” level for now). Russian regions such as Kaliningrad are also welcome to apply for some of the goodies that a partnership agreement can offer, such as better border crossings and environmental projects. Ex-communist Poland and rich, neutral Sweden may prove an effective combination. Their forceful foreign ministers, Radek Sikorski and Carl Bildt, get on well. Bravery is good. But brains are even better.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Can the EU defend itself?
May 29th 2008
A bit of paranoia is a healthy thing
AS WESTERN countries scramble to deal with Russia's increasingly energetic espionage efforts, their security services are hurriedly rehiring some of the seasoned spycatchers they let go in the past years.
But at the European Union attitudes are still worryingly dozy. Russian spying in Brussels and Strasbourg, say those who try to keep an eye it, is far better financed, better aimed and better co-ordinated than ever before. The efforts of the elite foreign-intelligence service, the SVR, and the GRU (military intelligence), are now supplemented by the FSB, a much more thuggish outfit that used to deal solely with internal issues.
Some of the intelligence officers are under traditional diplomatic cover; others are journalists, lobbyists, consultants and even students. It would be an unusually stony-hearted eurocrat who did not try to help a charming young enthusiast who wants material for a doctoral thesis.
A combination of vanity and naivety makes it remarkably easy for Russians (and those working on their behalf) to snoop, nudge and make mischief. It is sad but true that many people working in European institutions (the parliament is a particular culprit) are immensely self-important but largely insignificant to the outside world. That makes them vulnerable to deft flattery on the lines of: “It is only people like you, Mr Mepnik, who really understand the importance of this issue. I greatly appreciate your insights, and I wonder if you could help me with one rather specific question…”
Darker arts may be at play too. Lobbying in the European system is still scandalously murky and underregulated. If the reward for a full and frank discussion, or for a copy of an interesting document, is a bottle of €300 wine, or a discreet evening spent in particularly pleasant company, it passes almost without notice.
Though the Russian efforts are increasingly brazen, keeping track of them is proving tricky. Belgium's counter-intelligence service is notoriously understaffed and toothless. The European Commission has hugely improved its internal security in the past five years, but it is only as strong as its weakest links. Its in-house encrypted e-mail system is secure—until some lazy official forgets to use it and sends an extra copy in plain text. MEPs and their staff have the right to see sensitive materials, but are slack about taking care of them.
Member states' attitudes to Russia differ (to put it mildly). An approach that would set alarm bells ringing in officials from, say, Finland or Britain may seem nothing to worry about (or positively welcome) from countries with little or different historical experiences of Russia.
The problem is most urgent in the EU's external relations. What is the point of negotiating if the bottom line is leaked to the other side in advance? How will the proposed new diplomatic service handle classified information?
It is hard to imagine any part of the EU administering a security-clearance regime of the kind common in countries serious about their security, complete with exhaustive background checks and intrusive questions about the subject’s personal life. Yet without a high common standard for handling information, the new EU foreign service will be at best useless, and at worst a danger to all member states' own security.
To see how strikingly asymmetrical the position is, try imagining it the other way round: a world where bright-eyed interns from EU countries wander the corridors of the Kremlin at will, snaffling documents and bamboozling bureaucrats. The EU's ideals of openness and trust are admirable. But as long as the rest of the world does things differently, a healthy dose of paranoid secrecy is long overdue.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
From The Economist print edition
Irena Sendler, saviour of children in the Warsaw ghetto, died on May 12th, aged 98
POLAND suffered more than any other European country during the second world war. And there was an extra twist: the history of that suffering was then systematically distorted by the Soviet-imposed Communist rulers, and widely misunderstood abroad. Auschwitz, for example, is still often referred to as a “Polish death camp”—rather than one run by the country's Nazi occupiers, in which huge numbers of Polish citizens perished. And gentile Poles are typically imagined to have rejoiced, collaborated or simply stood by as their Jewish compatriots were exterminated. Poles, said the former Israeli leader Yitzhak Shamir, “imbibe anti-Semitism with their mother's milk.”
Certainly prejudice was prevalent in pre-war Poland; but many Poles defied it. One of the bravest was Irena Sendler. As a doctor's daughter, she had been brought up in a house that was open to anyone in pain or need, Jew or gentile. In the segregated lecture halls at Warsaw University, where she studied Polish literature, she and likeminded friends deliberately sat on the “Jewish” benches. When nationalist thugs beat up a Jewish friend, she defaced her grade card, crossing out the stamp that allowed her to sit on the “Aryan” seats. For that, the university suspended her for three years. All this was good preparation for the defiance she was to show after 1939, when the Germans invaded.
She was, a friend said, “born to selflessness, not called to it”. Certainly she had good genes. A rebellious great-grandfather was deported to Siberia. Her father died of typhus in 1917, after treating patients his colleagues shunned. Many were Jewish. Leaders of the Jewish community offered money to her hard-up mother for young Irena's education. Like many social workers in pre-war Poland, Mrs Sendler belonged to the Socialist party: not for its political ideology, she said, but because it combined compassion with dislike of money-worship. No religion motivated her: she acted z potrzeby serca, “from the need of my heart”.
Under Nazi occupation the Jews of Warsaw were herded into the city ghetto: four square kilometres for around 400,000 souls. Even before the deportations to the Treblinka death camp started, death could be arbitrary and instant. Yet a paradox created a sliver of hope. Squalor and near-starvation (the monthly bread ration was two kilos, or 4.5lb) created ideal conditions for typhus, which would have killed Germans too. So the Nazis allowed Mrs Sendler and her colleagues in and out of the tightly guarded ghetto to distribute medicines and vaccinations.
That bureaucratic loophole allowed her to save more Jews than the far better known Oscar Schindler. It was astonishingly risky. Some children could be smuggled out in lorries, or in trams supposedly returning empty to the depot. More often they went by secret passageways from buildings on the outskirts of the ghetto. To save one Jew, she reckoned, required 12 outsiders working in total secrecy: drivers for the vehicles; priests to issue false baptism certificates; bureaucrats to provide ration cards; and most of all, families or religious orders to care for them. The penalty for helping Jews was instant execution.
To make matters even riskier, Mrs Sendler insisted on recording the children's details to help them trace their families later. These were written on pieces of tissue paper bundled on her bedside table; the plan was to hurl them out of the window if the Gestapo called. The Nazis did catch her (thinking she was a small cog, not the linchpin of the rescue scheme) but did not find the files, secreted in a friend's armpit. Under torture she revealed nothing. Thanks to a well-placed bribe, she escaped execution; the children's files were buried in glass jars. Mrs Sendler spent the rest of the war under an assumed name.
The idea of a heroine's treatment appalled her. “I feel guilty to this day that I didn't do more,” she said. Besides, she felt she had been a bad daughter, risking her elderly mother's life with her wartime work, a bad wife to both her husbands, and a neglectful mother. Her daughter once asked to be admitted to the children's home where her mother worked after the war, in order to see more of her.
Mrs Sendler need not have worried. Far from being honoured, she narrowly avoided a death sentence from the Communist authorities. Her crime was that her work had been authorised and financed by the Polish government-in-exile in London; later, she helped soldiers of the Home Army, the wartime resistance. Both outfits were now reviled as imperialist stooges. In 1948 repeated interrogations by the secret police in late pregnancy cost the life of her second child, born prematurely. She was not allowed to travel, and her children could not study full-time at university. “What sins have you got on your conscience, Mama?” her daughter asked her.
It was not until 1983 that the Polish authorities allowed her to travel to Jerusalem, where a tree was planted in her honour at Yad Vashem. Many of the children she had saved sought her out: now elderly themselves, all grateful, but some still yearning for details of their forgotten parents. In 2003 she received Poland's highest honour, the order of the White Eagle. It came a little late.
This with many thanks to my excellent colleagues in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic Poland, Romania, Slovakia, who contributed screeds of excellent material that sadly could not be squeezed in to the story
Corruption in eastern Europe
Talking of virtue, counting the spoons
May 22nd 2008 | BRATISLAVA, BUCHAREST, SOFIA AND WARSAW
From The Economist print edition
Now that they're in the club, new European Union members are failing to deliver on the promises they made to fight corruption
FOR corrupt officials in central and eastern Europe, life has seldom been better. Joining the European Union has produced temptingly large puddles of public money to steal. And the region's anti-corruption outfits are proving toothless, sidelined or simply embattled.
