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The Cascade Effect: Local Power from Old Soviets to New Russians (1985-2015)

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Authors: Matthew Crosston, PhD & Dmitrii Seltser

We have undertaken an inter-regional comparison of seven subjects of the Russian Federation: the Ryazan, Samara, Tambov, and Ulyanovsk oblasts and the Republics of Mordovia, Udmurtia, and Chuvashia.

This approach we feel creates an adequate field for analysis as it encompasses two oblasts each from the Volga and Central Russian regions (these are traditional subjects for comparison in Russia) as well as three national republics with their extraordinarily high political diversity. The principal results of the project have already been published [1, 2]. However, in Russia over the past 10 years, new elections were held.

Table 1

Electoral procedures for city heads and rural raion administrations in Russia (1991-2015)

Periods Forms
1. 1991 Appointment
2. 1996 Direct elections
3. 2000 Direct elections
4. 2004 Direct elections
5. 2008-2010 Mixed electoral system
6. 2012-2014 Mixed electoral system

In Russia sub-regional authority was first appointed in 1991 and then elected through five electoral cycles (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008-2010, 2012-2014). Two new electoral cycles have occurred, thus creating a need to continue the research. This article is a report made by the authors in ICCEES IX World Congress, Makuhari, Japan, 3-8 August 2015.

II. The Collision: 1991

Recall the historical context: the autumn of 1991 was the zenith of Yeltsin’s glory as concerns societal support (not popularity, mind you, but glory in the pop-culture movie-star sense). This glory was marked by the ovations from oblast committees, the renaming of newspapers, the removal of Derzhinskii’s statue from Lyubyanka Sqaure and the naked pursuit of the local nomenclature with the shrill question – where were you on August 19? In a word, it was the apotheosis of an emergent anti-communist democratic country. The new authority would be able to begin its reign with great fanfare and, in the sense of obtaining legitimacy, with great effectiveness. The way was open and obvious – if you could win through general, fair, direct, and transparent elections, in direct contradiction to the Soviet experience, you could be infused by the process with a true democratic essence. Such a task seemed wholly attainable.

But if that was the case, why weren’t there such elections? The official explanation always returned first to the danger of a communist retrenchment, of a new August putsch: that the extraordinary circumstances brought the threat of the Russian state’s actual dissolution. These maxims (Don’t let the Russian Federation suffer the same fate of the Soviet Union!) were widely distributed both for public consumption and the scholarly community. Thus, the new Russia missed its chance for constituent elections (i.e., missed its chance for making a real movement to democracy) and began instead a transition to a more ‘culturally appropriate Russian way.’ Ultimately, this was in fact a tremendous mistake by the new authorities, a barrier to the democratization of the country, a blow to the party system, and a main source of the bitter conflict that would emerge between the President and Federal Parliament.

In our view this mistake was largely false and man-made, connected with a critically low-brow and peculiar world-view that was seemingly innate to the post-putsch Russian leadership. The new residents of the Kremlin not only understandably feared the Communist party, but they also didn’t believe in the personal victory they had just achieved and were not ready to fulfill a more responsible governance role. They possessed neither the statesman’s demeanor nor the legislative experience and thus found themselves buried deep in the captivity of decades-long complexes and stereotypes. From this foundation they inevitably positioned themselves like a fortress under siege and treated all around them as if they were enemies, actual or potential.

The Presidium of the Verkhovnii Soviet of the RSFSR, which had just before been a supporter of Yeltsin in opposition to the Soviet Union central government, adopted a decision on September 6, 1991 to allow for the direct election of the heads of regional administrations beginning on November 24, 1991. However the decision was subsequently vetoed: analysts for “Democratic Russia” prognosticated a tremendous defeat for the supporters of the President (at best they felt there might be 10 or 12 victories versus 36 iron-clad defeats). It was this very prognosis, which subsequently proved to be partly mistaken, that served as the basis for the realization of the “executive vertical.” As a result of this dramatic struggle the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies acquiesced to a resolution on November 1, 1991 that effectively placed a moratorium on elections across all administrative levels until December 1, 1992. Thus, in 1991 the new authority de facto rejected constituent elections and began a “democratic” transition in the style of a Byzantine court. The procedure they developed, born from the President’s inner circle, was quite simple: the President would appoint governors while these, in turn, would appoint the heads of sub-regional administrations. In this way, the glow of democratic victory following the August coup led immediately to the very same democrats turning their backs on democracy for the rest of the country moving forward. If Lenin felt he needed a vanguard of the proletariat, Yeltsin’s team apparently felt it needed the exact same for democracy.

