The Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. recently hosted the conference “New Approach or Business as Usual? US-EU-Russia Relations after Putin’s Crackdown.” The conference, held by Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House, and the Institute of Modern Russia, was attended by politicians, experts, and human rights advocates from Russia, the US, and the European Union. The Day requested Lilia Shevtsova, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, who spoke at this conference, to comment on the importance of this forum.
“This was the second forum after the formation of Helsinki 2 on the initiative of ALDE European liberals, Guy Verhofstadt, and Russian oppositionists, first of all, PARNAS party members Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov, and Vladimir Ryzhkov, as well as Helsinki groups’ representatives, including Liudmyla Aleksieieva on our part. This initiative is aimed at renewing dialogue in, above all, Western society and reviving the Helsinki movement in the post-European space.
“The goal of this project is to bring back a normative dimension to foreign policy and an integrated approach to politics. The West cannot look indifferently at what is going on in authoritarian states, such as Russia, or in semi-authoritarian states, or in hybrid-regime countries, such as Ukraine.
“It is very important that the Americans are taking a close look at this. For a Senate-sponsored conference is quite a rare occasion. The very fact that Congress passed the Magnitsky Act shows that there is great interest, at least at the Congress level, in coming back to a normative dimension. But it is now the question of a new way to ‘advance’ democracy. While the West was trying earlier, by means of foundations and governmental reserves, to teach our countries and societies to build parliaments, now it admits that this formula is out of date. The West no longer has the right or a capability to directly interfere into the internal affairs of societies in transition. At least, the West can no longer fund democratic or human rights movements in Russia because certain laws have been passed. Moreover, the West does not need to play the role of a teacher who shows us how to build parliaments or parties. We know how to do this.
“The question is that Western society should itself bring back normative dimension and try to have an impact on the authoritarian elite in their countries, the elite that is personally integrated with this Western society. And the Magnitsky Act makes this possible.”
Was this forum productive? Were there many senators present?
“For me, the very fact that the Senate’s largest room was filled with 250 people was, frankly speaking, unexpected. There were only three men from Congress. But, the US Senate is particular in that the personnel are its chief element. These are Helsinki commission members, senators’ and Congressmen’s advisors, and staff members. It is the big army that forms the brain of Congress members. So there were many people of this kind, especially the young ones aged 22 to 33. This was the main thing.
“I came to a conclusion after mingling with them that speaking to Congress personnel, staff, and advisors is the most productive way of communication.
“We cannot conclude from this that the State Department will heed this initiative and will not hinder observance of the Magnitsky Act. Of course not. Likewise, the executive authorities in Berlin, London, and Paris will be sticking, as before, to a pragmatic formula: we will not interfere and we will pursue Realpolitik and cooperate with Russia and other states, whenever possible. But the very fact of the establishment of Helsinki 2, as well as passage of the Magnitsky Act, in fact means a breakthrough in Western society’s public opinion in the past 12-18 months. And the very fact that the Bundestag passed a resolution last November, which scathingly criticizes the Putin regime, and the adoption of the Magnitsky Act, which was unthinkable earlier last year, shows that public opinion has begun to take a dim view of not only global authoritarianism and its representatives, but also of the deformations of liberal democracy in their own countries, as well as of the fact that their countries and Western society as a whole can sometimes perform the function of ‘laundry washers’ for corruption capital from other countries – not only from the Arab Orient, but also from Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine. This does not apply to Belarus which has imposed sanctions that prevent in principle the Belarusian corruption money from penetrating Western society. Western society wants to re-apply its old political principles or update the principles of normative dimensions and stop the export of corruption from authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries to the West.”
Will this have an impact on the Kremlin?
