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De-Putinisation. The politics of justice

The sanctions temporarily introduced against Russia as a result of its brutal invasion of Ukraine are not a tool of strategic change for Putin’s actions. The key to success will lie in a complex process of holding those responsible for the war and its consequences accountable and eliminating all of influences that the Putin system has in Europe. Just like there was a denazification of Germany after the Second World War, today we will need to de-Putinise Russia and eliminate his influence abroad. Such a plan should include both legal and international activities as well as political actions to condemn Putin’s wrongdoing.

March 1, 2022 - Karol Przywara Paweł Kowal - Articles and CommentaryUkraineAtWar

Photo: Amani A/Shutterstock

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Russia became a democratic state for just a few short years. The Chechen War in 1994 was the first sign of a slow return to imperial policies. The failure of economic reforms and disappointment with the democratic system as it was practiced under Boris Yeltsin prepared the ground for an unfavourable system change in Russia.

Putinism is an authoritarian political system in Russia which is based on the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin’s narrow circle and his oligarchs. Over the last few years this system has evolved into authoritarianism. The material base of the Putin system relies on Russia’s natural resources, and the profits are used to prop up the regime. This system came into being after 2000 and is legitimised by war and conflict. The assumption is very simple: Putin starts a new war to justify that “now he cannot go”. The Kremlin’s subsequent military aggressions bring a risk of not only conventional warfare but also a nuclear one. This is the main reason why the international community has a vested interest in eliminating this regime.

The elimination of the Putin system is a process which should start now, so that it can be completed once Putin gets weaker and finally collapses. The elimination of Putinism in Russia will still require co-operation between the future Russian authorities and the democratic world. The elimination of the Kremlin’s influence in Europe and other parts of the world will need close co-operation between the European Union, United Kingdom and the United States as well as many international organisations.

There is now a network of western political parties in Europe and Russian business, services and organisations promoting Russkiy mir (Russian world) – a Russian vision of the world firmly entrenched among parts of the western elite and aimed at promoting Putinism in western democratic societies. However, the key problem that Putin’s policies have brought to the West was the export of Russian systemic corruption.

Legal and international action

The plan to hold Putinism to account should be based on broad international agreement. The first step should be to try Putin and his associates for their aggressions and the annexations of territories of the sovereign states of Georgia and Ukraine since 2008 as well as subsequent political murders. There is no doubt that Putin’s policies are the source of the most serious conflicts since the Second World War and of violations of international law in many parts of the world. Other leaders who support Putin, such as Alyaksandr Lukashenka, should also be subject to an international court on the same terms as Putin. Only those politicians around Putin who support the dictator’s removal and withdraw from influencing further political life in Russia should have a chance of escaping full responsibility.

The condition for maintaining peace is a “policy of justice” towards Putin and his close circle. It should be administered by the relevant courts, including the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Ukrainians are already collecting material for the ICJ investigation and already at this stage it is in the interest of the democratic world to support Ukraine in collecting and classifying evidence of Putin’s war crimes and other crimes over the past two decades. Taking such action and bringing it to a successful conclusion is necessary for the future. All other potential dictators should realise the price of the consequences of their actions.

The international community should charge Russia with the financial consequences of the aggression. That is the second necessary step to get rid of Putinism. Russia will pay reparations for the war damages against Georgia and Ukraine – both in terms of compensating the families of the victims and paying for the losses of infrastructure. Russia should pay reparations, just like any aggressor that invades the territory of another country. The lifting of economic sanctions should take place only after the accounts for the consequences of the war have been settled and the families compensated.

The third stage of systemic de-Putinisation should be the demilitarisation of Russia. The transformation of Russia and the change of its political elite cannot succeed if it involves the possibility of nuclear blackmail. The extent of Russia’s demilitarisation should be determined at an international conference on Russia with NATO.

A fourth aspect of de-Putinisation in the international sphere must be to cut off the Russian oligarchs and their families from access to European luxuries. Assets acquired through injustice must not be used to buy mansions and yachts. It is essential that the sources of finance for Putin’s people’s purchases become the subject of western interest. Will such steps be effective? Following the announcement that Roman Abramovich would be denied entry to the British Isles, his daughter Sofia posted an anti-war protest on Instagram. Every breach among Putin’s boyars brings us closer to removing him from power.

The political settlement of Putinism

Stalin influenced western democracies, among others, through communist parties that operated in the West under democratic conditions and were supposed to influence western societies and governments in his favour. Putin acted in a similar way and managed to build a network of parties – mainly nationalist and populist – in the West that supported him. The new post-Putin era will require both economic sanctions and political sanctions against politicians who have openly supported Putin’s annexation policy in their actions. These include Gerhard Schröder, Marine LePen, Péter Szijjártó and Lukashenka. Those who have praised and are praising Putin’s policies bear political co-responsibility for the Kremlin’s actions. Political support for Putinism should be ostracised internationally. Financial flows between political parties in the West and the Kremlin should be subject to international investigation.

The next task facing the West is the elimination of Russian influence in Europe. The next battle will take place as early as April in Hungary, where Viktor Orbán will try to defend his position in Hungary; and in France, where the presidential election is approaching and the pro-Russian right will try to overturn the European order.

The voices breaking out of European and NATO solidarity have been all too audible in Hungary and France – providing vital support for Putin’s policy of aggression. By refusing to deploy additional NATO troops and blocking some of the sanctions against the Putin regime, Orbán’s Hungary has allowed him to gain time. It is good that some reflection has taken place, but the attitudes of the first hours of the conflict must be remembered.

Clearly, there is no return to “business as usual”. Today we are in a war situation, and the great debate about what to do after Putin will soon begin. After 1991 the democratic world did not make it a condition for democratic Russia to finally deal with the legacy of Stalinism. It has come to the point where, in recent times, Putin has openly referred to the Stalinist tradition motivating his aggression. We must use every means at our disposal to bring about a final victory and hold the aggressor and the Axis of Evil he created to account. We must, as an international community, learn from the appeasement policy of the 21st century. Putinism as a system of governance and its far-reaching consequences must be defeated.

Paweł Kowal is a member of the Polish parliament (Sejm) and deputy chairman of the Sejm’s Commission on Foreign Affairs. He is also an adjunct professor at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy and a member of New Eastern Europe’s editorial board.

Karol Przywara is the director of the Caucasus Foundation (Fundacja Kaukaska) and the the Mayor of Wrocław’s Plenipotentiary for international co-operation.

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