Recently I’ve had the opportunity to read the analysis entitled “The Kremlin Playbook”, published by Center for Strategic and International StudiesCSIS. It certainly is a very interesting read for anyone keen on researching the subject of Russia’s growing influence in Europe & within western democracies in particular. However the objective of this post is not so much to drill down to the details of the content – best left to you in reading this material – but rather to highlight important takeaway points I summarise in my own words while also adding some comments at the end.

But before proceeding further let me make 2 initial points that I feel are important in this discussion;I

  1. Russia as a Key Power Player: In my mind it’s important to balance between 2 competing strains of thought here;

a) Standing firmly against Russian covert/overt operations designed to undermine western democratic values/credentials as imperfect as they may be-a working progress.

b) The importance of trying to apply rapprochement/political influence to help create a realistic level of accommodation/balance particularly as it relates to legitimate Russian concerns over it’s own security & strategic regional interests especially where these do not crash with western interests. I do believe there could be a balance achieved – should have been achieved – before the escalated “cold” confrontation as the situation currently stands.

2. Identifying & Fighting Corruption: The main threat that passes through all vulnerability points of western political/economic structures is, yes you’ve guessed it “Corruption”. However if we are serious in fighting/eliminating corruption we really need to establish who’s on the team doing the fighting; in other words we need to establish the levels at which such corruption has been able to infiltrate our structures. We then begin by isolating these elements and developing a mechanism for reform that in of itself passes a clean bill of health test; after all we don’t want infected elements of our political/economic eco-system advising us on how to reform that system.

This actually brings to the fore the dire situation in the United States with corruption/collusion revolving around Trump Inc. at the White House on one end & Congress at the other. The question really is how far up the chain of command has Russian influence been able to infiltrate the system particularly parts of it responsible for investigations. As a matter of fact one one of the strategies applied by Russia as stated in this research paper is precisely about undermining anticorruption systems by infiltrating/influencing individuals in government, judiciary & institutions particularly ones involved in investigations related to it’s influence/subversion of the system; so the situation can be a bit murky to work with.

Now back to the takeaway points/comments on the analysis;

The History

The deeply held transatlantic assumption that the expansion of NATO & EU would help ensure democratisation of Central/Easter Europe as a natural progression failed to take into account the fragility involved in any form of transition. What made matters even worse were the effects of global recession of 2008 which shook confidence in democratic societies & the market economy.

In 2007, President Putin’s historic speech at the Munich Security Conference-clip below-signalled a new era of confrontation between Russia on one side and the United States and Europe on another.

And finally in 2009 Central & Eastern european leaders warned President Obama in an open letter of Russia’s efforts in conducting overt/covert economic warfare as a mean of influencing these nations.

The Threat

The Approach – New Generation Warfare:  The recipe is quite simple; Cultivate an opaque network of patronage across regions of interest one that uses influence and direct decision making by exploiting/encouraging corruption. This is the new doctrine of warfare that utilises influence rather than brute force. The approach uses a 2 track assault mechanism;

a) Domination of key sectors of the economy to allow the weakening of economic governance/abuse of capitalism, while attempting to increase Russia’s economic footprint/control where an average of 12%+ GDP would ensure economic influence/capture.

b) Corroding democracy by cultivating political divides and cultivating relationships with aspiring autocrats.

The network is hierarchical/far reaching and consists of politicians, intelligence & security officials, businessmen, prominent companies/state-owned enterprises as well as criminal elements – media control is also in my mind a big part of this effort. The awards of becoming part of this network are monetary and/or through monopolistic power/influence.

The Objective – Breaking Western Dominance by Breaking Western Values:  The ultimate objective of all this is to break western dominance by undermining democratic liberal order/values and weakening social cohesion while offering an alternative model of illiberal managed democracy and siloviki-style (a Russian word for politicians from the security or military services) economic system.

The Recommendations

  1. Developing a high level task force dedicated towards tracking financial crimes, particularly Russian linked financial flows and encouraging EU & NATO to task their own financial intelligence.
  2. Prioritise EU-US financial intelligence cooperation
  3. Strengthening institutions as an element of NATO’s Readiness Action Plan
  4. Assisting Central/Eastern European nations in combating Russian influence & strengthening governance while maintaining & strengthening aid directed towards investigative journalism and the independence of the media environment.
  5. Strengthening the independence of the judiciary and prosecution offices to ensure corruption case are swiftly dealt with.
  6. Strengthening policies providing public transparency, particularly of those related to state-funded business transactions.
  7. Enhance EU’s internal benchmarking and governance mechanism.
  8. National antitrust authorities should provide public biannual assessments of the diversification of strategic economic sectors to ensure they’re are not being monopolised/controlled.

From all the above and from other research I’ve done before it is clear in my mind that Russia has/continues to play a key role in reversing the effects of the Arab Spring in the Middle East, particularly when transitions began to falter and a void was created that the west was not quick to help fill. The corruption echo system was there ready and waiting – so no efforts had to be wasted on that front.

Anyway this was just a teaser of this research paper and I would recommend reading it in its entirety. The only thing I would respectfully suggest is that the solutions provided that relate to addressing the core issue of corruption are merely addressing symptoms not the real causes of corruption which is more related to protecting/promoting the value of morals/ethics & the pursuit of fact/truth above all else particularly in our Education System and yes of course our fractured Political Echo System. We seem to loosing the battle on both those 2 key battlegrounds pretty quickly and if anything our success in defending these values has the ultimate power to make or break the nation. So I can only recommend that “leaders” try and bring more focus on addressing these issues as a matter of national priority. After all we do not have to wait for the next generation to fix this mess by taking education as an excuse to fix the morals issue – there are measures that can be taken right now to help put us on the right path and allows us to experience the change right now; we can start by revising our selection process of government heads/ministers by choosing people with relevant/recent skills and impeccable integrity; some ideas here. So let’s heed the advice in this analysis and “Play by the Book” because this is NOT Idealism my friends, this is pure Pragmatism Big Time!

Some relevant posts here

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