Conference Review: Strategies to Defend Democratic Institutions and the Rule of Law in the Westand Is Propaganda Protected Speech

Sep 06 2019

Jeremy W. Lamoreaux

Three Requirements for Democracy

The history of humankind has been dominated by authoritarian-type governments, with democracies considerably less common for a number of reasons, three of which I would like to emphasize here. Firstly, democracy only functions properly when the populace is informed and engaged on political issues. In the case of a direct democracy, the executive is directly responsible to, and derives his authority directly from the people. This type of democracy requires the people to be well-informed about laws affecting them, and to participate in the political process to pass and amend those laws.

In the case of a representative democracy, the executive is accountable to, and derives his power from representatives who, in turn, derive their power from and are accountable to the people. This type of democracy does not require the people to be as well-informed about issues and laws affecting them, but they must be informed enough to at least choose appropriate representatives to make and uphold rules for them. In either case, democracy functions best when the populace is well-informed and engaged in political processes.

Authoritarian regimes, however, work best without an informed, engaged populace. Historically, this condition was not difficult to satisfy because most societies until the 19th -20th centuries were agricultural. This meant people did not need to be literate, they had a rural lifestyle, and were geographically and communicatively isolated from each other and from those in power. However, it is becoming much more difficult for authoritarian regimes to sustain themselves because most of our contemporaries are literate and have a relatively easy access to any type of information. Consequently, authoritarian regimes benefit from policies that keep the populace as ignorant as possible (for example, by controlling the media) and preclude them from participating in political processes.

Secondly, democracy only functions properly when there is a universally applied and universally applicable rule of law. The very concept of the rule of law is somewhat misleading. The concept, itself, simply implies that everyone within a constituency is accountable to the same laws. It says nothing about what those laws may be. Consequently, those laws may be very limited, or they may be very extensive. Within a functioning democracy, however, rule of law generally implies that there is a universally applicable, and universally applied basic set of human rights, very much akin to the U.S. Bill of Rights. This sort of rule of law is only available in a functioning democracy where laws are created with the input from the populace (through democratic political processes) and where the executor of those laws (the executive) is accountable to the people.

At times it may appear that authoritarian regimes also observe the rule of law. However, as opposed to democratic rule of law which ought to be universally applicable and universally applied, rule of law in authoritarian regimes is selectively applicable and selectively applied, favoring elites over non-elites, favoring those in power who, then, use the rules to strengthen their hold on power and lengthen their tenure in power.

One of the primary ways in which authoritarian regimes control power and establish a selective “rule of law” is by owning or controlling primary means of economic growth within the country. Within democracies, governments most often fund projects through taxes. In paying taxes, the people have a claim on government spending. However, authoritarian regimes that own the means of economic growth do not always require extensive taxes. Thus, the populace does not have a clear claim on government spending. Rather, anything the government spends on the people is often seen (by the government) as a gift to the people.

Thirdly, democracy only functions properly when a society is, by and large, at peace with itself: not without disagreements, but feeling united even with differences. Perhaps the most destructive thing to democracy are aggravated societal divisions. When a society is hyper-divided, societal stability is at risk. Individuals in some groups start to see themselves as better than individuals in other groups and start to treat them accordingly. When one group is treated differently/preferentially to another group, this is known as relative deprivation (i.e. one group is deprived relative to another group). When relative deprivation is formally institutionalized (people elect representatives who establish and sustain societal segmentation), those who are deprived perceive the institutions as the cause of the problem. The impetus becomes to change the institutions, in the worst-case scenario leading to an overthrow of democracy.  

Surprisingly, authoritarian regimes also strive to establish societies without major rifts. Or, at least, without rifts sufficiently major to destabilize the country. Their tactics involve suppressing dissent and placating people— in other words, enforcing relative deprivation wherein the elites support policies keeping them at the top and separate from the “common” people.

Communication is critical to both the societies that seek fairness (democracies) and those seeking to institutionalize deprivation (authoritarian regimes). As democracies seek to alleviate inequalities, they engage in open and honest communication, where a willingness to hear out the “other” side improves understanding. On the other hand, to remain in power, authoritarian regimes resort to manipulation, censorship and even “weaponization” of information.

Liberal Norms, a Threat to Democracy?

Democracies, too, are oftentimes challenged by well-informed and engaged populaces, freedom of information and open communication. A policy issue one person holds as important may be ignored completely by another. Furthermore, not all information is equal. Factual, relevant and quality insights compete for attention with a surfeit of misinformation, disinformation, blatant lies, and trivial information. Therefore, even an engaged populace does not guarantee the best representatives. Oftentimes the people are ignorant— whether misled, selectively uninformed, or willfully ignorant. Furthermore, election results do not always reflect preferred policies of the voters, but rather can become popularity contests among candidates and ideologies. The people vote for a representative because they have affinity with that person, and elected representatives promise policies because they think such policies are what the people want. In either case, the result can often be policies that are not actually beneficial to the people.

Russia and the West

This Political Science 101 refresher is offered here as a theoretical backdrop for the recap of the two conferences hosted by Free Russia in Summer 2019: Strategies to Defend Democratic Institutions and the Rule of Law in the West (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jcupy9J9UE ) and Is Propaganda Protected Speech? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyxJfCL6ymU). Indeed, the question of what is required for a democracy to function echoed throughout presentations and discussions at these two events.

Both conferences focused on the confrontation between the Russian state apparatus and Western democracies, primarily the United State and Europe (EU, NATO and partner countries). The West extolls the values of democracy and the rule of law. Though democracy is still something of an experimental government type in the long history of human kind, the West is used to it, likes it, and appreciates its benefits (primarily, it provides equal representation which can then directly affect societal and economic equality). Russia, on the other hand, had a brief experiment with democracy for about a decade during the 1990s and decided that it did not work. Consequently, over the past two decades, the Kremlin has guided Russia back to the track it has known for centuries and millennia: authoritarian government that does not offer equal representation or any sort of laws that can provide for societal or economic equality.

Despite these diverging attitudes and paths, Russia and the West today are more interconnected than ever, and this trend is likely to be sustained into a foreseeable future. Their economies are intricately linked in such a way that all would suffer if the relationship were to be severed. Russia and the collective “Western democratic community” have foreign policy interests in similar locations (the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, etc.). This inevitably brings them into a potential conflict (or potential cooperation) with each other. However, powerful militaries (and in case of Europe, the might provided by NATO membership) preclude outright confrontation and necessitate careful maneuvering from all.

