Democracy disrupted: Russia and the New European Disorder

democracy disrupted krastevRussia’s annexation of Crimea made Europeans suddenly realize that although the EU’s political model was admirable, it was unlikely to become universal or even spread to many in its immediate neighborhood, say two prominent analysts.

Russia has been searching for a new European order for over ten years, one that can secure the regime’s survival even after Vladimir Putin, according to Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard. But what Putin wants from the West is something that it is unwilling and unable to promise him, they write for the European Council on Foreign Relations:

In 1943, Joseph Stalin dissolved the Communist International to convince the Allies that his priority was the defeat of Nazi Germany, not the triumph of the Communist revolution. Putin has been hoping that the West would similarly end its policy of promoting democracy. …. Unfortunately for Putin, this is not something the West could either promise or deliver. There is no “Democratic International” that is spreading democracy in the way the Comintern supported international revolution – and what does not exist can also not be dissolved.

The annexation of Crimea showed that the West had got Russia wrong on a number of counts, Krastev and Leonard contend:

Firstly, Europeans had mistaken Russia’s failure to block the creation of the post-Cold War order as assent. They mistook weakness for conversion. After 1989, it was the Soviet Union and not Russia that embraced the European model. ….

Secondly, European leaders and European publics fell victim to cartoonish depictions of Putin’s elite. … Russian elites are greedy and corrupt, but some of them also dream of Russia’s triumphant return to the global stage. …The Russian elite, more than the European elite, tends to think about its role in history and to combine mercantilism with messianism. The nature of Putin’s revisionism was more profound than Europeans realized. ….

Thirdly, Europeans failed to appreciate the psychological impact of the “color revolutions” and the global financial crisis on Russia. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was Putin’s 9/11. Since then, the Russian president has viewed remote-controlled street protests as the primary threat to his regime. The Kremlin is convinced that all color revolutions in the post-Soviet space, including the protests in Russia, have been designed, sponsored, and guided by Washington. ….

Fourthly, Europe miscalculated the advantage of strength. Western analyses comparing the West and Russia were full of figures and graphics demonstrating the West’s advantages in economy, technological development, or even military spending. But while it is true that the West is stronger than Russia, Europeans neglected what David Brooks has called “the revolt of the weak”….

europe 21 cWhy Europe won’t run the 21st century

“The annexation of Crimea has forced the EU to confront the fact that its post-modern order is not going to take over the continent, let alone the world. It is clear that Europe is not going to remold Russia in its image – but nor can it accept a return to the balance of power or spheres of influence,” Krastev and Leonard write in “The New European Disorder”:

The EU must co–exist with its powerful neighbor, by deterring aggression, decontaminating the values-based institutions of the European space, and by cooperating with Russia’s own integration project, the Eurasian Union. This offers the best chance for shifting Russia’s activities from the military to the economic sphere.

The urgency for decontaminating values-based institutions comes from the growing popularity of Putin’s “sovereign democracy” among some in the EU. For instance, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently declared: “We are searching for and we are doing our best to find – parting ways with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them – the form of organizing a community that is capable of making us competitive in this great world-race.”15 For Orban, Putin looks strong and decisive and European democracies look confused. The EU must convince Orban that Putin’s model can work outside of the EU, but not inside it, and it is up to Hungary to make its choice.

The authors cite the United States’ relationship with China – two regions co-evolving and engaging with each other but with clearly demarcated red lines – as a model for a new EU relationship with Russia. The essay outlines a roadmap for rebuilding engagement with Russia by:

  • Maintaining NATO as the major provider of credible security guarantees for the territorial integrity of EU member states.
  • Considering the expulsion of Russia from “value institutions” like the Council of Europe to protect the liberal nature of the EU project.
  • Engaging with the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union to acknowledge officially that Russia has the right to have an integration process of its own. 

Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre of Liberal Strategies in Sofia, permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum. His most recent book is Democracy Disrupted. The Global Politics of Protest (UPenn Press, 2014).

Mark Leonard is co-founder and Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He writes a syndicated column on global affairs for Reuters and is Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on geo-economics. He is author of Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century (Fourth Estate, 2005) and What Does China Think? (Fourth Estate, 2008).


Putin’s new nostalgia – and brittle Iron Curtain

1989gartonashThis is a week of geopolitical paradox: We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall even as we watch Vladimir Putin’s violent efforts to erect a new Iron Curtain further east, notes analyst Chrystia Freeland.

