Russian foreign policy: disruption and reflection of domestic policies

Jun 18 2018

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president.

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. The panelists argued that Russian foreign policy is largely a reflection of domestic developments, that there is a distinction between the Kremlin regime and Russia itself, and that thoughtful engagement and cooperation is needed between Russia and the West.

The panel included:

Andrei Kozyrev, a Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1990-1996)
Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia; Former Deputy Leader of the People’s Freedom Party
Vitali Shkliarov, Russian Political Strategist; Former Senior Campaign Adviser to Ksenia Sobchak

Russian foreign policy: a disruptive approach intertwined with domestic politics

Natalia Arno said that there are many voices in the West that call for forgetting past disputes and starting a dialogue with Russia to tackle global challenges, but it is important to remember “how Putin acts and why he started to act like he does.” “The phenomenon of disruption,” said Arno, “is the main choice for his foreign policy.” The West’s failure to take serious steps after the war in Georgia in 2008, she said, contributed to the expansion of disruptive strategies in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, and it is unlikely that Putin will stop there. “While we are trying to understand his policies, we should always remember it is very beneficial for him to act in a disruptive way on the international arena.”

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russia’s course in turning away from an “open-minded” foreign policy during 18 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule has partly been a consequence of a “sense of betrayal by the West,” such as the expansion of NATO. The “betrayal” rationale is how Putin explains the shift in foreign policy to himself and to the people of Russia, “selling” a story of “us against them” that helps Putin “unite people” backing him. The escalation of tensions and Western sanctions have only helped Putin entrench this message, supported by a perfected propaganda machine. “Over the years that has become his [Putin’s] mantra,” said Shkliarov, adding that the West’s actions to push Russia into isolation are only contributing to this.

“When we talk about Putin’s foreign policy,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, “it is very important to keep in mind that his foreign policy is a reflection and a function of a continuation of his domestic politics.”  He refuted the concept of an “early, middle and late Putin,” saying that the authoritarian trends of his rule, which have now “reached extremes,” have been present since the beginning. Western leaders have largely preferred to ignore domestic repressions within Russia, in an effort to preserve the “modus operandi” of international cooperation, thus pursuing their own interests over values, yet this strategy has turned out to be shortsighted. “Mr. Putin has shown it is just a matter of time before domestic repression translates into external aggression,” said Kara-Murza.  He said Russian foreign policy has always been determined by the domestic situation.  The world will see a completely different foreign policy take effect with a democratic change in Russia, as was the case prior to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, he said.

Andrei Kozyrev said it is essential to “distinguish between Russian national interest and the regime’s interests,” and the current foreign policy is completely contrary to the Russian national interest. Portraying the West as an enemy has helped justify the seizure of power by the security services, “rather than a democratically elected government.” Russian involvement in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts is contrary to the national interest, said Kozyrev, and Russia needs cooperation and partnerships with “most developed countries in the world” in order to become a modern country. In fact, said Kozyrev, he does not see real conflicting interests in U.S. and Russian foreign policy that make cooperation impossible. “Russia and the U.S. cooperate in outer space, so it only takes one step to descend from outer space to the earth, and it depends on domestic development in Russia,” said Kozyrev.


Engaging with Russia

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russians and Americans have to try to find a way for dialogue. The current U.S. president, he said, “is building a bridge with the most aggressive dictator” of North Korea, so why wouldn’t engagement between the U.S. and Russia work? Communication is very important in building dialogue and there is scope for cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in other global challenges, said Shkliarov. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” said Shkliarov, but noted that at the moment it feels like “there is no will on either side.” 

Natalia Arno said a policy of deterrence, containment and engagement should be applied towards Russia. Russian civil society, independent media and pro-democratic forces could be engaged in dialogue, said Arno, adding that behind the headlines there is actually a growing grassroots movement in Russia. Arno said there are more and more young people demanding change in Russia, and more people are participating in local politics – the only level of government left where democratically minded people can act. An example of this, she said, is last year’s successful municipal elections in Moscow, where the democratic opposition candidates became the second largest political power in the capital after the ruling party. These “new institutionalized sprouts of pro-democracy forces” are examples of who needs to be engaged in the dialogue, said Arno. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza said contact with civil society is important, but there is also the question of engagement with the regime, and the quality of engagement. Even during the most difficult periods of the Cold War, said Kara-Murza, Western leaders were able to successfully negotiate arms control agreements and often secure the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. He said that with more than 150 political prisoners in Russia today, and the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov – the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who demands the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia – there are not a lot of Western leaders who prominently raise this issue. “It is not about engaging or not engaging, it is not a question of talking or not talking with Putin’s regime – it is a question of what you talk about, […] it is about engaging with principles and engaging smartly.”

Andrei Kozyrev said that for any engagement to be successful, diplomatic efforts and thoughtful, prepared agreements are necessary, rather than just “engagement which ends with hugs and kisses.” Authoritarian leaders, said Kozyrev, dislike democracy, but “they also like to be seen as accepted by Western leaders because it plays to their domestic image of tough but respected,” said Kozyrev. Yet engagement is important and possible, said Kozyrev – “it is important to see where you can cooperate and where not.”

