Kremlin’s modus operandi – ideology or kleptocracy?


As the Kremlin gears up for Vladimir Putin’s last re-election bid in 18 months, anti-graft crusader Alexei Navalny (left) has emerged as the conduit of choice for rival factions to scoop dirt on each other as they jostle to retain their fiefdoms, Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik report for Bloomberg:

While Putin has largely stayed above the fray, anonymous tips and research by Navalny’s staff of 30 have led to a string of revelations about the extravagance of some of the Russian leader’s closest allies, including a new luxury home for his premier, army contracts for his personal chef and private-jet travel for the show dogs of a top official. Navalny’s critics say he’s just a pawn in a bigger game, but the 40-year-old lawyer says it doesn’t matter where leaks come from as long as they expose officialdom — and the more strife sown along the way, the better.

“They’re starting to devour one another,” Navalny said at his foundation’s office in Moscow, which is paid for through public donations.

As Russia has become more aggressive in projecting its authority abroad, Putin’s policies have become more repressive within. I don’t think this is a coincidence, notes Kathryn Stoner, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the author of “Resisting the State, Reform and Retrenchment in Post-Soviet Russia.”

Russia’s economy began to contract after the global financial crisis of 2008, well before U.S. and European sanctions were imposed in 2014. There was modest recovery, but by 2012, the decline was clear and steady. This had everything to do with poor choices by Russian leaders to continue to build an economy based on oil rents, rather than focusing on developing less volatile sources of revenue, she writes for The New York Times:

Focusing on Putin is not “obsessing”…… Gennady Zyuganov, the longtime head of the Russian Communist Party recently noted in a meeting of newly elected parliamentarians that the current Russian president can exercise “more power than that of the general secretary of the Soviet Union.” That was not true of any previous presidents of Russia – not Boris Yeltsin, whom the Russian Duma attempted to impeach; and not Medvedev, who was reliant for his support and legitimacy on his prime minister, Putin. Thus, the authority within his country that Putin has amassed is not structural; it is personal. Civil society organizations are effectively banned from political expression. RTWT

Kremlinologists are bouncing around a new idea: That Putin’s Russia has not only developed an ideology but that this ideology is now ascendant over what has previously been understood as the Kremlin’s modus operandi: kleptocracy, notes Peter Podkopaev, a researcher with the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative.

“In fact, the post-Soviet Russian state has never exhibited any coherent national ideas. The only consistent theme we have seen over time has been antagonism and hostility towards the West,” he contends. “This hostility serves to draw the attention (and ire) of the Russian public away from domestic issues—largely caused by predatory looting of the state and private coffers—towards an external enemy.”

Russia is engaged in an ideological struggle with liberalism at home and abroad, the influential Eurasianist Aleksandr Dugin says. Moscow has clearly articulated what it is against, but having failed to develop an ideology of its own, it remains incapable to saying what it is for and thus risks losing this competition [HT: Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia].

The Kremlin’s modus operandi is simple: spread fear and uncertainty through provocative military moves and unrelenting propaganda at home and abroad, says Michael Khodarkovsky, a professor of history at Loyola University.

“While Moscow’s saber rattling has clearly failed to intimidate the West, Russia’s military and its nuclear arsenal remain the only aces in Mr. Putin’s hand,” he writes for The New York Times. “So the Kremlin can be expected to continue escalating its disinformation and propaganda.”

The Russian government aims to compel the European countries to divide the world once again into zones of influence and recognize an authoritarian semi-criminal corporative system with an unchanging government as an equal partner, said Grigory Yavlinsky (left), leader of the liberal Yabloko party. Additionally, the Kremlin does not hide its desire to limit the sovereignty of the former Soviet republics, he added, according to the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project.

Individuals and organizations across the British political spectrum have over recent years established connections with their counterparts in Russia, many of which are funded or supported by the Kremlin to undermine the West, according to Putin’s Useful Idiots: Britain’s, Left, Right and Russia, a new paper from the Henry Jackson Society. It outlines why, given Russia’s recent foreign policy actions, the UK must take a comprehensive look at this development in order to guarantee its security.

The paper’s key observations include:

  • Over the past five years, there has been a marked tendency for European populists across the political spectrum to establish connections with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Those on the right have done so because Putin is seen as standing up to the European Union and/or defending “traditional values” from the corrupting influence of liberalism. Those on the left have done so in part because their admiration for Russia survived the end of the Cold War and in part out of ideological folly.
  • In the UK, individuals, movements, and parties on both sides of the political spectrum have deepened ties with Russia. Some individuals have praised Putin and voiced their support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine; others participate in events organised by the Kremlin or Kremlin-backed organisations; yet more have appeared on Russia’s propaganda networks. Some have even aligned themselves with Kremlin-backed organisations in Russia who hold views diametrically opposed to their own.
  • In an era when marginal political figures in the UK are looking for greater influence and exposure, Russia makes for a frequent point of ideological convergence, and Putin makes for a deceptive and dangerous friend. But what can be done about this? A number of things. In particular, activists, concerned, citizens, journalists, and politicians should point out the pro-Russian connections of individuals and parties and challenge the credibility of these entities via debates.

As Moscow builds its army of useful idiots, European and U.S. policymakers would be well advised to invest significant resources in research to uncover Moscow’s methods of influence in Europe, argues Alina Polyakova, deputy director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. Doing otherwise leaves the E.U. wide open to Russia’s brand of unconventional warfare — a vulnerability that Europe, caught in a moment of crisis, can ill afford to overlook, she writes for Foreign Policy.

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