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)

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.

Joint Call of Parliamentarians on the condition of Alexei Navalny in prison

Apr 08 2021

April 8, 2021

We, the undersigned, are shocked and troubled by the most recent news of Alexei Navalny’s condition in prison. 

Russia’s leading opposition figure is reported to suffer severe back pain with losing sensitivity in parts of his legs. It is no more than six months since he survived a vicious poisoning attack with a nerve agent that has long-term crippling effects on his health. In prison, he is systematically denied any medical treatment. On top, prison guards wake him up every hour at night, a practice amounting to torture by sleep deprivation according to his lawyers. This is why medical experts called on the Russian authorities to allow Mr. Navalny’s treatment and why he himself now resorted to a hunger strike. Let’s not forget: Mr. Navalny’s incarceration itself is a travesty of justice – he was formally sent to prison for not checking in with Russian authorities on a fabricated case (as confirmed by European Court of Human Rights) when he was recuperating in Germany from poisoning and subsequent coma.

Russian authorities with its secret services tried to kill Alexei Navalny last August, they may now be attempting the same, in a slower, even more cynical way. 

Europe has offered Alexei Navalny a place to recover from the attempt at his life. Specialized labs in Germany, France and Sweden confirmed the assassination attempt used Novichok, an internationally banned chemical weapon. Angela Merkel personally met Mr Navalny in hospital and many other Western leaders expressed their solidarity after the poisoning attack. We need to intervene again. 

We urge Russia to immediately allow medical treatment of Alexei Navalny and release him from prison. We call on the EU Council as well as EU member states’ leaders to reach out to Russian authorities to request the immediate release of Alexei Navalny, which was mandated by European Court of Human Rights’ decision in February 2021. In addition, we demand the EU Council task EU ambassador to Russia to conduct, together partners from the UK, Canada and the US, a visit of the prison facility and meet Alexei Navalny. It is critical now that Alexei Navalny’s fate became the symbol of injustice many thousands face because of increasing brutality of Russian regime against its own citizens. 

In December 2020, the EU launched its Global Human Rights Sanction Regime modelled on so-called Magnitsky Act. This law has been inspired by one Sergei Magnitsky, a brave Russian lawyer who was tortured to death in prison in 2009 – he was systematically denied treatment when he developed a serious medical condition. We still can act now in case of Alexei Navalny so we avoid commemorating later.

Marek HILSER, Senator, Czech Republic

Andrius KUBILIUS, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Lukas WAGENKNECHT, Senator, Czech Republic

Žygimantas PAVILIONIS, MP, Lithuania

Miroslav BALATKA, Senator, Czech Republic

André GATTOLIN, Senator, France

Mikulas BEK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Nicolae ŞTEFĂNUȚĂ, MEP, Renew, Romania

David SMOLJAK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Petras AUŠTREVIČIUS, MEP, Renew, Lithuania

Tomas FIALA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Liudas MAŽYLIS, MEP, EPP Lithuania

Zdenek NYTRA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Dace MELBĀRDE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan SOBOTKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Matas MALDEIKIS, MP, Lithuania

Jiri RUZICKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Bernard GUETTA, MEP, Renew, France

Jaromira VITKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Rasa JUKNEVIČIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Petr OREL, Senator, Czech Republic 

Tomasz FRANKOWSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland 

Miroslava NEMCOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Hermann TERTSCH, MEP, ECR, Spain

Premysl RABAS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Aušra MALDEIKIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Ladislav KOS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Attila ARA-KOVÁCS, MEP, S&D, Hungary

Sarka JELINKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Erik MARQUARDT, MEP, Greens, Germany

Pavel FISCHER, Senator, Czech Republic

Pernille WEISS, MEP, EPP, Denmark

Helena LANGSADLOVA, MP, Czech Republic

Roberts ZĪLE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan LIPAVSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Klemen GROŠELJ, MEP, Renew, Slovenia

Pavel ZACEK, MP, Czech Republic

Riho TERRAS, MEP, EPP, Estonia

Ondrej BENESIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Miriam LEXMANN, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Frantisek KOPRIVA, MP, Czech Republic 

