Russia is not going away. We need a strategy

This is no time to worry about Russia. Ukraine is fighting for its own survival and for freedom everywhere. All efforts should therefore go on raising money for humanitarian relief, educating foreign public opinion, pressing Western governments to supply arms and munitions, and in other acts of solidarity.

That argument is tempting. But it is wrong. Ukraine’s torment is largely the result of Western strategic failure. First, we misunderstood the Soviet collapse. Then we missed the stench of imperialism and authoritarianism hanging over the supposedly democratic and friendly new Russian state. We also ignored (chiefly because of greed) the corruption and gangsterism. Our approach was based on wishful thinking and implemented with stunning complacency.

Western countries should not make that mistake again. We need to set goals and priorities. We need to work out what sacrifices and risks we are prepared to take over the coming months, years, and decades. We should have done this in 1991. We should not delay further.

The shorthand term for our goal should be decolonization. Rather than narrowly focussing on “regime change” or the personality of Vladimir Putin, all outside countries dealing with Russia should hold this long-term aim in mind. Russia will be at peace with itself and its neighbors only once it ditches its imperial mindset, with its dire effects on both the state’s relations with its own people and on its treatment of its neighbors. Repression at home and aggression abroad stem from the same approach, which prizes power and glory over legality, liberty, dignity, and consent.

This wrenching transformation may come through economic weakness (as in post-war Britain), from military setbacks (France), or because of catastrophic defeat (Germany after 1945). The top priority, for now, should therefore be securing Ukraine’s military victory against the Kremlin’s invasion. If Putin can walk away from the war with territorial gains, he will claim vindication and the imperial war machine will be stronger, not weaker.

But our strategy must have other elements too.

One is to create surrogate structures abroad to compete with the Kremlin’s cultural, ideological, and ecclesiastical hegemony. Some of the most distinguished academics dealing with Russia, such as the historians Timothy Snyder and Alexander Etkind, are trying to establish a new East European University where Russians and Belarusians can teach, research, and study freely. As Russia’s academic life withers under the scrutiny of the FSB, this would be a powerful counterweight.

Another immediate priority is an alternative canonical authority for Russian-speaking Orthodox Christians who have broken with the Moscow Patriarchate. Dissident parishes in Lithuania and elsewhere are already looking for a new home. The obvious choice would be the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul in secular toponomy). This has already aroused Moscow’s ire with its welcome to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. During the Cold War, the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile was a useful competitor to the KGB-dominated church inside the Soviet Union. We need something similar now.

But the new Russian diaspora presents opportunities and difficulties. These new émigrés may be cross about the war, but they are not necessarily allies in the decolonization cause (Georgians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and others have plenty of stories of the new arrivals’ blithely unconscious imperialism). Though the brain drain clearly weakens the Russian economy, emigration is also a safety valve for the Kremlin. The easier we make it for Russians to live abroad, the less likely they are to go home and topple the regime. Yet if they feel harshly treated, their self-pity will intensify nationalist sentiment.

Such moral and strategic dilemmas abound. All the more reason to start grappling with them now.


Photo: Members of the local Russian diaspora in Krakow join the global anti-war demonstration of all free Russians and protest against the war with Ukraine at the Adam Mickiewicz monument in the Main Square in Krakow. On Sunday, June 12, 2022, in Krakow, Poland. Credit: Artur Widak/NurPhoto

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Edward Lucas

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June 19, 2022

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Andrei Soldatov

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Irina Borogan

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March 23, 2022

As Russia sends tanks and soldiers to take over Ukraine, it is also dispatching censors and regulators to strangle the Internet. In this CEPA special series, Senior Fellows Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan argue that both invasions are linked and represent the culmination of a more than a decade-long trend to throttle the free and open flow of information in Russia.


Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin sits in front of a laptop computer during an online interview in Moscow, March 6, 2001. Putin answered questions live on the internet on Tuesday in an unprecedented webcast from the Kremlin, and said he would protect democracy and market reforms in the country. Credit: CVI/CRB

Part 1: Putin Wakes Up to the Danger of a Free Internet

Inside Russia, the Internet remains up and running, and news from Ukraine has become more and more dangerous to Putin.


Photo: Protesters hold their lit up mobile phones as they demonstrate in support of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny outside the Russian Embassy in London, Britain, April 21, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls.

Part 2: The Free Internet Stymies Putin

Despite Putin’s best efforts, it has become clear that Russia’s Sovereign Internet filtering system is ineffective.