It came as something of a surprise to many, then, that Russia began to meddle extensively in the political situation in the West, primarily when it became obvious that the Kremlin had an agenda in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and in the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK. Clearly, Russia had committed to weaken to the rule of law, democracy, and any democratic institutions within the West. In hindsight, though, most of the Kremlin’s efforts have been directed at undermining societal unity. This was a very shrewd decision considering that democracy cannot function well in a divided society. The division, itself, and the perceived (or real) relative deprivation prevent its function. However, the Kremlin not only attacked and attempted to divide society. It also propagated disinformation which, among other things, called into question the very institutions and values which are key to a functioning democracy such as free speech, checks and balances between branches of government, free and fair elections, and the role of an unbiased media.

These two conferences brought together prominent experts from European and U.S. governments, NGOs, think tanks, private companies, intergovernmental organizations, watchdogs, and academia to assess the tools the Kremlin uses to destabilize the West and articulate approaches for countering the Kremlin’s malign influence campaigns. The results of the conferences were vast, varied, thorough and impressive. Some of the instruments used by the Kremlin in its attack on democracies include:

  • Obfuscation of the rule of law and human right by creating shadow institutions whose actual purpose is to promote a “new” set of rules and rights which is hierarchical and limited
  • Stealing wealth from its on people and hiding it in Western and offshore accounts for the benefit of elites
  • Exporting corruption
  • Using Western institutions, such as judiciaries, to ensure their ill-gotten gains are hidden “legally”
  • Using those institutions to protect Kremlin lackeys from prosecution throughout the West
  • Intimidating and punishing opponents, both within Russia and abroad, through criminal networks and through Western security organizations such as Interpol
  • Controlling other countries through “alliances” with political parties and individual politicians within those countries
  • Establishing controls over media outlets and home and abroad; using traditional media, social media, and the broader online world to promote a Kremlin agenda, to undermine any Western agenda, to undermine Western institutions and values, to undermine relations across the West, including spreading disinformation, misinformation, blatant falsehoods, and challenging the very idea of “truth”
  • Controlling interior ministries abroad (again, through political parties)
  • Acquiring intelligence from Western political parties linked to the Kremlin
  • Exacerbating and manipulating ethnic tensions across the West
  • Controlling corporations throughout the West
  • Tying Russia’s economy to the global economy, raising the risk of economic turmoil if the West is too hasty in excluding the Russian economy
  • Creating and funding NGOs/GONGOs throughout the West that, then, push a pro-Kremlin agenda
  • Using military might to force neighbors into submission through war or threats of war, and to counter Western military interventions in the Middle East
  • Relying heavily on China to create alternatives to the U.S.-led global power structure that is not democratic, yet allows authoritarian regimes everywhere to thrive

Proposed countermeasures included:

  • Continuing to engage with the Kremlin, while recognizing that the Kremlin is not Russia and the people of Russia deserve to be treated with fairness and respect by the West
  • Strengthen the U.S. bonds with Europe, primarily our economic bonds
  • Encouraging the U.S. diplomats to continue raising the issues of human rights and the rule of law in all interactions with the Kremlin
  • Fund NGO’s that promote Western values
  • Strengthen legal and bureaucratic mechanisms that strengthen transparency on corporate and media ownership
  • Insist on transparency and oversight across international organizations, including the ability to expel members (read Russia and states that cooperate with Russia in abusing those institutions) for violations of policy (Interpol and NATO as key examples)
  • Encourage NGOs and national governments to reach across ethnic lines, further integrating ethnic minorities
  • Continue to engage, actively, with countries in Central and Eastern Europe to prevent further Kremlin military aggression and political elites cooptation in the region
  • Publicize the names of Western politicians who advance the Kremlin’s agenda to the detriment of their own nations
  • Publicize instances of media outlets that deal in disinformation and misinformation, including individual propagandists. Both primary propagandists (those directly in the employ of the Kremlin) and secondary propagandists (those who propagate the views of the primary propagandist)
  • Increase spending for countering disinformation, including news beats in traditional media that focus on exposing fake news
  • Support fact-checkers
  • Promote collaborations between Western journalists and Russian opposition journalists
  • Stress the need to reevaluate journalistic approaches to covering information emanating from the Kremlin, or state-sponsored media outlets
  • Commit to ethical leadership from our own leaders in the West. They should stand up for the rule of law, freedom and democracy at home and abroad, and should actively promote societal unity
  • Work on societal, economic and political rifts at home. Once we have put our own house in order, we can promote Western liberal norms abroad
  • Improve technological ability to crack down on disinformation
  • Pass laws countering disinformation and outlets that promote it
  • Pass laws ensuring that owners/operators of social media accounts are not anonymous
  • Educate law-makers about the Kremlin’s perceptions and tactics, so they can create policy specific to those
  • Do not use the Kremlin’s own tactics against it:  it’s a slippery slope which ends in authoritarianism

Most of these solutions touch on the symptoms of a much deeper, and much more destructive ill—the growing divisions within Western society. If this root problem is not addressed, the effect of these measures will be limited.

Consequently, I propose to refocuse our attention on three foundational questions:

  1. Who bears the ultimate responsibility for Russia’s meddling in the West?
  2. What are the strategic implications of Western relations with Russia going forward, especially in regards to the issues discussed at these conferences?
  3. How do the answers to the above two questions inform evaluation of any proposed solutions to this meddling?

The following analysis addresses each of these questions in turn.

Responsibility

With whom does the responsibility lie for Russia’s meddling? The most obvious answers, according to conference participants, include the Kremlin, the Russian propaganda machine (including Kremlin-sponsored media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, and subsidiaries), troll factories, and individuals and groups associated indirectly, but still heavily influenced by, the Kremlin. In the West, the responsibility lies with governmental organizations that had not taken threats seriously enough; politicians who have downplayed the Kremlin’s meddling (or even benefit from it), as well as politicians who are more intent on “winning” than on resolving societal and political problems; media outlets who deal in sensationalized (and misleading) news, and media and social media companies whose profit structures lend themselves to “clickable” content above accurate content.

However, underlying all of this is the deeper issue that people in Western societies, broadly speaking, are individualistic and self-interested. This gets into the psychology of democracy, and of people in general. What makes people in the West tick? What drives them to consume what they do, what shapes their preferences and controls ways in which they spend time and money? And, what does this have to do with democracy?

The short answer is that individuals in Western societies like to feel special and valued. Every person can espouse several identities, and the relative importance of those identities change across time and space— i.e. it’s dynamic. For example, a person may think of herself, first and foremost, as an employer. However, two hours later, she may think of herself, first and foremost, as a community leader and, still two hours later, as a member of a family. While none of these is antithetical to the others, the decisions she makes while acting as one of these, is not necessarily the same decision she would make while acting as another of these identities. However, each decision is made with the intent of benefitting that identity and, often, others who share that identity. 

