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Russian and European Integration

Speech by Sergei Mitrokhin

Liberal International Executive Committee
June 11, 2010

Dear Liberal Friends, dear colleagues,

On behalf of the Russian United Democratic Party YABLOKO I would like to express our thankfulness to Liberal International for the opportunity to make a short speech on the problems of Foreign Development and Security Policy from the point of view of Russian liberals, as well as the problems of Russias integration into a single European space. Also I shall speak very briefly on the political situation in Russia drawing your attention to the most acute problems.

1. A single EU strategy towards Russia. I would like to stress once again that, in our view, the European Union should develop a single consistent strategy for interaction with Russia based on integration rather than confrontation. If the EU is able to initiate projects engaging both the Russian society and the Russian elite into European values and approaches, this would become a guarantee of Russias movement along the European democratic way of development. And the role of Liberal International in this process can be very important.

2. Elimination of visa barriers between Russia and EU, freedom of movement. Agreement on a visa-free regime between Russia and the EU could become a good example of such a single EU strategy towards Russia. I would like to stress that this initiative was for the first time proposed not by the Russian government but by the democratic opposition the YABLOKO party as early as in 1995. We think that freedom of movement within Greater Europe is not reduced to facilitation of trips of our citizens, it implies broader communication between the citizens of Russia and the EU, which will enable the Russian citizens to experience the achievements of Western democracies, see how democratic institutes function in reality, learn the democracy and build a truly democratic state in Russia. In addition, the problem of the freedom of movement has become especially acute in Russia after visa barriers separated us from our closest Eastern European neighbours as close interaction with them has always been and continue to be very important when we speak about European trends in Russia.

We realise that we have problems with democracy, bureaucracy and corruption, but it is extremely important for overcoming such problems to give ordinary citizens an opportunity to learn and share the European values and the way of living. Lack of free entrance creates problems only for law-abiding citizens while criminals easily escape all the barriers. We do not see large obstacles in the way of setting a visa-free regime between the EU and Russia which is a member state of the Council of Europe. We hope that it is the liberals who will support our initiative not only because it comes from their Russian colleagues, but also because a visa-free regime will in the end facilitate the formation of civil society in Russia and ensure Russias development within European liberal values, which will mean more stability and security on the continent.

At the recent summit in Rostov-Don Russia expressed its readiness to transfer to a visa-free regime with the EU and submitted to the European side a draft agreement on a visa-free exchange, however, there has been no progress in this issue yet. We are certain that in the 21st century we all should focus our attention on elimination of the remnants of the iron curtain and consider this our common strategic goal.

3. Military Security Policy. The ABM system as a joint project of the RF and NATO. Another example of realization of such a single strategy towards Russia can be the ABM system as a joint project by the RF and NATO members. We think that unilateral stationing of the ABM system in Europe will, in addition to all other things, add to anti-Western hysteria in the society and political elite and will hit us, Russian democrats, as in such a situation it is very difficult to count on any perspectives. That is why it was our party and not Russias military bureaucracy or Russian authoritarian leadership who in the early 2000s set forth the idea of strategic partnership and in the late 1990s the founder of the party Dr.Grigory Yavlinsky formulated the idea of a joint ABM. We think that such cooperation for solution of international and global problems could form a real alternative to the neo-imperialist approach which is at present popular with Russias political and military elite. At present it depends on the US and Europe whether Russias global ambitions will be realised through cooperation or confrontation with the West. However, not only the West but also Russias democracy will lose from such a confrontation, as democracy will not be able to develop in the suffocating climate of anti-Western, anti-American hysteria and fierce fight against the outer world in every sphere.

I know that liberals normally do not make any statements on military issues, but liberal support to the joint Russia-NATO (i.e., European) ABM initiative would become a most important contribution into the world security. And we are calling you to this.

4. Environmental Security Policy. Nuclear waste imports into Russia. The Lake Baikal problems. Close international cooperation is also needed in the field of environmental security. The Chernobyl disaster has clearly shown: nuclear or ecological disasters can not be local, the consequences of such events always affect other regions or countries. That is why YABLOKO has been consistently speaking against nuclear waste imports and their burial in the Russian Federation, pollution of the largest reservoir of fresh water on the planet - the Baikal by the waste from the pulp plant. (You can read about our campaigns at our web-site).

Now I would like to draw your attention to the problems of my country which, from my point of view, are very serious.

5. Situation in Russia. Stagnation. Gorbachevs and Medvedevs reforms. The present political and economic situation in the country can be characterised as the ongoing stagnation which began under Putin. Russias modernisation announced by President Medvedev has been taking place in words only. It has not even started. And in my view, it is absolutely inappropriate to compare Medvedev and Gorbachev. Mikhail Gorbachev undertook huge risks and was politically demolished by his reforms. Dmitry Medvedev does not risk anything, as he virtually makes no changes. Consequently, he will manage to somehow remain in power. One thing in common between them is that they both worked over formation of a stable social base for modernisation which can be formed only by a powerful middle class controlling the largest (or at least a very large) share of income-producing property. Gorbachev made only the first and an inconsistent step towards this creating cooperatives. The so-called young reformers gave control over such property to oligarchs, and this property has still remained with the oligarchs. And Medvedev is not going to change anything there.

