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Rise of the Elite in Lands in Between

The book panel on Mitchell Orenstein’s (U of Pennsylvania, US) The Lands in Between: Russia vs. the West and the new Politics of Hybrid War took place on day one of the ASN Conference on Thursday May 2nd. Accompanying Orenstein was the panel’s moderator, Dmitry Gorenburg (Harvard U, US) and the following participants: Jeffrey Kopstein (UC Irvine, US), Milos Rastovic (Duquesne U, US), Pierre Jolicoeur (Royal Military College, Canada) and Inga Miller (SUNY U, US).

At the beginning of the book panel on Michael Orenstein’s Lands in Between, the author starts with an anecdote on their conversation with the Russian ambassador to the US. When the ambassador was asked whether or not Russia and the US are engaged in some sort of war, they responded with “as the ambassador, I cannot say we are in war”. This simple statement contrasts the last line in Orenstein’s book which essentially states that we are all lands in between - policies of every country are caught in the tug of war between Russia and the West.

Specifically, countries in Central and Eastern Europe face political consequences of the increased polarization of political orientations. This divided context gives rise to corrupt oligarchs and politicians who are able to satisfy both the side of Western integration and Russian reintegration. Moldova’s case was referenced since the head of state epitomizes this type of elite who appears to satisfy one side but in reality favours the other, while receiving funds from both Russia and the West. Likewise, Ukraine’s newly elected president is no exception as they have so far convinced both pro-Russia and pro-EU camps to not be afraid of either type of rapprochement.

On the contrary, Milos Rastovic introduced Serbia as a country that is very much committed to one side of the ideological debate. As a country that has been attacked by NATO 5 times but never by Russia, Serbia may be geographically caught between the West and Russia, but ideologically relates to its Eastern neighbouring country. Russia further reinforces a hostility to Western projects, as Orenstein puts it, because Putin never accepted Western ideals as appropriate to Russia, nor has he embraced the defeat of the Soviet Union. In addition, while EU sanctions negatively affects itself, these consequences are minimal compared to those in Russia. Effectively, Orenstein emphasized that Russia’s economy is small but with recent pipelines, like North Star, both Europe and Russia begin to rely on one another.

However, the second factor that leads Russia to reject all Western projects is its construction of a mafia state, one where politics collaborates with business. Evidently, this model is not compatible with the EU and rule of law. While the EU and Russia may reinforce one another with newfound energy projects, Russia’s business elite set an example for others in lands caught in between the war between Russia and the West.

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