Table 2

Recruiting the heads of City and Raion administration (1991-1992)

Heads

R

Y

A

Z

A

N

S

A

M

A

R

A

T

A

M

B

O

V

U

L

Y

A

N

O

V

S

K

M

O

R

D

O

V

I

A

U

D

M

U

R

T

I

A

C

H

U

V

A

S

H

I

A

I

N

T

O

T

A

L

%
1st secretary 5 10 4 7 2 4 1 33 16,6
2nd secretary   1   1       2 1,0

Chair,

Dep. Chair, Soviets

1 1 1 1   1 3 8 4,0
Chair, Dep.Chair,Exec. Soviets 21 21 15 10 15 13 14 109 54,8
Directorate 2 2 6 3 5 11 6 35 17,6
Others     4 2 3 1 2 12 6,0
In Sum 29 35 30 24 25 30 26 199 100

In more than half of the cases (52%), the heads of administration were recruited directly from the chairs of the city and raion executive committees. The directorate and first secretaries lagged significantly behind, with only 17.6% and 16.6% respectively. The chairs and deputy chairs of the soviets, as well as the deputy chairs of the executive committees, added to the surprisingly impressive success of Soviet apparatchiks (5.1% and 4.6% respectively). In total it worked out that 117 people came to leadership positions in the sub-regions (58.4%) directly from the Soviet nomenclature apparatus. Most importantly, there were no striking inter-regional differences with this percentage, only a few minor exceptions. In Ryazan Oblast, the chairs of the executive committees of the Soviets achieved an extraordinary 75.9%. In Samara Oblast, the divergent result came from the first secretaries with 28.6%. In Udmurtia, the directors were greatly represented with 34.5%.

What accounts for this relative lack of success of the first secretaries? We surmise the continuous rotation of the oblast committee first secretaries (it subsequently came to be commonly known as the cadre meatgrinder), organized by the general secretary across the top echelons of the party hierarchy, created a de facto collapsing interchangeability at the sub-regional level.

Table 3
Interchangeability of City and Raion First Secretaries  of the Communist Party of USSR

 

Region 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 In Sum
Ryazan 6 12 5 9 5   4 41
Samara 6 1 5 6 1 9 5 33
Tambov 7 2 9 6 3 3 13 45
Ulyanovsk 7 2 8 4 2 11 2 36
Mordovia 6 2 4 9 4 18 1 42
Udmurtia 5 4 7 9 1 22 1 49
Chuvashia   2 5 6 6 12 2 33
In Sum 37 25 43 49 22 75 28 279
% 13,3 8,9 15,4 17,6 7,9 26,9 10,0 100

The continuous shifting of first secretaries across various locations placed them in a tremendously difficult position. Many who appeared in the sub-regions for the first time were immediately placed in the position of first secretary. For a non-competitive system with a continuous rotation of cadres this would have been almost normal. In a competitive system this made the first secretaries politically doomed. Recall that in March 1990 Gorbachev became the President of the USSR and allowed for the simultaneous holding of dual political office, thereby crudely raising the status of local soviet leaders. The elections for these local soviet deputies in 1990 became a bitter pill for the city and raion first secretaries. They were charged with the difficult task of finding a way to be elected to these local soviets and then subsequently head them. Those who did not succeed were consequently relieved of their right to head the city and raion committees. In the majority of cases where the first secretaries succeeded in becoming the leaders of the local soviets, they usually found themselves in collision with the directors of local industry (for example, in Samara and Ulyanovsk Oblasts and the Republic of Udmurtia.)

Table 4

Chairs of local Soviets (elections of 1990)

Region 1st Secretary Secretary Chair, 1st Dep. Chair of Exec. Committee Others (Directorate) In Sum in the sub-regions
Ryazan 25 1 3 29
Samara 22 3 1 9 35
Tambov 22 3 5 30
Ulyanovsk 21 2 2 25
Mordovia 18 1 2 3 24
Udmurtia 15 2 5 8 30
Chuvashia 19 1 2 4 26
In Sum 142 11 12 34 199
% 71,3 5,5 6,1 17,1 100

This collision produced a direct hit on the authority of the first secretaries acting as the new chairs of local soviets and felt like someone was playing a cruel joke on them (in Tambov Oblast and the Republic of Chuvashia, for example). This “contra-elite” worked against the first secretaries/new soviet chairs, blocking all their attempts to penetrate the elite local power structure. Recruiting for the new elite thus came mostly from an old reservoir of power – the old guard Soviet party nomenclature with its preservation of an unadulterated pre-Perestroika rhetoric and access to local insider knowledge. In opposition to this development a democratic movement did try to emerge simultaneously at the local level, but in reality the aforementioned contra-elites had already formed the irrefutable foundation of regional power by 1991.

