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Archive for the ‘OSCE’ Category

Never Trust. Always Verify.

Posted by democratist on August 4, 2010

4th August 2010

Democratist was interested to read that the head of the Russian Federation Council International Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov has backed Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s call to hold a summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Almaty later this year, at which a “reformed” draft of the OSCE’s charter might be renegotiated. (“Russian senator says only reform can save OSCE,” RIA Novosti, 1st August 2010). 

According to Margelov, the OSCE needs urgent reform in order to “save” it, and the main aim of reform is apparently to restore “balance” between three main “dimensions” of the OSCE’s work; political-military, economic and “humanitarian”.

So what does this “rebalancing” imply?

To Democratist it seems fairly obvious that some in the nomenklatura are hoping that the Russian leadership will use any forthcoming summit to attempt to effectively destroy the OSCE’s “human dimension” – which is based on the recognition (as outlined in the OSCE’s 1990 “Copenhagen Document”) that human rights, and not least free elections and the rule of law, have a critical impact on international security, and therefore merit “verification” by the OSCE (i.e. the OSCE should be allowed oversight of member-state conduct in these areas, and should be allowed to express any concerns). 

More specifically, we suspect the main target will be one of the principle mechanisms of “verification”; the Election Observation Missions (EOMs) organized by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

These “reforms” are being proposed, not as Head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev has stated, because the OSCE or ODIHR EOMs have “become obsolete” or “failed to adapt to new realities,” but rather for quite the opposite reason; it is precisely because over the last twenty years the OSCE ODIHR has repeatedly shown itself to be an extremely powerful tool for the promotion of democratization, and has achieved an excellent reputation for impartiality and judgement with the populations of many OSCE member-states, that some in the Russian elite are so concerned to circumscribe its activities.

More generally, what is important about ODIHR is not just that it has had a significant impact in cases where governments have decided to “play by the rules,” and where free and fair elections have taken place, but also critically in a number of instances when cheating has occurred – as was the case in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005).

In each of these cases the ruling regime engaged in electoral fraud, and the OSCE ODIHR called them for it; in each of these cases the result was that the population subsequently rose up and overthrew the regime; and in each of these cases the OSCE ODIHR’s preliminary statement condemning the elections as fraudulent played an (unintentional but significant) role in concretizing popular sentiment against the regime.

Since decisions at OSCE summits are taken on a concensus basis, the West ought to be able to hold the Russians to their existing international commitments, as stated in the 1990 Charter of Paris and other OSCE documents.

In this regard, it might also be useful to remind Markelov, Kosachev and others like them, of President Medvedev’s July 12th speech to the Russian diplomatic corps, in which he underlined the importance of “strengthening democratic and civil society institutions in Russia”  and urged diplomats to “promote the humanisation of social systems around the world, and especially at home.”

The position that the Russian government finally decides to take in relation to OSCE (especially ODIHR) “reform” is likely to be very instructive as to how seriously we should take Russia’s current “modernization” drive.

Posted in Democratization, Elections, Electoral Fraud, OSCE | Leave a Comment »

Encouraging Liberalization in Russia.

Posted by democratist on July 27, 2010

27th July 2010

Democratist has been reading  Samuel Charap’s article in the Washington Post (“U.S. needs to carefully plot engagement with Russia” – 23rd July 2010) with interest.

Charap suggests a number of potential benefits that might stem from enhancing US foreign policy engagement, as part of a gradualist strategy aimed at fostering the development of a more open political system in Russia, while also counteracting more regressive political forces. He sees three main benefits of improved ties;
  • They increase the chances that the US can express concerns about what is happening in Russia without the discussion devolving into a “shouting match.”
  • Such engagement deprives the Kremlin of the specter used to justify its turn away from open politics (the “West as the enemy at the gates”) and the removal of this should improve the position of western-backed NGO’s and increase Russian citizens’ exposure to the US and its political system.
  • Successful governmental engagement will, over time, raise the cost to the Kremlin of actions that would undermine ties.

Democratist is broadly in agreement with the notion of enhanced engagement with Russia, but remains sceptical of the likelihood of success in terms of fostering a more open Russian political system (sections of the nomenklatura have little interest in reform, and remain all to happy to return to a “shouting match” at the earliest opportunity).  We therefore offer the following suggested analysis and approach;

Democratist sees contemporary Russia as suffering from two relevant, and related problems driving the country towards some degree of liberalization; one minor and probably of only medium term relevance, and the second more significant and deeper, but both of which have the same common fundamental cause;

The first problem is the  sharp reduction in world market price for hydrocarbons since 2008 (e.g from around $100 per barrel, to about $75 now). The Russian economy suffers from a lack of diversification and is therefore remains reliant on oil, gas and minerals for 70% of exports. The recent fall in prices for these as a result of the financial crisis has resulted in some additional fiscal pressure, which will have some impact on spending over the next few years. However, this problem should be at least superficially alleviated as hydrocarbon prices recover.

The more significant longer-term problem is a pronounced and increasing national inability in the sphere of technological innovation: Russia is falling behind in terms of its industrial, technological and scientific capabilities. This has serious implications for her continued status as even a regional political, economic and military player, and has manifested itself (for example) in an inability to produce and deploy an effective  reconnaissance UAV (as demonstrated during the August 2008 war with Georgia). Genetics, space, IT, energy, and telecommunications are all other areas of concern.

It is apparently this second problem (especially in relation to the loss of military prowess) which is of greater concern for the nomenklatura, and which therefore provides greater impetus for the current reform drive.

