350. That’s the number of foreign election observers Russia plans on having monitor the Duma elections in December. 350 is about 700 observers less than than elections four years ago. The reason was simple explained Central Elections Commissioner Vladimir Churov. Having observers at all 95,000 of Russia polling stations would amount to foreign interference. “Tell me where in any international or internal (Russian) document it is written that the legitimacy of the elections depends on the number of international observers,” he said at a press conference announcing the slashing of election observers on Monday. Well true. After all, Russia has its own election monitors in the form of especially trained Nashi activists. Plus Churov said that invitations will be sent out to “colleagues” from countries well known for their fair elections: Jordan, Spain, Italy, Mongolia, Poland, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine” in addition to more palatable countries like Britain, Germany, France, and Finland. Sounds like the elections will be fun.
You Might also like
By Sean — 5 years ago
This morning I received a odd question in my daily Vedomosti alert: Would you be more careful associating with foreigners because of increased secrecy in Russia? What a curious question, especially since I am one of those foreigners who relies on Russians help to find places to live, access to archives, academic correspondence etc. Why would they have to suddenly be more careful? A click on the link took me to the Vedomosti article “Law on spies enters its second reading.” The article reports that a new spy law moved to the second pit-stop on the road to legality after the Russian Duma unanimously accepted its first version. Introduced way back in December 2008, left dormant by Medvedev, but now gaining new impetus, the law seeks to revise the existing high treason and espionage statutes (Article 275 and 276 of the Russian Penal Code) by broadening their scope. For the new law’s framers, the need for revision was practical: high treason is too “difficult to prove especially because its necessary to demonstrate the hostile character of the activity.” Among other edits, the new law conveniently removes the phrase “hostile activity” and inserts “harmful to the security of the Russian Federation” in its place. According to Vedomosti the implications are:
On the details and means of obtaining state secrets: [a secret] can be “entrusted” to the accused or become “known [to them] in service, work, or school,” and “in other instances stipulated by the laws of the Russian Federation.” It’s not specified what these other instances are. It will be considered criminal to provide “financial, material, technical, advice and assistance.” And instead of saying “damage to the external security,” the law now simply says “damage the security” of Russia. This includes activities against the constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.
The article continues:
The new statute expands the punishment for the collection of information deemed a state secret (it describes a case where information is gathered, but not passed along or advanced). One aggravating factor, among others, will be the means of distributing such information (For example, in the media or on the internet.) as well as “the movement of those possessors of information outside the Russian Federation.” In other words, a person in illegal possession of secrets, but does not go abroad will be punished less severely (up to four years) than those who take sensitive information abroad, regardless of the purpose of the trip (for example on vacation or meeting with a resident).” This last instance carries a sentence of three to eight years.
But let’s not take Vedomosti‘s word for it. Here’s the old Article 275 and 276 and proposed revisions:
High treason that is espionage, disclosure of state secrets, or any other assistance rendered to a foreign State, a foreign organization, or their representatives in hostile activities to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation, committed by a citizen of the Russian Federation.
High treason that is acts that are hostile to the security of the Russian Federation committed by the citizen of the Russian Federation: espionage, the delivery to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or to their representatives information considered a state secret entrusted to persons or have become known to him in service, work, or education, or rendering financial, material-technical, consultation or any help to foreign states, international or foreign organizations or their representatives in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.
Article 276 goes from:
The transfer, and also collection, theft, or keeping for the purpose of transfer to a foreign state, a foreign organization, or their representatives of information constituting a state secret, and also transfer or collection of other information under the order of a foreign intelligence service, to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation.
The transfer and also the compilation, abduction or storage for the purpose of transferring to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or to their representatives information considered a state secret, and also the transfer or compilation by assignment of a foreign secret service or persons acting in its interests any information for their use to harm the security of the Russian Federation (espionage).
From the pithy to the verbose, and from the “hard to prove” to legal elasticity. It’s no wonder the proposed law has Russian NGOs in the tizzy.Post Views: 261
By Sean — 12 years ago
Speculation about Russia’s foreign policy motives are a cottage industry in its own right. Are Russians paranoid? Inherently expansionist? Intolerable to democracy and dissent? Such views have shaped how American and European governments have dealt with Russia for the last century. When set against other former Russian modernizers, Putin is more imagined as a nascent Stalin, rather than a Peter I, Nicholas I, or Alexander II. I think Andrei Tsygankov, professor of International Studies and Political Science at San Francisco State University and Program Chair, International Studies Association, has given a sober explanation for why Russia currently acts the way it does. According to him, Putin is likened more as a Russian leader like Prince Alexander Gorchakov, who after Russia’s defeat in the Crimea in 1856, called his country with brutal honesty, a “great, powerless country.” Such an assessment paved the way for Alexander II sweeping reforms. Tsygankov sees Putin’s reforms in a similar light.