By Valeria Jegisman

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. The panelists argued that Russian foreign policy is largely a reflection of domestic developments, that there is a distinction between the Kremlin regime and Russia itself, and that thoughtful engagement and cooperation is needed between Russia and the West.

The panel included:

Andrei Kozyrev, a Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1990-1996)
Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia; Former Deputy Leader of the People’s Freedom Party
Vitali Shkliarov, Russian Political Strategist; Former Senior Campaign Adviser to Ksenia Sobchak

Russian foreign policy: a disruptive approach intertwined with domestic politics

Natalia Arno said that there are many voices in the West that call for forgetting past disputes and starting a dialogue with Russia to tackle global challenges, but it is important to remember “how Putin acts and why he started to act like he does.” “The phenomenon of disruption,” said Arno, “is the main choice for his foreign policy.” The West’s failure to take serious steps after the war in Georgia in 2008, she said, contributed to the expansion of disruptive strategies in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, and it is unlikely that Putin will stop there. “While we are trying to understand his policies, we should always remember it is very beneficial for him to act in a disruptive way on the international arena.”

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russia’s course in turning away from an “open-minded” foreign policy during 18 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule has partly been a consequence of a “sense of betrayal by the West,” such as the expansion of NATO. The “betrayal” rationale is how Putin explains the shift in foreign policy to himself and to the people of Russia, “selling” a story of “us against them” that helps Putin “unite people” backing him. The escalation of tensions and Western sanctions have only helped Putin entrench this message, supported by a perfected propaganda machine. “Over the years that has become his [Putin’s] mantra,” said Shkliarov, adding that the West’s actions to push Russia into isolation are only contributing to this.

“When we talk about Putin’s foreign policy,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, “it is very important to keep in mind that his foreign policy is a reflection and a function of a continuation of his domestic politics.”  He refuted the concept of an “early, middle and late Putin,” saying that the authoritarian trends of his rule, which have now “reached extremes,” have been present since the beginning. Western leaders have largely preferred to ignore domestic repressions within Russia, in an effort to preserve the “modus operandi” of international cooperation, thus pursuing their own interests over values, yet this strategy has turned out to be shortsighted. “Mr. Putin has shown it is just a matter of time before domestic repression translates into external aggression,” said Kara-Murza.  He said Russian foreign policy has always been determined by the domestic situation.  The world will see a completely different foreign policy take effect with a democratic change in Russia, as was the case prior to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, he said.

Andrei Kozyrev said it is essential to “distinguish between Russian national interest and the regime’s interests,” and the current foreign policy is completely contrary to the Russian national interest. Portraying the West as an enemy has helped justify the seizure of power by the security services, “rather than a democratically elected government.” Russian involvement in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts is contrary to the national interest, said Kozyrev, and Russia needs cooperation and partnerships with “most developed countries in the world” in order to become a modern country. In fact, said Kozyrev, he does not see real conflicting interests in U.S. and Russian foreign policy that make cooperation impossible. “Russia and the U.S. cooperate in outer space, so it only takes one step to descend from outer space to the earth, and it depends on domestic development in Russia,” said Kozyrev.


Engaging with Russia

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russians and Americans have to try to find a way for dialogue. The current U.S. president, he said, “is building a bridge with the most aggressive dictator” of North Korea, so why wouldn’t engagement between the U.S. and Russia work? Communication is very important in building dialogue and there is scope for cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in other global challenges, said Shkliarov. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” said Shkliarov, but noted that at the moment it feels like “there is no will on either side.” 

Natalia Arno said a policy of deterrence, containment and engagement should be applied towards Russia. Russian civil society, independent media and pro-democratic forces could be engaged in dialogue, said Arno, adding that behind the headlines there is actually a growing grassroots movement in Russia. Arno said there are more and more young people demanding change in Russia, and more people are participating in local politics – the only level of government left where democratically minded people can act. An example of this, she said, is last year’s successful municipal elections in Moscow, where the democratic opposition candidates became the second largest political power in the capital after the ruling party. These “new institutionalized sprouts of pro-democracy forces” are examples of who needs to be engaged in the dialogue, said Arno. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza said contact with civil society is important, but there is also the question of engagement with the regime, and the quality of engagement. Even during the most difficult periods of the Cold War, said Kara-Murza, Western leaders were able to successfully negotiate arms control agreements and often secure the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. He said that with more than 150 political prisoners in Russia today, and the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov – the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who demands the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia – there are not a lot of Western leaders who prominently raise this issue. “It is not about engaging or not engaging, it is not a question of talking or not talking with Putin’s regime – it is a question of what you talk about, […] it is about engaging with principles and engaging smartly.”

Andrei Kozyrev said that for any engagement to be successful, diplomatic efforts and thoughtful, prepared agreements are necessary, rather than just “engagement which ends with hugs and kisses.” Authoritarian leaders, said Kozyrev, dislike democracy, but “they also like to be seen as accepted by Western leaders because it plays to their domestic image of tough but respected,” said Kozyrev. Yet engagement is important and possible, said Kozyrev – “it is important to see where you can cooperate and where not.”

By Valeria Jegisman

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.

More

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

Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS More