May 2012 witnessed the third inauguration of Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation. The very act of a president stepping down, only to return after a brief interlude,
marks this event as a comparative and historical rarity, even if the result simply confirms ‘business as usual’. Putin’s third term as president will undoubtedly build on his first and
second terms, as well as Russia’s overall developmental path as seen in the post-Yeltsin period. But one year after Putin’s return to presidential office, there are indications that domestic and international conditions are rapidly changing and that the incoming Putin administration will be forced to re-asses its approach on crucial issues affecting the state.
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs in cooperation with the Centre for EU-Russia Studies (University of Tartu) and Chatham House (UK) will hold an international conference aimed at taking stock of Russian politics a year after the return of Putin. Researchers from Russia and Europe will analyse key developments in Russia’s domestic politics, defence and security and foreign policy to determine what, if anything, has changed in Russia over the past 12 months.
9.30 – 9.40 Welcoming words
Representatives of FIIA, CEURUS, Chatham House
9.40 – 9.55 An opening address
Mr James Nixey, Head, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House
10.00 – 12.00 Panel 1: Russian society
Chair: Dr Teija Tiilikainen, Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Presentations will focus on
1) The state of the Russian society, Mr Denis Volkov, Researcher, Levada Analytical Center
2) The situation within the Russian ruling elite, Dr Nikolai Petrov, Professor, Higher School of
3) ”The policy of fear”, or what the perceived Kremlin line is, Dr Sean Roberts, Researcher, the
Finnish Institute of International Affairs
4) The state of the opposition and the protest movement, Dr Andrei Ryabov, Expert of the Gorbachov
12.00 – 13.30 Lunch break
13.30 – 14.50 Panel 2: Security and Defence
Chair: Prof Viacheslav Morozov, CEURUS, University of Tartu
1) Reform of the armed forces, Mr Alexander Golts, Debuty Editor-in-Chief, Ezhednievnyi Zhurnal
2) Reform of the defence industry as a political tool, and how the society reacts, Dr Katri Pynnöniemi, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
3) The future of Russian defence industry reform, Ms Isabelle Facon, Senior Research Fellow, Fondation pour la Recherche stratégique
15.10 – 17.00 Panel 3: Foreign Policy
Chair: Mr James Nixey, Head, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House
1) Russia’s evolving view and discourse of the West, Prof Viacheslav Morozov, CEURUS, University of Tartu
2) Customs Union, Ms Olga Shumilo-Tapiola, Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Brussels
3) Russian policy in the Arctic, Dr Pavel Baev, Research Professor, PRIO
4) Russia-Asia relations, whether Russia’s turn to Asia is happening and what to expect, Dr Natasha Kuhrt, Department of War Studies, King’s College, London
Opening and panel 1
The seminar was opened by representatives of the three organizing institutes – Dr Teija Tiilikainen, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs; Professor Vyacheslav Morozov, Head of the EU-Russia Studies Programme at the University of Tartu; and James Nixey, Head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Chatham House.
After initial words of welcome, Mr Nixey continued with his opening address. He referred to the title of the seminar, stating that Putin 3.0 is about ideological restoration, whereas Putin 1.0 was about political and Putin 2.0 about economic restoration. The basic thesis of Mr Nixey’s address was that domestic and foreign politics in Russia are intertwined. In domestic politics there have been a growing number of repressive measures. Yet in foreign policy there has been a change of style and means, but the strategic objectives and mentality have remained the same. Even three of the most important events of the past five years – the war with Georgia, the global financial crisis and the US-Russia reset – did not change the game. Russia thinks that its foreign policy is working, so there is no pressure to change it anytime soon. When it comes to western countries’ policies towards Russia, Nixey would like to see more unification and coherence, and that Russia should be held accountable for the agreements it has made. Essentially, there should be a series of principles for dealing with Russia which the West ought to be able to agree on. This is tricky, however, since economics matters so much in western foreign policy making, that countries are often not willing to reject Russian money. A little more honesty – even a little less diplomacy – might help in the long run. There are a number of disingenuous rhetorical phrases used by both Russia and the West which help obscure a poor relationship. These should be regarded with great scepticism and those who use them should be challenged.
