Russia in 2011-12
LEON ARON: Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong
*And why it matters today in a new age of revolution.
(Foreign Policy Magazine July/August 2011)
Every revolution is a surprise. Still, the latest Russian Revolution must be counted among the greatest of surprises. In the years leading up to 1991, virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it one-party dictatorship, the state-owned economy, and the Kremlin’s control over its domestic and Eastern European empires. Neither, with one exception, did Soviet dissidents nor, judging by their memoirs, future revolutionaries themselves. When Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party in March 1985, none of his contemporaries anticipated a revolutionary crisis. Although there were disagreements over the size and depth of the Soviet system’s problems, no one thought them to be life-threatening, at least not anytime soon.
The moral imperative of freedom is reasserting itself, and not just among the limited circles of pro-democracy activists and intellectuals. … It was the same intellectual and moral quest for self-respect and pride that, beginning with a merciless moral scrutiny of the country’s past and present, within a few short years hollowed out the mighty Soviet state, deprived it of legitimacy, and turned it into a burned-out shell that crumbled in August 1991.
The Wrath of Putin Vanity … as elections approach and demonstrators spill into the streets, Masha Gessen chronicles the clash of two titans [Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Putin], each of whom has badly underestimated the other. (April 2012 issue)
Chatham House Russia and Eurasia
Putin signs ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children
(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday that bans Americans from adopting Russian children and imposes other sanctions in retaliation for a new U.S. human rights law that he says is poisoning relations.
Washington has called the new Russian law misguided, saying it ties the fate of children to “unrelated political considerations”, and analysts say it is likely to deepen a chill in U.S.-Russia relations and harm Putin’s image abroad.
Six children whose adoption has already been decided in court will go to the United States, while 46 other children whose adoption was still underway must stay in Russia, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Dozhd television channel.
The new law, which has also ignited outrage among Russian liberals and child rights’ advocates, takes effect on January 1.
Two Russian Narratives
Andrew Wood, December 2012
(Chatham House) — The prevailing mood in much of Russia is the fear of incipient stagnation and eventual political crisis. The original Putin formula of stability, in the sense of leaving politics to those in power in exchange for increasing wealth for those outside the magic circle, has been compromised.
— The more authoritarian the Russian regime becomes, the greater the risk to its legitimacy and ultimately, its power. Putin has become the linchpin of a fully personalized system.
— A full and proper exchange of ideas is a necessary preliminary to the renewal of Russia’s polity.
Russia’s Bridge to Nowhere
(Foreign Policy) Since 1992, the population of Russia’s easternmost region, Primorye, has shrunk by 352,000 people to less than two million. … In order to stop the brain drain, Russian authorities decided to build a better-looking façade on the Asian end of the country. In the past five years, Moscow has spent over $20 billion worth of new roads, bridges and buildings in the province in the lead-up to the summit. … The glitz of the summit cannot mask the slow death of this city, but for now, Vladivostok residents are doing their best to enjoy their moment in the spotlight. With world leaders visiting this week, the main streets were cleaned up and groomed, music, circus and laser shows were held on the city’s embankment.
For Putin, Report Says, State Perks Pile High
(NYT) In the report, sarcastically titled “The Life of a Galley Slave,” after the president’s own description of his tenure in office, Russian opposition leaders describe what they call an extraordinary expansion of presidential perks during the 12 years since the start of Mr. Putin’s first term as president — palaces, a fleet of jets and droves of luxury cars.
Among the 20 residences available to the Russian president are Constantine Palace, a Czarist-era estate on the Gulf of Finland restored at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, a ski lodge in the Caucasus Mountains and a Gothic revival palace in the Moscow region. The president also has at his disposal 15 helicopters, 4 spacious yachts and 43 aircraft, including the main presidential jet, an Ilyushin whose interior is furnished with gold inlay by artisans from the city of Sergiyev Posad, an Airbus and a Dassault Falcon. The 43 aircraft alone are worth an estimated $1 billion, the report says.
This, the authors note, “in a country where many people hardly make ends meet.”
