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

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

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

Oct 26 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 06 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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