The biggest problems are in Romania and Bulgaria, the EU's two newest members, whose apparent inability (or disinclination) to deal with high-level corruption has led to increasingly acerbic public warnings from Brussels. But other countries have done badly too. “Before accession, governments were under close scrutiny. Now the fight against corruption is not a priority,” comments Drago Kos, president of GRECO, an anti-corruption outfit affiliated to the Council of Europe, a human-rights organisation. “The Europeanisation of political elites was largely taken for granted,” says Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a Berlin-based Romanian academic.
Even in Slovenia—once seen as a paragon of good government—lawmakers are trying to close down the commission for the prevention of corruption, run by Mr Kos, arguing that it is expensive and unnecessary. The real reasons may be disdain for all public watchdogs (where staff salaries have been cut by a third) and the commission's repeated attacks on the government's anti-corruption credentials. The mooted shutdown has attracted outside protests, including one from the OECD, a Paris-based club of rich countries.
In Latvia, the head of the anti-corruption agency, which had been investigating the financing of the former governing party, narrowly fended off a bid to unseat him. In Slovakia, the justice minister called the special anti-corruption court, which has highly paid, security-vetted judges, a “fascist institution”. His party, a junior member of the ruling coalition, is trying to have it deemed unconstitutional. Another minister wants bribing foreigners to become a legitimate part of public spending.
But the most spectacular cases are still in the Balkans. Barely three months after it joined the EU in 2007, the Romanian government fired Monica Macovei, a doughty justice minister who had attacked corruption head-on. Her successor tried to fire the anti-corruption prosecutor for investigating his political sponsors. The incumbent is a former lawyer for Russia's Gazprom. Procedural snags have held up all high-level corruption cases. Investigation of former ministers now requires parliamentary approval, sending every case back to square one. Although Romania comes out lowest in the EU in the rankings by Transparency International, a lobby group, the government seems determined to attack its critics rather than corruption.
Bulgaria, similarly, prefers talk to action. Multiple new anti-corruption agencies are poorly co-ordinated or have never got going. No case of high-level official corruption has led to a successful conviction, just as not one of more than 120 gangland shootings since 2001 has been cleared up. EU officials (and most Bulgarians) believe that organised crime reaches the highest levels of government. The forced resignation of the interior minister, Rumen Petkov, in April, has made little difference. Brussels is considering cutting billions of euros in aid and withdrawing recognition of Bulgarian court decisions.
Gimmicky special agencies cannot make up for a justice system filled with crooked, timid or inexperienced judges and prosecutors. Indeed, in badly run countries, a powerful anti-corruption agency can aggravate the problem: special powers and privileges can be abused for venal reasons or to settle political scores. This happened in Poland, where the zealous sleaze-hunters of the Law and Justice Party squandered their election win in 2005. Although most Poles seem to believe that wealth is a sign of past lawbreaking, they disliked even more the heavy-handed, selective and publicity-hungry doings of the new anti-corruption agency. The new government downgraded it, and is trying instead to cut back the bureaucracy.
That may be a more promising approach. Corruption crackdowns work only if the public administration is simplified to the point where bribe-taking becomes either unnecessary or highly conspicuous. That has been the secret of success in Estonia, probably the cleanest country in the region. But most east European countries have yet to reform their bureaucracies, creating lots of opportunities for peddlers of lucrative short cuts.
As its economic competitiveness erodes, eastern Europe can ill afford bad government. Voters are generally disillusioned with post-communist politics. Yet from the Baltic to the Balkans, even politicians facing the most startling accusations of corruption seem not to suffer at the polls. A bit like Italy, really.
Telling the Soviet story
A new film about Nazi-Soviet links
BEING burnt in effigy on the streets of Moscow by nationalist hoodlums must count as a kind of Oscar if you are a Latvian filmmaker whose aim is to expose modern Russia's blindness to the criminal history of the Soviet Union. The ire of Young Russia's protest outside the Latvian embassy this week was directed at Edvins Snore, whose film “Soviet Story” is the most powerful antidote yet to the sanitisation of the past.
The film is gripping, audacious and uncompromising. Though it starts by telling the story of the murder of 7m Ukrainians in 1933, it is no mere catalogue of atrocities. The main aim of the film is to show the close connections—philosophical, political and organisational—between the Nazi and Soviet systems.
As Françoise Thom (one of many anti-communist luminaries appearing in the film) puts it: “Nazism was based on false biology; Marxism was based on false sociology”. The Marxist dream of the “new man”, for example, mirrored the Nazi idea of racial superiority. The Nazis murdered chiefly on racial grounds, while the Soviets concentrated on class. But mass murder is mass murder.
Those who keep a soft spot for Marxism may flinch to hear that the sage of Highgate referred to backward societies as Völkerabfälle (racial trash) who must “perish in the revolutionary holocaust”. Or that the Nazi party in its early days idolised Lenin (Josef Goebbels said he was second only to Adolf Hitler in greatness).
Perhaps the best sequence in the film shows pairs of posters using almost identical designs: muscular workers strike heroic attitudes in support of the party and the state, blonde little girls beam, fists smash enemies, hammers break chains. Without the swastika and hammer and sickle as clues, it would be hard to know which is which.
The illustration of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is compelling: Soviet radio transmitters guided German bombers in their attacks on Poland. A Soviet naval base near Murmansk helped the Nazi attack on Norway. The Soviet secret police helped train the Gestapo and discussed how to deal with the “Jewish question” in occupied Poland.
Cooperation was based on a written agreement—complete with the signature of Lavrenty Beria, head of the notorious NKVD—which is shown in the film. “The NKVD will propose to the Soviet Government a programme to reduce the participation of Jews in state bodies and to prohibit Jews and Jewish offspring of mixed marriages from the areas of culture and education”, reads a final, chilling sentence. Russia says the document is a fake.
Powerful archival footage shows Red Army officers drinking toasts with their counterparts from the SS in Berlin in December 1939. In 1940, the Soviet Union had become a huge supplier of grain and oil to the Nazi war machine, while it encouraged the Communist parties of western Europe to sabotage the anti-Nazi resistance.
“It is comforting to see Parisian workers talking to German soldiers as friends”, a French communist publication gloated in July 1940. Vyacheslav Molotov, who was then the Soviet Union's foreign minister, called fighting Nazism a “crime”. Along with similar pronouncements, that was published in every Soviet newspaper; such pages were hurriedly removed after Hitler's treachery.
Something pretty similar happened in the West. Nazi war criminals are reviled; their Soviet counterparts are honoured veterans to this day. Any attempt to bring them to justice prompts angry protests from Russia. “Hands Off Our Granddads”, was the slogan chanted by the protestors from Young Russia. A better question might be, “What exactly happened?”
Mr Snore and his sponsors in the European Parliament have produced a sharply provocative work. Its tone, technique and composition may be open to criticism. But those who want to ban it should try refuting it first.
Their sharply critical account of eight years of Putinism can be read (in English) here
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics
By Richard Legvold
From Foreign Affairs , May/June 2008
The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West . Edward Lucas . Palgrave Macmillan , 2008 , 272 pp. $26.95
Lucas is no simpleton, and he does not for a moment mean to suggest that the menace of today's Russia equals the challenge the Soviet Union raised during the Cold War. But menace he does see. Russia, to his reporter's eye, has again fallen into the hands of despots warring against the rule of law; personal freedom; and fair elections, laws, and courts -- and, as bad, a leadership out to resubjugate its neighbors and "to harm [the West], frustrate us, and weaken us." Money and energy resources are the new insidious tools of penetration and subversion, no longer the overt hammer of military power. Lucas is a fine writer, and his prose has all the verve and punch that the best of his magazine, The Economist, has to offer. In a final flourish, he exhorts U.S. and European leaders to shed their wishful thinking and gird themselves to "win the New Cold War" by collectively paying the price of freedom from dependence on Russian gas; commandeering their capital markets to deny access to predatory Russian companies; kicking Russia out of organizations in which it does not belong, such as the G-8; and trumpeting the virtue of Western values over the misbegotten preferences of Russia's present leaders.
This is the English version of a long lecture I gave in German in Berlin earlier this month.