The next speaker was Denis Volkov, researcher at the Levada-Center, Moscow. He presented results of recent public opinion polls carried out by the Center. The polls show that there is gradual but steady growth of dissatisfaction with the government, the ruling political party and the president. Putin is seen having done more good than bad during his rule, but the majority wants a new president to be elected. However, the polls also show that in people’s mind there is no real alternative candidate who would be well-known and popular enough. The emergence of such a candidate is not possible in the current political context, where the access to the political sphere is controlled by the government, opposition is marginalized, the state-run TV channels are the main source of information for most of the population, political participation is shallow and governmental accountability is weak.
Nikolay Petrov, Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, gave an overview of the situation within the Russian ruling elite. He described how a ‘Stalin-light’ scenario could be actualized by 2025: there will be purges among the political elites, ghettoization of opposition, emasculation of the party system, switch to a corporatist state model, and aggressive anti-western propaganda. The battle will be fought in two fronts: the elite front being the major one and the civil activism front the minor. In the elite front the anti-corruption campaign has been a useful tool to consolidate elites and to boost the declining legitimacy of the regime. In the minor front of civil activism, Professor Petrov believes that public protest will not make a change. Instead, the system change will come from within the elite, because the system cannot be maintained anymore without major modernization. However, the conservative stance that President Putin has taken lately has made him both an obstacle for modernization and a hostage of Russia’s conservative majority.
The third speaker of the panel, Dr Sean Roberts, Researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, gave a presentation on political repression in today’s Russia. He argued that, although there has been a distinct repressive turn in Russia following the December 2011 State Duma election, this vector of domestic politics existed long before 2012. Dr Roberts also emphasised the conceptual problems associated with researching repression as well as the problem of comparative analysis. For example, according to Freedom House regime classifications, Egypt is rated freer than Russia, but this does not really tell anything about the level of repression since, unlike in Egypt, there have not been large numbers of fatalities in Russian protests to date. What is crucial in the case of Russian repression, Dr Roberts argued, is the use of indirect methods of repression as well as the timing of their implementation: if repressive actions had taken place when the protests were at their peak during the winter 2011-2012, it could have resulted in a deeper political crisis. However, this did not happen: the repressive measures were timed with the fall of the protest cycle, when the protests were already downsized.
The last speaker of the panel, Dr Andrei Ryabov, Expert of the Gorbachev Foundation, touched upon the state of the opposition and the protest movement in Russia. First he made a distinction between the systemic and anti-systemic opposition. When it comes to systemic opposition, there is the problem of weak institutions and of how to channel protest in an institutionalized activity when systemic opposition parties often follow the official political line. The problem with the anti-systemic opposition is that it is seen representing ‘a minority of a minority’. According to Dr Ryabov, leaders of the protest movement did not offer anything for ordinary Russians living in smaller provinces, where social issues rather than democratic principles are seen as crucial. Dr Ryabov stated that people in the provinces may turn against the current leaders only in time of real economic and social crisis. Even though the general attitude towards the government is quite negative, the people in provinces do not see an alternative to them. Lack of alternatives was made worse by the fact that due to internal heterogeneity the opposition could not nominate a common candidate for the presidential election.
According to Dr Ryabov, among the anti-systemic opposition there are two divisions: one between radicals and supporters of small improvements of legislation, and another between those who participate in elections and those who do not. He saw no reason to think that those differences will be overcome in the near future. Dr Ryabov stated that what has happened with Russia’s non-systemic opposition is an example of typical post-Soviet development: protest movements reach their peak rapidly but their political claims are rejected.
In his speech, Mr Golts presented the Russian military reform and the changes carried out. The amount of officers has reduced from 355,000 to 220,000, and of the army’s 1,187 units only 189 remain. Also, a change has occurred in Russian military administrative division. It used to have six military districts but now there are four united strategic commands, which include also ground forces as well as navy and air force units. Reorganization of military structure was undertaken from division to regiment structure and from brigade to battalion. Mr Golts pointed out that the basic characteristic of former Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s reform was the rejection of the mass mobilization concept. The reform also reduced the number of conscripts. However, in general there was pressure to have large troops.
