Judging by a recently published booklet by Lilia Shevtsova, one of the senior officers of the Carnegie Center Moscow, the Carnegie Organization is failing badly on two fundamental points of its mission statement: promotion of peaceful engagement and excellence of research. Indeed the Center has become a nest of sedition domestically in Russia and a promoter of misunderstanding in US-Russian relations. Read on…
The Carnegie Center Moscow: A Nest of Sedition
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is the oldest international affairs think tank in the United States. Founded by Andrew Carnegie with a gift of $10 million, its charter was to ‘hasten the abolition of war, the foulest blot upon our civilization.’ While that goal was always unattainable, the Carnegie Endowment has remained faithful to the mission of promoting peaceful engagement.
Several defining qualities shine through in Carnegie’s history: the consistent excellence of the research…
Excerpt: Letter from the President, Jessica T. Matthews, Carnegie Endowment, marking their centennial anniversary on the Organization’s website
“…political independence, first rate scholarship combined with high level experience in government and other sectors, sustained first hand expert collaboration across borders, and unrelenting focus on constructively affecting real world outcomes.” Mission statement of the Carnegie Center Moscow, appearing at the conclusion of Shevtsova, Russia XXI.
The mission statement of the Carnegie Endowment evokes a rich tradition of service in the cause of international understanding and peace which its first and most important branch office outside the United States, the Carnegie Center Moscow, patently fails to honor. Instead, over the years since its founding in 1994, the Moscow office has harbored senior American Russophobes like Andrew Kuchins, its long-serving director from 2000-2006 (alternately Washington and Moscow-based), and chameleon-like Russian academics such as its present director Dmitri Trenin, who toe the company line written in Washington of denigrating Russia while occasionally and slyly inserting contrarian observations in their writings to the effect that Russia is not all bad and that Washington shares some responsibility for tensions. Then there are the politically engaged anti-Kremlin journalists like Scholar-in-Residence Maria (Masha) Lipman and anti-Kremlin propagandists like the Director of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions program Lilia Shevtsova, author of the newly published Russia XXI, which I will critique below.
In this essay I focus on Shevtsova, because she is probably the most egregious in violating the already lax rules that separate scholarly writings in political science from pronouncements of an author-researcher’s partisan political beliefs ex cathedra.
Shevtsova’s 86-page booklet is a free-style essay analyzing the potential of the present regime for survival, identifying its sources of support within and outside the country, predicting how the political and social tensions described may develop and prescribing what the Opposition should do to take advantage of both defensive and offensive opportunities before it.
Shevtsova’s book is not a detailed indictment of the Putin regime. The regime’s illegitimacy is assumed to be something we all know and Shevtsova herself makes only passing reference to alleged ballot box stuffing in the elections of 2011-12. The regime is likened at one point to Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. It is populated with officers from the security forces, for whom violence is their daily bread. Hence, by circular reasoning, the regime is oppressive and potentially violent in defending its hold on power. Moreover, the regime has historical tradition on its side: it is merely a new incarnation of the personalized-power, as opposed to rule of law, that has characterized Russian governance for centuries.
By denying the government’s legitimacy and, as we shall see below, by sympathetically evoking revolution for achieving its replacement, Lilia Shevtsova is playing with sedition. Meanwhile, by attacking the American policy of ‘reset’ and the accommodative behavior of the EU toward Russia on the grounds that such policies are misguided and prop up a regime which is doomed to disappear, Shevtsova sows international discord, not understanding.
I dispute completely the accuracy of Shevtsova’s vision and practicality of her policy recommendations. Where she sees a society sinking into degradation under a repressive regime which is incapable of reform, I see a dramatically improving social landscape where long-existing ills are finally acknowledged, a country which is providing sufficiently attractive living conditions to the general population to have stemmed the demographic decline that threatened its very existence. Where Shevtsova insists that the decade under Putin produced almost no economic advance and that the Soviet industrial infrastructure merely continued the disintegration we witnessed in the closing decades of the last century, I see creation of a modern automobile industry, a booming industrial-scale agriculture increasingly supplied with world-class field machinery, a competitive food processing industry risen from the ashes, and many other signs of recovery in other economic sectors, often thanks to prudent government assistance including subsidized credits.
But rather than get involved in an empty debate with Mme. Shevtsova over who has 20-20 vision and who has cataracts, I propose to take a highly unusual step among practitioners of political science and question her methodology. I maintain that even brief consideration of her techniques of argumentation will knock away the ‘science’ and leave us with pure politics.
First, Shevtsova does not quantify anything. Numbers only appear briefly in the 86 pages, in relation to a handful of poll results that she cites and which I will examine in a moment. Otherwise we are given no sense of the numerical dimension of the social movements and social strata she mentions in passing.
