Question: Hello and welcome to Big Think live. Our guest today is Dr. Mark Galeotti, Academic chair of New York University Center for Global Affairs. Dr. Galeotti is one of the world’s leading experts in organized crime, security and modern Russia. Welcome Dr. Galeotti.
[0:02:59.6] Mark Galeotti: Nice to be here. [0:03:01.5]
Question: So our viewers have submitted some questions for you and the first comes from Thomas. Thomas asks, “The size of the protests have been dwindling since the days following the end of the election. Do you feel that the opposition has started to feel defeated?”
[0:03:14.3] Mark Galeotti: I think it’s a fair question and certainly when I was at the protests on Monday evening there was definitely a different mood. I don’t think it’s necessarily they’re starting to feel defeated. It’s more that they’ve realized that protests in Moscow are great, but that doesn’t translate into support across the country. I think what’s needed now is going to be a shift to a completely different type of movement, one that actually can reach out to other constituencies, so not so much defeat, but certainly realizing that it’s going to be a longer struggle than they thought. [0:03:46.3]
Question: Great and Milano asks, “What is your take on the accusations of the fraudulent elections or the alleged fraudulent elections, particularly the accusations of communist leader and Putin rival Gennady Zyuganov?”
[0:04:00.4] Mark Galeotti: Well I mean there was almost certainly some level of fraud. **** monitors **** to identify that, likewise, a whole variety of other anecdotal evidence; indeed video camera evidence has demonstrated particularly what was called carousel voting where you bus a bunch of supporters from one polling station to the next where they all mysteriously turn out to have ballots ready to vote for the right candidate, but that said it’s unlikely that the scale of fraud was more than maybe five percent at most. Quite possibly it was less, so even if you factor that in it’s clear that still Putin had a substantial and comfortable majority for the elections. [0:04:40.6]
Question: Great. And also commentators on the Israel, Iran tension believe that Russia’s interests lie in preventing an attack. Others believe that an attack will serve Russia’s interests by pushing up oil prices. What role do you see Russia playing on this stage in 2012?
[0:04:57.9] Mark Galeotti: Russia is playing an interesting game here. I don’t ultimately think that Russia would want there to be a conflict, too much risk of it spreading, too much risk of just simply becoming unpredictable, but that said Russia has got adept at the late managing uncertainly and making the most out of it. I think that Russia will want to avoid military action as far as possible, but because it realizes that the west will want its support it will try and get the highest diplomatic price it can get for it, so in its interest to maintain sort of a mood of **** in this situation, but ultimately if it really had to choose one way or the other it would rather peace to war. [0:05:45.2]
Question: Thank you. And one readers asks, “The all female punk ban Pussy Riot says that they’re using their feminism as a platform for change. They say the women are less likely to get arrested, but more harassed by police. So how do you authorities really treat women different or do authorities really treat women differently and what do you think will be the ongoing role of women in the protesting?”
[0:06:08.7] Mark Galeotti: Well it’s interesting. I mean of late we’ve had a very recent story in fact of a female journalist who was trenched into the ground and hospitalized by police, which is not that unusual to happen to journalists when you get yourself involved in protests. What was interesting this time is that police turned up with flowers at her bedside in the hospital and the Moscow chief of police issued an order saying henceforth police should be more careful about how they deal with journalists. So there is still the flipside of frankly the chauvinism that is still very strong within Russian society is also this rather ponderous and elephantine sort of feeling that you have to look after the quote, unquote, weaker sex. That said I think that there is—I mean there is a slow change taking place, but nonetheless traditionally speaking Russia still does not take its women seriously and that’s one reason why they were so shocked and startled by the whole Pussy Riot phenomenon because essentially they were acting in what in Russian terms would be non feminine ways and they don’t really know how to deal with that.
[0:07:23.8] So it’s changing. We’re beginning to get to see sort of powerful female leaders emerging within politics, within business and so forth, but really they are maybe 20 years behind sort of the western norms of how we’d expect to see women involved in politics and so forth. So there will be a role for women, but it’s still going to be a hard struggle. [0:07:44.6]
Question: And do you this phenomenon, is it putting the role of women in the spotlight so that there will be potentially more and more up rest amongst women organizations?