Sandra KALNIETE, MEP, EPP, Latvia

Petr GAZDIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Jerzy BUZEK, MEP, EPP, Poland

Tomas MARTINEK, MP, Czech Republic 

Janina OCHOJSKA, MEP, EPP, Poland

Jan BARTOSEK, MP, Czech Republic

Eugen TOMAC, MEP, EPP, Romania

Jan FARSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Ivan ŠTEFANEC, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Roman SKLENAK, MP, Czech Republic

Krzysztof HETMAN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Frantisek VACHA, MP, Czech Republic

Ivars IJABS, MEP, Renew, Latvia

Marek VYBORNY, MP, Czech Republic

Franc BOGOVIČ, MEP, EPP, Slovenia

Zbynek STANJURA, MP, Czech Republic

Radvilė MORKŪNAITĖ-MIKULĖNIENĖ, MP, Lithuania

Petr FIALA, MP, Czech Republic

Raphaël GLUCKSMANN, MEP, S&D, France

Vít RAKUSAN, MP, Czech Republic

Juozas OLEKAS, MEP, S&D, Lithuania

Jaroslav VYMAZAL, MP, Czech Republic

Assita KANKO, MEP, ECR, Belgium

Adela SIPOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Radosław SIKORSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Róża THUN UND HOHENSTEIN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Javier NART, MEP, Renew, Spain

Andrzej HALICKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Alexander ALEXANDROV YORDANOV, MEP, EPP, Bulgaria

Ondřej KOVAŘÍK, MEP, Renew, Czech Republic

Andreas SCHIEDER, MEP, S&D, Austria

Leopoldo LÓPEZ GIL, MEP, EPP, Spain

Sergey LAGODINSKY, MEP, Greens, Germany

Antonio LÓPEZ-ISTÚRIZ WHITE, MEP, EPP, Spain

Marketa GREGOROVA, MEP, Greens, Czech Republic

Lolita ČIGĀNE, MP, Latvia

Marko MIHKELSON, MP, Estonia

Renata CHMELOVA, Czech Republic

Bogdan KLICH, Senator, Republic of Poland

Transatlantic Interparliamentary Statement on Unprecedented Mass Arrest of Russian Pro-Democracy Leaders on March 13, 2021

Mar 25 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 25, 2021

Contacts:
Honourable Irwin Cotler, PC, OC, OQ, Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights
+1 514.735.8778
Natalia Arno, Free Russia Foundation
+1 202.549.2417

TRANSATLANTIC INTERPARLIAMENTARY STATEMENT
On unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders on March 13, 2021

“We, the undersigned members of the foreign affairs committees of legislatures around the world – the duly elected democratic voices of our constituents and countries – unreservedly condemn the unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders. 

A violation of the Russian constitution and of the country’s international legal obligations, these unjust and arbitrary arrests are an assault on the last bastion of the Russian democratic movement. United in common cause, we call for an end to Putin’s punitive persecution and prosecutions of Russian civil society leaders, the release of all political prisoners, and the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Russia’s architects of repression.

The crimes perpetrated by Putin’s regime against the Russian people and against the international community have been deadly and are well-documented. Left unchecked, its internal repression has often morphed into external aggression. Wars, murders, theft, embezzlement, nuclear blackmail, disinformation, election interference — they are so numerous and now so well-known, that we feel no need to enumerate all of them in this letter. Under the cover of Covid restrictions, we have seen a further intensification of these trends.

Last year, Putin’s regime illegally amended the Russian constitution, executing a constitutional coup, allowing Putin to stay in power indefinitely and thereby formalizing the Russian transition to authoritarianism. 

In January, he arrested Aleksey Navalny, who was punished with a nearly three-year prison term for not meeting his parole obligations because he was out of the country convalescing from a state-sponsored assassination attempt. Putin then brutally suppressed the nation-wide protests that emerged in Navalny’s support, arbitrarily arresting thousands, and launching criminal prosecutions against them.

