INTERVIEW WITH RUSSIA EXPERT DR. JAKUB KOREJBA

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INTERVIEW WITH RUSSIA EXPERT DR. JAKUB KOREJBA

Dr. Jakub Korejba graduated from Warsaw University’s Institute of International Relations in 2009. During his master studies, he did a one-year internship in Lyon, France in Sciences Po Lyon, and one-semester internships in St. Petersburg, Russia in the Faculty of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University and in Kiev, Ukraine in the Faculty of Social Sciences of Kiev-Mohyla Academy. In 2009, he started his doctoral studies at MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) and worked as lecturer of History and Political Sciences there between 2010 and 2015. He holds Ph.D. degree in Political Science with his dissertation on “The Problems of European Politics in Russia-Ukraine Relations” in 2013. He worked as editor and analyst for RT television and Sputnik. He also worked as journalist in several Polish newspapers such as Newsweek Polish Edition, New Eastern Europe, and Interia between 2011 and 2015 and Russian TV channels including 1st Channel, Rossiya 1, NTV, TVC, and Zvezda between 2015 and 2022. He is currently an intern at the Center for Eurasian Studies (AVİM) in Ankara (2022) and a Visiting Researcher with Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies (ORDAM) at Fatih Sultan Mehmet University in Istanbul (2023). His research interests are: Central and Eastern Europe, Foreign and Security Policy of Russia, Russia-EU relations, Russia-NATO relations, Post-Soviet Space, Russian-Ukrainian Conflict, and Turkish Foreign Policy.

Some of his published works:

Book:

  • Problems of European Politics in Russia – Ukraine Relations, Aspekt-Press Editions, Moscow, 2014 (In Russian).

Book Chapters:

  • “Role of the Russian media in creating soft power”, in Andris Spruds (ed.) Soft Power of European Union and Russia in the common neighbourhood, LIIA, Riga, 2015 (in English), https://liia.lv/site/docs/LIIA_soft_power_book_web_layout.pdf.
  • “Naval Forces of the Russian Federation in East Asia and Pacific Region”, in Bartłomiej Zgliński (ed.) Naval Forces of Asia – Pacific Countries, Rambler, Warsaw 2016 (in Polish).

Articles:

  • “Russian strategy in the Arctic. Factors, Instruments, International Implications”, Studia i Materiały. Miscellanea Oeconomicae Rok 18, Nr 2/2014, Wydział Zarządzania i Administracji Uniwersytetu Jana Kochanowskiego w Kielcach, January 2015 (in English),
  • “Russia. Thinking about Transformation”, Eastern Europe. Perspectives №1.2011 (in Russian),
  • “Historical and ideological fundaments of Polish foreign policy towards European post-Soviet states”, Eastern Europe. Perspectives №1.2011 (in Russian),
  • “Conceptual basis of Polish foreign policy towards post-Soviet countries in Europe”, MGIMO – University Herald №6(21).2011 (in Russian),
  • “International organizations as catalyser of integration choice of post-Soviet states in Europe”, Publishing House of the National University Higher School of Economics №2.2012 (in Russian)
  • “GUAM as an attempt of institutional pluralisation of international cooperation in post-Soviet area”, MGIMO – University Herald №8(23).2012 (in Russian),
  • “Poland’s foreign policy in 21st. Century”, International Trends №2(29). 2012 (in Russian)
  • “Integration Projects in post-Soviet space in Europe. Perspectives and Limits”, in Obozrevatyel – Observer №6(269). 2012 (in Russian),
  • “Rethinking Brzezinski. Do we need a weak Russia?”, New Eastern Europe 25.10.2012, (in English),
  • “The Kaliningrad Triangle: a new directorate for Central Europe”, New Eastern Europe 17.11.2012, (in English),
  • “Democracy? No, thanks”, New Eastern Europe, January – March 2013, (in English),
  • “Constructing National Identity in Russia: The risks and chances for Eastern Europe”, New Eastern Europe 10.01.2013, (in English),
  • “Will Putin Restore the USSR?”, New Eastern Europe, 26.02.2012, (in English),
  • “Ukrainian Foreign Policy Course: sources of the U-turn”, The Institute of Contemporary Development Analytical Bulletin, 10(17)/2013 (in Russian),
  • “Russian Policy towards Ukraine: possible scenarios”, The Institute of Contemporary Development Analytical Bulletin, 11(18)/2013 (in Russian).

Newsweek articles: https://www.newsweek.pl/autorzy/jakub-korejba

AVİM comments: https://avim.org.tr/tr/Yazar/Jakub-KOREJBA

TASAM comments: https://tasam.org/en/Yazar/16250/jakub-korejba-tasam-intern

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Assoc. Prof. Ozan Örmeci: Dr. Jakub Korejba, thank you for accepting the interview proposal. You lived and worked several years in Russia and you are an expert of Russian foreign policy and Russian politics. How do you interpret the Russian aggression towards Ukraine? Was the Russian attack in February 2022 a surprise for you? What we should expect in the coming months?

Dr. Jakub Korejba: Russian aggression towards Ukraine as well as its policy towards all other post-Soviet states is a function of its internal politics. Russian neo-imperialism (with ‘neo’ referring to gaining old goals with new means), at least for the nihilist and materialistic Russian ruling elite is not an idea in itself, a sort of an ideological imperative. It’s an instrument of maintaining power, that means to keep the actual regime where it is for as long as possible. Vladimir Putin’s rule proved to be inefficient in most of economic and social domains and the social contract that existed between him and Russians since he came to power (political inactivity of citizens in exchange for a stable access to rising consumption) was ultimately broken with the 2018 reform of retirement law that forced Russians to work longer (something that Putin several times publicly promised not to do).

As a result, a new basis for relations between the Kremlin and the rest of Russia was needed and as it is structurally impossible to improve the state of economy and thus, increase living standards (this would require reforms that Putinist aristocracy interested in keeping its rent and passing it to descendants is not interested in), the only way was to generate a massive popular emotion that would give the aging regime new legitimacy. This maneuver was checked with Crimea in 2014 with great success that elevated Putin’s popularity up to 80 %. But with time passing, the tv set was less able to replace the refrigerator and having the 2024 election ahead, Russian regime was in a hurry to convince the citizens that it is there for something. And the ’something’ was chosen to be the imperial ‘reconquista’ of the key post-Soviet country, whose subordination to Moscow, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski (enormously popular and massively read in Russia) is a marker of whether Russia is or is not an empire.

To make long story short, Kremlin needed to canalize the growing skepticism, unite the nation around the flag, and give people new national idea that would keep them thinking about a historic mission of the Motherland rather than about prices and quality of products they see in supermarkets. From this perspective, the actual result of the war is not that much important for Putin and his entourage. In the ideal scenario (of ‘taking Kiev in three days’), he would be granted a prominent place in Russian history as a glorious restorer of ‘historically justified’ borders and the uniter of the ‘divided nation’, but even in case it is lost in geopolitical terms, regime already won it politically: opposition is suppressed, freedom of speech is limited, independent media blocked, police and courts dispose of the maximum of repression instruments and use them efficiently, oligarchs are subordinated, the most active part of the nation with oppositional mood is in exile, political elite is frightened by being taken responsible for complicity in war crimes and punished.

All this means, that independently of where exactly the ceasefire with Ukraine will put Russian border, the regime will exit this war stronger in terms of the amount and range of power it exercises over the state and population. That’s why, I don’t believe in one of the very popular theories that tries to explain the Russian military fiasco: the one that states that Putin was fooled by his General Staff and secret services and started to trust his own propaganda. Even if the war in Ukraine is lost strategically in terms of making Russia’s position worldwide weaker, it will petrify the regime for long enough to let Putin die on the throne by his own death. He’s already 70, he doesn’t need that long and the actual potential of Russia may surely guarantee him next ten or fifteen years. Technically speaking, it doesn’t matter if you make your power stronger as a ‘victorious liberator of the ancient lands’ or as a ‘defender against Western aggression’. That’s why, from his point of view, this war was absolutely indispensable and simply had to happen being no surprise neither for me nor for anyone who had an opportunity to see political mechanisms of Russia from within.

