Gabriela Ioniţă, editor of the magazine „Cadran Politic” and specialist in studies about the Russian Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent States had the kindness to take part in this interview about the internal and external politics of Russia. The second part of the interview argues about the dynamics of the internal politics of Russia and the regional problems at the borders are brought into discussion through the viewpoint of their influence over the internal economic and political environment.
Interview made by Marius Lefter
Marius Lefter: At the internal level, the economy of Russia started having systemic problems because of the emphasis and the dependence on the revenues from oil trade. On the other hand, at the external level, Russia plays the game for more than it can afford, comparing with its major competitors. In this case, what could be the reasons of the Russian people to vote for a united country?
Gabriela Ioniţă: The willing to vote of the Russian people can be seen as a reaction towards the short-term economic reforms with objectives affecting the day-to-day life rather than long-term projects with uncertain timeline. A brief glance at the numerous calls made by President Medvedev to the Russian elite or to the investors to support Russia’s modernization program shows that the lack of trust in politics generates huge gaps in economic reforms.
Moreover, the construction of the vertical power meant control of political growth which resulted in a period of stability, but also a great catch – nothing new and representative grew under the shade of the old hierarchies. After the recent meeting with Prime Minister Putin in Valdai Club meeting, the political scientist Nikolai Zlobin pointed out the absence of guidelines that will form the basis of its future return to Kremlin from the speech of the most powerful man in Russia. This can be explained by the simple fact that Russian Prime Minister acknowledged the lack of new people and ideologies that bring public consensus. In fact, the main problem and the cause of the declining popularity Russia has to face is exactly this one: a rigid political framework, hard to shape, conservative and reluctant to the new events happening in Russia.
So you’re asking what could possibly make the Russian people to vote for a party that they call themselves a party of thieves and crooks (julikov i vorov parti). The answer is the lack of a better option combined with the lack of trust in politicians, no matter what their political beliefs are, given that nothing is allowed in Russia’s politics without the consent of Kremlin.
The scandal in the Just Cause party and the rapid end of Mihail Prokhorov’s political career as a result of the serious accusations made with the interference of the Kremlin (i.e. the number two of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov) showed voters once again that the political independence is pure rhetoric.
M.L.: Going more into detail, which are the civic movements and political parties that will support or enter into alliance with the United Russia, and their reasons?
G.I.: Russia is not just the country with a famous political tandem. There would be no political tandem without an alternative to the electorate or perspective of political parties, all for the sake of a political stability that Prime Minister Putin doesn’t fail to claim and impose at all costs.
But before analyzing the Russian political scene nowadays, I would like to mention that experts from the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow warned that “in the present socio-political climate, a tactical success can lead to strategic failure”, making reference to the 70% of the votes that are envisaged by the “United Russia” in December elections and also making reference to the machine of the party that would do anything to fulfill the orders from the center.
Experts also argued that a victory in the elections will be seen by most of the people not as an indicator of the popularity of the party, but as a proof that the elections were rigged. The study was made especially because there were suspicions that the level of electoral fraud exceeded all expectations. This is how I could describe the context immediately after the political confrontations of the elections. In this context, the traditional parties make their presence felt – LDPR, the party of Jirinovski, the Communist Party of Ziuganov and the Iabloko Social Liberal party led by Sergey Mitrohin (each with their loyal voters who didn’t change too much over the elections). In addition, there were other small parties faithful and belonging to the Kremlin.
And we also have a puppet opposition that is more present at international meetings than at home, where arrests and releases have become ironically a source of amusement.
The establishment of the Popular Front around the United Russia party is supposed to be a popular move that will bring together the social consensus. It is not meant to stop the political competition, but rather decrease the popularity of the party holding the majority in the State Duma. In fact, we should not forget that there were warnings about the consequences of putting President Medvedev in top of the United Russia party list. It could be negatively perceived by the core of the party. Well, I think this will be offset by the Popular Front whose image overlaps with that of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Who are the members of the Popular Front? I will reply with a rhetorical question uttered by the former chairman of the Just Cause party, Mikhail Prokhorov: What kind of political movement (be it popular) is one in which millions of supporters in civil society fall in a single day?
M.L. : Why does the Russian youth adhere to these pro-United Russia movements?