Let us leave history to the historians. Well if only we could. You can do that if you are discussing German reunification, or the 100 Years War. But when it is the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or indeed anything to do with World War Two, or most of the Cold War (just to take some examples from Europe alone), then the historians have little chance of keeping the argument into the world of archives, methodology and academic inquiry. Henry Ford may have said “History is bunk” and Francis Fukuyama may have said history has reached an “end” but the reality in eastern Europe is that history is alive and well and living in the present.
To illustrate this I would like to put forward three historical analogies, commonly used in present-day political arguments, and then look at their strengths and weaknesses.
The first comes from an article in a recent Financial Times by Mart Laar, the former prime minister of Estonia and now an advisor to the Georgian government. He is writing to protest about the de facto annexation of two provinces of Georgia by the Russian Federation. These two regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have maintained an unrecognised but de facto statehood since the early 1990s. Russia has propped them up with energy and military support, but stopped well short of recognising them. Now that is changing, with recognition from Russia at least on an official bureaucratic level, if not on a formal diplomatic one. So how does Mr Laar describe this?
Vladimir Putin, the outgoing Russian president, on Wednesday accelerated Moscow's creeping annexation of Georgian territories to sweeping annexation. This is a victory for hardliners who pressed Mr Putin to give the order before he moves from the Kremlin to the Russian White House as prime minister. It comes as Georgian proposals for peaceful settlements in the territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, languish.
The west must shake off its torpor, condemn Mr Putin's gambit and support the Georgian proposals. Ignoring Moscow's Soviet-style land-grab would intensify strife in the south Caucasus.According to Mr Putin's "instruction", Russia will open "representations" in the two territories to protect the interests of Russian citizens there and to foster co-operation. Russia will claim that it has many citizens to protect in the two Georgian territories, after it illegally distributed its passports to anyone remaining after the civil wars and ethnic cleansing of the 1990s.
"Those who cannot learn from history," said George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, "are doomed to repeat it." In 1937, Hitler agitated for the rights of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia; in 1938, he annexed Sudetenland into the Reich, purging it of non-Germans.
In Abkhazia, most Georgians, Armenians, Estonians, Greeks and Russians – perhaps 500,000 in all – are already gone. Russia recognises Georgia's international boundaries, but its actions belie its words.Russia's "representations" will be less than official consulates, although consular services will be offered from offices in neighbouring bits of Russia. "Representation" is a euphemism to soothe western fears that Moscow may recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in tit-for-tat retaliation for western recognition of Kosovo.
However, in Moscow's insidious gambit, the "representations" will be among the final steps toward annexation of the two Georgian territories.
"The belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small state to the wolves is a fatal delusion," said Winston Churchill just before Munich – we should have learnt the lesson 70 years ago.
Another analogy, from an opposite point of view, goes roughly like this
Imagine that the Cold War had ended not with the triumph of the West but its collapse. Imagine that it was the capitalist, not the communist system which had proved impossibly inefficient, and that it was NATO that dissolved in a shambles, not the Warsaw Pact, and that it was America that broke up, not the Soviet Union. Imagine that a new government comes to power in Washington, determined to import the best features of the socialist system and to learn from the mistakes of the past. Imagine too that the overwhelming majority of Americans regard the Soviet Union as a friendly country.
Then imagine that instead of consolidating this huge shift in its favour, the Kremlin maintains the Warsaw Pact as a military alliance, and brings first Mexico and Canada in as members, and then the states of New England. It also bombs Nicaragua to dislodge a regime there that it doesn’t like. Now it is considering bringing Texas and Florida in too. The result, predictably enough is to squander the goodwill of the American people and to encourage the administration in Washington to reconsider the goodwill policies of the 1990s and take a much more hawkish line towards Moscow.
That is pretty much what the West has done to Russia. At the end of the Cold War we had a historic chance to make friends. Instead we expanded our sphere of influence, and maintained NATO in existence—using it to bomb Russia’s ally Serbia. Then we expanded NATO to include first the countries of central Europe, and then the former Soviet Baltic republics. Now we are even proposing to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance. What folly, what hypocrisy!
And here is a third analogy, also based on “hypothetical history” but taking a radically different line.
Imagine that the Third Reich had not perished on the battlefield in 1945, but had instead survived for decades. Imagine that Hitler had died in the early 1950s like Stalin, but then given way to a Krushchev-like figure and a “thaw” in which the holocaust was admitted. Then imagine that the thaw gave way to a long period of stagnation under a German version of Brezhnev, only for the Third Reich finally to disintegrate in the late 1980s, as a “reform Nazi” (call him Michael Gorbach for the sake of argument) tries to reform the unreformable with a mixture of “Öffenheit” and “Umbau” (which the Russians would call “Glasnost” and “Perestroika”.Each of these historical analogies has strengths and weaknesses. The first one risks sounding lazy and simplistic. It is easy to compare almost anything that one doesn’t like to the 1930s. The bad guys are behaving like Nazis. We are as weak as Neville Chamberlain in not standing up to them. It is not necessarily wrong, but it risks being ineffective. Godwin’s law states
Then imagine that the Third Reich collapses in 1991 and the once-captive nations of Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria return to the map of the world from which they were obliterated in 1938-40. A shrunken state joins them—the German Federation—still with a Nazi party, but professing to be democratic and friendly to its neighbours. That staggers on for nearly a decade, until a former SS colonel (call him Waldemar Puschnik for the sake of argument) becomes first prime minister and then president.
The outside world might feel rather uneasy about this, particularly if he moved swiftly to limit media freedom and control the political system. But we might feel that what the people of the German Federation really wanted was stability, that it was not our business to interfere. We might argue that the SS in the 1970s and 80s, when Col Puschnik joined and served in it, was not the same as the SS in the 1930s and 40s. We might even argue that Col Puschnik was a member of the elite foreign espionage division of the SS, and was therefore not involved in its domestic misdeeds. That would be pretty much how the West reacted to former KGB Lt-Col Vladimir Putin becoming president of Russia.
But then imagine that our Oberst Puschnik says that the Anschluss and the Munich agreement were “legal” (Just as Mr Putin does about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). That the Dutch and the Danes should be grateful to the German people for their independence, and should keep German as a second official language and allow automatic citizenship to all settlers who moved there during the occupation era. (that is pretty much what the Kremlin says to the Baltic states now).
And then imagine that in a German government newspaper we were to read that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. That would be truly alarming, and even nauseating. (That is how the Poles feel when they read, in five mainstream Russian news outlets in the past eight months, that the Katyn massacre was the work of the Nazis and not of the NKVD).
As a Usenet [an early version of the internet-EL] discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
It is often elaborated to a simpler principle: the first person in a discussion to call his opponent a Nazi has automatically lost.
Secondly, Santayana’s statement is nonsensical. It is simply not true that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. Huge chunks of history are forgotten, and have absolutely no bearing on the present. Hugely traumatic events such as Hundred Years War, or the Wars of the Roses, or the War of the Spanish Succession, are forgotten to the general public and rightly so. The idea that a jealous God of History punishes inattentive pupils through excercises in repetition sounds like a variation of the plot of Groundhog Day; it does not have any bearing on real life. Moreover, remembering history does not mean that the lessons that can be drawn from it are unambiguous or pleasant. Hitler remembered the massacre of the Armenians, and concluded that genocide is soon forgotten. A Chinese reader of the Economist wrote to me recently saying that his country’s mistake in Tibet had been to be too soft: had we treated them the way you treated the Tasmanians, he wrote, we would have long since solved the problem.
Thirdly, such historical analogies also risk alienating the people they are trying to convice. For all its faults, Putin’s Russia is not the Third Reich. For all its virtues, Saakashvili’s Georgia is not like pre-war Czechoslovakia, a democratic and blameless victim of external aggression. The frozen conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are much more complicated than the future of the Sudetenland. It is much better to make historical analogies ingenious and thought-provoking than hackneyed and simplistic.
The second one certainly meets those criteria, but falls short on another: moral context. The states of New England were not forcibly incorporated into the United States at gunpoint, nor were their elites deported in cattle trucks to Alaska. Nor did the American government in the 1930s provoke an artificial famine in Texas that cost millions of lives. A more accurate analogy might be to imagine that Hawaians had fled in their thousands to freedom and safety in Russia to escape American imperialism, and that the archipelago state seized its chance to restore independence after America’s collapse. The stance of such a putative independent Hawaii towards the victorious Warsaw Pact might well be highly favourable.