Democratist believes that both of these problems; lack of economic diversification and technological innovation have the same fundamental cause; Russia’s truly extraordinary levels of corruption (worse than many sub-saharan African countries according to Transparency International) which extends throughout all sections of society, but which stem from the top –  because the distribution of rents on the basis of loyalty has been a central component of how the Russian government has done business, especially since 2000, as part of a corporatist economic model.

So, as we have argued, while until recently the government may have been initially hoping to resolve Russia’s lack of diversification and innovation simply by encouraging investment from the West through tax breaks and technology parks, this tactic is unlikely to have any significant effect on its own in as far as it refuses to countenance the kind of deep political reforms required to seriously address Russia’s “hypercorruption”, and thereby make the country a place where innovative Western firms would actually want to invest, and where Russia might develop its own innovative companies.

However, evidence is starting to emerge that for Medvedev at least, this stance may be changing; as George Bovt from the EU-Russia center notes; in a speech given to the Russian diplomatic corps last week, the President stated that the foreign ministry should engage in three tasks as part of his modernization agenda; the fight against organised crime, modernising the economy and most significantly, strengthening the institutions of Russian democracy and civil society.

But even if Medvedev is personally committed, the obstacles to meaningful reform remain enormous and include most prominently an authoritarian concept of the State that flourished precisely as a reaction to the supposed shortcomings of the liberalization of the 1990′s.

So, what can Western countries do to encourage potential liberalization?

We have two initial suggestions:

Firstly, Democratist urges a little restraint. We should begin by highlighting what we can’t do. Preaching at the Russians is likely to be counterproductive given the mindset of many in the nomenklatura. However, in relation to foreign investment, the main position to take is to reinforce the point that, whereas Russia may currently have a corporatist system with a high degree of political control and support for ostensibly private firms, this is generally far less the case in the West, and therefore while the tax breaks, techo-hubs and other initiatives we have seen so far are to be welcomed, it is essentially up to the Russians themselves to make their country a place where innovative Western firms will want to invest.

Secondly, if the Russians do show signs that they are starting to take such an approach seriously, the US and EU might also quietly suggest that, as an initial step they could do far worse than ensuring that the OSCE ODIHR is allowed to observe the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2011/ early 2012. These polls could potentially provide Russia with the opportunity to  demonstrate how things are beginning to change (especially in contrast to the polls in 2007/8 where the Russians deliberately sabotaged the OSCE missions). It would be easy enough to allow some limited media liberalization and reform of the electoral law, and thereby potentially allow some genuine opposition voices into the Duma, while either Medvedev or Putin would almost certainly win the presidency without need for too much recourse to the abuse of “administrative resources” or other forms of fraud. Indeed, this line of thinking may already beginning to emerge; the issue of “winning without the use of administrative clout” was mooted at a special meeting of the United Russia general council (Kommersant, 16th June 2010). However, it will take clear guidance from the top to ensure that such aspirations are observed in practice – and at the moment Democratist still fully anticipates widespread fraud in the local elections due this October (as was the case last year).

If Russia really wants to move from its current position as a raw materials supplier at the periphery of the world economy towards becoming the sort of diverse economy where innovation flourishes, it will have to develop the institutional structures required to make this a reality, and these imply democratic reform because, as Russia is now discovering, accountable institutions provide the sine qua non that supports technological innovation.

Posted in International Political Economy, OSCE, Russian Economy, Russian Liberalization, UK Foreign Policy, US - Russia | 1 Comment »

British diplomacy: In need of a bit more “Sic Semper Tyrannis”, and a bit less Bordeaux?

Posted by democratist on July 1, 2010

1st July 2010

Democratist today avidly watched the speech given by new British Foreign Secretary William Hague, which sets out how the new coalition government is to conduct UK foreign policy.

We were especially pleased that Hague put renewed emphasis on the need for the UK to engage in a proactive foreign policy that places an “enlightened national interest” at it’s core: We fully support that notion that, as Hague stated, the UK needs a foreign policy that “…is ambitious in what it can achieve for others as well as ourselves, that is inspired by and seeks to inspire others with our values of political freedom…that is resolute in its support for those around the world who are striving to free themselves through their own efforts from poverty or political fetters.”

It was additionally notable that the new government underlined its commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and also that the importance of helping former Soviet states in the process of transition to democracy was mentioned directly.

With this in mind therefore, Democratist is keen that the FCO should immediately make clear that intends to fully back the UK’s commitment to OSCE ODIHR election observation over the next few years, and more specifically to ensuring (at the very least) that the UK sends the full complement of 10% of election observers to all future OSCE ODIHR election observation missions, a policy to which it had been largely committed prior to 2008 (but sadly somewhat neglected over the past two years).

Democratist conjectures that OSCE election observation is about the best value for money currently available to the UK in terms of its overseas aid/foreign policy in relation to the former Soviet Union. Election observation played a key role in the development of the Baltic States in the 1990′s, and more recently in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova (considerably improving the relationships of each of these countries with the UK, and allowing for far higher levels of co-operation than had previously been possible). It retains huge potential to positively influence developments in countries as diverse as Belarus,  Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and even (over the longer-term) Russia itself. All this at a total average cost of just over £600,000 per annum (apparently less than the current value of the FCO’s wine cellar).

It should also be noted that, if the UK does not put people forward to work as observers, it means that certain, perhaps less well-intentioned countries gain proportionately more influence in the process of observation, and will be able to have greater influence on subsequent OSCE  statements and reports over the coming years. In a worst-case scenario, such an outcome could do significant damage to the OSCE’s reputation – and (as the Foreign Secretary so correctly noted in his speech) such damage is not easily repaired.

Posted in Democratization, Elections, Orange Revolution, OSCE, UK Foreign Policy | Leave a Comment »


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