Voters faced a difficult decision last March, Vladimir Putin or Vladimir Putin. On March 18th, Putin won the Russian elections for the fourth time and following this unsurprising victory, SIB organized a lecture to discuss the future of nation. To aid our lecture, we invited Tony van der Togt. Besides being a former member of our association, Van der Togt works as a Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute. He established the first Dutch Embassy in Kazakhstan and is extremely knowledgeable about Russia and its leader. Our second speaker of the day was Andre Gerrits, a former colleague of Van der Togt, as a Senior Researcher Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, and currently active as a professor of International Studies and Global Politics, based in The Hague.
Tony van der Togt gave an overview of the current situation and internal affairs of Russia, referring to the 2018 elections as a “peculiar” one. Even though there were eight candidates, there really was no alternative to Vladimir. However, Van der Togt highlighted the future potential of Ksenia Sobchak, the young star, who was out campaigning in the U.S. and other western states to increase her foreign credibility. Nonetheless, she only received around 2% of the votes. Putin aimed at 70-70, getting 70% of the votes and a 70% turnout. The majority he got indeed, with over 77% of the votes, however, the turnout was not as good, and Van der Togt linked this to Putins strategy, which was really focused on international affairs with the West, military strength and perceived victories abroad, especially in Crimea. Moreover, Putin only very late announced that he was going to run again, potentially trying to not raise the public’s expectations to high.
Still, Putin won without any problems, so, what’s next? Van der Togt highlighted two scenarios. The first scenario would be a period of stagnation coupled with renationalization because of a fear of instability. The second scenario focuses on modernization, following a generational change and coupled with better relations with the West. Currently, Van der Togt argued that this need for a change can already be seen in the Generation P(utin), a group of youngsters who grew up under Putin’s reign and are becoming “a-political” and “fed up with the current political system.” Furthermore, due to the stagnating economic growth they could potentially be a force for change. Currently, this group is a very small minority and hence causes no fear amongst the sitting government. Moreover, Van der Togt highlighted the fact that the Putin administration aimed to modernize its technology industry using a top-down approach. For example, their efforts to heavily investing in their own Silicon Valley, Zelenograd, which has definitely not yielded the same results as its American competitor.
Andre Gerrits followed up Van der Togt’s talk and immediately stated his reservations about the potential of the second scenario and argued that the current Russian economy is not doing bad at all. He strongly argued that we shouldn’t look at Russia applying a Western lens. Gerrits focused more on the external affairs and foreign relations regarding Russia, the West, China and the Middle East. The election results, he argued, “are a poor indicator of the political conditions” in the nation. The barrier against any democratic change does not necessarily come from above, as the reality is that in Russian society there is very little widespread ambition for western reforms; “an unspoken agreement between the elite and a large part of society. Most Russians are in favour of the decisions that Putin has made and his
foreign policy decisions. Gerrits, furthermore, argued that Putin uses his foreign decisions to create and maintain a Western “evil” to keep the Russian distracted from the internal struggles of the nation.
However, Putin might have taken this strategy too far. His relations with the West are at an all-time low. Even though Putin won Crimea, he lost Ukraine and since 2014 his relatively pragmatic approach to foreign policy seems to be getting the best of him. Following the debacle with the UK, many EU member states have shown their teeth and moved out Russian diplomats and increased sanctions. So, what is next for Putin? Gerrits explained the importance of having power in Russia and linked this to one of Putin’s first decrees as acting president by granting Mr. Yeltsin immunity from criminal or administrative investigations, including protection of his papers, residence and other possessions from search and seizure. “If you lose your power you lose your wealth.” You can also see this in the main political figures and the current Russian elites, most are friends of Putin holding a vested interest in the continuation of the current system. It seems likely that Putin will appoint his own successor behind the scenes to insure he receives the same immunity he granted to Yeltsin.
Gerrits also highlighted some options Putin has to increase his relations with the West, without losing his internal power. Where Van der Togt argued that Russia should focus on promoting free media, Gerrits states that scaling down the anti-western propaganda seems an unlikely decision to take for the Russians. He argues that Russia can retract its interventions in the internal political affairs in Ukraine, however he also stated that it is still uncertain whether Moscow actually overpowers the separatists. Another option is Korea, where Russia fears being marginalized by China, where by working together with the West they can increase their relations without becoming marginalized.
Both Van der Togt and Gerrits agreed that the current situation in Russia is stable, but externally Russia is stepping on many toes and its own population does not seem to attribute a lot to the global power position of Russia anymore. What’s next remains to be seen, but Russia has many options to increase its relations with the West and vis-versa there are opportunities as well. Nonetheless, the future of Putin’s Russia is still to be seen, but seems unlikely that Putin
will hand over his power anytime soon.
Next month we organize another lecture: The Future of Space Exploration, on May 14th . This lecture will focus on the current and future developments in the great beyond and the ways in which nation states and multinational actors are shaping our future.
On Monday the 12th of March we had a lecture about International Cyber Security and the ‘Sleepwet’. Below you can find a summary of this evening.
Will it be YES or NO? That was the big question that the Netherlands population could vote on, besides the municipal elections, on March the 21st . The AIVD and MIVD need better tools to protect us, but is the WiV or the Sleepwet the tool we want to give them? This was the topic of debate during the SIB Lecture on International Cyber Security and the Sleepwet on the 12th of March at CREA.