Kyle Matthews: ‘Boycott Sochi Olympics in the name of Syria’
Perhaps the best approach would be to raise the stakes for Russia, just high enough that Putin will blink and reign in Assad. A large group of countries announcing they intend to boycott the upcoming Sochi Olympics could have a lasting impact. …
A unified boycott of Sochi in the name of Syria could add an international voice to the chorus of discontent threatening to undermine [Putin’s] authority. While this strategy would take courage, it should be discussed by the international community as a possible way to exert pressure on a country that is enabling crimes against humanity in Syria.
U.S.: Russia is sending Syria attack helicopters
(WaPost) Speaking at the Brookings Institution, [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton called instead for Moscow to help the U.S. push forward a political transition plan for Syria.
There was no immediate response from Russia. Russia has consistently said it would not condone the use of outside forces to end the conflict and has said that it would not supply arms that would aid the government in quelling the uprising.
Russia Protests: Tens Of Thousands Rally Against Putin
(HuffPost) Undeterred by a sudden escalation in the Kremlin’s crackdown on the opposition, tens of thousands of Russians flooded Moscow’s tree-lined boulevards Tuesday in the first mass protest against President Vladimir Putin since his inauguration in May.
Opposition leaders put the number of protesters at 120,000, while police estimated that about 20,000 showed up. The crowd appeared to be smaller than at the anti-Putin demonstrations ahead of the March presidential election, which drew as many as 100,000 people, but the turnout was still impressive in a country where such political protests had brought out no more than a few hundred people only several months ago.
Putin Remains Adamant: No Regime Change in Syria
(EIRNS)—Russian President Vladimir Putin used the occasion of his first overseas trip taking office, to forcefully assert that Russia will not allow any foreign military intervention for regime change in Syria. First in Berlin, during his meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on June 1, and later … with President François Hollande, Putin stressed that his government will block any attempt to push a military option through the United Nations Security Council.
Finnish PM challenges Russian general’s criticism of NATO-Finland relationship
(NATO Source) According to Finland’s Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, Finnish NATO membership would not threaten Russian security. Katainen entered the debate during his visit to Washington DC.
”Finland is a free country,” said the PM. ”Both Finns and foreign guests can speak quite freely in our country, but Finland will make decisions on own own defence and security based on our own basis.”
Top Russian general criticizes Finnish-NATO cooperation
From YLE via NATO Source): “Military cooperation between Russia and NATO is progressing well and is beneficial to both parties. In contrast, cooperation between Finland and NATO threatens Russia’s security. Finland should not be desirous of NATO membership, rather it should preferably have tighter military cooperation with Russia,” said [Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Gen. Nikolai] Makarov.
Makarov accused Finland of supporting attempts by Georgian “revanchists” to retake South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He also questioned Finland’s right to hold military exercises on its own territory.
Not (Y)our Father’s Russia
By David T. Jones
(American Diplomacy) It was the classic “bucket trip”—a journey of discovery to a long-anticipated geographic or intellectual Shangri-La before you “kicked the bucket.” Despite having spent a 30-year career as a U.S. diplomat, primarily focused much of that period on East-West arms control negotiations, I never visited the then Soviet Union. Nor had my wife, who left the USSR as a refugee child, returned for over 60 years.
Gorbachev says revive Russian social democratic party
(Reuters) – Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev proposed on Wednesday reviving a social democratic party in Russia in the hope of uniting leftist groups opposed to President-elect Vladimir Putin.
Medvedev vows to reopen controversial Khodorkovsky case
(The Independent) Several high-profile criminal cases would be re-examined, said Mr Medvedev, including that of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly an oil tycoon and Russia’s richest man.
Critics cry fraud as poll gives Putin third term in Kremlin
President, then Prime Minister, and now President again as Russia’s most powerful post-Soviet leader reasserts his grip
(The Independent) Mr Putin had suggested during the campaign that the street protests against his rule are directed from abroad and aimed at destabilising Russia, a theme he repeated in his victory speech last night.
Goodspeed Analysis: Vladimir Putin’s regime facing the ‘beginning of the end’
(National Post) Russia’s political future may not be decided in Sunday’s presidential election but rather in the days immediately after, as a new emerging middle class asserts itself and demands an end to Vladimir Putin’s “imitation democracy.”
The politically mobilized middle class is just beginning to assert itself and many experts predict Mr. Putin’s return to power may usher in a new period of uncertainty.
