Friday, September 30, 2005

Russian Democracy in Danger: Carnegie Essay by Ex-Swedish Diplomat

I would like to introduce a policy brief published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, entitled “Putin’s Decline and America’s Response”. This article is written by Anders Åslund, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, and former Swedish diplomat. I pay attention to this brief for three reasons.

1. As Putin is getting authoritarian, Russia is going to be increasingly corrupt and instable. Also, Russian foreign policy has become high-handed as in the case of intervention to Ukrainian presidential election.

2. The author advocates US-led effort for democracy in Russia. He is an ex-diplomat of Sweden. Therefore, people understand that the Bush administration’s endeavor for global democracy has become a common agenda in the Atlantic community.

3. The US and Russia must pursue policy cooperation in some areas of common interest like non-proliferation and energy development.

According to the policy brief, Putin pursued democracy and market economy in his first term (2000~2004). However, in the second term, his regime has become extremely centralized to manage domestic challenges such as oligarchs and the Chechnya conflict. As the author mentions, the Putin administration is based on the KGB mafia. For these elites, oligarchs, Islamic terrorists, and democracy in Ukraine, are serious problems. In order to deal with these challenges, Putin arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the chief executive of Yukos Oil Company. Since then, oligarch influence on Russian politics decreased. Russia has become increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic.

Over-centralization of power makes the Putin regime instable. Putin deprived Local governments, the parliament, and the council of ministers of most of their power. As a result, checks and balances have been minimized. Currently, the KGB mafia dominates Putin’s government and state-owned enterprises. In a situation like this, the regime has become corrupt. As Putin smashed the opposition, his KGB friends have become the most critical challengers to his leadership. When things get worse, some powerful men surrounding the president may conspire a coup d’état. Putin was just a lieutenant colonel at KGB. Higher rank officials may not respect him. Also, popular uprising may happen, as it did in Polish Solidarity case. Anyway, things are not so optimistic, according to this article.

In order to manage current political turmoil in Russia, Anders Åslund advises that the United States send civil activity groups to monitor election. He says it was fraud election that hundred democratization in Russia. In his view, whether Russia accepts US-led election monitoring or not, is vital to test Russia’s commitment to further democracy and improving relations with the West.

He presents several recommendations to election monitoring. Among them, I would like to pick up one comment. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the most successful movements against authoritarian regime were undertaken by college students. There are some examples, such as Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia, and Belarus.

He insists that the United States should support civil movements for democracy, if Putin sponsors autocrats in the former Soviet Union as he did in Ukraine. Russia can no longer turn down US pressure for freedom, because its influence in this region is diminishing. In Ukraine, Freedom House has made an outstanding accomplishment to sponsor students’ activities for democracy.

On the other hand, he insists that the United States and Russia promote further cooperation in the areas of common interest. Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a vital concern for both countries. In energy resource development, the West invested heavily in Russia. Russia needs Western help to increase its oil production.

Can the West demand democracy to Russia, while promoting further cooperation in non-proliferation and energy? The author says Russia needs to satisfy Western request, because it chairs the G8 summit next year.

It is very important to understand that the Bush administration’s agenda for global democracy is based on common notion of the American nation, or more broadly, the Atlantic community. This essay is written by a former Swedish diplomat. Readers can understand that his advocacy for US-led democracy is accepted in Continental Europe. This is no longer Anglo-American viewpoint. Also, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a centrist think tank.

In a democratized Russia, Putin’s KGB friends will be kicked out from state-owned oil companies. This will be good news for Western business. A Russia like this will not try to establish close relations with China to stand against the West. It will not pursue neo-czarist diplomacy in the former Soviet Union. What happens in Russia, the Northern Giant, will have a great effect on Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. We should keep an eye on this country.