EVENT TRANSCRIPT: COVID, Politics and Post-Soviet Societies: StrategEast’s Westernisation Report 2021
DATE: 19 April, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
SPEAKERS: Anatoly Motkin
EVENT MODERATOR: Sam Armstrong
Samuel Armstrong 00:00
Well, excellent, I can see our numbers have mostly stabilized on zoom, and indeed on Facebook and YouTube, where many of you are joining us from; whichever format you’re listening in, or watching, we’re very grateful to have you for what I think is going to be an absolutely fascinating event that couldn’t really be coming at a better time at all. Our speaker today is Anatoly Motkin who’s the founder and President of StrategEast. He’s a successful technology investor with years of experience in political consultancy, and media entrepreneurship in the Eurasian region. And he now leads strategies, which among other things, publishes the westernisation reports, which comes along every two years. And it marks a bit of a report card for those former USSR states that are now going through the process of democratization and westernisation or are not, as the case may be. And what it does is it looks at them and sees who’s up and who’s down. And this year, they’ve got a report as well as the index. And I know it’s got a number of fascinating findings within it. And I think, given the events that we’ve seen, in the last 24 hours alone, it couldn’t be coming at a more interesting time in the region, that is right now finding itself at the heart of, not just at regional geopolitics, but indeed globally. So, without any further ado, I’d like to pass over to Anatoly who, unless I’m mistaken, is going to speak for about 10-15 minutes, then we’ll go into a session in which I’ll ask him some questions. I want to focus particularly on those countries that have undergone big changes this year, or have been at the centre of the news. And then following that, we’re going to go for an audience question and answer session. So if you’re thinking about your question now, please ruminate on it. There’s a question and answer function at the bottom of your zoom screen. If you’re watching via zoom, do go on to there, type in your question, our technical team who are great, we’ll go through those, select a bunch covering as many different areas as we possibly can, and you’ll have a chance to ask those live to Anatoly towards the end of the presentation. But without further ado, Anatoly, you have a presentation on your fantastic report.
Anatoly Motkin 02:44
Thank you, Sam. Thank you for having me here today. And thank you to Henry Jackson Society for this event. My name is Anatoly Motkin and I’m a President of StrategEast. StrategEast is a US registered non-profit with regional offices in Ukraine and Georgia. And our mission is to assist the Eurasian countries to transform their economy from a natural resource, traditional and industrial model to a knowledge driven economy, and also to assist them to a get better linked to and develop Western values in the their countries. So today, I would be happy to introduce you [to] our study, which is our reflection study, which is called westernisation report, and westernisation index, which is also been released, two issues. So StrategEast westernisation important index their annual products. And as you can see, the first index has been released in 2018, and the next one in 2020. Last year, and the reports were each following here. StrategEast’s personalisation index was created with two goals in mind; first, to assist the post-Soviet countries, by themselves, to better comprehend the processes that happen there, and also what are the common challenges. And also, it’s being developed for the Western society and they also the think tank community to understand the processes from the experts who come from the region. So the StrategEast, westernisation index is the first of its kind in three ways. First, it is the only report to analyse the 14 countries of the post-Soviet Eurasian region as a whole. Now, I should admit that we deal with the region which we call PSNR, Post-Soviet Non-Russian, because we think that there are some common challenges which are not common with the Russian interest today. So that’s why it’s only 14 countries. The second one, it measures each country’s wholesale integration into the Western world across many sectors. So we’ve measured the legal westernisation, economic westernisation, political culture and lifestyle. And it is prepared for the west by the experts from the region. And it’s not dedicated to one specific theme, like economics or freedom or some others. Why [does] this research not include Russia? Now it’s like elephant in the room. While academic and research interests in Russia has always been significant, such interesting other former Soviet states has been limited. The StrategEast index by focusing on old post-Soviet countries, except Russia, is intended to help to generate a more balanced and multifaceted attention to the region. by excluding Russia, we do not assume that Russia is more or less Mr. Nice than other post-Soviet states and societies. Rather, the objective is to draw attention to all other former Soviet countries and to the development they have undergone since the collapse of USSR. So again, the index methodology, and you can find it on our website as well, is very clear. And we assess the level of westernisation of those countries in five dimensions, again, political, economic, legal, language and culture and westernisation of lifestyle. For the first three, we give them a 25% each, the legal and culture its 15% and westernisation of lifestyle, is just 10%, but we should remember that lifestyle is also very important. The McDonald’s and Coca Cola and other Western, I would say symbols, are more than lifestyle, and they actually the influence the way that society consumes the goods in their own countries. The index shows that groups of countries can be distinguished, and it’s important to say that this index has been published a year ago before the last elections in Belarus, the fraudulent election there. So in this index, that Belarus was still in group three with a balancing pragmatists, so the first group is naturally Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which are members of NATO and members of EU. The second is pro-Western (inaudible) we call them, is Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Three of them have an association agreement with the EU and much more developed institutions, civil society institutions, and governmental institutions in the countries with balancing pragmatists. Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, [are] in the last group which is fortress states, Turkmenistan Tajikistan – my feeling is that maybe next year Tajikistan will try to get out of this group, up to number three. So we can see the you can see the figures of Estonia getting 92.5 and which we say scientifically highest, typically the highest grade is 100, but it’s not achievable. So it’s 92.5. Lithuania is 90, Latvia is 87.5, which is natural. Number four is Georgia with 64, and Moldova is above Ukraine, despite all the heavy corruption in Moldova. But we’ve also corruption in Ukraine but some reforms that has been performed there delivered the goods. We have Armenia number seven, we have Azerbaijan number eight with 40, with Kyrgyzstan 39.5 for number 10, then Kazakhstan on 35. And I would like to show you that if we compare it to the figures of 2018, we could see decline in number 10, Kazakhstan. And maybe this is a result of so called peaceful transition of power there from Mr. Tokayev and you could see afterwards, I could show you the exact figures and you could find it. Also in our study on the website, you can download the PDF of the whole report and index, you can see in each category. So we could see also one important thing that in economic association is much higher than any other category, because it’s about economical relations with investors like BP and others not necessarily in hydrocarbons, but it’s always about money, and money is easier. When we look at legal westernisation, it’s always lower. Although we understand that a fair judicial system is the key to prosperity in those countries or just in any country because it’s also provides you with equality of opportunities for all. So, you can see also that political westernisation is again is predictably much lower than economic, and the same you can see in language and lifestyle for the obvious reasons especially for countries like Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and others. So, for mega trends of the region multispeed westernisation has been taking place across the region at the variable pace. In most cases, it is possible for the post-Soviet Eurasian countries to westernise and adopt the values and practices of liberal democracies. However, most of the countries from the region prefer to take as much mistranslation as they can carry without damaging the power vertical. On the other hand, web-multilateralism refers to the tendencies of the countries, especially small ones, to live with other countries through membership in various organizations. And with a number of organizations in this region, one of them is Eurasian Economic Union, led by Russia with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – with Russia obviously there. And other countries, such as Georgia, Ukraine, and to some extent Moldova are willing to join the EU and we have signed association agreements in those countries. Now with multipolar influence, for years, the only game in town was the Kremlin. Over the course of the post-Soviet period, the West degraded competition for Russia, it diluted its dominance, especially in the in the Western European countries, in the western Post-Soviet, Eastern European countries. The penetration of the West has been widely slow and has occurred at different speeds, mainly taking place in the countries that have been willing to reform. After 30 years of a bipolar region, there is another player emerging with a great force China. China has been quietly, without fanfare, engaging efficiently with the governments of the region. The countries in China’s geographic proximity are the first to engage with Beijing on a series of project of economic nature, especially countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and others. And we could they talk on this more afterwards on Q&A session, and mobility. There are a few countries in the post-Soviet Eurasian region that offer the possibilities of develop western states. That is why there has been an intense outflow of migration and mobility in the region as the EU members, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania enjoys the visa-free regime and the EU labour market is open to these countries. The visa-free regime with the EU is also in place with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which has significantly increased the amount of travel to the EU states. And we know that also includes unfortunately illegal working immigrants to European Union. And now I owe this procedure. It’s not about a cancelling visa liberalisation with Georgia and Ukraine, but it’s about checking each traveller by the countries themselves. Now about the report itself, the last westernisation report, so westernisation report 2021, tracks changes and identifies strengths. We have local experts from all countries, again, it’s that for each country, we have local experts, and not somebody who is expert in all countries or lives elsewhere. Some of them, unfortunately, had to not mention their names, for the obvious reasons or for the nature of the countries that they were writing about. And