Tag Archives: Maria Snegovaya

WEDNESDAY APRIL 15

10:00 AM WASHINGTON, DC / 16:00 BRUSSELS

ONLINE PRESENTATION OF RESEARCH PAPER “CONCEPTUALIZING MALIGN INFLUENCE OF PUTIN’S RUSSIA IN EUROPE”

 

The link for the presentation will be available upon registration. Please REGISTER HERE

Today’s expert literature on the Kremlin’s subversive activities in Europe is often confusing in terms of the concepts and definitions used by authors in their reports and analyses. The paper aims to remedy this shortcoming by providing a comprehensive theoretical framework for analyzing the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe in the most efficient way.

The paper highlights major areas in which actors of Putin’s Russia exercise malign influence, identify main categories of Russian operators and their European facilitators that conduct or help conduct the Kremlin’s political warfare against the West, and, finally, describes vulnerabilities of European states to malign influence of Putin’s Russia.

Speakers:

– Anton Shekhovtsov, FRF Senior Fellow

– Melissa Hooper, Director of Europe and Eurasia Policy at Human Rights First

– Maria Snegovaya, Adjunct Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis

Moderator:

– Grigory Frolov, FRF Vice President, Programs and Development

To whom and why did Russian President Vladimir Putin address in his impressively aggressive Federal Assembly speech delivered on March 1st? As usual, the pundits disagree. Domestic policy experts say it was clearly a pre-electoral address, designed to communicate to voters the image of Russia as a strong superpower ahead of the March 18th presidential election. Foreign policy experts argue that Putin’s address was to get the attention of the United States and, more broadly, the West, as relations between Moscow and Washington deteriorate.

It is possible, however, that Putin had both in mind. First, his message clearly targets a domestic audience. Putin built his entire presidential campaign in this electoral round — if one can speak of it at all — around the slogan “Strong president, strong Russia.” Moreover, Putin’s emphasis on defense and a military buildup as evident from his pre-electoral trips, such as his visit to the Ufa Engine Industrial Association, which assembles long-range bombers as well as motors for military helicopters. These appearances underscore Putin’s effort to restore Russia’s superpower status and shape foreign policy during his upcoming fourth term as president. So, it only makes sense that the Federal Address — intentionally postponed from December to March, closer to the election itself — contained elements of aggressive anti-Western rhetoric and muscle-flexing. The election’s symbolic meaning is further driven home by holding it on March 18th, the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, rather than on March 11th, as required by law.

It is not surprising that Putin’s domestic agenda fuels his aggressive foreign policy. Political analysts have long stated that in 2014, the Kremlin had to mobilize unprecedented resources to generate public support for the Ukraine conflict to levels seen during the 2008 Georgia war. In 2014, most state TV channels switched to almost nonstop 24-hour coverage designed to make Russians believe they were under siege.  Having to resort to extreme propaganda to get Russians to rally around their flag suggests that support for the regime’s policies is running out. That means the Kremlin will have to spend more and more resources to maintain the same levels of approval — and Putin’s Federal Assembly address is proof of that.

Second, constant references to Western betrayal and video footage of Russia’s updated weaponry is a response to Russia’s recent foreign policy failures and scandals. These include the U.S. attack on Russian mercenaries in Syria, the embarrassing doping scandal that nullified Russia’s achievements in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and continued throughout this year’s winter games in PyeongChang. Moreover, Moscow has failed to stop the West from renewing existing anti-Kremlin sanctions or passing new ones, further driving the discontent of Russian elites. The Kremlin sees all this as a demonstration of anti-Russia plots by the West. Note that some pro-Kremlin commentators have even tried to portray the recent Argentine cocaine scandal as a U.S. conspiracy against Russia. In many ways, Putin’s aggressive anti-Western rhetoric looked like a delayed response to those foreign policy failures, rather like fist-waving after losing a fight. This is not the first time the Kremlin resorts to aggressive, threatening rhetoric in retaliation for what it sees as a Western plot against Russia; in 2014, Moscow portrayed its war with Ukraine as revenge for the U.S. attempts to implement a color revolution in that country. Similarly, the recent Gazprom decision to terminate gas contracts with Ukraine also came as retaliation to its loss of an arbitrage dispute to Naftogaz.

