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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

MD Executive Vice Chairman Dr. Matthew Crosston is Senior Faculty for the Doctoral Programs in Global Security and Strategic Intelligence at the American Military University. He has published top-tier research that has impacted real world decision-making in the US and beyond, with over 30 peer-reviewed scholarly articles and over 100 analytical editorials and commissioned opinion pieces representing the full spectrum of global security translated into Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Hebrew, Spanish, Turkish, Farsi, Greek, and Uzbek. Currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel, Crosston has won global fellowships at the Research Institute for European and American Studies, the China Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research, and was the first American invited to conduct political analysis for the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow, Russia. He has a BA from Colgate University, MA from the University of London, and PhD from Brown University. https://americanmilitary.academia.edu/DrMatthewCrosston

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It Is Crucial to Watch Changes among the Russian Elites

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Georgia’s and to a large extent any other post-Soviet state’s foreign policy depends on what happens in/to Russia.

Problems in the Russian economy might be causing reverberations in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, etc., but it still is not a long-term problem. What should matter more fundamentally to us are internal developments within the Russian ruling class, changes in the government, struggle among powerful groupings, and relations between the civil and military branches.

In other words, we need to pay closer attention to the Russian elites which govern the country and therefore control the country’s foreign policy. This is important since Russia’s internal situation often has a bearing on foreign policy, and that is where it matters to us.

To be sure, watching developments in a country’s ruling elites is crucial for almost every modern state which is geopolitically active. But with Russia, this is even more important as the political power in the country does not derive from the people as in the European democracies, but rather from powerful security and military agencies which enable the central government in Moscow to control efficiently large swathes of territories, usually of unfriendly geographic conditions.

The way modern Russian elites operate is very similar to the way how Soviet and imperial (Romanov) governments worked. Quite surprisingly, in all the cases Russian elites have been always perceptible of changing economic or geopolitical situation inside or outside the country.

It is often believed that a ruler, again whether during the imperial or Soviet times, wielded ultimate power over the fate of the population and the governing elites. The same notion works for Vladimir Putin. Westerners often portray him as a sole ruler to all the affairs Russian and non-Russian and a major voice in what should be done. True, the incumbent president is powerful, but he gained this authority more as a balancer among several powerful groups of interests such as military, economic, security, cultural and numerous smaller factions inside each of these large groups.

To many, it might seem strange and hardly possible that the Russian president balances rather than rules, but generally a Russian ruler, despite the historically autocratic models of government, always had to pay attention to changing winds among the country’s elites. In the beginning, if all goes badly, the elites might be silent for the fear of oppression, but slowly and steadily they would always try to influence the government. If this did not work, the Russian elites would not hesitate to abandon the ‘sinking ship’.

Indeed, Russian history shows how powerful the Russian elites are and how vital their support for a government is.

Take the example of the Romanov dynasty before World War I. There was a big disenchantment with the way the government operated and once the Tsarist rule failed in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 and the WWI, the result was immediate: the elites turned their back on the Romanovs and the Empire ceased to exist in 1917.

Perhaps an even better example is how the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Though there were military problems, corruption as well as economic woes, it was still in the minds and hearts of the ruling Russian and Ukrainian, Georgian and other governing circles that the idea of a common state failed.

Nowadays, Russia is experiencing serious problems, ranging from economic and educational to purely geopolitical. There are occasional signs that the Russian elites are getting more worried about the future prospects of the country. Where before the Ukrainian crisis there was still hope of final European-Russian rapprochement and the idea that Russians had to model themselves on Europe, now this idea is dead.

Thus, along with social and foreign policy troubles, the Russians are also experiencing a purely spiritual problem. All point to the fact that there are too many issues which have accumulated during Putin’s rule, which, surely, will not be easy to change overnight, but there is a growing understanding that this chosen way is not getting Russia to a spectacularly good place in the world arena.

This brings us to the pivotal question of what Russia will be like after Putin. Is a change to the existing status quo possible? Many developments show that it is a plausible scenario. Considering how many problems have accumulated and considering how troublesome historically it has been for the Russian elites to act openly against the government, it is possible that once Putin is out, internal infighting among elite groups will take place. As a result, reverberations to foreign policy will follow. It is not about wishful thinking on the part of the western community, but rather the result of an analysis of Russian history and the Russian mentality. Almost always, changes at the top of the government, whether peaceful or otherwise, have an impact on the foreign and internal situation.