now, besides our experts, we also address some questions to the policymakers and government officials in those countries. And obviously, some of them did not answer, but many of them did. And it’s also interesting how the perception or what is the view from governmental perspective on the same issues that were described by our experts. And also you could, as I mentioned, see that some trends are common to different countries, even from different regions of the post-Soviet region. Now about the main topics for each country, and it’s the one slide before the last one. For Estonia, it was metal over family values. It’s although Estonia is the least traditional country. But the rise of populism there in the parliament is talking about again, not recognizing marriage between the same gendered people and then some other stuff that we got used to hear from other countries or from other countries different times. And it’s really frustrating but today it’s one of the challenges for the Estonian government. In Lithuania, the main topic was new female led government. And we know that the government there [consists of] 37% women, which is great achievement, because we’ve seen studies and it’s described also in our report, that it’s not easy for women to get high official positions in Lithuania. And it was even proposed to introduce some quarters for women, for females in the government. In Latvia, they failed to ratify the Istanbul convention. The Istanbul convention is a convention that is against domestic violence, and unfortunately Latvia, because of, again, populist reasons, has not signed this convention. And some people think that it could be a threat to females in the families or to weak people in the families. But it has been described by our expert, in fact, 80% of this convention was recognized by Latvian Parliament as a loss. So it’s only about 20% as it was not recognized there. But still, it’s very bad for them as especially as you remember. In Georgia COVID-19 ruined tourism. And we know that Georgia was one of the only beacons of democracy in the Eurasian region, but also their economy was heavily dependent on tourism, even their winery industry and all other industries. Actually, they were dependent on tourists who came and purchase those goods. In 2019, the number of tourists that visited Georgia, with its 3.5 million population, was 8.5 million people. You could just imagine yourself that in the pandemic in 2020, it was just several hundreds of 1000s in the best case, and only in, I believe, August and September. So in Moldova the most important event was the election of Maia Sandu as the president and is a great signal for society there. They are interested in a fight against corruption, which was actually and still is, unfortunately, systemic in Moldova. In Ukraine it was negotiations on Donbass, and unfortunately these days we see that Russian brought 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border, but in 2020, those negotiations were still not necessarily positive, but inevitably they were important to the next developments in Ukraine. in Armenia and Azerbaijan, naturally, the war or the armed conflict between them was the main topic. In Armenia war with Azerbaijan reduced, actually, the level of westernisation there and we’ll talk about this. in Azerbaijan, Russian peacekeeping troops are a with boots on the ground there actually increased the dependence of Azerbaijan on Russia, and they also obviously naturally decrease the future westernisation steps by this country. In Kyrgyzstan, the most important event was the third revolution. And we also discuss this in our report, saying that, it was not necessarily positive, because also we could see some backslide in democracy and institutional governance in Kyrgyzstan. In Kazakhstan the most important issue was China’s growing influence there. In Belarus, obviously, mass protests there after the presidential elections. In Uzbekistan (inaudible) comprehensive digitalization, led by the president there and by the government. In Tajikistan a pandemic aggravated economic crisis, and in Turkmenistan denial of Coronavirus would happen; that happens in some other authoritarian states as well. So you could see that we’ve just covered the positive, negative, and uncertain trends. And the unfortunately this year we have only four positives, which is Lithuania’s new female-led government, the Moldovan election of Maia Sandu the president, mass protests in Belarus as a next step in civil society development there and Uzbekistan countries comprehensive digitalization. And you can see that the battle over family values in Estonia we don’t see and we don’t know what will be the outcome. In Ukraine negotiations on Donbass, it was still unclear where it would lead the Ukrainian government and the governance, and in Kyrgyzstan the third revolution still we try to keep optimistic to see where the new government would lead this country. So it’s basically about the report and I’ll stop the presentation here. And I’d be happy to give the conversation to you, Sam.
Samuel Armstrong 20:14
Well, thank you very much indeed, Anatoly, that was very fascinating speaking for myself. We did a kind of veritable rapid tour there. I wonder if we could just drill in a little bit more detail into obviously, the one country that we’ve been speaking about in most detail recently, is Ukraine. Now I know you say that, at the time of publication, the situation there was mixed, it was uncertain, we weren’t sure quite what was or wasn’t going to be happening. Events, obviously, in recent days have taken another term. What do you see of the sort of geopolitical events we’ve seen in recent days impacting on Ukraine’s broader westernisation program? Is it going to be the onus to move further faster? Or is it going to have a negative impact in the coming years?