This same concept is influential in the working of a democracy. Democracy is, ultimately, about people making decisions vis-à-vis their specific identities. It this case, it is most often about voting for a person, or policy, which will be best for their most important identities. The consequence of such behavior, however, is that where someone wins, someone else loses. The winning produces a sense of being valued, while losing produces the sense of a lack-of-value. Consequently, people want to win. They want to feel valued and winning is one way of achieving that feeling.

And, this is where we run into problems. The pull of individualism and self-interest often leads people to make decision that are not always logical for the long-term benefit of that person, or their various identities. Rather, too many people make decision based on acquiring value for themselves, in the short run, and to identities that are, long-term, less important. Within democracies, this looks like (ironically) groupthink, a lack of critical thinking, information selection bias, othering, dehumanizing, a lack of transparency, etc. All of these nurture the individualism and self-interest that are part of Western society, driving individuals to pursue “wins” (or feel valued) vis-à-vis another person or group of people, but ultimately may not result in good decisions for them or anyone else.

Bringing back the discussion to Kremlin meddling in, and negatively influencing, the West, who is to blame? Ultimately, fault must lie with the people and individualistic, self-interested nature of the society we’ve created for ourselves. The desire for feeling valued and winning vis-à-vis the “other” lead us to: believe voices that praise our identities over the identities of others; consume media that talks to those identities;  “like” and share media that caters to our identities; and, ultimately, vote for representatives whose policies will protect our identities at the expense of others including dehumanizing (and justifying ill behavior toward) those who disagree with us. Afterall, if they’re not for us, they’re against us.

In short, the Kremlin is not solely responsible for causing societal divisions, but is certainly exacerbating them. It promotes divisive messages that make groups feel deprived relative to other groups. It promotes misleading, or blatantly false “news” with the intent of furthering these divisive messages. It supports divisive individuals, politicians, societal groups, political parties, special interest groups and broad agendas. And the reason this is possible is because the nature of democracy is exclusive.

Strategic Implications

The strategic implications of Western individualism, democracy, and Kremlin meddling are domestic, regional, and international.

Domestic Implications

The domestic strategic implications of Kremlin meddling are introduced above: a divided populace and the undermining of democracy and the rule of law. However, those are just the beginning. The more strategically destructive implications surround the US military, the largest military in the world. The military answers to the executive (the president), but military spending is controlled by the legislature (congress). The executive and the legislative both have a say in what the military can, or cannot, do. Importantly, though, both the executive and legislative are meant to be accountable to the populace. If that holds, then, the decision on military spending and activity are to be decided by the populace.

Unfortunately, this is only part of the picture. The other part of the picture is that many politicians are accountable not only to their respective constituents, but also to special interest groups ranging from societal equality groups to corporations. Indeed, some believe that special interest groups, campaign donors, and lobbying groups, are more powerful than constituents in informing political decisions. Whether this is accurate or not is up for question. What is not up for questions, however, is that the Kremlin, through their extensive propaganda machine, does influence public opinion in the United States and on the decisions, policies and procedures of corporations and organizations. Consequently, whether constituents or special interests and lobbying groups are more influential in determining what military decisions policy makers make, there is a distinct possibility that those influences (and the resulting policies) are informed by Kremlin interests. This could result in decreased military spending in favor of domestic issues (such as Trump’s decision to use military funds to build a wall on the US/Mexico border). Conversely, it could result in increased military spending on issues that are the pet-issues of the military industrial complex, such as the White House decision to increase spending on nuclear deterrence. Whether either of these decisions are “good” or “bad” is subjective. What is not subjective is the potential that the Kremlin is informing such decisions by influencing the public or special interest/lobby groups. Thus, policy makers need to be extremely cautious in analyzing how the Kremlin stands to benefit from such decisions.

Finally, the ability of special interest groups, corporations, and lobbyists to inform policy is potentially detrimental to democracy. There is a well-established pattern of Russian money being hidden in Western bank accounts, and of Russian individuals (often with clear links to the Kremlin) investing in Western economies including part ownership of corporations. It is not a stretch to say that, in this as well as most cases, money talks. Those who hold the purse strings often get the result they want. The recent case of Russian money invested in Mitch McConnell’s (the current Senate Majority Leader) own district, and the implication that it is informing his political decision making, are a solid example of this. The implications are that the Kremlin is not just influencing policy makers by influencing the public, but directly through special interest and lobby groups. The ability of such groups to influence policy can easily translate into policy about military spending and military behavior.

Now, two short disclaimers: first, not all lobby and special interest groups are bad, nor do they all undermine democracy. There are numerous such groups who represent legitimately, and widely, held perceptions of the populace. Furthermore, there are numerous such groups that further the causes of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. But, there are also many whose sole purpose is to lobby for the interests of a limited agenda, a limited number of people, or even the rights of corporations and organizations above the rights of the populace (such as the case of the anti-fracking lobby being influenced by Kremlin propaganda). Consequently, special interests and lobbies, even with the purest of intentions (and the policy makers they influence) risk becoming subservient to Kremlin interests if they are not attentive to who is informing, or paying for, their agenda.

The second disclaimer is that the description of these domestic implications is focused on the United States. However, the concerns expressed here are by no means limited to the United States. They are generalizable to all democratic country, especially those where the people are influenced by media, and where policy making is informed by special interests and lobbies.

Regional Implications

The two most prominent strategic regional issues at risk of Kremlin meddling surround the Transatlantic institutions: NATO and the EU. It is no secret that the Kremlin would love to see an end to the North Atlantic Treaty, the withdrawal of US forces from Europe, an end to transatlantic security structures and institutions, and for the US to become indifferent (or, at the most extreme, opposed) to European security. A second, but no less important strategic issues, is the general withdrawal of Western influence from Central and Eastern Europe.

Until 2016, these concerns seemed farfetched, particularly regarding NATO. However, two events since then, both of which were influence by the Kremlin, certainly pose a risk to Euro Atlantic strategic unity: the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the Brexit referendum results in the UK. Donald Trump has made it amply clear that he is not opposed to a weakening of US strategic ties with Europe, including threatening a dialing down of US forces in Europe if member states did not increase their military spending. It is not obviously known the extent to which the Kremlin has influenced this decision. But, it is also no secret that Trump has a fondness for Putin and that the Kremlin did meddle in the elections. The strategic implications of both of these is not positive for Europe, no matter how it is presented.

Furthermore, the Kremlin has influence among NATO governments, particularly the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy, and NATO partner Austria. In these cases, Kremlin influence means that partner countries will no longer share intelligence with these governments, and that Kremlin influence is growing politically and economically.