Another aspect that makes Russia’s relations with Ukraine (if it is to remain a sovereign state) permanently hostile and doomed to conflict is the fact that due to its obvious inefficiency, the Russian model can’t coexist with other models, especially the Western one. The contrast to Russia’s disadvantage is simply too sharp and no propaganda is able to convince people that Lada Kalina is something better than Lexus and spending a week in an overpriced and dirty sanatorium in Sochi once per year is something better than taking a low-cost flight and visiting any place in Europe any time you want (something that is already a norm for us in Poland and was about to become a realistic prospect for Ukrainians). Russia, with its actual management culture, can’t tolerate any alternative models next to its borders. Especially, that in case Ukraine really modernizes itself, a possible clash with European practices would happen within the population of the same historic, national, cultural, linguistic, confessional, and mental features. Except for the passport, there is little difference between people living in Ukrainian Kharkov and Russian Belgorod, 80 kilometers far on the other side of the border. And in case the former start moving towards European living standards and make the state officials accountable for their duties, the latter may start asking themselves embarrassing questions. And this would very soon lead to disintegration of Russian regime according to the same pattern that worked in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014 when Ukrainians wanted to repeat Polish success they were directly witnessing.

That’s why, from Putin’s point of view, it was critically important to isolate Russians from the physical contact with alternative models of relations between society and government: either by absorbing Ukraine or by devastating it. As a result of this war, even if the government in Kiev is still in place and Ukraine gets closer to Europe (and tries to make Europe out of itself), the only thing that Russians will see in the years to come (with their own eyes or in the television) are dilapidated cities, depopulated villages, burned factories, and abandoned fields. And this is enough to convince them to stick to the Putinist stability instead of playing with European-oriented reforms as Ukrainians tried. That’s why, in the months to come, Russian Army will try to maximally enlarge the territory under its control or/and the ‘no man’s land’ unfit for living that would form a buffer between Russia and the rest of Ukraine. If it was impossible to isolate Russians from the West on the Western border of Ukraine, let it be the Eastern one, but if the regime is to stay in place, the isolation must be complete (just like between two Germanys or two Koreas). Here, once again the war already attained the political goal set by the Kremlin.

Dr. Jakub Korejba

Assoc. Prof. Ozan Örmeci: Western political and diplomatic sources expect a large-scale military operation in the spring. How this war could come to end and could Ukraine regain its territories with the Western military/diplomatic-political/economic support?

Dr. Jakub Korejba: The greatest mistake of all that Putin made last year was to show to the whole world the true state and real capabilities of the Russian Army. Considering what we already know about the condition of Russian military, from the point of view of the power ratio, the West could technically terminate this war in a period of three to four months (this is the time needed for training and implementation of the Western arms to the Ukrainian Army) by adding combat aviation and mid-range missiles to the tanks already promised to Kiev. The question is whether the sudden and complete military victory of Ukraine over Russia fits with Western strategic and political interests. For years, the essence of Western strategy towards Moscow was to convince it to switch sides and become Western ally in its forthcoming contest with China (once, during a conference in Ankara, I let myself call it ‘a reversed Kissinger’ maneuver, but I’m not sure to be the first). But Russia hesitated trying to keep the balance and enlarge its decision-making margin between the two (or three, if we consider USA and EU as separate players) pretendants to global domination. Being aware of the fact that due to geopolitical logic, neither China nor the West would let the other make Russia weak enough to get dominated by another, it started the war in Ukraine absolutely sure that the minor regional conflict is far less important than the overall balance of power.

But this calculation went wrong. For many reasons, the purely geopolitical logic was disturbed by other factors (one of them being the personal factor that made President Zelensky not to aboard the American jet that was supposed to fly him out of the besieged Kiev) that jointly forced the West to change its perspective. Instead of fighting China together with Russia, it decided to neutralize Russia before China. But the ultimate goal is not to destroy it, but to make it an active (optimistic variant) or a passive (pessimistic one) buffer that would isolate China and prevent it from dominating Eurasia. To make Russia resistant to Chinese influence and not to let Beijing instrumentalize it’s resources and territory to get access to all sub-regions adjacent to it. Western partners of Ukraine are very well aware of the fact that the greatest winner of making Russia poor, weak, humiliated, and isolated is China, that already receives massive and cost-free profits from Moscow’s desperation. That’s why, the West faces a ‘devil’s alternative’ of not letting Ukraine lose on one hand (because defending democracy, market economy, and human rights worldwide is important in terms of election results at home) and not turning Russia into a failed state totally dependent on China on the other.

