Monday, September 15, 2008

The Caucasian Test Case

Today, the first more comprehensive analysis of the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008 was published, less than a month after hostilities ended. In its report Det kaukasiska lackmustestet (The Caucasian Test Case), the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) summarises its findings.

The war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 has fundamentally changed the playing field of international relations and the aftermath of the war will have profound consequences.

The purpose of this study is to analyze some central issues and implications of the war. The aim is to, shortly after the war and based on open sources material, draw some tentative conclusions regarding the consequences for the region and the world.

The primary conclusion is that Russia’s actions have triggered a far-reachingreassessment of the present world order. This will in turn lead to extensive policy changes at different levels as the actors adapt and try to influence the formation of the new world order. The war has laid bare the challenges and problems of the present international system. Responses to Russia’s actions will give an early
indication of the character and modus operandi of the coming world order.
My own contribution is a chapter on the information and cyberwar aspects (pp. 45-52).

Bibliographical information is as follows:
Det kaukasiska lackmustestet: Konsekvenser och lärdomar av det rysk-georgiska kriget i augusti 2008

[The Caucasian Test Case: Consequences and lessons Learned of the Russian-Georgian War in August 2008].

Robert L. Larsson (ed.), Alexander Atarodi, Eva Hagström Frisell, Jakob Hedenskog, Jerker Hellström, Jan Knoph, Vilhelm Konnander, Jan Leijonhielm, David Lindahl, Fredrik Lindvall, Johannes Malminen, Ingmar Oldberg, Fredrik Westerlund, Mike Winnerstig

The report in full [SWE] is available for download or purchase at the FOI website.
"Ryssen valde väg i Georgien. Fel väg!", Svenska Dagbladet, 15 September 2008.
"Analysts Call Russia-Georgia Conflict a 'Litmus Test'", Deutsche Welle, 16 September 2008.
"Ryssland ett växande hot mot sina grannar", Hufvudstadsbladet, 16 september 2008.
"Ny FOI-rapport speglar säkerhetspolitiska läget", Västerbottenskuriren, 17 september 2008.
"Säkerhetspolitiken i Europa är försämrad", Världen idag, 17 september 2008.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sex & the City Dizz Putin

Has Putin - Time Magazine Man of the Year 2007 - been dethroned? Has virile Volodya finally lost his powerful sex appeal and magic with the ladies? So it would seem, judging from a recent toplist of the sexiest politicians in Russia, made by Russian Sex & the City magazine. Moreover, Putin was beaten by a has-been liberal politician, vegetating on the sidelines of Russia's weak and squeamish democratic opposition.

So, is this really the time for such jibberish and nonsense as the power and sex pendulum, when the world is set ablaze and sales of books declaring "The New Cold War" soar to become bestsellers overnight? Actually, it obviously is, because it tells a lot of how primitive our emotions may be when confronted with realities we do not want to face - and in some cases have spent years running away from.

Why is it that an article in a rather obscure Russian ladies' magazine - with a blog rather than a website fronting its business - gets such attention by international media at this very point in time? Good journalism? A story with potential Pullitzer prize qualities? I think not...

The simple reason is probably the psychological need for negative power projection - a primitive urge to make Putin look impotent at a time when "barbarious Russia" stands at the gates of our "imaginary western world of values." One need not be Freudian to understand both how deeply set and closely related power and sexuality are in the human psyche. Paradoxically, portraying Putin this way may simply be a projection of one's own feelings of impotence.

Still, Putin is an easy target. Examples are plenty. Only the other week, the victorious warrior saved a terrified TV-team out of the jaws of a ferocious Siberian tiger, thus hitting the headlines both in Russia and internationally for subduing this pinnacle of virility - the tiger. Even The Washington Post ran an article, linking it to no other story than - yes, Putin's precious potence in peril, when illustrious Russian Sex & the City magazine gets over and done with him. In power and sex, there can only be one first person, seems to be the message that media wants to get across. When did we stoop to such levels? Did we ever stop to think of where we were heading?

At a time when the world grasps for simplified truths, one should perhaps stop to think for a moment whether this is a story worthy the victims of a war with no meaning - hitting Georgians, Ossetians, and Russians alike. Values are vital for western society, they tell us. Our intrinsic values set us apart from authoritarianism and dictatorship - civilization and culture instead of brutish force. So, when portraying "an enemy leader" - as Putin is increasingly made out to be - is it the differences and divides of values that come to the forefront? Hopefully, but this story shows a small piece of the opposite - when the calamity of conflict is reduced to primal power and sex.

What does it tell us about ourselves and the world we live in? That is perhaps a question we should ask ourselves when we look to our politicians - presidents and prime ministers - for wise and enlightened leadership at a time when the tide of history is turning. Let us but hope that theirs is the wisdom to be guided by the values and ideals of western society rather than the primitive logics of power politics.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Analysing the Russo-Georgian War

What have we learnt from the war in Georgia? That is the question addressed in one of the first more comprehensive reports of the recent war between Russia and Georgia. As the war gives credibility to those claiming that we are on the verge of a New Cold War, there is also a time for analysis. The pursuit of knowledge is preferrable to a mere show of arms and empty rhetorics. The stakes may simply be too high to risk such a gamble at this point.

On Monday morning, the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) will present one of the first more comprehensive analyses of the recent war in Georgia at a press seminar in Stockholm. With contributions from 14 analysts of different specialities, the report offers a variety of approaches to the conflict, and how it affects the European security order.
To what extent does the war set the framework for future security policy? What are the challenges for the EU? To what extent will it cause changes in the European security structure? What effects on world economy can we expect? Which are the lessons learnt from the Russian military offensive? These are but a few questions addressed by the study.
As a contributor myself, I deal with - what is loosely called - the information war or rather "cyberwar", viz. the alleged coincidence of an armed conflict with a massive attack over the Internet. Some of the views presented in this part, will hopefully be interesting to and put things in a wider perspective for prospective readers. I thus welcome any feedback, though access is limited to a Swedish readership.
The report in full will be accessible for purchase or download from the FOI website as of noon (GMT+1) on Monday. I hope it will contribute to a nuanced picture of the war and present perspectives that may guide political decision-makers, the media, and an interested general public in their views of the war and its real and potential consequences.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Economist Debate on Russia vs. the West

"The West must be bolder in its response to a newly assertive Russia." This is the proposition made for the upcoming The Economist debate series, setting off on 9 September. The opposite argument holds that this position erroneous by Western misperceptions of Russia, based on renewed reminiscences of an increasingly distant Cold War era.