Photo: A protester walks away from the Roskomnadzor's office in central Saint Petersburg, Russia March 10, 2019. Credit: REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

Part 3: The Internet is a Western Plot

In 2017, Russia vowed to make its Internet sustainable and self-sufficient. In reality, the Kremlin undertook its first systematic effort to control its cyberspace.


Photo: People carry signs as they protest against new anti-terrorism legislation approved by President Vladimir Putin that critics say will curb basic freedoms and make it easier for the authorities to stifle dissent, in Moscow's Sokolniki park, Russia, August 9, 2016. The signs read: "Do not talk!" (C), "Guarantor of constitution, leave us at least some of the rights" (L) and "No to choking of freedom with the package of laws by (Russian lawmaker Irina) Yarovaya" (R). Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Part 4: Russia’s Sovereign Internet Takes Root

In 2019, Putin signed new legislation to shut Russians off from information disputing the Kremlin narrative. Western tech helped build the censorship apparatus.


Photo: RYAZAN, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 17, 2020: A live TV broadcast of the 16th annual end-of-year news conference by Russia's President Vladimir Putin at a home appliances store. Credit: Alexander Ryumin/TASS

Part 5: Russia’s War Against Silicon Valley

When he came to power, Vladimir Putin ignored the Internet. After discovering its power, he has tried to control it. Now, as he wages war in Ukraine, he wants to suppress it. He must not succeed.


For Vladimir Putin, the invasion of Ukraine is the culmination of a two-decade-long search for meaning for the Russian people.

When Putin took the helm at the Kremlin on New Year’s Eve 1999, he inherited a shattered country. The problem, he declared in his inaugural address, “is not only an economic problem” but an “ideological, spiritual and moral problem.” The solution was “A New Russian idea”, a new vision for and understanding of Russia’s unique place in history, and for the future.

The Russian Idea holds for the Russian state and its people a unique and messianic role in the course of human events, one that ties together the fates of chieftains, tsars, and bolsheviks. Russia absorbed the fury and caprices of the Mongol invasions, sparing Europe from cataclysm. Russia carried the torch of Rome after the fall of the Byzantines, defending Orthodox believers from Turkish cruelty. Russia immolated itself to incinerate Napoleon and then the Nazis, saving the world from imperial and then fascist domination. But the collapse of the Soviet empire set Russia adrift.

Now, in Putin’s telling, the Russian people are finally again called to the role of global savior. “What I am saying now does not concern only Russia,” Putin declared in his address to Russia last night, “and Russia is not the only country that is worried about this . . . everywhere . . . the United States brought its law and order, this created bloody, non-healing wounds and the curse of international terrorism and extremism.” To accept that it should deal with NATO now would be to repeat the mistakes of Ribbentrop-Molotov. To act is to stop the “genocide of the millions of people.” Unlike the United States which “proceeds in its policy from rough, direct force . . . We all know that having justice and truth on our side is what makes us truly strong.”

Putin may be counting on a repeat of the euphoria that followed Crimea’s annexation as a further step in Russia’s spiritual rejuvenation. But he should take heed of the implications of the Russian Idea and what befell the Tsarist autocracy and Soviet Bolshevism–and the suffering inflicted on Russians in the process.


Photo: Alexandra Prockow holds up a sign as Ukrainian supporters rally after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 24, 2022. Credit: REUTERS/Nick Lachance

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Ben Dubow

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February 25, 2022

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Russia threatens to spread the fog of war across Europe, but a strong, principled Transatlantic response can cut through the haze.

The Kremlin treated the world to an authoritarian theatre of the absurd on February 21. It started with a Soviet-style double-feature including a matinee Security Council meeting in which Putin openly berated subordinates who bumbled the script. That was followed by a chilling, grievance-filled, prime-time Putin rant, light on historical or logical coherence, but heavy on histrionic threats to Ukraine’s sovereignty and Transatlantic security norms.

The day ended with Russian recognition of the “Donbas republics” by Russia’s fraudulently elected Duma members, de facto voiding Russia’s agreements under the Minsk 2 framework, and an act that European Union (EU) leaders called “a blatant violation of international law” and Anne Applebaum called “legal aggression.” Shortly thereafter, Putin pressed forward with overt military aggression toward Ukraine — ordering Russian military forces into Ukraine’s Donbas region – immediately shattering norms settled long ago about the postwar security landscape that has underpinned Transatlantic stability for decades.