According to Mr Golts one of the biggest problems is Russia’s demography. President Vladimir Putin gave theDefence Ministry animpossible task— tostaff amillion-man army even while Russia is slipping intoa demographic black hole. Toreach theone-million mark, it would be necessary todraft 550,000 to600,000 conscripts annually. However, only 600,000 young men turn 18 each year, andby some estimates thenumber is less than 500,000. ThereforeMr Golts predicts that Putin’s order cannot be fulfilled, and the only solution for the top brass is to fudge the numbers. Mr Golts stated that the official number of the armed forces is one million, but the actual number is 700,000 men. To solve the problem, some officials are looking for new approaches. Thus, the rectors of several universities have proposed — clearly at the Defence Ministry’s urging — that university students fulfill their year of obligatory military service in three annual stints of three months each. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has gone even further, proposing the creation of ”academic squadrons”, and it turns out that the ministry is ready to ”finance the research and development activities of such groups”. Mr Golts sees the military education and the lack of specialists in the military as a problem. As a conclusion, he stated that in the next decade the real number of Russian Armed Forces will be 500,000-600,000. He stressed that the main deterrent left for the country is its nuclear arms.
In her presentation, Dr Katri Pynnöniemi discussed the reform of Russian defence industry as a political tool. She argued that the political landscape is changing. For a brief moment, the Skolkovo Innovation City was the dominant ‘political landscape’, and a place of cooperation with foreign and Russian industries. At the moment this vision is losing ground and has been replaced with the image of a ”frontline” dividing two echelons of society – pro-Kremlin and anti-Kremlin factions. The symbol of this change is Uralvagonzavod – a tank factory in the Urals that played an important role during the winter 2012.
Dr Pynnöniemi argued that the defence industry should carry out two things simultaneously; to produce modern weaponry for the Russian armed forces and to renew itself – in other words, go through considerable restructuring for it to be able to produce modern weapons. Industry is the key driver in innovation economy. People working in the industry have to acquire new capabilities. In Soviet times, there were 10 million workers in the military sector, and now only two million. The state is in search for young, innovative people. Unpaid salaries, nearly utopian promises to double the salaries and protests have been the problems lately. The issues, which are not discussed, are whether the state corporations really work, and are young engineers interested in working in the military sector. The industry’s private and public partnership reform should be enhanced. Dr Pynnöniemi mentioned that there have been conflicting messages form the ministries towards the sectors. She posed the question, how much will modernizing technologies cost?
What then have been the political reactions? Dr Pynnöniemi argued that the words ’saboteur’ and ’Gosplan’ have returned to the public sphere in the neo-Soviet political dialogue. Secondly, there has been pseudo-competition between domestic and foreign technologies. Thirdly, she argued that patriotism and nationalist sentiments have been coupled with the traditional threat perception ‘Russiais surrounded by enemies’. Russia has more emphasis on producing weaponry domestically. Does this mean that there is no demand in real partnerships in this sense? As a conclusion, Dr Pynnöniemi stressed that the priorities in general concerning the reform are clear but implementation in practice is contradictory.
In her presentation, Ms Isabelle Facon assessed the evolution of the Russian defence industry in recent years. She said that when Putin came to power, the defence industry was huge and in a bad shape. Practically, it had no possibility to get access to funding. There was also lack of any governmental strategy and actually no interest from the part of government, or political will to undertake needed reforms. After 10 years of great trouble, parts of the industry found their niche in the export markets and were able to survive in the global competitive environment. Chinese and Indian buyers of Russian weapons systems came as saviors.
Ms Facon then explained how the Russian defence industry looks like now, but admitted that it is difficult to draw a general picture. She said that different kinds of figures can be seen concerning the quantity of workers and it seems that the Russian leaders themselves have a difficulty to define what the ultimate scope of the defence industry is. In general, the defence industry is no longer lacking money; it has been trimmed down and consolidated into a number of integrated structures. This sector remains largely state-dominated and state-owned.
In the future, Ms Facon argued, if Russia wants to maintain its position on the world arms market, it has to build new weapons systems, not just re-model those designed during the Soviet years. Many hurdles have hampered military-technical cooperation with foreign states. Traditional weaknesses in the field of information technologies and electronics remain. The Soviet legacy (that has helped the industry to survive) is disappearing, the workforce is aging and the capital stock is wearing out. Many enterprises are not modernized in a market-oriented way, which is due in part to the state’s strong presence in the sector. The weight of the old-style technical and management culture is another problem. Ms Facon argued that the establishment of state corporations is a good example of what remains the technocratic approach of the Russian government to the reform and management of the defence industry.