Speaking for the pro side is Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Representing the con argument is Dmitri V. Trenin, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment Moscow Centre.

Thus, Slaughter initiates the debate by the following argument:
The West should be bolder in confronting a newly assertive Russia, but bolder in a way that understands and manipulates the realities of 21st-century politics rather than plunging us back into a 20th-century stalemate.
In his rebuttal, Trenin starts out opposing this statement accordingly:

Those who argue that the West should be bolder in its response to a newly assertive Russia are trying to use their memories of the past to deal with a very different present and a highly uncertain future.
The debate will span over the period 9-19 September with rebuttals on the 12th and closing arguments on the 17th. The winner will be announced on the 19th, and topics covered be open for discussion and comments until 26 September.

Registered users will be able to vote surrepetisiously for either alternative during the ten day debate. Following the Oxonian tradition, "members of the House will be thus allowed to "cross the floor" by such vote if arguments are convinving enough to turn their opinion. Questions to the contrahents may be sent in via the Chairman, viz. moderator, who will act as arbiter in selecting those of relevance for further dissection in debate.

The Economist presents the following background for the debate:

Russia’s incursion into neighboring Georgia has Western governments worried about renewed Russian assertiveness. The diplomatic frost between America and Russia remains at a level not seen since the cold war, leading to predictable results: Russian/NATO joint military exercises cancelled, private energy co-operation agreements withdrawn, foreign ministers returned home. Is Russia’s intention to upset the current international order, or is it responding directly to the widening sphere of American influence in former Soviet countries (for example, the promise of eventual NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia)? Can the European Union speak with one voice and take the diplomatic lead? Or must America protect the world order by standing up to Russia to prove that any form of aggression comes at a cost? Finally, are we witnessing the dawn of a second cold war, in which the West should resist the lure of appeasement?

So, are we in for a heated debate, as East and West seem juxtaposed in a renewed wrestle for right and wrong, power and glory, or simply for the petty interests of their own pockets in a fight for survival spanning ever greater tracts of the world?

That is certainly one purpose of debate, in attracting interest to a sensitive and precarious situation in world affairs. Still, choosing a softy like dear Dmitri to stand for the Russian side and not a heavy-hitter better representative of currrent moods in Moscow may not be the best approach in the pursuit of any profounder realities. Still, it warrants for an interesting and nuanced debate of a character not widely found in these days. I for one will certainly follow the debate with great interest and also invite others to join in the conversation.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Coverage on Conflict in South Ossetia

Whoever wants to follow the ongoing conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia may find up-to-date coverage on Global Voices Online. Whereas I have not myself the time to blog on this very serious issue, I contribute as much as I can with blogger reactions to ongoing events, not least as I am experiencing that traditional media coverage of the conflict tends to be both late and on occasions erroneous.
Svenska Dagbladet, Editorial Blog, 12 August 2008, "Bra bloggbevakning av kriget i Georgien" (Good blog coverage of the war in Georgia).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Marvelling at Russian Wonders

Russia is a wondrous country. To this most Russians themselves as well as foreigners would agree. Still, as the new seven wonders of the world were chosen by an international vote in July last year, no Russian landmark found its way onto the top list. Appauled by this obvious feat of ignorance, Russian travel magazine Vsemirny Sledopyt arranged its own vote on the Seven Wonders of Russia, beginning in August last year. Still, as events has shown, it would not be Russia if the process since had not make one wonder.

That Vsemirny Sledopyt in a PR-coup used Russian indignation to boost sales of its magazine is perhaps no wonder, using each issue to present a new candidate for the top seven. However, closing in on the end of its year-long campaign it was to meet with unexpected competition to the Internet-voting initiative it had set up.

Thus, in February this year, a consortium of mighty media moguls opened up its own competition on the Seven Wonders of Russia. During spring, a number of qualifying heats were undertaken, to nominate 49 wonders representing the seven federal districts of the country. For the final vote, conveniently decided for the 12 June independence celebrations, the number of nominees were down to 14. In the end, 25 million votes were cast, outnumbering Vsemirny Slepotyt's vote by some 100 times.

So, which are the seven wonders of Russia? This is where it becomes interesting. On its part, Vsemirny Sledopyt's competition ended with the following results:
  1. The Kazan Kremlin together with its Qolsharif Mosque and the Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral, Kazan;
  2. Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, Pechora;
  3. Palace Square and Winter Palace, St. Petersburg;
  4. Kizhi Museum Reserve, Karelia;
  5. Tobolsk Kremlin, Tobolsk;
  6. Vyborg Castle, Leningrad region;
  7. Novgorod Kremlin and St. Sophia Cathedral, Veliky Novgorod.

Turning to the bigger competition - the media managed independence day vote - results came out somewhat differently:

  1. Mount Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria;
  2. Geyser Valley, Kamchatka;
  3. Lake Baikal, Irkutsk region;
  4. Columns of Erosion, Komi Republic;
  5. Peterhof, St. Petersburg;
  6. Mamaev Kurgan and the Statue of the Motherland, Volgograd;
  7. St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.

Whereas all the wonders on Vsemirny Sledopyt's list are historical architectural landmarks, the four at the top of the independence day vote are natural phenomena. So, is it a fact that most Russians prefer nature to history when it comes to the things they are most proud of their country for? That is undeniably the impression one gets if judging from the larger independence day vote. Instead of choosing man-made wonders representing how the Russian nation was forged, the overwhelming majority of the 25 million Russians in the vote - almost a fifth of the population - opted for politically and historically neutral natural phenomena.

Still, that is not necessarily a correct conclusion, as the results might as well reflect the process of picking out the candidate wonders. Initially basing it on geographical representation instead of e.g. population density, the list of candidates gets distorted from the outset. Population centres naturally have more landmarks than sparsely populated areas, so setting these on an equal footing may well eliminate otherwise competitive candidates. Take for instance all phenomena in proximity to St. Petersburg as an example. On Vsemirny Sledopyt's list, five out of seven wonders are within a day's trip of this city. Consequently, if departing from regional representation, all but one of them might have been eliminated almost from the outset in the larger independence day vote.