The exact territorial result of this conflict (at least for the USA and Western Europe) is much less important than preserving Russia as a stakeholder of the global status quo and a potential player to be used to contain Beijing’s ambitions. Paradoxically enough, what narrows the Western readiness for compromise the most (except for the true heroism of Ukrainians and the interests of Central Europeans who decided to use the historic chance to ultimately get rid of Russian influence) is the stubborn inflexibility of the Kremlin. If Putin admitted the defeat of his grand plan of dominating whole Ukraine and adjusted his ambitions to the real capabilities of controlling a part of it (which he doesn’t being in need of a symbol equal to the one that Crimea was), it would be much easier to force Kiev to accept the new territorial status quo. If Russian Generals were able to pursue this war in a more civilized way, there would be much less pression to deliver new arms to Ukrainians rightly stating that they need to avoid massacres, plundering, rapes, and shelling of civilian infrastructure. As a result, the West adapts its strategy to Moscow’s stiffness making it less reactive to what Russia does and more proactive by accepting one after another the military, economic, diplomatic, and strategic points of the Ukrainian agenda. If Putin doesn’t want to stop escalating his demands on his own will, he must be coerced to do it by the force of circumstances and what the West is doing now is creating them.

The decision to deliver tanks made in February means that Ukraine will be ready to launch a counteroffensive somewhere between late May and early July. What will be its exact territorial result depends on so many factors (the Clausewitzian ‘fog of war’) that it is impossible to make a net prognosis of what and when will Ukraine regain, but considering the technical parameters of both side’s arms and the experience of last year’s examples of their tactical culture, the aim of restoring the full territorial integrity doesn’t seem entirely unrealistic. Once again – militarily, not politically – because it may very well happen, that facing a total military collapse, Putin (or his successor) will propose to the West a sort of a deal that will be difficult to reject. And suddenly, Western deliveries may stop reaching the Ukrainian Army forcing Kiev to accept the ceasefire on the terms determined not by the interest of Ukraine, but by the tradeoff fixed between Moscow and the West. And, personally, I’m not sure if Ukraine is able to produce its own Atatürk to transform this kind of Sèvres into any form of Lausanne.

But the real problem that will stay on the Western agenda for many years to come will arise after the war terminates. Independently of which regions will stay under Kiev’s control, the task of integrating Eastern Ukrainians into the society (the nation building process in Ukraine was never accomplished) and this society into Europe will be neither easy nor fast not to mention the question of reforming (and often physically rebuilding) virtually everything in the country. And the scale and complexity of the post-war task of making Ukraine an operative (if not successful) country is a strong argument against any territorial compromise with Russia (that people in office understand very well in Kiev and Moscow, but to my impression not in Paris, Berlin or Washington): if this war doesn’t finish with the fact of an ultimate confirmation of Ukrainian statehood and nationhood, the anti-Western resentment will very quickly arise, leading Ukraine to a Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’ that will paralyze the institutions (including the army), deepen regional divisions, halt the move towards Europe and ultimately lead the country back into Russia’s hands.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan Örmeci: According to your expertise, is there a real risk of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine in case they lose the battle on the field? Does Russian President Vladimir Putin have the full support of Russian people in using all means to win the war?

Dr. Jakub Korejba: The risk is not at zero, but it’s not high either. Using the nuclear weapons makes no sense tactically and at the same time brings great risks strategically. It’s just not a good deal for Moscow. Vladimir Putin may easily give an order to use it perceiving it as a last chance to save his position of a sovereign decision-maker (in Herman Kahn’s terms: to keep the control of the escalation ladder), but the West, China, India (last remaining mainstream partners), and Russian Generals are against. The latter already found themselves in an extremely awkward situation, where on one hand they are blamed for losing the war (no symbolic victories yet and several symbolic retreats already) and on the other for trying to win it (by committing more war crimes). And if the order given is not executed, this will hamper Putin’s authority instead of strengthening it. Russian Army fights poorly, not because its commandment is that much incompetent, but because it was given unrealistic orders from the political superior. I’m very far from having any expertise in the domain of managing contemporary battlefield, but even for a military profane that I am, it’s quite obvious that you just don’t seize the country of a size of Ukraine with an army of a size that Russian one is. The same for the nukes: they may destroy this or that Ukrainian brigade but what after that?

