Tuesday, December 27, 2005

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Why is Russia still a member of the G-8?

Both houses of the Russian legislature have passed a law (about which I have blogged before) that will impose formadible oversight and make it next to impossible for small or midsized NGOs to accept monety from Western donors.

Earlier this month The National Interest's Nikolas Gvosdev provided a weak defense of the proposed new law in the pages of the International Herald-Tribune:

[L]et's be honest - the crux of the matter lies with about 2,000 NGOs in Russia that deal with human rights and democracy issues, as well those groups unable or unlikely to get funding from Russian sources who rely on Western aid. And the proposed legislation is the clearest signal yet that Putin's vision for Russia - at least in the short term - is not liberal democracy but managed pluralism - a self-contained system where the Kremlin can set down red lines and can determine the amount of space different points of view will be allowed to occupy in the Russian political system. (Think Mexico in 1976 or Singapore under Lew Kuan Yew).

The preferred Western reaction - castigating Putin as a new Stalin and warning ominously about the KGB takeover of Russia - may make for wonderful copy but does little to ameliorate the situation. Nor were the comments of Lev Levinson of the Institute for Human Rights - that the government "cannot demand transparency from us" - particularly helpful. NGOs are not above the law, no matter how noble the cause....

It would be constructive to recognize that the Russian government has legitimate concerns - and to offer the benefit of the various North American and European approaches in terms of regulating nonprofit groups, defining what constitutes political activity, and establishing guidelines for how charitable contributions from abroad are processed.

The Russian government is free to reject that advice - but it will make the Western criticisms that follow much more legitimate. Our goal should not be bashing Putin or taking sides in Russia's political debates, but strengthening the long-term foundations for democracy.

I wonder what Gvosdev -- who also blogs -- would say about this Reuters report:
An outspoken aide to President Vladimir Putin resigned on Tuesday, saying he did not want to work for a state that had ended democracy and basic freedom.

Andrei Illarionov, who was stripped of many of his duties a year ago after he called the assault on oil company YUKOS "the scam of the year", was one of the few independent voices in an increasingly monolithic Kremlin establishment.

In potentially embarrassing remarks for Putin as Russia prepares to take over the presidency of the G8 club of free-market democracies on Sunday, he told reporters: "It is one thing to work in a country that is partly free. It is another thing when the political system has changed, and the country has stopped being free and democratic".

"I did not sign a contract with such a state, and therefore it is absolutely impossible to remain in this post." (emphasis added)

That bolded section raises an interesting point -- why is Russia still a member of the G-8?

It makes no sense from a liberal institutionalist perspective -- Russia has become less and less democratic over the past decade, and shows no sign under Vladimir Putin of trending in a constructive direction anytime soon.

It makes no sense from a realist pespective as well -- Russia is an economic lightweight with interests that diverge from the advanced industrialized nations in a number of areas. Russia so obviously does not belong in that grouping that it has never been allowed to participate in the most relevant G-7 grouping, that of the finance ministers.

Kicking Russia out of the G-8 would not necessarily accomplish a great deal -- it's not like Putin is suddenly going to smack himself on the forehead and say, "Gosh, you're right! I am monopolizing power within my country!" However, such a move would highlight the extent to which Russia has drifted away from the liberal democratic values it's government has lauded for fifteen years. It would not compromise any important component of U.S. foreign economic policy. And it might even revitalize a grouping that has been somewhat moribund during the Bush years.

UPDATE: Gvosdev responds in the comments -- and on his own blog.

posted by Dan on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM


I fail to see how you can equate foreign-funded NGOs establishing themselves in Russia to push the politics of their foreign masters with "democracy". Good for Russia.

posted by: Oren on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Exactly. We should do the same thing, only in our case we should outlaw NGOs from getting American money.

There are few things more noxious, anti-democratic, parasitic or elitist than the vulture culture of NOG tranzies, and few thing that are more wasteful and ineffective either.