Turning to Vsemirny Sledopdyt's list of the seven wonders of Russia, there are also some interesting results. Heading the list is the Kazan cathedral in the capital of Tatarstan, which - despite the historical significance of its conquest by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 - remains a centre predominantly of Tatar and not Russian history and culture. Another example is Vyborg castle, constructed by the Swedes in the 13th century. Still, what is even more interesting is that the list misses any representative of Muscovy - the hub of Russian national history. Instead, it seems as if it is dominated by places representing the country's historical expansion or locations that once lay at the perimeters of the empire.

So, are there any conclusions to draw from the two competitions on the Seven Wonders of Russia? What both lists illustrate is perhaps why no Russian landmark ended up as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Far too many Russian wonders on the two toplists are next to unknown internationally. How many foreigners have heard of Kazan or Mount Elbrus in comparison to e.g. Indian Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, or the Colosseum in Rome? As for the results of the two Russian votes, they portray an image of Russia as unexpected for itself as for the world. Is this Russia as we see it - whether Russian or foreigner? Do they represent the nation, its history, culture, geography or identity - how and to what extent? Lacking proper answers to these questions, both lists of the Seven Wonders of Russia remain as wondrous as the wonders themselves.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dividing the spoils of deceptive democracy

What makes a candidate stand for an election that he knows he cannot win, and in the process is destined to drift to the verge of bankruptcy? As inside information on the intense struggle leading up to the Duma elections last December is beginning to leak out, a clearer picture evolves of how political and economic power is divided in today's Russia.

2007 was truly an eventful year in Russia. Information on deals, negotiations, and intrigues in the ongoing process of how to divide power and resources in the country regularly floated to the surface. Most, however, remained unknown to the general public. It soon became clear that the decisive factor was not the 2008 presidential elections, but the parliamentary ones in December for the State Duma seats. Here, defending and conquering positions, not only in parliament but also in the incoming administration, was arguably a much more important process than the ongoing Chekist struggle.

One example may illustrate this. A candidate running for a loyalist opposition party in one of the larger contitiencies used an average of USD 1 million a week during the campaign, totalling USD 6 million in the end. However, this was merely the money the candidate in question took out of his own pocket, which also must be put in perspective of the additional money he received from other funders. What is significant is that the candidate was not even running for the power party - United Russia - and knew quite well he would never get elected.

So, what makes a person spend so much money on something he beforehand knows will not result in a parliamentary seat? The question here is clearly not to succeed but merely to be in the race. For the main reason for such a candidacy is what might be acchieved in the process of running and in its aftermath. On the one hand it is a question of defending existing political and business interests, on the other to try to conquer new ground on the expense of competing interests. Needless to say, the failed candidacy resulted in an offer of a high-ranking job in the incoming administration already on the day after the elections.

Furthermore, it has become apparent that the process exemplified above has come not only to involve Russia, but also neighbouring states. Last summer, a man who for weeks had been criss-crossing the border from a neighbouring state in the end attracted the attention of customs authorities. Intercepting him, customs found a case containing USD 100.000 in cash. Questioning him, it turned out that the money was intended as campaign funds for a candidate in the upcoming Russian elections. By funding his candidacy, business circles in the neighbouring country hoped that he might protect their economic interests in relation to Russia. Apparently, the detainee had been smuggling equivalent sums on a daily basis for several weeks.

That great sums of money were in sway last year is quite apparent. Less attention has been given to the results of the struggle for political and economic positions. Another interesting observation is that United Russia's full-out victory may not have resulted in their absolute domination of government. In today's Russia, also loyal opposition may be rewarded if the candidate in question is sufficiently successful in defending the political and economic interests of himself and his backers. Even if United Russia nominally has next to absolute power, it seems that the party has to employ some sort of "trickle-down" system, to better reflect the actual situation rather than the one produced by the elections. Popular power is not always real power, it seems.

What is worrisome is the effects this may have for the current Russian government. Both Medvedev and Putin have underlined the importance of building rule of law in Russia and fighting the omnipresent malaise of corruption. However, they are put to run a power apparatus where many people have spent a lot of money to get where they are. Drained of economic resources, these people have to compensate themselves somehow to cover losses incurred. The obvious answer is to seek refuge in corruption to get back the money they have lost. Therefore, all talk of fighting the malaise seems empty, when rationality and reality among government officials assumably would result in a drastic rise in corruption.

Still, this is how spoils are divided in a deceptive democracy, and perhaps one should not be totally moralistic when knowing that these are the realities any Russian leaders have to deal with. Even if finding Russian democracy a mere mockery of the term, one should perhaps take a closer look at such informal redistribution of power. Democracy it aint, but perhaps it is a step back from the total power of Putinism feared by the West.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Prometheus Unbound?

A Ukraine eternally condemned to be split between east and west is the image that persistently lingers on the retina of imagery as historical, cultural, lingual, and religious differences are allowed to dominate over unifying forces in world perceptions of the country's national identity. The image of a country fettered to its historic fate is today however confronted by a contrasting picture with roots in regional and national myths, linking together nations reunited in freedom at the shores of the Black Sea. Less known is that its origins are to be found in the ancient myth of Prometheus - the titan who stole the fire from the gods and gave it to man.

Prometheus (Gr. he who thinks ahead) brought man the enlightenment - fire and knowledge - denied to her by higher powers. In eternal punishment, Zeus had him chained to a rock on mount Kaukasos, where an eagle was set to feast on his liver. His self-sacrificial torment was eventually ended by Hercules, who killed the eagle and set the titan free. Freed from his strains, Zeus still deemed the titan forever to carry the burden of a Caucasian cliff in the remains of his chains. In memory of Prometheus' suffering, man to this day bear stones in their rings.

The appealing Prometheus myth became the theme for the Ukrainian national poet's, Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), epos Kavkaz (1845). The father of Ukrainian literature wrote the work in memory of a close friend - Yakiv de Balman - who had fallen in Russian service in the Caucasus that year. Its edge is however not directed against the Chechens, who had killed his friend, but against the injustices of the Russian empire in denying oppressed peoples their freedom. What today is perceived as expressions of budding Ukrainian nationalism and a strive for independence from Russia, to the contrary encompasses a more general vision of liberty and justice to all nationalities set to carry the burden of the Tsarist yoke.