Anatoly Motkin 21:18
I think that it’s, it’s interesting, but always in Ukraine the voters with pro-Western or pro-Russian aspirations were almost 50/50%. And all this, it was 1 million voters who actually decided who would be the president, either it will be pro-Western or pro-Russian one, after Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea, and some regions of Donbass-Luhansk regions, actually, always now, the pro-Russian voters are a minority. So sorry for this arithmetical and cynical approach, but today, they don’t have a majority there. (inaudible). I think that to Maidans in Ukraine, where those Maidan were uprising, for those who don’t know, in Ukraine in 2004, in 2013, 14, work for European future of Ukraine. So in the first instance, in 2004, and it’s interesting that the both of them were against Yanukovych, which is the same person. So in 2004, it was about their Western choice for Mr Yushenko, as you remember, the Orange Revolution. And in 2013, 2014, the people came to the streets to the central square of Kiev to Maidan, because they were promised by President Yanukovych that he will sign an association agreement with the European Union, and last minute because of the Russian pressure, he refused to sign. So first were the students but you know, some people in the Kremlin believe that they all those who were in the streets were paid for getting there. But we know that the truth is that actually the people in Kiev came to the streets of their own town to protest. So I think that the western agenda still gets a majority in Ukraine. And it stands along from corruption issues, you know, lack of a proper judicial system there in Ukraine. But I still think that, even for President Zelensky, who at the beginning of his career, was a true believer that it just a matter of his sincere conversation with Mr. Putin to get the occupied regions back. And it was very naïve. And it makes Mr Zelensky just a good person who believes that others are also a maybe with a good nature. But unfortunately, we understand that a Russian player is different. And they will never will never leave Ukraine to stay as a prosperous independent state, integrated into Western economy and Western world. So they’ll do anything just to not let Ukraine become sustainable. And that’s one of the reasons, besides the Nord Stream 2 and other issues, that people speculate what is the reason of these 100,000 troops, by Ukrainian border and military planes in the Crimea, and the military vessels there. You can mention different reasons, but the main one is that Russia, they demand that Ukraine stays loyal to Russia, and they will not tolerate independent Ukraine for almost any price. So I think that today, without any doubt, the intention of Ukrainian government is pro-Western. (inaudible). Another thing that was described in an extremely precise manner entered by (inaudible) in our report about Ukraine, that the first stage, the problem of Mr Zelensky, was that he thought that Mr. Poroshenko that his predecessor, had some kind of ownership on European and Western agenda. So he was like trying to think that if he will support vocally the western agenda, he will become a supporter of his predecessor. But then the polls and surveys showed that actually, even the majority of his own voters are supporting, close to 75%, they are supporting that Ukraine will join the EU, and more than 50% joining NATO. So I think that without any doubt today, the agenda in Ukraine is pro-Western.
Samuel Armstrong 25:46
The one question I have just briefly before we move on to other issues in recent weeks, and you know, even from our perch here in London, we’ve noticed that a sense in Ukraine, both from within the administration and from the wider society, and indeed the public, that this degree of frustration that the West has not stepped in to support Ukraine at the moments of national crisis and particular needs. All the while Germany in particular, of course, ploughing ahead with Nord Stream 2, to what extent is there a risk in Ukraine’s scenario that if that if the West is not vocal in its support, it’s not necessarily the case that Ukraine will turn back to the nearby aggressor, but it is the case that there might be a stalling in westernisation as the West is perceived to have let Ukraine down.
Anatoly Motkin 26:43
Thank you for this question. So basically, Russia understood at some stage that if they will ask Ukrainians, what do you choose, the pro-Western vector of development operation, they’ll choose pro-Western, so they’re trying to play on what they call external influence. And by external influence they mean that Western companies are coming to extract the natural resources from Ukraine, but they are doing nothing in exchange. And Russians and some people even in Ukraine believes that Americans are pushing Ukrainians to fight against Russians with Ukrainian hands, which is, you know, not precisely this way. But what is the alternative? The alternative to westernisation in Ukraine is actually Russia or China. There is no third player. It’s not Turkey, it’s not Iran, right? So I don’t think that Ukrainians are eager to work with Russia today, and they don’t have this option. And even if they are frustrated the West is not vocal enough, I think that today, the US Congress provided a more than $200 million of funding for weapons, and including the lack of weapons. And today they’re developing, the United States at least, developing training programs for Ukrainian soldiers and officers. So I think that the mistake of the Obama administration was to try not to frustrate Mr. Putin, I think that Biden’s administration is not the position of trying to be gentle with Mr. Putin. And the last steps just demonstrated more than anything else. So I think that they’ll get more support. And the support of Ukraine in the United States is bipartisan. It’s not just Republicans or Democrats. So you can see on the hill, absolutely they support and also think that the new administration will do more steps in the near future. The question is what will Germany do? And it’s a great question, because it’s the most important player in Europe, in theory I don’t have a clear answer, but I’m concerned.
Samuel Armstrong 28:54
Well, yes, I think that’s my views there. And like you,(inaudible) don’t have the solution but do have the same concerns. The other country that that I suppose in geopolitical terms that most resembles Ukraine, and in that it’s lost portions of its territory to Russia is Georgia. Georgia, as you say, was one of the countries that had a very negative outlook over the last year as COVID hit its tourism revenue. We’ve seen the political turmoil that it’s faced in recent years. What next with Georgia and in particular, I think Georgia is a country to which the West feels an obligation to provide security investments, development. How can the West support it in its journey towards westernisation as it feels the pain of economic disruption?