And you are right, good for Russia.

posted by: noemail on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Keep up the good work boys! It good to see those perol dollars that are being recycled into western pr firms to bolster Russias image being used well. Paid posters...brilliant!

posted by: Putin on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

The bigger question is how G8 itself is relevant in today’s world. I have lots of doubt on this account. Following are the observations:

- Within G8, interests of North America (US & Canada), Japan and European countries are aligned differently. Simply because these countries are called industrial economies by convention does not help in today’s Global Capital world which is generally obsessed with the growth rate and it matters less which industries bring those growth rates – commodity, outsourcing or traditional manufacturing. As the world addresses issues of political stability and rule of law in coming days, where can Capital have the maximum opportunity to grow becomes the criteria. Past ‘has been’ is not the likeliest of places where Capital wants to reside.
- Clearly European economies along with Japan are hobbled with decreasing population, high social cost and generally less responsive state to economic challenges. Naturally, these are not the places conducive to Capital growth.
- When the single most obsession for American interests is all about China and it’s phenomenal growth, why does it matter for America to engage so much with G8?
- The bandwagon of China and India story is likely to have some leg which reduces the importance of G8. True, both China and India are observers to G8 meetings; but may be the time has come for their full inclusion (probably India could wait) and more intense engagement with these countries rather than bothering with Italy and France. Let us face it – Italy, France and Canada are not going to be places where the world is going to be ‘on fire’ as far as the Global Economy is considered.
- If being major import soaking points of the world is the only criteria (again Germany, Japan and to some extent Canada are exceptions here due to their solid exports); then what about Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, which is consuming voraciously paid by petro-dollars?
- Politically too, how many of G8 countries are in the capacity to set the tone in World Affairs today for a sustained global growth? Germany, Italy, France and Canada – to what an extent are these players crucial in implementing things on Global Scale? Indian Trade Minister along with Brazilian Trade Minister plays more active (or destructive depending on your perspective) role in WTO.

So it looks like G8 is more of ‘past organization’ rather than an organization looking to future and with any ability to change things in global economy. USA seems to be the only country which has dynamic economy (even if it has some problems) with the political ability to make difference. May be for USA to engage with China, India and some other economies (S. Korea, Brazil and Saudi Arabia come to mind) on regular basis is more beneficial. Then where would politics come? Indeed it matters less what politics is when one is dealing with money. There are different forums and different platforms with different means to address political issues. I mean we are not dealing with apartheid South Africa which needed all out economic sanctions which however Iran may need today. It is not about internal rules related to NGOs which matter most, but the response of economic sanctions to Iran which will matter most to USA. Russia and European countries are beholden to Iranian market and Iranian oil & gas (China is no different). Only Canada and Japan could come on the side of USA as far as Iranian sanction goes. What does this indicate is internal contradictions of G8 do not make it very suitable to address tomorrow’s global economic and political challenges.

All in all it is worth to inspect relevance of G8 in entirety, rethink admission criteria to this club, it’s purpose and it’s way of working.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

As a matter of fact I would love to get kicked out of the G8 ...it would boost my popularity at home! It would cost me nothing and maybe boost the price of oil and natural gas as a bonus! Every autocrat like me need a scapegoat..especially a western,anglo-american zionist entity like the G8. Go ahead make me day!

posted by: Putin on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Hm. This seems to me to fall into the category of decisions that are hard to reverse because they made so little sense in the first place. Before you can offer a fully persuasive reason for why Russia *no longer* belongs in the G7+1, you need to offer a reason why it *ever* belonged there. The things that have changed in Russia have very little to do with Russia's inclusion in the first place; it's not as though the Russia that was then engaged in the Chechnya war was one of the freest, most human-rights-respecting nations on earth; nor is it as though Sweden and Switzerland are in the group.

There's no principle of inclusion and exclusion that ever sensibly grouped these eight states together. The explanation is all proper nouns: Clinton, Yeltsin, NATO expansion, etc. So there's no principle of inclusion that one can now point to and say Russia's violated.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]


posted by: Ivan Kirigin on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Mr. Levy
Dont forget the soul that your heroic wartime leader saw inside me when we met!

posted by: Putin on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Actually, I wouldn't characterize my IHT piece as a "weak defense" so much as a "let's step back and look at the situation piece."