According to what Ukrainian political leadership declares, the war will continue anyway and according to public opinion pools, this view is massively shared by Ukrainian society. This means, that using nuclear weapons on the tactical level doesn’t solve any strategic problems. Moreover, breaking the nuclear taboo will surely provoke a reaction of the West which is in its full capacity to entirely destroy Russian forces in Ukraine by a massive use of conventional means. This could easily escalate into a nuclear war between Russia and the collective West and considering the unclear technical condition of Russian nuclear forces (it’s the most secret part of the army which means that corruption and mismanagement are the greatest), results could be devastating for Moscow both in a military and political sense. What is more, by moving the use of the nuclear weapons from theoretical sphere to practical, Putin would confirm the Ukrainian narrative according to which, Russia is an incarnated evil that should be destroyed in the interest of the all-human society. In that case, in terms of a seek for stable international order, it would be very uneasy for any politicians, let it be Western or Chinese, to consider Russian leadership a rational actor and thus, a partner with whom any kind of durable deal is possible. And this will obviously provoke a logic conclusion that Russia is a destructive element of the international order that shall be neutralized (by destroying the army) and ultimately eradicated (by a regime change). Even the potential chaos that the post-Putinian Russia may produce (which is the source of Western anxiety now and the reason of its reluctance towards a full support of Ukraine) is better than the world where the use of nuclear weapons becomes a regular manner of solving international conflicts (one of the obvious results of Russia’s use of nuclear weapon will be its fast and wide proliferation with Poland and Türkiye first to secure themselves by aspiring to the nuclear club).

The question of the exact level of popular support to what Vladimir Putin calls a ‘special operation’ is not easy to describe for the lack of verifiable data. Russian sociology is not an academic science, but a part of the state-controlled propaganda; its aim is not to examine and reflect social moods but to create them. As a result, the official numbers of the massive popular support of war may simply reflect the fact that the questions were asked properly, that is to say according to the expected results. In Russia, opinion pools work in the same way as elections: the objective of the process is not to make the channel of communication function from bottom to the top (to adjust the functioning of the state system according to the popular feedback), but from the top to the bottom (to keep the system able of adjusting the behavior of the population to its objectives). As a result, we just don’t dispose of any realistic numbers needed to analyze the exact attitude of Russians towards the war. Certainly, we don’t see any massively expressed opposition to the way Russia manages it neither inside the elite nor on the popular level and this phenomenon reflects the actual moral condition of Russian society, something that is worth a separate discussion, a long and complicated one. On the other hand, over the course of last year we saw a few waves of popular outflux with its climax reached just after Putin announced the ‘partial’ mobilization, that shows that many Russian men have no personal motivation to sacrifice their lifestyle (and most probably their lives) to the objectives of this war set up by the Kremlin. That’s why, I wouldn’t describe the attitude of the majority of Russians towards the war and the way Kremlin operates it in terms of an enthusiastic ‘support’ but rather as an apathetic ‘no objection’.

You may ask, if Russian society is passive and not interested in Putin’s war games, what about the hundred thousands of man who go to the front anyway and take an active part in fighting. I would reply, sadly but frankly, that life in some parts of Russia is bad enough to see the war not only as a source of financial benefits (official or not), but as a kind of distraction, a chance for adventure that may be the only interesting thing that happens during lifetime and defines the existence by (the only available) emotionally attractive categories. I do agree with Victor Frankl that the ultimate goal of everyone’s life is a quest for a sense (although the Freudist seek for sexual satisfaction and Adlerian quest for power and control also play a role – in general in human life and in this conflict particularly) and if the individual existence is unable to produce it, you start seeking it referring to collective categories. Being a soldier is better that being no one. And the risk of losing your life doesn’t frighten you that much when that life has little value and no perspectives to get any better taste. Incidentally, that’s why Western societies are so profoundly pacifistic and that is the reason that Putin kept Russians poor during his reign: seizing Ukraine would have no practical value for wealthy bourgeois profiting from all benefits that contemporary world offers, just like it makes no imaginable sense to present-day Germans to invade Poland.

