Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What kind of bear is Russia?

Jotman's live-blogging of the International Press Institute (IPI) World Congress in Helsinki continues...

A changing situation means new chance. Let's take a chance to make a new detente as has been made in Helsinki many years ago.

- Anatoly Adamishin

I met CNN anchor Jim Clancy at the Helsinki International Airport. Jim would be moderating the upcoming panel discussion on Russia at the IPI World Congress.

"I like to break these things up," Jim said as he hailed a cab. "Grab a mike, walk around the room. Make the audience part of the discussion." Jim added, "I don't want the speakers to drone on, putting everyone to sleep -- bor-ing!"

Jim's panel would be
anything but boring.

The panelists included:
  • Anatoly Adamishin, former USSR ambassador to the UK; as ambassador to Italy he first worked for the USSR and finished up his term as Russian ambassador.
  • Edward Lucas, Eastern European correspondent for The Economist.
  • Brahma Chellaney, whom the IHT refers to as "one of India's top strategic thinkers."
As a Finnish taxi driver opened the back hatch and loaded our bags, arranging them neatly, Jim told me it had not been easy to get in touch with Anatoly Adamishin.

"I hope that the Russian ambassador doesn't think I chose the title because I didn't," Jim said.

I knew what Jim meant. This is how the panel had been described in the literature:

“The Bear on the Doorstep – Russia’s Resurgence and the Start of a New Cold War?”

A natural gas pricing dispute that left vast parts of Central and Eastern Europe in the cold; a five-day war with Georgia to defend the rights of Russian citizens living in separatist enclaves; and threats to do the same in other areas – is Russia trying to restore some of its former status, or is this a sign of a possible new Cold War?

As it happened, I had lunch with Anatoly Adamishin just prior to the panel discussion.

"I notice the topic refers to the 'resurgence' of the 'Russian bear,'" I said. "Should we all be afraid of the bear?"

"The bear is relaxing now" Adamishin replied.

We finished our lunch and made our way to the conference room of Finlandia Center -- site of the 1975 Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe which gave rise to the Helsinki Accords. The setting of such an historic meeting -- one which would improve
relations between the Communist bloc and the West -- seemed a fitting venue for this panel discussion.

Jim Clancy
: The big question today -- if you're a journalist -- is: Who's in charge of Russia?

Edward Lucus: If there was an election today in Russia, Putin would win. Seventy percent believe Medvedev follows Putin, does whatever Putin wants.

A law going through the Duma will criminalize any challenges to a pro-Stalinist version of history.

Brahma Chellaney: The big picture is that Russia is the world's wealthiest country in terms of its natural resources. And we don't know its future direction at the moment.

Anatoly Adamishin: Don't keep a bear until he's filled up. If you want me to speak about Russia's internal situation, I may tell you Russia is without democracy. Why? Small demand for it. Why? Many reasons. First is historical. Second, ruin of the 90s connected to the democracy under Yeltsin.

Russians enjoy three freedoms. First is to make money; second is travel abroad; third is to pray to God. They are so busy enjoying these freedoms they don't think about political liberties. There has been an increase from 200 billion to 1.7 trillion in GDP under Putin -- eight times!

Jim Clancy: Here's a statistic: 80% have no responsibility for what goes on in their country.

Edward Lucas: Sure living standards have gone up, but investment in infrastructure has lagged. Media is under control of the Kremlin and media doesn't ask the embarrassing questions: when money getting skimmed off this doesn't make it into the press.

Jim Clancy: Roots of Animosity to the West?

Brahma Chellaney: The West has been turning a blind eye to the effects of NATO enlargement [Jotman: see here and here]; the West ignored Russian opposition to Kosovo independence, making it awkward to oppose similar right of self-determination in South Ossetia.

Jim Clancy: Is there freedom, today?

Anatoly Adamishin: There were 300,000 functionaries in USSR; but there are 3,000,000 in Russia today. I like to tell this story about first year after civil war during the 20's. Will life win over socialism or socialism win over life? That was the question then. Socialism won then, but life became a bit lousy. Now I fear that bureaucracy could corrupt the rising energy and entrepreneurship of young Russia, the Internet. Will the bureaucracy squeeze out the dynamism? (Will bureaucracy win over life, or life win over bureaucracy?)

Jim Clancy: What's happening to press freedoms?

Edward Lucas: Some of my (Russian) friends are dead because they pushed press freedoms too far. Billions came in from West, little of it reached people who needed it.

Although the 90s were corrupt, at least there was scrutiny of the government by the press. Each oligarch had its own television station. Even Putin could be ridiculed.

Putin didn't just take television stations away from oligarchs; he gave them to his friends.

Brahma Chellaney:
A comparison of Russia to Singapore and Malaysia is in order. The West doesn't criticize these one-party states to the same extent. Why not? Because they are close to the West. But you find many of the same restrictions as in Russia, it's not really any worse.

Anatoly Adamishin: We need Western cooperation. We don't have the money to modernize Russia on own own. We can't rely on China.

