Lyndon linked me about Nashi’s “Connecting with the President” or the “President’s Liaison Officer” campaign, so I’ll return the favor by liking his lucid breakdown of Nashi’s marketing-activist tactics. As he concludes:
The idea of using Nashi partisans as electronic “go-betweens” to/from the President (the passers-by receive special SIM-cards which will also be able to receive “all essential information about the movement’s activities,” per this description of the event) is an intriguing modern take on the Soviet idea of a loyal vanguard, though it’s supposedly an exercise in “modern democracy” (“sovremennaia demokratiia”).
I agree. What strikes me is not only how media savvy this all is, but also how these methods can be found among activists on the left and the right all over the world. The question all this poses for me is how much of Nashi’s participation in Russia’s “modern democracy” is symbolic of democratic practice around the world?
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Russian forces have killed Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist responsible for the Beslan attack, in counterinsurgent operations in Ingushetia on Monday. Ingush Deputy Prime Minister Bashir Aushev confirmed his death. “Fragments of the bodies of two militants were found on the scene of the explosion. Basayev’s body has been identified through some of the fragments, including his head,” Aushev told Interfax. Putin said that Basayev “?deserved retribution” for Belsan and for taking hostages in Budyonnovsk in 1995. Chechen President Alu Alkhanov called the killing a moment where Chechnya could finally turn “one of the blackest pages in [its] history” and that his death means the end of antiterrorist operations in the region. The Chechen rebel site, Kavkaz Center, reports that the rebel Chechen leadership has yet to release any confirmations or comments on the matter.
As one can imagine, the news keeps coming out faster than it can be consumed. For a list of articles on the matter, go here. Most of the reports are short on details. Be sure that over the next day or so analysts and commentators will deal with the obvious question: Does Basayev??s death signal the end to the Chechen resistance and the Chechen War?
More later . . .
Update: According to the Kavkaz Center, Basayev did not die as a result of Russian counterinsugency operations as the FSB claims, but from an accident. A cargo truck carrying explosives blew up next to a vehicle carrying Basayev. Not the glorious death one would hope from a terrorist. I guess the Russians can’t really complain too much. Dead is dead . . .
It’s been a great week for Putin. He’s scored points with the global public with his BBC/Yandex.ru sponsored webcast, the Russian state has $76.8 billion in its , and that is expected to grow to $110 billion by the end of the year, Russia is hosting the G-8 this weekend, and will probably reap mucongratulationsons and respect for fighting terrorism.
However, some think that declaring the Chechen nationalist movement dead is premature. The violence did not stop after the deaths of Dzhokhar Dudayev or Aslan Maskhadov. The conflict has alreaspreadard to neighboring regions under Basayev’s inspiration, but not necessarily under his direction. So the aftermath and impact of Basayev’s death remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I think Rolling Stone, of all places, put it best, “Putin got his Osama.”Post Views: 434
The G-8 Summit begins next weekend in St. Petersburg. While the leaders from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Britain meet to discuss international security, energy, education, and infectious diseases, anti-globalization activists will stage protests and gather at social forums to discuss the adverse effects of the global economic order.
St. Petersburg won’t be Genoa. For the simple reason that the anti-globalist movement has seen better days. While many in the global South are still active in resisting the neo-liberal economics of supranational organizations like the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent declaration of the Global War on Terror had altered the agenda of many activists in the United States and Europe. The mass protests and violent police repression during the 2001 G-8 Genoa, Italy now seem like distant memories associated with another time and another world. Anti-globalization protests seem pass?. So late 1990s.
There is little indication that the activities scheduled in St. Petersburg will result in a sudden revitalization or nostalgia. Activists’ attendance looks to be small, mostly because the difficulties and costs of obtaining a visa to enter the country. Russian activists will be present, but the costs of getting to the former Tsarist capital will dilute an already small movement.
Another issue that concerns protesters is the wrath of the Petersburg authorities. How convenient that the Duma recently passed and Putin signed a new anti-terrorism law. The Duma is also considering changes to the anti-extremism law that will expand the definition of “extremist,” according to Kommersant, include “impeding the legal activities of federal authorities” together with “violence or threat to use it”, and “public slander of individuals acting for a public office of Russia or its constituent subject, connected to accusing this individual of capital offense and felony.”