And I stand by the point that I made--that Western criticism of the law would have more validity if we acknowledged that Western countries also regulate NGO activity and if we adopted an approach of constructive engagement.

By the way, today's "Washington Realist" has the following to say about Illarionov's resignation:

"Illarionov's resignation highlights the emergence of new business-political blocs in Russia, each grouped around a different state-controlled company or sector of the economy. It also signals his frustration that the Putin Administration did not use its consolidation of power to vigorously promote liberal reforms.

What it says to me is that the transition to 2008 is in full swing. If Putin was preparing to stay for a third term (in violation of the Russian Constitution), one would expect that he would continue to push his agenda through. Instead, a process of consolidation is now underway which suggests that the "regime" (and here I mean the principal actors and rules of the political game) is being stabilized, in preparation for a stable transfer of power to the next candidate. More and more, I think we should revisit what happened in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s for how this is done."

One of the other posters in this thread raised a good question--before kicking Russia out of the G-8, what was it doing there in the first place--a point I had raised all along. But I suspect that the Europeans are prepared to extend the same 'special relationship' to Russia that the U.S. has done with Saudi Arabia all these years.

posted by: Nikolas Gvosdev on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Gvosdev assumes Putin's government is acting in good faith with respect to NGOs, which it almost certainly is not. A policy of "constructive engagement" with Russia has to start with a level of realism about Moscow's priorities, which have nothing to do with NGO "transparency" or regulation as it is conducted in Western countries and everything to do with suppressing potential critics of the regime.

How does this relate to the question of G-8 membership? Or does it? Clearly it may inasmuch as Russia's campaign against NGOs may be a potential topic for other G-8 leaders to raise with Putin. But that's about it.

Recall how what we call the G-8 started in the first place. Gatherings of the leaders of the major developed economies began in the 1970s, largely in response to the energy crisis of that period. It was thought, especially by the American government, that a coordinated response by developed countries to the challenge posed by the oil exporters to their economies was desirable; moreover regular meetings of heads of government, without their attendant bureaucracies and subordinate departments, were believed to be a potential way around the diplomatic quagmires in which a single uncooperative government could mire American initiatives outside the energy field, such as the so-called Year of Europe in 1973. There was also a sense in which small meetings among Western leaders, without the requirement for elaborate protocols and communiques, were thought to be their own reward.

The G-8, obviously, has evolved well beyond that. It has become in some respects exactly what it was intended not to be, a massive bureaucratic undertaking and a media event. Regrettable though this is in some respects, the G-8 still does provide a forum in which the leaders of developed countries can thrash out common positions on economic issues of common concern. A relevant question is how many such issues find Russia likely to take positions compatible with other G-8 members; another is how we ought to define "economic issue."

Obviously Russian national pride -- more precisely, the vanity of the Russian political class -- is gratified by G-8 membership as a status symbol. Neither that nor its Indian, Chinese or Brazilian counterparts should be the only reasons a country is part of the G-8 meetings. A country's participation should instead be conditioned on the likelihood that differences between its government's position on the most important international economic questions and those of other major economic powers can be reduced by discussions in a forum of this kind.

This is not an argument for expelling Russia or any other country from the G-8 (or for including them), only for considering this forum's membership, structure and content in light of what these are likely to achieve instead of the trouble we might be causing if they were changed. Personally I would prefer the G-8 not be quite the big deal it has become. The original ideas behind this kind of gathering seem to me to have great merit even three decades later. In any event we ought to be evaluating G-8 in terms of its productivity and usefulness to the promotion of American interests.

posted by: Zathras on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

My apologies to the original blog, but Russia’s NGO regulation is less of an interesting issue than G8 and it’s utility for America. So I will continue to comment about G8 only.