The most common explanation for the Russia’s assertive behavior points to Moscow’s revenge against the colored revolutionaries and politically “disloyal” states in the former Soviet world. Although there is no evidence of Russia’s involvement in the recent pipeline blasts in Georgia, many have rushed to implicate the Kremlin. President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili charged that the blasts were a deliberate retaliation for Georgia’s efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and political influence. Russia’s new strategy is supposedly to use the “energy imperialism” for reviving the lost empire and challenging the West in a new global competition. Back in circulation are phobias of Russia’s “centuries-old” expansionism accompanied by fear of democracy at home.
This interpretation attributes wrong motives to the Russian behavior. By presenting Moscow as increasingly paranoid and disrespectful of existing international rules, it projects the image of an irrational erratic power that continues to cling to its die-hard habits. Nothing can be farther from truth. The world is faced with an increasingly confident and stable Russia that is rapidly recovering from the economic depression of the 1990s. While taking precautions against encroachment on its sovereignty, Russia is far from isolating itself or launching revenge against those vulnerable to its pressures. Fear and lack of imagination is not what drives Moscow’s new behavior. Rather, this behavior demonstrates a forward-looking vision and an impressive grasp of new international opportunities. After years of searching, Russia has found a firm ground from which to proceed—a successful economic modernization.
Having resisted the eastern enlargement of NATO without much success during the 1990s, Russia has found a positive national idea. Vladimir Putin formulated it in his programmatic election speech warning of the danger of Russia turning into a third-world country. Ridiculing overly noisy great power rhetoric—“let us not recollect our national interests on those occasions when we have to make some loud statements”—he compared Russia to Portugal, the EU’s poorest member, concluding that “it would take us fifteen years and an eight percent annual growth of our GDP to reach the per capita GDP level of present-day Portugal.” Since then, Russia entered the stage of foreign policy concentration, with priorities of national economic recovery and secure borders. . .
Today’s Russia, however, is no longer “powerless.” Although much remains to be done in the areas of economy and security, particularly in the North Caucasus, one must register a considerable progress and act on it. Thanks to the high energy prices and pragmatic leadership, Russia has moved from a primitive accumulation of capital to the stage of generating a stable flow of investments in the economy. Internally, it is now in a position to develop more comprehensive social policies and address its status of a “third-world” country. Externally, it is about time that a nation armed with a forward-looking vision and growing resources develop a more aggressive foreign policy. The era of economic stagnation and moral decline is behind Russia, and it is logical to shift from concentration to projection of the accumulated national confidence.Post Views: 257
By Sean — 12 years ago
Apparently Vladimir Putin is not just President of Russia. He’s not just a karate expert. Or just a lover of blondes. He’s also Vladimir Putin, PhD. According to a REN TV report on February 2, Putin wrote a dissertation, “Strategic Planning of Regional Raw Material Operations in a Market Economy,” in 1997 as a student of the St. Petersburg Mining Academy. Anyone can go read it. It’s stored at the Leninka. REN TV took a trip to the Leninka to see if the dissertation was in fact there. Apparently the work has seen some heavy traffic. “Last year the thesis was lent for reading eight times,” reported REN TV’s Aleksandr Zhestkov. “Librarians say it is a lot: some theses remain without anybody’s attention for years, whereas here there is a clear interest.” So much interest that it is rumored that it is required reading by Kremlin staff.
It seems that Putin’s PhD is not simply a thesis on raw material; it is a object that lends to his emerging cult. “You are holding in your hands something that was typed by the person who wrote it,” said Aleksandr Soshnin, the Leninka’s head librarian after handing the text to Zhestkov. “It is like an old manuscript. You are touching something that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] also touched.” Such an experience is bound give you the chills.
But the cult of personality goes beyond that. Putin’s thesis is also characterized as a “prophecy of the gas war with Ukraine, obviously expressed in a coded fashion.” Or so thinks Vladimir Litvinenko, Vice Chancellor of the St. Petersburg Mining Academy:
One can indeed find if not a direct answer to those processes that are today taking place with Russian gas which passes through Ukraine, then general views on the state’s presence in the system of regulating the activities of large companies.
Prophecy or not, one thing is for sure. The thesis gives some idea of what Putin thinks about the relationship between energy, the state, and the market. One part of the text reads, “Irrespectively of who owns natural, namely mineral, resources, the state has the right to regulate their development and use.” This is enough to make the free marketers at the G-8 meetings quiver.