This is what should be meticulously studied by the Georgians.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Experts Campaign to Enlist Russia’s Commitment to Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Roscongress Foundation and Integration Expertise LLC (Intex) have signed an agreement on cooperation between their organizations to work collaboratively on the “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” in preparation for the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit. The agreement directed towards collecting and collating expert views for the project “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” that could be incorporated into the final Summit Declaration.

A group of Russian experts plan to present a comprehensive document titled “Russia-Africa: Shared Vision 2030” at the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit scheduled on 23–24 October in Sochi, southern Russian city.

Sochi, located in southern Russia, has an excellent heritage. In both winter and summer, the city hosts world-class global international events, such as the Olympics, the World Festival of Youth and Students, and many others. Sochi has one of the largest congress complexes in the country.

The key issue emerging from many policy experts is a fresh call on Russian Government to seriously review and change some of its policy approach currently implemented in Africa. It’s necessary to actively use combined forms of activities, an opportunity to look at the problems and the perspectives of entire Russian-African partnership and cooperation in different fields from the viewpoints of both Russian and African politicians, business executives, academic researchers, diplomats and social activists.

The Russia-Africa Summit will be the first platform to bring African leaders and business executive directors to interact and discuss economic cooperation of mutual interest with Russian counterparts, nearly 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Even as the historical event draws nearer and nearer with preparations underway, Russian officials at the Kremlin and Ministries, particularly Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and Economic Development and Industry, are still lip-tight over what African leaders have to expect from the Summit.

On the other hand, competition is rife on the continent, with many foreign countries interested in Africa. Resultantly, African leaders have been making rational and comparative choices that enormously support their long-term Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Roscongress Foundation along with the Integration Expertise information-analytical company said in a recent news brief that collaborative writing team of Russian and African experts have been working on a document that would outline the main areas for interaction between Russia and African countries.

An expert analysis, including macroeconomic reviews, and an analysis of political systems and inter-country development strategies would be used to reach conclusions about opportunities for cooperation, make recommendations, and define specific goals for the development of Russian-African relations in the period until 2030.

Anton Kobyakov, an Adviser to the Russian President, noted that “Russia has traditionally prioritized developing relations with African countries. Trade and economic relations as well as investment projects with the countries of the African continent offer enormous potential. Major Russian businesses view Africa as a promising place for investment.” 

Andrei Kemarsky, Director of the Department of Africa of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the work on the series of expert reports united by the common theme “Russia-Africa Shared Vision 2030” would make a significant contribution to intensifying Russian-African cooperation and would further promote Russia’s interests on the African continent.

“This project seems to be particularly relevant given the fact that the Russia-Africa Summit is scheduled to be held in Russia with the participation of heads of all African countries,” Kemarsky said.

In December 2017, Russian Export Center became a shareholder of Afreximbank. Russian Export Center is a specialized state development institution, created to provide any assistance, both financial and non-financial, for Russian exporters looking for widening their business abroad.

 “We are seriously looking at multifaceted interaction with Africa. Russia has a long historical connection with the continent since the time African states started gaining their independence. However, that has lost its momentum in early 90s. It is our major goal now to rebuild the trust and the connections with the African countries to make the strong foundation for further business cooperation,” the General Director of the REC, Andrei Slepnev, told me in an emailed interview.

“We’re witnessing a clear growing interest from the both sides to establish the new level of relationships which means it is a perfect timing to boost the economic agenda we have, create a platform to vocalize these ideas and draw a strong roadmap for the future,” stressed Slepnev.

“Given the growing interest in Africa, Russian organizations, both private and public, need a high-quality guide that will help to avoid at least some of the mistakes that have already been made and provide pointers on some of the most promising mechanisms for collaboration,” Roscongress Foundation CEO, Alexander Stuglev, said.

Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”

Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, already many important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen, first of all, how these intentions and agreements would be implemented in practice with African countries, according to Arkhangelskaya.

