Uncivil societies

russia_civilsociety_HRWThe ongoing crackdown on civil society groups “is about weakening NGOs, not making them more transparent or effective,” The Economist notes:

It is being undertaken by leaders who, if they accept democracy at all, want it to amount to nothing more than a tame vote every few years. Foreign donations are an easy target for autocrats whose worst nightmare is a flourishing civil society. NGOs’ activities in the “colour” revolutions a decade ago in the former Soviet Union and, more recently, the Arab spring, have sharpened autocrats’ hostility to them.

It is hardly surprising that leaders like Mr Putin want to curb those who seek to promote democracy, but these laws reach far beyond free speech and human rights. NGOs also suffer if they criticise poor public services, stand up for reviled minorities or disclose facts that the powerful want to hide. Mr Orban has targeted a group that publicises discrimination against Roma and another that runs a hotline for battered women. Among those Mr Putin has dubbed foreign agents are a group of women seeking information about Russian servicemen injured and killed while covertly deployed in Ukraine.

“Persuading autocrats who have decided that NGOs pose an existential threat to ease up will be a struggle. But donor countries can help stem the illiberal tide,” The Economist notes. “Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, launched in 2011, which supports governments keen to increase transparency and cut corruption, should help to stop the trend spreading.”

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How Putin is revolutionizing information warfare

NOVORUSSIYAThe invention of Novorossiya is a sign of Russia’s domestic system of information manipulation going global, says Peter Pomerantsev. Today’s Russia has been shaped by political technologists—the viziers of the system who, like so many post-modern Prosperos, conjure up puppet political parties and the simulacra of civic movements to keep the nation distracted as Putin’s clique consolidates power, he writes for The Atlantic:

Nobody who lives in that part of the world today ever thought of themselves as living in Novorossiya and bearing allegiance to it—at least until several months ago. Now, Novorossiya is being imagined into being: Russian media are showing maps of its ‘geography,’ while Kremlin-backed politicians are writing its ‘history’ into school textbooks. There’s a flag and even a news agency (in English and Russian). There are several Twitterfeeds. It’s like something out of a Borges story—except for the very real casualties of the war conducted in its name.

 “I remember creating the idea of the ‘Putin majority’ and hey, presto, it appeared in real life,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a political technologist who worked on Putin’s election campaigns but has since left the Kremlin, told me recently. “Or the idea that ‘there is no alternative to Putin.’ We invented that. And suddenly there really was no alternative.”

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Peter Pomerantsev is a TV producer based in London. He is the author of a forthcoming study on Russia’s weaponization of information, culture, and money, and a forthcoming book, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, about working inside Vladimir Putin’s postmodern dictatorship.

Ukraine’s options: capitulate, fight or consolidate

ukrainesolidarnoscUkraine must choose between three options: capitulate, fight or consolidate, argues Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies.

The first option entails acceptance of Putin’s de facto demand for Donbas “statehood” inside Ukraine. Such a state, which he has called New Russia using the Tsarist name for eastern and

southern …It would be political suicide for any Ukrainian president, including Petro Poroshenko, to agree to transform Ukraine into a second Belarus. He would come under intense pressure from Yulia Timoshenko, Euromaidan civil society and the nationalists who fill the ranks of the volunteer battalions.

A second option would be for Ukraine to regroup its forces and re-launch military and partisan attacks against Russian and separatist forces. No western government questions Ukraine’s right to use all methods available to regain control of its territory but such a strategy would be difficult to pursue without western military assistance, advice, training and intelligence….

A third option supported by some western Ukrainian intellectuals and outlined by Alexander J Motyl of Rutgers University calls for rebuilding Ukraine without the Donbas and ultimately Crimea. …

The choice today is not between a united Ukraine fully in the Western camp, or a Ukraine which has lost part of its territory to Russia, argues Anatol Lieven, a professor at Georgetown University and the author of “Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.”

As recent military developments have demonstrated, the first outcome is simply not going to happen, he writes for the New York Times:

The choice is between a Ukraine with an autonomous Donbass region, along with a real chance of developing the country’s democracy and economy in a Western direction, or a Ukraine which will be mired in a half-frozen conflict that will undermine all hopes of progress. The way out of this disaster is obvious — if only Western governments have the statesmanship and courage to take it.

“Of our three options, the outcome of the first would be to transform Ukraine’s president into a

Russian suzerain,” Kuzio writes for the Financial Times.

“The second and third options are more palatable to Ukraine’s leaders but would require western military assistance,” he suggests. “Which of the three options Ukraine opts to pursue will have a profound impact on European security and the west’s relations with Russia.”

Putin ends interregnum? Green light to Authoritarian Internationale

putinVladimir Putin’s increasingly reckless interventions in Ukraine should force the West to reevaluate everything it thought it knew about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the past two decades of Western policy on Russia, says a prominent analyst.