Jakub Koreiba with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, former leader of the LDPR

Assoc. Prof. Ozan Örmeci: How we could describe the Russian political system according to Western standards? Is it a totalitarian system or are there still elements of competitive authoritarianism present within the political regime?

Dr. Jakub Korejba: Russia is still a hybrid type of regime somewhere between the two, but in course of last year made a great step towards totalitarian standards and the trend seems to continue: discussions about introducing new means of mobilization take their place in Russian public discourse (I wouldn’t call it ‘discussion’ as the street basically functions one-way). According to what we may here from second-row politicians and propaganda makers usually used to present some controversial ideas and observe the popular reaction, this may include: allocating all available resources to the military industry, introducing the war-time working regime, taxing the business as well as forcing the oligarchs to make ‘voluntary’ contributions, closing the informational blockade by entirely censoring the internet, introducing military courts and lifting death penalty moratory, introducing the category of the ‘foreign agent’ not only for organizations but individuals, creating the ‘troikas’ to join efforts of the judges, prosecutors and penitentiary to fasten judiciary procedures and execution of sentences, closing the borders and introducing departure visas, pursuing a massive campaign of indoctrination starting with schoolchildren and forming the ‘popular troops’ to enlarge the basis for mobilization and keep the male population under control. All those means are either already introduced into Russian practice or under discussion. No one of them may be qualified as a symptom of totalitarian rule individually, but the synergy effect of practicing all (or at least a few) of them may one day soon transform Russia into a classical Stalinist autocracy.

This is something that the aging dictators anxious about losing power usually do to keep control of the decision-making process, but the problem in Russia is that traditionally, the laws introduced for the major part of the society, never apply to the political elite and thus leave it a wide margin of physical and intellectual autonomy. And if Putin wants to establish a real totalitarian rule, this is the problem he has to solve. When Russia was a totalitarian dictature under Stalin, the subordination of the elite was attained by massive repressions of the Great Terror when thousands of party members and hundreds of military officers were annihilated to let every Soviet citizen (and especially everyone being an element of any kind of structure important for the functioning of the regime and future war effort) have a relative whose fate would serve as an example of what happens when you do or think something that Motherland (that is to say the dictator) doesn’t like in this precise moment. But Putin never controlled the way that his entourage lived letting them become an imperial aristocracy that practices a lifestyle having little in common with the one of the majority of Russians. That was the deal between the personnel of the federal vertical and the man at the top of it, for the reason that you can’t govern any country, especially of a size of Russia without a relatively loyal and efficient staff. Putin had no chance to pay for its loyalty and efficiency in any other way than by granting them access to material goods and services offered by the West and not available in Russia (of which a simple existence of respect for ownership right is the principal one). But having their children in British colleges and their wives in Milan’s shopping malls (both categories often holding foreign passports, including those of federal ministers), their money in Western banks and their villas on the French Riviera creates not only a motivation to loyally serve the source of your wealth but parallelly, a very practical legal and logistic ties that make you dependent on people and institutions he cannot control. And this creates a dilemma, an internal conflict of interests. That’s why, it is impossible to set up a totalitarian regime without an ideology: if a loyalty of the elite has only materialistic motivation, it is not surprising that its vector may change anytime someone else offers more, or, as it happens in Russia now, the actual leader is no more able to provide. The ideological component is something that Putinist to be-totalitarianism badly lacks and I see no prospect of this regime being intellectually able to produce it.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan Örmeci: Who could replace President Vladimir Putin in the coming years? On the paper, Communist Party of the Russian Federation is still the second largest and most popular political party in the country. Is there a chance that Russia, getting away from the West and becoming closer with China, could re-embrace communist rule? Are there any other alternative political leaders (Alexei Navalny etc.) who could replace Putin?

Dr. Jakub Korejba: I have never seen a country as capitalist as China is – when I travelled around, it seemed to me to be an incarnation of what I read in the novels describing the 19th century Europe. Russia may well get closer to Chinese model institutionally, but due to cultural and mental differences, I doubt, it will adopt its economic and social model. Anyway, Chinese model of decision-making was shaped according to Soviet patterns and what Putin declares is a comeback to Soviet traditions, so theoretically both countries may declaratively find themselves inside the same paradigm of development. The problem is that China for its part may start to look for a more efficient alternative: this neo-Stalinist rule is hardly compatible with taking an active part in globalization, something that is crucial for Chinese prosperity in the years to come – unlike Russia with its massive natural resources and relatively small population, China may not survive (and develop) in a growing isolation.

