‘Encouraging signs’ for Ukraine?

ukraine east

A long-running dispute over natural gas supplies will be on the agenda when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko hold talks in Italy later this week, Reuters reports:

Their forthcoming meeting in Milan is an encouraging sign for Moscow, Kiev and the West, who are balancing on the brink of a new gas rift following Russia’s decision to cut supplies to Ukraine because of mounting debt. Ukraine faces possible energy shortages this winter if no deal is reached, which in turn risks causing disruptions to Europe’s gas supplies — as happened in 2006 and 2009. Europe receives a third of its gas needs from Russia, around half of which is pumped via Ukraine…..Russian natural gas producer Gazprom cut supplies to Ukraine in June after Kiev failed to pay gas debts which Russia says have now reached more than $5 billion.

“I think that the meeting in Milan will bring a breakthrough in the gas sphere,” said Mikhail Pogrebinsky, a Kiev-based political analyst. “Russia will eventually sell gas to Ukraine, after Ukraine pays a symbolic part of its debt, this will allow Ukraine not to freeze in winter.”

 Though Ukraine’s not-quite cease-fire is far preferable to the summer’s heavier fighting, it is far from clear that it will lead to a sustainable settlement between Kiev and eastern Ukrainian separatists, Moscow and Kyiv, or the United States and Russia, analyst Paul J. Saunders writes for the National Interest:  

A recent presentation at the Center for the National Interest by Andranik Migranyan, a well-informed analyst and writer who runs the Kremlin-connected Institute for Democracy and cooperation in New York, provides useful insight into Moscow’s view of what would be required to get there—and illustrates the wide gap between prevailing Western and Russian outlooks and expectations.  His assessment—based on a recent trip to Russia during which he discussed the crisis with a number of senior officials—offers little basis for optimism.  (See his 15-minute presentation, plus about an hour of discussion, on the Center’s YouTube page here.)



Europe ‘tired of democracy’: CEE’s constitutional crises?


czech schwarzenberg-havel-forum2000

Europe is tired of democracy, former Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said at the Forum 2000 conference, adding that he hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin would reawaken Europeans so they remember why democracy must be defended, the Prague Post reports.

“Democracy now rests on relatively dull politicians who can be interchanged practically any time,” Schwarzenberg (above, left) said at the 18th conference, initiated by the late Czech President Václav Havel (above, right).

“Putin may awaken us, or I at least hope for this, and it may be him who will push Europe and the European Union to greater unity and bring us to realize what the democracy is that we must defend,” Schwarzenberg said, alluding to the Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Some EU member states in Eastern Europe are tilting towards Putin’s Russia  only a decade after NATO’s big 2004 expansion, writes the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl. What happened? he asks:

As Robert Coalson of Radio Free Europe suggested, one answer can be found in the “open letter” political leaders and intellectuals from those countries sent to Obama in July 2009, when, during his first year in office, he launched his “reset” with Putin’s regime.

“Many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all,” the letter warned. “That view is premature.”…….The elites rising in post-Soviet countries “may not share the idealism — or have the same relationship to the United States — as the generation who led the democratic transition.” Moreover, Russia, far from being a suitable partner, “is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods.”


Europe’s national leaders preside over low or no growth economies, are unsure in handling the rise of populist identity political movements and cannot find a united response to issues like the Russian annexation of Crimea and Putin’s destabilization of Ukraine and his neo-Finlandisation politics in the Baltic region, writes Denis MacShane, Britain’s former minister for Europe:

There is something of 4th Republic France in the current state of national leaderships in today’s European Union. There is a plethora of parties, unhappy administrations, incessant regional and national elections which change the names on the ministerial doors but don’t really change much about how the country is run. …..There is no European de Gaulle ready to transform the 4th republic style of European politics into something more unified, authoritative, and strong.

CEE’s crisis of constitutional democracy?

For many observers, the “return to Europe” by many Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries signaled the ultimate victory of democracy and rule of law over the legacy of totalitarianism in these countries. In contrast to this optimistic view, more cautious accounts argue that “democracies by their very nature are never definitely established,” according to a Harvard assessment:

Hungary recently adopted a new Constitution that directly dismantles basic checks and balances, entrenches a deeply problematic illiberal political order and undermines some of the basic principles of the EU political constitution. In Bulgaria, the institutionalization of cronyism, the subversion of stable normative frameworks and stalled state building are all leading to “post accession hooliganism,” which is further weakening an already “frustrated and disillusioned democracy.” Slovenia, one of the “success stories” of the transition, is experiencing its biggest constitutional and political crisis since its independence in 1991.