As for the second event, Brexit, the implications are particularly concerning for Eastern Europe. Within the European Union, and particularly among the large western countries (France, Germany, UK) the UK was the primary supporter of pro-Eastern Europe and anti-Russia sentiment and policy. The UK pushed hardest for Russian sanctions following the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s dirty war in Ukraine, and the missile attack on flight MH17. The UK was also a major factor in encouraging expansion of the EU (and NATO) into Eastern and Central Europe. The UK has troops in Baltic States and Poland as part of the NATO mission there. Finally, the assassination of Litvinenko, and the attempted assassination of the Skripals has solidified UK opposition toward much of the Kremlin’s agenda vis-à-vis Europe. Of course, this is not to say that London does not welcome Russian money (it very much does), but at least the UK actively opposes many anti-democratic and anti-Western policies emanating from the Kremlin while Paris and Berlin are borderline accomplices of Kremlin influence in Europe.

One potential result of a possible US drawdown of military force in Europe, and UK withdrawal from the EU, is the rise of EU-based defense and security structures headlined by France and Germany. While such a move would likely be welcome in Western Europe, there is no guarantee that such structures would prove beneficial to countries in Central and Eastern Europe, even if they are part of the EU. As of yet, there is no clear indication that they would not involve the CEES, but Paris and Berlin have extensive ties to the Kremlin including economic and political ties (though the extent to which the Kremlin influences Berlin is not certain, there are known examples of Kremlin hacking, political influencing, and economic influencing). The concern among many in the CEES is that an EU security structure without the UK would leave them on the outskirts and open to increased Kremlin influence.

International Implications

The Kremlin’s global ambitions include retaining primary influence on their near abroad and limiting US global influence. This first ambition is accomplished through military, political and societal means. Militarily, the Kremlin annexed Crimea, is operating/backing a hot war in eastern Ukraine, continues its frozen conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Moldova, and supports governmental forces in Syria and (until recently) Venezuela.

More particularly, the Kremlin is strengthening its alliance with China. The Kremlin knows that China is likely to become the militarily, economically and politically stronger of the two, but as long as it counters US influence globally, the Kremlin is content with a stronger China. Either way, the implication is that they provide an alternative global structure, one that welcomes authoritarianism instead of encouraging democracy, and that thrives on corruption, secrecy and elite kleptocracy. This certainly looks appealing to several regimes across the globe. In creating something of a “coalition of the authoritarian willing”, the Kremlin and China also find a market for their arms industries which are cheaper than US and Western arms, but still very effective in maintaining the position of elites vis-à-vis internal and external threats. Ultimately, this means that US influence, in areas heavily influenced by the US and China, will be curtailed. When US and Western influence is curtailed, so too are the values and norms (such as democracy, rule of law, transparency) that make the US and West special. It also emboldens military aggression from authoritarian regimes, such as we are currently seeing in Ukraine.

The ultimate implication across the board is that the Kremlin does not need to militarily attack the West to undermine its values and influence. Through disinformation, media manipulation, and political and economic coercion, the Kremlin can enhance societal divisions to such an extent that it undermines Western military strength and unity, and stymies support for Western causes across the globe. In the process, it strengthens its own (and allies) military and political influence. As this continues the US will cease to be a global hegemon and the international geostrategic system will, truly, become multi-polar or bi-polar wherein one side is the democratic West (though divided), and the other the authoritarian “east” comprised of China, Russia, and other like-minded regimes.

Solutions

The underlying causes of any threat to the West and its institutions and values (democracy, rule of law, human rights, transparency) are the self-interested and individualistic nature of Western society, and the nature of democracy in which there are winners and losers. The Kremlin is able to exacerbate societal differences with a mixture of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda, and to abuse democratic means and institutions to drive political, economic and societal division across the West.

Yet, the most viable solution to Kremlin influence is not to significantly alter the nature of society or democracy, but to use their existing strengths to counter Kremlin influence. All of the recommendations outlined above have value and, where possible, should be pursued across Western democracies. However, they are not enough. Because in representative democracies (as are nearly all Western democracies) political power lies with the people, and they select representatives to do their will, solutions must include cleaning up democracy and returning power to the people. This can be accomplished in several ways, four of which are presented here.

First, limit the influence of lobby groups, special interest groups and corporations. For those countries (primarily the US) where candidates for public office can receive private campaign donations, prohibit donations from any donors other than individuals: this includes prohibiting donations from lobby groups, special interest groups, corporations, or even political parties. Furthermore, clearly limit the total amount of donations any individual may receive, and the total amount they may receive from any one donor. These steps would limit the Kremlin’s influence through groups and corporations, and influence from individuals who may also be coerced by Kremlin disinformation.

Second, implement term limits on all public offices, whether elected or not. Term limits reduce the risk of an institutionalized elite (who, generally, are closely tied with societal and economic elites) and the risk of malign foreign influence through established relations. Furthermore, constantly rotating political elites, in addition to limiting the power of special interests, lobbies, corporations means representatives will be more likely to listen to and adhere to the interests of their constituents.

Third, all official interactions with representatives from other countries must be attended by at least three individuals, one of whom must change every interaction, and all interactions (unless for strategic reasons) must be made available, in full, to any member of the public.

Fourth, and I believe most important, adopt a code of conduct for representatives which outlines accepted (and unaccepted) behavioral and speech norms. These norms will allow them to disagree with other representatives and peopl, without being disagreeable. It will be structured so as to foster openness and honesty in all public discourse (whether debates and campaigning, interactions within governmental branches, interactions with any foreign actors, or any other official dialogue). Representatives who violate these norms will be subject to discipline ending, eventually, in removal. Such a policy would not limit freedom of expression but would ensure that all formal communication is civil.

The first three recommendations mean that democracy will truly be more democratic than at present. When democracies truly engage the demos, the laws are more representative. This, alone, will begin to unite society. The fourth recommendation will ensure that our representatives, our leaders, provide a solid example of how our interactions with each other ought to be: civil.

Now, my concluding argument is to embrace the policies proposed at the conferences. Those proposals were well-thought-out, timely, practical and, ultimately, would be effective at hobbling Kremlin influence in the West. But, they are not enough. They, alone, will not solve the deeper problem. And, if we do not address the root problem, the Kremlin will continue to find new ways of dividing society and, in the process, weakening democracy. A wholistic solution involves legislation that counters Kremlin assaults directly, and policies that strengthen and unify democracy as outlined above.

