The irony is that in the century since the Russian Revolution, the “soft” democracies have endured, and the communist system that has collapsed. But the inheritors of the NKVD mantle—the KGB-trained Kremlin elite—believe that the game is not yet over. Their method once again is to use what they believe to be the West’s weakness—decadence and above all, openness—as a weapon against it, notes Neil Barnett, a former foreign correspondent, now CEO of Istok Associates Limited.
Addressing this vulnerability would require resolute action on a number of levels. But it would not and should not be conducted in the form of inquisition, which would be authoritarian and therefore self-defeating. Instead, the most effective defenses would be mostly administrative and bureaucratic in nature, he writes for The American Interest:
- Reform political funding regulations to reflect this threat. Existing regimes already enshrine the principle that foreign or money or money of unknown origin should not be allowed into party funds. The problem is that their monitoring and enforcement measures are obsolete and ineffective. …ded.
- The new dimension of threat posed by offshore centers should be recognized. In addition to criminal money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist financing, these jurisdictions pose a grave national security threat to open democratic systems. ….
- Ensure that political “movements” that act as de facto parties are treated in law as parties and cannot be used to circumvent regulations. This would require yardsticks such as extent of funding, nature of activity and close connection to electoral candidates.
- Politicians and major funders alike should be required to make full wealth declarations, including disclosure of their tax returns and assets. Romania already applies this rule to parliamentarians in order to deter political corruption, and has seen some success. ….
- Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a political figure is financed by a hostile power, then a judge sitting in a closed national security court could mandate the security services, police and prosecutors to mount an investigation. ….
“The purpose of these combined measures would be to disrupt and deter current and future operations by Russia, China or any other power. And if this analysis happens to be wide of the mark and no such plans exist, the measures outlined above would still be needed to ensuring that this remains the case,” Barnett adds. “Either way, it should be emphasized that this threat can only be addressed by reform of institutions, regulations and laws. Witch hunts and gossip are neither helpful or seemly.”
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny today declined Moscow city authorities’ proposal to hold an anti-corruption rally on 26 March in the Lyublino or Sokolniki districts of the capital, instead calling for his protesters to hold the rally on Tverskaya Street in the city center.
Navalny, who in December 2016 announced his bid for the 2018 presidential election, called on his supporters to hold anti-corruption protests in over 70 cities across Russia, mostly in regional centres. This follows the publication of a video by Navalny on 2 March, in which he alleged top-level corruption in the Russian government, IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report adds.
Three years after the “Laundromat” was exposed as a criminal financial vehicle to move vast sums of money out of Russia, journalists now know how the complex scheme worked – including who ended up with the $20.8 billion and how, despite warnings, banks failed for years to shut it down, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Research for the first time paints a fuller picture of how billions moved from Russia, into and through the 112 bank accounts that comprised the system in eastern Europe, then into banks around the world.
Black cash for black ops
Most of this appears to be the run-of-the-mill fraud, tax evasion, and capital flight of a kleptocracy. But for Russia, crime and corruption are also often simultaneously used as weaponized tools of statecraft, notes RFE/RL analyst Brian Whitmore:
And it’s hard to imagine a money-laundering operation of this magnitude, involving major Russian banks and figures with ties to the Russian government and security services, that isn’t at least tacitly Kremlin-sanctioned.
Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian organized crime and security services and a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, notes that “most of this $20 billion haul was, of course, just the corrupt proceeds of corrupt people doing corrupt things,” but some of it “seems to have been put to political use by the Russian security services.”
As the Kremlin continues its crackdown on journalists, activists, and civil society, voicing opposition in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not only becoming more challenging, but a matter of life or death, notes The Atlantic Council. It will bring together a panel of experts to discuss the current state of human rights in Russia and shed light on the great challenges that Russian human rights activists continue to experience.
Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Senior Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project, John F. Kennedy Belfer Center for Science, and International Affairs, Harvard University. Keynote remarks: The Hon. Benjamin Cardin US Senator for Maryland US Senate; The Hon. Marco Rubio US Senator for Florida US Senate. A conversation with: Mr. Carl Gershman (right) President National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group; Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza (left) Vice Chairman Open Russia; Mr. Tomasz Malinowski Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor US Department of State. Moderated by: Dr. Alina Polyakova Director of Research, Europe and Eurasia Atlantic Council
With Europe’s political stability, social cohesion, economic prosperity and security more threatened today than at any point since the Cold War, Russia is destabilizing the Continent on every front, argues James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age.*
Indigenous factors—whether long-extant nationalism, design flaws in the Eurozone lack of a common foreign policy, or incapability at assimilating immigrants – certainly lie at the root of these crises. But all are exploited by Moscow and exacerbated by its malign influence, he writes for POLITICO:
Russia has reverted to its place as, in the words of the liberal writer Paul Berman, “the historical center of world reaction,” headquarters of the new counter-Enlightenment. Only now, after Russia’s audacious interference in the American presidential election, have Obama and his allies in the Democratic Party belatedly awoken to the ideological challenge posed by Putin’s counter-Enlightenment, one that exports kleptocracy and disorder through a European fifth column of front organizations, political parties, media organs, reactivated KGB networks and plain hired hands.
