Russian commentary calls for Western sanctions over Yukos trial

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

“Rescuing the drowning: Weakness of our civil society makes the state of rights and freedoms in Russia highly dependent on West’s influence”

One of the important factors in the second Yukos case was the reaction of Western countries to the trial in the Khamovnicheskiy court. Russian human rights activists who followed the case closely were hoping that the influence of the G7 leaders would be a limiter on judicial tyranny.

There were grounds for such expectations. For instance, Republican Senator John McCain has commented several times over the last two years on the illegitimacy of the charges brought against Yukos’s main shareholders. In December 2010, Mikhail Khodorkovskiy was awarded a prestigious German prize for his human rights activity, the Rainer-Hildebrandt Medal. Markus Loening, the German government’s ombudsman who presented the prize to Khodorkovskiy’s mother, said that the businessman had been awarded the medal as a “representative of political prisoners in Russia.” On the threshold of the verdict being issued, a group of European and American politicians sent an open letter to Dmitriy Medvedev. The collective appeal, signed, in particular by former foreign ministers of the United Kingdom and France David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, noted that the Yukos case, like other high-profile cases, was having a powerful influence on the international community’s opinion of the legal proceedings under way in Russia. Therefore, the court’s impartiality in high-profile cases would be a “positive signal of changes” and would demonstrate that “Russia is indeed on the path towards modernisation.”

A few days ago, a group of European Parliament deputies led by Kristina Oyuland, a representative of the Liberal-Democratic Party, called on their colleagues to consider the possibility of introducing visa and economic sanctions against Russian officials complicit in the persecution of the Yukos directors. If Oyuland’s proposal is supported by the members of parliament, the instrument of introducing sanctions against Russian officials would be used for a second time. Previously these same measures were applied to individuals connected with the case of Sergey Magnitskiy, the Hermitage Capital auditor who died in a Moscow SIZO [detention centre].

Introducing sanctions against Russian officials guilty of violating human rights could be both an effective and a politically acceptable measure. After all, these sanctions would act not against the country as a whole (the example of Iran shows that such a step does little to facilitate the defence of the rights and freedoms of citizens living in the country) but against specific officials who have been undermining the state’s democratic foundations. It is no secret that many high-ranking Russian officials have property and bank accounts abroad. Therefore the ban on entering EU [European Union] countries would strike at their well-being. This could serve as a serious warning to other “men of state” participating in wrongful actions.

So far, though, Western politicians’ appeals have had no effect. Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev were given a 14-year sentence and will now be in prison until 2017. Of the West’s current leaders, only Angela Merkel has commented on the Khodorkovskiy ruling, stating that “political motives played a part in the trial.” European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek spoke out harshly: “The trial against Mikhail Khodorkovskiy was a litmus test that showed what state the legal system of today’s Russia is in.” However, Buzek’s influence is much less than the political weight of Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron, who have declined to comment. The silence of the leaders of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, as well as the gentleness of the German chancellor’s assessment, are perfectly explainable. The governments of the Western countries are preoccupied right now with their own domestic problems, so that defending human rights in Russia is a secondary matter. In addition, European and American politicians need Moscow’s support for resolving international issues (Iran, North Korea), and they do not want to begin exacerbating relations with the Kremlin yet again.

One might ask whether the West’s opinion should really be so interesting for us Russians. Why on earth should the leaders of developed countries interfere in Russia’s domestic problems? The problem is that, given the weakness of our civil society, the West’s influence frequently proves critical to the state of rights and freedoms in our country. True, this influence is somewhat mediated. Periods of political “warming” and “cooling” in Russia are synchronized with periods of strengthening and weakening in the West.