Therefore, while in 2013 the defense industry can be said to be a new one, real structural changes are still needed. Overall, international transfers of technologies have been limited; in addition, it seems that many in the sector are not really interested in getting access to modern foreign technologies. The government has tried to stimulate a breakthrough through various schemes. It has acquired some foreign systems, has tried to obtain the possibility to produce foreign systems on a licensed basis and to take part in various joint programs with foreign partners to develop new equipment or acquire experience in managing programs. As a conclusion, Ms Facon stressed that there are no clear strategy or guidelines for the restructuring of the defence industry. However, there has been change, and the defense industry has shown a capacity to adapt in various ways. Therefore, future developments in the sector should be analysed closely.
In the Q&A session, cyber security, airborne troops and the reasons why Serdyukov lost his job as Defence Minister were discussed.
Foreign policy was the topic of the third panel chaired by Mr Nixey. The first presentation by Dr Natasha Kuhrt dealt with Russia’s ”turn to the East”, focusing on Russian-Chinese relations. How does Russia react to the rise of China? In the past decade, the increase in the energy needs of China and Japan seemed an opportunity for Russia to raise its profile in Asia and to develop its Far Eastern region. But the basis of Russia’s policy has been to assume China’s and Japan’s reliance on Russian energy, and the idea that without Russia, Asia cannot reach its full economic potential. The flipside of Russia’s attitude is a fear of this dependence, of Russia becoming a raw materials supplier.
According to Dr Kuhrt, Russia does not officially express concern about China’s rise. However, recent foreign policy documents suggest that Russia must diversify its approach to the Asia-Pacific region. Dr Kuhrt argued that this diversification actually means a move away from China. There appears to be a consensus that good relations with the biggest economic partner (and a symbolic strategic partner) are necessary, but China can still be seen as a threat by many. On the other hand there is an assumption that the Chinese economic miracle has been exaggerated.
China is not considered an enemy, Dr Kuhrt remarked: there is no mention of China in the latest military doctrine. However, Russian foreign policy documents rule out both a military alliance with China, and any plans of the geopolitical encirclement of China. The main task of Russia’s Asia-Pacific policy is seen to be developing Siberia and the Russian Far East. Relations with CIS, Europe and USA still seem to take precedent over China in the latest Foreign Policy Concept. Dr Kuhrt explained that the asymmetry in economic relations between the countries causes tension. Russia exports more and more raw materials to China, a fact that is sometimes securitised in discourse.
Russia’s previously adopted energy strategy aiming to increase Russian exports to the Asia-Pacific region faces the difficulty of extracting the oil and gas in the Russian Far East. It is seen as geopolitically imperative for Russia to reach other markets besides China, by extending its oil pipeline to the Pacific Ocean. During Medvedev’s presidency, the objective became less emphasis on energy and a significant reduction of raw material exports, but this goal is over-optimistic.
Referring to the predicted global power shift to Asia, Dr Kuhrt remarked that in the future, Russia is likely to need China more than vice versa. Concerning regional structures, Russia has much work to do with linking up with the Asia-Pacific. The Russian elite is disillusioned: they hoped China would assist Russia’s integration in the area, but it is reluctant to do so. There is now a lot of talk about linking Central Asia to the Asia Pacific regional structures. It is important that Russia has joined ASEAN and APEC, but it has to engage more with the region, and diversify its relations. On the one hand, Moscow does not want to be seen to be accommodating China, but on the other it is careful not to give the impression it is taking part in efforts to contain China.
The next speaker Prof Morozov took as his starting point the statement that the West is present as a threatening other in the Russian foreign policy discourse. He focused on the notion of threat in Russian discourse on security, which is being consolidated around domestic stability. It is not about a military threat, but about Russia’s standing in international affairs. Cybersecurity is another field where the West has been seen as a threat.
Since the political crisis of the winter 2012, internal stability has become the focus of Russian security concerns. Compared to the colour revolutions that represented a potential risk, the mass protests all over the country became a symptom of an imminent threat to the regime. In the past, status came before security in Russia’s position on global issues, or one could say the threats to status were the key security threats. Now, preventing outside intervention has become the key prism through which the Kremlin views both domestic and international issues. Russia has also hardened its stance on non-intervention in the international arena, for example in Syria.