In the regions, where the successes of the first secretaries had been more humble in 1990, an immediate substitution was consequently made in favor of the chairs of the city and raion executive committees. Thus, the new federal authorities by 1991 had placed a risky political wager on their success. This was most easily symbolized by President Yeltsin’s decree on July 20, 1991, ‘About the dismantling of the party’ (O departizatsii). In the Republic of Mordovia, for example, the local apparatchiks reacted to the decree by being totally demoralized and were subsequently more preoccupied with finding new work. In the Republic of Bashkortastan only 34 city and raion secretaries remained, in Tambov Oblast only 13. In most cases replacements would end up being second secretaries who had no future prospects. These substitutions would succeed in place for only a few weeks at most, while some only managed to work in these positions for just a few days. These people were nearly without authority and wholly unsuited for the role of head of the local administration. The only remaining ‘choice’ to the first secretaries, becoming a source of regional support for the federal center, was not much better.

Table 5
“Agents of Influence” for the federal center in the regions

Region Name of regional leader Mini-political bio Sub-regional politics
Ryazan

L.P. Bashmakov

(appointed)

Industrial director, Chair of Oblast Exec. Committee (1988 – 1990) The domination of the chair and his recent subordinates
Samara

K.A. Titov

(appointed)

Deputy director of “Informatika”, Chair of city soviet (1990) Support the exec. committee chair and his recent subordinates
Tambov

V.D. Babenko

(appointed)

Chief doctor of Oblast Hospital (1977 – 1991), People’s Deputy of RSFSR (1990) Support the exec. Committee chair and agricultural directors
Ulyanovsk

V.V. Malafeev (appointed, 10/24/1991-11/2/1991)

Y.F. Goryachev (appointed)

Director of “Kontaktor”,

First sec. of oblast comm. CPSU (1990), chair of oblast soviet (1990)

Support the exec. Committee chair and agricultural directors
Mordovia

V.D. Guslyannikov

(elected President of Mordovia, 12/22/1991)

Senior scholar of NPO, People’s Deputy (1990) Support the exec. Committee chair and agricultural directors
Udmurtia

V.K. Tubilov

N.E. Mironov

Chair of Supreme Soviet (1990)

Chair SM (1989)

Support the exec. Committee chair and agricultural directors
Chuvashia

Presidential elections in 1991 did not achieve results

E.A. Kybarev

N.A. Zaitsev

Chair of Supreme Soviet (1991)

Chair of SM (1989)

Support the exec. Committee chair and agricultural directors

“Partycrat” Y.F. Goryachev (Ulyanovsk Oblast), industrialist L.P. Bashmakov (Ryazan Oblast), academic V.D. Guslyannikov (Republic of Mordovia), doctor V.D. Babenko (Tambov Oblast), duma deputies V.K. Tubilov, N.E. Mironov (Republic of Udmurtia) and E.A. Kubarev, N.A. Zaitsev (Republic of Chuvashia), all were chosen according to one stark logic: chief support fell on the chairs of the local executive committees as they were the least politically dangerous. If for whatever reason the chairs were inappropriate, then the choice fell on the industrialists. Only in those instances where both chairs and industrialists were not available did they seek out “loyal” first secretaries of the new authority, capable actors of the democratic movement, or people who had fallen out of the nomenclature during the Soviet era. Indeed this process of appointing first secretaries was done only with great reluctance. The only exception to this process seemed to be K.A. Titov in Samara.

It was because of this that the first secretaries only managed to maintain their positions in 15% of the cases. Simultaneously, a small part of their number (less than 10%) did not fall from the nomenclature but simply exited into the oblast structures, as the new heads of local administration needed experienced and young administrators. These first secretaries of the provinces who ended up in the oblast centers were not considered dangerous and therefore acceptable. For example, first secretary of the Kotovsk city committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union O.I. Betin became the first deputy for the head of the Tambov Oblast administration in 1999. Betin would then become Governor of Tambov Oblast and has remained in this position. In this way nearly a quarter of the leaders of the sub-regions were able to preserve a primary spot for themselves in the local organs of power.

III. The Transformation: 1992-2015

The above explains why the events of 1991 did not allow the first secretaries many chances to hold on to their former positions of power. At best, only a few of them were able to hold on to power at the sub-regional level. This collision of appointments happened throughout 1991-1992. It is now necessary to move forward, discussing the developments that have emerged since the fall of the Soviet Union. After this appointing collision, the sub-regions in Russia went through three electoral cycles (the mid-1990s, the late 1990s, and the early 2000s). Each successive cycle further weakened the position of the first secretaries. Each successive election the first secretaries suffered losses of around 50%: the first cycle put an end to their dominant leadership role in the sub-regions; the second cycle displayed the futility in attempting to return to power; and the third cycle basically ended as a total fiasco for the former first secretaries.

