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Glasnost Gone

What is Glasnost?

The term ‘Glasnost’ means ‘openness’. This was a pivotal set of reforms instituted by the former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s. This was the first inception of transparency to emerge in the Soviet Empire, and was the closest set of reforms to uncover what truly lies behind the Iron Curtain


Glasnost found itself at the forefront of Soviet politics, ingraining itself in the economic, political and social realms of the state. The economy became well-acquainted with the Global South with trade restrictions lessening, the media saw more freedom of expression and the U.S.S.R. saw itself more aligned with the West.


With Gorbachev at the head of the Kremlin, key relationships emerged between the Soviet Union and the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. The U.S.S.R. was evolving, Gorbachev had seen away with the Cold War with his signature of the INF Treaty of 1997, eliminating the presence of intermediate range nuclear weapons in Europe.


Gorbachev’s economic progress revoked

Economic reforms under Glasnost saw the incorporation of capitalism into the Soviet administration, something that had previously never been thought of as possible. It was thought that this would ‘revitalize the economy’. This involved ameliorating the Soviet Union’s economy to make it comparable to that of its military capability. By 1989, the U.S.S.R. was selling rye bread to one of the most eminent department stores in the United States, Bloomingdales - relations were visibly improving.


However, in contemporary Russia - such positive and influential relations held by the state in the international system have depleted. With President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian state has had to marginalise the exportation of gas into the Global South. In 2021, Russia was responsible for 40% of the natural gas being imported by the E.U. By the latter end of 2022, this figure had dropped to roughly 17%. In the United Kingdom specifically, there is no gas supply provided by Russia. 


Such a situation displays how the premises of Glasnost are gone, the importance of positive trading across the world is no longer something that Russia perceives as feasible. Despite the size of Russia’s coastline being the second longest in the world and St. Petersburg historically being famed for being the ‘Window on the West’, the state is now predominantly limited to trading within the Global North.


The Iron Curtain redrawn

As a perceived symbol of transparency and trust, Glasnost permitted the Soviet people to break away from the former Bolshevik conception that only a select few in society had the right to access certain information. This mode of corruption was at long last being combated through Gorbachev’s reforms, permitting the media to partake in investigations of social and political issues in the Soviet Union, enabling scrutiny


A prominent example of this is seen through the introduction of the platform ‘Novaya Gazeta’. This was one of the first independent news platforms in the Soviet Union which was famed for its unrestricted methods of media presentation - engaging in thorough research and centring on issues facing Soviet citizens. While founded by journalists of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Gorbachev donated money towards the new platform which later became known for its work upon ‘corruption, human rights abuses, electoral fraud, police violence, and other misuses of power’. 


Turning to modern-day Russia, it can be found that the Putin administration has regressed such transparency enabled by Glasnost as Novaya Gazeta has been engrossed in a lawsuit with Roskomnadzor, the Russian censorship authority. This involved threats being placed upon the platform in regards to their licensing rights. 


What does this mean for Russia’s future?

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, sanctions in relation to their trading have been shrinking the economy - to the degree that their GDP has dropped by 2.1%. Due to this, it can be predicted that the Russian GDP will continue to drop if there is no solution implemented in regards to the state’s incredibly poor relations in the international system. This could lead to economic collapse through either the collapse of foreign investment as a whole or a ‘brain drain’ of skilled Russians who hold the capacity to leave. 


In regards to the media, it can be assumed that restrictions upon journalists in Russia will remain in full force. Galina Timchenko - editor in-chief of a Russia-focussed media startup called Meduza, goes as far as to claim that ‘all independent journalists are on the brink of survival. Fighting for their lives and for their audience’. This harrowing account, brings to the forefront the idea that non-state operated journalism may cease to exist completely - indicating that all news in Russia will be produced by the Kremlin. 


The short-lived Glasnost showed that Russia had the potential to be an incredibly influential player in the international sphere. However, Putin’s withdrawal of Gorbachev’s Glasnost policy, showcases that the potential for this positive change is no longer possible - and this may be the case for many years to come.

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