Still events will be held, however modest they will be. Some activists are not discouraged and enter the protests with optimism. Information on the scheduled activities can be found here and here. However, the Russian authorities will be ready for whatever happens. They even bought a water canon. Even the skinheads are being targeted as St. Petersburg tries to dispel its image as a city of racial hated.
If the stakes are low for the anti-globalists, they are certainly high for Putin. Russia is back on the geopolitical scene as it exerts its energy hegemony over Europe, is asked by Israel to put pressure on Hamas, and positions itself as an indispensable negotiator in the Iran crisis. The real test is whether Putin can use the G-8 negotiations to get American approval for Russia’s admittance into the World Trade Organization. The U.S. remains the only country opposing Russia’s membership. As of Tuesday, it seems that Putin is attempting some brinkmanship. In a press conference on the subject, he made this warning: “If we for some reason do not succeed in reaching a final agreement we will relieve ourselves of the commitments on some agreements which we have not only taken but that we are fulfilling while not even being a member of the organization.” Translation: Without membership, Russia will renege on the WTO agreements it has already signed. And why the hell not? Why should Russia commit to WTO agreements without membership? After all, it signed them as a precondition to join the organization, a move than has yet to bare fruit.
The stick was followed by a few carrots. In an interview on Thursday, Putin heaped glowing words on George Bush, calling him a “friend” and a “decent person”. He also gave Bush greetings on his 60th birthday. Overall, Putin wanted to warm the cooling relations between Moscow and Washington and state and the two countries are “principal partners” in many global issues and crises. He even defended kissing that damn kid’s belly.
All of this makes you wonder, who is on stage here: the G-8 or Vladimir Putin? It seems that the summit has turned into a golden opportunity for Putin to put Russia, (and himself), at the center and reap the most public relations benefit. With North Korea showing some teeth and Iran thumbing its nose at the international consensus, perhaps the master of ceremonies can spin its geopolitical resurgence into gold. For Russia’s sake, hopefully that gold won’t turn out to be that of fools.Post Views: 442
Lots of important Russia news has come and gone since I was forced to turn my attention to preparing for my trip. Immediate concerns prevented me from commenting on the fall out from the race riot in Kondopoga, the assassination of Central Bank deputy chairman Andrei Kozlov, the continuing debate about the meaning and implications of “sovereign democracy,” the Russian government throwing roadblocks on the Sakhalin-Shell Oil deal, the proposal for an “all-Caucasian” amnesty, among many other things. Who knows if I will be able to provide some thoughts on these events since the news waits for no one.
Instead, I want to turn readers’ attention to some broader issues.
As I was shopping for some reading for my London-Moscow flight, I happened upon the most recent issue of the Economist. The cover immediately struck me. It read: “Surprise! The Power of the Emerging World.” The issue was devoted to the growing economic might of mostly China and India, and predictions of China eclipsing the United States by the middle of the century. As the editors write in “The New Titans”:
Emerging countries are looming larger in the world economy by a wide range of measures. Their share of world exports has jumped to 43%, from 20% in 1970. They consume over half of the world’s energy and have accounted for four-fifths of the growth in oil demand in the past five years. They also hold 70% of the world’s foreign-exchange reserves.
Of course there is more than one respectable way of doing the sums. So although measured at purchasing-power parity (which takes account of lower prices in poorer countries) the emerging economies now make up over half of world GDP, at market exchange rates their share is still less than 30%. But even at market exchange rates, they accounted for well over half of the increase in global output last year. And this is not just about China and India: those two together made up less than one-quarter of the total increase in emerging economies’ GDP last year.
And who is part of this cadre of “emerging” or as the Economist rightly puts it by adding a historical spin, re-emerging economies? They of course include China and India, but also Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. According to their projections for 2040, the top ten economies will respectively be: China, the US, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Britain, and France. Presently, only China and Brazil are in the top ten.
The various reasons for this predicted dominance go far beyond my expertise in economics. Suffice to say that such a “re-emergence” (and the term is reserved for the fact that China and India dominated the world economy before Europe took off during the industrial revolution and what the Economist fails to remember in its historical analysis, imperialism) is not without geopolitical consequences. While there is no sign of a parallel Asian military block emerging because the US is cuddling up to India with hopes that it will become a bulwark to China, and China choosing not to transform its economic successes into military buildup, such a economic reorientation will undoubtedly produce geopolitical tensions. Some in the American sphere see this and reason that this is the real logic behind the Bush Administration’s military forays in Iraq and Afghanistan and political interventions in the Caucuses and Central Asia. Powerful states need fuel and access to oil is quickly becoming the “Great Game” of the 21st century.