But beware, Mr. Putin: The more enduring precedent is still 1989, when the Iron Curtain crumpled for good, she writes for Politico:

Most of the former Warsaw Pact states are now thriving, European market democracies. And here are four more positive lessons of 1989 and the quarter century that followed:

The European Union can work: These days, the European Union mostly seems to be a case study in how not to run 21st century capitalist democracies. …. But that same fusty, process-driven, boring European Union is responsible for the most successful democratic transition since the Marshall Plan. This historic transformation would have been impossible without Europe’s example and its generosity: the prospect of EU membership is what persuaded Eastern European societies and their political elites to stick with democratic and market reforms in the lean years….

History isn’t destiny: The peaceful co-existence of Germany and France should have taught us that even centuries of enmity don’t make war inevitable. But, in the age of ISIL and Vladimir Putin it is easy to forget that history, including bitter, bellicose cultural history, need not always repeat itself. … It isn’t a fairytale to believe that one day a democratic Russia might become likewise reconciled with its neighbor. Indeed, a precondition for Russia’s democratic transition — however many decades it takes for that to again seem like a possibility — will be accepting Ukraine’s independence.

Privatization isn’t enough: When the Berlin Wall fell, the big question was how to go from communist authoritarianism to market democracy. …. It is no accident that one of Vladimir Putin’s first steps after arriving in the Kremlin was to imprison Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian businessman who was most aggressively fighting for liberal democracy, and to confiscate his assets. Without the rule of law, broad public support and organized civil society, private property proved to be as easy to confiscate as it had been to award.

Organized civil society is essential: Political choices in central Europe and the former Soviet Union over the past quarter century have been as diverse as the region, but there is one constant. The transition worked in countries that arrived in 1989, or 1991, with a strong, well-organized civil society, committed to change, and they failed where it was absent. Poland owes much of its success to the strength of its Catholic Church and to Solidarity, its independent and battle-tested trade union. By contrast, the collapse of the Communism left Russia with a civil society that was atomized and mistrustful.

“Nowadays, democratic revolutions seem more likely to fail or to fizzle out: witness the Arab Spring and Ukraine’s own Orange Revolution,” she writes. “But before 1989 there was 1956, 1968 and 1981 (the Polish declaration of martial law to suppress “Solidarity”). That’s the biggest lesson of the fall of the Berlin Wall—It takes years of defeat to finally succeed. And that success has endured.” RTWT

Hitler-and-Putin_3097896bPutin’s recent endorsement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact is an attempt by the Kremlin to move from one account of Russia in World War II to another—a shift in national historical memory that would have implications for all of Europe, argues Yale University’s Timothy Snyder.

Two versions of the commemoration of the war were always available because the Soviet Union fought on both sides of the war, he writes for the New York Review of Books:

In the first part of the war, from 1939 to 1941 the Soviet Union was a German ally, fighting in the eastern theater and supplying Germany with the minerals, oil, and food it needed to make war against Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and most importantly France and Britain. After Hitler betrayed Stalin and the Wehrmacht invaded the USSR in June 1941, the Soviet Union was suddenly on the other side, and soon found itself in a grand alliance with Britain and the United States.

For decades, official Soviet accounts of the war passed over the first part in silence and celebrated Soviet feats of arms in the second.

“In making his alliance with Hitler, Stalin had a political logic. He imagined that in supporting the Nazi state as it began its total war he would turn the German armed forces to the west, away from the Soviet Union. In this way, the inherent contradictions of the capitalist world would be exposed, and Germany, France, and Britain would collapse simultaneously,” Snyder notes.

“In his own way, Putin is now attempting much the same thing. Just as Stalin sought to turn the most radical of European forces, Adolf Hitler, against Europe itself, so Putin is allying with his grab bag of anti-European populists, fascists, and separatists. His allies on the far right are precisely the political forces that wish to bring an end to the current European order: the European Union.


Nothing wrong with Nazi-Soviet Pact, says Putin

Hitler-and-Putin_3097896bVladimir Putin has said there was nothing bad about the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the non-aggression treaty which led to the carve-up of Poland at the outset of the Second World War, suggesting Britain and France were to blame for Adolf Hitler’s march into Europe, the London Telegraph reports:

The Russian president made the comments at a meeting with young historians in Moscow, during which he urged them to examine the lead-up to the war, among other subjects.. …

Secret protocols of the pact in which the Nazis and the Communists agreed to divide up Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Poland into spheres of influence were officially denied by the Kremlin until 1989. ….Critics say Mr Putin and his administration are increasingly mobilising historical events as a means of bolstering his authoritarian rule.