Based on comments by Zathras; some contours of an effective G8 do emerge:
- Respectable economic size compared to other nations of the world.
- Some kind of political ability to make difference in International Relations so that the agreed agenda or action plan has a realistic chance of getting implemented.
- Finally, the most important – “the likelihood that differences between it’s government’s position on the most important international economic questions and those of other major economic powers can be reduced by discussions”. This is the key. If the assessment is dialogue with that economic power is futile; what is the point of engaging with that country (G8 or otherwise)?

The comment that inclusion in G8 should not be a status symbol is dead right. Indians may over enthusiastically regard inclusion in UN Security Council or in G8 as some kind of ‘rite of passage’; but that is missing the point. Same with China – otherwise it would not have made so much of a show when USA mischievously mentioned Japan for UNSC seat to provoke China. Chinese got caught by the bet and suddenly it displayed how hard it is to don the mantle of a mature international player. Hard Chinese attitude is also on display when America cannot ‘talk out’ China for the trade deficit as it did with Japan some years back. Of course, the other way to look at it as the strength of Chinese Economy which America must accept. But dialogue is the only realistic option. And for that America needs to spend more political capital in talking to China instead of talking to Russia or Italy or France within G8. Americans would rather have their President spend time in thrashing issues with China and other new economies which impact daily lives of Americans rather than having ineffective platitude sessions with what their Defense Secretary inadvertently but probably rightly called as ‘Old Europe’. A commoner’s view would be – my job is threatened by what is happening in China, India and Saudi high gas prices and hence how does it get solved by a summit with G8 members?

posted by: Umesh Patil on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

I make no assumptions about Putin's "good faith" or of any other government's good faith in assessing their policies or motives. I think that Putin wants critics to have as limited space as possible--and he would prefer to have home-grown critics play by Kremlin rules--and critics who have ample funding for abroad have no need to play by those rules. This is why I keep urging us to look at what was going on in Mexico during the decades of PRI rule--how the PRI "managed" pluralism and dissent, especially with a Mexican media that depended on Mexican sources of finance and support. Indeed, the Russian media presents a schizophrenic picture--main TV channels either under state ownership or controlled by friendly interests--ranging to newspapers, radio programs and regional television--all with diverging levels of freedom--to the internet, uncensored and uncontrolled. As more Russians get connected, this state of affairs cannot last--and that's the challenge Putin's successors will face.

But it would be a lot easier to demonstrate the Kremlin's "bad faith" if the Western approach had been to consult. I thought former Senator Edwards op-ed on the subject completely counterproductive--you can't be taken seriously if you advocate policies for other countries that you yourself don't legislate at home.

The G-8 discussion is interesting and perhaps Daniel will continue it on another thread, because my sense from the continental Europeans is that they acquiesced to Clinton bringing in Russia in the 1990s as a "favor" to Yeltsin but now view Russian participation as more relevant to their own economic concerns. The U.S. can move to expel Russia from the G-8 with little harm to its own economic interests; Germans seem to have a different perspective, given that Deutsche Bank basically supports Russian state capitalism as being in Europe's interests. Zathras' closing point is the critical one--each G-7 country has a different perspective on where Russia fits in with its national interests.

posted by: Nikolas Gvosdev on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

I'm not sure exactly what we are supposed to consult about here, or to whom we are supposed to demonstrate whether Putin's government is or is not determined to suppress internal criticism regardless of how it makes itself known. And frankly, the Mexican analogy is a strange one on many levels. I don't think Putin has it in mind, and I don't know why anyone else would. For one thing, Mexico in the 1930s mattered mostly to Mexico and its immediate neighbor. Russia today is able to create all manner of trouble for countries around its borders. It is more likely to do that if its government has no domestic critics or challengers. Moreover the current Russian government is heir to the bloody and oppressive legacy of the Soviet security services, and Putin's effort to preclude Russian criticism of his government must be seen in that context.

posted by: Zathras on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Beyond the role of a major energy exporter, it is not about Russian contribution to Global Economic stability. It is all political, clearly more urgent to address than confabulations in a G8 type summit. Intense engagement within G8 or expulsion from G8 will be less of a solution to restrain pervasively radioactive influence of Russia on surrounding regions. Such intrusive activities of Russia start with effective closure of any internal debate. As mentioned earlier by others, it’s past is testimony to such well trodden path. Many would wonder whether new NGO related regulations are tell tale signs of such almost rhythmic political developments within Russia notwithstanding what Gvosdev argues – regime consolidation before the transfer of power.

