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Lilia Shevtsova: European politicians are kept by Russia

Lilia Shevtsova: European politicians are kept by Russia

A probe into the origin of income of Russia's top officials is needed.

It will help stop Putin, thinks Lilia Shevtsova, a prominent Russian politologist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (the US).

The politologist answered questions of charter97.org chief editor Natallia Radzina during the conference “Challenges and Responsibilities in Contemporary Journalism” in Vilnius.

– You made rather sharp remarks at the conference and criticised Europe for the lack of a strong and principled policy towards the Putin regime. It was very emotional for an analyst, as analysts are considered to be outside observers. Do you feel you cannot stand aside any more?

– You know, even people who have been working as analysts for many years and trying to show a rather distant uninvolved approach sometimes react emotionally if they live in a tense situation.

The year 2014 was a test for strength and adherence to principles for Europe and the entire West. They had enough time to assess the past, the present and the mistakes the European Union made in its relations with Russia, Ukraine and in its own foreign policy. But Europe failed to use this time to develop a new strategy.

To be objective, we should say that Europe achieved one unusual and absolutely unexpected thing. Twenty eight members of the European Union still have a common position on sanctions against Russia despite the fact that Hungary with prime minister Orban, Cyprus, Greece and other Mediterranean countries have always been spineless in what concerns principles.

Angela Merkel, who was hardly suspected of having a clear and consistent position on Russia and Ukraine a year ago, now keeps Europe's unity. It is undoubtedly a positive step in the maturation of the European Union and overcoming the EU's intellectual and political paralysis of the last 5-6 years.

On the other hand, sanctions are only tactics rather than a strategy. Their goal is to make the regime that nearly crosses the red line not make anything bad. They haven't led to the de-escalation of tensions, though they've shown in some degree that the European Union can be viewed as an integral whole.

– Perhaps, a more painful blow was needed.

– The West's sanctions worked against the apartheid in the South African Republic and the Lukashenka regime in Belarus. In general, they can work only in a package with a clear well-defined policy of liberal society that includes a number of strategic measures. What strategic measures? The European Union hasn't decided it yet. It failed to do more. It failed to go further than applying sectoral sanctions.

We are in a deadlock. The European Union and the West in general cannot change the vector of actions of the Russian authorities, but they can influence the changing of the Kremlin's tactics.

– How to break the deadlock?

– You know, there's one thing the West ignores. The Soviet Union was able to survive due to its confrontation with the West. But post-Soviet, Yeltsyn's or now Putin's Russia survives due to the integration with the West, due to forming a source of wealth inside the EU, the “fifth column” and the sphere of influence.

This is an absolutely new survival model. It is impossible to cope with Putin's Kremlin, restrain and restrict the room of his manoeuvres only by imposing economic and military sanctions on Russia, sending five IFVs or tanks to Lithuania, creating NATO forces of rapid deployment and five command centres in eastern Europe.

Everything can be changed if the European Union begins to remove the cancerous tumour inside it. Let's recall London, which is often called Londonograd. All main Russian state-owned companies are registered on the London Stock Exchange. About 500,000 Russian citizens live in London and have their assets there. If the UK government and relative agencies began the process of revealing sources of their income, an immediate reaction would follow.

Sanctions won't be successful for as long as former Germany's chancellor Gerhard Schröder works at Gazprom and for as long as former economic ministers of EU countries and former NATO general secretaries are kept by Russian state-owned companies.

Most money comes to Russia from Germany, France, the UK and the Netherlands. Russian offshore assets in the Netherlands or on the Virgin Islands return to Russia in some form, for example, as investments. This money flows from Russia's rent-seeking economy to the West.

If these money flows and sources of wealth are audited, the future of the Putin regime will be determined. Europe will help us by helping itself. Another paradigm of attitude toward Putin's Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries is needed.

– Will Europe be able to give up Russian money?

– It obviously cannot do it yet. The process needs big laundering. But rain begins with small drops, and Swiss banks begin to lift bank secrecy rules under pressure from the US Department of the Treasury, and capital flows from Switzerland to other countries.

Of course, not all countries do it. Austria, for example, doesn't it yet. The Kremlin's political class continues to have a huge room for manoeuvres unless the problem is solved.