Anatoly Motkin 29:51
Thank you for this question. I think that Georgia, especially after the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict became much more vulnerable than it was before. So even after the Russian invasion of South Ossetia, (inaudible) Valley region of Georgia and the Abkhazia, we know that this region in fact, was occupied by Russians, starting in 1992 and it’s not a new one but today, it’s like they became recognized as independent states by Putin, by Russia. But let’s get back to the last visit of Mr. Pompeo to Georgia [which] happened just a number of months before he left office. And it was absolutely formal visit unfortunately, without meeting in person with people from civil society and the opposition. And I think it was the wrong signal. I think that in Georgia, it’s important to show that we have interests there. And our interests there is much higher than just a come once a year to shake hands with the government officials. Without making a strong statement and putting boots on the ground in Georgia in any capacity, it could be as a military base, it could be economic interest by Western countries, have investments there. I think that inevitably, it will become part of this Turkey, Iran, Russia, divided region. So today, we have Russian troops deployed and Turkish troops deployed in Azerbaijan and the Russians in Armenia. And you know, that FSB officers because the border control for Russia are FSB officers, they’re controlling each track moving there. So it just a matter of time that Georgia will inevitably become economically will become part of this alliance. And I think that the it’s important that (inaudible) today supported the conflation between the opposition and the government in Georgia, because as you might know, since the elections in October 2020 the opposition refused to get their seats in the parliament. They claimed that the elections were fraudulent. And they there were many accusations of fraud in those elections. But still, there was no facilitator and negotiator strong enough to put them around one table to get some solution and something formal, and I’m happy that they apparently today both sides sign this, and the opposition in Georgia will become part of this political process there.
Samuel Armstrong 32:39
Well, very good, one country for which we’ve got a bit of recent good news. Well you touched there on Azerbaijan and Armenia. Putting asides to one moment the consequences of the conflict. Obviously, we now see some form of proxy war there. What does that mean in terms of the long term westernisation of both countries? Are we going to see two tracks? Are we going to see a divergent future between the two countries? If in a moment you could answer that but just before I turn to that, just to ladies and gentlemen, in the audience, we’re very keen to get you into ask your questions. The only way I can call on you to ask your question to Anatoly is if you ask one. So the question and answer function is down there at the bottom. If you do want to ask a question, please do say I think it’s a strong chance to get to call on you today. So we’re very lucky to have somebody here who’s done all of the research on this great question. So please do please do ask a question by that format. But Armenia and Azerbaijan, what holds for the future for them?
Anatoly Motkin 33:54
I think that in Armenia, we understand that they end, remember that Mr Pashinyan came to power as a result of a peaceful uprising there. I think it was the least violent revolution in this region. And the maybe partially also because it was led by IT guys, and they’re not, you know, too violent. And he was always frustrating Russians, you remember Putin explicitly asked him not to put in jail for corruption one of his predecessors, and some days after he was arrested in Armenia, and they and he was like, you know, pro-Western freak. And the problem with Russians is that they prefer that countries will be run by personalities and not institutions. And when they’ve seen that Mr Pashinyan, trying to set up some proper institutions in Armenia that just may make them mad. And one of the reasons for not interfering on the Armenian side within the conflict was just also to punish Mr Pashinyan. But on the other hand, Putin is very cautious each time it’s about Turkey. So when he saw that Turkey is too engaged on Azerbaijan’s side, he decided that it would not be Turkish army against Russian Army. So he decided just to see, and moreover, I don’t want to make, you know, to frustrate some of our Armenian listeners, but part of those regions, even according to Armenian perception, we’re about to get back to Azerbaijan. It was never about the military conflict, and whenever support military conflicts, but there was there’s supposed to be some kind of reconciliation between the two countries that included some territory going back to Azerbaijan. But getting back to what’s happening in Armenia today, Russians are absolutely controlling what has happened there. And after they, you know, the Minister of Defence Minister of Economy, or the heavy ministers of Russian government getting to Armenia and saying to Pashinyan, what from starting now and on will happen in Armenia. Today, they have absolute control and what happens there, it’s if they would like, I would like to set up some street events that will remove Pashinyan from power, they’re able to do it. in Azerbaijan, it’s different. But still, with the Russian troops there, they’re controlling their the way between the Nakhichevan region, and the Karabakh region and others. And it’s, again, it’s FSB officers. And in some other issues of Azerbaijani economy and politics, I think that projects of Western integration or westernisation would be I think, stopped or put on hold, unfortunately.
Samuel Armstrong 36:55
Thank you for that. The next one I’d like to cover, I know, we’re just scratching the surface with all of these issues and we’re sort of describing a country’s whole future in 50 words or less. Obviously, this year, we’ve seen huge turmoil in in Belarus. Undoubtedly, it feels from the outside that Belarus has taken a step backwards, that there was hope, revolution or a political change, that that would deliver a different future for Belarus, he moment came and it faltered. Is that right? Is the future bleak for Belarus should we should we hold out very little hope for the future there.