In times of crisis like this, the policy community often must scramble in the search for a novel response. Unlike other crises that have taken the world by surprise, however, intense Transatlantic diplomacy and targeted the US and European intelligence declassification have allowed for months of thought on what to do. And that follows years of careful thought and analysis by the European security policy community, who have published common sense actions to deter Putin’s adventurism abroad.

There will no doubt be years of debate on whether pre-emptive sanctions would have been more effective in halting Kremlin aggression, but it is undeniable that the Transatlantic community needs to take action at this vital hour. Therefore, to help interrupt Putin’s advance against Ukraine, and force Russia to rethink its calculus on further invading Ukrainian territory, the “swift, severe, and united” consequences that have been threatened by the US and the EU need to be urgently rolled out. The first step in that process began on February 22 on both sides of the Atlantic.

These included the announcement by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that the certification process for the Kremlin-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline had been suspended. The move marks a long overdue policy shift that was urgently needed.

Germany revoked an October assessment sent to the Bundesnetzagentur regulator by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy that “the issuing of the [Nord Stream 2] certification does not endanger the security of the gas supply.” I roundly criticized the conclusion at the time, noting that it came amid one of the most severe EU energy crises in recent memory, something exacerbated by the Kremlin’s politically driven energy market moves.

Suspending the certification process for Nord Stream 2 should be seen as a first step in deterring further Russian military action, since this announcement is by its very nature a temporary decision. Urgent additional measures should include:

One last thing: while we are rightly focused on Putin’s threat to extinguish Ukrainian independence, we must remember that the world’s autocrats will be eagerly observing the current crisis to update the how-to-undermine-democracy chapter of their malign playbooks. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said it best in an address earlier this month in Kyiv: “If we don’t support Ukraine now, we can expect to see a lot more aggression elsewhere. Many other authoritarian regimes are watching and weighing up the West’s response.” As I explained with Paul Massaro in Foreign Policy last month, “overlooking sanctionable activities by Moscow today will only leave Chinese officials with a playbook of how to undermine global democracies tomorrow.”

Russia may have spread a fog across the Europe of 2022, but a strong, principled Transatlantic response can thin and ultimately disperse it.

Dr. Benjamin L. Schmitt is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard University, a Senior Fellow for Democratic Resilience at CEPA, and a “Rethinking Diplomacy” Fellow at the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies. (Twitter: @BLSchmitt)


Photo: The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on a pipe at Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant owned by ChelPipe Group in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov.

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Benjamin Schmitt

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February 23, 2022

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Western anti-war campaigners have failed to notice Russia’s descent into extreme nationalism and kleptocracy.

Almost exactly 19 years ago, some of the biggest demonstrations in modern history were held across the world. Millions of people in Europe, America, and elsewhere went out into the streets to protest against the coming invasion of Iraq. Peace movements across the world were mobilized and left-of-center political parties were inflamed.

Now, as Russia masses troops and warships near Ukraine on a scale not seen since the Cold War, there is an eerie silence in the West. How can this be? Russia has already waged war against Georgia in 2008 and has been fighting against Ukraine since 2014. It is a known aggressor. Why are there no mass protests in the West?

It is fair to point out that for many, the COVID-19 pandemic is sufficient reason to stay away from crowds (though this has not deterred anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters.) But it is also the case that there is unlimited space on social media and online, and that the peace movement is silent.

The UK’s Stop the War Coalition, for example, which helped organize the anti-Iraq war marches in 2001, says it “opposes the British establishment’s disastrous addiction to war and its squandering of public resources on militarism,” and organized an online meeting for February 10 to discuss the UK and US government’s efforts to “ramp up the threat of war.”

It made no mention of the threat to Ukraine but — perhaps significantly — did not attempt to organize a mass demonstration, despite its supporters’ chosen greeting, “See you on the street.” By February 10, only 44 of its 53,000 Twitter followers had liked the meeting’s announcement. In the US, a demonstration in Minneapolis on February 4 by the United National Coalition to denounce US imperialism attracted about 100 people.

Stop the War’s moral relativism was this week (February 10) described by the UK Labour party leader Keir Starmer as naïve, at best: “At worst they actively give succor to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies. There is nothing progressive in showing solidarity with the aggressor when our allies need our solidarity and — crucially — our practical assistance.” The group, one of whose leaders is Starmer’s far-left predecessor, responded that NATO had sided with “the aggressor” in Libya and Afghanistan.