– A probe into the origin of funds will take a long time. But Russia has been carrying out a military operation in Ukraine for a year. Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed a month ago. What can stop Putin now?

– You know, there's no answer to this question and to most questions about today's Russia and today's West. The situation is absolutely new. It cannot be compared to the cold war, which had its own rules and red lines both for the Soviet Union and the West. Both sides respected them at least after the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s.

A new system of taboos is being developed now. I don't think the reaction of the West, let alone the reaction of the European Union, which is regarded in Moscow as an “old people's home”, somehow influences the Kremlin's policy. European bodies adopted many resolutions on Russia, but none ofo them had influence.

The Kremlin is a system of personalistic power. This machine is in a state of deep degradation and, possibly, in agony. We don't know the stage of the agony, but it cannot be stopped, because it's like bobsleigh: you jump into a sled and runs down the track. You can change the sled's speed, but you cannot stop it. This is how the Russian matrix works.

We draw too much attention to Putin, but he is just a hostage of the sled. The main thing is the machine, and, to all appearances, the wave of political murders in Russia can continue, because the effective forces do not depend on the Kremlin.

I am not completely sure that the order to kill Nemtsov was given by the Kremlin in the situation of the growing isolation and a probability of imposing new sanctions. There are very powerful forces. Gazprom and Rosneft work with Europe and should need normal relations with it, it is a law of the rent-seeking economy. They need free borders, an ability to move money freely, sell oil and gas freely. They are not interested in isolation. Suddenly, Boris is killed. The Kremlin was rushing from one explanation to another.

Putin has lost control over the sled, over the killing machine and his blood-thirsting country. The process cannot be stopped if the entire system is not transformed.

The murder of Nemtsov is clearly political, because the state created an atmosphere of mutual hatred and persecution. This is a warning not only to opposition and the minority of dissidents, to which I belong. This is a warning to the whole political class in Russia: you are under threat if you deviate from the required way. I can imagine how terrified members of the president's administration and Russian businessmen Aven, Fridman, Prokhorov were... All understood they must be loyal.

– If the Kremlin is not going to stop internal repression, does it mean it won't stop its foreign aggression?

– It's hard to say what particular steps the Kremlin will make. The Kremlin approved the new survival concept before the events in Ukraine. The concept was completely crystallised by the end of 2013, and it was a fatal mistake of the western political and analytical world that they ignored it. A new foreign political strategy began to acquire its shape in 2007 after Putin's speech at the Munich Security Conference where he harshly attacked the United States.

Before 2013, the Russian matrix had been surviving due the personal integration with the West and western society and the dialogue with Europe, but the main blocks of the survival strategy now are the restraint of the West inside and outside Russia. Ukraine has become a laboratory for testing this doctrine.

It's now difficult to guess what particular measures will be taken to restraint the West, but it's absolutely clear that the Kremlin will scarcely afford Ukraine to be a proper independent state. The policy of destabilisation of this country will continue.

Of course, “interest” to the situation in Belarus, Moldova and the so called gray zone states will be preserved.

– It in fact means the Soviet Union.

– No, it's not so. Of course, it's convenient to use metaphors like the return to the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was a clear, strictly integrated empire due to the full inclusion of Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States into the frames of the Soviet system. There were the common budget and paying for loyalty of the national elites.

– Lukashenka's regime, which is loyal to the Kremlin, has been living for more than 20 years due to the Russian budget.

– Yes, but the matter is that the current situation is different. Eurasianism is an absolutely new model. Yes, there's an element of paying for loyalty from the Russian budget. But the Russian budget is shrinking. It has little money left. The Russian reserve fund has around $400 billion, of which only $200 billion is liquidity cash. So, it's impossible to completely buy the loyalty of Belarusian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Armenian elites or minions in Central Asia. So, other means will be used, but Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine won't be fully included in Russia.

Look how Moscow treats the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics”. The Kremlin wants Kyiv to include separatists in the frames of the Ukrainian state. Having its [Russia's] column inside a [foreign] state is absolutely new tactics. It's like creating its column in Vitebsk or Brest.