Anatoly Motkin 37:40
I think that inevitably, Belarus will have freedom to choose their own government – the question is when. And you should also people when they’re estimating how many people will get to the streets in a normal way. For example, you should take into account that close to 300,000 – 250,000 Belarusians left Belarus, and most within the last half year, it means that most of them are those who are either protesters or to some degree, they were concerned about their future and maybe afraid they will be detained in Belarus. So the most active many of most active people in Belarus these days are residing in Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and other countries, Czech Republic by the way. So I think that it will take some time, but we should remember that the process is in Belarus, with not only civil societies and stakeholder but also Russians. And Russians, Putin, is interested in removing Lukashenko from power, but not as a result of an uprising, because it would be become a bad example for his own population. But still, as we can see according to, you know, very nervous reaction of Mr. Lukashenko, to some signals from Russia, about the constitutional reform and other stuff. I think that they’re trying to move to significantly reduce his power in Belarus. And for Mr. Lukashenko is, you know, his power is his absolute value. And I don’t see him going to get less power than he has today. And so it would be interesting also in terms of confrontation between the Russian authorities and Belarus and we can see that when he asks for new funding for his special services for his budget, they’re not so fast to allow him new funding. So it would be interesting not only in civil society side but we should watch also what happens with Russia-Belarus relations.
Samuel Armstrong 39:59
Fantastic. We’re beginning to get a couple of questions in, please do send some more in, the more the merrier. But I’m going to ask my last question now before we turn to turn to audience questions, at least for a little while, which is of those who were leading westernisation. Amongst these states, there’s those in the Baltic; Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. The first is to say, how are they doing what’s their report card? Very good, very high scores. But the second is, is there a leadership role that they’re playing in the region? And could our friends and allies in the Baltic do more to help lead other post-Soviet states in the in the near Russia region on their journey towards westernisation? Should we should we be asking more of our friends there as regional leaders?
Anatoly Motkin 40:55
Yes I agree with you, we should ask them, and it works. One of our programs that we conduct together with open world, the congressional agency for international exchange, is the young leadership program for young deputy ministers and English speakers under 40 from the Eurasian region. And we always take people from the Baltics, with people from, you know, Central Asia, Caucasus and Eastern Europe. Because for us, the Baltic states are the role model, and we always try to prevent people reinventing the wheel. That means that next time they face some challenges, they could ask their colleague in Tallinn in Estonia, what have you done 25 years ago, maybe we should replicate the same. So I think that Estonia is the most, and I also visit almost all of these countries besides Turkmenistan, that Estonia is the only post-Soviet state that’s absolutely a western country. When you get there, you don’t have this feeling of you know, this is a depressing neighbourhood. Like even today, we have some envious suburbs you can see them. Like it wasn’t like this in Germany, by the way, in beginning of the 90s. But Estonia today is absolutely western country, more similar to a Scandinavian states rather than to their neighbours. Lithuania and Latvia are more complicated, because Latvia has 42% Russian population there and majority of population in Riga, and, and these people are a influenced by Russian television in Latvia. And it’s a huge issue there. I think the integration of Russian population and study is much more successful, as I have seen it there. And Lithuania also I think is there. They need to work hard because of their economic issues, but they’re Western, without any doubt a western country, and actually all three of them, express their will to join both NATO and the EU and they got this and it will take some time. You know, it always take some time. And we see some backslides, like we see in Poland and Hungary. But we know that the (inaudible) still to the West and not to the East.
Samuel Armstrong 43:17
You couldn’t have moved on better there to one of our first questions which has been sent in anonymously, so I can’t call them to ask it live. So I’ll do it on your own behalf. You can do that by the way. If you’re shy of coming on camera, you can send in a question anonymously. And I’ll read it out for you. So please do those as well. And the question reads, how do you expect the Lithuanian economy to develop, the point you’re just touching on, as they do not have substantial resources? What can they develop? And the one point I would add to that is I know Lithuania has had some challenges with corruption recently, particularly at the regional level. And whereas the central governments have been making great steps to eradicate that out clearly there are there are parts of the economy that that are still more post-Soviet in orientation. How can the Lithuanian economy develop more broadly, resource-wise what are the opportunities and how does it tackle those post-Soviet corruption issues?
