The Horror of Russian Lawlessness

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former senior policy adviser for the government of Canada, writing in the Kiev Post:

Despite losing the cold war some 20 years ago, Russia is determined to regain superpower status without concessions to a new world order. The policy issue for Canada and others is this: how far to tolerate Russia’s aggression in the name of good relations? And: will it change, if criminal behavior is accommodated?

Russia’s lawlessness is evident. It invades sovereign territory, issues passports to citizens of other states and fails to honor agreements to withdraw troops. It ranks in the top 10 percent of the world’s most corrupt states; the only G-20 country with such a distinction. There’s mischief-making in Transdnistria, cyber attack on Estonia, interference in Kyrgyz Republic’s internal affairs. Relations with neighbors are consistently confrontational. It even uses orthodoxy to spread 19-century pan-Russianism worldwide.

The state, under President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, controls virtually all aspects of domestic affairs: Political opposition in the Duma; parliament is stifled. Much of the Russian media serve its oligarch — read government –owners. Insubordinate journalists are murdered; the leading independent paper Novaya Gazeta lost five, including Anna Politkovskaya; three others have been killed in the last few weeks.

Business shenanigans are legion, best exemplified by the lengthy incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s former energy czar. Most of Russia’s wealth is controlled by oligarchs favoring the state. Those who do not, like Boris Berezovsky, must flee.

And matters are getting worse. Liberties at home are declining and aggression towards neighbours is rising as Russia, once again, pursues its 19th century imperialist doctrine of Czar Nicholas I “autocracy, orthodoxy and nationalism”.

Yet, Russia is accommodated by Western powers.

Following the West’s Cold War victory which liberated some 500 million people and 15 states plus the satellites, from the concentration camp that was the Soviet Union, Russia was in no better position to negotiate terms than post-war Germany. Yet, some–Stalin’s moniker for Western apologists of the USSR had been “useful idiots” — lobbied hard to stop the “humiliation” of Russia and blessing its unilateral claim to a new “near abroad” empire. To this end, Ukraine and Kazakhstan were threatened with aid withdrawal if exclusive control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal were denied Russia. And when NATO membership support was nearing 70 percent in Ukraine, Western democracies sided with Russia’s nyet rather than admit the largest European country– a fledgling democracy aiming to embrace the West–into its fold. The pattern persists: there was tepid consternation rather than outrage as Putin threatened Ukraine and Georgia with nuclear annihilation were NATO membership to be granted.

Russia appeasement is alive and well as short-term interests get in the way of principles and strategic goals. This gets France technology transfer contracts for Russia’s naval fleet enlargement. Germany’s Angela Merkel–with roots in East Germany where Mr. Putin served as a KGB operative, speaks Russian at official bilateral meetings and works hard to be on the right side of Russia’s energy policies. The United States may have a new START agreement, open bases in Kyrgystan and cooperation in dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat but at what price?

Meanwhile, Russia’s strategic goals are gaining ground. It is expanding its hegemony in the neighborhood; participating in Europe’s security deliberations; increasing control of global waters; seeking trade access via WTO membership; and demanding respect while expanding its criminal empire. Cold War victors applaud– da, da kharasho–and throw in the Winter Olympics and the World Cup into the bargain.

Historian Eerik-Niiles Kross reminds how George Smiley (John le Carre’s fictional character in his Cold War novels) was fond of saying that “bargaining with the Russians tends to result in giving away the crown jewels in return for chicken feed.”

Ukraine is a particularly fine gem. The largest country in Europe, with outstanding assets–agriculture, metallurgy, aerospace, with considerable Europe reach via river networks and into the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through the Black Sea, it is key to yedynyj ruskyj mir, the one Russian world, as its current rhetoric has it.

Pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych leads the charge in Ukraine, while the West, in deference to Russia, throws the proverbial pearl to the pigs. From an impressive near 90 percent support for independence from Russia- dominated USSR in 1991, Ukraine reverted to a narrow pro-Russia presidential victory in 2010. Unquestionably Russia was guiding developments there; buying Western hearts and minds, by besmirching its state politics, claiming “Ukraine fatigue” and “political instability” to ensure the results it wanted. Instead of mounting robust fights, the West caved and Ukraine is, for the time being, sliding back into Russia’s sphere of influence.

The West’s Russo-centric optic is historic and due, in part, to ignorance of the Slavic world. Canada’s historian Margaret MacDonald underscores this in her “1919: The Versailles Treaty” as Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George split Ukraine between Poland and Russia.

And, nearly a century later, as the U.S.S.R. collapses President George H.W. Bush admonishes Ukraine for breaking with Russia! Current opinion leaders chatter about “Russia’s Crimea.” Similarly, centuries of Ukraine’s incessant struggles for independence are dismissed as “300 years of Russian rule,” thus legitimizing the hope of the czarist doctrine: Ukraine never was, is not now and never shall be and playing into Putin’s hand.

Pro-Russia thinking is evident globally. Despite its lawlessness, it is a bona fide member of the G-8 and G-20; it is courted by NATO. And, if Christopher Westdal’s writings are indicative, more Russia accommodation is in the works. “Make no mistake” he says “…new boundaries of Europe and Russia will be drawn. … the Caucasus is not European…neither is Ukraine European–enough.” And, if history is a measure, the West just may allow Russia to prevail.