As these examples of democratic fatigue, regression and backsliding into various forms of constitutional authoritarianism in Central and Eastern Europe show, the “return to Europe” is still not complete. While there has been significant progress in the development of “electoral democracy” in the region, “liberal democracy” still remains fragile and weak.


Speakers at the Prague event included Belarusian dissident and first Václav Havel Prize winner Aleś Bialiatski, Tibetan Prime Minister-in-Exile Lobsang Sangay and U.S. National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, the Prague Post adds:

The latter pointed to Havel’s words in Kyiv in 2009 that it would be suicide if economic interests prevailed over human rights. Gershman said Havel’s opinion was based on a historical experience with Nazism and communism, both totalitarian regimes. Havel fought against them because he knew them, while young people do not have this experience and that is why the past must be pointed out to them.

From politics to protest: taking it to the streets

IvanKrastevThe pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong are just the latest in a wave of political protests that has swept the world since late 2010. In “From Politics to Protest,” Ivan Krastev (left) examines why people have been taking to the streets, not only where they are denied the right to freely elect their leaders (as in Hong Kong), but also in countries where they fully enjoy the right to vote. Krastev suggests that elections are losing their capacity to make voters feel that their voices are being heard, and he explores what this may mean for the future of democracy.

India’s sixteenth general elections heralded a new era in the country’s politics: The Hindu-nationalist BJP won an unprecedented absolute majority in parliament, while the long-dominant Congress party suffered a stunning defeat. Four essays by leading experts explain the electoral outcome, look at the economic implications of the BJP’s victory, weigh the possibility of renewed communal violence, and give a big-picture assessment of India’s future.

jodoctIndonesia held successful parliamentary elections in April and presidential elections in July. Yet the news is not all good. The parliamentary contest was marred by pervasive “money politics,” as Edward Aspinall explains in “Politics and Patronage,” and the presidential race was nearly won by Prabowo Subianto, a populist who “promised to undertake the radical and dangerous experiment of restoring Indonesia’s pre-democratic order.” In “How Jokowi Won and Democracy Survived,” Marcus Mietzner cautions that “Indonesian democracy is still vulnerable, and will be for years to come.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Ghia Nodia writes on “The Revenge of Geopolitics,” part of a set of articles on “External Influence and Democratization” that also features pieces by Jakob Tolstrup and Steven Levitsky & Lucan Way; a pair of essays by João Carlos Espada and Liubomir Topaloff examine the rise of Euroskeptic parties in the EU and what it means; Richard Joseph explores the prospects for democracy in Africa through the lens of Nigeria; and Javier Corrales & Michael Penfold detail the growing trend in Latin America to relax or eliminate presidential term limits.

To see the complete Table of Contents, please visit www.journalofdemocracy.org.


Five things West can learn from Ukraine crisis

ukrainesolidarnoscAfter a popular uprising in February, protestors in Ukraine were full of optimism that the nation could improve on its last attempt to change its dysfunctional post-Soviet system, the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, writes Andrew Wilson, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

In my latest book Ukraine Crisis: What it Means for the West, I make no qualms in blaming Russia for the crisis, but the exact nature of the Russian regime and its modus operandi is still not widely understood. There can be few people left in the world who do not know that Russia is corrupt, but there is much less knowledge of its ability to corrupt others.

There’s also been potentially catastrophic damage to the West’s influence and credibility. All of these things will keep policy-makers and analysts busy for a long while, but here are five lessons to keep in mind from Ukraine’s crisis, he writes for Quartz:

1. Patriotism both enemy and friend

Ukrainians themselves like to talk about the “Ukrainian idea.” … Serhii Plokhy’s excellent new book The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union is a useful reminder that Ukraine gained independence without any real social revolution, and after only about a quarter had backed the anti-Soviet movement “Rukh” in various elections in 1990-91. Ever since 1991 society has remained neo-Soviet and sharply divided on existential and foreign policy issues….

