26 January 2017

Public lecture: Russia and the Western Far Right

My public lecture on the relations between various Russian actors and the Western far right at the Institute for Human Sciences (Vienna, Austria).

The lecture discusses relations between various Russian actors (activists, politicians, organisations, media, officials, etc.) and the Western far right. It provides a historical perspective, discussing the pro-Soviet or pro-Russian views of particular Western far right activists, but its major focus is contemporary Russia. As Moscow has become more anti-Western, contacts with the Western far right have become more intense and have operated at a high level. The lecture shows that the Russian establishment was first interested in using the Western far right to legitimise Moscow’s politics and actions both domestically and internationally, but more recently Moscow has begun to support particular far right political forces to gain leverage on European politics and undermine the liberal-democratic consensus in the West.

29 November 2016

What lessons can European leaders learn from Trump’s victory?

As the news about the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections have shocked many in Europe, it is high time for European leaders to learn lessons from the outcome of these elections and – to quote Winston Churchill – not let a good crisis go to waste.

The US presidential electoral campaign was characterised by the “Europeanisation” of the American politics – something that never happened before. Discarding some obvious differences between the American and European political domains, Bernie Sanders appeared a typical European social democrat, Hillary Clinton – a European pro-establishment centrist, and Donald Trump – a European anti-establishment radical right-wing populist. Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign was notorious for anti-immigrant and racist statements, so it was only natural that European right-wing politicians such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the former leader of Britain’s UKIP Nigel Farage or the president of Front National Marine Le Pen overwhelmingly supported Trump during his campaign.

29 October 2016

Italian Delegation to Russia-annexed Crimea in October 2016: Between Politics and Business

On 14-16 October 2016, an Italian delegation consisting of 18 politicians and businessmen visited Crimea illegally annexed by Russian from Ukraine in March 2016. The political part of the delegation was largely represented by regional politicians from far right parties such as the Northern League (Lega Nord) and Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), but the delegation also featured one politician from the left-wing populist party Free Alternative (Alternativa Libera). The business part was represented by the leaders of the Italian companies Albrigi, Brescia Hydropower, Cantina di Soave, Scandiuzzi Steel Constructions, and Veronesi.

This trip was, to a certain extent, a follow-up of the Second Yalta International Economic Forum that took place in Crimea in April 2016. The forum was co-hosted by the EU-sanctioned “Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea” Sergey Aksyonov and Andrey Nazarov, co-chair of the All-Russian Civic Organisation “Business Russia” (Delovaya Rossiya) which is a union of businessmen working in non-energy sectors of Russian economy. It was the “Business Russia” organisation that officially invited and paid for the trip of the Italian delegation, and Nazarov was their main host in Crimea in October.
Italian collaborators travelling to Russia-annexed Crimea

17 October 2016

Die nicht mehr länger stille Gegenrevolution

1977 veröffentlichte Ronald Inglehart sein weithin gefeiertes Buch „Die stille Revolution“, in dem er darlegte, dass sich im Westen eine „stille Revolution“ ereigne, die diesen von Grund auf verändere.[1] Der beispiellose Wohlstand, den die westlichen Nationen während des Kalten Kriegs und angesichts des Ausbleibens eines totalen Kriegs erfahren durften, trug laut Inglehart zu einem schrittweisen Transformationsprozess von materialistischen individuellen Werten zu postmaterialistischen bei. Sobald die Bedürfnisse des physischen Überlebens gestillt sind, beginnen Menschen ihre Bedürfnisse nach Liebe, Zugehörigkeit und Wertschätzung zu stillen. Damit rückt die Bedeutung „intellektueller und ästhetischer Zufriedenheit“ bzw. sog. postmaterialistischer Werte ins Zentrum. In der politischen Sphäre wurde die „stille Revolution“ laut Inglehart von zwei bedeutenden Trends unterstützt: 1) „Eine Verlagerung von einem überwiegenden Schwerpunkt auf Materialverbrauch und Sicherheit hin zu einer größeren Sorge um die Lebensqualität“; und 2) „eine Zunahme an politischen Fähigkeiten in den westlichen Öffentlichkeiten, die es ihnen erlaubte, eine aktivere Rolle beim Fällen wichtiger politischer Entscheidungen zu spielen.“[2] Natürlich waren die Postmaterialisten nur eine Minderheit in den westlichen Gesellschaften, aber wohl die am besten ausgebildete und aktivste in der Politik. Postmaterialisten waren auch die zentrale treibende Kraft bei der europäischen Integration und bei der Förderung einer kosmopolitischen Identität.

19 August 2016

Welcome to illiberal democracy

Co-authored by Anton Shekhovtsov and Peter Pomerantsev

One after another the narratives that prop up belief in western liberal democracy have fallen. Ideal financial system? Not after the 2008 crisis and the euro. Military superiority? Iraq and Afghanistan have put an end to that. Effective politics? See gridlock in Washington DC and arm-twisting in Brussels.

Now the final, perhaps most fundamental, narrative risks unravelling. The supremacy of liberal democracy is rooted in the triumph of 1989: the liberation of Central Europe from the Kremlin’s authoritarianism; Václav Havel emerging from prison to become President in Prague Castle; the successful transition to democracy via European Union membership and the security blanket of NATO. The latter process was particularly important for the post-socialist states. Already in the 1990s, the prospect of the EU membership served as an impetus for reform of inefficient economies and dysfunctional political systems. At the same time, NATO provided security guarantees to the new democratising societies in Central and Eastern Europe that witnessed Russian destabilising activities in Moldova and Georgia in 1992—activities that resulted in the infringement of territorial integrity and dramatically hampered democratisation in these post-Soviet states.

17 August 2016

The alleged terrorist plot in Crimea may be a Russian psyop

Early in the morning on the 7th of August, Russian border guards closed all the security checkpoints on the border between Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in March 2014, and the rest of Ukraine. Witnesses reported the sounds of shots fired near the administrative border. The Russians re-opened the security checkpoints later but offered no official explanation as to the reasons of their closure in the first place. Some Russian media and bloggers claimed that there had been a fire-fight between Ukrainian “intruders” and Russian personnel; the alleged fire-fight had ended with one Russian killed and three wounded.

Since the closure of the border on the 7th of August, witnesses reported an increased military presence in Crimean towns and villages, while checkpoints were set up along major Crimean roads. It looked like the Russian servicemen were looking for someone.

FSB as part of Russia's occupation army in Crimea

15 August 2016

The Far Right Front of Russian Active Measures in Europe

The relations between Russia and the European far right is not a new phenomenon, but they acquired particular salience in the recent few years, especially after the Russian annexation of Crimea and the start of the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine.

Tactical collaboration with the European, especially German, extreme right characterised even the Cold War period of Russian history despite the horrors of the Second World War and the Soviet Union’s official condemnation of fascism. One example of Soviet collaboration with the German extreme right is the Soviet financial support for the extreme right neutralist movement in West Germany in the beginning of the 1950s. That period was marked by the beginning of the Cold War, and, in its struggle against the West, the Soviets employed a broad range of what they called “active measures” – actions comprising of establishing espionage rings in Western societies, spreading disinformation among Western publics, buying political influence, supporting socialist and communist parties, infiltrating Western peace movements, etc. The beginning of the 1950s was also a period in which West German political elites discussed a prospect of their country joining NATO. The Soviets opposed such a development and supported not only left-wing organisations in West Germany, but also extreme right neutralist movements that also opposed NATO membership.