President Putin, let us start a Common Vision for a democratic Future of Russia in the EU now !
Dear President Putin,
When I walked over the empty Red Square in Moscow this week and saw the Russian flag above your residence in the Kremlin, I looked back to the years 1941, 1989/90 and 2004 and foreword to the future of your country in 2050.
First, I do have to congratulate you personally and the people of Russia for what they have achieved compared to the years 1941 and 1989/90. The Western public and media often forget where the new Russian society had come from; that for over 700 years Russia had either a czar or a communist dictator in the Kremlin and St. Petersburg.
In 1941 my home country Germany and a large part of Russia were dominated and later destroyed by the totalitarian and inhumane monster Adolf Hitler. He who claimed to love Germany and make it great again, destroyed it all and killed millions of innocent Russians as well. You had Josef Stalin and I do not want to decide whose moral standards where lower. The defeat of Hitler in May 8th 1945 was a Great Victory for all Soviet Peoples, yet the totalitarian cancer continued to destroy the Russian society from within for another 40 years. These undemocratic times during the last century have gone, but your country still suffers severely from the Communist past, the brain drain and brain wash of 70 years of totalitarian ideology.
Russia had only 20 years since the Gorbachev-initiated peaceful revolution of perestroika and glasnost to develop itself from a totalitarian system and economic disaster to an “Emerging Democracy.” The roots of freedom and the system of checks and balances are not yet deep or strong. The soil for democratic ideas is extremely thin compared to over 250 years of development in the United States. Therefore the “Russian Glass of Democracy” is only half full, not half empty, from historical perspective.
In 1989/90 Russia made the very wise decision to let the Germans re-unite and leave other Eastern European countries develop on their own. Imagine if Russia had to support failing communist governments from the Elbe to the Russian western borders! One only has to look at Cuba to imagine what this would have cost. It was a wise decision to reduce Russia to its core land.
But how should Russia look in 2050?
China will then be a very dominating neighbor in the Far East with a booming economy and most likely a democratic and free society as well. Should Russia stand in between the European Union and China in 2050? Geopolitically, Europe is the natural strategic partner of Russia which it needs to balance the Chinese Dragon in the East. There is no other choice for Russia but to become a respected equal partner of the EU within the next decades.
There are three criteria for acceptance as a EU member: economic stability and free market economy, democratic system guaranteeing civil rights, and a shared vision of the world. Russia’s economic growth in 2003 of 7.3 percent is impressive and a huge success of your presidency. The average monthly income has risen from 4,360 Rubles in 2002 to 5,512 last year (approximately $190). These results, however, are mainly due to the high oil prices. There are still 31 million Russians that are extremely poor with incomes under $ 74 per month. By economic standards, Russia is still a Third World country.
Russia continues to suffer from a bureaucratic system. The state officials are paid too little and therefore have to look for side deals day-by-day; the decision-making process takes too long and the legal system is unpredictable. Your reform to restructure the administration and reduce the number of officials by 30 percent is thus very timely and positive.
Russia, however, needs deeper and better structured reforms very soon to become as competitive as the former Eastern European allies or the former Soviet Baltic republics. Since the 1990s, the state has doubled the numbers of bureaucrats while the Russian territory they have to administer has shrunk from 22 to 17 million square kilometers and the population from 288 to 146 million people.
If I were the worst enemy of Russia I would leave the Nomenklatura as it is. It is Russia’s worst enemy, its Achilles heel. I believe that Russia has the best chance to get a working administration by cutting the number of officials to a level of 20 percent of current staff, increase their salaries by 80 percent and hand over more responsibilities to the next generation, your new elite which is now between 30 and 40 years old. There is no time to waste, as the gap between growth in Eastern Europe and China and that in Russia could make your country unappealing for investments even for Russian businessmen within 10 years.
The parallel build-up of a democratic system is the conditio sine qua non.
Your dogma of maximum power for the Russian President and the state is half wrong. It is true that a strong authority is needed to manage the process of economic growth and to prevent chaos in this transition period. Strong leadership should be welcomed as well by the US and Europe as a necessary tool of Realpolitik to prevent the still popular communists (who won strong 15 percent in the Presidential election for their candidate Nikolai Kharitonov) from swinging back to power out of a frustration by the masses. Such a wave of frustration paralyzed the German democrats in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, pushing the totalitarian radicals - Communists and Nazis – to electoral victories that led to the inauguration of Adolf Hitler in 1933. This self-destroying dynamic of a weak democracy, frustration by the masses, and the appearance of a new radical leader is neutralized by you personally, Mr. President.