In the public discourse, even cybersecurity is interpreted from the perspective of domestic politics. Regardless of whether Putin or others actually believe that foreign-directed domestic disturbances are a key security concern, the discourse reveals the political institutional dynamic that unfolds independently of individuals. The concrete outcomes of this dynamic are the repressive laws and measures against NGOs, the foreign agent law etc. The guiding ideology is sovereignisation. It is based on naïve assumptions, ignoring the interdependent character of today’s world.
Prof Morozov deplored the recent conservative ideological turn, which just shows the regime’s inability to achieve the stated goals. The goal of the presidency is to preserve stability, which it accomplishes by avoiding bold political action. All there is left for Russia to do is to ”defend” itself against the West. Prof Morozov finished by emphasising that the recent political developments demonstrate not only material, but also normative dependence on the West. The Western other will continue to be blamed for domestic crises.
Next, Ms Olga Shumylo-Tapiola gave a presentation on the Eurasian Customs Union. She denied that the Union launched by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2010 is another CIS, as it involves only the three countries that were interested in the project. The first confusion is about the rationale for its creation. For Russia economics played a part. Russia is also seeking recognition from the West, and to counterbalance China. The question whether Belarus and Kazakhstan were lured into the Union has been raised. Ms Shumylo-Tapiola’s view is that it was more voluntary, but for the decision was political, without analysis of economic impact, Ms Shumylo-Tapiola argued. She questioned the assessment by Western economists that this is not a classic Customs Union. It involves a supranational authority, a free trade agreement, a common external tariff, and a customs code, although choosing the basis for the standards for the Customs Union is proving more difficult, and there are still some questions concerning eliminating borders between Belarus and Russia.
Assessing the impact of the Customs Union for the members, Ms Shumylo-Tapiola noted that Russia did not gain much economically from the first years, although the membership brought some advantages in terms of security. Belarus benefits from the Union, having access to cheaper gas, while Kazakhstan’s economy has suffered from the increased customs duties. Only full integration with western standards would be beneficial for all three countries.
Ms Shumylo-Tapiola listed some of the challenges facing the Customs Union: economic disparities between the members, lack of trust and protectionism, the difficulty of implementation in a short time period, taking on WTO commitments while two of the countries are not members, and getting recognition from the EU. The last challenge was the endgame for the Customs Union. The deepening of the Customs Union is still controversial. Further integration in the form of an Eurasian Economic Union is opposed by Belarus and Kazakhstan that are trying to adjust to the changes brought by the Customs Union itself. There is also the question of widening the Union to include new countries. Ms Shumylo-Tapiola did not believe that e.g. Ukraine would wish to join. She concluded that the Union is not yet a classic Customs Union, and it has problems of credibility and recognition. It is too early to see whether all declared ambitions will be implemented, but Ms Shumylo-Tapiola thought that the planned deepening by 2015 seemed unlikely. Finally, she shed light on the reasons why the Customs Union may not do much to change EU-Russia relations.
Dr Pavel Baev spoke next on Russia’s energy and security policy in the Arctic. He talked about a surprising downgrading of Russia’s Arctic policy during Putin’s new presidency. There have been changes in military policies that mostly stem from an uncertainty in energy policy, Dr Baev argued. He said Russia is in denial because of the difficulty of new challenges. In 2007 Russia showcased its power in the Arctic, planting a flag in the seabed. Russia was seen as benefiting from the attention this generated. The rush to the Arctic then subsided, which took Russia by surprise. The Arctic policy is about Russia’s position of power, Dr Baev stated.
New Russian submarines that are in the making, armed with missiles that have a long history of failures, present a risk for neighbours. There is a strong perception in Russia that it must prepare for the United States creating a missile defense shield, but Russia’s ”beloved threat” is weakening as the US seems willing to compromise. The question is raised whether military power in the North is useful. The connection between the new generation of submarines being deployed and security in the North is unclear.
How rich is the Arctic in oil and gas? Very optimistic figures have often appeared in surveys, but last year a more sober evaluation was made. What is the real value of the resources and how easily are they extractable? Not knowing this gives Russia second thoughts.
The Arctic is also important to Russian state identity, and Putin wants to expand the Russian continental shelf. In order to make its claims successful, Russia has embraced international cooperation in the Arctic. Thus far, Russia is not seriously responding to the issue of climate change, Dr Baev remarked.