Table 6

First secretaries of the City and Raion Committees of the CPSU – subregional leaders

(<+> = appointment of first secretaries as heads of administration [between elections])

(<-> = removal of first secretaries as heads of administration [between elections])

 

Subregion

Appointment

(1991-92; 1992-96)

1st Electoral Cycle

(1996; 1997-00)

2nd Electoral Cycle

(2001-04)

3rd Electoral Cycle

(2004)

4rd Electoral Cycle (2008-2010) 5rd Electoral Cycle (2012-2014)
1 Ryazan 5 5 7 5 1 0
2 Samara 10+1 5 5 4 0 0
3 Tambov 4+3-3 5-1 3 0 0 0
4 Ulyanovsk 7+1-1 4 1 0 0 0
5 Mordovia 2 3-1 0 0 0 0
6 Udmurtiya 4+1–3 2 2 2 0 0
7 Chuvashia 1+1-1 3+2-1 5-4 1 0 0
  In Sum 33+7-8 27+2-3 23-4 12 1 0

What accounts for these trends across the electoral cycles? This ‘washing away’ of the party nomenclature out of the local administration system can be explained through a number of circumstances. During the elections of the mid-1990s the first secretaries who remained in power largely conceded to one of two groups: either to the minions of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) or to the local industrialists/businessmen (ironically, these candidates were often overlapping in the sub-regions). During this time the opposition leaders within the CPRF were concentrated mostly in the local legislative organs (the Soviets and Dumas) and were continuously on the attack. For them, the first secretaries – whether they be the heads of administration already or simply candidates for the position – were traitors and opponents to their overall agenda. In Tambov Oblast, for example, during the elections for the head of the Muchkapskoi raion administration in December 1996, the raion committee for the CPRF issued a summons for its members to vote for A.V. Trubnikov as first secretary of the raion committee. Trubnikov was at the time only a farmer and had as the height of his Soviet career a position as instructor of the agricultural divison of the raion committee of the CPSU. As a result, nine candidates ended up being carried to victory across the oblast because of the support of the CPRF. Amongst them were only three former first secretaries (Uvarovo, Staryuryevskii, and Mordvoskii raions). Fascinatingly and contrary to the scholarly literature in the West, the Tambov communists simply ignored the former party nomenclature. The organizational structures of the CPRF instead supported representatives from the powerful industrial elite, who had been almost wholly unconnected to the former nomenclature.

The elections in the late 1990s clearly demonstrated that the only leader capable of mobilizing the popular vote was one that had become part of some clan, namely, one that was pro-presidential. At the local level a peculiar ‘party of power’ arose again and again – formed from the various politico-economic groups that were stable enough to be consolidated around formal and informal leaders. The unity of such structures was established through official coordination, informal connections, coinciding interests on the personal front, and the manipulation of extreme dependence. The elections in the early 2000s only strengthened that trend toward clan development. Unfortunately for them, a place for the first secretaries really was not part of this new power structure. It quickly became clear to them, however, that there were other options, post-USSR, for achieving a more-or-less comfortable standard of living outside the organs of local administration. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that only the less successful first secretaries were ultimately recruited into the organs of local administration. For obvious financial reasons, these administrative positions were clearly on a secondary level in terms of priority. Two other sectors were more ideal and preferred: head in the direction of industrial activity, as captains of new industry emerging with the privatization of state property, or the pursuit of positions within the oblast administrative structures. Regardless of the choice, both of these options were attractive in comparison with local administrations because of their swift opportunities for personal enrichment. And so, where does that leave scholars if they seek to find the footprints of the sub-regions’ original ‘local heroes’? What became of them and what finally were their long-term career trajectories?

IV. The post-Soviet careers of City and Raion first secretaries

The post-Soviet career of city and raion first secretaries evolved along six trajectories:

First trajectory: ‘The Boom – jumping to a new system.’ This trajectory comprised governors, vice-governors, heads of oblast administrative structures, and top managers. It was less than 10% of the overall nomenclature and was marked by an ability to achieve increases in overall authoritative capacity. In 1991-1992 they became the new authority and ultimately the self-interested protectors of the new order. These figures would have likely achieved a comparable status within the Soviet Union with but one significant difference: under the new system they were incomparably better off financially.