The Maidan and the war in the east are new foundation myths (a war Ukraine was winning before Russia got away with sending in so many conventional troops in late August). But is it not yet clear whether this is a short-term effect and whether the new patriotism will make Ukrainians more prepared to accept the pain of long-delayed reform. Ukraine may be building a new nation, but it is not building a proper state. …

russia ukraine2. A new kind of global protest           

The Ukrainian protests were a hybrid of forms, but were part of the recent global cycle of protest from the Arab Spring to Occupy to Hong Kong. They therefore provide useful lessons for protestors and autocrats across the globe. For protestors, the Ukrainians made a good attempt to solve the now-familiar paradoxes of “leaderless protest”—social media can assemble a crowd, but they can’t direct it. As Ivan Krastev’s book Democracy Disrupted: The Politics of Global Protest makes clear, many modern protestors do not seek representation; they stand outside and do not trust traditional politics…… Maidan veterans largely condemn the political process from outside; only a few are standing in the elections. Rather more of the old guard are doing so, relatively unchallenged.

3. Old-fashioned protest supreme

Technology was important at the start of the protests, but not at the end. Social media and SMS helped assemble the initial crowds. They helped protestors dodge the police and the regime’s hired thugs. But ultimately the protestors reverted to “classic” or “vintage” revolution, throwing cobblestones and Molotov cocktails. …. Compared to Moscow’s tech-savvy but dilettante Bolotnoya protestors in 2011-12, the tipping factor in Kiev was on old-fashioned willingness to fight and die for the cause.

4. Keep brutality off-screen

Lessons for autocrats. The Yanukovych regime tried to avoid international condemnation in three ways. First by inventing a narrative to discredit the protestors; and the line that they were all fascists was bought too easily by too many in the West. Second by using proxies, particularly the notorious regime thugs, the so-called titushki. Third by shifting violence “off-screen.” This was arguably working in early January. It was only when the regime lost patience and moved people down with sniper fire that it fell.

…. The Hong Kong authorities just backed off from the mistake of over-using local versions of titushki thugs before the world’s TV cameras, as they sensed the protests were winding down anyway.

5. “Coarse power” the new soft power

Russia fought dirty, but still operates within the paradigms of so-called “political technology.” Russia has invested huge amounts in soft power to rival the West in recent years, but academics have long thought soft power was not the right term. I found the right term in, of all places, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—grubaya sila, meaning “coarse power.” Tolstoy was talking about society’s power to repress the individual, but it describes the Kremlin’s modus operandi well—it’s idea of soft power is really covert power, buying support behind the scenes, and using non-violent forms of coercion. Just as so-called “hybrid war” or “information war” (two other Russian favorites) are still war by other means.

But the façade is still important. Russia loves to clone and copy—to steal Western terminology on international law or human rights, and to present its operations as morally equivalent to ours. It therefore copied the Maidan with its own bastard version—”public meetings” that elected “leaders” that nobody had heard of in Crimea and the Donbas. ….The Kremlin is highly-skilled at spinning narratives; its opponents need to avoid such open goals in the future. The West needs to be clear what it is dealing well—not a duplicitous power, but a system built on duplicity.

“After the Orange Revolution in 2004 it was actually the Kremlin that learnt the lessons best,” Wilson contends. “To the extent that it thought it was immune from any similar protest wave.


putinPutin embraces strongly authoritarian values and, much like Stalin, believes in cynical power politics and spheres of influence, notes Jeffrey Gedmin, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, senior advisor at Blue Star Strategies, and co-director of the Transatlantic Renewal Project:

That’s why he invaded Georgia, cyber attacked Estonia, threatens Moldova, pressures Bosnia, Macedonia, and Montenegro, and has gone to war in Ukraine. Moscow is drawing red lines today. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said recently that his country is determined “to build a system of equal and shared security in Europe.” Translation: you in the West have your half, we’re taking ours. Warns Lavrov: any further extension of NATO will be seen by the Kremlin as a “provocation.”

“So much for free and sovereign nations deciding their own alliances,” he writes for the Weekly Standard. “So much for the vision of ‘Europe, Whole and Free.’ Deriving legitimacy from consent is not exactly a Putin thing.”

Letting Putin off the hook?

In the meantime, the Kremlin hopes that its “de-escalation” will induce the European Union and United States to lift the economic sanctions they stepped up last month, the Washington Post observes:

To her credit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a crucial voice in any such decision, said last week that the union was “very far away [from] consideration to take back sanctions.” However, neither E.U. leaders nor the Obama administration have spelled out what conditions Moscow must meet to win a respite.

