Modernize Russia

BERLIN/MOSCOW | | russische-foederation

BERLIN/MOSCOW (Own report) - The derogatory German campaign against Russia and its President Vladimir Putin has persisted even after the Olympic Games have opened. The campaign is not only aimed at mobilizing German public opinion; it seeks to also further incite the emerging Russian middle strata against their government. These middle strata are gaining in strength and are seen as a potential leverage for Western influence in Moscow since the 2011 and 2012 mass demonstrations against the current President Vladimir Putin. German government advisors are proposing that Berlin establish new channels of influence through contacts to oppositional milieus of these middle strata. The German government is not only exploiting liberal but also national chauvinist circles of the opposition - just as it does in the Ukraine, where it also relies on the fascist milieu's potential for protest. A Russian opposition leader, who is popular in Berlin, refers to natives of the Caucasus as "cockroaches" and recommends the pistol as the means for dealing with them. He is praised as an "anti-corruption expert" in German media reports on the Sochi Olympic Games.

Emerging Middle Class

Over the past few years, the new Russian middle strata have become increasingly important for German policy towards Russia. According to estimates, the middle strata make up approx. 20 percent of the population, but are not expected to grow in the foreseeable future. A large segment of the demonstrators, protesting in 2011/12 against the Prime Minister, at the time, and current President, Vladimir Putin, came from the predominantly urban, pro-western middle class. "A disproportionate number of the well educated, in good professional positions" were among those, who demonstrated in Moscow in late 2011, according to a Moscow research institute.[1] These new middle strata, which have strengthened their economic standing over the past few years, are now not only demanding personal ... but also political liberties," concludes the German expert on Russia, Alexander Rahr.[2]

New Addressees

Parallel to the already existing relations with Russia's economic and political elites, Berlin has begun to systematically establish contacts to the emerging middle strata that are opposing Putin. "It is time" to replace "the German policy's elite-oriented approach toward Russia" through "a better balance", by complementing the "necessary communication with decision makers" with an intensive "exchange with social groups," the journal "Internationale Politik" wrote six months ago: "Germany must reconsider who the actual addressees of modernization policy are in Russia."[3] Beyond cultivating the political and economic working relations, German foreign policy traditionally uses also cultural institutions and particularly German party-affiliated foundations, which - supposedly independent of the state - are best suited to establish and maintain contacts to middle strata milieus of the so-called civil society. German media coverage has also begun to support the emerging Russian middle strata in their conflict with the government, focusing particularly on protests by middle strata opponents.

"Cockroaches"

Because of socio-political divergences within the new Russian middle strata, blatant contradictions persist. For example, as was said during the summer of 2012, "the unambiguous criticism by both the Bundestag and the German government of the handling of the 'Pussy Riot' case" - a classical case of supporting oppositional circles - is, by all means, exemplary for the "new approach" for German policy toward Russia.[4] "Pussy Riot," at the time, was not only very disliked in the Russian society at large, it was as disliked in the oppositional new middle strata, as well. For example, Alexei Navalny, one of the leaders in the Russian national chauvinist spectrum, disparagingly described the punk combo supported by Berlin as "stupid chickens, who committed minor rowdyism, to get publicity."[5] Navalny is one of those Russians in the opposition, who enjoys wide political media support in Germany. He refers to native Caucasians as "cockroaches" and recommends "a pistol" as the suitable means of dealing with them.[6]

An Important Factor

Last year, "Internationale Politik" suggested the founding of "Dialog Forums" as a means of enhancing German influence within the Russian opposition. These forums should explicitly not be oriented solely toward the "progressive and economic laissez-faire" sectors of the Russian middle strata, but also toward "problem groups ... such as those from the national chauvinist and patriotic spectrums."[7] This refers to milieus, for example, in the entourage of Navalny, who regularly participates in demonstrations of Russian fascists. National chauvinist organizations are "an important factor in the Russian society," explains "Internationale Politik." During the upheavals in the Arab world, it became clear that the West, with its "unilateral dialog with the elites in power and the small western-oriented sector of the society" had neglected forging strong ties to an "important segment of society" - in the case of the Arab world, the religious-conservative milieus. This mistake should not be repeated in Russia. This suggestion shows that Germany's arrogantly unabashed interference in Russia's liberal milieus is merely a tactical means of pitting them against a disliked government - within a very wide-ranging spectrum of oppositional forces, which, as in the Ukraine,[8] include national chauvinists.

Foreign Agents

Following the massively Western-supported wave of protests in the winter 2011/12 and in May 2012, the Russian government had initiated measures, which - according to the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) - were "directed against Western influence." Not only the right to demonstrate has been restricted; factual or alleged NGOs, which receive money from abroad for their political activities, must also register as "foreign agents." Respective legislation also impinges on German party-affiliated foundations, which, since then, regularly complain of harsh repression in Russia. The example of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ukraine illustrates the essence of this dispute over "foreign agents": The foundation - which is also active in Moscow - had systematically supported the creation of an opposition party, whose leader Vitaly Klitschko is heading violent protests today and calling for the creation of armed vigilante militias.[9] One cannot imagine the German government standing passively by, while organizations, which, for example receive money from the Russian government, campaign for the founding of a pro-Russian opposition party in Germany or in any of its allied countries. It is doubtful that it would allow their leaders to call for the creation of armed vigilante militias in the course of escalating protests.

A Broad Alliance

German support for the new Russian middle strata is also reflected in the current anti-Russian government campaign on the occasion of the Sochi Winter Olympics. The recently adopted anti-gay and anti-lesbian Russian law impinges particularly on the living realities of sectors of the new middle strata, which Germany seeks to also encourage with its strong protest. Alexei Navalny, whose agitation in the Russian middle strata against corruption around the Olympic Games has gone over well, has continued to receive support from Berlin. He was highly praised in German media as an "anti-corruption expert." The national chauvinist entourage of Navalny - who refers to Caucasians as "cockroaches" - is known for it aggressive hostility toward homosexuality, which the German media conceals, just as it conceals similar orientations in Vitali Klitschko's entourage, in that of the fascist wing of the Ukrainian opposition. The anti-Putin campaign is not about civil rights and liberties, but simply an attack on a disliked government and, if possible, its replacement with more cooperative forces.

[1] Jens Siegert: Opposition in Russland - eine kleine Zwischenbilanz. russland.boellblog.org 30.01.2012.
[2] Russland-Experte: Noch keine Alternative zu Putin; www.euractiv.de 29.02.2012. See German-Russian Contradictions.
[3] Stefan Meister: Mehr Mut gegenüber Moskau. Wie eine neue deutsche Russland-Politik aussehen könnte. Internationale Politik September/Oktober 2013.
[4] See Risiken und Nebenwirkungen.
[5] Lady Suppenhuhn. www.faz.net 25.08.2012.
[6] See Hebelpunkte gegenüber Russland.
[7] Stefan Meister: Mehr Mut gegenüber Moskau. Wie eine neue deutsche Russland-Politik aussehen könnte. Internationale Politik September/Oktober 2013.
[8] See A Broad-Based Anti-Russian Alliance and Termin beim Botschafter.
[9] See Our Man in Kiev.