Jakub Koreiba with Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party

The problem with creating a workable and trustworthy alternative to Putin’s regime is that Russian Communist Party, as well as all remaining legal opposition structures are entirely controlled by the Presidential Administration and function as a part of a political technology rather than ideological projects. Their aim is to take a niche assigned by the Kremlin and to canalize a certain stream of social sentiments – in case of the Communist, the post-Soviet collective nostalgia, in case of  Liberal Democratic Party of Russia/LDPR – pan-Russian postimperial nationalism, in case of Yabloko – market-oriented liberalism and Westernism. But all of them, at least in their actual form with current leaders, have neither opportunity nor ambition to take part in politics sensu stricto, that is to say to fight for power. They control a part (a relatively modest but satisfactory one) of the rent and prestige provided by the state in exchange for taking part in a theatric rituals that imitate elections and parliamentary life. Years of performing this function result in a fact that the Kremlin disposes of a pile of ‘kompromat’ describing the real role of those parties, their leaders and members, which means that it may easily discredit them any time they try to play their own game, either with Russian society or with the West. That’s the reason why, very sadly, they never tried. On the other hand, you have an example of Poland, where, in 1989, the regime forced by the overall crisis, let the opposition take part in partially free elections, and when Solidarity entered the parliament, it formed a coalition with the two parties of the officially licensed opposition, that previously remained loyal to the government for almost a half of a century, and outvoted the Communists. But to let it happen in Russia, several factors would have to coincide forming a synergy effect that is, to my opinion, not the most probable scenario.

There are two groups inside Russian power elite, that may produce a new leader, either by fighting with each other or by forming a tactical alliance. The first one may be jointly qualified as the ‘Siloviki’, that is to say, the chiefs of the army, police forces and secret service led by the Secretary of Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and the FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov. The other one may be characterized as a bloc of technocratic managers represented by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin (formally the one to take the place in case the President is no more able to hold office) and the Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin. If I were to make a bet, I would say that one of those two will replace Putin if the actual political cycle comes to an end.

From the point of view of Russian national interests and its future position in the international system, putting a technocrat not compromised by a fierce pro-war declarations and ready for a deal with Ukraine and the West (certainly with the Siloviks behind him) would definitely be the most rational exit strategy from the dead end that Putin brought the country and its elite. That’s why, this is a very bad option for countries such as Poland or Ukraine that see the growing isolation, humiliation, and exhaustion of Russia as a chance to put an end to the imperial era of Russian presence in Eastern Europe started by Peter the Great 300 years ago and hopefully terminated by Vladimir Putin. And this requires Putin to hold power as long as possible, to do more of the same and, as a result of his miscalculations, to make the already impressive consequences (military and moral collapse, isolation and long-term sanctioning of Russia, total rejection of Moscow’s influence in Ukraine and growing skepticism in other post-Soviet states, consolidation of the transatlantic West and securitization of its approach to Eastern Europe, integration of Finland and Sweden to NATO etc.) irreversible. What Russian elite sees as an optimal scenario of avoiding it all and normalize Russia’s role in the international system, is to repeat the trick that the Politburo made after Stalin’s death: to blame the late dictator for all the ‘errors and distortions’ and present themselves as the innocent victims of his totalitarian rage, who were forced to obey him, but always in a silent opposition trying to sabotage the execution of his paranoic ideas. To cut the head of the system without touching the rest of its body.

