Putin Mk II signals re-set of the re-set?

Does Putin’s Kremlin return threaten the re-set of US-Russian relations?

“There will not be a rollback of the major accomplishments of the reset,” says Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But a Moscow-based Carnegie colleague isn’t so sure.

Even before news of Putin’s elevation, Lilia Shevtsova predicted that the fragility of the reset would present problems for one of its principal architects - Michael McFaul,* President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next US envoy to Moscow.

“McFaul is a friend of mine, but I have mixed feelings about his posting to Russia,” says Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Center:

On the one hand, it’s good to have an ambassador who knows Russian realities, is versed in the subject, including Russian culture, speaks the language, and has great empathy with what’s happening in this country. On the other hand, I think the reset policy is over, that its main targets have been reached….However, no cardinal changes have occurred in the relations between America and Russia, so willy-nilly Michael will have to go through the motions of maintaining partnership which is actually nonexistent. There is still a strong touch of suspicion to these relations and it is hard to say how Michael will find a way out of this trap, maintaining normal intergovernmental relations on the one hand and being aware of the direction in which Russia is headed on the other; what means he will find of responding to this situation.

Republicans on Capitol Hill “may choose to use the nomination as an opportunity to confront the Obama administration on other aspects of the ‘reset,’” reports suggest.

* McFaul is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Putin’s return signals end of ‘managed democracy’

Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency is a fatal blow to Russia’s managed democracy and to prospects for establishing a form of authoritarianism based on Chinese-style performance-based legitimacy. The verdict comes from both a leading architect of the system and from one of its most incisive observers.

“The system of management of politics is exhausted, it’s morally worn out. The situation has changed and it doesn’t work anymore,” says Gleb Pavlovksy, head of the Moscow-based Fund for Effective Politics, and is a former ‘political technologist’ to the Kremlin.

Putin’s self-elevation represents  a failure to institutionalize authoritarian rule, says Ivan Krastev (left),* chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia.

“In 2008, Putin’s message was, ‘We aren’t like a Central Asian republic, we aren’t going to build a personalistic regime, we will have institutions,”’ he said. “This is all abolished now. The very idea of a governing party and party career, as you have in China, that didn’t work.”

“For this type of regime, the only succession is that you clone yourself,” he said. “In 2008, Putin wanted to convince us that he, like Yeltsin, could retire to the dacha. Now, there is no dacha for Putin anymore. He must die in the Kremlin.”

The covert nature of Putin’s deal with outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev also signals the system’s demise, writes the FT’s Charles Clover:

Such opacity has become typical under the Kremlin’s rules of managed democracy. Political parties are invented; television stations censored (Mr Kudrin’s face has not been seen on national TV since Saturday); decisions are taken by fiat but then legitimised by an army of pollsters, spin-doctors and broadcasters who sell these as democratic choices.

Russians have become consumers of politics in the same way that they are consumers of cosmetics or electronic goods – their opinions registered through tireless market research and sales data but with no formal way to influence the process through a meaningful vote. The Kremlin has used such “political technology” for more than a decade to provide a veneer of democracy for an authoritarian system.

But this week’s fireworks indicate that conspiracy as a governing tool is becoming untenable. Despite the Kremlin’s efforts to drain all the spontaneity and competition from public politics, it just as stubbornly refuses to go away.

Paternalistic regimes can be strong, but brittle, because of two great vulnerabilities, writes Chrystia Freeland:

The first is money. Fear and humiliation are important tools for a neo-patrimonial strongman, but he needs cash, too. A Russian economist I spoke to calculated that if the price of oil were to fall below $60 a barrel, and stay there, Mr. Putin’s reign could soon be imperiled. The second is succession. The central problem with a regime built on one man — and a reason Mr. Putin tried to institutionalize Russian authoritarianism — is that it has no mechanism for transferring power.

Even analysts sympathetic to Putin believe his decision will destabilize his power vertical, as one writes:

Of course Russia needs a steady hand, but the most reliable way to ensure that stability is not through “more of the same old Putin” but through a successor whose credibility and authority derives from the rule of law, the constitution, rather than from a fallible and mortal individual, albeit the architect of the state himself.

* Ivan Krastev is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. He delivered the seventh annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture, cosponsored by the NED and the Munk School, with financial support from the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, and the Canadian Donner Foundation.