On March 13th, security services entered a perfectly lawful Congress of elected municipal deputies and detained nearly 200 people for not adhering to the Kremlin’s command of how to interact with local constituents. In today’s Russia, disagreeing with Putin is not tolerated, and those who do find themselves in jail or worse.

Some of those detained included elected leaders like Ilya Yashin and Maxim Reznik, pro-democracy reformers Andrey Pivovarov and Anastasia Burakova, and popular politician Vladimir Kara-Murza. Mr. Kara-Murza is a top public intellectual and opposition leader whose transformative work on behalf of the Russian people has had a global resonance. His vision and values – eloquently conveyed with a uniquely compelling moral clarity and commitment, often before our respective legislatures – led to his earlier being targeted by the regime for assassination, attempts on his life that he survived twice. The work of such courageous leaders continues to be a source of inspiration in our pursuit of collective peace, security, and dignity for all.

For a society to succeed it must have a set of principles and values that guides it. Most notably, this includes a legal system that honors the rights of all its people and not solely for those who deem themselves leaders and the sycophants who profit from them.

Sadly, these recent developments demonstrate yet again that only Putin’s criminality and impunity prevail in Russia today. The way the regime runs its politics is indistinguishable from the way it runs its foreign policy and its business dealings. To indulge such malign behavior by the Kremlin toward those it disagrees with is to encourage its corrosive behavior in all these other areas.

The democracies of the world have a choice: maintain a normal relationship with a rogue state, continuing to send the message that its treatment of its own citizens is to be overlooked, and its malicious activities are to be condoned. Or, sending a clear and compelling message: that until the Kremlin reverses its troubling trajectory, the current status quo will be unacceptable. This includes targeted sanctions against Putin and his corrupt and criminal cronies – such as canceling access to our banking system, business ties, and safe harbor in our best neighborhoods and schools – ensuring that they cannot enjoy the liberties in our countries that they deny their compatriots in theirs. 

For the sake of a free Russia and a free world, we trust democracies will make the right choice.”

Rasa Jukneviciene, Member of the European Parliament

Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament

Miriam Lexmann, Member of the European Parliament

Pavel Fischer, Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of the Senate of the Czech Republic

Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Richards Kols, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Latvia

Žygimantas Pavilions, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Bogdan Klich, Senator, Chairman of the Foreign and European Union Committee of the Senate of the Republic of Poland

Eerik Niiles Kross, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Emanuelis Zingeris, Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Benjamin L. Cardin, Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation; Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Bill Keating, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations and Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment

Brian Fitzpatrick, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations

Kimberley Kitching, Senator, Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, Deputy Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia

Chris Bryant, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Bob Seely, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Urgent and Concrete Steps to Stop Putin’s Global Assassination Campaigns

Feb 11 2021

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian pro-democracy advocate, was closely tracked by an FSB assassination squad when he suffered perplexing and near-fatal medical emergencies that sent him into coma in 2015 and 2017, establishes a new investigation by the Bellingcat group

Documents uncovered by Bellingcat show that this is the same assassination squad implicated in the August 2020 assassination attempt on Alexey Navalny and whose member has inadvertently confirmed the operation in a phone call with Navalny.   

Bellingcat has also established the FSB unit’s involvement in the murder of three Russian activists, all of whom died under unusual but similar circumstances. 

Taken together, these independent nongovernment investigations establish the fact of systemic, large-scale extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Putin’s government against its critics inside and outside of Russia, including with chemical weapons banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to formally investigate and prosecute Putin’s government for these crimes. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the Biden Administration to direct the FBI to release investigation materials surrounding the assassination attempts against Vladimir Kara-Murza that have been denied to him thus far. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to articulate measures to compel Russia to free Alexey Navalny from his illegal incarceration where his life remains in dire danger. 

Free Russia Foundation condemns in strongest terms today’s court sentence announced to Alexey Navalny

Feb 02 2021

Continued detention of Navalny is illegal and he must be freed immediately. Suppression of peaceful protests and mass arrests of Russian citizens must stop, and the Kremlin must release all those illegally detained and imprisoned on political motives. Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community, the US and European leadership, to move beyond expressions of concern and articulate a set of meaningful instruments to compel the Kremlin to stop its atrocities.