Jeremy W. Lamoreaux is an associate professor of international studies and political science at Brigham Young University – Idaho. His research focuses on relations between the West and Russia as played out in traditional and non-traditional security arenas. He has published in European Security, European Politics and Society, Geopolitics, Journal on Baltic Security, Journal of Baltic Studies, Palgrave Communications, IJSCC,  and with Routledge and Rodopi. His current research focuses on the EU-Russia relationship post-Brexit and on the role of religion in that relationship. He was one of the contributing authors on the May 2019 White Paper on the Russian Strategic Intentions published by the Pentagon’s Office for Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA)

In the case of a representative democracy, the executive is accountable to, and derives his power from representatives who, in turn, derive their power from and are accountable to the people. This type of democracy does not require the people to be as well-informed about issues and laws affecting them, but they must be informed enough to at least choose appropriate representatives to make and uphold rules for them. In either case, democracy functions best when the populace is well-informed and engaged in political processes.

Authoritarian regimes, however, work best without an informed, engaged populace. Historically, this condition was not difficult to satisfy because most societies until the 19th -20th centuries were agricultural. This meant people did not need to be literate, they had a rural lifestyle, and were geographically and communicatively isolated from each other and from those in power. However, it is becoming much more difficult for authoritarian regimes to sustain themselves because most of our contemporaries are literate and have a relatively easy access to any type of information. Consequently, authoritarian regimes benefit from policies that keep the populace as ignorant as possible (for example, by controlling the media) and preclude them from participating in political processes.

Secondly, democracy only functions properly when there is a universally applied and universally applicable rule of law. The very concept of the rule of law is somewhat misleading. The concept, itself, simply implies that everyone within a constituency is accountable to the same laws. It says nothing about what those laws may be. Consequently, those laws may be very limited, or they may be very extensive. Within a functioning democracy, however, rule of law generally implies that there is a universally applicable, and universally applied basic set of human rights, very much akin to the U.S. Bill of Rights. This sort of rule of law is only available in a functioning democracy where laws are created with the input from the populace (through democratic political processes) and where the executor of those laws (the executive) is accountable to the people.

At times it may appear that authoritarian regimes also observe the rule of law. However, as opposed to democratic rule of law which ought to be universally applicable and universally applied, rule of law in authoritarian regimes is selectively applicable and selectively applied, favoring elites over non-elites, favoring those in power who, then, use the rules to strengthen their hold on power and lengthen their tenure in power.

One of the primary ways in which authoritarian regimes control power and establish a selective “rule of law” is by owning or controlling primary means of economic growth within the country. Within democracies, governments most often fund projects through taxes. In paying taxes, the people have a claim on government spending. However, authoritarian regimes that own the means of economic growth do not always require extensive taxes. Thus, the populace does not have a clear claim on government spending. Rather, anything the government spends on the people is often seen (by the government) as a gift to the people.

Thirdly, democracy only functions properly when a society is, by and large, at peace with itself: not without disagreements, but feeling united even with differences. Perhaps the most destructive thing to democracy are aggravated societal divisions. When a society is hyper-divided, societal stability is at risk. Individuals in some groups start to see themselves as better than individuals in other groups and start to treat them accordingly. When one group is treated differently/preferentially to another group, this is known as relative deprivation (i.e. one group is deprived relative to another group). When relative deprivation is formally institutionalized (people elect representatives who establish and sustain societal segmentation), those who are deprived perceive the institutions as the cause of the problem. The impetus becomes to change the institutions, in the worst-case scenario leading to an overthrow of democracy.  

Surprisingly, authoritarian regimes also strive to establish societies without major rifts. Or, at least, without rifts sufficiently major to destabilize the country. Their tactics involve suppressing dissent and placating people— in other words, enforcing relative deprivation wherein the elites support policies keeping them at the top and separate from the “common” people.

Communication is critical to both the societies that seek fairness (democracies) and those seeking to institutionalize deprivation (authoritarian regimes). As democracies seek to alleviate inequalities, they engage in open and honest communication, where a willingness to hear out the “other” side improves understanding. On the other hand, to remain in power, authoritarian regimes resort to manipulation, censorship and even “weaponization” of information.

Liberal Norms, a Threat to Democracy?

Democracies, too, are oftentimes challenged by well-informed and engaged populaces, freedom of information and open communication. A policy issue one person holds as important may be ignored completely by another. Furthermore, not all information is equal. Factual, relevant and quality insights compete for attention with a surfeit of misinformation, disinformation, blatant lies, and trivial information. Therefore, even an engaged populace does not guarantee the best representatives. Oftentimes the people are ignorant— whether misled, selectively uninformed, or willfully ignorant. Furthermore, election results do not always reflect preferred policies of the voters, but rather can become popularity contests among candidates and ideologies. The people vote for a representative because they have affinity with that person, and elected representatives promise policies because they think such policies are what the people want. In either case, the result can often be policies that are not actually beneficial to the people.

Russia and the West

This Political Science 101 refresher is offered here as a theoretical backdrop for the recap of the two conferences hosted by Free Russia in Summer 2019: Strategies to Defend Democratic Institutions and the Rule of Law in the West (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jcupy9J9UE ) and Is Propaganda Protected Speech? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyxJfCL6ymU). Indeed, the question of what is required for a democracy to function echoed throughout presentations and discussions at these two events.

Both conferences focused on the confrontation between the Russian state apparatus and Western democracies, primarily the United State and Europe (EU, NATO and partner countries). The West extolls the values of democracy and the rule of law. Though democracy is still something of an experimental government type in the long history of human kind, the West is used to it, likes it, and appreciates its benefits (primarily, it provides equal representation which can then directly affect societal and economic equality). Russia, on the other hand, had a brief experiment with democracy for about a decade during the 1990s and decided that it did not work. Consequently, over the past two decades, the Kremlin has guided Russia back to the track it has known for centuries and millennia: authoritarian government that does not offer equal representation or any sort of laws that can provide for societal or economic equality.

Despite these diverging attitudes and paths, Russia and the West today are more interconnected than ever, and this trend is likely to be sustained into a foreseeable future. Their economies are intricately linked in such a way that all would suffer if the relationship were to be severed. Russia and the collective “Western democratic community” have foreign policy interests in similar locations (the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, etc.). This inevitably brings them into a potential conflict (or potential cooperation) with each other. However, powerful militaries (and in case of Europe, the might provided by NATO membership) preclude outright confrontation and necessitate careful maneuvering from all.

It came as something of a surprise to many, then, that Russia began to meddle extensively in the political situation in the West, primarily when it became obvious that the Kremlin had an agenda in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and in the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK. Clearly, Russia had committed to weaken to the rule of law, democracy, and any democratic institutions within the West. In hindsight, though, most of the Kremlin’s efforts have been directed at undermining societal unity. This was a very shrewd decision considering that democracy cannot function well in a divided society. The division, itself, and the perceived (or real) relative deprivation prevent its function. However, the Kremlin not only attacked and attempted to divide society. It also propagated disinformation which, among other things, called into question the very institutions and values which are key to a functioning democracy such as free speech, checks and balances between branches of government, free and fair elections, and the role of an unbiased media.