Ironically, the 1991 Soviet collapse did not guarantee the gradual rise of liberal civilization. We are witnessing its crisis twenty years later, Lilia Shevstova writes for the American Interest:

Perhaps, the West needs rivals like the former Soviet Union to sustain itself and remain true to form. The West needs to return to its mission and core values in order to respond to Putin’s Russia, but doing so calls for taking stock of the mistakes and dashed hopes of the past. It requires an overhaul of long-standing and ostensibly immutable institutions and principles, including: the European security system (particularly as it pertains to energy security); issues involving democratic transitions, war and peace, and global government and responsibility; and the role of the normative dimension in foreign policy.

The Cold War of the past century was not merely a competition of two global systems; it was also a clash of two ideologies that sought world domination, notes Shevstova (right), a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Democracy:

Russia, having entered a stage of decline, no longer possesses a global ideology and cannot play a role in counterbalancing the West. Nevertheless, the new containment policy initiated by the Kremlin should concern the West, since in one important respect these times differ from those of the Cold War. Back then, the opposing sides attempted to follow the rules of the game (the Cuban Missile Crisis was the sole exception that highlighted the need to play by the rules). The current confrontation with the West instigated by Putin’s Russia, however, is characterized by a new set of circumstances:

  • Russia and the West (primarily Europe) are economically interconnected.
  • There is now a massive pro-Kremlin lobbying operation within Western society. This operation engages right- and left-wing forces, as well as business elites and former politicians, in serving the Kremlin’s interests.
  • Unlike the Soviet Kremlin, Putin’s Kremlin is not only prepared to violate the international rules of the game; it also demands that the world recognize its right to interpret them.
  • Influential forces within Western society aren’t ready to acknowledge the failures of Western policy on Russia. These “accommodators,” attempting to act within the past framework of engaging Russia, view its current belligerence as a temporary phenomenon caused by local factors.

“Now, it is entirely up to the West. The liberal democracies may choose to return to their foundations. If not, the accommodators—those who hope for a return to the old ‘Let’s pretend!’ game—will win,” Shevstova asserts. “If they do, this will give a green light to the Authoritarian Internationale, signaling that the West is weak and can be trampled underfoot”

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Court jails Putin critics: Kremlin ‘revives Soviet-style anti-Semitism’

russiaputinterrorFour Russians detained during a protest against President Vladimir Putin were sentenced to prison terms on Monday after a trial critics say is part of a Kremlin campaign to stifle dissent while all eyes are on the Ukraine crisis, Reuters reports (HT: FPI):

Last week one of Russia’s oldest non-governmental organizations, Memorial, added the four defendants sentenced on Monday to a list of 45 it describes as political prisoners. It said the defendants had been carrying out a non-violent exercise of the right to freedom of assembly, had been deprived of a fair trial and faced disproportionate charges.

But with the crisis in Ukraine preoccupying media at home and abroad, the case against them achieved little of the notoriety of the August 2012 Pussy Riot trial, in which members of the punk band were jailed after performing an anti-Putin song in Moscow’s main cathedral.

Putin’s regime is reviving Soviet-style anti-Semitism, analyst Paul Goble writes for The Interpreter:

An instructor at the Russian foreign ministry’s training academy told participants at a government-sponsored youth camp that “Zionism is a movement for the establishment of the world rule of Jewish bankers,” that it “finances pagans to destroy Orthodoxy,” and that it has so “Judaicized” Catholicism that “almost nothing remains” of that faith.

Olga Chetvertikova of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations made these noxious comments at the Seliger Civic forum (camp) a week ago, when they were picked up by Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Tragically, in the days since, they have been disseminated by other outlets.

“What makes these words so disturbing is that they remind us of the ugly Soviet-style anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” Goble notes. “This may be a result of Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian and imperialist rhetoric and the Russian government’s media outlets ever more virulent attacks on ethnic Ukrainians and others.”

Like any repressive regime, Mr. Putin’s knows how to create autonomous zones of violence, notes Sergey Kuznetsov, the author of the novel “Butterfly Skin”:

The main lawless zone during his reign has been the Caucasus, especially Chechnya, where civilians, journalists and human rights defenders have been kidnapped and killed throughout the last 20 years. Mr. Putin used any manifestation of violence to strengthen his own power. Thus, after the Beslan terrorist attack in 2004, Mr. Putin eliminated direct elections for the office of governor (including governor of Moscow), essentially giving himself control over the appointments.

Chaos at the margins can make a repressive system stronger, he writes for the New York Times:

However, the system has to up the ante in order to maintain itself. This time, the zone of lawlessness is bigger than ever. Instead of risking his own Maidan revolution in Red Square, Mr. Putin has exported Russia’s Chechnya-style chaos to the southeast of Ukraine, turning Donbass into Beirut or Gaza. Everyone who lusts for action and violence now has a place to kill and to die.

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