In France, most protests have been focused on pandemic issues like mask mandates, but the Russian point of view is well-understood and sympathetically described by the extreme-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and her extreme-left counterpart, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both of whom advocate the country’s withdrawal from NATO.

A unifying feature among self-described peace activists is an unwillingness to place the sovereignty of small or newly restored countries on a par with that of larger and longer-established entities, a view succinctly put by Putin to President George W. Bush in 2008 when he said, “George, you have to understand Ukraine isn’t even a country.” It is a statement now widely repeated in the West.

This indifference to the fate of a major European state is not new. It dates back to the Cold War era when the student rebellions of the1960s were deeply influenced by socialism and Marxism, and linked to anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. Less well-known, Soviet and satellite intelligence services worked hard to use, and sometimes even control parts of the Western left and the peace movements. When students rebelled against a conservative society, they did so under red flags, buying into a view of the world that described the US as the home of capitalism, imperialism, and unjustified warfare.

As far back as 1945, George Orwell noted one of the key distinguishing markers of Western pacifists was apportioning blame for international crises “almost entirely against Britain and the United States.” Such people did not “as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defense of the western countries.”

While the Warsaw Pact invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia (which also drew some protests), as well as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, made clear that the Cold War was not a battle of good Soviet vs. the bad US, it did little to alter a seemingly instinctive response from the European left. That was reinforced by Ronald Reagan’s rearmament program in the 1980s and the positioning of medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe following Russia’s deployment of SS-20s. This spawned a new era of protests in Germany and the UK.

The Cold War ended, but much of the far-left has struggled to understand Russia’s evolution into a murderous kleptocracy where social justice is not a goal of state policy. Putin’s use of military and intelligence services for state-sanctioned acts of aggression abroad — think Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, Salisbury, Berlin, plus numerous other attacks — dovetails with a domestic social conservatism designed to make life difficult and dangerous for liberals, gay people, and others, while sanctioning a raw form of capitalism which rewards super-rich individuals closely tied to the Kremlin. Russia might be different from the Soviet Union in many ways, but its security services are not.

It is of course entirely legitimate in a free society to campaign against military action, or steps taken to help a friendly state against outside aggression. But the Western peace movement might reflect on the words of 40-year-old Maryna Tseluiko, a baker and Ukrainian reservist: “We don’t want to fight Russians. It’s the Russians who are fighting us.”

Anders Östlund, a native Swede, has lived in Kyiv, Ukraine, since 2009. He was active on EuroMaidan and he has followed the geopolitical dynamics in Eastern Europe ever since.


Photo: Protesters attend a rally against what they consider aggression by the US and NATO, February 5, 2022, in Washington, DC. Protesters demand the abolition of NATO, no US was in Russia, and reduction of the US defense budget to address problems at home. The rally was sponsored by anti-war groups CODEPINK, ANSWER Coalition, Black Alliance for Peace, and Popular Resistance. Credit: Allison Bailey/NurPhoto

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Anders Östlund

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February 11, 2022

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

The advent of 5G technology is heralded as the glue that will enable the integration of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) into military operations.

NATO militaries are shifting from a platforms-based defense to one revolving around systems. This would see long-term, multipurpose assets like tanks and aircraft carriers replaced by narrowly purposed, nimble, expendable, and data-informed capabilities fully integrated into the force structure. But the effective collection, sharing, and operational potential of data in the decision-making process will only be possible if 5G networks are advanced and resilient.

There is a problem here — 5G’s capacity to revolutionize conflict is still somewhat unknown. Discrepancies between NATO allies in their approaches to 5G procurement and operational frameworks risk creating interoperability gaps in fulfilling its military potential. Nevertheless, some individual allies are beginning important national efforts that can serve as a basis for broader coordination around military 5G.

For example, Latvia’s progress in 5G military testing might serve as a basis for developing principles that NATO allies can use to strengthen the resilience and capacity of their military 5G networks. These include:

In December, Latvia unveiled Europe’s first 5G military testing site at Ādaži Military Base, which allows Latvian and NATO forces to test, uncover and resolve security vulnerabilities in the network. This site enables deeper integration into defense systems and provides alliance members with “testing grounds” for innovative 5G applications. The Ādaži base can also offer lessons to other NATO members as they develop their national 5G capabilities for military use, including the possibilities of 5G in autonomous systems and Joint-All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), the U.S. program to connect all military and space sensors in a single network. Continued, joint testing is the most important way to refine the possibilities of 5G in future warfare characterized by autonomous systems, data, algorithms, and JADC2.