These two conferences brought together prominent experts from European and U.S. governments, NGOs, think tanks, private companies, intergovernmental organizations, watchdogs, and academia to assess the tools the Kremlin uses to destabilize the West and articulate approaches for countering the Kremlin’s malign influence campaigns. The results of the conferences were vast, varied, thorough and impressive. Some of the instruments used by the Kremlin in its attack on democracies include:

  • Obfuscation of the rule of law and human right by creating shadow institutions whose actual purpose is to promote a “new” set of rules and rights which is hierarchical and limited
  • Stealing wealth from its on people and hiding it in Western and offshore accounts for the benefit of elites
  • Exporting corruption
  • Using Western institutions, such as judiciaries, to ensure their ill-gotten gains are hidden “legally”
  • Using those institutions to protect Kremlin lackeys from prosecution throughout the West
  • Intimidating and punishing opponents, both within Russia and abroad, through criminal networks and through Western security organizations such as Interpol
  • Controlling other countries through “alliances” with political parties and individual politicians within those countries
  • Establishing controls over media outlets and home and abroad; using traditional media, social media, and the broader online world to promote a Kremlin agenda, to undermine any Western agenda, to undermine Western institutions and values, to undermine relations across the West, including spreading disinformation, misinformation, blatant falsehoods, and challenging the very idea of “truth”
  • Controlling interior ministries abroad (again, through political parties)
  • Acquiring intelligence from Western political parties linked to the Kremlin
  • Exacerbating and manipulating ethnic tensions across the West
  • Controlling corporations throughout the West
  • Tying Russia’s economy to the global economy, raising the risk of economic turmoil if the West is too hasty in excluding the Russian economy
  • Creating and funding NGOs/GONGOs throughout the West that, then, push a pro-Kremlin agenda
  • Using military might to force neighbors into submission through war or threats of war, and to counter Western military interventions in the Middle East
  • Relying heavily on China to create alternatives to the U.S.-led global power structure that is not democratic, yet allows authoritarian regimes everywhere to thrive

Proposed countermeasures included:

  • Continuing to engage with the Kremlin, while recognizing that the Kremlin is not Russia and the people of Russia deserve to be treated with fairness and respect by the West
  • Strengthen the U.S. bonds with Europe, primarily our economic bonds
  • Encouraging the U.S. diplomats to continue raising the issues of human rights and the rule of law in all interactions with the Kremlin
  • Fund NGO’s that promote Western values
  • Strengthen legal and bureaucratic mechanisms that strengthen transparency on corporate and media ownership
  • Insist on transparency and oversight across international organizations, including the ability to expel members (read Russia and states that cooperate with Russia in abusing those institutions) for violations of policy (Interpol and NATO as key examples)
  • Encourage NGOs and national governments to reach across ethnic lines, further integrating ethnic minorities
  • Continue to engage, actively, with countries in Central and Eastern Europe to prevent further Kremlin military aggression and political elites cooptation in the region
  • Publicize the names of Western politicians who advance the Kremlin’s agenda to the detriment of their own nations
  • Publicize instances of media outlets that deal in disinformation and misinformation, including individual propagandists. Both primary propagandists (those directly in the employ of the Kremlin) and secondary propagandists (those who propagate the views of the primary propagandist)
  • Increase spending for countering disinformation, including news beats in traditional media that focus on exposing fake news
  • Support fact-checkers
  • Promote collaborations between Western journalists and Russian opposition journalists
  • Stress the need to reevaluate journalistic approaches to covering information emanating from the Kremlin, or state-sponsored media outlets
  • Commit to ethical leadership from our own leaders in the West. They should stand up for the rule of law, freedom and democracy at home and abroad, and should actively promote societal unity
  • Work on societal, economic and political rifts at home. Once we have put our own house in order, we can promote Western liberal norms abroad
  • Improve technological ability to crack down on disinformation
  • Pass laws countering disinformation and outlets that promote it
  • Pass laws ensuring that owners/operators of social media accounts are not anonymous
  • Educate law-makers about the Kremlin’s perceptions and tactics, so they can create policy specific to those
  • Do not use the Kremlin’s own tactics against it:  it’s a slippery slope which ends in authoritarianism

Most of these solutions touch on the symptoms of a much deeper, and much more destructive ill—the growing divisions within Western society. If this root problem is not addressed, the effect of these measures will be limited.

Consequently, I propose to refocuse our attention on three foundational questions:

  1. Who bears the ultimate responsibility for Russia’s meddling in the West?
  2. What are the strategic implications of Western relations with Russia going forward, especially in regards to the issues discussed at these conferences?
  3. How do the answers to the above two questions inform evaluation of any proposed solutions to this meddling?

The following analysis addresses each of these questions in turn.

Responsibility

With whom does the responsibility lie for Russia’s meddling? The most obvious answers, according to conference participants, include the Kremlin, the Russian propaganda machine (including Kremlin-sponsored media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, and subsidiaries), troll factories, and individuals and groups associated indirectly, but still heavily influenced by, the Kremlin. In the West, the responsibility lies with governmental organizations that had not taken threats seriously enough; politicians who have downplayed the Kremlin’s meddling (or even benefit from it), as well as politicians who are more intent on “winning” than on resolving societal and political problems; media outlets who deal in sensationalized (and misleading) news, and media and social media companies whose profit structures lend themselves to “clickable” content above accurate content.

However, underlying all of this is the deeper issue that people in Western societies, broadly speaking, are individualistic and self-interested. This gets into the psychology of democracy, and of people in general. What makes people in the West tick? What drives them to consume what they do, what shapes their preferences and controls ways in which they spend time and money? And, what does this have to do with democracy?

The short answer is that individuals in Western societies like to feel special and valued. Every person can espouse several identities, and the relative importance of those identities change across time and space— i.e. it’s dynamic. For example, a person may think of herself, first and foremost, as an employer. However, two hours later, she may think of herself, first and foremost, as a community leader and, still two hours later, as a member of a family. While none of these is antithetical to the others, the decisions she makes while acting as one of these, is not necessarily the same decision she would make while acting as another of these identities. However, each decision is made with the intent of benefitting that identity and, often, others who share that identity. 

This same concept is influential in the working of a democracy. Democracy is, ultimately, about people making decisions vis-à-vis their specific identities. It this case, it is most often about voting for a person, or policy, which will be best for their most important identities. The consequence of such behavior, however, is that where someone wins, someone else loses. The winning produces a sense of being valued, while losing produces the sense of a lack-of-value. Consequently, people want to win. They want to feel valued and winning is one way of achieving that feeling.