That opens the door to letting Mr. Putin off the hook before he takes steps that are essential to preserving what remains of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Putin holds good tactical cards, but his medium and longer-term prospects are poor, argues Sir Andrew Wood, an associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House and British ambassador to Russia from 1995 to 2000 – See more at:

“Moscow has not turned out to be the partner that many in the West had hoped for,” he writes. “If that is not yet obvious to decision makers in the EU or the United States the risk is that they will be forced to learn it again. The ceasefire in Ukraine is a lull, not an opening for a secure future.”

Putin planned to replace Russia’s democracy with kleptocracy ‘from the get-go’

President Vladimir Putin has signed a law banning public demonstrations at night, tightening controls over dissent after more than a decade in charge of Russia, Bloomberg reports:

Legislation on public protests has been modified to outlaw events starting before 7 a.m. or ending after 10 p.m., except for some memorial and cultural events, according to a government statement. Russian law already prohibits unauthorized protests.

The growing curbs on the right to dissent are one reason why former oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky (right) has re-launched Open Russia, an NGO promoting civil society.

KHODOKOVSKYUnlike many oligarchs, Khodorkovsky made the mistake of putting his head above the parapet and challenging the Kremlin, AP reports.

“Putin came to view me as someone who was gaining more influence than he was prepared to grant anyone who was not fully devoted to him,” he says. “He knew I had ambitions to become prime minister and that I’d had positive discussions with members of the pro-Kremlin party to encourage constitutional reform in favor of turning Russia into a parliamentary democracy.”

“He saw me as a threat because he had chosen the path to authoritarianism. That’s why he personally disliked me.”

At a meeting in the Kremlin in 2003, Khodorkovsky confronted Putin over corruption among state officials. Putin retorted by reminding him of the dubious ways in which Yukos had gained its assets and mentioned problems Khodorkovsky’s company had had with the tax authorities.

“I thought then that he hadn’t yet made up his mind about whether to go for a more open and transparent form of government or for authoritarian rule,” he says.

“Turns out that when I brought up the issue of state corruption, he’d already chosen to become more authoritarian. He’d basically made a deal with the state bureaucracy; you can steal as much as you want as long as you are loyal to me. So he took my words as … an attack on him.”

putins-kleptocracyKhodorkovsky’s suspicions are confirmed by a new book, “Putin’s Kleptocracy – Who Owns Russia?” in which Karen Dawisha argues (above) that analysts are wrong to “approach the Putin era as a democracy in the process of failing,” Epoch Times reports:

That assumes that the autocracy that Russia has become is the result of historical accidents or and bureaucratic incompetence. Not so, she said. It is not by chance that we have the current system. She argues that Putin and his clique sought from the beginning to establish an authoritarian regime in Russia. They were not motivated to build a democracy “that would inevitably force them to surrender power at some point,” she states.

“Within weeks of Putin’s coming to power, the Kremlin began to take away the basic individual freedoms guaranteed under the 1993 Russian Constitution.” She cites a document “never before published outside Russia,” which details plans laid out in late 1999 and early 2000 to reshape the government to deny “citizens the rights of a free press, assembly, and speech.”

Regime fragility

The recent arrest of oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov “is an indication of the fragility at the heart of Russia’s highly personalized system of power,” says one analyst.

“Western sanctions are having a rapid impact because they are reinforcing broader economic weaknesses that the current Russian system is unable to counter. It cannot reconcile its survival instincts with the need for long overdue structural reforms, argues John Lough, an associate fellow with Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia program.

As a result, Putin’s social contract over the past 15 years, which delivered improved living standards in return for popular acceptance of limitations on civic freedoms, has been turned on its head, he writes for the Moscow Times:

To compensate, Putin can now only offer the population a defiant reassertion of Russia’s influence in Ukraine but at the price of much harsher restrictions on civil society and confrontation with the West.

In these circumstances, it is logical for Putin to fear dissent among the business elite and the formation of interest groups that could unite to challenge his course in Ukraine. By showing that a loyal figure such as Yevtushenkov is not invulnerable, Russia’s business leaders have been put on notice that the slightest sign of protest could lead straight to a prison cell.

“Putin created a typical, corrupt, over-centralized, inefficient police state,” Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister turned Kremlin opponent, tells the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s based on the export of raw materials, and that’s an economic dead end. As for the political system, there is no mechanism to change power without revolution. That is the real danger facing us.”