Where does Russia stand in all this? While much of the Economist’s analysis focuses on the macro level, and when it does descend to the grown it focuses on China and India, Russia is included among the top ten by the middle of the century. One can guess that Russia’s growth will not be the same path as China and India. It looks unlikely that Russia will become the globe’s factory like China or the center of the informal economy like India. Russia, however, will undoubtedly be one of the fuel cells of both these economies. The question is whether this fact will push up the standard of living for Russia’s population.
If we follow Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system analysis, Russia has positioned itself as a classical periphery nation. It produces very little for an international market except for gas and oil, and imports virtually all consumer goods. One need only look at the streets of Moscow to see this. The Zhiguli is rapidly disappearing from the urban landscape only to be replaced by better built Japanese imports. Oil export has its limits and many point out, Russia consumes half of the oil it produces. Such a tend is likely to continue. The Putin administrations reliance on oil exports, places Russia at the mercy of falling oil prices and in the end might become, as Vladimir Milov, the President of the Institute of Energy Policy recently noted, an engine of stagnation.
Like the Economist, Wallerstein also sees the East’s eclipse of the United States. He argues that we are witnessing the birth of new interdependent geopolitical blocs without one center. Writing in the New Left Review he had this to say in regard to Russia’s position:
Three regions warrant special scrutiny because they are all currently in considerable turmoil, the outcome of which is likely to change the geopolitical picture: Europe, East Asia and Latin America. The European story is the best known. In the five years between 2001 and 2005, two major developments occurred in this region. The first was the direct outcome of Bush’s unilateralist revision of us foreign policy. Both France and Germany publicly opposed the US invasion of Iraq in the run-up to March 2003 and obtained support in a number of other European countries. At the same time, they made initial overtures to Russia, starting to create a Paris–Berlin–Moscow axis. In response, the us aided by Britain created a counter-movement, drawing most of the East and Central European states—what Rumsfeld called ‘new’ as opposed to ‘old’ Europe—into their camp. The motivations of the East and Central European states derived primarily from their continuing fear of Russia and hence their felt need for strong ties to the United States.
The second development was the defeat of a proposed European constitution in the referenda in France and the Netherlands. Here the lines were quite different from those over the invasion of Iraq. Some ‘no’ votes came from popular opposition to neoliberalism and fears that the new European constitution would entrench it; others from apprehension at a further expansion of Europe eastward, and the possible entry of Turkey into the EU. In both cases, those who voted No wanted a more autonomous Europe, capable of taking a greater distance from the US. But the combination of the two developments—the split over the invasion of Iraq and the defeat of the new constitution—has so far stymied any thrust towards a stronger, more independent Europe. The question is whether over the next decade this project can be relaunched on a firmer institutional and popular footing. It is still also an open issue whether such a revived European project, if it took off, would arrive at a political arrangement with Russia, such that we could speak of a Euro-Russian geopolitical pole.
While both the Economist and Wallerstein agree with the thesis of American economic decline, unlike the former, the latter does not sever the connection between the US military and economic dominance. In Wallerstein’s view, the Iraq war has exposed a fundamental contradiction of the American military: it has imaginable power, but a power ill suited for asymmetrical warfare. Still how one measures American decline is to get to this conclusion is key. The Economist focuses on hard numbers of economic and military might, while Wallerstein’s evaluation is in terms of the more ephemeral, but no less important, condition of American hegemony. In this respect the sole superpower is in dire straits.
The Euro-Russian geopolitical pole seems poised to benefit from American hegemonic decline. The EU is looking east for oil and gas and Moscow is happy to oblige though without complete subservience. Moscow maintains its power over the spigot like a mighty weapon. Thus the internal balance of the Euro-Russian axis has yet to be determined.
Suffice to say that a Kantian globe of “perpetual peace” is far from likely. Instead, we live in a time of massive geopolitical shift. Contrary to proclamations that the 21st century would be the continuation of the American Century, the world looks more and more as it did in 1914: a multipolar world with many centers bound by military or economic alliances which are competing over less and less spoils.
So, while many seemingly disparate events have evaded my vision in the last few weeks, I think that instead of playing catch up, it would be better to reemerge by positing some aspects of the larger global context. We so often forget, or worse, imagine that Russia is some isolated island that is outside of a world system that it is often necessary to take a moment and evaluate its present and perhaps future position in the global theater.Post Views: 351