In other words, seeing history solely in terms of power politics and geography distorts the picture.
The third analogy is loaded with moral context, if in a rather one-sided way. Many Russians, particularly those who take a pro-Kremlin view, find any linkage of Soviet and Nazi history offensive. Their struggle against fascist aggression in the Great Patriotic War is deeply embedded in the Soviet/Russian national identity. Stalin’s crimes are mere details compared to the titanic struggle of the Russian (or Soviet) people.
Secondly, the analogy is flawed because Third Reich was so closely bound up with the person of Adolf Hitler. Soviet apologists were able to denounce Stalin while venerating Lenin, the true inventor of the Red Terror. A selective reading of Marx and Engels provided an ideological infrastructure independent of the Soviet state’s founding fathers. It is hard, if not impossible, to imagine a Nazi Khrushchev managing to denounce the Holocaust while praising the principles of National Socialism. Though he described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “geo-political catastrophe of the century”, Putin is not a neo-Communist.
It is also questionable whether Germany’s post-war Vergangenheitsbewältigung [Coming to terms with history] can be held up as an exact template to be followed by modern Russia. Nazism lasted barely a decade; Soviet power in Russia lasted for 70 years. That leaves much deeper traces and it is unfair to expect them to disappear overnight. Moreover, Germany was first defeated and occupied, and then run by anti-Nazis such as Konrad Adenauer and Willy Brandt. Russia lacked a similar cadre of credible political leaders uncontaminated by history. If Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, who spent decades in the Communist Party, can be counted as morally admirable reformers, what are the grounds for utter hostility to Mr Putin’s KGB past. The moral difference between the KGB and the Communist Party needs careful elaboration.
It is also easy to overstate the significance of Soviet echoes. Germany in the 1950s and 1960s was infested with ex-Nazis in prominent positions. Revanchist sentiments among the populations deported from Central Europe were intense. If modern Russia had a movement anything like the Bund der Vertriebenen of the immediate post-war years or refused to recognise the eastern frontiers of the Baltic states and Ukraine, that would be far more alarming than the current position. Remarks by senior Kremlin figures about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact may be deplorably tactless, but they fall a long way short of “Schlesien bleibt unser”. Similarly, Russia is not officially renouncing its acknowledgment of Katyn, however tasteless the quibbles and distortions in some media outlets may be. Even in historically conscious Germany it is possible to find mainstream figures who object, at least privately, to the “demonisation” of all aspects of the Nazi regime and feel that the “Holocaust lobby” is cynically extorting money from a country that cannot defend itself.
That is not to say that analogies of this kind are useless or wrong. The sanitisation of Stalinism in official Kremlin propaganda is sinister, and the use of history as a political weapon is real. By saying that the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are legal, Russia is mounting a profound if subtle political attack on the Baltic states. Their policies on language and citizenship are justified, and justifiable, if you accept that these three countries have historical continuity dating from the interwar era, and were occupied territories during the Soviet era. Settlers who moved there during the Soviet era did so against international law, and it is reasonable for the Baltic states now to set some rules for those wishing to naturalise.
If, by contrast, the Baltic states were legally part of the Soviet Union from 1940, then they were indeed “liberated” and not “occupied” by the advancing Soviet forces in 1944. When they became independent in 1991 it was in the same way as Belarus or Ukraine, as Soviet Socialist Republics. If so, then an attempt to divide the population into Übermenschen and Untermenschen based on ethnicity would be discriminatory and unfair.
The difficulty is in getting the argument on to these tracks. A provocative historical analogy may deliver the necessary jolt. Or it may simply arouse such hurt feelings that no further discussion is possible..
It is therefore particularly important to avoid self-righteousness. The great temptation in this kind of political argument is to cherry-pick the precise intersection of history and geography that makes your favourite people look good, and your least favourite people monstrous, silly, or both. Here is the real “Doppelgedächtnis”: my history is my business, but your history is my political football. A useful principle is to start from the view that it is unlikely that any country or people are solely victims and never perpetrators. Poles, for example, are Olympic champions in recalling their own suffering, particularly because those recollections had to do constant battle with the communist lie machine. But it can sometimes be difficult for Poles to appreciate that their eastern neighbours, such as Ukrainians and Lithuanians, do not view history in quite the same way. Estonians and Latvians readily recall their own traumatic suffering under Russian and German rule; the story of the violent and sometimes murderous expropriation of Baltic Germans landowners in the early 1920s attracts little attention. Life in interwar central Europe and the Baltic states may have been a paradise compared to what came afterwards, but it was better for some than for others: Jews, Communists and Trade Unionists in particular may remember that era less fondly than those with roots in other parts of the political or social spectrum. Righting one set of wrongs usually involves creating new ones, especially when it is done in a hurry: the continuing arguments in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic about the Benes decrees illustrate the point well.
Playing a game of historical “tit for tat” is pointless. History does not provide convenient starting points, like the start of a football game, where the score is nil-nil and it is possible to see who scored first and who committed the most fouls. It would be equally mistaken to adopt a position of total moral equivalence, where everybody is equally guilty for everything and all crimes cancel out. This is the position increasingly taken by the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, who argues that Stalin was doubtless a bad man in many respects, and did some bad things—but don’t forget Hiroshima.
The best way to start the discussion is to be provocative while avoiding self-righteousness.
Although the fashion for making public collective apologies for past ills is open to criticism for being merely empty rhetoric, it seems to me that it is still better than not showing contrition. The fashion in most of Europe for denigrating every aspect of the age of Empire, and ascribing every modern African ill to the legacy of slavery, colonialism and exploitation may be over done. But it is certainly better than simply asserting, as many Russians do, that the effect of imperial rule on their dominions was “civilising”. The approach taken by New Zealand and, lately, Australia towards their aboriginal populations would be utterly unimaginable in the context of their analogues in Russian republics such as Mari-El, Chukotka or Khantsy Mansiisk.
From a British or even Anglo-American point of view this means in particular taking a bleak view of the sentimental and self-righteous approach in which the Second World War is remembered. It is sometimes easy to get the impression that the TransAtlantic historical consciousness sits happily on the political contours of films such as Casablanca and the Sound of Music. I wish they would read Norman Davies instead. The comforting portrayal of the war as a welltimed one-dimensional struggle between good and evil, featuring neatly framed episodes such as the Blitz, the Battle of Britain and D-Day, is both toxic and misleading. Uncomfortable questions are skated over. Why did we declare war on Finland? What was the communist penetration of the SOE and what effect did that have on our non-communist allies in the Balkans? How honourable was our treatment of Poland? Why did we repatriate the Cossacks and the Cetniks? I am not arguing that Britain was wholly wrong in the decisions it made, or even that attractive alternative existed that were not taken. But without a thorough and knowledgable exploration of the darker corners of the West’s wartime history, any attempt to challenge the current interpretations of the 20th century in countries such as Russia risks looking hypocritical and onesided.
Given the urgent need to do exactly that, and the consequences if we fail, it is imperative to make the case with both the maximum clarity and the maximum moral authority. As with so many other features of what I describe in my book as the New Cold War, the biggest and hardest tasks are at home.
Monday, May 19, 2008
In the Rheinischer Merkur (in German)
Spannend und polemisch
Der Titel des Buches verrät es schon: Edward Lucas sieht einen neuen Kalten Krieg im Gange. Die Betonung liegt auf neu. Die Konfrontation zwischen Russland und dem Westen deutet Lucas als Konflikt um Deutungshoheiten, Energieressourcen, Rohstoffe und politische Einflusszonen zwischen einem erstarkenden Riesenreich auf der einen und westlichen Nationen sowie supranationalen Organisationen wie der EU auf der anderen Seite. „Der Westen ist dabei, den neuen Kalten Krieg zu verlieren, kaum, dass er ihn als solchen erkannt hat“, urteilt der langjährige Leiter des Moskauer Büros der britischen Wochenzeitung „The Economist“.