These advancements, however, pale in comparison to the 5G developments by adversarial states. China is a pioneer, having already developed 5G unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) applications for package deliveries, aerial photographs, and emergency communications. Western states must develop their 5G defense capabilities strategically to remain competitive and make up for the lost time.

The dual-use functionality of 5G technology means that a broad range of actors including the military, security services, civil society, and private companies are integral to achieving resilience and effective implementation. Redundant structures and systems, especially between government and commercial enterprises, reduce the ability of malign actors to immobilize those systems by creating multiple networks for operation. This redundancy also integrates civil sector network defense, bolstering the potential for a whole-of-society response to threats.

There is some debate on how best to allocate the broadband spectrum between governments and civil society, which determines how insulated 5G defense systems are from attacks. For NATO defenses, dividing spectrum access between governments and civil society might prove to be more effective than allowing dual access to the same spectrum portions. NATO should take advantage of its prerogative as a multinational coordinating body to facilitate spectrum use standardization across the alliance.

Enhancing interoperability is perhaps the most important factor for 5G military application and will depend on alliance-wide standardization. As 5G allows for more connectivity and flexibility, as well as higher data volumes, it also enables greater dynamism and fluidity of information flows within defense systems. This can increase warning times, speed of decision-making, and response times in crisis and pre-crisis scenarios. The alliance should capitalize on this unprecedented potential for interconnectedness to increase resilience and expand the redundancy of systems.

Finally, national governments must leverage Western technology and regulatory diplomacy to create international standards for 5G technology to ensure its governance is not monopolized by adversaries. This would also go a long way to enhancing interoperability amongst allies and instilling network resilience at the heart of 5G development. The formalization of regulatory frameworks for 5G was recently emphasized in a UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, which labeled it essential if NATO members hope to retain technological influence. Thus, international regulatory agreements will become increasingly important to ensure a democratic digital domain not dominated by autocratic powers.

Integrating these factors into 5G technology development better positions NATO to realize the potential of EDTs and to improve the resilience of these systems to disruption. This should be reflected in the short-term in NATO allies’ approach to building 5G digital backbones. The alliance also cannot lose sight of the risks associated with military 5G implementation. Not only are temporary measures needed to implement 5G technology securely, but Western allies must have the long-term strategic foresight to lead the way in the development of 6G and quantum technology, which will eventually replace 5G.

The recent NATO communique from the Brussels Summit promises meaningful contributions in this regard, via the civil-military Defense Innovation Accelerator and NATO Innovation Fund. Though it will be years before we can gauge the success of these measures, internal collaboration with industry experts across the private sector, as well as cross-border coordination with allies to outline governing and operational frameworks, will be essential.


Photo credit: Robynne Hu

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Jack Crawford

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Charles Mann

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July 8, 2021

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Georgia faces an anti-liberal challenge and it’s growing in complexity.

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.


Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

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Emil Avdaliani

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July 8, 2021

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Finland would rather not discuss its stake in Nord Stream 2, or its other energy dealings with Russia.

In the growing disputes between Russia and the West, Finland is wedged between a rock and a very hard place. The government describes itself as militarily non-allied, a traditional Finnish position underlined by its regular role as a summit host, like the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit in 2018. That underlines its geographic reality — despite being a European Union (EU) member, Finland has not joined NATO, and is also on Russia’s doorstep. That can lead to some peculiar outcomes, like Finland’s quiet role in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Last year, the Finnish energy company Fortum, which is majority-owned by the government, bought a controlling share in the German energy company Uniper and now owns 76.1%. This might initially have looked like another everyday European business transaction between two slightly dull companies with predictably anodyne mottos (“For a cleaner world” and “Empower energy revolution”), and Finland’s government would probably be content if that were the case.

In fact, the Finns were purchasing one of the five key investors which together provided 50% of the funding for Nord Stream 2. Uniper has lent up to €950m to Gazprom to finance the project, and has worried about the loan ever since. Last year, it warned that it might have to be written off because of U.S. sanctions.

Not that this would be obvious from Fortum’s website, which returns zero results for the search term Nord Stream 2. And when browsing Fortum’s webpage FAQ about Uniper, there are plenty of answers about Datteln 4, the controversial new coal power plant that Uniper opened in Germany, but none about Nord Stream 2. In fact, there is no mention of Nord Stream 2 at all: only vague references to gas and Fortum’s role in Uniper’s energy operations.