Second trajectory: ‘The Preservation – successfully maintaining the continuation of administrative-political activism.’ This trajectory was comprised largely of the heads of oblast and raion administrations and was about 15% of the overall nomenclature. These figures managed to sustain their pre-1991 levels of authority. They did not form a support network for the new powers within the system (as this effort would be politically dangerous) and by the mid-1990s had achieved an administrative distance between themselves and the top trajectory.

Third trajectory: ‘The Quasi-Survival – remaining in the system of administration but suffering a reduction in authority to secondary roles within municipal structures.’ This trajectory comprised the largest percentage of the nomenclature, nearly 35%, and included the deputy heads of city and raion administration, the chairs and deputy chairs of city and raion soviets, and municipal workers who had a higher administrative status pre-1991. These successes did sometimes become significant: across a majority of sub-regions (57.1%) the first secretaries succeeded by 1990 in combining their post with another, usually chair of the local soviets. The dissolution of all local soviets, however, in 1993 ended this opportunity.

Fourth trajectory: ‘The Exchange – voluntarily transitioning away from political authority toward economic opportunities.’ This trajectory was the second largest category (25%) and was comprised of the managers/directors of industry. A large number of industrial managers came into the party organs by answering the “Gorbachev summons” during the second half of the 1980s, as Gorbachev sought to produce a swift transformation of party cadres. This status gave them a significant advantage when the privatization of industry and agriculture began. These managers and directors eagerly returned to what was for them a more comfortable and habitual role of activity and quickly established for themselves an enviable standard of living.

Fifth trajectory: ‘The Orthodox – resisting the new system.’ Comprising only 10% of the overall nomenclature, this group was mostly made up of the first secretaries of the official raion and city branches of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. They successfully clung to their orthodox rhetoric and became ideological fighters against the new system. In the first half of the 1990s this trend was actually rather popular. The calculation to pursue this course of action paid off in the success of G.A. Zyuganov as a potential candidate for Russian Federation President and in their own personal success as the most believable and trusted heads of local administration. In the present day such opposition to the authority of V.V. Putin is not only futile but almost masochistic. Today this trajectory is basically closed.

Sixth trajectory: ‘The Exit – retiring into the pension system.’ This age group, who were mainly the most elderly first secretaries of the local Communist Party branches, made up only 5% of the total nomenclature. For the most part they put in for retirement immediately after the failed coup attempt in 1991.

This presentation has elaborated six trajectories which explain the general mutation and flow of authority and power of the sub-regional party nomenclature after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While this article certainly provides proof of the fusion between municipal service and business, it also shows the subtlety and diversity of options from which the late-stage Soviet nomenclature was able to choose. Clearly some options for lines of authority dominated over others. What should be emphasized, however, is how closely those choices ultimately gave foreshadowing for some of the most significant problems and flaws that would occur throughout the 1990s and beyond as Russia tried to complete its transition to democracy and a free-market economy. The poor choices and frustrations of the sub-regional nomenclature were often ultimately mirrored in poor choices and frustrations within the transition at the federal level.

Thus, the chain of power in Russia evolved in the following manner:

1991 – Manager with work experience in Soviet organs (so-called «the Soviet nomenclature»).

1996 – Manager Nomenclature of the Soviet era.

2000 – Non-nomenclature Managers, placed by clans.

2004 – Non-nomenclature Managers plus other persons, also placed by clans.

2008-2010 – Peoples from outside, Varangians (Businessmen and Intelligence officers).

2012-2014 – Varangians somewhat transformed into a new type, but still close to the governors.


MattDimaMatthew Crosston, PhD
Bellevue University, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Professor of Political Science
Miller Endowed Chair for Industrial and International Security,
Director – The ISIS Program: International Security and Intelligence Studies
Dmitrii SELTSER
Tambov State University named after G.R. Derzhavin, Tambov, Russia
Doctor of Political Science, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Political Science

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Senior Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University and was just named the future Co-Editor of the seminal International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. His work is catalogued at: https://brown.academia.edu/ProfMatthewCrosston/Analytics

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Is Israel Taking Advantage of a Longtime Strategic Partner for Russia?

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In February, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu met with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. In what can only be described as a bravado attempt to flaunt the strength of the ties between the two countries, Netanyahu pointed out that, “tourism is at an all-time high, with 400,000 Russians visiting Israel every year and about 200,000 Israelis visiting Moscow every year,” adding that, “(he has) the honor to contribute somewhat to this statistic.” The first part of that statement is accurate; yet, the latter part is far from the truth. Russo-Israeli relations had been improving for decades before Netanyahu entered the Israeli political scene.

