|11 November 2010
Return of another Russia?
By John J. Metzler
NEW YORK - Calling for Washington.s diplomatic and commercial relations with Moscow to "be less pragmatic and more value based," former Russian Prime Minister and now opposition figure Mikhail Kasyanov, stressed the role of the foreign community in supporting democratic change.
Stating bluntly that Russia is "not a democracy at all" and moving in a different direction, perhaps dangerous, Kasyanov criticized the anti-democratic drift during the Putin presidency and beyond.
Indeed in recent years there.s been a decided return to political authoritarianism, something which has been lubricated by high petroleum prices which allowed then-President and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to support a big-spending government.
Addressing a round-table gathering at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, Kasyanov, who served in the Ministry of Finance for almost a decade before becoming finance minister, stated categorically, "the oil price can ruin a budget."
He cited massive state spending on the one hand but a stop of political reforms on the other. He cautioned, "If the oil price falls, Russia faces big, big problems."
Interestingly Kasyanov asserted, "There`s been no investment in oil or gas and there has been a decrease in production of gas … at the same time the government has a dependence on oil prices." Currently the state-run Gazprom monopoly is the world`s largest natural gas exporter.
The political and economic stagnation continues apace. Even after Vladimir Putin moved over (probably temporarily) for Dmitri Medvedev to become President, the "population which supported Medvedev two years ago is now completely disappointed."
Addressing the reset process which the Obama administration agreed to with the Kremlin, the former prime minister conceded, he.s positive on issues of "non-proliferation and Afghanistan."
Yet, he calls upon friends of Russia "who believe the Russian population deserves to live in a normal democratic country" to have a relationship "based on values," by offering moral support to the Russian people.
He stressed Putin and his entourage "would like to be viewed as respectable." Putin feels "Everything in the world is purchasable." Yet many friends abroad "have been indifferent to his rule."
The Russian government "does not allow us to participate in elections," Kasyanov stated. As leader of the People.s Democratic Union (PDU) since 2006, he added that there.s "no independent press," and while the Internet is important, only about 10 million people use it for information.
Opposition groups have been barred from elections; they hope to unite to contest parliamentary voting in 2011.
Kasyanov, who was prime minister between 2000 and 2004, calls for the West to stress a principle of values in dealing with Russia.
"Why should Russia be treated differently? Not "special treatment" in not implementation international obligations." He called on Russia`s true friends to be "less pragmatic."
Kasyanov`s center-right party platform is "We need separation of powers, less state (intervention) in markets, and to encourage entrepreneurialism".
Speaking of the business sector he admonished a "silent contract with the regime to freedom to make money." In the wider context of foreign trade and investment in Russia, Kasyanov warned the West, "Closing your eyes to violations of rights you will not gain the results you expect."
In Russia, the power of the state and the security apparatus has trampled on what fragile democratic seedlings which may have existed in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But beyond creeping political authoritarianism, police and business corruption are spiraling too across Russia. According to the Transparency International, a global watchdog group monitoring business bribery, Russia is the world.s most corrupt large economy. (Quite a feat given some of the other contenders).
Today Russia is ranked 154th among 178 contenders. Because of deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, many Russians are leaving home not just for the U.S. but even to the Czech Republic.
When this writer asked whether wider governmental contact with Russia beyond the administration and specifically by the U.S. Congress and private institutions would be beneficial, Kasyanov remarked candidly that, in its contacts with Russia in the past, the "U.S. has used very effective "soft power." But again, Congress should not close its eyes to violations," in everyday life.
Importantly now in the aftermath of the American midterm elections, the incoming Republican Congress can be expected to stress human rights issues in Russia. Kasyanov implored, Putin "can`t understand people who have values, as he believes all is tradable."
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of "Trans-Atlantic Divide; The U.S./Euroland Gap?" (University Press, 2010). He can be reached at email@example.com
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