Danach rast der englische Publizist mit Tiefenschärfe durch acht Kapitel, in denen er die russische Innen- und Außenpolitik, den „neuen Zarismus“ und Russlands Energiepolitik unter die Lupe nimmt. Lucas richtet seine Kritik dabei nicht nur gegen den autoritären Putinismus, sondern insbesondere gegen den Westen. Wegen des katastrophalen „Kampfs gegen den Terrorismus“ und wegen seiner wirtschaftlichen Interessen habe er seine demokratisch-freiheitlichen Werte verraten. Ohne fundamentale Umkehr habe der Westen nicht die geringste Chance, die „Russen selbst zu überzeugen, dass die autoritäre, fremdenfeindliche und verzerrte Spielart des Kapitalismus, die ihre Herrscher anpreisen, keine neue Zivilisation, sondern eine Sackgasse ist“.
Trotz seiner zuweilen polemischen Töne ist dem Autor ein elegantes, mitreißend geschriebenes Buch gelungen, angereichert mit bestechenden Fakten, einer fundierten Recherche und intellektueller Brillanz. Er zeigt großes Verständnis für russische Befindlichkeiten und Ängste, vergisst auch nicht, die positiven Entwicklungen des Landes zu erwähnen. Aber er blickt immer wieder hinter die schöne Kreml-Fassade. In Kapiteln wie dem über die seltsamen Hintergründe der Bombenattentate auf Moskauer Wohnhäuser um die Jahrtausendwende, für die die russische Regierung tschetschenische Terroristen verantwortlich machte, liest sich das Buch sogar wie ein packender Thriller.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Georgia and Russia
Gather round the gorge
From The Economist print edition
The outside world can help deter both Russian bullying and Georgian vote-rigging
IF YOU have not heard of the Kodori Gorge, you may soon. A Georgian-controlled sliver of territory in the breakaway enclave of Abkhazia, it looks nastily like the flashpoint for a new hot war in the Caucasus. Russia, which protects the Abkhaz regime, insists that Georgia is planning to use Kodori to attack Abkhazia. That is unlikely. Georgia's modern but small army is no match for the Russian behemoth. Steep terrain with only one tiny road divides Kodori from the rest of Abkhazia. And starting a war would ruin Georgia's hopes of joining NATO.
A more plausible explanation of Russia's propaganda offensive and increase in the numbers of both regular and irregular forces in Abkhazia is not fear of a Georgian attack, but plans for the opposite: an attempt to retake the Kodori Gorge. This would humiliate, perhaps topple, Georgia's pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Russia would see it as giving a firm response to the deplorable precedent of Western recognition of Kosovo's independence. If you use your muscle to separate Kosovo from Serbia, the Kremlin would grunt, then just watch what we can do to a would-be ally of yours.
Tensions are still growing ahead of Georgia's parliamentary elections on May 21st. A war would splinter Georgia's fragile democracy, destabilise the whole Caucasus and embolden Russian hawks to cause bother elsewhere. That is trouble worth avoiding.
If Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev (see article), wants to be taken seriously as more than a puppet of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, he could start by cooling the row with Georgia. Menacing the country mocks his talk of the rule of law. Others can also help. Some European Union countries are joining Lithuania's hitherto lonely protests on Georgia's behalf. This week five foreign ministers went to Georgia to bemoan Russia's knout-rattling. A mission of foreign military and political observers to the Kodori Gorge itself would be a useful follow-up. It would give the lie to Russia's claims that Georgia is preparing for war. And it could deter Russia from an attack. Killing Georgian soldiers is one thing for Russia; killing officials from EU and NATO countries is another.
Meanwhile Georgia could help itself by bolstering its democratic credentials. The heavy-handed dispersal of street protests in November and allegations of ballot-rigging in January's presidential election have sullied its reputation. That helped NATO's summit in April decide that putting Georgia on a clear track to membership was premature.
Georgia's friends might rally more enthusiastically behind it if the parliamentary elections were not just clean, but seen to be beyond reproach. Mr Saakashvili's supporters say that the opposition is intransigent and maybe even outright treacherous. Bits of it may well be. But that is no excuse for dodgy election practices.
It is sadly too late to settle some controversies, such as the composition of the election commission. But video recordings of the numbers entering polling booths should be comprehensive and freely available to help allay suspicions of ballot-stuffing. Complaints need to be followed up seriously. Otherwise the impression given is one of arrogance at best, and at worst a willingness to conceal dirty deeds. Outside monitors should offer to look into any complaints that the Georgian authorities fail to investigate properly.
Demonstratively coupling its prosperity with freedom and legality will win Georgia moral high ground, and wider backing, in its war of words with Russia. And it might one day even help win back Abkhazia too.
Pipelines from Russia
From The Economist print edition
A gas pipeline and Soviet war graves
AS A sign of Russia's importance as a gas supplier to Europe and of its special relationship with Germany, few things beat the planned Nord Stream pipeline on the Baltic seabed. It was conceived in secret by a German-Russian consortium that is now headed by a former German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. A Polish minister once likened it, perhaps intemperately, to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939.
An Estonian member of the European Parliament, Andres Tarand, claims that the pipeline will also disturb Soviet war graves dating from naval battles in 1941, when forces occupying Estonia fled Hitler's advance. His sources include a classified Soviet military map of 1985, and work by an Estonian historian, Mati Oun, who calls it “the biggest marine cemetery in the world”. The Russians are sensitive about war graves and memorials, as they showed in a recent row about a statue in Estonia. But a Nord Stream spokesman insists that only one wreck is in fact anywhere near the pipeline route, and adds that it will not be disturbed. Who says energy politics is always boring?
Prague's silent spring
Budget cuts kill an institution
FOR outsiders interested in the ex-communist world, the English-language material produced by the research department of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is invaluable. But it will not be available much longer. The department is closing. Its analysts are job hunting. Some bulletins have stopped already. The reason is simple: budget cuts caused by the weak dollar.
It is a sad end to an era. The radios (based in those days in Munich) helped win the last cold war. Many of the staff were émigrés who became household names in their captive homelands thanks to their broadcasts.
But triumph was followed by a dispiriting process of retrenchment and cuts. The radios moved to Prague—though that is now an expensive city too. Language broadcasts to central Europe and the Baltics were chopped (though new ones were started in languages such as Chechen). The analytical focus shrank and shifted.
The invaluable “Tatar-Bashkir Daily Report”, for example, covering what 90 years ago was the briefly independent state of Idel-Ural, stopped publication in November 2005. Though the vernacular-language broadcasts remain, it is hard to see how they will maintain their quality as the main brains of the organisation disperse.
A sign of how much the bad guys dislike the radios' work came only last month, with a big cyberattack that temporarily brought down the website of the Belarusian-language service, probably to stop people reading it on the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. That recalled the Soviet-era practice of jamming, at vast expense, foreign short-wave radio broadcasts.
Subscribers will now find a bothersome hole in their email in-boxes. The RFE/RL material was concise, accurate, incisive, and covered corners of the region such as Moldova that scarcely feature on the English-language internet. It was also free.
Some of the alternatives are excellent, but costly. The BBC Monitoring Service provides colossal quantities of translated news from the whole ex-communist region—but at an annual cost (depending of how much you want) of several thousand dollars. It is also so voluminous that it can easily take an hour to read a daily dose properly.
Rather less expensive is Transitions Online, which for a piddling $44 a year provides information from 28 countries in the region. It is a Prague-based non-profit spin-off from an earlier bit of downsizing by RFE/RL, less newsy and more colourful.
Contributors include luminaries such as Andrew Wilson, a British-based scholar who coined the phrase “virtual politics” to describe the mixture of manipulation and populism used by elites in the phoney democracies of the ex-Soviet Union. An outfit called Templeton Thorp provides a useful free media digest, with business-focused news available on subscription.
Perhaps the sharpest and most unusual analysis comes from “Window on Eurasia”, a thrice-daily bulletin filed by the indefatigable Paul Goble, one of America's most seasoned observers of the region and a onetime heavyweight figure at RFE/RL and other outfits financed by the American government.
If you are gripped by stories about the revival of Circassian national consciousness, incensed by the FSB's attempts to rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or intrigued by the growth of traditional paganism in Mari-El, then Mr Goble's mailings will become your favourite breakfast reading.