Edward Lucas: At Davos Putin was approached by Gates or Jobs. Putin replied to Gates or Jobs "go away." (Implication was that Putin thought Russia didn't need their help.)

We must not allow weak countries to pay the cost. Thank goodness we brought the Baltics into the country. I'm sorry Russia doesn't want to join NATO....

Question by Tina of Russia Today Television: Do you think just easier to have Russia as enemy simply because the West needs an enemy.

Anatoly Adamishin: I don't like NATO. Because it's a a military alliance. Because the US plays the main role. If you are outside Russia then you can be part of NATO. NATO is a military alliance that fought in 1999 over Serbia, and now makes war in Afghanistan.

Why is it that Russia disagrees with NATO? We disagree just because we don't want to be left out. When we are out and everyone else is in, then we don't like it. I would say the so-called "imperial dream" is -- from a practical point of view -- out of sight. We have to live within our means. Our neighbors shouldn't be afraid. The imperial project is too big; our people in the government too practical. Can't do business along with this (imperial) project.

Brahma Chellaney: Three pillars of the world: China, EU, and US.

Russia is the most important swing state in world. More so than India or China. Russia truly is the wildcard. A wrong policy choice on Russia by the West can push Russia inexorably in the wrong direction.

In early July Obama will be in Moscow. US going slow on missile defense in E Europe. Can US and Russia redefine relationship?

Anatoly Adamishin: The US must not treat Russia's neighbors as if Russia did not exist. Ethnic conflicts in Georgia have long history. The borders were drawn by Stalin -- a Georgian. Failure of the USSR caused turmoil. Georgians tried to settle ethnic conflict by military means. Four and a half wars. Mikheil Saakashvili (talked?). There were solutions. [Jotman: see my Georgia-Russia conflict timeline]

Georgians, armed by Americans, said 'we are not afraid of Russia.' I believe war was linked to two factors: First, (it was assumed that) Russia wouldn't have courage; second, (the intention to launch) a blitzkrieg war, aimed drive Russia out of South Ossetia. If Russia didn't respond, Russia would have lost its authority in all of the region. No country would tolerate it. Not the US, and certainly not Britain with respect to the Falklands.

Edward Lucas: (Didn't agree.) The time frame is the problem. Increased shelling by Russia of villages loyal to Tbilisi -- (that's what caused Tbilisi) to send troops north.

Jim Clancy: Russia's neighbors are afraid. Why?

Brahma Chellaney: Russia, with its enormous size and clout, is able to exploit political instability in the neighborhood.

Dutch journalist: You still think Russia should have veto power over its neighbors?

Anatoly Adamishin: Kosovo was a bad precedent. A very bad precedent for our Caucus. That was the provocation. Who was first to provoke, etc.

Now Caucuses people live well in Moscow. One million Georgians work in Russia. Big source of money for Georgia. Many Ukrainians work in Russia too.

Jim Clancy: How many journalists think Russia poses a danger to its smaller neighbors?

Nigerian journalist: (Alleges Gazprom is involved in espionage in Nigeria - that the company has exerted heavy pressure on the Nigerian gas industry.)

Anatoly Adamishin: I'm not here to defend my government. I am not on their pay list anymore.

Russia's decline is the story of volatile oil prices. Higher prices mean less pressure to diversify economy.

Edward Lucas: If "inside Russia" breakaway is bad, why "outside" breakaway good? Econo -- history lessons. Google for the Youtube video "Putin Estonia" Shocking!

Development, define broadly, includes press freedom, civil society

Anatoly Adamishin: Blame is on both sides, common enemy: first, after the cold war; second, after 9/11. We missed 2 chances. Now we have a third chance.

A changing situation means a new chance. Let's take a chance to make a new detente as has been made in Helsinki many years ago.

Brahma Chellaney: The world cannot afford a new cold war. Don't bait a bear. For example, China has come a long way since 89. The decision not institute trade sanctions has (proved successful). Had the Burma sanctions approach been applied to China in '89, a more poor, more destabilizing China would have likely have resulted.

Edward Lucas: That question from the Nigerian journalist was important. It concerns Europe sleepwalking to disaster on energy. Europe won't build the pipeline it needs and wants. Europe should treat Gazprom as it treats Microsoft. Its far worse than Microsoft. Russia has to play by the rules. Though lots don't.... Must clean up financial system -- it is used and abused by corrupt. This will hit the Kremlin ...

Anatoly Adamishin: My prediction? If Russia enters the WTO at the end of this year, then there will be no cold war.
Photos by Jotman (from top down): no sooner had the conference came to a close than Helsinki was invaded by Russian football fans; Clancy speaks with Adamishin after the conference; Clancy with Chellaney in the background; Clancy has handed the mike to a journalist in the audience; Adamishin and Lucas spar (2 photos); Chellaney, the dispassionate; a Russian football fan in Helsinki; a Nigerian points a finger a Gazprom; Chellaney speaks as Lucas looks on.

I asked Russian Jotman reader Sanjuro, who comes from Sibera, to share his reflections on to the discussion. These reactions are outlined in several posts:

Jotman live-blogged the following panel discussions at the IPI World Congress:

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