As one Finnish energy consultant told me: “The tight-lipped silence is telling: if the Fortum-Uniper cooperation via-a-vis Nord Stream 2 isn’t a big deal, why isn’t it mentioned?”

Finland’s broader role in Nord Stream 2 is sometimes forgotten. The pipeline passes through 374km of Finnish territorial waters, something Finland’s prime minister described in 2016 as primarily an environmental issue.

Finland has consistently sought to depoliticize energy policy, and with good reason. The Nordic country’s bigger, more powerful neighbor, Russia, has used energy as a control screw, and Finland is heavily reliant on Russian gas and oil. With Nord Stream 2, along with Rosatom’s nuclear plant at Hanhikivi (where construction has now begun, 11 years after its initial approval), Finland’s approach has been to keep things technical. In practice, this means determining whether a project, like Nord Stream 2, meets environmental standards. But Fortum’s actions inevitably reflect on the Finnish state, and there are choices to be made, which Finnish political culture is unsure how to handle because the discussion would be difficult and the answers telling.

This hush extends beyond the Fortum-Uniper relationship, Finland’s conveniently apolitical environment-first policy, and hand-washing on Nord Stream 2. Dealings under the Hanhikivi scheme, run by a joint Russian-Finnish consortium called Fennovoima, have raised eyebrows as well.

Originally, Fortum did not want to join the Fennovoima consortium and only did so after some backroom deals, in which Rosatom offered to facilitate Fortum’s acquisition of Russian hydropower assets that the company had been eyeing.

Back in 2015, the Finnish press covered the scandal that a company seeking to join the consortium, Migrit Energia, was a Russian-owned shell company — potentially leading all the way back to Rosatom itself. That appeared a clear breach of the project mandate from the Finnish government, which stipulated that the project had to involve majority-owned by EU countries or firms based in the bloc. The Ministry of Economic Affairs investigated and blocked the company’s involvement, but the incident highlighted the lengths to which Russia would go to court Finnish businesses and politicians behind closed doors, and hide its Migrit mess from the light of day.

Not that Finland is under any illusions about Russia. It has a friendly relationship with NATO, has been a member of the Partnership for Peace program for almost three decades, and enjoys extensive ties to the alliance, while Finland’s foreign minister is a frequent visitor at ministerial meetings. Finland recognizes that Russia presents the likeliest threat to its security (there is a reason Finland still has conscription and the strongest land force among the Nordics).

The recent U.S. decision to effectively allow Nord Stream 2 to proceed, thus avoiding a serious dispute with Germany, one of the scheme’s parents, means that Fortum has probably won its gamble. The Uniper loan will not have to be written off and Finland’s governing class may feel a quiet elation.

But for the U.S. and those of Finland’s near-neighbors that oppose the scheme as inimical to their security (like Poland) there are lingering concerns about how Finnish policy is made and executed.

Talking to Finland about energy is a confusing process. It is unclear where to start — should it be the Finnish president, as relations with Russia come under the Head of State’s mandate? Or the prime minister, who handles the EU? Or perhaps another minister who would give guidance on Fortum, Uniper, and Nord Stream 2. Certainly, none of them can comment on the critically important environmental impact assessments (EIA), as those are administrative decisions, not to be touched by politicians.

If cornered, the Finnish government would invariably say that it lacks influence over Russia and must deal with the realities of any smaller state facing a large and aggressive neighbor. In this version of events, Finland’s ownership of Fortum, control of Uniper, its murky relationship to Russian state-owned entities — themselves the catspaws of Russian state policy — are simply facts created by this reality. But regardless of whether the government wants to admit it, Finnish interests are all-too-often bound up with Russia’s.


Credit: Antonin Duallia

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Cordelia Buchanan Ponczek

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July 7, 2021

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

German Ostpolitik’s fixation on Russian relations comes at a price.

Rumors reach Germany from elsewhere in the West: In the foreign- and security-policy circles of Germany’s allies, it is being said that hawks should root for the Greens to win September’s Bundestag elections.