The Prometheus myth was a recurrent theme in both revolutionary and other liberation movements. It is for example found in the nationalist and socialist struggles against Tsarist rule; on the Balkans in the fight against the Osman empire as well as subsequently in attempts by the Crimmean Tatars to receive support from the new Kemalist Turkey in the 1920s. However, it was foremost by the inception of the Promethean movement that the myth gained greater fame as a symbol in the struggle against Russian and Soviet imperialism, why Prometheism at times also has been interpreted as a form of Russophobia.

For posterity, the Promethen movement has mainly come to be associated with Poland and the authoritarian nationalism of Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935). The Polish leader's ambition to contain Russian expansionism got its ideological inspiration from Promethean freedom ideals and its geopolitical expression in Intermarum - a projected federation of states between the Baltic and Black seas to counteract first Russian imperialism then the Bolshevik threat and to quell the power of the soviets. The image that - with some justification - portrays Piłsudski both as the founder and the front figure of Prometheism however also serves to obscure a more nuanced picture of a once nascent regional movement. In reality, the Promethean movement once gathered leading politicians and diplomats exiled from many of the countries, which had barely experienced a short interregnum of independence between Tsarist rule and Soviet power.

With the Paris magazine Promethée (1926) as a hub, exile circles created an ever-growing think-tank "in defence of the oppressed peoples of the Caucasus and Ukraine". Gradually, this task was expanded geographically also to encompass all the peoples, who had fallen under the tyranny of soviet power, and thus the movement gained an overall eurasian expansion. The Prometheans engaged into intense lobbying to direct the attention of European government to the destinies of the oppressed peoples in the decades leading up to the Second World War. By public seminars and culture festivals, attempts were made not only to draw attention to nations erased from world maps, but also build an image of a common historical and cultural destiny, where trade and oceans united the peoples. Consequently, the Prometheans linked their ideas to the era's geopolitical division between dynamic sea power - talassocracy - and rigid land power - tellurocracy - where Russia naturally was referred to as the main example of the latter. To the contrary, the free trade of the oceans was related to free and independent states. That the maritime freedom theme was expanded to cover also old trade routes, such as between the Baltic and the Black seas - along predominantly Russian river systems - as well as the caravan routes along the Silk Road, only comes out as natural as the diminishing significance of exile communities demanded a broader basis. Focus was thus expanded from the Baltic-Black Sea-Caucasus axis to also cover Central Asia.

At the same time, ideas arose in the 1930s to found a political and economic alliance between Black Sea states such as Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria as well as Ukraine and Georgia once the latter had regained independence. For the Prometheans, this appeared a greater task than Piłsudski's Intermarum vision. The Black Sea question was essentially considered the final solution to the Eastern Question. However, history wanted differently. Ukraine and the Caucasus remained under soviet rule, Romania's borders were revised, and Bulgaria became the Soviet Union's most loyal ally in the Balkans during the Cold War.

After the Second World War, the Promethean ideals appeared as antiquated as history had made them obsolete. They lived on in the memories of exile communities in the west, but found little ground in the realities of the time. The centre of the movement was moved to the US, but dwindled into oblivion already in the early 1950s.

After the end of the Cold War, the return of history has seen a - conscious or unconscious - renaissance for the ideas of Prometheism. Already in 1992, the Black Sea Economic Council was founded. After the coloured revolutions, Ukraine and Georgia deepened their relations by the 2005 Borjomi declaration. This was followed in 2006 with the CIS-sceptics Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova (GUAM), setting up the regional Organization for Democratic and Economic Development, with its goal to "strengthen democracy, rule of law, human rights and freedoms, and security and stability". No great imagination is needed to realise that closer regional cooperation was aimed at reducing Russian influence over these countries.

Also, the project of creating an Intermarum between the Baltic and Black Seas seems, to some extent, to have been revived. Thus, it was the Polish and Lithuanian presidents - Alexander Kwasniewski and Valdas Adamkus - who served as mediator in the Ukrainian orange revolution and committed the EU to the country's continued reform process. That the inheritors of the mediaeval Polish-Lithuanian Union, once reaching the shores of the Black Sea, engaged themselves to Ukraine's political fate, undeniably brings out echoes of history. Warzaw and Vilnius are also Kiev's and Tbilisi's most ardent protagonists for continued euro-atlantic integration. Regional and bilateral cooperation in various constellations continues to evolve between the four countries. At the same time, the relation of them all to Russia, today are put on strain.

It is thus in terms of aims and ambitions that this "neo-Prometheism" evoke apprehensions. As these ideas now are brought out of the dustbin of history, one should not forget that - for good or evil - they are a creation of their time. Is the goal once more to contain Russia - to form a cordon sanitaire against Moscow's power projections? Apparently, it seems as if the tide is turning in that direction, even though a majority of EU and NATO capitals still pay great consideration to Russia.

From the US horizon, a coalition against Russia may be considered an option if relations to Moscow continue to deteriorate. In the event of a Democratic takeover in Washington, "neo-Promethean" ambitions may gain increased American support. The foreign policy nestor of the US Democratic Party - Zbigniew Brzezinski - is a long-time fan of such visions and was also the architect to the US policy of undermining the Eastern Bloc and demolishing the Soviet Union. Such a turn of events would, however, transform Prometheism from a positive to a negative mission - from integration to exclusion.

From the perspective of the European Union, the bad relations between the Soviet-Russian empire's former colonies and vassal states and current Russia, is a constant element of irritation in the capitals of old Europe. Hesitance and protraction in Ukrainian EU-integration may be interpreted as an expression of apprehension that if Europe's Eastern border would run from the Baltic to the Black Sea, it might topple a precarious balance in already strained relations to Moscow. Moreover, if the Caucasian card would be played out, EU may fear to be dealt a bad hand in a game played out between Moscow and Washington. Still, Ukrainan - as well as Turkish - accession to the Union is a natural and unavoidable development if Brussels is to remain faithful to the ideas of Europe. The dynamics this would bring may also return some of the vitality to the EU, in contrast to the prospects of Eurosclerosis.

As the Ukraine today is the geographical and polictical hub for a neo-Promethean movement, its positive sides may well prove a way ahead for both the Ukraine as the region in its entirety. If regional and western integration is allowed to walk hand in hand, the historical, cultural, lingual, and religious rifts characterising current Ukraine might perhaps be mended. A regional vision would tranform into a national vision, which might better reflect the complex nature of Ukrainian statehood. Here, European integration is an example for co-existence in multinational states.

