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April 03, 2017

On the meaning of the Navalny protests

We will continue to consider Russian politics as outside our reservation, except for areas that interface directly with our interests. One of our specific interests are the long-term prospects of regime change, which would have a profound impact on Europe. In this context we noted an interesting article by Anna Arutunyan who made a strong argument that the protests organised by Alexei Navalny may constitute the beginning of the end of the Putin regime. 

The protest, as she points out, are actually not directed against Putin himself, but against his prime minister and predecessor as president, Dmitry Medvedev. The protesters were calling for an inquiry into allegations that Medvedev enriched himself personally through a network using fake charities to hide his wealth, and which was funded by Russian oligarchs. What makes those protests different from past ones is that they are no longer confined to Moscow and St Petersburg, but are spread evenly throughout the country. The protesters displayed a level of organisation previously unknown in Russia. Navalny and his supporters operate far more strategically than previous generations of protester: by emphasising corruption, they picked on a subject that ordinary Russians really care about. It is their number one complaint about their own country. She concludes with the observation that the protests could well represent a shift for Russian civil society that previous protests did not accomplish. While no one really expects the Kremlin to hold an investigation, it is not considered the least likely outcome. She concludes that Navalny does not fit into any of the typical categories of protesters. He is not a populist, nor a pro-Western liberal. But, by focusing on corruption, he has chosen the current regime’s most vulnerable spot.

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April 03, 2017

On the surreal nature of Italy’s political debate

There has been an exchange of views on Italy’s sustainability in the eurozone between Wolfgang Munchau and Fabrizio Saccomani in Corriere della Sera. Munchau made three points in his article. The first is that the political debate in Italy greatly underestimated the problem of the country’s sustainability in the eurozone. The second is that Italian governments have tended to accept treaties that they had no intention of following, like the fiscal compact; or that were evidently not in the country’s best interest, like the ESM treaty. Munchau also notes a degree of complacency by Italy’s political class, about how much the constitution can protect them against euro exit.

“I would strongly discourage anyone from taking the view that a euro exit is impossible because it is not allowed. Political and economic history is full of contrarian examples. When a monetary arrangement is no longer economically sustainable and when all avenues to make it sustainable have been exhausted, it ends. Always.“

Saccomani accepts that there is not enough attention being paid in the Italian political debate to the problem of debt, but he downplays its importance. He writes that, thanks to the policy of various administrations in the past few years, Italy was now at the point where debt is falling in relation to GDP, through privatisations and deficit reductions. He writes that the next elections will offer Italians a choice between pro- and anti-Europeans. 

He also defended himself - and his successors - against the accusation that Italy agreed to contracts it had no intention of following. It was Italy’s agreement on the fiscal compact that paved the way for Mario Draghi’s OMT programme, and it was Enrico Letta’s policy of deficit reduction that got Italy out of the excessive deficit procedure.

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