Perhaps Putin was on to something. Or so thinks Professor Vladimir Shlapentokh of Michigan State University. Energy exports and exerting influence over the global energy market is one way for Russia to reemerge as a superpower.
“In the last few years,” writes Shlapentokh,
The Kremlin has realized that Russia, with its expansive oil and gas resources, can reclaim its superpower status. A few of the president’s myrmidons have recently suggested that Putin had actually predicted this turn of events as early as 1997 when he worked as Petersburg’s deputy mayor and wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled, “The strategic planning of the natural resources in the region.” In any case, on December 22, 2005, at the meeting of the Russian Security Council, Putin proclaimed that the country was back on top and playing a key role on the world stage. A few days later, Moscow decided to settle the score with Ukraine for choosing the West as an ally after the Orange Revolution in 2004. The Kremlin sent an ultimatum to Kiev, forcing it to accept a five-fold increase in the price of gas. One month later, the Kremlin sponsored a rather primitive spy scandal against Britain in the style of the Cold War. It accused the British special services of helping human rights organizations destabilize Russia.
To do this, the Putin government had to overcome a series of “dogmas.” First if the economy was going to rely on energy exports, it had to create a reserve of hard currency to prevent default if oil prices dipped. Putin succeeded in this by creating the “Stabilization Fund” which contains over $35 billion, almost 10 percent of Russia’s GNP. With energy prices on the rise due to the combination of possible “peak oil” and increasing demand from emerging industrial giants of China and India, there is no indication that Russia will have to dip into that fund to stave off a default.
The second dogma concerns “backwardness” or Russia’s reliance on energy exports like other Third World countries as a negative refection on its potential to join “civilized nations.” The fear was that this “backwardness” would prevent the development of alternative export sectors in the economy like manufacturing like so many industrial economies had. The dangers of backwardness have since been rejected by the Putin Administration:
Though strong in the past, the dogma of backwardness is now being rejected by the Kremlin. Putin’s team sees its enormous oil and gas reserves as a blessing that will allow them to solve many of the country’s problems without increasing the production of manufactured goods for export (an unrealistic goal for a country that is unable to make structural economic reforms). However, the high export revenues have allowed Moscow to forget about the times when it had to scrounge for money from world financial organizations. Moscow can now boost military expenditures, pay salaries and pensions regularly, increase social benefits, make some improvements in infrastructure and refurbish not only Moscow and Petersburg, but all major cities in the country.
I hesitate to embrace Shlapentokh’s optimism that capital from energy exports will be redirected to improving Russia’s infrastructure. It’s a possibility, though not without consequences. When Stalin used grain exports to generate capital for industrialization, it increased domestic grain prices and as a result discontent among the population. It also drove the regime to collectivize agriculture to avoid the fluctuations of grain supply the Politburo perceived was a result of peasants withholding grain to get a better price. I should state that I am in no way saying Putin is Stalin-like. I know that placing anyone next to Stalin invites all sorts of political enmity. My point is that Stalin’s move required the centralization of grain production. Such seems to be the case with the energy sector in Russia. The trick seems that the Russian government has to balance exports with domestic consumption. That is, dependence on energy exports requires high energy prices on the global market, but at the same time the state must somehow keep the domestic prices low. Russians have already seen a steady rise in energy costs. The question is how high they can go before cutting into the increased standard of living Shlapentokh hopes an energy export based economy can produce.
It seems that to get out of this bind there needs to be a concerted effort by the state to reinvest the income from energy exports back into the domestic economy. Given the general increase in the gap between rich and poor, the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a thin layer of the Russian middle class, and the geographical concentration of wealth first around Moscow, and then urban centers, one wonders how Russia will break this cycle and redistribute its vast capital more evenly. My guess would be increased state intervention. But if Andrei Illarionov’s charges that the Russian economy and politics is based on “nashism” are correct then how will this redistribution happen?
But does it need to? A lot of the ill effects caused by robber barons can be quelled with ideology. If Russians imagine themselves and their country as a “superpower” then the increased concentration of wealth might not matter. On this, Shlapentokh is right to note the importance of the fact that “the price of oil itself has become a sort of national symbol in Russia, a country that has been searching for a national idea for twenty years.” Oil is the road in which all former glories can rise again: Russia’s military strength, the sanctity of its cultural institutions and traditions, its modern role as a global player. The belief in oil might return the national confidence lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the instability of the Yeltsin years. If Putin’s gamble pays Russia will continue on its steady path of regaining its international footing. But, a sole reliance on energy is not a feasible long term strategy. Energy prices will certainly rise in the coming decades. But what will happen if they rise so high they create a scissors crisis with the costs of living? What will sustain the Russian economy then?Post Views: 116