What originally set Prometheism apart from other national liberation movements was a vision beyond narrow national interests. It waw the rights of small states to independently determine their destinies and the self-evidence in attaining development in cooperation with other nations as well as by regional integration and free trade, that gave the movement its special dynamics. In this sense, Prometheism was way ahead of its time and anachronic to the historical environment in which it existed. Its negative side was the tendency to let the legitimate strive for independence from Russian hegemony turn into outright Russophobia.

As the wings of history once more hover over the fettered Prometheus, hopes are set for Herculean liberation out of the claws of the Russian two-headed eagle. Will the chains thus be broken or will the American white-headed eagle simply take its place. Free or fettered, is Prometheus - the enlightener - destined to eternally live in the shadow of eagles? However, if the burden of freedom is merely to carry a stone in the bond of faithfulness to the ideals he has taught, this would seem a small sacrifice for the European titans of our times.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Russia - a sovereign democracy?

In recent years, sovereign democracy has become a key ideological tenet in Russian politics and society. As the ideology for the party in power - United Russia - sovereignty is perceived as a precondition for democracy. In my recent report on the state of democracy in Russia, Ryssland - en suverän demokrati? (Russia - a sovereign democracy?), this theme is addressed from the perspective of constitutionality and funtionality, to ascertain whether Russia's specific model of democracy has any essence.

In current Russia, the political elite has chosen the path of sovereign democracy. The argument goes as follows: The precondition for democracy is sovereignty in terms of state capacity. Without the capacity to rule oneself, no real democracy can exist. Democratic decisions can be made, but if they cannot be implemented, democracy only becomes a game with words. To become truly democratic, Russia first needs to become master in its own house.

Russia's choice is perhaps not as simple as between a United Russia and Another Russia. In the longer perspective, the question must perhaps instead be reformulated in terms of functionality and governance capacity, at least if accepting the Russian elite's own points of departure. Despite diverging views, there are certain general preconditions for a working democracy. It is a question of whether democracy fulfills its purpose, regardless of the actual form in which it is enacted. The question is whether "sovereign democracy" can fulfill this role.

For those of you, who do not master the Swedish language (in which the report regrettably is written), or do not have the time or the inclination to read some 100 pages, you may instead read the following abstract on my findings.

Sovereign democracy is the ideological and political basis for elite consensus in current Russia. Sovereign democracy holds that sovereignty logically precedes democracy. Sovereignty – as state capacity or function – is regarded a precondition for democracy. In order for democracy to evolve, the constitutional order must be upheld. In accordance with the Russian constitution, the president is the guarantor of the constitutional order. It is the president’s – or sovereign’s – prerogative to decide on the rule of the exception, in his obligation to safeguard the constitutional order. Consequently, constitution and function of the political system are fundamental to Russian perceptions of democracy and democratisation.

Accepting these postulations, the study departs from the concepts of constitutionalism and functionalism – viz. state capacity in terms of sovereignty – as fundamental prerequisites for democracy, and accordingly analyses the results of Russia’s sovereign democracy policy. It illustrates how the rule of the exception has been applied, by complementary legislation, to limit the basic political rights and freedoms of the Russian constitution. In functional terms, the study indicates a decline in governance – i.e. state capacity. This decline comprises most vital and mutually dependent areas of governance such as government effectiveness; regulatory quality; control of corruption; rule of law; and voice and accountability. A positive trend is discernable in terms of, on the one hand, political stability and absence of violence and, on the other hand, economic development. In combination, the study finds that Russia’s constitutional and functional decline coincides in time, forming a consistent downturn since 2003-2004.

Having completed its initial bureaucratic stage in attaining political stability, the policy of sovereign democracy is now entering the phase of modernisation. By means of the so called Putin plan, Russia is to re-conquer its position as a political and economic great power in the world. The goal of modernisation is to be achieved by expansive economic policies to stimulate the economic incentives of the middle class and attain the structural development necessary for long-term growth. Russian economy is to become more dynamic, diversified and sustainable. A nationally-minded elite is to activate the potential of the country, in terms of people and resources, and develop civil society and local self-government to redress system deficiencies in state and society. By a policy of stability and growth the elite seeks to rely on the expansion of a conservative middle class as a means to preserve the social and political order. By providing opportunity of wealth to the middle class, modernisation without democratisation in the liberal sense is to be achieved. The strategy of sovereign democracy thus challenges the theoretical argument that a growing middle class will lead to democratic development. By introducing alternative consultative mechanisms to traditional forms of representation and deliberation, liberal democracy is to be substituted by democracy by rule of consent. However, modernisation rests on the assumption of continued economic growth and political stability. It relies heavily on continued high oil and raw material revenues to diversify Russian economy and make it less dependent on these resources. The policy also faces the potential pitfall of inflationary setbacks. Simultaneously, political stability is threatened by decline in other sectors of governance underpinning it.

The results of the study – even if far from conclusive – imply that democratic decline might lead to a decline in governance. They indicate that the greater formal control by government the less actual control it has. This is a paradox of control beyond control. It would thus seem that sovereign democracy policy instead of increasing sovereignty – viz. state capacity – might actually reduce it.

Svenska Dagbladet, editorial blog, 6 May 2008.
Press statement, Swedish Defence Research Establishment, 7 May 2008.
Svenska Dagbladet, editorial, 8 May 2008.
Hudiksvalls Tidning, editorial, 8 May 2008.
Blekinge Läns Tidning, editorial, 10 May 2008.
Dagens Nyheter, editorial column, 19 June 2008.
Blekinge Läns Tidning, editorial, 18 February 2009.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Anniversary of Anguish over Bronze Battle

This weekend past saw the first anniversary of the Estonian Bronze Soldier crisis - over the removal of a soviet WW II monument from central Tallinn. As the crisis evolved it ignited a bilateral quarrel between Tallinn and Moscow, in the end setting Russia and the European Union at loggerheads. As the first anniversary of the Bronze battle drew close, a certain extent of anguish and apprehension arose among Estonian authorities. What was to happen this time over? The simple answer was - next to nothing.

On Saturday, some 100 demonstrators gathered in a park in central Tallinn to commemorate last year's events, and to call for the resignation of the Estonian government led by Andrus Ansip. The event was peaceful and heavily monitored by police and the Estonian secret service (KAPO).