During the signing of an agreement between the Integration Expertise and Roscongress Foundation, Yevgeny Korendyasov, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that intensifying Russian-African cooperation was now among the list of current priorities of the Russian government and the business community.

“Preparations for the Russia-Africa Summit as a new platform for the Russian-African partnership are in full swing. In this situation, ensuring that relations between countries reach a new level requires a rethinking of approaches, mechanisms, and instruments for cooperation based on their heightened significance in the new conditions of world politics and economics,” according to Yevgeny Korendyasov.

Andrei Maslov, an Expert at the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that Russia’s partnership with the African continent was also a major focus at the Valdai International Club’s  discussion platform, which hosted an expert session titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Interests, Challenges, and Prospects” held in March 2019.

On March 19, under the Chairmanship of Yury Ushakov, an Aide to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Organizing Committee on Russia-Africa held its first meeting in Moscow. The Russia–Africa summit is expected to be attended by roughly 3,000 African businessmen, according to the official meeting report.

As a way to realize the target goals, a preliminary Russia-Africa Business Dialogue as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) will take place on June 6–8, and will be followed by the annual shareholders meeting of African Export-Import Bank. Russian Export Center became a shareholder in December 2017.

The Roscongress Foundation, established in 2007, is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of international business conventions, together with Russian Export Center are the key institutions responsible for preparation and holding of the all events. President Vladimir Putin put forward the Russia—Africa initiative at the BRICS summit (Russia, Brazil, India, China, and South Africa) in Johannesburg in July 2018.

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Russia and North Korea: Key areas for cooperation

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The April 25 meeting in Vladivostok between President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un was their first since the North Korean leader came to power in 2011. Arriving on his armored train, Kim Jong-un said that he had always dreamed of visiting Russia and hoped that his first visit would not be the last.

“We talked about the history of our bilateral relations, about the current situation and the development of relations between our two countries,” Vladimir Putin said wrapping up the opening phase of the negotiations, which lasted for two hours – twice longer than originally planned.

Kim Jong-un said that the two leaders “had a very meaningful and constructive exchange of views tete-a-tete on all pressing issues of mutual interest.”

“I am grateful for the wonderful time I have spent here, and I hope that our negotiations will similarly continue in a useful and constructive way,” he added.    

The talks later continued in an expanded format and ran for three and a half hours.

“We had a detailed discussion of all issues on our agenda: bilateral relations, matters related to sanctions, the United Nations, our relations with the United States and, of course, the central issue of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, focusing on different aspects of all these problems,” Vladimir Putin said during the final press conference.

The main outcome of the talks, however, was the two leaders’ repeated emphasis on the need to restart the six-party talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as Russia’s readiness to act as a de-facto mediator between Pyongyang and Washington. Representatives of Russia, North and South Koreas, China, Japan and the United States regularly met between 2003 and 2008 (under Kim Jong-il), but those meetings were eventually suspended by Pyongyang following Washington’s refusal to ease the sanctions regime and its attempts to revise existing accords.

Ahead of the Vladivostok summit, the US Special Envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, made a brief visit to Moscow to discuss the terms of the new Korean settlement parley. The US State Department described the diplomat’s visit as a desire to “discuss respective bilateral engagements with North Korea and efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

However, Mr. Biegun’s visit only underscored the lingering differences in the negotiating sides’ views on resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula and regarding the mechanisms and mutual steps needed to make this happen. While North Korea, Russia and China are holding out for a phased lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang in exchange for North Korea gradually rolling back its nuclear missile program under international security guarantees, the United States insists on Pyongyang’s prior cessation of its entire nuclear missile development effort. According to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un then asked him to convey his position and expectations to Washington.

“Chairman Kim Jong-un personally asked us to inform the American side about his position and the questions he has about what’s unfolding on the Korean Peninsula,” Vladimir Putin told reporters after the summit.  He promised to do this at upcoming international forums – including in China, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The North Korean leader had thus decided to get back to Pyongyang’s previous practice of “balancing” between the leading world powers in an effort to achieve maximum possible concessions. This balancing act is important for Pyongyang primarily with Washington and Moscow – especially after the failure of the US-North Korean summit held in Hanoi in February.