G.L.: Actually, this is about one single movement – the famous Nashi (ours) which is the young part of the United Russia party or rather the biggest fan club of Vladimir Putin. On one hand, there is a sum of social, cultural factors and the great impact of the propaganda and big investments in summer camps. Taking part of such a movement is nothing but attractive for young people when they are presented with a short and easy way to advance in society. On the other hand, we talk about a certain doctrine of Russian culture which never ceased to dream of a great power with imperial nostalgia never buried and a cult of heroes always present in society. Moreover, we talk about a culture that has rehabilitated a character like Stalin.
In this context, there is nothing to wonder that such an extremist ideology with clear Nazi ties (media has translated several times Nashi with Nazi) has become attractive to the thousands of young people from the organization (10 000 active members and around 200 000 sympathizers).
In addition, the indoctrinated social structure puts the blame for the frustrations from within the country on the Occident as it would be the main generator of Russia’s problems and its supporters the enemies of Russia. In this sense, the stories of Anna Chapman – promoted among the leaders of the organization – have become a reason of national pride.
Last but not least, we are talking about social contagion. Events in London have shown how important it is for the young generation event in the absence of a doctrine or a strong motivation.
M.L.: What are the effects of Russia’s appeal to nationalism at the outskirts of the country?
G.I.: The last twenty years have shown without any doubt that the appeal to nationalism has a double meaning: on one hand it is proclaimed when it proves useful to the Russian politicians and on the other hand, it is forgotten when it becomes harmful to their interests and given the nature of the Russian culture, it is never abandoned by the people. It seems that “Russia for the Russian people” is not just a slogan that made popular Dmitri Rogozin whose party –Rodina – supports Vladimir Putin in the elections. It is also a mindset among the Russians traumatized by the rebel attacks in the North Caucasus and suffocated by the huge number of migrants from Central Asia. Generally speaking it is also a mindset among politicians like Jirinovski and Ziuganov. Probably that is why only the Western can be shocked by the indifference of the people and media in front of some extremist nationalist incidents. But the same nationalism, good for declarations against the West is poorly managed and gives headaches to Vladimir Putin not at the outskirts of Russian Federation, but right in the fiefs of the current power. When I say this, I am thinking of a recent nationalist march in Moscow where the aforementioned slogan has quickly become a slogan against the United Russia, mostly because Alexei Navalny – one of the outspoken critics of Kremlin – was there.
M.L.: Supposing Putin wins a new mandate, should the authorities expect a new military intervention in the North Caucasus or a change of strategies in this area? By what other instruments could they manage the political and security issues in this area and is there even a political will for them?
G.I.: North Caucasus remains a hot spot on the map of conflicts with ethnical and religious roots from the territory of the former Soviet area, having an impact not only on the Russian Federation, but over the Wider Black Sea Region also. In a recent study made by CPCEW Bucharest about the radicalism and violence in North Caucasus, the causes of the permanent political instability in the region are very clearly pointed out: poverty, unemployment, abuse and violence from the authorities and the lack of viable prospects. All these create sympathy for the radicalism Islamic groups. However, I do not believe a new military intervention will take place in the area. To cite Vladimir Putin at the discussions in Valdai Club, Chechnya is on track. There are parties all day long here and even in spite of some attacks with innocent victims, President Kadyrov organizes football and martial arts championships. The problem, however is that the core of the violence has expanded in many republics (Dagestan, Kabardino – Balkaria, Ingusetia without North Osetia) and Russian authorities should burry most part of the region. Then, let’s not forget that a military intervention is impossible, yet Olympic Games will take place in Sochi, in 2014. However, Moscow will make investments in economics, education and health, will create over 400 000 jobs and will attract foreign investors, leaving aside the most important aspects: endemic corruption in the regional authorities – backed by a heavyweight battle for influence in the center, and research and punishment of police who commit abuses against the population (and not by a corrupt justice turn and obedience).
I do not share the view that Russia will lose the Caucasus. An Islamic Emirate would be as unstable as the Caucasus is right now, thus economically non viable, even if it is close to the main routes to and from the resources of Kazakhstan. The fact that Russia has managed to cover trends in the label nationalist separatist terrorism and radical Islam in the North Caucasus has turned it into a hotbed of instability in the long run. We have to look at what results has the fight against global terrorism, as each group without a strong structure creates other ten similar groups, but even more violent and greedier to make themselves known and feared, and we have a similar vision of future developments in the North Caucasus.