1. To raise awareness and start debate in the post-Soviet states and among Western audiences of the scale and nature of kleptocratic actors’ actions in domestic politics and their assets and corrosive activities in Europe and USA.
2. To increase support for policies and other actions to combat the function of kleptocratic systems in home countries and contain their negative influence in the West.
Read more details below.
Our goals explained in detail
1.To start debate and raise awareness.
The first step to achieve this is to introduce more adequate and up to date definitions that can better reflect ongoing developments.
At a recent discussion at Helsinki Commission experts agreed that the term oligarchs is outdated for the post-Soviet space as authoritarian leaders have fully subjugated politically independent businessmen. Media is also searching for new definitions. For example, The New York Times wrote this year that, “the label “intelligence official” is not always cleanly applied in Russia, where ex-spies, oligarchs and government officials often report back to the intelligence services and elsewhere in the Kremlin”. The Economist suggests that the issue of definitions is becoming increasingly topical as by February 2018 U.S. Department of State needs to submit a big report on Kremlin insiders, their families and affiliates and parastatal entities under the Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) enacted by U.S. Congress in 2016.
Our project suggests a few more adequate terms to define all different intermediaries from kleptocratic states operating in the West and their actions:
a. Underminers - undercover, noxious-to-democracy emissaries, ringleaders, magnates, and infiltrators from Neo-Gulag expansionist regimes.
b. Neo-Gulag values - new norms that stem from post-Soviet legacy of Gulag prison system that we argue define the character of today's ruling class and business elites. For more on this term see latest report How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West (pp.3-9) and its discussion.
c. Export of corrosive practices - while there is an outright corruption (i.e. criminal actions defined by Western law) coming from authoritarian states, many kleptocratic regimes, especially large ones like Russia and China, often choose to assail Western democracies through open avenues of business, propaganda and other practices that remain partially or even fully accepted from the viewpoint of Western criminal regulations. We call such practices not corrupt, but corrosive. In the chart above we have identified key layers of export of corrosive practices.
While these terms may sound a bit artificial, they are a good way to start a discussion around the grave phenomena that many experts struggle to describe. We would be happy if this debate leads to even better, more relevant and easy-to-comprehend terms.
The second step is to actually have attract attention in a responsible way and have meaningful discussions with policy-makers and civil society.
We believe contemporary influence of Underminers is not properly addressed by responsible citizens and policy-makers for a variety of reasons: lack of awareness and inability to connect external corrosive impact with domestic problems in the West, apathy and outrage fatigue, lack of capacity within old structures of global media, disinformation and vested interests in post-Soviet countries and the West, appeasement by Western government, different forms of repression from outright intimidation to threat of libel laws which all lead to sensationalism, superficial and inconsistent coverage in the press and failure of policy-makers to take decisive actions to address worrying trends.
There is actually a sea of information on the web about oligarchs and different operatives and intermediaries from post-Soviet space. But most people increasingly find this date confusing and tiring precisely because it is difficult to discern truth from lies in a reasonable and timely manner.
Our project aims to collect information in a concise and lawful manner by using responsible and verifiable publicly available sources, and presenting it in a form that is easy to share and discuss on various social media platforms.
2. To increase support for policies of dismantling kleptocracies at home and containing them in the West.
Unprecedented scale of looting of domestic resources in post-Soviet states and brazen and sophisticated multi-layered attacks that some of the kleptocracies are ready to inflict on Western democratic systems should lead not only to proper acknowledgement but to active resistance to corruption in home countries and strategy of containment in the West.
In order to build new consensus for such policies, we want to bring new voices from Russian-speaking and global expert communities and build a network of commentators and activists that are trusted by audiences in former Soviet countries, Europe, USA and elsewhere.
We know that opposition movements in Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakshtan, Belarus and other post-Soviet dictatorships are highly divided over a variety of issues. But we believe a majority within all of them are already united in one conviction: export of kleptocracy from their countries has to be acknowledged and contained in the West at a qualitatively new level.