“Serious research must show that those were the foreign policy methods then,” Putin told the young scholars Wednesday. “The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany. People say: ‘Ach, that’s bad.’ But what’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight, what’s bad about it?”

Like many authoritarian leaders, Putin justifies each round of repressive actions against his society by pointing to threats of one kind or another, but unlike the case of some others, the Kremlin leader never rachets down the repression when that threat passes or when he turns to other things, notes analyst Paul Goble:

Ivan Kurilla, a historian at Volgograd State University, says that this is one of the three problems which Russia faces in the wake of the Ukrainian adventure and which appears likely to trigger “serious civic conflict” in Russia and to increase problems for this and the next Russian ruler.

The first two problems — Russia’s relationship with the outside world and its relationship with Ukraine – are serious and will require much time and effort given how much Moscow has lost as a result of its actions in Ukraine. But both will be made even more difficult by the third – changes in relations within Russian society and between the state and society more generally.

Not only are these problems the most complicated, the Volgograd historian says, but they are the most immediate and cannot be put off for long.  As a result of state propaganda, “a significant part of the Russian population has come to believe not only that fascists have come to power in a neighboring country but that there is a harmful ‘fifth column’ in Russia itself.”

“Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia and the West are again at odds in what many describe as a new Cold War,” says Robert English,  director of the USC School of International Relations. “This historic anniversary is an occasion to look back over this quarter-century and ponder how the hopes of Russia’s rapid adoption of free-market economics and liberal democracy were disappointed in the 1990s, contributing to the rise of Vladimir Putin’s statist-authoritarian model in the 2000s.”

Putin diatribe blames West for global insecurity

putinRussian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States on Friday of endangering global security by imposing a “unilateral diktat” on the rest of the world and shifted blame for the Ukraine crisis onto the West, Reuters reports:

In a 40-minute diatribe against the West that was reminiscent of the Cold War and underlined the depth of the rift between Moscow and the West, Putin also denied trying to rebuild the Soviet empire at the expense of Russia’s neighbors.

“We did not start this,” Putin told an informal group of experts on Russia that includes many Western specialists critical of him, warning that Washington was trying to “remake the whole world” based on its own interests. …..Listing a series of conflicts in which he faulted U.S. actions, including Libya, Syria and Iraq, Putin asked whether Washington’s policies had strengthened peace and democracy.

“No,” he declared. “The unilateral diktat and the imposing of schemes (on others) have exactly the opposite effect.”

“The Cold War has ended,” Putin told the Valdai Forum. “But it ended without peace being achieved, without clear and transparent agreements on the new rules and standards.”

He added that the global system of security has been weakened, and accused the United States of behaving like a “nouveau riche” world leader.

“Unilateral dictatorship and obtrusion of the patterns leads to opposite result. Instead of conflicts settlement, their escalation. Instead of sovereign, stable states, growing chaos. Instead of democracy, support for (a) very dubious public, such as neo-Nazis and Islamic extremists,” Putin said.

Paranoid style

Putin’s comments came a day after the investor and philanthropist George Soros cautioned that Russian expansionism poses an existential threat to the European Union, warning that  Putin’s mix of authoritarianism and aggressive nationalism represents an alternative model to western liberal democracy.

His comments also reflect the paranoid style that has overtaken Russian political discourse, observers suggest.

IvanKrastevIvan Krastev (right), who heads the Bulgarian think tank Centre for Liberal Strategies, said relying on conspiracy stories doesn’t provide a framework for moving forward. “Marxism was an ideology,” he said. “Conspiracy theories are not an ideology,” he told the Wall Street Journal:

Robert Skidelsky, the biographer of Keynes and a professor at the University of Warwick who is attending the conference, questioned where this promotion of an alternative reality is leading Russia.

He said that behind Russia’s narratives lie three possibilities: that Russian officials believe they are telling the truth; that they are lying; or, that they are deceiving themselves. If Russian officials are basing their actions on false premises, they are taking risks, he said. If they are lying or deceiving themselves, they are severely eroding Russia’s international credibility—as Western governments argue they have by claiming that the armed “little green men” in Ukraine haven’t been sent there by the Russian military.

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.”