Putin’s return signals end of ‘managed democracy’

Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency is a fatal blow to Russia’s managed democracy and to prospects for establishing a form of authoritarianism based on Chinese-style performance-based legitimacy. The verdict comes from both a leading architect of the system and from one of its most incisive observers.

“The system of management of politics is exhausted, it’s morally worn out. The situation has changed and it doesn’t work anymore,” says Gleb Pavlovksy, head of the Moscow-based Fund for Effective Politics, and is a former ‘political technologist’ to the Kremlin.

Putin’s self-elevation represents  a failure to institutionalize authoritarian rule, says Ivan Krastev (left),* chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia.

“In 2008, Putin’s message was, ‘We aren’t like a Central Asian republic, we aren’t going to build a personalistic regime, we will have institutions,”’ he said. “This is all abolished now. The very idea of a governing party and party career, as you have in China, that didn’t work.”

“For this type of regime, the only succession is that you clone yourself,” he said. “In 2008, Putin wanted to convince us that he, like Yeltsin, could retire to the dacha. Now, there is no dacha for Putin anymore. He must die in the Kremlin.”

The covert nature of Putin’s deal with outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev also signals the system’s demise, writes the FT’s Charles Clover:

Such opacity has become typical under the Kremlin’s rules of managed democracy. Political parties are invented; television stations censored (Mr Kudrin’s face has not been seen on national TV since Saturday); decisions are taken by fiat but then legitimised by an army of pollsters, spin-doctors and broadcasters who sell these as democratic choices.

Russians have become consumers of politics in the same way that they are consumers of cosmetics or electronic goods – their opinions registered through tireless market research and sales data but with no formal way to influence the process through a meaningful vote. The Kremlin has used such “political technology” for more than a decade to provide a veneer of democracy for an authoritarian system.

But this week’s fireworks indicate that conspiracy as a governing tool is becoming untenable. Despite the Kremlin’s efforts to drain all the spontaneity and competition from public politics, it just as stubbornly refuses to go away.

Paternalistic regimes can be strong, but brittle, because of two great vulnerabilities, writes Chrystia Freeland:

The first is money. Fear and humiliation are important tools for a neo-patrimonial strongman, but he needs cash, too. A Russian economist I spoke to calculated that if the price of oil were to fall below $60 a barrel, and stay there, Mr. Putin’s reign could soon be imperiled. The second is succession. The central problem with a regime built on one man — and a reason Mr. Putin tried to institutionalize Russian authoritarianism — is that it has no mechanism for transferring power.

Even analysts sympathetic to Putin believe his decision will destabilize his power vertical, as one writes:

Of course Russia needs a steady hand, but the most reliable way to ensure that stability is not through “more of the same old Putin” but through a successor whose credibility and authority derives from the rule of law, the constitution, rather than from a fallible and mortal individual, albeit the architect of the state himself.

* Ivan Krastev is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. He delivered the seventh annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture, cosponsored by the NED and the Munk School, with financial support from the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, and the Canadian Donner Foundation.

‘Libya scenario’ emerging in Syria?

Is a Libyan scenario emerging in Syria as opposition activists begin to take up arms against the Baathist regime and troop defections raise the risk of civil war?

Syrian security forces reportedly killed 17 protesters, while a pro-government mob today attacked the US ambassador who was pelted with stone and tomatoes in Damascus.

“The strategy of peaceful opposition is clearly losing ground” in the face of the regime’s relentless violence, one observer suggests. But opposition groups appear divided on the question of external intervention, with some calling for a no-fly zone – a demand. The Istanbul-based Syrian National Council did not echo the demand but its silence should not be taken as hostility, say activists.

“In general, the SNC membership are on the same page as those on the ground in Syria and who have been asking for civilian protection for a while,” said council member Yaser Tabbara:

Radwan Ziadeh,* another council member, said one proposed scenario for a no fly-zone would cover a 10-kilometer (six-mile) area inside Syria’s northern border with Turkey that would serve as a safe haven for defected soldiers. It would be modeled on the U.N.-mandated safe haven in northern Iraq in 1991.

But there appears to be little appetite in the West or among Arab states for a Libyan-style intervention.

“We believe the transition should be a Syrian-led process,” British foreign secretary William Hague said today after  meeting Syrian activists in London.