[0:08:01.2] Mark Galeotti: Well I think it’s linked in with any issues of class to be honest. For I imagine your average Russian out there in the provinces they will be horrified and shocked and thoroughly disapproving of that kind of activity, but again thinking back to protest movement in Moscow and Saint Petersburg they’re sort of more advance, more westernized, more prosperous capitals where the protest movement is really coming from the middleclass, the educated relatively affluent sort of group that has sort of risen within Russia. There you see much more equality. There you see much more of a role for women. So in some ways the struggle of women to assert themselves within Russia is also actually a struggle of the middleclass to assert itself within Russia and the two feed off and support each other. [0:08:52.6]
Question: Thank you. And one reader would like to know, “What are some specific ways that NATO can cooperate with Russia to maintain peace in Europe?”
[0:09:01.9] Mark Galeotti: Well maintaining peace in Europe I mean on one level it just simply involves not having wars, which is a very glib answer. In a way peace in Europe isn’t really threatened except possibly by the more extreme and nationalist element within the Russian policy and we’ve seen Russia leaning on the Baltic States. We’ve seen other kind of forms of pressure, so but I don’t really think it’s likely that there is actually any threat to peace in Europe. That said though there are other ways in which Russia and NATO can cooperate, which is at it were, peace **** Europe’s margins and beyond its borders. We’ve mentioned the Middle East. There are other areas in which actually Russia can work with NATO, fighting piracy off Somalia for example. There are Russian ships as well as NATO ships that are out there keeping the sea lanes clear.
[0:09:55.9] So that’s one example, but I think it’s not in Europe. It’s outside Europe that really the scope for cooperation exists. [0:10:03.7]
Question: And what do you think the opposition what should they do going forward? How do you they need to truly mobilize to affect change?
[0:10:14.3] Mark Galeotti: Well they have to start getting involved in the really boring elements of politics. It’s been extraordinary what they’ve done in the last three months. The fact that they’re able to get more than 100,000 people to protest, perhaps up to 30,000 people **** Moscow in another, that was impressive and dramatic, but as we’ve seen it doesn’t actually convert into mass support across the country as a whole. What they now have to do is to begin to form parties, to reach out to other interest groups, other regions, other classes and so forth and it’s going to take a long time and in the process the opposition is almost by definition going to fragment. I mean the moment is really defined by just one slogan, Russia without Putin and therefore, the opposition movement includes everything from ultra leftists who would want to see some kind of socialist state recreated in Russia all the way through to liberal free market capitalist democrats. They have very little in common except that they’re opposed to the current regime.
[0:11:19.8] That’s fine as a start point, but ultimately in the longer term you actually have to say not just we want Russia without Putin, but what do we want after Putin and that’s where I think the divisions are going to lie, so I think in the short term the opposition is going to fragment because they’re actually going to have to start appreciating that there are differences between them, but in the process they can begin to create political parties, begin to create political machines and in the process reach out into the provinces and that’s where the election is going to be won. It’s not going to be won in Moscow. It’s not going to be won in Saint Petersburg. It’s going to be won out there in the grinding miserable smokestack cities of the Urals in Siberia and the Russian Fareast where at the moment the protestors have very, very little traction. [0:12:01.2]
Question: So how do you think Putin will react to this fragmentation if the fragmentation happens as you described it? Is he just going to let that play out or is he going to-? Does he have a larger strategy to deal with that?
[0:12:20.0] Mark Galeotti: Well I don’t think he has a strategy as such at the moment. I think he has time honored tactics on which he tends to rely. It was interesting. He made a joke about it’s time to crackdown and again on one level it was all ho-ho, just a bit of fun, but there is probably an element of truth within it. I think we’re going to see several sort of strands of response. One is going to be a certain level of cracking down. I'm not talking about mass arrests or the like, but we’re probably going to see a bit more pressure on media outlets that weren’t deemed to be loyal enough to the Kremlin. We’re probably going to see sort of other people, particularly if alternative leaders start to emerge who look particularly sort of articulate and effective and charismatic, attempts to discredit them the same way as they tend to at the moment trying to discredit the protestors as being all sort of paid by the US State Department, revolutionaries and so forth.
