Russia has played an outsized role in the development of modern authoritarian systems, especially in media control, propaganda, the smothering of civil society, and the weakening of political pluralism, according to the new Freedom House report, Breaking Down Democracy: The Goals, Strategies, and Methods of Modern Authoritarians.
In doing so, it has deployed a range of ‘soft power’ instruments and institutions, including a prominent bank.
“Vnesheconombank, or VEB (left), is no normal bank. It is wholly owned by the Russian state. It is intertwined with Russian intelligence. And the Russian prime minister is, by law, the chairman of its supervisory board,” The New York Times reports:
To that end, VEB over the last decade has lent freely in ways that dovetail with government priorities and make it a tool of Russian soft power. The purse strings opened for two influential groups in particular: oligarchs building Olympic sites in Sochi and companies in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine….
“This is not a bank,” said Karen Vartapetov, a public finance analyst at Standard & Poor’s. “We should rather treat this bank as a government agency. It is used by the government as a tool to invest in politically and socially important but not always financially viable projects.”
The bank’s importance to the ruling elite explains why it is seeking to get sanctions lifted, notes Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer who has represented Russian dissident Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky.
“Putin doesn’t have to worry about what the voters think of him,” Mr. Amsterdam said. “Putin has to think about the top 100. And the top 100 are those who are sanctioned,” he told the Times:
In fact, say businessmen who have worked in Russia, so many F.S.B. agents are in the upper management of state-owned companies that the roles of spy and executive blend almost seamlessly.
“In Putin’s Russia, they don’t draw a distinction,” said Amsterdam.
The age of what Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu likes to call ‘information warfare forces’ is here to stay, reports suggest.