“Scaring people with myths stating that every single person will be watched following the ‘Sleepwet’ does not get us anywhere.” – Peter Koop
Peter Koop, our first speaker, is very well acquainted with the topic and has been writing blogs on the secret services, cryptography and communication surveillance in the Netherlands and the world since 2012. Following the Snowden-revelations he is one of the few people who critically analysed these documents and he shared his intricate knowledge of the topic. Regarding the ‘Sleepwet’ he has been very critical of the language that many media outlets adopted, without really informing the people of its merits. “Eavesdropping is not the right terminology, in most cases the Sleepwet is focused on internet communications being intercepted, filtered and analysed.” Peter explained how the secret services will effectively be able to use the “OnderzoeksOpdrachtGerichte” (OOG) interception, which basically is collecting data on a big scale, using existing telephone and internet tapping systems. This is one of the points of critique that the Sleepwet faces. As the Sleepwet, dragnet, will not only focus on gather data on specific targets, but drag everybody in a certain area into the database. Peter explained the difficulties with realizing this system as the shear amounts of data would be too much to handle for the servers in place. Hence, the Sleepwet, will filter a lot of the data and only save metadata and use “contact-chaining” filtering the data to that “that is most relevant.”
Many, however, disagree with this dragnet method: “our freedom and democracy are being pressured as all our digital interactions are mediated. These values are worth protecting.” Hans de Zwart, director of Bits of Freedom and our second speaker of the evening, strongly opposes the Sleepwet. He argued that the Sleepwet allows the secret services to utilise too far reaching tools unproportioned to the issue they aim to tackle. He followed up Peter’s explanation of the dragnet, as “nobody is sure whether it is going to work and the necessity is not proven.” Moreover, he explained how the AIVD and MIVD can through cooperating parties can directly access vast amounts of personal data. Also, he introduced the concept of ‘zero-days’, unknown vulnerabilities of software, discovered without notifying the software developer, allowing those who know to abuse these loopholes. “Surely this is unethical for the government to legally apply.”
Following the two talks, the Peter and Hans went into debate, where Hans passionate opposition and Peter’s factual knowledge of the Sleepwet came to the same conclusion. There is definitely a need for a new Cybersecurity law in the Netherlands, however the current proposed law has a lot of flaws that need to be addressed adequately. Both Peter and Hans agree that the CTIVD needs to get the power to immediately stop the secret services if their conduct is not lawful. Moreover, we need more clarity on the what will happen with the collected data and the efficiency of the dragnet within the WiV. However, Peter explicity states that the only way to truly find out how effective this law can be, it needs to be put to practice, whereas Hans states that in its current form, applying the law is unethical.
For now, it is NO. Following the results of the Referendum, the population, with a small majority, voted against the law, which prompts the government to rethink the current proposal. It will be remained to be seen whether the law will be amended by the government, but at least the law lead to a heated discussion about the balance between security and
On April 9th SIB will follow up this lecture with a lecture on the Russian Elections and the
Future of Putin’s Russia. See our Facebook page for more information.
On the 12th of June, SIB-Amsterdam organizes a new lecture: The End of the Financial Crisis? – Lessons and a Look at the Future.
In 2007 the Financial Crisis started in the United States and through the global financial system it quickly spread across the world. Since then on multiple occassions we’ve heard pronouncements by national and international authorities that the recession or the crisis is now truly over. Is it? What lessons have we learned? Will our economy be able to resist a new crisis? And what to think about the Euro? SIB-Amsterdam will take a look at this with several experts.
This time the lecture will be in the Muziekzaal, instead of the Theaterzaal.
Free for students, €5 for non-students
Since the end of the Second World War it has seemed at times as if politics throughout the Middle East was shaped the conflict in Israel/Palestine. In the previous years we have seen a shift in this. In Iraq, Syria, Yemen and throughout the Gulf, international relations seems to be dominated in the rivalry between the Sunni and the Shia, the Sunni broadly led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shia led by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
With this lecture we would like to take a closer look at the origin of this still ongoing conflict between these two countries. We will take a look at the numerous internal and external factors that perpetuate the conflict and on top of that there will also be a discussion about the various (inter)national consequences of this rivalry. SIB-Amsterdam will take a look at this conflict together with several distinguished speakers.
Paul Aarts teaches at the University of Amsterdam where he specializes in the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi-Arabia and Iran in particular. His most recent pop-science book is Saudi Arabia – A Kingdom in Peril (in Dutch Saoedi-Arabie͏̈ – de revolutie die nog moet komen) together with Carolien Roelants.
Peyman Jafari is an expert of Iran, the country which he once fled together with his parents. He is a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam and he has written the book ‘Het andere Iran – van de revolutie tot vandaag’(The Other Iran, from the revolution to today).
The lecture will be held on Monday the 10th of April from 20:00 to 22:00 in CREA Amsterdam and will be in English.
This lecture is free for students, and 5 euros for non-students.
[This lecture is in English / Deze lezing is in het Engels]
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei all claim parts of the South China Sea. They have done so for decades. Yet in recent years tensions are rising. In 2016 an international court in The Hague backed the Philippines, arguing the China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights. China boycotted the ruling. So, can the South China Sea dispute be resolved in the future? Or are the concerns that this dispute could turn into a global conflict well founded? And what will happen now that the Trump presidency has begun?
As usual our lectures will enlighten you on this international topic. Interested? Join us on March 6th in CREA at 8pm!
This lecture is free for students and 5 euros for non-students.
There will be a Facebook livestream.
From the 6th until the 10th of February SIB-Amsterdam organises its annual Spring Theme Week. During this week SIB organises activities with a cohesive theme. The theme of this year will be ‘NATO in Europe’.
On Monday the 6th of February we will have our first activity: a lecture. The subject is very present, seen the statements Donald Trump has made during his campaign. Trump wasn’t pleased with the allocation of the costs. What will be the future of the NATO in Europe? Various subjects will be discussed, such as security, safety and terroris