First, let me take this opportunity to thank Concurring Opinions for the opportunity to join as a guest blogger this month. I am looking forward to bringing a bit of international law (and perhaps international politics) to the blog over the coming weeks.
Having just returned from Moscow, I thought I would open my month of blogging with a few thoughts on international law and the new Russia. Russia today is challenging international law and, particularly the trans-Atlantic consensus of transparency, democracy, and human rights, in fundamental ways. It would appear that Russia is attempting to use its newfound power—largely derived from its oil and gas resources—to reshape the international legal system to its own benefit. It is high time that both international lawyers and politicians start paying attention to developments in Russia and looking for ways to constrain Russia’s newfound ambition and power.
A bit of history puts Russia’s place in the international political and legal systems in context. During the 1990s, Russia essentially collapsed inward. Governmental institutions were weak, the economy was a disaster, crime spiraled out of control, and the military was in shambles. The West and, particularly, the United States largely neglected Russia during this period, failing to mount anything close the post-WWII Marshall Plan, that could have brought Russia back into the community of democracies. US claims to victory in the Cold War and Russia’s exclusion from the power centers of Washington, London, and Brussels, left the Russian people with a deep sense of alienation and even humiliation.
Upon assuming the Presidency in 2000, Vladimir Putin set Russia on a new course aimed at reviving its status as a world power. Putin recognized that the consolidation of state power in the Kremlin and the development of Russia’s oil and gas industry could allow Russia to reassert its place on the global stage. A combination of ruthless will, strong-arm tactics, and an extraordinary increase in oil prices allowed Putin to realize these goals. He quickly consolidated state authority through what the Russians term “vertical power”, reducing the authority of regional governors, undermining the independence of the State Duma (parliament) and the courts, and establishing leading state-run monopolies in the natural resource sector. In so doing, he amassed extraordinary popular support among the Russian people who, for the first time in nearly two decades, find themselves with global influence—now derived from oil, not the Red Army—and, for the first time in nearly a century, are amassing wealth at unimaginable rates. As elections approach on March 2nd, the new Russia has extraordinary energy power and the will to use its newfound influence. Putin himself has a cult of personality that allows him and his anointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev, to wield that power almost exclusively as they see fit.
So what does the new Russia mean for international law?