And, this is where we run into problems. The pull of individualism and self-interest often leads people to make decision that are not always logical for the long-term benefit of that person, or their various identities. Rather, too many people make decision based on acquiring value for themselves, in the short run, and to identities that are, long-term, less important. Within democracies, this looks like (ironically) groupthink, a lack of critical thinking, information selection bias, othering, dehumanizing, a lack of transparency, etc. All of these nurture the individualism and self-interest that are part of Western society, driving individuals to pursue “wins” (or feel valued) vis-à-vis another person or group of people, but ultimately may not result in good decisions for them or anyone else.

Bringing back the discussion to Kremlin meddling in, and negatively influencing, the West, who is to blame? Ultimately, fault must lie with the people and individualistic, self-interested nature of the society we’ve created for ourselves. The desire for feeling valued and winning vis-à-vis the “other” lead us to: believe voices that praise our identities over the identities of others; consume media that talks to those identities;  “like” and share media that caters to our identities; and, ultimately, vote for representatives whose policies will protect our identities at the expense of others including dehumanizing (and justifying ill behavior toward) those who disagree with us. Afterall, if they’re not for us, they’re against us.

In short, the Kremlin is not solely responsible for causing societal divisions, but is certainly exacerbating them. It promotes divisive messages that make groups feel deprived relative to other groups. It promotes misleading, or blatantly false “news” with the intent of furthering these divisive messages. It supports divisive individuals, politicians, societal groups, political parties, special interest groups and broad agendas. And the reason this is possible is because the nature of democracy is exclusive.

Strategic Implications

The strategic implications of Western individualism, democracy, and Kremlin meddling are domestic, regional, and international.

Domestic Implications

The domestic strategic implications of Kremlin meddling are introduced above: a divided populace and the undermining of democracy and the rule of law. However, those are just the beginning. The more strategically destructive implications surround the US military, the largest military in the world. The military answers to the executive (the president), but military spending is controlled by the legislature (congress). The executive and the legislative both have a say in what the military can, or cannot, do. Importantly, though, both the executive and legislative are meant to be accountable to the populace. If that holds, then, the decision on military spending and activity are to be decided by the populace.

Unfortunately, this is only part of the picture. The other part of the picture is that many politicians are accountable not only to their respective constituents, but also to special interest groups ranging from societal equality groups to corporations. Indeed, some believe that special interest groups, campaign donors, and lobbying groups, are more powerful than constituents in informing political decisions. Whether this is accurate or not is up for question. What is not up for questions, however, is that the Kremlin, through their extensive propaganda machine, does influence public opinion in the United States and on the decisions, policies and procedures of corporations and organizations. Consequently, whether constituents or special interests and lobbying groups are more influential in determining what military decisions policy makers make, there is a distinct possibility that those influences (and the resulting policies) are informed by Kremlin interests. This could result in decreased military spending in favor of domestic issues (such as Trump’s decision to use military funds to build a wall on the US/Mexico border). Conversely, it could result in increased military spending on issues that are the pet-issues of the military industrial complex, such as the White House decision to increase spending on nuclear deterrence. Whether either of these decisions are “good” or “bad” is subjective. What is not subjective is the potential that the Kremlin is informing such decisions by influencing the public or special interest/lobby groups. Thus, policy makers need to be extremely cautious in analyzing how the Kremlin stands to benefit from such decisions.

Finally, the ability of special interest groups, corporations, and lobbyists to inform policy is potentially detrimental to democracy. There is a well-established pattern of Russian money being hidden in Western bank accounts, and of Russian individuals (often with clear links to the Kremlin) investing in Western economies including part ownership of corporations. It is not a stretch to say that, in this as well as most cases, money talks. Those who hold the purse strings often get the result they want. The recent case of Russian money invested in Mitch McConnell’s (the current Senate Majority Leader) own district, and the implication that it is informing his political decision making, are a solid example of this. The implications are that the Kremlin is not just influencing policy makers by influencing the public, but directly through special interest and lobby groups. The ability of such groups to influence policy can easily translate into policy about military spending and military behavior.

Now, two short disclaimers: first, not all lobby and special interest groups are bad, nor do they all undermine democracy. There are numerous such groups who represent legitimately, and widely, held perceptions of the populace. Furthermore, there are numerous such groups that further the causes of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. But, there are also many whose sole purpose is to lobby for the interests of a limited agenda, a limited number of people, or even the rights of corporations and organizations above the rights of the populace (such as the case of the anti-fracking lobby being influenced by Kremlin propaganda). Consequently, special interests and lobbies, even with the purest of intentions (and the policy makers they influence) risk becoming subservient to Kremlin interests if they are not attentive to who is informing, or paying for, their agenda.

The second disclaimer is that the description of these domestic implications is focused on the United States. However, the concerns expressed here are by no means limited to the United States. They are generalizable to all democratic country, especially those where the people are influenced by media, and where policy making is informed by special interests and lobbies.

Regional Implications

The two most prominent strategic regional issues at risk of Kremlin meddling surround the Transatlantic institutions: NATO and the EU. It is no secret that the Kremlin would love to see an end to the North Atlantic Treaty, the withdrawal of US forces from Europe, an end to transatlantic security structures and institutions, and for the US to become indifferent (or, at the most extreme, opposed) to European security. A second, but no less important strategic issues, is the general withdrawal of Western influence from Central and Eastern Europe.

Until 2016, these concerns seemed farfetched, particularly regarding NATO. However, two events since then, both of which were influence by the Kremlin, certainly pose a risk to Euro Atlantic strategic unity: the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the Brexit referendum results in the UK. Donald Trump has made it amply clear that he is not opposed to a weakening of US strategic ties with Europe, including threatening a dialing down of US forces in Europe if member states did not increase their military spending. It is not obviously known the extent to which the Kremlin has influenced this decision. But, it is also no secret that Trump has a fondness for Putin and that the Kremlin did meddle in the elections. The strategic implications of both of these is not positive for Europe, no matter how it is presented.

Furthermore, the Kremlin has influence among NATO governments, particularly the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy, and NATO partner Austria. In these cases, Kremlin influence means that partner countries will no longer share intelligence with these governments, and that Kremlin influence is growing politically and economically.