I think financing for Lukashenka has been cut significantly. He used to receive huge money for every provocation and trick. He doesn't receive money now and tries to be a friendly calf that sucks two mothers – he applies both to Europe and Russia, hoping to get money for his survival. He blackmails both Europe and Russia.

The other matter is how the Kremlin can control Lukashenka and Belarus without money. It's hard to guess. How will Russia destabilise Ukraine if it has no money to maintain Donetsk and Luhansk? It's a new situation.

– I've lately met with Yuri Felshtinsky in Warsaw. He forecasts three variants of developments: Russia occupies Belarus with Lukashenka's consent, without Lukashenka's consent or the “Afghan scenario” is implemented. Which of the variants do you find more probable?

– I respect Felshtynsky. He is a brave man, and he writes interesting books, but the first two scenarios are absolutely impossible. They will never been implemented. Firstly, the Russian budget is limited. Secondly, Putin, however, has certain limits and the understanding of rationality. Thirdly, Russian population is not ready to expand the group of “kept countries”.

Last March, 65% of Russian respondents were ready to pay for Crimea, but now only about 30% agree to do it. In a month, when the economic crisis will hit Russians, only 10-15% of brave people will be ready to support Crimea financially. It will cost about $20 billion a year, and Russia doesn't have such money.

As for the help in a coup in Belarus, this scenario is worth discussing. As with all vassal states, it is the best way to control them.

– What is the Eurasian Union if not an attempt to restore the USSR?

– It is a different epoch now. We see the gradual decay of the Russian civilisation, degradation, demoralisation of the Russian state and its gradual retiring from the political stage. Putin tries to prolong the life of the decaying system, but it cannot produce what is used to produce in the 1960-70-80s. It cannot do what it did in Afghanistan, more over amid crisis.

On the one hand, chaotic, dramatic and tragic actions are possible, such as the deployment of “green men” in Crimea. But Russian troops – 26,000 people – had been deployed on the peninsula before. I don't know how many thousands of Russian troops are at Belarusian military bases, but on the other hand, such attempts are short-time and situational.

Russian troops are also deployed in Armenia, but Armenians take to streets, demanding to close the Russian military base in Gyumri. We've never seen it before. The Kremlin hardly expected Armenians to do it. The situation is developing rapidly.

– We are talking in Lithuania, where conscription was reintroduced due to a threat of Russia's military intervention. Journalists from Latvia attended the conference and spoke about the danger of creating the “Latgalian People's Republic” by Russians. How real are threats to the Baltic States?

– I am very careful with any forecasts, especially when the old world order has broken. We are on a completely new road. We can scarcely guess what will happen tomorrow. It's unlikely that someone of us supposed that Putin would annex Crimea last February, though all of us knew about different plans on the president's table. Both defence and attack plans.

All plans are possible, but it is a question whether they will be fulfilled after Crimea and Donbas, after Moscow has discovered how much is costs. The peculiarity of the Russian population is that people want an appearance of victory and an illusion of unity, but don't want blood. The “Crimea is ours” slogan is a crescendo of the Russian myth, the victory without victims.

Why are Russian soldiers and officers who died in Donetsk and Luhansk buried at night? It's because people do not want a war with casualties. It is an important limiter of the Kremlin's military operations in neighbouring states.

If blood runs, the regime will be deposed sooner or later. Anything but war – every Russian has it in genes. It's strange that the nation that seems to be the most bloodthirsty is afraid of blood so much. They want the expansion in Belarus and Estonia,, but they want Belarusians and Estonian to welcome them with flowers...

– So many Russian soldiers were killed in Donbas, and two Chechen wars killed many people, too.

– As for Donbas, television creates an illusion that it goes without blood and only volunteers fight there. Well, several people were killed, but they were volunteers. Russians actively protested against the war in Chechnya and collected hundreds of thousands of signatures.

The first Chechen war wasn't approved at all, the second one was partially approved due to lies on television and during Putin's “Eldorado” when oil price was growing.

– Will World War III happen?

– We cannot rule out anything in the situation when no rules work. This is our axiom number one. The regime that clings to power can use crazy measures.

But any crazy idea will be supported by people, even demoralised people, only for a short time. Today 62% of Russians want Ukraine to be an independent state. The drug's effects begin to disappear, because people begin to open their fridges instead of watching TV.

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