But barring a last-minute change of heart in the Senate, the generalist who wants a crisp and topical analysis of the region's news will find little substitute for RFE/RL. At a time when billions are available for the projection of hard power, it is odd that a few millions can't be found for something that embodies America's much more effective soft power. That reflects badly on both politicians, and the ability of the radios' management to lobby them.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Chill Out: The New Cold War
For the past few years, most every sentient being west of Smolensk has been aware that something very bad is happening in Russia. They don't elect their governors anymore. There are no major television stations that are free from Kremlin influence. The Duma always seems to do what the President wants. Edward Lucas, the Central and East European correspondent for the Economist, is here to tell us that, in fact, things are much, much worse than that. In The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West, Lucas makes a powerful case that Russia hasn't simply lost its way or stumbled on the path to modernity; it has reignited the same intercontinental struggle Americans thought they'd long won.
The New Cold War is intelligent, thoughtful and overflowing with footnote-laden accounts of all the terrible things Vladimir Putin and his lieutenants have been doing since the former KGB agent took power on New Year's Eve, 1999.
While many of the details are known, Lucas offers the first comprehensive compendium of the Kremlin's major (and not so major) crimes against Russians and non-Russians alike. There's the 2003 arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the dismemberment of his Yukos oil empire. There's the 2007 alleged cyberwar Russia launched against Estonia in the wake of a flap surrounding a Soviet war memorial.
Lucas details a 1984-style "History According to the Kremlin" now being taught in classrooms, according to which Josef Stalin, the greatest mass murderer in history, was a patriot who did what had to be done to defeat fascism. And he also examines the Kremlin's repeated use of its ample energy resources to threaten its Western-oriented neighbors. Most troubling is what Lucas calls "pipeline politics" — Moscow's plans to build the Nord Stream gas pipeline from the Shtokman Field in the Barents Sea to the German city of Greifswald; and its attempts to derail Western plans to install a pipeline connecting the Caspian Sea and Baumgarten, Austria. That project, the Nabucco pipeline, would circumvent Russia by bisecting Turkey, and would give Russia's neighbors far more bargaining power when negotiating with Gazprom, the state-run gas company.
All these sundry violations — of any democratic sensibility or common sense — are not simply side effects of a resurgent Russian authoritarianism. They're indicators, Lucas argues, of a more threatening development: the re-emergence of the battle for Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltics — the whole former Soviet space. While Europe sleeps, he suggests, Moscow's secret police are infiltrating foreign governments, establishing a transcontinental energy monopoly and exploiting divisions between Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Tallinn. Exacerbating all of the above is the fact that no one is doing much to counter this angry, revanchist Russia.
"The West is losing the New Cold War," Lucas writes, "while having barely noticed that it has started. Mr. Putin and his Kremlin allies have seized power in Russia, cast a dark shadow over the eastern half of the continent, and established formidable bridgeheads in the main Western countries. And the willingness to resist looks alarmingly feeble."
This is all troubling stuff, and Lucas has done an excellent reporting job. And therein lies the problem. This is a reporting job, not history, and a certain perspective is missing. It lacks the cultural-historical context that a book on a struggle pitting Russia against the West demands. A book about a new cold war is really a book about a new geopolitics. Alas, The New Cold War doesn't read like a book about anything so monumental or metaphysical as a cold war. Instead, it comes across as a series of news stories on an unfortunate turn of events in the former Soviet Union.
It's premature to call the still-unfolding rivalry a cold war. No doubt, Russia and the West have divergent interests. According to the Russian worldview, everything good that happens in the West is bad for Russia. Worse yet, Moscow seems willing to do almost anything to achieve great-power (if not superpower) status.
Still, we're far from a Manichaean showdown. Russia is too weak to wage a cold war. Outside Moscow, St. Petersburg and a handful of other cities, most Russians live in Khrushchev- and Brezhnev-era hovels. The economy is diversifying but not diversified; for now, the oil and gas markets largely decide how much money flows into the Kremlin coffers. And the military is a wreck; Lucas points out, for instance, that the navy now has just 20 seaworthy surface ships.
Most importantly, Russia lacks a clear political identity. Beyond its economic and strategic concerns, Russia doesn't know what it wants to be. This is an ideological, even ontological lassitude. The reason the postcommunist world is so unstable is not that Russia is on the verge of repatriating old turf. It's that Russia is navigating between two ideas of Russia: its former Soviet self and its current shadow of that former self — a cartoonish, hopelessly upside-down mythology versus a dispiriting reality. Russia will not transcend this dichotomy until it begins building a truly original future instead of trying to cobble together a distant past.
Lucas is right that the West should set aside its differences and resist Russian aggression. But we should be clear about the nature of this aggression. The new cold war, thankfully, has yet to break out.
Monday, May 12, 2008
09/05/08 - World news section
Kremlin's blast from the past: Awesome display of military power in Red Square for Russia's new leader
By EDWARD LUCAS
It was a chilling sight from a different age.
Nuclear missile launchers and scores of tanks rolled across Red Square yesterday for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
The military hardware - including Topol-M ballistic missiles and T-90 tanks - may be a reminder of the days when the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal cast a shadow over the world, but in truth there is little reason for us to fear the corrupt, decrepit husk of the Russian armed forces.
Yet we should be deeply alarmed about the politicians who command them, greeted with the traditional chants of "Ura! Ura!" (Hurrah! Hurrah!) by the 8,000 troops who goose-stepped through the ceremony, which marks Stalin's victory in the Second World War.
There they stood on their podium, the great leader, Vladimir Putin, and the new president, Dmitri Medvedev.
Mr Putin, now prime minister, is credited with rescuing Russia from chaos and poverty, while Medvedev will supposedly add the ingredients of freedom and the rule of law.
So those hurrahs from the Russian troops - known as the Red Army until 1946 - in Red Square yesterday are echoed by the Kremlin's supporters abroad too, who maintain the country is on the verge of a golden age.
But keep the cork in the shampanskoye (Russia's sickly tank-fermented version of champagne).
The grim military parade reflects the Kremlin's increasingly ruthless approach to politics - and the direct threat it poses to to Georgia, a plucky western ally on Russia's southern flank.
Even if Mr Medvedev wants to change the style of Kremlin rule, and dares to try, how will the brooding steely figure of the prime minister, his political mentor and the darling of public opinion, react?
Mr Putin has said that no big changes in Russia's policies at home and abroad should be expected.
He has come close to humiliating Mr Medvedev over the tiniest perceived differences of opinion. It is his hands that will stay on the levers of power.
Never has the gap between deeds and words seemed bigger. Mr Putin claims to have stepped down out of respect for the Russian constitution, which allows only two successive terms.
Yet he remains the most powerful person in the country.
Mr Medvedev, a diminutive lawyer with - unusually for the Kremlin - no background in the military or espionage, talks about freedom and the rule of law, which Mr Putin and his ex-KGB pals have trampled into the ground.
Make no mistake: Mr Medvedev's job is to put a presentable face on the sinister regime that runs Russia.
He may criticise, rightly, Russia's colossal corruption, shambolic public services, crumbling infrastructure, soaring inflation, grotesque abuses of power, sprawling bureaucracy, and overweening state intervention in the economy. But that does not mean he can or will do much about them.
A system that has proved so hugely lucrative to the hard men in the Kremlin is not going to disappear over night, if at all. Mr Medvedev's "hurrah chorus" say that the ruthless tycoon-bureaucrats of the Putin regime will be pensioned off.
They will either accept their "severance packages" of a few billion dollars or they can join Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil baron who was once Russia's richest man, in his prison cell near the Chinese border.
But for this to happen, Mr Medvedev will have to turn on his own.
Nothing in his eight years in senior positions at Gazprom, Russia's biggest company, suggests he will do so. For a start, the firm epitomises the overlap between business and politics that he claims to despise.
It would be better named 'Kremlin Inc (Gas Division)' for its unwavering support of Russian diplomacy.
Nor is there any sign that Mr Medvedev will change Russia's prickly relations with the west, and its bullying of former captive nations.
Earlier this year he described the U.S. as a "financial terrorist" for seeking to impose its accounting standards on the rest of the world.
Mr Medvedev has called the British Council, sponsor of folk dancers and well-meaning culture vultures, a nest of spies.
His supporters stress he likes rock music and yoga. He has a glamorous and devoutly religious wife. Such clues are spun into an illusory blanket of good intentions.
But those who have met Mr Medvedev speak of a pedantic, chippy figure, a nervous nitpicker ill at ease with the limelight.
He may change. Mr Putin did. I remember how he emerged into public view in 1999, looking more like Dobby the house elf from Harry Potter than a world leader.
