Ineffective Sanctions and Diplomatic Immunity: Andrey Pivovarov on Western policy towards Russia.

October 16, 2018

Open Russia Chairman Andrey Pivovarov calls for significant changes to Western policy approaches to Russia at Forum 2000. He also stresses that we must distinguish between the Kremlin and the Russian people, who are growing tired of Putin’s damaging policies.

On 9th October Open Russia Chairman Andrey Pivovarov spoke at the Institute of Politics and Society in Prague as part of the Forum 2000 conference. Mr Pivovarov was part of a panel consisting of political experts, as well as human rights activists from Russia and its neighbouring states in Europe and the Caucuses. The Institute for Politics and Society is known for its critical stance towards the Kremlin and serves as an ideal location to hold discussions about future policy in West towards Russia.

Firstly, Andrey Pivovarov was keen to drive a wedge between the Kremlin Kleptocracy and the Russian people, stating that, “Europe shouldn’t view Russia as one big group that supports Putin”. Not only is such a view misrepresentative of current opinion polls carried out by the Levada Center, which saw a drop in Putin’s rating to a low of 39%. But also, confusing the Russian people with a totalitarian regime that disregards democracy and human rights on daily basis plays into the hands of Kremlin spin doctors who purport that ‘There is no Russia without Putin’. However, it requires more than just a change in rhetoric amongst western leaders if real changes are to be made in relations between East and West. Pivovarov argued that, “Europe needs to open up dialogue channels with the new politicians who are independent from the Kremlin.” This means disregarding politicians and ambassadors who hold any form of political connection to the Kremlin.

How politicians communicate with Russia and the Russia people represents only one part of the complex solution that is required to establish real democracy in Russia. It is imperative that democratic European countries, as well as their North American counterparts make reactionary policy decisions that have tangible and detrimental results on Vladimir Putin and his associates in the Kremlin. Andrey Pivovarov explains poignantly why current political responses from European leaders are of a contradictory nature and even serve to bolster support for President Putin:

“US and European sanctions do not affect the Kremlin in the short term, sometimes they even increase Putin’s ratings through creating an image of Russia’s main enemies, who are ‘stealing our pensions’. This is not without the help of TV propaganda, of course. What is more, I believe that sector-wide, non-targeted sanctions are damaging and tend to hit the ordinary citizens of our country the most.”

Indeed, the results that sanctions may bring against corrupt high-ranking officials is unclear. And just today in the Wall Street Journal there was a report highlighting how the Russian oil industry had bloomed in light of US sanctions. The weakness of the ruble vs. dollar meant that the revenue made from the growth in crude oil prices, which is valued and traded in US dollars, was further increased when Russian oil firms exchanged this revenue back into rubles. Resultantly, oil producers Rosneft Oil Co. and Lukoil Oil Co. saw a share price increase of 56% and 39% respectively. However, it is unlikely that ordinary Russian citizens will see personal gain from this.

Mr Pivovarov was quick to add that currently members of the Kremlin Cartel are still able to exercise full freedom in European countries, using their illegally acquired riches to enjoy luxurious lifestyles at the expense of the Russian taxpayer. He argued that European leaders “who know full well about what is happening in our country and about […] the corrupt officials who have [embezzled] billions [of rubles] exclusively from government contracts” continue to hand out visas to these criminals. This facilitates the laundering of vast amounts of stolen wealth through the acquisition of real estate.

Pivovarov understands that impotent sanctions offer a merely a superficial response to the Kremlin’s bad behaviour. They also create the illusion that European leaders are serious in their approach to tackling Putin and his associates. In reality, as Pivovarov recognised, Kremlin associates still “have the opportunity to send their children to live and study in London” and “benefit from quality medical care [in Europe].”

So long as European leaders continue to act ineffectively against the Kremlin, the rogue government will continue to act aggressively on the global stage. This may result in more civilian deaths like those in Salisbury or an increasing number of armed conflicts. All the while, ordinary Russians, especially those who stand vocally in opposition of the Putin regime, shall remain victims of state-sponsored violence and widespread embezzlement that enriches Putin and his cronies and endangers the livelihood and futures of Russians for generations to come.