Interestingly as like Iran, it is the high oil price which is nourishing the current anti-West Russian State. Petro dollars are having a consolidating effect on the Russian State. Before this oil boom started, Russia defaulted on it’s sovereign loans and had difficult economy. When it is in a boom - the money makes Russia more of a military state to intrude in affairs of other states; when it is in a burst - the dangers of implosion as well as usual fragmentation on periphery of Russian empire destabilizes regions surrounding. So the world gets troubles both ways.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Not to take up too much additional space--Zathras, if interested, peruse my Demokratizatsiya article on comparing Putin's Russia with Mexico. It has nothing to do with external foreign policy but questions of internal consolidation--how a regime can retain democratic features (like elections and some competition and zones of pluralism) but exercise authoritarian power.

Putin is heir to a Soviet security services tradition but the regime's efforts to create and manipulate the political system (administrative resources in elections, creation of controllable "opposition" parties, use of regulations to keep parties out of elections) resembles Mexico a great deal more than it does Brezhnev's USSR. I don't suggest that there is a conscious link but I think that the founders of the PRI had a similar approach to politics (as well as business--creation of a politically loyal business oligarchy as well as state controlled firms) that the current team in Russia is emulating, even if not by design.

posted by: Nikolas Gvosdev on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Zanthras: "The current Russian government is heir to the bloody and oppressive legacy of the Soviet security services"

I would be careful throwing inflammatory words around. It seems that the argument here is: "Putin was in KGB therefore either the new FSB runs the country or if this is shown to be false, then his past makes him a completely unacceptable president anyway." I am not sure whether post-Stalin Russian security services were any worse than the US ones, or whether coming from the this background (a la Andropov) is in any way unusual or bad qualification to lead the country. Remember that Bush I was a former CIA director.

posted by: Ivan B Zhabin on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

Congressmen Chris Cox (R-CA) and Tom Lantos (D-CA) re-introduced a resolution earlier this year, H.Con.Res. 143, "Expressing the sense of Congress that the continued participation of the Russian Federation in the Group of 8 nations should be conditioned on the Russian Government voluntarily accepting and adhering to the norms and standards of democracy."

With Cox now gone from Congress, as chairman of the SEC, a new champion for Russian democracy is needed.

posted by: Howard Fienberg on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

I'm not convinced that an SoC resolution worded that way is particularly helpful. It is not specific, first of all, as to what Congress wants Russia to change. It leaves the door wide open to the dishonest, wheelspinning argument that everything the current government in Russia is doing is consistent with democracy, just not "Western" democracy. Finally it dodges the question of whether Russian participation in the G-8 is something that might be desirable apart from what we think, or fear, about the course of internal Russian politics.

Hypothetically, if it were not -- if having Russia involved in the G-8 meetings did nothing but muck them up and make them completely unproductive -- then Russian suppression of internal dissent would serve as an excuse to restore the old G-7 format. But if this is not the case we should not turn away from an opportunity to advance our interests for the sake of an empty gesture. Freedom and democracy in Russia would certainly be desirable, but this is a subject we should approach without illusions either about the intentions of Russia's current government or the reality that American interests must be advanced regardless of whether Russia stumbles back toward dictatorship or not.

posted by: Zathras on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

well, thats not an easy question - dont think that kicking V.V. and Russia out of G-8 will change a lot of things. Putin finds a lot of understanding in common ppl, and thats the problem.

posted by: Ciel0 on 12.27.05 at 09:34 AM [permalink]

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