Thus, the transition from NEP [New Economic Policy] to the policy of collectivization, accelerated industrialization, and mass terror took place simultaneously with the start of the Great Depression. Europe’s swift postwar reconstruction and the consolidation of Western countries under the command of the United States were important factors in the fact that by 1953 the majority of the Soviet elite had realized the necessity of reforms. The transition from the transformations of Khrushchev-Kosygin to the conservation of the Soviet Union’s political system coincided in time with the 1968 student revolutions and the subsequent crisis of the 1970s in the West (stagflation and the 1973 and 1979 energy crises). And in the 1980s the “neoliberal revolution” of Reagan and Thatcher, the democratic transformation of the countries of Southern Europe, and the beginning of market transformations in China prompted the realization of the need for reforms in the Soviet Union as well. Given the drastic drop in oil prices in the mid-1980s, the acceleration of European integration, the dynamic economic growth in developed countries, and the strengthening of US international influence, Russia had to carry out a radical restructuring of its public-political and economic system.

At the turn of the millennium, the situation in the world changed again. The crash of the NASDAQ high-tech market in 2000, the recession in the United States in 2001, the terrorist acts of 11 September of that year, US difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the failure of the referendum on ratifying a European Constitution in 2004, the beginning of the mortgage crisis in the United States in 2007, and the shocks in the financial markets in 2008 and 2009 attest to the weakening of the countries of the West in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Simultaneously with these events, authoritarian trends began to pick up strength in Russia: the Kremlin’s seizure of control over the central media; the raising of the percentage barrier for parties to get into the State Duma; and the cancelation of gubernatorial elections.

Apparently public-political liberalization in our country will come only after the end of the global crisis, when pressure on Russia will increase from the West and Russia will have to restructure itself profoundly in order to adapt to changed world realities. Not a single qualified specialist would dare predict when exactly the current crisis is going to end. However, it can be said with confidence that despite the end of the recession in 2010, the world economy has not emerged onto a trajectory of steady and balanced growth. The current crisis may prove just as lengthy as the crises of the 1930s and 1970s, and its consequences may be a change in the models for national and international regulation and serious geopolitical shifts. One thing is clear: the people thinking and worrying about Russia should not sit around with their hands folded waiting for an end to the global crisis. The leaders of our civil society must consolidate their efforts so that they use peaceful political methods to influence the situation in the country and minimize the risk of reinforcing authoritarian trends given the absence of reforms in the economy.

The danger of such a scenario is quite real. In the 2000s, screw tightening was a luxury. When there was dynamic economic growth and citizens’ incomes increased annually by 8-9 per cent in real terms, the political elite needed to try very hard not to be popular. Had the competitive political system that took shape in Russia in the 1990s remained untouched in the following decade, the current politicians would have won in the elections anyway. In 2008 and 2009, despite a profound decline in the economy, the authorities were able to maintain social stability thanks to the use of the financial resources accumulated in the “fat years.” In the coming year to year and a half (until the new president’s inauguration in May 2012), the situation will be somewhat different. The country faces the looming risk of a budget crisis. The 2011 budget has been planned for a deficit of 3.6 per cent of GDP given an average forecasted price for oil of $75 per barrel. As before, the source for making up the deficit will be the Reserve Fund (in December, $40.88 billion). The alarming fact is that this amount is only enough to finance 70 per cent of the deficit; the other 30 per cent will evidently be covered out of the National Welfare Fund and borrowings on financial markets. The government has no answer to the question of what it is going to do when the money runs out.

And here is the fork in the road. Either the elite rejects any further screw tightening, admits the opposition into the elections, agrees to an honest and open dialogue with the expert community, revives structural reforms in the economy, and rejects budgetary populism. Or else the authorities continue to “strengthen the vertical,” step up repressions against the opposition, continue to hand out budgetary funds right and left, and refuse to carry out the necessary transformations in the economy (pension reform, the reform of budgetary expenditures, privatization, and elimination of state corporations). If the first option gives the country a chance at modernization without large shocks, the second is the direct path to financial disaster. Which path the elite chooses depends largely on society. Society must finally realize that, despite resistance from the authorities and bureaucracy, they must fight for freedom and dignity, not wait for them to fall from the sky.

Kirill Vladimirovich Rodionov is a researcher at the Ye. T. Gaydar Economic Policy Institute. займ онлайн срочный займ на карту онлайн female wrestling https://www.zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/get-a-next-business-day-payday-loan.php займы онлайн на карту срочно

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