6. Human rights. Unfortunately the situation with human rights in Russia has been deteriorating. Political murders of human rights activists and independent journalists turned into tragic reality of Russias political life. Journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasiya Baburina, journalists and members of YABLOKO Yury Schekochikhin and Larissa Yudina, human rights activists Natalya Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov, Magomed Yevloyev, Zarema Sadulayeva, Ali Jabrailov and head of Dagestan YABLOKO and human rights activist Farid Babayev paid with their lives for protection of human rights and speaking the truth to the people. Those who ordered these crimes still have not been found.

Violation of the constitutional right to freedom of assembly by the Russian authorities has also turned into everyday practices. Breaking of peaceful demonstrations and rallies by police and bans to hold such actions have become notoriously famous worldwide. YABLOKOs activists and myself have been several times arrested for conducting peaceful rallies and pickets, criminal cases were filed against many of our activists. One of Russias universities even tried to expel our young activist for participation in YABLOKOs actions. The situation is absolutely different for progovernmental parties and organisations. Permissions to conduct rallies and demonstrations signing praises to the regime and regularly held by the ruling party and its youth organisation are given without delay. Moreover the best grounds (e.g., in the centre of Moscow with a permission to conduct an action from morning till night) are provided for such actions. Naturally such rallies in support of the authorities have never had any problems with police.

The situation with the freedom of speech has not improved either. Tough political censorship and ban on any criticism of the authorities have been introduced in Russia in the early 2000s. The opposition or simply people dissenting with the current policies can not get a platform in the mass media for expression of their views. In addition we can see already all manifestations of the chilling effect on the freedom of speech (self-censorship) in the journalists community are also here. The Freedom House rating of countries that were not free in 2009 shows that Russia was ranked 174th out of total 195 countries. According to the Freedom House, Russia's score declined with the judiciary unwilling to protect journalists from attacks, as well as frequent targeting of independent media by regulators.

Non-profit organisations are derogated in their rights facing unjustified bans to receive financial aid which contravenes with the international practices.

7. Elections. A low turnout at elections demonstrate a deep ongoing process of deligitimisation of power within the society due to the continuing erosion of trust or even loss of trust (confirmed by extremely low turnout at the October 2009 elections) to the institute of elections. Absolute distrust to the state, its institutions, authorities and the law enforcement bodies from a crucially important part of the population is the most significant trait of Russias modern political system. However, trust is the key condition for Russias progress, real reforms and successful modernisation. The present high popularity ratings of the top officials of the state together with extremely low rates of public trust to all state and public institutions demonstrate instability of the political system created in Russia and extreme fragility of the formally announced political stability.

That is why the authorities do not let the opposition to register in election campaigns and elections are falsified. You all know about the fraud that took place during election to the Moscow parliament in autumn 2009. Regional and municipal elections in March 2010 continued this shameful trend despite statements by the Russian and the world community, including Liberal International, ELDR and ALDE. The system of collection of signatures for registration of parties and candidates in election race turned into a well-adjusted mechanism for withdrawal of parties and candidates from elections. By the way, in March 2010, YABLOKO was withdrawn from elections on the pretext of signatures in two regions where our party had good prospects. In other regions where we were not withdrawn from the race we obtained good results, for example, 11 per cent in Tula. And it was in Tula where we felt the insecurity of the progovernmental United Russia party which was buying off the absentee ballots there. This, of course, looks more like nervous jerks rather than fair political competition. At October 2009 election in Moscow only about 15 per cent voted for United Russia. However, low voter turnout allowing for mass-scale fraud saved this party. According to our analysis and independent statistical analysis, the ballots of abstaining voters were mostly stuffed in for the United Russia party.

In our view, these and other problems that the authorities fail to solve or do not want to solve can lead to a situation when Russia will pass the point of no return after which the demand for changes will burst out as a riot. A very distant prototype of such a revolt we have just seen in Mezhdurechinsk after an explosion at the Raspadskaya mine taking the lives of 67 miners. And then it will be too late to speak about evolutional development or modernisation.

8. Corruption. No reforms in the country (from the reform of the interior to creation of the Russian Silicon Valley) can be conducted by the commercial bureaucracy entrusted with their implementation. This refers to anti-corruption campaigns too. Any such campaign automatically turns into another means of pumping federal budget money into the pockets of such commercial bureaucracy. That is why YABLOKO is saying that a political reform (and without it modernisation will remain a mere declaration) should be an integral part of the economic modernisation strategy. It is impossible to conduct reforms without division of authorities (parliamentary control, independent court, etc.). And building of a modern state with division of authorities is impossible without real liquidation of corruption. In addition, in any projects connected with state support we at once detect a corruption problem.

Conclusion. Russias problems are very serious. This is connected with Russias history and reforms conducted by pseudo liberals in early 1990s. However, proposing our initiatives as regards international security, a visa-free regime, ecology and, most importantly, the EU strategy we proceed from the fact that these initiatives represent a way for overcoming Russias problems. And we are calling you to a joint work here.



See also:

Russia-EU Relations

Russia's ABM Initiatives

Human Rights

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Assembly

Environmental Safety




June 11, 2010