As for the second event, Brexit, the implications are particularly concerning for Eastern Europe. Within the European Union, and particularly among the large western countries (France, Germany, UK) the UK was the primary supporter of pro-Eastern Europe and anti-Russia sentiment and policy. The UK pushed hardest for Russian sanctions following the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s dirty war in Ukraine, and the missile attack on flight MH17. The UK was also a major factor in encouraging expansion of the EU (and NATO) into Eastern and Central Europe. The UK has troops in Baltic States and Poland as part of the NATO mission there. Finally, the assassination of Litvinenko, and the attempted assassination of the Skripals has solidified UK opposition toward much of the Kremlin’s agenda vis-à-vis Europe. Of course, this is not to say that London does not welcome Russian money (it very much does), but at least the UK actively opposes many anti-democratic and anti-Western policies emanating from the Kremlin while Paris and Berlin are borderline accomplices of Kremlin influence in Europe.

One potential result of a possible US drawdown of military force in Europe, and UK withdrawal from the EU, is the rise of EU-based defense and security structures headlined by France and Germany. While such a move would likely be welcome in Western Europe, there is no guarantee that such structures would prove beneficial to countries in Central and Eastern Europe, even if they are part of the EU. As of yet, there is no clear indication that they would not involve the CEES, but Paris and Berlin have extensive ties to the Kremlin including economic and political ties (though the extent to which the Kremlin influences Berlin is not certain, there are known examples of Kremlin hacking, political influencing, and economic influencing). The concern among many in the CEES is that an EU security structure without the UK would leave them on the outskirts and open to increased Kremlin influence.

International Implications

The Kremlin’s global ambitions include retaining primary influence on their near abroad and limiting US global influence. This first ambition is accomplished through military, political and societal means. Militarily, the Kremlin annexed Crimea, is operating/backing a hot war in eastern Ukraine, continues its frozen conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Moldova, and supports governmental forces in Syria and (until recently) Venezuela.

More particularly, the Kremlin is strengthening its alliance with China. The Kremlin knows that China is likely to become the militarily, economically and politically stronger of the two, but as long as it counters US influence globally, the Kremlin is content with a stronger China. Either way, the implication is that they provide an alternative global structure, one that welcomes authoritarianism instead of encouraging democracy, and that thrives on corruption, secrecy and elite kleptocracy. This certainly looks appealing to several regimes across the globe. In creating something of a “coalition of the authoritarian willing”, the Kremlin and China also find a market for their arms industries which are cheaper than US and Western arms, but still very effective in maintaining the position of elites vis-à-vis internal and external threats. Ultimately, this means that US influence, in areas heavily influenced by the US and China, will be curtailed. When US and Western influence is curtailed, so too are the values and norms (such as democracy, rule of law, transparency) that make the US and West special. It also emboldens military aggression from authoritarian regimes, such as we are currently seeing in Ukraine.

The ultimate implication across the board is that the Kremlin does not need to militarily attack the West to undermine its values and influence. Through disinformation, media manipulation, and political and economic coercion, the Kremlin can enhance societal divisions to such an extent that it undermines Western military strength and unity, and stymies support for Western causes across the globe. In the process, it strengthens its own (and allies) military and political influence. As this continues the US will cease to be a global hegemon and the international geostrategic system will, truly, become multi-polar or bi-polar wherein one side is the democratic West (though divided), and the other the authoritarian “east” comprised of China, Russia, and other like-minded regimes.

Solutions

The underlying causes of any threat to the West and its institutions and values (democracy, rule of law, human rights, transparency) are the self-interested and individualistic nature of Western society, and the nature of democracy in which there are winners and losers. The Kremlin is able to exacerbate societal differences with a mixture of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda, and to abuse democratic means and institutions to drive political, economic and societal division across the West.

Yet, the most viable solution to Kremlin influence is not to significantly alter the nature of society or democracy, but to use their existing strengths to counter Kremlin influence. All of the recommendations outlined above have value and, where possible, should be pursued across Western democracies. However, they are not enough. Because in representative democracies (as are nearly all Western democracies) political power lies with the people, and they select representatives to do their will, solutions must include cleaning up democracy and returning power to the people. This can be accomplished in several ways, four of which are presented here.

First, limit the influence of lobby groups, special interest groups and corporations. For those countries (primarily the US) where candidates for public office can receive private campaign donations, prohibit donations from any donors other than individuals: this includes prohibiting donations from lobby groups, special interest groups, corporations, or even political parties. Furthermore, clearly limit the total amount of donations any individual may receive, and the total amount they may receive from any one donor. These steps would limit the Kremlin’s influence through groups and corporations, and influence from individuals who may also be coerced by Kremlin disinformation.

Second, implement term limits on all public offices, whether elected or not. Term limits reduce the risk of an institutionalized elite (who, generally, are closely tied with societal and economic elites) and the risk of malign foreign influence through established relations. Furthermore, constantly rotating political elites, in addition to limiting the power of special interests, lobbies, corporations means representatives will be more likely to listen to and adhere to the interests of their constituents.

Third, all official interactions with representatives from other countries must be attended by at least three individuals, one of whom must change every interaction, and all interactions (unless for strategic reasons) must be made available, in full, to any member of the public.

Fourth, and I believe most important, adopt a code of conduct for representatives which outlines accepted (and unaccepted) behavioral and speech norms. These norms will allow them to disagree with other representatives and peopl, without being disagreeable. It will be structured so as to foster openness and honesty in all public discourse (whether debates and campaigning, interactions within governmental branches, interactions with any foreign actors, or any other official dialogue). Representatives who violate these norms will be subject to discipline ending, eventually, in removal. Such a policy would not limit freedom of expression but would ensure that all formal communication is civil.

The first three recommendations mean that democracy will truly be more democratic than at present. When democracies truly engage the demos, the laws are more representative. This, alone, will begin to unite society. The fourth recommendation will ensure that our representatives, our leaders, provide a solid example of how our interactions with each other ought to be: civil.

Now, my concluding argument is to embrace the policies proposed at the conferences. Those proposals were well-thought-out, timely, practical and, ultimately, would be effective at hobbling Kremlin influence in the West. But, they are not enough. They, alone, will not solve the deeper problem. And, if we do not address the root problem, the Kremlin will continue to find new ways of dividing society and, in the process, weakening democracy. A wholistic solution involves legislation that counters Kremlin assaults directly, and policies that strengthen and unify democracy as outlined above.

Jeremy W. Lamoreaux is an associate professor of international studies and political science at Brigham Young University – Idaho. His research focuses on relations between the West and Russia as played out in traditional and non-traditional security arenas. He has published in European Security, European Politics and Society, Geopolitics, Journal on Baltic Security, Journal of Baltic Studies, Palgrave Communications, IJSCC,  and with Routledge and Rodopi. His current research focuses on the EU-Russia relationship post-Brexit and on the role of religion in that relationship. He was one of the contributing authors on the May 2019 White Paper on the Russian Strategic Intentions published by the Pentagon’s Office for Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA)

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

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Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More