[0:13:15.1] So strategy one is a crackdown. Strategy two is going to be an attempt to basically marginalize the opposition. We’re probably going to see attempts to sort of keep them out of the media, attempts to basically steal some of their programs and policies and make it sound as if well it’s what the Kremlin planned all along. Third, longer term strategy is we’re probably going to see a process of reconstitution of the sort of mainstream Russian political scene, which basically is in the hands of the Kremlin. The Kremlin dominates all official politics within Russia and what they’ve tended to do in the past is whenever they felt the need for dealing with some kind of potential protest they create some handy party which looks as if it articulates that view, but is in fact in there Kremlin’s back pocket and that way they try and sort of bring them into the fold. It’s actually housetrained the would-be anti Kremlin figures.
[0:14:16.2] So we might well see the existing United Russia block being broken up. We might well see some new sort of tame parties being set up in the hope of bleeding away the pressure. The thing is Putin has done this year after year and I think we’re beginning to see Russians getting wise to this, so I don’t think it’s going to be successful, but this is ultimately I think his first instinct will be fallback on his usual strategies that have worked in the past. Only if they don’t work will he try something different. [0:14:43.9]
Question: Great and so circling back to you were saying that there will be a lot of attention paid to traditional media outlets, but what wasn’t around years ago was social media and we saw that front and center in the Arab Spring for example. So how do you see the current mediascape playing out in terms of a strategy there?
[0:15:13.0] Mark Galeotti: In many ways it is actually a game changer. I mean what we’ve seen in terms of the traditional media is basically the Kremlin has concentrated on TV. Pretty much all TV outlets are controlled by or influenced by the State. Newspapers they’re much less bothered about. You have a very vibrant and actually very pluralistic newspaper medium, but they felt well frankly nowadays newspaper isn’t as important, isn’t as immediate as the TV. That was fine, but precisely now we’ve got this third strand of social media, which the activists use to mobilize, to put their word out and so forth, things like Twitter, Facebook, в контакте [ph], which is sort of a Russian equivalent to Facebook and it’s clear that frankly the Kremlin is not really sure how to respond. Again they’re tried two things. One is sometimes trying to crackdown. I mean for example they’ve tried to insure—sometimes Facebook goes mysteriously blank. They’ve clearly tried to see if they can put pressure on в контакте, the Russian equivalent.
[0:16:18.8] More to the point though in the second strategy is they’ve started building out almost a cyber army of supporters often who are paid to send out vast numbers of negative comments against opposition activist’s comments and such like or to overload websites with sort of basically sort of really hacking attacks. So we’re actually beginning to see the Kremlin is moving towards having its own sort of offensive arm within the world of social media, but again it says a lot about the Kremlin’s instincts, that instead of just simply thinking well okay there is a lot of people expressing certain views, we have to accept that instead they want to try and crowd out opposition activists from the internet. It’s not going to work, but that says something about them, their mindset. [0:17:12.2]
Question: That’s fascinating. And to end our live stream I have one final question from one of our Big Think viewers. They would like to know, “How will the end of the election season force Russia to rethink their stance on Syria?”
[0:17:26.7] Mark Galeotti: This is an interesting point that we’ve already seen actually the Russians moving slightly on Syria. I mean at first they were very, very sort of strongly opposed to any moves against the Assad Regime in part frankly because they felt they had been betrayed over Libya, that they had agreed to a limited resolution about what was going to happen in Libya and NATO, which is basically taking advantage of it and beyond that before the elections Putin was playing a very tough hand because it’s part of his campaign rhetoric making himself out to be a really powerful, strong advocate of Russian interests. Now that he’s got the election in the bag again we’re beginning to see the Russians I think moving more into a sort of a horse trading situation. They’re willing to be a little bit more accommodating at least in terms of their rhetoric, but they’re going to be expecting the west to make nice in response and also ultimately the Russians don’t want to be on the losing side. If momentum really starts to swing against the Assad Regime then the Russians are probably going to back away from him. There is no way that they’re going to defend him if they think he’s going to lose.
[0:18:40.5] So at the moment they’re working out the odds, but I think we’re beginning to see both Putin thinking that he the freedom to maneuver to move away from Assad and also the Russians thinking that maybe that particular nasty man’s lifespan at least in power is coming to an end and therefore it’s time to detach from him. So we can expect movement now. [0:19:03.3]
Question: Great. Thank you so much for being with us today Dr. Galeotti. To our audience, please check back into BigThink.com to watch additional video clips of our conversation with Dr. Galeotti and to find out when future live interviews with our experts will take place. Thank you for watching.
Interview by Elizabeth Rodd and Jonathan Fowler