According to Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, “Kim Jong-un’s trip to Vladivostok means that he is looking for outside support amid his stuttering talks with the United States.”.

“With the failure of the Hanoi summit, Kim Jong-un needs to confirm that he is generally committed to denuclearization, but within the framework of the Russian-Chinese phased plan. Donald Trump and his team reject this and demand a complete denuclearization of the DPRK as a condition for lifting the sanctions,” Go Myung-hyun of Seoul’s ASAN Institute of Policy Studies said.

“What Pyongyang now needs following the failure the Vietnam summit is at least a semblance of minimal diplomatic success,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said.

The list of countries Kim Jong-un can now turn to for diplomatic support is very short. These are essentially Russia and China. However, his visit to Beijing is not in the best interest of China, which is currently locked in tense trade negotiations with the United States.

Therefore, Kim Jong-un apparently hopes that his talks with Russia will send a signal to Washington that since political pressure on Pyongyang is not working, the Americans should proceed to a phased lifting of sanctions against North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang partially coming across on its nuclear missile program.

“North Korea’s strategy always has been walking a tight-rope between the conflicts of the world powers and getting concessions that way,” the BBC commented.

With the successful Russian-North Korean summit, which reaffirmed the two countries’ shared desire to breathe new vigor into the Korean settlement process, the ball is now in the US court, and President Trump’s well-known predilection for quick fixes and spectacular moves inspires hope for his next, third, meeting with Kim Jong-un.

During his recent visit to Washington, South Korean President Moon Jae-in underscored the need for a new such meeting between Trump and Kim. When meeting with Donald Trump, President Moon stressed that his “important task” is to “maintain the momentum of dialogue” toward North Korea’s denuclearization while expressing “the positive outlook, regarding the third US-North Korea summit, to the international community that this will be held in the near future.” Donald Trump responded in his peremptory manner: “I enjoy the summits, I enjoy being with the chairman,” he said, adding that his previous meetings with the North Korean leader had been “really productive.”

Although there has been no word yet about when exactly this meeting could happen, Kim Jong-un has already made it clear that he is ready “to be patient and wait for the American president by the end of the year.”

Seoul, another target of Pyongyang’s political signals, factors in very importantly in the diplomatic activity currently swirling around North Korea. 

“Kim launched the inter-Korean phase of the “new way” immediately after the meeting in Hanoi. It involves ratcheting up pressure on South Korea to demonstrate greater independence from the US,” The Hill commented.

“Of course, while it is awkward for South Korea to say so openly, there is no gainsaying the fact that the failure to make really meaningful progress in implementing the detailed agreements negotiated during the inter-Korean summits in Panmunjom and Pyongyang is due to the constraints imposed by South Korea’s support for the US’ North Korea policy.”

“South Koreans truly may be the most effective mediators precisely because they are caught between the parties: the Americans with whom they share long-term, common interests; and the North Koreans with whom they share an existential, common national identity,” the publication concluded.

In addition to general political issues and the problem of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, economic projects in energy and infrastructure, including the construction of a gas pipeline and a railway line linking the two countries are an equally important aspect of cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

All these things, however, depend very much on the overall situation on the Korean Peninsula and the prospects for the normalization of inter-Korean relations.

“I spoke about this. We have been talking about this matter for many years. This includes direct railway traffic between South Korea, North Korea and Russia, including our Trans-Siberian Mainline, opportunities for laying pipelines – we can talk about both oil and gas, as well as the possible construction of new power transmission lines. All of this is possible. Moreover, in my opinion, this also meets the interests of the Republic of Korea, I have always had this impression. But, apparently, there is a shortage of sovereignty during the adoption of final decisions, and the Republic of Korea has certain allied obligations to the United States. Therefore, everything stops at a certain moment. As I see it, if these and other similar projects were implemented, this would create essential conditions for increasing trust, which is vitally needed to resolve various problems,” President Vladimir Putin said about this particular aspect of the talks with his North Korean counterpart.

Any further progress in the Korean settlement process depends directly on the kind of relationship we are going to see happening within the framework of the “six” world powers. Anyway, the summit, which has just closed up shop in Vladivostok, gives reasons for optimism. 

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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