It is equally depressing that Shevtsova never defines her terms, almost never names names. She is preaching to the choir. She expects to be read by a sympathetic and nodding audience which knows what and whom she means at half-words. In fact the only names of second-tier personalities that I noted in her book were Anatoly Chubais and German Gref, whom she holds up as representatives of the ‘system liberals,’ by which she means Liberals who came to prominence in the 1990s, opted to work within the system and who even today, despite all the evidence to the contrary, continue to hope for political, social and economic progress in Russia by reform from above.
Who are those she calls the ‘corrupt and demoralized’ elite? Who are the cowed and apolitical provincials? Who are the intelligentsia or thinking class of Russia? These terms are never fleshed out.
And who are the ‘non-system’ or ‘anti-system’ liberals, Shevtsova’s heros? We can assume they are among the speakers and organizers of the anti-Putin street demonstrations between December 2011 and May 2012. But then, by her own acknowledgement, they comprise a mix of splinter groups from across the political spectrum, including some very undemocratic, illiberal nationalists and leftists thrown in. The proportions are unclear.
But let’s move beyond the sloppiness of Shevtsova’s terminology and consider her use of dirty tricks to give weight to her arguments. This begins with her very selective approach to information from the pollsters. When she finds data in the polls showing that Russians are dissatisfied with their lot under Putin, then she sets this out with great satisfaction. When she finds that the polls show a high level of popular support for Putin himself, then she tells us that the pollsters have obviously asked the wrong questions or that the respondents were afraid to say publicly what they really believe.
Next, we see that Shevtsova fails to identify her ‘exhibits’ in a way that is fair to her readers. That is to say she under-informs us, withholds information that is crucial to our judging the merit of her quoted sources.
Let us consider several authorities who are very critical of the Kremlin whom Shevtsova cites approvingly (page 34), calling them “Russia’s leading politicians and writers.” These include Gary Kasparov and Andrei Illarionov. About Kasparov, she tells us only that he is “one of the leaders of the Solidarity political movement.” True, but she might have added that he lives in the United States, not Russia, and is on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, from where he issues thunderbolts against his motherland and lobbies Capitol Hill against normal relations with Russia. About Illarionov we are told that he is ‘an independent economist.’ But he also lives in the United States and is a senior fellow in the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank supported by Koch Industries that describes itself as Libertarian and is aligned with the Tea Party movement.
Shevtsova is equally misleading in her presentation of American and other Western dupes of the Kremlin whom she accuses of helping to keep Russia’s oppressive regime afloat by burnishing its credibility. Apart from Peter Lavelle, the host of programs on Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today, which now is widely distributed by American cable service providers, all others on her rogues list would be unknown to the general public. Indeed, she herself acknowledges this: “Some might wonder why I am concentrating on obscure characters of little or perhaps no influence. The reason is that it is likely that someone out there reads them and believes them.”
In this context, it is revealing that she has chosen to attack former U.S. Ambassador John Evans for published remarks entitled “Russia Behind the Headlines” which argues that we should give Russia a break, be more evenhanded and sympathetic in our reading of political events there. Shevtsova tells us that Evans served as consul general in St Petersburg during the 1990s. What she fails to mention is that Evans’ diplomatic career ended in 2006 when he was fired by George W. Bush from his posting in Armenia for the unpardonable faux pas of acknowledging the Armenian genocide. Indeed, Evans has no political weight today. His most grievous professional offense was to try too hard to understand the countries where he served.
However, this is a cavil. The more important distortion is that Shevtsova is giving us the inverse of reality. Apart from the Western business community, which tends to stay clear of the public debates, apologists for the Kremlin in the West are as rare as hen’s teeth. By an overwhelming majority, the media, scholarly community and foreign policy establishment are unsympathetic, unfriendly to Russia and tend to demonize Vladimir Putin. Yet, by her own admission, even the handful of friends of the Kremlin whom she adduces seem to threaten her mental well-being by their very existence. This is not a positive sign for the kind of freedom of speech one might expect in Russia if Shevtsova and her fellow thinkers in the non-system opposition ever came to power.
Perhaps because she is never challenged in public space, Shevtsova feels free to make damaging allegations against the Putin regime either without any substantiation whatsoever, or with proofs that are so feeble as to appear pitiful. I think in particular of her list on page 29 of repressive measures adopted by the Russian government since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. These entries are supposed to prove that the ‘praetorian regime will resort to force to protect itself.’ But that is wholesale misrepresentation of the items in the list, where force or violence do not figure at all. What we have here are some discussable changes to Russian law in the definition of treason, permits for the exercise of rights of assembly and the like. The closing of USAID and the requirement that foreign-funded NGOs register as agents of foreign powers may be unpleasant for Shevtsova and her comrades-in-arms, but they hardly constitute measures of force and violence. Her evocation of the Pussy Riots case in this context is laughable. In another item, the measures of imposing control over the internet are not even enumerated, with the author herself expressing surprise at how free the internet has been in Russia. If these items are all that Shevtsova can produce to show the malevolent and violent intentions of the regime, then her call for its overthrow should be seen by any neutral observer as wildly disproportionate to the grievance. This is all the more true given that she herself acknowledges that there are illiberal forces in the non-system and anti-system opposition and no one can say that defenders of a state under law will win out in the free-for-all following the government’s overthrow.