But maximum power also paralyzes the development of a modern society and therefore any chances of Russia to become a full member of the EU in the foreseeable future. Therefore I welcome your statements after your election in favour of democracy and free media.
But to quote the famous question of Lenin in the long discussions of the Politburo “What is to be done?”
First of all, there should be a clear signal with substance that Russia’s development leads to an open democratic society and not backwards to a modern dictatorship.
The issue of the few oligarchs, who got billions of Russia’s natural assets for almost nothing in the chaotic years of the 1990s should be solved as quickly as possible. I support the idea that they should give back to the Russian people most of what they got as a cheap present from corrupt bureaucrats. Why not settle on a quick tax deal that would leave them 25 percent of their holdings and return 75 percent back to the people?
On the other side, all other investors - Russians and foreigners - have to be guaranteed by the Russian government and re-insured by the international community that their investments will be safe and not subject to interference by corrupt politicians or the tax authorities. This issue should be discussed with the EU to find the proper and fair international mechanism for protecting domestic and foreign property and investment rights.
The liberal forces in the Duma, no matter how small they are, should be embraced as potential coalition partners of your dominating party and allowed a platform in the mass media too. This sounds contradictory on the surface, yet to build a stable democracy in Russia one has to start the learning process of coalition-making, accepting different opinions and the rules of an open society now. Why not integrate the philosophy of my favorite Russian freedom fighter Andrej Sacharov and pay him a tribute in his museum? Or that of Andrej Amalrik and the other front runners of human rights in the old days of Russia? In my opinion, this is absolutely necessary to show the world that when you, Mr. President, speak in favor of democracy, you mean it.
The same is true with the media. In the EU countries almost all heads of state have their problems with the media and most would love to have your influence too - just ask Tony Blair or Gerhard Schroeder. But is it wise to have a “Hallelujah- press” forever? Why not integrate more liberal journalists in leading positions and let them address the problems of your country in a more open way? This would also help push democratic ideas in the country.
Image matters, Mr. President!
Unfortunately, the image of you and Russia in general in the West is more dark than bright. This does not reflect your positive image in Russia. This negative image – the opposite of Gorbachov’s inside and outside of Russia – has to be changed.
In your next four years as President, Europe and America should start a fair and open dialogue between friends on how we can help Russia find its proper place in global politics and become a true partner of Europe.
Besides the very important issues of an open and fair economy and a true democratic system, we have to talk about foreign policy too. It would be great to give the successful Russia NATO Council a fresh push with your visit to the next NATO summit in Istanbul this June and to integrate Russian forces into the NATO command in Afghanistan.
As President you should tune down the harsh rhetoric towards the Baltic states and let the European Council guarantee the rights of the Russian minorities there. The same applies to the aggressiveness against NATO air control in the Baltics, Russian maneuvers with NATO as the enemy on paper or the old thinking in the Russian Ministry of Defense White Book . These incidents are counterproductive to a real Partnership in Peace with the West and a modern Russian Realpolitik towards the EU and the U.S. which are in Russia’s best interest.
In Georgia and the Caucasus, a more international approach with the OCSE, the US and the European Union is needed to cool down those mini-conflicts that cost too much diversion for Russia and lead to a counter-productive image as an empire which wants to dominate its small neighbors like in the past.
Chechnya is a steady bleeding wound for Russia and I feel extremely sorry for the victims there. As a terrorist harboring territory it is in the West’s interest to contain the radical Islamic forces in the region. Yet the Russian policy is counterproductive. It is dominated by military thinking only and therefore is too short minded. You should start a fresh reconciliation process in Chechnya to win the hearts and the minds of the people there. This is not possible without foreign involvement as too many Chechens had bad experience with the Russians. Why not let the OSCE handle this complicated task?
My heart and feelings are with the Russian people who should get much more credit for their achievements and more help from the US and Europe for their difficult development to a better future.
Let us start a true and open friendship and adopt a common vision for a democratic future in the World!
Moscow, March 15th, 2004
Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann
President Worldsecuritynetwork Foundation New York
Open Letter from Worldsecuritynetwork President Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann to newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin
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