In all but the Baltic States, political and economic instability became an almost daily routine generating kleptocracy throughout the former Soviet space, analyst Shalva Dzidziguri writes for New Eastern Europe.
Russia is a classical kleptocracy but it has also weaponized the ideas of Samuel Huntington, argues David Batashvili. In the case of the “civilizational” discourse of the Russian information war, there are two main purposes, he writes for THE HILL:
- The more general one is to ennoble Russia’s international role. In terms of interstate politics, Putin’s Russia is clearly a rogue. However, if one views the world events through the prism of civilizational conflict, Russia suddenly stops being the primary antagonist, with Islam taking its place. Moreover, from such a viewpoint Moscow can be perceived as an ally. The reasoning that Russians seek to engender in both America and Europe is something along the lines of “so what if Russians swallow their neighbors, we still need them on our side for the fight that really matters”.
- Russia’s other purpose is subversion and exertion of influence abroad through ideology. Since the Bolshevik coup d’état in the fall of 1917, Russians had relied on ideology as a vital instrument of foreign policy. They lost such capability as a result of the fall of communism. Apparently, they missed this resource so much that they decided to replace communism with something else. This time it’s the far-right chauvinism, accompanied by suspicion towards modern democracy and the existing world order in general.
Please join the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS Johns Hopkins University and Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative for a discussion with Ben Judah, journalist and the author of This Is London and Fragile Empire. Host and moderator: Ambassador Andras Simonyi, Managing Director, CTR.
Kleptocracy and Democracy: A discussion with Ben Judah
Wednesday, March 29th, 2017
2:30 PM – 4:00 PM
SAIS, Johns Hopkins University
1619 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
When a US federal judge sentences two Venezuelan drug smugglers, perhaps later this month, it will mark the final chapter of a story worthy of the Netflix series “Narcos,” say analysts Daniela Castro Romero and Laura Weffer Cifuentes.
It’s got everything: Notorious revolutionaries, corrupt generals, informants and even Uzi machine guns. And a plot to move at least 800 kilograms of cocaine through the private hangar of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, with the expected profits to fund the First Lady’s run for Parliament, they write for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP):
The course of the New York trial was avidly followed from afar. “It’s unusual,” said Elizabeth Williams, a courtroom artist who illustrated the trial. In 37 years on the job, she said, she’s never seen anything like the online reaction the case sparked in South America. “This is a big case down there.” Cousins Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efraín Antonio Campo Flores were convicted last November in a Manhattan courtroom of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. Their sentencing, originally set for March 7, has not yet been rescheduled.
The harsh treatment of political opposition in society, and the forms of torture that await them in the country’s overcrowded prisons, is a worrying sign for the year ahead in Venezuela, analyst Cecile Rossi writes for Open Democracy.
Civil society groups report that some 93% of Venezuelans don’t have enough to eat, recent surveys suggest, while the rate of homicides has reached historic proportions (right). The deepening crisis suggests that it is time for change in Venezuela, observers suggest.
Amidst Venezuela’s burgeoning economic and humanitarian crisis is continuing evidence of the erosion of the country’s democratic institutions, processes, and norms, the Wilson Center adds:
The independence of the judiciary and electoral institutions has been undermined and the opposition-led National Assembly has been completely sidelined as the executive branch continues to concentrate power. In these circumstances, what is the path forward to resolution of the deep and multiple crises afflicting the country?
Please join a panel of Venezuelan and U.S. experts to discuss current developments in Venezuela and options for a domestic and international response. The Venezuelan experts are in Washington, D.C. for an audience with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (OAS).
Mercedes de Freitas, Director, Transparencia Venezuela
Beatriz Borges, Director, Justice and Peace Center
Alfredo Romero, Executive Director, Forum on Crime
Laurie Holt, Mother of Joshua Holt, U.S. citizen detained in Venezuela
Michael M. McCarthy Research Fellow, Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, American University Author, “The Venezuela Crisis and Latin America’s Future: Toward a Robust Hemispheric Agenda on Democratic Stability.”
Cynthia J. Arnson, Director, Latin American Program
Wilson Center – March 22