An important but often forgotten foreign constituency of interest to the Kremlin is a set of nations — including China, Iran, India, and Vietnam — that Russia sees as allies in building up a coalition to challenge “U.S. global hegemony.” Those countries also typically buy Russian arms — and could have been potential targets of the weapons Putin advertised in his speech.

Lastly, by portraying Russia as a rogue state the Kremlin aims to split the international system into two camps of soft- and hardliners, by fostering a divide in Western unity. The idea is that the soft-liners, scared by the threats and the aggressive rhetoric, are more likely to negotiate with Russia and lift the sanctions.

In short, Putin’s address appears to have targeted several groups, yet the Kremlin’s overall goal remains the same: to retain power for as long as possible and, apparently, at almost any price.

This article first appeared at the CEPA site.

When one examines the rise of right-wing populism in Russia and Europe, it is curious that Russia reproduces the rhetoric seen elsewhere in Europe in a somewhat distorted manner. When one venture outside of Russia this becomes evident. No matter where you live, your country will likely consider itself completely unique. In Hungary, you will be told that there is hardly any other country similar to Hungary in the whole world. In the US the theme of “American exceptionalism” in both good ways and bad, is very evident in politics. All countries, despite their own peculiarities, react in one way or another to the same processes of economic, political and cultural globalization currently taking place in our world.

In Russia, it could be argued that Putin, not Navalny, is the main right-wing populist force in Russian politics, even though both draw support from those who feel uneasy about the processes of globalization. Putin, as well as Orban and his Fidesz party in Hungary and Kaczynski and the Law & Justice party in Poland, are, one way or another, the result of public irritation from the economic transit in these countries and dissatisfaction with the results of reforms and the desire to acquire stability, often seen as a return to the past.

Since political and economic transitions happen simultaneously in our respective countries, we similarly tend to blame democracy for our own economic problems. People simply do not separate that these countries simultaneously democratized and conducted market reforms. In people’s minds, these processes overlapped. Accordingly, the situation often results from economic problems within the population, but democracy is still the scapegoat. In Russia, democracy was destroyed, but the tightening of screws was approved by the majority.

Recall the discourse from the beginning of the 2000s, that we need a strong hand, we need to temper the chaos of sovereign democracy, and in Orban’s words – the chaos of illiberal democracy. In this sense, there is a parallel, in my opinion, between the European right-wing populists and Putin. However, Alexei Navalny joins the populism trend as well by addressing the migration issue.

It is important to clarify that the Russian system is undemocratic. It is essential because the traditional understanding of the political field as a zero-sum game, where parties compete for certain groups of target electorate, does not quite fit. Just try to distinguish the “Fair Russia” party from the “United Russia”: one is leftish, another slightly right, but in practice, they have no ideological differences.

Alexei Navalny has a lot of freedom of action. He has fertile soil, because the government parties have no real ideological platform, except for “we will elect Putin for a new term, he does everything right”. This is important to remember.

Russia has the same problem as in the rest of the world. That is, there is a crisis of globalization, there is a population group, the “second Russia” where incomes do not grow or stagnate and adaptation to the market is fraught with problems. The stagnation of the Russian economy is happening because the regime has reached the point where all the incentives for growth are destroyed, and oil prices are not high enough to give an impetus to the economy. In this situation, from the political point of view, Aleksei Navalny now faces the task of expanding his electorate, he seeks to get beyond the 10% marginal opposition. And in order to expand, he needs to talk about the problems that are relevant for a great many of people.

Navalny tries to find, as far as I understand his approach, points that would unite people around his campaign. The topic of corruption is what most Russians care about, they understand this as a problem.

Of course, Alexei and other pro-democratic politicians react to the same challenges as the European political forces. That’s why, in my opinion, he is now combining a cultural right program, in the sense that he combines the rhetoric about immigration, the nation, the construction of the Russian nation, “Russia for Russians” and “stop feeding the Caucasus” with a fairly left economic platform. This approach allows you to go beyond the narrow marginal opposition niche, as the stagnation of income worries many Russians today.

Such a combination of the national agenda with redistribution is characteristic of many Western right populist parties. Navalny and his allies are learning from successful Western politicians. In this sense, there is certainly a similarity between the Russian and European processes.

A section of Russian analysts view the political potential for protests in Russia in the near future with scepticism: in the conditions of an economic crisis, Russians- adapting to the crisis – prefer to occupy themselves with vegetable gardens rather than with demonstrations.

Continue reading Economic Crisis and The Protests