Many thought the third-rate spy with a taste for gutter slang would last months, not years.
How wrong they were. It is now Mr Putin who dominates Russian politics. The clan of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, is history.
So are the "oligarchs", the overmighty tycoons who once ruled the political roost. Some are in exile. Others have kow-towed to the Kremlin, gaining even greater riches in return for obedience.
Under Mr Putin, elections have become a sham, dissent criminalised, the legal system part of the Kremlin, and assassination a tool of foreign policy.
Many blame the Kremlin for the poisoning in London of Alexander Litvinenko, who fled to Britain after uncovering what he termed murderous corruption in the FSB, the KGB's successor.
Since then Russia's relations with Britain have been in a deep freeze, thawed only by the recent "football diplomacy" in which both countries have relaxed visa regulations for each other's fans.
Changing Russia's increasingly hard-edged foreign policy stance would be a formidable undertaking for Mr Medvedev.
And why bother? The current policy is working well. The Russian people delight in the stability and high living standards that the Putin era has brought - in contrast to the poverty and uncertainty of the 1990s.
Many Russians are pleased too that their country is respected (or at least feared) by its neighbours.
A muzzled, sycophantic media means that the country's real problems, and the corrupt, threadbare record of the Putin years, receives little scrutiny.
Nor is there much to worry about abroad. The bullying of Georgia has brought only ineffectual bleats of protest from the EU and NATO.
Germany's cosy ties with Russia have created a Trojan Horse in the heart of the west's two main alliances.
Silvio Berlusconi's Italy and Nicolas Sarkozy's France adopt the same stance: accepting the riches of trade with Russia, while ignoring the political cost.
The U.S. and Britain are too distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet Lithuania, one of the smallest and poorest countries in Europe, is bravely challenging the consensus, insisting that the EU toughens its stance before starting talks with the Kremlin.
Its neighbour Latvia is scraping together some symbolic diplomatic support for Georgia.
Every new man in the Kremlin enjoys a honeymoon with the west. And in each case that is followed by bitter disillusion: Mikhail Gorbachev caved in to hardliners and proved ineffective; Yeltsin succumbed to alcohol and the corruption of his cronies; Mr Putin turned into a menacing autocrat.
How long before we learn our lesson?
• Edward Lucas is the author of The New Cold War: How the Kremlin menaces both Russia and the West (Bloomsbury £18.99)
Friday, May 09, 2008
Hacks v beaks
May 8th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Rich people and bad laws mean tough times for free speech
WHEN writing about litigious issues, big British newspapers favour phrases such as “he strenuously denies all wrong-doing” (possible translation: has no convincing explanation of his behaviour); “has failed to dispel speculation that...” (was scandalously involved in), as well as words like “controversial” (outrageous) and “murky” (corrupt).
Such expensively lawyered prose helps present a semblance of balance that usually protects editors against the severity of English libel law. A good lawyer might in any event have cautioned the Kyiv Post, an English-language newspaper in the Ukrainian capital, not to headline a column about municipal property deals with “Appalling Kyiv City Council Land Grab”. And he would certainly have demanded a thorough fact check before drawing a comparison with tactics used in other dealings by Rinat Akhmetov, one of the richest men in the country.
That would have been wise, for Mr Akhmetov reacted to errors in the article by suing the paper not in Ukraine but in London, using the city's most fearsome defamation lawyers, Schillings. The paper published an apology on February 21st.
To many people, the striking aspect of this was not its effect on Mr Akhmetov's standing but the fact that a Ukrainian tycoon was suing a Ukrainian paper (owned by an American) in London. Even the Kyiv Post's 100 subscribers in Britain give an English court the right to hear the case.
That followed a similar judgment last year against Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York-based American author who has written about the support of some Saudis for Islamist terrorism. She was successfully sued in London by a Saudi for a book she had published in America that had sold only a handful of copies in Britain.
Even more striking was a second victory won by Mr Akhmetov earlier this year, against Obozrevatel (Observer), an internet news site that does not even publish in English. Like Ms Ehrenfeld, the defendants did not appear in court and judgment was entered against them in default. Damages will be set in a compensation hearing later this year. Schillings declined to comment, but a statement on its website reads: “By seeking redress in the courts of England, Mr Akhmetov will ensure that there will be a fair legal process.”
Perhaps. But for those used to the defence of free speech entrenched in America's First Amendment, English law seems anything but fair. It is not just that defending a libel action costs the equivalent of $200,000-plus up front, and much more if you lose. The plaintiff has to prove only that a statement was defamatory; it is up to the defendant to justify it, usually on grounds of truth or fairness.
The growing use of English courts by foreign litigants is arousing increasing concern among free-speech campaigners such as Chris Walker of Freedom House, an American lobby group. He terms it “manna from heaven for deeply illiberal and fantastically wealthy ex-Soviet oligarchs and Middle-Eastern oil tycoons. Everyone knows the potency of the English laws and everyone takes it into account, at an incalculable cost to free speech.”
Yet given the reputation of English courts, and long-standing rules in other countries about recognition of their judgments, it is hard to find a legal counter-attack. In response to the Ehrenfeld case, the state of New York last month passed the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act”, which explicitly protects residents' assets against foreign defamation judgments. But that is little comfort to other Americans and is likely to face legal challenges.
Some English judges have been worrying privately about the potential for abuse, and foreign litigants in future may face tougher scrutiny, particularly in actions against publishers with little presence in Britain. But litigants are also becoming more sophisticated. When a British tabloid, the News of the World, published a story about Max Mosley, a motor-racing administrator, he turned (unsuccessfully as it happened) to a court in France, which has strict privacy laws, to make the paper remove from its website a video which purported to show him engaged in sado-masochistic sex acts. Mark Stephens, a London lawyer, says “libel tourism” is giving way to “libel and privacy cruises”, where people are seeking the most favourable jurisdiction they can find.
Courts further afield may be even harsher and less predictable. Time magazine is appealing against a recent Indonesian Supreme Court judgment that ordered it to pay one trillion rupiah ($100m-plus) to the family of the late President Suharto, whom it accused of corruption in 1999. (This newspaper is one of a score of amici curiae petitioning for review of the verdict.) In English law, dead men can't sue. But (to be safe): Mr Suharto vehemently protested his innocence.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
May 8th 2008
The end of eastern Europe’s honeymoon
SEEN from a German point of view, eastern Europe's disenchantment with the European Union (EU) is both untrue and fantastically offensive. How can the countries of eastern Europe feel betrayed by Germany when it was German pressure that got them into the EU (far too early, in the view of some existing members)? Germany is a huge investor in the region, a guarantee of stability, and a strong advocate for the ex-communist countries: that, at least, is the prevailing view in Berlin.
Yet the bleak assessment of senior policy-makers in eastern Europe is rather different. “The EU is broken. So is NATO. The only thing left is America” says one.
The reason for their gloom is the feeling that Germany now prizes its relations with Russia far above the interests of the countries in between. Germany's support for the North Stream gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed, bypassing Poland, was a harbinger of this. Germany's role at the NATO summit in Bucharest, where it blocked American plans to give Ukraine and Georgia clear pathways to membership of the alliance, reinforced this impression.
Few see a sinister meeting of minds between Russia and Germany. Instead, they blame money. “The Germans have made their decision: tens of billions of euros in business in exchange for friendship with the regime,” says another top east European diplomat. American officials echo these worries, albeit more cautiously.
The result is to cast doubt, at least in some eyes, on Germany's role in both the EU and NATO. Suppose, for example, that Russia were to provoke a confrontation with Lithuania over transit to its Kaliningrad enclave, or over language and citizenship laws in Estonia and Latvia, countries where tens of thousands of people have Russian citizenship? (Such scenarios are highly unlikely, but not impossible: it is the presence of Russian citizens in Abkhazia that gives a partial justification for the Kremlin's intervention there.)
How would NATO then respond to a request for assistance under Article V of the Atlantic Charter? Imagine the meeting of the North Atlantic Council as it considered the matter: would it stand unequivocally by its new members? Or would Germany call for calm, and suggest that the parties settle their dispute elsewhere?
German officials find such notions preposterous. The best way to avoid confrontation with Russia is engagement, they say. The bigger and better the trade and investment relationship with the West, the less likely the Kremlin is to play geopolitical games. The ex-communist countries should stop whinging and follow the example of Germany—and many other west European countries—in building solid and sensible ties with Russia.