That the demonstration actually rallied less of a crowd than the number of people merely injured last year must be considered a fundamental failure for Russian "minority" interests in Estonia. Not least so as, just a few weeks ago, an organization to unite Russians in Estonia held its first congress. That Saturday's demonstration had such a poor showing may thus point to a waning significance of the Russian issue in Estonia. Or should perhaps alternative explanations be sought?

What evolved over a few weeks last spring was that the same methods used during the coloured revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, and the Ukraine, were now applied by Russians themselves. As the protest was reaching its crescendo, actions and debate were coordinated by sms, e-mail, and blogs targeting largely unprepared Estonian political leaders and authorities. The subsequent cyber attacks on Estonian web-servers proved the peak in efforts to paralyze society. Someone had obviously done his homework.

In terms of the Russian-speaking population of the Baltic States, Russia has long propagated that these "minorities" are consistently discriminated against, and has even ventured so far as to compare the situation with Apartheid. Last year's events also gave Moscow an opportunity to highlight the issue on the international scene. Although much of recent bravado has mysteriously evaporated, Russia has e.g. demanded an addendum on the Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia in ongoing negotiations on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union.

Still, much indicates that Moscow came out of the 2007 conflict with the EU on the wrong end of the stick - besides the PR-fiasco for Moscow's international image - why such demands are most likely to be ignored. Also, Russian policy towards the Baltic States since 1991 has largely proven a failure. Already in 1997, Russia's Council for Foreign and Defence Policy - an influential think-tank - in a report characterised Moscow's policy as counterproductive, if it intended to safeguard the interests of Russian "minorities".

It is far too seldom argued that what is not said and done may be as interesting as what actually is. So may be the case also here, although reporting on something that did not happen - as the Bronze battle anniversary - would hardly qualify as breaking news or of interest to a larger audience.

Turning to the case in point, the Bronze Soldier crisis has fundamentally been interpreted as an ethnic conflict. In fact, few issues are as politically sensitive as ethnic tension. Recent history has witnessed oppression and even genocide on minorities to an extent that has shocked world opinion. However, this also has made us prone to see far too many societal conflicts with ethnic lenses.

So, why did the anniversary of the Bronze Soldier crisis pass by next to unnoticed? May it be that there are alternative or complementary explanations to last year's turmoil than the ethnic angle? Before trying some hypotheses, it should be clearly stated that the removal of the Bronze Soldier from central Tallinn unequivocally was the igniting factor of the 2007 crisis. It is quite obvious that the Estonian government acted in haste and with poor judgement. Thus, they partly brought the crisis upon themselves.

Still, that does not explain the absence of protests a year after the so far largest protests by ehtnic Russians in post-soviet Estonia. The situation has not altered and the reasons for, arguably, Russian discontent with conditions in the country has not changed for the better - rather the opposite as a fact. Political forces traditionally safeguarding interests of Russians have partly been rendered obsolete. In socioeconomic terms, nothing has really happened, as illustrated in a report by Marju Lauristin last autumn.

So, except for Estonia's monumental mistake and obvious Russia-related explanations of lacking protests this year - the upcoming presidential installation on 7 May and last year's domestic need in Russia to rally around a cause - what might serve as alternative or complementary hypotheses for the difference between last year and now?

One reason largely unexplored is the transit of Russian goods and products through Estonia. Russia has long wanted to divert this trade to Russian harbours instead of having to pay the costs of transit. Furthermore, Kremlin-sponsored Russian companies had long been eager to out-compete those companies that controlled and profited from the Estonian transit trade. The same applied for control over export-harbours in Estonia. For most observers, it serves as no surprise to state that the transit trade involves enormous sums of money. One can only imagine how much by pointing to the fact that Estonia lost some 6,3 billion Estonian Kroonas in transit revenues due to a few weeks of Russian blockade.

Consequently, just a week or so before the April 2007 events, Russian vice Premier, Sergei Ivanov, held a speech in Murmansk, in which he propagated curbing transit trade and diverting Russian exports to ports in the Petersburg region and Gulf of Finland.

Negotiations for transit quotas and pricing on Russian goods by Estonian railway were to be held in May 2007. In 2006, the Estonian state re-nationalized Estonian Railway (Eesti Raudtee), why preconditions for influencing the outcome of negotiations had been altered to the detriment of Moscow's interests.

As for harbour facilities, the ports of Tallinn and Muuga represented around one-quarter of Russia's total refined-product exports, thus by far outweighing any Russian harbour. Control over harbours in Tallinn, Muuga and Sillamäe had long been coveted by Russian business interests. As previously reported, last year's crisis also saw a transfer of trade between these ports to the benefit of Russian interests.

Then, there is also the question of shipping. The crisis and the subsequent Russian trade blockade is said to have favoured shipping operations, controlled by Swiss-based Gunvor Group. Gunvor is owned by Swedish oil trader Torbjörn Törnqvist, with interests in e.g. Surgutneftegaz. In November last year, Russian political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky made allegations in the German newspaper die Welt that Putin had amassed a personal fortune of some 40 billion USD, and that part of this was held by a 50% share of the Gunvor Group.

Although these rumours and allegations cannot be corroborated, and in fact have been denied by most concerned parties - among others Törnqvist himself - one cannot but stop to wonder what role business with a Russian stake had in the 2007 Russian-Estonian crisis. The example of controlling the transportation system - railways, harbours, and shipping - of Russian exports by way of Estonian transit might thus arguably be one alternative or complementary explanation to why last year's Russian-Estonian crisis was allowed to escalate to the level it did.

Russia's imposition of a trade blockade on Estonia for a few weeks last year was a hard hit on the transit trade. The transport of Russian goods by rail, road, and boat was halted. The companies involved in this line of trade, were among the all too evident losers, and many of them were more or less put out of business - both Russian companies and Estonian with often large Russian ownership interests. These companies were not sponsored by the Kremlin. Instead, it appears that the blockade wiped out annoying competition, and that mightier Russian business interests moved in to take over the transit trade, once the blockade was lifted. Such methods would not be a novelty in Russian business practices and thus serve to surprise nobody. Big business in Russia regularly gets Kremlin's blessing to move in and wipe out competition in order to monopolise a market. The difference in what would arguably be the Estonian case, is that these practices were now applied on another state not in the CIS, but on a member of the European Union.