If the war continues for more few years and Russian political system becomes more totalitarian, they may be too much publicly compromised and thus morally unable to pick the acceptable successor among themselves and that’s why they need Navalny as a sort of insurance for future. The West, end especially Paris, Berlin and Washington would be delighted to make that doubly beneficial deal: on one hand to have Russia stable and in one peace controlled by the ‘proven professionals’ and, on the other, present the new leader (to their own voters and to junior international partners) as an incarnation of the ‘entirely new’ course of Russia’s foreign policy (just like Yeltsin and Putin were presented at the start of their careers). The West is impatiently waiting for a partner in Moscow and a young, handsome, English-speaking pragmatic with his daughter at Stanford and his anti-Putinist martyrology in the biography would be a perfect candidate to convince everyone around that Russia is a different country and thus a ‘responsible partner’. And this a nightmare scenario for Ukraine and the whole Central and Eastern Europe, because Navalny’s views are as imperialistic as those of Putin, or, to my personal taste, even more sincere. As a President, he may easily agree to give Donbass and Crimea back to Ukraine (incidentally, something, he never overtly declared qualifying it ‘a complicated issue’) to gain control of the entire country a few years later. For those reasons, he would be a much worse option for us (and much better one for Russians) than Putin, because being not only handshakable for the West, but ready and able to really reform Russian economy and institutions, he would accumulate much more potential to make the neo-imperialistic vision come true than the sclerotic and wasteful Putinist kleptocracy which is actually burying Russian glory in the Ukrainian steppes.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan Örmeci: You write analyzes for Turkish think-tank AVİM and frequently visit our country. How do you assess Turkish foreign policy during the Russia-Ukraine War?

Dr. Jakub Korejba: Realist, pragmatic, and based on national interests. Türkiye is not an object of any kind of Russian neo-imperialist claims and thus, its security and position in the international system is not the stake of this conflict. Any shape of its territorial outcome will be satisfactory for Ankara. Both Russia and Ukraine will finish this war weakened and thus Turkish position towards them will be stronger than before the war. As a collateral result, potentially profitable, Russia’s position in South Caucasus, Central Asia, and Middle East will erode creating a geopolitical niche to be filled by Turkish influence. The question for me is whether Türkiye has a strategic view of its role in the post-war Europe, namely in the post-Russian space liberated by the decadent power that occupied it for last few centuries. Because Turkish position is, among other factors, a function of Russian influence: the weaker Russia is, the stronger is Türkiye and Moscow’s actual miscalculations may soon promote Ankara to a role of a regional (in fact, due to its geography, a multi-regional) decider. The objective conditions for making itself a regional power are emerging, the question is whether Türkiye subjectively wants to become one, and if yes, which of those regions will be chosen as its priority. The range of selection is wide: Middle East, Black Sea, Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean, South Caucasus, and Central Asia – in all those sub-regions Ankara has its interests, but the exact hierarchy of priorities is still unclear to me.

It’s already obvious, that this war will produce a new regional order with some substantive transformations on the continental and global level creating a place for regional leaders to stabilize and guarantee the new configuration (namely, the elaboration and implementation of the border and other issues resulting from a future ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine). Up to now, Türkiye is pragmatically waiting for the final result keeping all the options open. I still don’t feel competent enough to describe the optimal parameters of this post-war order that Ankara considers most profitable for itself, so anything I say about it would probably express my own wishes more than the real conceptions of Turkish strategy-makers. Meanwhile, I’m persuaded that something very important is happening around Türkiye and I see it as a chance to bring this country back to the European political mainstream, after a long (to my opinion – too long) period of stagnation and mutual skepticism. Türkiye was rejected by the EU for political reasons (with cultural, confessional, and institutional ones as a pretext), but those same political reasons prove that no viable stabilization in Europe is possible without Ankara at the table (look at issues such as geography of gas and oil deliveries, control of migrations or security of Ukraine). That’s why, I very much hope for Türkiye to activate its potential and to fully seize the opportunity that history gave us when Vladimir Putin (for the reasons that will surely be an object of analysis for political scientists for many years to come) decided to invade Ukraine one February morning. Obviously, it takes two to tango and Brussels also has its overdue homework, but my wish and hope is to see Türkiye an important element of the European construction. This shall come naturally as the logic of geopolitics will force the West to replace Russia with several smaller partners apt and ready to take responsibility for their respective regions. It is obvious to me, that Türkiye is an ascending power with great prospects of playing a pivotal role in Eurasia. The question, still unclear to me, is how it intends to react to the new situation, how it sees its place and, what role and where it wishes to play. I very much hope to understand Turkish foreign policy better, but even if this aim ultimately turns unrealistic, the simple fact of spending some time in this country is of a great value for me.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan Örmeci: Dear Jakub, thank you for your time.

Interview: Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ

Date: 20.02.2023

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