Perhaps they should. Most new member states of the EU and NATO are now determinedly non-confrontational, at least publicly, in their dealings with Russia. “When we joined the EU, we really thought it meant that we could stand up to them. Now we realise that we have to do deals like everyone else,” says a Baltic parliamentarian.
The main exception is Lithuania, which is vetoing the start of EU talks with Russia on a new partnership and co-operation agreement in the hope of toughening the negotiating mandate. That position looks remarkably isolated, though for a country which 18 years ago shocked the world and defied the Kremlin by declaring the restoration of its pre-war independence, isolation is a relative concept.
It may be right, and it is certainly easy, for big rich countries like Germany to do deals with Russia. For smaller and poorer countries that were once part of the Soviet empire, it will never be quite the same. That is something that policymakers in Berlin seem to have some difficulty grasping.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Thursday, May 01, 2008
The European Union and Russia
Divide, rule or waffle
May 1st 2008
From The Economist print edition
The European Union cannot agree over how to deal with Russia. That suits the Kremlin just fine
SEEN from outside, one might imagine that the European Union (population 495m, GDP of $16.8 trillion) was a rather intimidating neighbour for Russia (population 142m, GDP of $1.3 trillion). Yet the reality is the other way round. In recent years Russia has played a canny game of divide and rule against the EU, building cosy bilateral relations with Germany and Italy especially, but also with Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Greece.
That makes other countries, and many Eurocrats, uneasy. They would like the EU to bargain more effectively with Russia, particularly over energy. But how? For now, the relationship is based on an outdated partnership and co-operation agreement (PCA), signed in 1997. Talks on renewing it are long overdue. But they show no sign of starting. Last year the obstacle was a Polish veto, prompted by a Russian embargo on Polish meat exports. But that was resolved after a charm offensive by Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, who was once a notable hawk on Russia.
Now talks on a new PCA are stymied again, this time because of a veto by Lithuania. The Lithuanians argue that the previously agreed negotiating position is too soft and too limited, given what they see as Russia's slide towards autocracy at home and aggression abroad. An EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on April 29th ended in deadlock (though it did sign a deal that may clear the way for Serbia, a country wobbling into Russia's orbit, to become a candidate for membership).
Other EU countries are cross with the Lithuanians, accusing them of belated and clumsy diplomacy, and of posturing with an eye to a general election this autumn, in which the ruling coalition is lagging behind pro-Russian parties. The Poles, who agreed to drop their veto of a new PCA in return for a lifting of the meat ban, say they must honour their side of the deal they struck with Russia. Many west European countries also hope that the arrival of Dmitry Medvedev as Russian president could be a chance to put their relationship on a friendlier footing. In any case, the previous negotiating mandate has already been adapted to reflect, at least partly, Lithuania's desire for stronger language on energy (Russia has blocked an oil pipeline to Lithuania's refinery since 1996, claiming that it needs “repairs”).
Yet the Lithuanians want more. They demand explicit mention of Russia's relations with such neighbours as Georgia, citing the Kremlin's increasingly strong support for the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This week the Russians claimed Georgia was planning to invade Abkhazia and said they would boost their peacekeeping forces, promising to respond forcefully to any Georgian attack. The Georgians have retaliated by threatening to block Russia's application to join the World Trade Organisation. The Lithuanians see all this as an ominous threat to their own security. “We are in the front line. If Georgia goes, we are next,” argues a Lithuanian official.
The Lithuanians also want the EU to be tougher over justice. In particular, they complain that the Kremlin is not helping track down those responsible for a Soviet-backed attempted putsch in Lithuania in early 1991 that killed 14 people and for the execution of eight border guards shortly afterwards. “We have had 22 Litvinenkos and no co-operation from Russia,” says the official. His irritation may be understandable (Britain is also furious with the Kremlin for refusing to co-operate over the murder of a Russian exile with British citizenship, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in 2006). But an unwillingness from Russia to investigate such crimes is nothing new, and is therefore harder to portray as a sinister new twist.
Diplomats still hope to launch negotiations on a new PCA before the next EU-Russia summit in Siberia in June. Reopening discussion on the negotiating mandate may not help Lithuania: some countries want it to be softer, not tougher, says one foreign minister. And none of this seems to bother the Russians much. Their ambassador in Brussels, Vladimir Chizov, says his country would be delighted to deal with the EU if only it would decide what it actually wants. The impasse also makes it easier for national governments to justify doing bilateral deals with Russia. Italy made a barely veiled threat along these lines this week. Greece chose the same day formally to sign up to South Stream, a Kremlin-backed Black Sea pipeline that many see as a direct rival to the EU's own plans in the region. The outgoing Italian prime minister and former European Commission president, Romano Prodi, also said he had turned down (for now, at least) a Russian offer to head the South Stream consortium.
In practice a new PCA is unlikely to make much difference. Despite the obsolescence of the old one, trade between Russia and the EU has more than tripled since 2000. In negotiating a new one, Russia would, on past form, use its bilateral ties with big countries to get its way in what ought to be multilateral negotiations. And it is not clear that any new agreement will stick. Russia has explicitly said that it will not ratify the energy charter it signed in 1994, which would have required it to give third parties access to its gas pipelines. As Katinka Barysch, of the London-based Centre for European Reform, notes drily, “the Russians have a somewhat different approach to law, so whether you can aim to solve all problems with a legal document is open to doubt.”
Russian propaganda, good and bad
May 1st 2008
Shunning criticism is less good than refuting it
WAS the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 a sinister western plot? Many Russians, particularly those close to the Kremlin, say so, and a new book called “Orange Webs” tries to confirm that view. It is the first piece of work by the new “Institute of Democracy and Co-operation”, which aims to provide Russian answers to the West’s democracy-promotion efforts.
The new institute’s founders say it will open offices in New York and Paris, but to date it does not even have a website. “Orange Webs” has not yet been formally published, though extracts have been quoted on the website of Russia Today, a pro-Kremlin television channel.
But the question of how to deal with the new outfit is already a tricky one. Some Kremlin critics look forward to having new opponents to engage with. Others think that the new venture is so ludicrous that it is better ignored.
That would be a mistake. Weaknesses in Western political systems—whether gerrymandering in America or the scandalous extent of phoney postal voting in Britain—are numerous and deplorable. If outside criticisms are wrong, they can be refuted. If they are true, then they are a spur to action.
Communist propaganda during the cold war encouraged Western leaders to think harder about their decisions. The lack of an overt ideological challenge since then has led to complacency and smugness. It is hard to argue that Western politics has become healthier over the past two decades.
But the real point is a bigger one. The main argument made by the Kremlin so far is not based on the theoretical advantages of “sovereign democracy” (or whatever the current label is). Instead, it is on the practical results.
Put crudely, it goes like this: Russia was not ready for democracy in the 1990s. The result was chaos and looting, perhaps encouraged by the West, which wanted to weaken Russia. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has restored the balance, bringing back stability and self-respect. Growth and living standards have rocketed; most Russians are delighted.
Disproving that involves arguing, among other things, that the prosperity of the past eight years is superficial, and that Mr Putin’s popularity is the result of rigged elections and a controlled media. Reasonable people can disagree about these issues.
But when the Kremlin shifts its attack to issues of “democracy” (ie, political freedom and the rule of law) things may become trickier than its propagandists realise. If the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was really just a stunt pulled by clever outsiders, why have the results proved so durable? Nobody is trying to put the deposed Leonid Kuchma back in power.
Politics may still be chaotic and corrupt, but they are also open and unpredictable and largely settled by the electorate. Contrast that with the mystifying question of the future relationship between Mr Putin and his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, which is being settled by backstairs intrigue rather than the voters’ verdict.
Any attempt to elevate the Russian system is likely to seem highly unconvincing to an outside audience. Alexander Shokhin, a reformer in the 1990s and now an ardent supporter of the Kremlin, told the Financial Times last week that Russia was “an island of stability”, with a “single programme for economic development until 2020”.
By contrast, he said scornfully: “We don't know the name of the next US president, let alone the policies which are going to be developed,” he said. If the new institute criticises open elections and a free press, people will laugh at it. And if it praises them, people will ask: “Why not in Russia too?”