Putin’s New Man at Brussels

News Abroad

Dr. Andreas Umland teaches at the National Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv, edits the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” (www.ibidem-verlag.de/spps.html), and compiles the biweekly “Russian Nationalism Bulletin” (groups.yahoo.com/group/russian_nationalism/). This comment was first published at "Russia Profile" (russiaprofile.org).

On 10th January 2008, the Russian President named Dmitry Rogozin (b. 1963) as his government’s new ambassador at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. Vladimir Putin’s appointment should raise attention in the West as it is a move that, in many ways, exemplifies what is currently going on in Moscow and where Russia is heading. Rogozin’s promotion is characteristic of a number of recent trends in both domestic and foreign policies of the Kremlin.

First, like Rogozin’s previous appointments as envoy to the Council of Europe and European Union, his last one is a slap in the face of the West. The new NATO envoy is an infamous nationalist with manifold links to racist and antisemitic circles throughout his political career. From the beginning of his rise, Rogozin’s image has been that of a “protector” of ethnic Russians in and outside the Russian Federation, as well as of a rabidly anti-Western pan-Slavist. He was founder and co-founder of various nationalist groupings one of which openly demanded, among other things, to make homosexualism a criminal offense. At a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Rogozin made Europe responsible for the horrors of Soviet communism - in as far as Marxism was imported to Russia from the West.

Second, Rogozin and his family come from the upper echelons of the Soviet ruling elite. His own father was a high official in the USSR Ministry of Defense whereas his wife’s father was a KGB General. Rogozin began his career in the Komsomol. This is a kind of background that fits into general trends in current Russian elite formation.

Third, while being an offspring of the Soviet elite, Rogozin is no Soviet-type bureaucrat. Apparently, he was never a member of the CPSU, and received a – by Russian standards – distinguished education including intensive training in a number of European languages. He holds degrees in journalism, economics and philosophy from some of Moscow’s best colleges, and has accumulated considerable experience in international affairs. NATO’s officers should get ready for a relatively sophisticated negotiator who will be more complicated to handle than the army generals that Moscow had previously been sending to Brussels.

Fourth, Rogozin’s rise was once a project of the Kremlin’s “political technologists.” At the beginning of the decade, his party Rodina (Motherland) was created as an alternative to the pro-Putin United Russia party. This was a time when the Kremlin was still interested in keeping the façade of democracy, and apparently trying to create a fake two-party system. However, Rodina turned out to be more successful than intended, and less submissive than anticipated. As Rogozin sharpened his public profile and emerged as an unruly political leader with increasing popularity, the Kremlin got wary of the Rodina experiment and dissolved the movement. For a couple of years, Rogozin largely disappared from public life. The remnants of Rodina became parts of the new Just Russia bloc, another Kremlin project designed, like Rodina, to draw votes away from the Communist Party, Russia’s only significant political force that is not (yet) under control by the Kremlin.

In connection with these developments, it appears that Rogozin may not only have been promoted to NATO envoy, but also exiled to Brussels. At the same time, this career jump is seemingly designed to incorporate him into the state apparatus and thus neutralize him as an independent figure. Rogozin complied and made an announcement addressed to his former allies in the nationalist movement. He called them to enter too governmental structures and to try to change the Russian state from within.

Rogozin’s promotion is thus a symptom of larger trends in Moscow. Nationalism is emerging as an ideology that unites actors who have previously competed with each other. In a way, the new NATO envoy – his background, biography and profile – personifies the new Russian political mainstream. In Brussels, he will represent well what Russia is and wants today.

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Arnold Shcherban - 2/11/2008

Whatever Russia does is bad, nationalistic, and undemocratic.
Whatever the West does (unless getting closer to Russia) is good, internationalistic, and democratic to the bone. This seems to be an unbiased
position taken by such "internationalistic" observers as Andreas Umland.
The rest of his comments is just natural consequence of that premise.