Now let us consider what is the genre and historical background to the kind of literature that Russia XXI represents. The tip-off is the title of a chapter in the middle of the book: “ Long Live the Crisis.” Here she tells us: “A socio-economic and political crisis could be a blessing….[C]risis is the only thing capable of stirring the swamp and snapping people out of their lethargy.” The kind of crisis that would serve her purposes would involve several conditions: “sharp economic decline, a massive rise of social anger, inability of the authorities to respond to said anger, and paralysis for the state structures.”
In what may be a shock to Shevtsova’s readers and admirers, allow me to take this line of reasoning back to its source: Lenin’s famous postulate «чем хуже, тем лучше» (1918) – ‘the worse, the better.’ Indeed, the purple prose of Shevtsova’s booklet conforms to the sort of analytical writing that came out of Menshevik and Bolshevik movements from an even earlier date, during the unsuccessful First Russian Revolution of 1905-07. I see in Shevtsova a modern-day practitioner of dialectical reasoning, and I wonder why the conservative minded editors of Foreign Affairs, and the nice ladies and gentlemen in Chatham House are blind to this truth. The answer can only be their intense dislike of President Putin and resurgent, revisionist Russia. To bring into play more recent likenesses, the support of the Carnegie Organization for someone like Shevtsova is not very different from supporting the Occupy Wall Street leaders today or the Black Panther leaders in the 1970s. It is feasible and acceptable, because the individual and the movement being supported happen to be located in Russia and not in the USA and her backers will not have to pay the price for anti-system opposition coming to power on their own skin.
This is not to say that the book has no merit. In the spirit of Gogol’s famous maxim, «из всякой дряни можно добро получить» – “from any kind of rubbish, you may get something useful” – Russia XXI unexpectedly makes a very important contribution to the US-Russian dialogue on human rights, civil society and democracy promotion in Russia. Shevtsova says loudly and clearly ‘no’ to the ubiquitously held view on the American side that Putin is responsible for a roll-back of the democratic freedoms established in the 1990s by Boris Yeltsin. In fact, Shevtsova tells us, the abridgement of democratic freedoms was the work of Yeltsin, who brought in a constitution endowing presidential power with all the perquisites of a tsar. Moreover, with precision and cruel detail she tells us how the system liberals, the very folks like Boris Nemtsov whom the United States Congress and European Parliamentarians led by the ALDE Group recognize as the only true opposition to the regime, gave the undemocratic, authoritarian Russian President their support in the erroneous belief that structural reforms which Russia has so badly needed could only come from above, from a strong executive. According to Shevtsova, the ‘vertical of power’ was invented well before Putin came into the Kremlin. Moreover, she faults the hallowed Russian intelligentsia for acquiescing in the suppression of freedoms out of its fear of the Russian people and fear of the unknown. For her truculent expose of all the phony liberals whom Washington supports, I say to Mme. Shevtsova ‘Bravo.’ But having said that, I do not forgive or forget her disgraceful rants against the powers-that-be, her deeply flawed methodology and her flaccid reasoning.
It is interesting to note that in two places Shevtsova has chosen to denounce the Valdai Club meetings, which she calls ‘Kremlin operas’ intended to give the regime legitimacy. She points to one participant from Slovakia, Jan Charnogursky who has issued pro-Kremlin statements. But the Valdai exercise could more easily be seen from the other end of the telescope, as an ill-considered and poorly implemented public relations effort by Putin’s assistants that is decidedly counter-productive and only feeds the enemy. I would contend that the Valdai Club is allowing fat-cat Western academics bathe in the spotlight of hospitality of the Russian President. An Angela Stent of Georgetown University may have her picture taken with Putin but that makes her no less a determined and vituperous critic of the Russian leadership. Indeed, the Russians seem to be very maladroit at this type of exercise in soft power.
To pick up on Shevtsova’s line of thinking, I have taken the time to direct attention to the Carnegie Center Moscow precisely because it gives legitimacy and prominence to propagandists who otherwise would have to work for a living. As it is, Shevtsova divides her time between Moscow and Washington, gets published in Foreign Affairs magazine, all on the strength of her Carnegie affiliation. Surely that, together with a helping hand from her co-author of a previous book and friend Sir Andrew Wood, the well-meaning but naïve former UK Ambassador to Moscow, has opened the doors to British salon society of Chatham House. And all of this together renders the propagandist that Shevtsova is a celebrity. As Rutgers University professor, Ukrainian chauvinist Alexander Motyl wrote in his laudatory blog devoted to Russia XXI published on World Affairs Journal and suitably entitled “Preparing for Russia’s Upcoming Collapse”: “When Shevtsova speaks, Western policymakers and academics listen…” Indeed, there is the problem.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2013
G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book,Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide. Also on sale in Sterling and Waterstone’s booksellers, Brussels.