Anatoly Motkin 44:18
So first, we’re talking about the economy, rather than about politics. So let’s start with the corruption. I think that the digitalization is, you know the answer to accountability and transparency. And I had a conversation with former president of Estonia Thomas Silvus. And he told me that one of his friends told him that he prefers to travel through Latvia, not Estonia because it’s more expensive there. And he asked ‘is the gasoline is more expensive?’. ‘No, no, it’s the same’. So what’s more expensive, he told me that look, in Latvia, you still have the penalties issued by the policeman, so you could break in then it’s cheaper. In Estonia everything is, you have all these cameras and surveillance, so you have nobody to negotiate with – so it’s more expensive. So, once you do things digital, I think that the digital dividends, imported by the World Bank digital dividends, you get the dividends by reducing significantly the level of production. And it what actually happened in on a Ukraine was the ProZorro, the local blockchain procurement system for government offices, and the corruption in procurement integration reduced significantly. So actually, I think digitalization is anti-corruption because we do not believe that you could change in one or 10 years the nature of people, but we are able to just exclude them from the process. And it was the second one, the first one was in Lithuania. Look, it’s true that Lithuania should work harder than Latvia for example, when they had the thriving bank sector. Unfortunately, it was also engaged in money laundering schemes with the big post-Soviet countries. But also they had ports that were actually transferring commodities from Russia or Kazakhstan or other countries to the Baltic Sea. We have almost the same climate in Lithuania. But still, I think that the future is not about commodities, the future is about services and knowledge. And they think that when you look even on authoritarian Belarus, and you have 50,000 tech developers who generate $2.5 billion to the Belarusian economy, I think $2.5 billion for Lithuania is a significant amount of money. And I know that already we have a number of start-ups and a more developed ITtindustry in this way, but I think that the key is a knowledge based economy, and not the fertilizers, or other stuff that we knew from 90s, that worked actually.
Samuel Armstrong 47:05
Fantastic. We’re going to take a question live now if we can. It’s from Fiona. I think you’ve unmuted yourself good to go ahead and ask your question.
Fiona McWilliam-Free 47:19
Thank you very much. Kind of taking looking back out from a research perspective, and with regards to the report as a whole. How was this methodology? How did that come about? What was the marking criteria and how were the individual researchers chosen please?
Anatoly Motkin 47:36
So we should distinguish between report and index. You could see the methodology up to each single point and how it’s been built up, and you could find it in StrategEast.org, and you can find it under the reports, you can find it’s just the beginning of a (inaudible) index. So there is a way clear, with the experts, we work with a different emphasis, mainly US or Western European emphasis, and also our partners are knowledge partners in this survey, or New Europe Center from Kiev, and they work a lot with the European Union and other Western institutions. So they were also in charge of calibrating the results, and not to get different grades for the same result in different countries. So a methodology for the index in their methodology for the report was first to pick up the experts, and then each expert should describe the most important event in his country, in the course of the last year that will significantly influence, or inevitably influence, the results of next year’s index.
Samuel Armstrong 48:54
Fantastic. If I may, I might turn back to a to a question of mine, which is with relation to Moldova, that’s a country that that you’ve pointed out is sort of is not quite there yet. It seems to be neither making progress nor moving backwards. Why do you think Moldova has stagnated where it has and how can the West helps me that forwards.
Anatoly Motkin 49:27
Look the problem in Moldova is not only corruption, the problem with Moldova is that 70% of their population, if we just say I’ll simplify that 70% of the population are above their 50s, so it’s a country where most of their youngsters have left because absolutely legally because their Romanian passports and other means that allowed them to move. But I think that we have two main challenges to Moldova. The key one is corruption, heavy corruption that made Moldova, for some period of time a Russian laundromat in the region, when they were laundering 10s of billions of dollars. And the second one is Transnistria; Russian troops are there and Transnistria became region where you could smuggle any goods and commodities, unfortunately, and they could they conduct any fraud and there are some people who are controlling this region. So Maia Sandu when she got to the office a she called for two things; first, for Russian troops to get out of Moldova, because they were not invited by Moldova. The second one was trying to use the Security Council, that’s exactly what Zelensky is doing these days by the way, in the Ukraine, to use the Security Council, the only executive branch that she has under the president’s office, because you know, Moldova is a Prime Minister has more authority than President. So she tries to use the Security Council to struggle against the corruption there. And I hope that it’s a very strong signal for many people who are living in Moldova, that they have a chance to get a better country. And second, you should know one more thing. She (inaudible) in the election there. And she mainly won, thanks to the Moldovans residing abroad; 260,000 people living abroad voted for her, it means that maybe that it will become better place to live, maybe they’ll get back.
Samuel Armstrong 51:48
Well, there we are. That’s an incentive. Right at the beginning, you said – we’ve got another few questions that will come over in a minute – but right at the beginning, you said you thought Tajikistan this year, might be in a position next year or by within two years’ time to move up a rack? What’s the reason for your optimism, and, again, what should the West be doing in attempting to support it.