Primakov’s Mission: Laying the Foundations for Russo-Israeli Relations

The “founder” of improving Russo-Israeli relations, Yevgeny Primakov, made a point (almost a mission) of maintaining some type of relationship between the two countries. Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War all the way up to the latter years of Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership, Moscow officially considered Israel a “pariah state.” However, in the 1970s, during the “Brezhnev Years,” Primakov, a Jewish-born Soviet, was a key member of Soviet delegations that held several rounds of secret talks with the Israelis (usually in hotel rooms from Vienna to Tel Aviv) despite Moscow breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel.

Following Brezhnev’s death, Primakov continued his “mission” by maintaining correspondence with his Israeli counterparts while serving in various capacities within the Soviet establishment in order to preserve communications between the two countries. When Gorbachev began his perestroika and glasnost policy, relations between the Soviet Union and Israel slowly began to improve. Gorbachev’s policies allowed Soviet Jewish “refuseniks” to immigrate to Israel, which eventually led to the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel in October of 1991—two months before the breakup of the Soviet Union. In December of that same year, Gorbachev announced the breakup of the Soviet Union but relations between the newly formed Russian Federation and Israel continued.

The 1990s were a tough decade for the newly formed Russia. The breakup of the Soviet Union saw the end of a social, cultural, economic, and political lineage that lasted for roughly seventy years dissolve overnight, thereby sending the citizens into dearth and poverty at unimaginable levels. As a result, Russia was a very weak state and did not have much leverage in the international arena. It did not help that the Yeltsin government implemented an American-backed “shock therapy” economic policy that de-modernized the country several decades and left the vast majority of the state in calamitous conditions.

Under the Yeltsin presidency, Russia was destabilized to a high degree (some would argue that it was worse than the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s), crushing their economy. Russians often term the “Yeltsin years” or the decade following the breakup of the Soviet Union as smutnoe vremya (time of troubles), or smutnoe for short, in reference to political crises caused by tumultuous transition periods. The term was most notably used following the demise of the Rurik dynasty, which eventually saw the establishment of the Romanov dynasty. It was also used, to a lesser extent, during the years of the Russian Revolution—the transition from the Russian Empire to Soviet Russia.

Similar to the “Brezhnev years” of stagnation in the 1970s, Israel proved to be a sanctuary for many Russian Jews during this chaotic period. Russian Jews (and other Jewish citizens from former Soviet satellite states) were no exception to this smutnoe of the 1990s, and as a result, Soviet and Russian Jews chose to immigrate to Israel in large numbers.

Despite the tough economic times in Russia, the Russian political elite, which included the then-Russian Foreign Minister (and eventual Prime Minister) Yevgeny Primakov, did its best to preserve its relations with Israel, while maintaining its longstanding foreign policy principle of a two-state solution regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was consistent with its overall foreign policy of stability in the region. In the 1990s, Russia (similar to the Gorbachev era of the Soviet Union) maintained a balanced approach when it came to the Middle East, ensuring its national interests were preserved.

The Putin Era: Advancing Interactions, Strategic Engagement, and Navigating the Palestinian Question

Relations between Israel and Russia significantly improved under Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin. Throughout his nineteen years in office, since being elected in 2000, President (and Prime Minister) Putin has often received many Israeli Prime Ministers along with other Israeli officials. Putin and others have also visited Israel on many occasions. Both Israeli and Russian officials often cite the size of the Jewish community in Russia and the Russian diaspora in Israel as proof of warming relations. In fact, today the Russian Jewry often claim that the community has it better under the current leader than at any other point in Russian history. And, there is a reason for that. The extent of anti-Semitism in Russia is minimal in comparison to the past. This increased acceptance is reinforced by President Putin. The Kremlin often speaks kindly of the Jewish community in Russia, and Putin has even taken it a step further by stating that Israel and Russia have common histories – namely that the two despise fascism and Nazism of any kind. In addition, the Russian Jewry now has the freedom to practice its religion with no fear of retribution today and can travel to Israel freely—a right greatly curtailed in the Soviet Union.

Despite being political rivals, President Putin, like others, sought Primakov’s advice when it came to the Middle East. Being an Arabist and an expert on the Middle East, Primakov felt (and wrote extensively) that Russia’s main challenge in the 21st century was to fight international terrorism—something that the new President agreed with (and still agrees with to this day). The President has long sought better relations with the Zionist entity as a result of his belief that one of Russia’s main national interests in the region is reducing international terrorism. President Putin believes, for better or worse, that Israel can be a strategic partner in fighting international terrorism. However, President Putin and the entire policy class also believe in a two-state solution along the 1967 borders (in reference to the land Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War) to allow for a future Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel. Furthermore, the Russian policy class believes that state sovereignty must be respected. On the former, Israel has made little to no effort and, on the latter, Israel has consistently overstepped its bounds with regards to state sovereignty, often pushing hard enough to destabilize the region.

