Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Seeks and Finds Assistance Abroad for Its Fight against ‘Extremists’

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 18 – Russian officials are finding “ever greater understanding” for and even direct support of their approach to fighting what Moscow calls “extremism” not only in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States but also in the West, according to an expert on Russian intelligence and security affairs.
In an article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Irina Borogan, who works as an editor at the Internet portal, says that the efforts of the Russian powers that be “to control the behavior” of Russians “in the near future” will not end at the borders of the Russian Federation (
She argues that such “international cooperation” is “simply the next step in the realization of control over the population.” Given that closing borders “Soviet-style” is not practical in today’s world, “the law enforcement organs of authoritarian regimes are forced to try to convince other countries that ‘those who disagree’ represent a threat to the latter as well.”
“Of course,” Borogan says, “to change the point of view of the West regarding liberal opposition figures like G. Kasparov and his supporters in the near term will hardly be possible, but doing so “will not be very difficult with regard to anti-globalists, radical ecologists, and left-wing groups.” And even that will tighten Moscow’s control, as well as set a precedent.
Nine days ago, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev confirmed an agreement concerning the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty (OCST) that calls for preparing cadres from the security agencies of OCST countries in Russia, including at the center for training specialists “in the struggle against terrorism and extremism.”
Given that on the territory of many of these countries – including Russia – the struggle against extremism is “often a synonym for the struggle with ‘orange revolutions,”’ a clear indication of how these allies of the Russian Federation are likely to use such training on returning home.
“It is curious,” however, as Borogan notes, that “this experience is being sought not only on the space of the former Soviet Union. From May 25 to July 3, 2008, the same Moscow training institution provided instruction to representatives of 32 member states of the United Nations on how best to ensure “the preservation of social order.”
Thus these courses were not intended to provide an opportunity for sharing experience “in the struggle with the mafia or terrorists” but rather about maintaining public order, which in the Russian definition means, dispersing meetings and demonstrations of opposition groups and other measures of that kind.
Russian officials clearly believe that they can win international support for exactly that approach: In 2005, Borogan recalls, Andrey Kelin, the director of the foreign ministry’s CIS department, wrote in the “NATO Review” that “the combination of the experience of NATO and the OTCS can help find effective responses to the problems of terrorism and extremism.”
Regardless of whether Moscow is correct in that assessment, it has achieved success in another sphere: shifts in the visa policies of European governments either interested in preventing anti-globalists from taking part in meetings or opposition figures from coming and creating problems in bilateral relations with unwelcome statements or actions.
In February 2002, Borogan writes, the German government refused to give a visa to Yevgeny Kozlov, a secretary of the executive committee of the Regional Party of Communists, a decision he is “convinced” was because of his involvement in anti-globalist demonstrations with which Berlin wanted nothing to do.
But the way in which Western governments have been willing to deploy the visa weapon for political purposes in ways Moscow and its allies like is even more clearly on display in Europe’s approach to Belarus, a country with which the European Union radically changed its stance two years ago.
Up until then, EU countries would not give visas to Belarusian officials because of EU unhappiness with the repressive regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. But when that policy changed, so too did the way in which visas were given – or more precisely not given to Belarusian opposition figures who sought them.
“In October 2008,” the editor notes, “the German embassy refused to give visas to four Belarusian human rights activists who intended to take part in a discussion organized by deputies of the Bundestag and the Heinrich Boll Foundation” – even though earlier the Germans had given people of this kind visas.
Germany is not the only country to use visas in this way, of course. In 2009, the British began to deny visas to Russians like Sergey Mironenko, the head of the Russian State Archive, at least in part because of his commitment to declassification of Soviet-era documents, a step the current Russian powers that be oppose.
Indeed, so blatant was this action, Borogan notes, that it generated concern in Parliament. In October of this year, MP Greg Hands said that “according to [his] information, [London] was ever more frequently refusing admission to the country of human rights activists, scholars, and cultural figures from Russia,” apparently out of concern about Moscow’s reaction.
As Borogan notes, “the reasons why Western democracies cooperate with authoritarian regimes are quite pragmatic,” especially in areas like the struggle against terrorism. Western intelligence agencies of authoritarian countries are quite willing to cooperate with democratic countries “if the latter are prepared to close their eyes to certain things like torture.”
“In return,” she writes, “Western countries have begun to return to their homelands political opponents of these regimes who have fled abroad. Great Britain, for example, has already carried out extraditions not only to Jordan and Algeria but also to Syria where according to Amnesty International, tortures are applied in prisons.”
Borogan continues by noting that “neither Russia nor even more Belarus are important allies of the US and Europe in the struggle with terrorism. However, pragmatism can push Western countries to exchange information concerning social and political activists who are more and more often called extremists” by Moscow and Minsk.
Western governments no longer are constrained by a fear of communism, and consequently, “the chief reason for refusing to cooperate with the special services” of Russia and other post-communist states “has disappeared.” In the ideological “vacuum” formed as a result, both sides have begun to focus on “’troublemakers’” – “people who create problems.”
And it “unexpectedly” turns out, she continues, “that the criteria according to which people are included in this group in countries with various regimes have begun to come together: In it fall anti-globalists, radical defenders of animal rights, anarchists and simply activists.” It also includes “political dissidents” who could “threaten” ties by asking for asylum.
“If this process continues,” Borogan points out, there will be nowhere to run.”

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