Can that be true? The Greens are an offspring of the peace movement. They opposed NATO itself and its Double-Track Decision in 1979, favor disarmament, and have a fundamental aversion to using military force. And it is precisely because of this background that they have impressed with their more recent, critical perspective towards the policies of Vladimir Putin. The Greens are, next to the German Liberals (the FDP), the only party in Germany’s parliament — the Bundestag — that has demanded a halt to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. One of their leaders, Robert Habeck, even asked for the supply of “defensive weapons” for the Ukrainian armed forces. Would the Greens, if they win the election in September, resolutely oppose the Kremlin (or at least more resolutely than the Merkel government?)

The party has not yet won the election, and I wouldn’t bet much on Germany being governed by a Chancellor Annalena Baerbock starting in the fall. The Greens’ popularity already appears to have peaked. Baerbock has made mistakes indicating her lack of experience. She is running not for mayor of a small town, but for the most powerful political office in Germany. And Germans do not like political experiments — they have too much to lose. Merkel made some poor decisions, especially during the refugee influx in 2015. But she also successfully protected German prosperity during her 16 years in government. The majority of voters will not gamble with this.

Even if the Greens succeeded in winning the chancellor’s office, it would be unlikely to usher in a completely new approach to Russia. Habeck was heavily criticized in his own party for proposing to deliver weapons to Ukraine. It is also a fact of German politics that the Greens would need one or even more coalition partners to govern. The Social Democrats (SPD), and even more so the hardline Left (Die Linke), which emerged from East Germany’s (the GDR’s) Communist party, would push for a Russia-friendly approach.

While this would not be the policy of the Christian Democrats (CDU and CSU), they would hardly allow or demand a much tougher line than Chancellor Merkel. The CDU chairman Armin Laschet, whose chances of becoming the next chancellor appear quite good, even enjoys a reputation of being “someone who understands Russia” among members of his own party, because he has been merely moderately critical of Russia in the past. As chancellor, he would have to counter the Kremlin much more decisively. Yet there will be little popular pressure to do so unless Putin moves further West.

Germans consider the Russian people the inheritors and guardians of a fascinating culture, and sympathize with “ordinary Russians.” While it is now three-quarters of a century since the end of World War II, this attitude is still shaped by a feeling of guilt and a sense of special responsibility to ensure Germany’s good relations “with the Russians.” On the 80th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recalled in great detail that Hitler’s Germany had unleashed a war of annihilation that cost the lives of 27 million Soviet citizens. On another occasion, Steinmeier said this history did not justify Russia’s political misconduct, but that Germany should not “lose sight of the bigger picture” along the way.

Many ordinary Germans agree — especially in eastern Germany. When the GDR still existed, East Germans had some less than positive experiences with the Soviet troops stationed there. Soviet tanks were involved in the bloody suppression of the workers’ uprising of June 17, 1953. Yet as citizens look back on life in the GDR, a sepia-tinged nostalgia has now taken hold, including the relationship with the Russian big brother. Many economic contacts with Russia also date from that time, although they have suffered from sanctions against the Kremlin. The loudest calls for lifting or at least reducing sanctions come from the so-called new federal states (formerly GDR). Nord Stream 2 also has few critics there.

Even in western Germany, it is often pointed out that the Soviet Union was a reliable gas supplier during the Cold War. According to President Steinmeier, energy relations are one of the last bridges that connect Russia and Europe, and both sides should be concerned about burning it. For the Social Democrats in particular, but also others, Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy of détente in the early 1970s is one of the great historical achievements of German foreign policy which should not be “betrayed.” The fact that former chancellor and SPD chairman Gerhard Schröder is now shamelessly working for Putin’s Gazprom cronies is not an issue, and is tacitly accepted by the current SPD leadership.

German Ostpolitik’s fixation on Russian relations comes at a price, however: Too often the concerns and security interests of the countries between Germany and Russia are ignored. This is unsettling for Germany’s allies and partners, and reduces stability in a region whose “departure” still stokes the Kremlin’s contrived sense of agony. Immediately after taking office, Germany’s new government must therefore send clear signals to the east, to partners as well as to Putin: Germany is interested in better political and economic relations with Russia, but only if Russia’s aggression stops. The West should not tolerate Russia’s current approach, which Putin interprets as weakness and which simply encourages him to continue his ugly litany of invasion, interference, assassination, sabotage, and anti-democratic conspiracy.

In Berlin, it is often said that Germany has learned from its history. But are German politics drawing the right conclusions from every aspect of the past? Germany’s new leadership should not only think of the year 1941 when it ponders the relations to Moscow, but of another city also beginning with an M, and of the year 1938.


Photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a picture as he arrives to attend the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

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Berthold Kohler

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July 6, 2021

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.