A policy reversal by the Israelis on the Palestinian question – that is to disengage from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as fully withdrawing from Gaza – seems highly unlikely. Moreover, it also seems unlikely that Israel will cease its illegal excursions in other countries, such as what it is doing in the Syrian arena. This begs some fundamental questions: is Israel’s belligerence putting its citizens in harm’s way and, more importantly, is it risking losing Russia as a national security partner, with its fifty years of unofficial relations and twenty-plus years of official relations? If this is the case, then Israel will be putting itself in a very dangerous conundrum.

The United States, Russia, & Israel: Is it a Triangle?

It is true that Israel, for decades, has relied on the United States for military aid and moral support in the international community in times of war. However, since the fallout of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the United States has been slowly (but surely) leaving the scene. American citizens do not want their country to be extensively engaged in the Middle East or elsewhere. They would rather the exorbitant amount of money spent on these commitments abroad be invested in improving lives of American citizens through domestic programs, like healthcare, education, and increased job security. The direct lineage between the elections of candidates Barack Obama and Donald Trump (not John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Hillary Clinton) proves this to be the case. We are seeing further evidence of this as politicians vie for control of the Democratic Party. Voices within the party are justifiably asking questions out loud that have been asked behind closed doors for years. Questions like: why is it that a foreign country receives so much financial support from the United States when many of its own citizens still struggle to survive? As a result, support for Israel in the American political scene is waning, despite the Israeli lobby’s claim. Today, only a certain portion of the Republican Party blindly supports Israel wholeheartedly. At some point, those voices will grow quieter and quieter or, at the very least, become less influential.

When America leaves the scene and becomes less influential on the international stage, Israel will be left alone. Yet, Israel can move eastward in pursuit of securing its national interests, creating a new alliance with Russia, a country that is more invested in the region today. This can be beneficial to Israel’s national security but, for that to happen, Israel will need to change its course on both the Palestinian question and its excursions in the region. The decision is a “no-brainer” given that the current course is creating an outcome where Israeli citizens are endangered from rockets as well as stabbings, shootings, and car-ramming attacks.

Russia, who seems to be invested in the region for the long haul, has been a willing partner thus far. Most recently this was evident when Russia –– in coordination with its military and the Syrians –– cooperated with Israel to help return the body of the fallen Israeli soldier, Zachary Baumel, who was killed in the 1982 “Lebanon War.” However, the Israeli establishment cannot take its Russian counterparts for granted forever. While the vast majority of the Russian policy class and President Putin still seem to want better relations with Israel and are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, this is not guaranteed going forward. The policy class is not homogenous and some within it can override the Russian President when they deem Russia’s national interests are being jeopardized, as we saw when Russia finally decided to deliver its S300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria. Thus, if Israel continues its confrontational activity in the region and prolongs its actions towards the Palestinians, Russia has cards at its disposal that will be unfavorable to Israel—leaving Israel isolated and weaker.

The ball is in Israel’s court. It must decide if it wants better relations with Russia or not. For the moment, the Russian policy class desires this; there is no doubt. However, at some point, Russian patience might run out. With the United States slowly leaving the scene, Israel would be wise to move closer to Russia. However, for that to happen, it needs to seriously consider changing its policy towards the Palestinians and cease its military excursions in the region. Israel should not test Russia’s resolve like it has done in the past, because the consequences for the Zionist entity could prove to be existentially dire.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Russia

Russian- Arab Cooperation Forum

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On April 16, Moscow hosted the 5th Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum to review comprehensively its strategic goals and achievements, challenges and layout plans for the future. The Fifth Ministerial Session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, for the first time, attracted 14 ministers from the League of Arab States (LAS), and representatives from north Africa (Maghreb) and from the Arab world. It was also attended by the three foreign office representatives of the Council of the Arab League (Iraq, Sudan and Somalia), as well as Tunisia (as current Arab League Summit chair) and the Arab League Secretary General.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed, in an opening remarks at a news conference, to continue joint work in the interest of a Libyan settlement, supported the UN Secretary-General Special Representative in Libya Ghassan Salame’s efforts to implement the road map he developed to normalise the situation in Libya.

“We have a common goal which is to help the Libyans overcome their current differences and reach a stable agreement on national reconciliation. To this end, Russia is working with all the political forces of Libya, without exception,” he said.