It is chilling that the West may bargain away yet another crown jewel– NATO’s Western self-determination– in return for cooperation in Afghanistan and Iran. Mere chicken feed? Delusionary trust? Or both?

A good predictor of future behavior is past performance. The United States and Canada, for instance, should continue to have good relations, given some 200 years of peace and prosperity. The future in Russia’s neighborhood and the rest of the world will be turbulent unless pressured to change. In the last century, Russia invaded the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Georgia. There is mischief making in Armenia and Transdnistria, cyber attacks on Estonia and interference in the Kyrgyz Republic. Gratuitous butchery in Chechnya contrasts sharply to the way Canada, for example, handled Quebec’s independence aspirations.

Russia’s aggression calls for deterrents rather than rewards. Yet in April, Obama and Medvedev signed the New START Treaty to reduce nuclear power of both countries. Some fear it will ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal cannot overwhelm Russia’s and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia reserves the right to drop out of the pact if it believes U.S. missile defense plans for Europe threaten its security.

In this uncertain world, Canada is doing its part.

During the recent visit to Ukraine, Prime Minister Stephen Harper drew heavily on Canada’s foreign policy pillars: security within a stable global framework and projection of Canadian values.

Harper spoke in Kyiv, but his words were heard in Moscow and around the world. He called for the rule of law, respect for human rights and the importance of free media. He paid homage to victims of both Nazi and Communist regimes in this blood-soaked land with the message that admission of past atrocities is a deterrent to future genocides. His performance was statesman like, in the best Canadian tradition and one which virtually all Canadiansare proud to support.

It surprises that some would have him — Canada– silenced because such positions are “tailored to suit…Russia-phobe diaspora voting blocks in Canada.” Moreover, dismissing Canada’s concerns regarding Russia’s territorial claims in theArctic as being “…equivalent to bald men arguing over a comb” is perplexing given the suspected massive oil and gas reserves in the Arctic and Russia’s enhancement of its navy capacity by some 50 vessels and the new military budget by 650 billion dollars.

Of course, having Russia closer to Canada, NATO and other Western democracies is desirable and current convergences would be good news were they accompanied with democratization. The reality is different. Russia glorifies its bloody imperial and Soviet past and shows little progress in becoming a rule of law state. It remains a repeat offender, a danger the West dismisses at its peril.

6 responses to “The Horror of Russian Lawlessness

  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  2. @He paid homage to victims of both Nazi and Communist regimes in this blood-soaked land with the message that admission of past atrocities is a deterrent to future genocides.

    An excellent new book on the subject:

  3. Overall, an excellent article. I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s assessment that Western attitudes towards post-Cold War Russia were horribly misguided, and the obsession with “not humiliating Russia” has facilitated the re-emergence of Russian imperialism. Russia should have been forced to demilitarize and face up to its totalitarian past. Had that happened, everyone would have been better off today, including the Russians. “Geopolitical clout” and “imperial grandeur” don’t bring food to the table for the average Ivan.

    However, Ms Bashuk is misguided in her ideas about the Ukraine (understandably so, I assume she’s an ethnic Ukrainian). The Ukraine is a lost cause for the West, and in all truth, it was unavoidable: the Stalinist policy of creating artificial states by forcibly herding together different nationalities within arbitrarily created borders was never viable. It may be the largest country in Europe, but it doesn’t have an independent foreign policy, and it does have “outstanding assets” (although some of the assets the author mentions were built by the Soviets or stolen from its neighbors), but this hasn’t prevented the Ukraine from becoming the poorest and most backward country in Europe. Despite being in a much better position 20 years ago than most other Eastern European countries, the Ukraine now lags behind even Belarus and Kazakhstan.

    The only thing that the West can realistically do is to stop Russia from further extending its “sphere of influence” west of the Ukraine. You can’t force Ukrainians to be pro-Western or join NATO if the majority of the population doesn’t want that.

  4. By contrast, TVi’s owner Konstantin Kagalovsky had been a deputy manager of Yukos, the Russian oil company that was run by Mikhail Khordokovsky, a Russian oligarch who fell out of favor with the Kremlin and was imprisoned over fraud charges.

    TVi’s owner Kagalovsky also served as an economic minister in the post-Soviet government in Russia, but then emigrated to the United Kingdom where he became a citizen.

    TVi’s General Director Kniazhytsky said Kagalovsky “doesn’t have other business or support any political party in Ukraine. He considers himself independent. The government in Ukraine cannot influence him in any way. …

    “The other channels are owned by Ukrainian oligarchs who have many other businesses in Ukraine. People in power can guarantee their loyalty by either applying pressure or giving them preferences.”

    Whatever forces are at work to silence TVi, Kniazhytsky said he is determined to keep its investigative work at full throttle.

    “They can’t call me from the office of the president and tell me what can or cannot be shown, as they do with all the other TV channels,” he said. “The principle of our work is editorial independence, an unusual phenomenon in Ukraine.”

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  6. The Appeals Chamber of the Russian Supreme Court has upheld the liquidation of the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians of Russia (FNCAUR).

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