So, apart from speculations and conspiracy-theories that normally surround events such as the Bronze Soldier crisis, it would seem worthwhile to test such alternative or complementary hypotheses as accounted for above. Who stood to gain from a blockade halting transit trade, and who has actually done so? However, if proven right, such an argument would not only expose that the Kremlin serves its own interests, but also a blatant disregard by Russia for the interests of the Russian "minorities" in the Baltic States, because the greatest losers of the conflict would turn out to be the very same Russian minorities that Moscow claims to defend.

Consequently, it may actually have been the Russians in Estonia who lost most out of the Russian-Estonian conflict over the removal of the Bronze Soldier. Russians were hit by losing the revenues from transit trade, both in terms of profits and employment. Furhtermore, Russians were the ones who were most exposed by raising the issue of disloyalty to Estonian society as a whole. For any minority in any country, such cross-pressure may prove highly detrimental to their future prospects of finding a place in society in social, economic and political terms, and still Moscow decided it was worth to run this risk.

Perhaps, in the end it is safest not to test such hypotheses as forwarded above, because - if validated - they would bring the perceived cynicism of Russian leaders to new and even higher levels. Moscow's indignation and heavy hand towards Estonia was officially motivated by the public outcry among Russians over the removal of the Bronze soldier. General opinion held that Moscow now finally had to step in to protect the Russian "minority" in Estonia. In stark contrast to this official policy, a proven transit trade hypothesis would - to the opposite - paint a picture of Russians abandoned by Russia and their cause sacrificed for the sake of petty business interests. One cannot help but wonder what the Russians who took to the streets in both Tallinn and Moscow in protest against "fascist Estonia" would think if confronted by proof to that effect. In the meantime, such hypotheses are, of course, just a fidget of one's imagination - or are they?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Putin World's Richest Man

An increasing number of surveys rate Russian president Vladimir Putin the richest man in Europe. Putin is allegedly to have amassed enormous wealth during his presidential reign and all the way back to the Petersburg days. At his annual press conference on 14 February, Putin for the first time commented on these rumours:

It is true. I am the richest man not only in Europe, but in the world: I amass emotions and am rich in the sense that the Russian people twice put the trust in me to rule such a great country as Russia. I count this as my biggest wealth.
What concerns various rumours concerning my financial situation, I have seen some documents on this issue. This is simply gossip, which there is no reason to discuss - mere nonsense.
In Russia, there is a tradition of denial whenever such accusations arise. Instead, Putin chose to make fun of the issue - or rather make himself out as honoured by the trust and responsibility the Russian people has put in him. Judging from his body language, the Russian president appeared somewhat ill at ease with the question. Not that it was unexpected, and the answer was certainly rehearsed. Still, one did not need more than a glance at Putin's reaction to gather that he would not have passed a polygraph test.

The question of rising wealth and power in Russia is destined to determine the future development and stability of the country. As long as the elites may share the dividends of growing wealth and power, they will remain loyal to the system. The day this situation will change - e.g. by falling international oil prices - there is nothing to hold the system together except mere repression. The question is but for how long the elites will accept such a system, if they no longer have anything to gain from it. The risk is that a lack of growth will eventually lead Russia into crisis and turmoil with little to keep the system together.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Slave to Power?

At his annual news conference, Russian president Vladimir Putin revealed that he had never been tempted to run for a third term. From the very outset, he decided never to violate the Russian constitution. The constitution stipulates a maximum of two consecutive presidential terms.

As usual this pseudo-news ran as the top story in international media's comments on the news conference. As previously reported, the Kremlin has succeeded to keep speculations on a potential third Putin presidential term alive for years, and media have only been to keen to swallow the bait. That journalists simply have not been able to take Putin's word for it, only testifies to the politechnologists' successful media coup in manipulating western and Russian news coverage alike. It should also send a warning to news audiences worldwide that they run the risk of deception due to international media's one-eyedness in Russia reporting.

At the news conference Putin said: "Throughout all these eight years I have toiled like a slave in the galleys, from morning till evening and, have done so with the full devotion of my strength." This is most probably a very sincere statement, and is also in line with what Putin has previously said repeatedly. Also, people working in the Kremlin has let it be no secret that the Russian president has been quite tired and weary of his duties in recent years. So, being a slave to power does not in Putin's case have to be a fixation to power, but an actual slavery of duties. Still, media have failed to see this.

At times, it is simply appauling to see how bad the knowledge is among western journalists covering Russia, when they repeatedly fail even to get the basic facts right. For instance, only this Tuesday the BBC covered Ukrainian president's Yushchenko meeeting with Putin in Moscow. With badly covered indignation, the reporter comments on Putin's upcoming attendance to the April NATO-conference in Bucharest: "Mr Putin will no longer be Russian president in April. Elections for his successor will be held next month." It is thus suggested that Putin and his croonies do not know when his presidential term ends or that they do not care, as things will anyway remain the same. Well, I have news for the BBC: Putin was inaugurated for his second term in May 2004, which means that he has the constitutional right to remain in office for the full four years of his term, viz. until May this year. That he has every intention to exercise his presidential powers to the maximum until the last minute is also clear from Putin's own statements. Still, one cannot but sigh when even the BBC cannot get such basics right.

What is at risk is good and objective reporting about developments in Russia. As the situation is becoming increasingly severe in many fields of politics and society, news coverage is increasingly tendentious and predisposed to prejudial perceptions. The worse the situation becomes, the greater is the need for journalistic integrity and professionalism. Or else, not only the general news audience will be misled but even world leaders might base their decisions on policies towards Russia on bad information and faulty images. Getting the basic facts right might actually change assessments of developments to better cope with challenges ahead. Those challenges are great, and the greatest is perhaps coping with the myth of Russia as a reemerging great power in the world. Still, we fail to see realities as they are, and as long as we do not challenge our own prejudice, we will go on living in a world of illusions about Russia.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nashi is not ours anymore

The pro-Putin youth movement Nashi is to be dissolved as a national organisation, Russian daily newspaper Kommersant reports. The decision comes after prolonged Kremlin dissatisfaction with Nashi's increasing radicalisation and extremist tendencies as a mass movement.

As previously reported, sentiments have been rising in Moscow that Nashi has outlived its purpose after the December 2007 parliamentary elections. With increasing concern that the radicalisation of the organisation has given it a life of its own - beyond blind allegiance to the Kremlin - fear of what a loss of control over the movement might mean has probably resulted in the decision to disband the movement. In what appears almost as a Russian equivalent to the night of the long knives, the national organisation is dissolved along with all but five of its regional units.