“We discussed various situations in the Middle East and North Africa, including Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq. We supported the decisions adopted at the recent Arab League summit in Tunisia, the documents that capture the commitment to increase the role of the League in the region’s affairs. We strongly welcome such decisions,” the Minister added.

Lavrov further referred to the 12th session of the Russian-Arab Business Council and the 4th Arabia-Expo International Exhibition as significant events that enormously contributed to creating additional opportunities in the interest of promoting business cooperation between Russian and Arab organisations.

Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message of greetings to the participants and guests of the 12th session of the Russian-Arab Business Council and the 4th Arabia-EXPO International Exhibition, held from April 8 to 10.

The message reads, in part:“Over the years of its work, the Russian-Arab Business Council has fully proved its relevance and effectiveness and contributed to promoting direct dialogue and practical interaction between the business communities of Russia and the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

The council’s energetic efforts serve to expand and diversify trade, to increase mutual investment and implement promising joint projects in the manufacturing industry and agriculture, energy and high technologies, transport and infrastructure.

Large-scale Arabia-EXPO exhibitions are an essential area of the council’s activities. They introduce the latest economic, scientific and technological achievements of the Arab states to the Russian people and offer an opportunity for entrepreneurs to exchange business proposals and innovative ideas.

I hope the current session of the council will be substantive and will make it possible to outline new forms and mechanisms for equitable cooperation, as well as to strengthen friendship and mutual understanding between our nations.”

The Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially launched in 2009 with the signing of a memorandum between the Russian Federation and the Arab League. Since then it has proved its importance as a mechanism of a regular exchange of opinion and coordination of positions on major regional and international issues. 

An in-depth exchange of views were held during the meeting on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, particular attention was paid to coordinating practical steps to further enhance the whole range of relations between Russia and Arab countries, primarily trade and economic relations, investment, culture, education and people-to-people ties. At the end of the Forum, a joint declaration adopted as well as an action plan to implement the principles, objectives and tasks of Russian-Arab cooperation for 2019-2021.

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Russia

The Results of the Azerbaijan- Russia Industrial Cooperation Forum

Asim Suleymanov

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On April 4, the Azerbaijan-Russia Industrial Cooperation Forum was held in Baku with the participation of representatives of relevant government agencies and entrepreneurs. Speaking at the forum, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Economy Shahin Mustafayev noted that the political will and joint efforts of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia laid a solid foundation for expanding economic cooperation between two countries. The relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, which are developing in all areas, are at a strategic level.

Within the framework of the forum, three Russian companies – Rostselmash, Transmashholding and Service Invest – signed the cooperation agreements with Azerbaijani partners. State Duma Deputy Dmitry Savelyev, commenting on the results of the event, noted that Russia and Azerbaijan had obviously moved from the initial steps in building economic partnership to a normal working process.
The result is visible to the naked eye: last year’s trade turnover amounted to $ 2.5 billion, exceeding the figure for 2017 by 19%. It shows the great interest of companies in joint projects.

According to the parliamentarian the countries have long-term successful experience in opening joint ventures in the industrial sector, and not only in the oil and gas sector. Industrial cooperation is developing at full speed.
The real examples of mutual investment were the SOCAR Polymer project, the construction of a pharmaceutical enterprise in the Pirallahi industrial park, and the cooperation of the Ganja car plant with the Russian enterprises KamAZ and Ural. A service center that would make maintenance and repair of Mi helicopters in Azerbaijan is supposed to be opened.

Moreover, at this stage of cooperation we can talk about readiness for cooperation in the international arena. The Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia and the Russian Export Center (REC) are launching the Unified Export Support System. Regional hubs will be formed in 19 countries (including China, Turkey, Germany, Vietnam, Uzbekistan and Singapore).

Moreover, the creation of joint assembly plants considers promising point of economic growth. Such a joint project will expand the market for engineering represented by Middle East and Southeast Asia countries. An important role in this regard should be played by agreements at the level of state corporations.

“This year, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree establishing the Azercelli company. This company will be engaged in the development of the non-oil sector, the production of defense and import-substituting industrial products. In cooperation with Rostec that is among the ten largest industrial corporations in the world in terms of revenues Azercelli can begin its expansion into the huge markets in Africa and the Middle East.”

The long-term friendly relations of two states, based on good-neighborliness and taking into account the national interests of a partner, the Russian parliamentarian considers the main trump card in the joint entry into international markets. “If there is a conflict of interests in some areas of activity, then in order to pass events like the Russian-Azerbaijani forum of industrial cooperation, where both parties can always sit at the negotiating table and find mutually acceptable solutions, as was done throughout the history of the relations.

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