“We must not be idealists and hope that the reaction of Western public opinion alone will suddenly force the regimes of Putin, Nazarbayev, Aliyev, or any other authoritarian regimes to give up power. This would be a fantasy and a wrong idea about those who wield power. Moreover, the current awakening of Western public opinion, which naturally has an impact on the executive branch, is forcing, albeit partially, the authoritarian regimes to resort to a tougher reaction. This applies, for example, to ‘Herod’s Law’ which forbids the Americans to adopt Russian orphans. It is undoubtedly a reaction to the Magnitsky Act. A vigorous enemy-searching campaign in Russia, the view of Russia as a besieged fortress of sorts, and renewed attempts to consolidate on the basis of enemy-searching is, to some extent, a response to more active and alert interest of Western society in what is going on in Russia. Nevertheless, in spite of such a bitter reaction on the part of the Russian regime, Putin and his team have to mull over how to survive in the new conditions. For there are clear indications that personal integration of the corrupt Russian bureaucracy will be a difficult process, which has already resulted in Putin’s decisions on the so-called nationalization of the Russian elite.”
What does it mean?
“This is in fact a demand that Russian bureaucrats return their capitals to Russia. Or this may mean that the Kremlin is increasing its control over Russian capitals abroad. The government is thus taking certain measures to oversee the behavior of the Russian elite which, naturally, loses faith in the government, as it can live in two houses at the same time. The Russian regime and Putin are currently trying to restore the lost faith, for the latter inevitably vanishes as long as the Russian elite are integrating into Western society. The next step will be a partial closure of the country, including visa restrictions.”
What will this finally lead to?
“It is so far difficult to say where the Russian regime will stop. But the tendency is clear. The government is worried and does not know what to do, and its attempts to restrict the willfulness of and West-related temptations for Russian officials will have certain political consequences. I do not think Russian bureaucrats will be happy if they are to be isolated from their villas in Nice and banned from vacationing in Miami and cruising on their yachts in Britain. It is so far difficult to say how the Russian elite, which has got accustomed to the Western way of life, will respond to this quasi-North Korean option of development.”
The Eurasian Union Is Impossible Without Ukraine. Therefore, the Kremlin Will Continue Its Attempts
Facebook has recently literally broken out into comments of the outraged Ukrainian journalists on a rather crude Russia TV channel program about President Yanukovych. The well-known TV journalist Dmitry Kiselev commented in conclusion on the departure of Viktor Yanukovych after the negotiations with Vladimir Putin in his Zavidovo country retreat: “Yanukovych looked like death warmed up, when he flew home in the small hours without even sleeping over. Things are rotten for him – he is intimidated everywhere.” Would you comment on this?
“I think there are two points here. Firstly, the very manner in which Russian official television treated the Ukrainian leader is insulting. Undoubtedly, this manner was approved by the Russian political center, the Russian leadership. Russian television broadcasts and puts emphases only in a way that fits in with the Russian political doctrine. And no matter what kind of a personality Yanukovych is, no matter how hard we criticize him, this condescending, vulgar, and disdainful attitude to him illustrates to some extent the current attitude to Ukraine.
“Secondly, Moscow is obviously trying to draw Ukraine into the Eurasian Union in any way – by hook or by crook, by persuasion or by intimidation. These attempts began long ago and are going to continue. And, naturally, the energy ‘stick’ will also be used. But it is very interesting that Ukraine is no longer afraid of this energy stick. And Yanukovych is aware of the problems and consequences that will arise if he allows Ukraine to be dragged into Russia’s armpit. He knows only too well that the very fact of Ukraine becoming a satellite of Russia will turn him into a provincial governor of sorts. I think Yanukovych is aware that it is political suicide.
“The question is to what extent Yanukovych and his political regime will be able to overcome the fear of Russia and find guarantees for Ukraine’s economic and political independence in the West. For me, this remains an open question. Another problem is about the idea of a Eurasian Union and the extent to which Putin, who strives to establish this union, will be prepared to give up the idea of drawing Ukraine into his own embraces, i.e. into the Russian galaxy. I think the Eurasian Union is impossible without Ukraine. So, naturally, the Kremlin will continue its attempts. What these attempts will result in is also a big question for me. But there is certain logic. If a regime follows the path of domestic suppression, this means it is resorting to far bitterer and tougher strong-arm methods in its foreign policy. We should not forget this axiom.