Anatoly Motkin 52:16
I think that the most important thing that the West can do, and that’s thanks to the World Bank’s efforts there, and the World Bank conducts the digital CASA, and ‘casa’ is not ‘house’ in Spanish, it’s Central Asia, South Asia, they have a project that assists to develop digital economy and digital infrastructure in Central Asia. And they think that an opportunity to any Tajikistan guy in a rural area to get access to any information inevitably develops first his knowledge, but also it makes a disinformation competitive with the what he sees on the official theory. But also I see some signals from the government that they are interested also to develop that knowledge driven economy there. And they understand that it’s inevitable. Five years ago, they used to think that if they have 1000 people collecting Cotton’s it’s great because they have 1000 jobs. And when I asked them, ‘but what why don’t you have one machine and two people?’ They said to me ‘yes, but we need to feed 998 more people. So we prefer to leave it this way’. I think my feeling is, and when we’ve briefed Tajikistan government board, together with the World Bank, the feedback that they got from them is that they’re motivated to be able to set up a knowledge-driven economy. Moreover, they have a new position since November, I believe, last year of Minister for Innovation and Industry, which is fine. But I think that they they’re trying to do their best now, because they see what happens in Uzbekistan, and what happened in Uzbekistan was really impressive. I mean, in terms of reforms, of transparency, of freedom, of not using the kids labour in a you know, in a cotton harvest and other stuff.
Samuel Armstrong 54:05
That that is deeply positive. Staying in the same local region, we’ve had a question from, again, an anonymous question, but it’s a very good one, which is that it says that Kazakhstan has had substantial investments in its oil and gas sector by Western companies such as Chevron, and Shell that resulted in huge economic developments and technological advances. It appears to be moving away from the West and getting towards China and Russia. Why is this happening?
Anatoly Motkin 54:37
I think that China is a much bigger challenge for Kazakhstan rather than Russia. Because a China are highly investing there. And moreover, there you can see in our report that their ambassador in Kazakhstan allows to himself to criticize the local Government officials to say that you are right, and you’re wrong. And, and the reason is very simple. They thought in the 1990s, that the hydrocarbons is like any commodity, they sell it. But it’s not alone, they have something that the West needs, and the West is able to buy. It never was a condition of the Western companies, not by Chevron or anybody else to see overall rule of law or private property protection or other values that are important to us. I think that the reason that they’re now still working with Western companies, but moving to China, because China is bigger, China’s closer and, one last thing, we have a couple of minutes, we should not forget that even if Kazakh authorities are working and collaborating with China. There are deep protests against China among Kazakhstan’s population against too many service and assessments have been done within the last year. So I think it’s not an absolute matter of collaboration between those countries. But I think still that China thinks that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and all these countries are a part of single world. And they actually have a priority toward Russia and moreover the West in influencing this region.
Samuel Armstrong 56:31
Yes. And if I might close with one question in my mind, which is the Belt and Road initiative. Obviously, all of these countries we look at in the context of were Soviets now westernising or could be westernising, and Russia is this big (inaudible) that could be holding it back. The BRI as I see it has a potential to change all of that, in that you add in this third character, an anti-westernised force different anti-westernised force I suppose, but an anti-westernised force nevertheless, tempting through massive investment, massive aid, massive corporate involvement exports, whatever, to get involved in all of these countries. G7 are obviously talking about their alternative, much smaller, it must be said. But is that the big lurking Dark Horse on the horizon is that casting a shadow over the region’s westernisation prospects.
Anatoly Motkin 57:27
I think that, look, to contradict the Belt and Road initiative, you should propose some alternative, it doesn’t work otherwise, you can say ‘don’t take it, but I will not give you anything’. So either you will think about some kind of, let’s say Marshall Plan for the former Soviet Union. Or you should just watch this. And I just had a conversation with somebody about how to convince some specific government not to purchase Chinese 5G equipment, but rather to deploy the trusted vendors, like Ericsson or Nokia or Samsung. And they told them, at least you should put them in equal conditions. I mean, if it costs 10 cents from the Chinese, you should be providing it for 10 cents, you couldn’t force them to buy for $1. So I think that yes, it started as political initiative. But now it gets traction and in the Belt and Road initiative. And I think that if we do care about this region, we should propose something, which would be a would develop an alternative also in terms of knowledge and IP, and not only in terms of money.
Samuel Armstrong 58:29
Well, fantastic. That’s the solution to a great geopolitical problem. We are out of time. But thank you so much, to our audience. Thank you Anatoly, for joining us. This has been fascinating. I’ve learned a lot I hope many other people have learned a lot. Thank you if you are joining on the YouTube or Facebook live streams. Thank you if you watched those later. All that remains for me to say is thank you very much to our entire audience, for coming. We do have another event coming up on the 26th of April. That’s next week on Iran from the (inaudible) detention, human rights abuses in Iran. If you’re interested in the question of Iran and human rights there, please do come along to that, but for the rest of you, if you’re in London, enjoy the good weather, if you’re joining us from elsewhere. Have a lovely rest of the day. And thank you very much for coming.