What is interesting is also what the Kremlin chooses to keep on to in Nashi's organisation. Except the five loyal regional units, the rest of the movement's members are referred to participate in the national projects of the organisation. This is in line with how the Putin plan is devised to change and develop Russia. The step from mass movements to mass projects is logical, as mobilisation now has to turn from populism to product. Thus, Nashi's emphasis on demonstrations and picketeering is yesterday's story in Russia. Now all energy must be used to modernise the country in line with the next step of Putinism.

What is surprising with this move is not per se that Nashi is disbanded. Instead, it is the evident confidence and security that the Putinist regime obviously feels even before the March presidential elections. There is no longer any need for a mass movement to take to the streets in defence of power - no need to root out the "extremists" of the non-system opposition of Another Russia. The national projects lie ahead in the guise of "sovereign democracy" to fulfill Putin's legacy. In the eyes of the Kremlin, Nashi is not ours anymore.

This signifies both arrogance and ignorance to the severe problems that may be facing Russia in years to come. With inflation rising and facing an international economic downturn, it is a fight against time to diversify Russian economy and turn it away from its dependence on energy exports, before the momentum of change is lost. We have seen the consequences of falling oil prices before in 1986 and 1998. As global macroeconomic indicators are now turning downwards, Russia can no longer rely on a constant high demand for oil. This would go beyond arrogance and ignorance. It would be outright foolish. Still, Moscow treads on along the pre-determined road to realising the expansionist economic policies of the Putin plan, despite facts pointing to the soundness of the opposite.

To rid oneself of such an instrument of political stability as Nashi in face of future potential middle-class discontent might prove unwise in the long run. One should remember that it is the middle-class that has something to lose from the consequences of irresponsible policies. It is they that might take to the streets in disappointment of gross government failure to deliver on its promises. Then neither laws or brute force will be enough, and without Nashi to defend the regime, it might well meet with an unexpected destiny. Such a scenario is not as far-fetched as might be considered, as the price Russia has had to pay for Putin's political stability is stagnation in most walks of life and society. This, however, the Kremlin fails to see, as it is too busy maintainting the status quo of Russian politics and economy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Zyuganov steps up to step down?

According to Russian newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russian communist leader Gennadiy Zyuganov considers withdrawing his candidacy for the March 2 Russian presidential elections. A withdrawal would be to protest against a similar negative PR-campaign that the Communist Party experienced during the December 2007 parliamentary elections.

According to recent opinion polls, Zyuganov receives surprisingly little popular support for his presidential candidacy, which would effectively force him to abandon his leadership of the communist party if they were to become official election results. Thus, even if withdrawing from the presidential race would open up to contenders to the leadership of the party, Zyuganov might consider this drastic option as preferential to a devastating election loss. According to a source in the presidential administration, the communists are currently seeking support in the Kremlin for receiving 15-20% of votes instead of the prognosticized 6%.

In the background, forces advocating a Russian two-party system seem to be at work. Hence, a discussion of merging the communist party and Fair Russia has been renewed, which would be considerably facilitated by the dethtronisation of Zyuganov. According to Nezavizimaya Gazeta, these are the same forces that want to undermine the position of Medvedev as future president of Russia. Zyuganov is very well aware of the fact that his candidacy legitimises the election of Medvedev. In the 2004 presidential elections, Zyuganov's role was much of a stage-hand in the act of reelecting Putin.

However, this time it seems to become the LDPR-leader, Vladimir Zhirinovski, who will conquer the second place in the presidential race. Such a result would further undermine Medvedev's legitimacy. Still, if Zyuganov would decide to step down, the effect is the same. Ending up in third place would be equal to his resignation as communist leader, why Zyuganov now seems to be playing out the legitimacy card against Medvedev to gain sufficient support in order to stay on as party leader. If Zyuganov would fail in these discussions and actually decide to withdraw, this has to happen no later than 27 January, as the communists otherwise will have to pay state election costs.

Even though Dmitry Medvedev seems sure to be elected the third president of Russia on 2 March, what goes on behind the scenes in Moscow at the moment is both interesting and confusing. It also provides further evidence that Putin and his aides are becoming increasingly dependent on the bureaucratic monster of political power that they have created during his era. What this will mean for Russia is still hard to say, but the evolving pattern bodes ill for the future.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Police crackdown on Nashi demonstration

According to Russian newspaper Vzglyad, a number of activists of Russian pro-Putin youth movement "Nashi" were arrested today during an illegal demonstration outside the EU-commission's Moscow office. The demonstration, gathering some 700 people, was arranged in protest against Nashi-activists, partaking in last year's picket against the Estonian embassy in Moscow, being denied visas to the EU-Schengen area.

Russian police has obviously learnt from last year's events, and urged the demonstrators to dissolve the meeting, which also was obeyed after some further disorder and some arrests. Nashi had not applied for a demonstration permit for the event. Even though the Russian constitution safeguards the right to assembly, legislation has been approved in recent years demanding official approval of any demonstration gathering more than one (sic!) person. Detainees were subsequently released out of police custody.

That police actually intervened against Nashi demonstrators seems an exception to the rule of giving the movement great leeway in their public appearances and propaganda. In view of Nashi's increasing radicalisation, not least since the Estonian crisis, concern has been raised that Nashi rethorics and actions might get out of hand. Some sources even suggest that the Kremlin is fearing a loss of control over the movement, not least if the down-to-earth practicalities and bartering of Russian politics would demand a turn away from Nashi ideals.
However, it would be an exaggeration to claim the crackdown on Nashi as a sign of the Kremlin starting to turn its back on the movement, in view of the evolving political landscape in the runup to Russian presidential elections this March. Still, one might wonder if Nashi is not all the more becoming a used political force after having fulfilled its purpose as a Kremlin instrument for the 2007-2008 parliamentary and presidential elections.

Would the movement continue to complicate matters and exaggerate Kremlin policies, official support for Nashi might dwindle in favour of other movements, as e.g. Molodaya Gvardiya - the youth organisation of Putinist party Edinaya Rossiya. The need to organise and foster the youth ideologically however persists, so whatever form this will assume, the phenomenon of forming a nationally-minded "elite" is here to stay.