The West is “readying itself for a long-term confrontation over Syrian and its embattled government, since Damascus is benefiting from two principle sources of strength,” according to a report in Lebanon’s Daily Star:

“The first is the cohesive nature of the pro-Assad military, which have yet to see large-scale defections, while the opposition continues to suffer from splits, whether in religious, sectarian or regional terms,” writes Antoine Ghattas Saab. “The second derives from the split on the Security Council, which has blocked any moves toward escalating the confrontation with Syria.”
The confusion over foreign intervention confirms that Syria’s opposition remains inchoate, as this round-up from The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman suggests:

Time notes today that the 140-member Syrian National Council, which was formed earlier this month in Turkey, is making progress in securing the support of the influential grassroots groups that organize Syria’s protests. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, which has objected to the number of Islamists in the SNC, decided to back the umbrella group last week, as did the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union (as this document obtained by Foreign Policy indicates, the SNC is trying to build a membership that represents different religions, ethnic groups, regions, and political persuasions).

Another opposition coalition  – the Syrian Revolution General Commission – said an army attack on Rastan, a stronghold for defecting troops, had killed 41 people over the last 72 hours. But activists claim that the government can only rely on the loyalty of only 60,000 soldiers in an elite unit under Assad’s brother, and the allegiance of the rest of the 300,000-strong army is fragile.

“The rest will not go and attack their families, parents. This army is starting to divide itself,” said an opposition activist. “This kind of army will turn on the regime and attack it and finish it.”

* Exiled dissident Radwan Ziadeh is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

‘Libya scenario’ emerging in Syria?

Is a Libyan scenario emerging in Syria as opposition activists begin to take up arms against the Baathist regime and troop defections raise the risk of civil war?

Syrian security forces reportedly killed 17 protesters, while a pro-government mob today attacked the US ambassador who was pelted with stone and tomatoes in Damascus.

“The strategy of peaceful opposition is clearly losing ground” in the face of the regime’s relentless violence, one observer suggests. But opposition groups appear divided on the question of external intervention, with some calling for a no-fly zone – a demand. The Istanbul-based Syrian National Council did not echo the demand but its silence should not be taken as hostility, say activists.

“In general, the SNC membership are on the same page as those on the ground in Syria and who have been asking for civilian protection for a while,” said council member Yaser Tabbara:

Radwan Ziadeh,* another council member, said one proposed scenario for a no fly-zone would cover a 10-kilometer (six-mile) area inside Syria’s northern border with Turkey that would serve as a safe haven for defected soldiers. It would be modeled on the U.N.-mandated safe haven in northern Iraq in 1991.

But there appears to be little appetite in the West or among Arab states for a Libyan-style intervention.

“We believe the transition should be a Syrian-led process,” British foreign secretary William Hague said today after  meeting Syrian activists in London.

The West is “readying itself for a long-term confrontation over Syrian and its embattled government, since Damascus is benefiting from two principle sources of strength,” according to a report in Lebanon’s Daily Star:

“The first is the cohesive nature of the pro-Assad military, which have yet to see large-scale defections, while the opposition continues to suffer from splits, whether in religious, sectarian or regional terms,” writes Antoine Ghattas Saab. “The second derives from the split on the Security Council, which has blocked any moves toward escalating the confrontation with Syria.”
The confusion over foreign intervention confirms that Syria’s opposition remains inchoate, as this round-up from The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman suggests:

Time notes today that the 140-member Syrian National Council, which was formed earlier this month in Turkey, is making progress in securing the support of the influential grassroots groups that organize Syria’s protests. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, which has objected to the number of Islamists in the SNC, decided to back the umbrella group last week, as did the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union (as this document obtained by Foreign Policy indicates, the SNC is trying to build a membership that represents different religions, ethnic groups, regions, and political persuasions).

Another opposition coalition  – the Syrian Revolution General Commission – said an army attack on Rastan, a stronghold for defecting troops, had killed 41 people over the last 72 hours. But activists claim that the government can only rely on the loyalty of only 60,000 soldiers in an elite unit under Assad’s brother, and the allegiance of the rest of the 300,000-strong army is fragile.

“The rest will not go and attack their families, parents. This army is starting to divide itself,” said an opposition activist. “This kind of army will turn on the regime and attack it and finish it.”

* Exiled dissident Radwan Ziadeh is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.