Putin – our president! – The lack of a credible alternative to Putin in the upcoming Russian elections leaves voters ‘a choice without a choice’.
By Sergei Khrushchev
Sergei Khrushchev, Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
(Al Jazeera) In the current political spread there are simply no alternatives. This is not because Russia has fallen into decline, but simply because the Kremlin democracy is set up so that it seems as if there are people to choose from, but in reality there is no choice. But what is good for Medvedev and Putin, is not necessarily good for Russia, even if, and I want to believe this, they both truly want what is best for the country.
Russia accuses U.S. of electoral interference
(RCI) Russia on Thursday accused the United States of trying to influence its election process by funding opposition groups in advance of Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the Kremlin in weekend polls. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivered a scathing critique in which he accused the United States of following Cold War-era stereotypes and trying to talk down to Russia. The remarks echo similar accusations by Mr. Putin and follow a state-led crackdown on a private Moscow-based election monitor called Golos that openly receives funding from the West.
Putin’s hollow victory-to-be
(WaPost) A runoff is out of the question in Sunday’s Russian presidential election: Vladimir Putin has to win in the first round. Officials, members of the establishment and other loyalists have resorted to blatant manipulations and abuse of government authority to ensure this imperative. … Since the government shows no interest in changing its practices, the rift between government and Russia’s modernized constituencies is becoming irreparable. Putin will win Sunday’s presidential election, but this growing alienation will steadily erode his power.
Russians form miles-long human chain for democracy
(CSM) Some protesters in Moscow blamed President Vladimir Putin personally for Russia’s lack of openness. But many said they were more focused on long-term democratic reforms.
Russia’s protests — Just making our feelings known
Large street protests are transforming Russia’s political landscape—with unpredictable consequences
(The Economist) With less than a month to go before the presidential election on March 4th, the discussion is not about whether Vladimir Putin will win (he will), but about how long he will last and what may come next. The atmosphere of danger and excitement among protesters two months ago has been replaced by one of giddiness and celebration. The first mass protest, triggered by blatant vote-rigging in Moscow in the December 4th parliamentary elections, gathered some 7,000 people and was followed by police clashes with the activists. Two months later, on February 4th, ten times as many people strolled, unhindered, towards the Kremlin chanting “Russia without Putin”.
The Snow Revolution’s Orange Shadow by Anders Åslund
(Project Syndicate) Vladimir Putin’s regime is warning Russians that their budding “Snow Revolution” will be as big a mistake as the Ukrainian Orange Revolution of 2004. The Orange Revolution was no mistake, but it should serve as a lesson to Russians that a just cause is no guarantee of victory.
Russia’s Inevitable Democratization
Sergei Guriev and Aleh Tsyvinski Series: A Window on Russia
Twenty years ago, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, the Soviet Union ended, and Russia began an imperfect transition to democratic capitalism. And yet the recent protests – somewhat similar to those that preceded the Soviet collapse – provide grounds for cautious optimism about the future
Dominique Moisi: A Russian Spring?
(Project Syndicate) Russia is not Egypt. And Moscow is not on the eve of revolution as Cairo was less than a year ago. Indeed, Russia’s powerful have at their disposal assets that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime lacked.
As an energy superpower, Russia can open its coffers to appease, at least in part, the humiliation that it has inflicted on its citizens by falsifying the country’s recent legislative election results. And not all Russians are in the streets. We should beware of the “zoom effect,” which made many people believe that the young protesters of Cairo’s Tahrir Square were fully representative of Egyptian society. They were not. Rural Egypt, like rural Russia, is much more conservative than the young elites who seize the world’s imagination with their protests and embrace of modern social media.
Furthermore, Mubarak was old and sick, and no longer enjoyed the trust of his people. Vladimir Putin, by contrast, exudes energy and health, and may still reassure many segments of Russian society whose main concern is their country’s glory rather than its citizens’ happiness.
Yet Putin may be overplaying the macho card so excessively that it could backfire and contribute to his isolation from Russia’s urban and more educated voters.
The End of Putin
Alexey Navalny on why the Russian protest movement will win.
(Foreign Policy) Navalny has been in opposition politics for nearly a decade, but in the last two years, he has become the man to watch, becoming the first of his opposition colleagues to turn rhetoric and abstract principles into concrete action. First, Navalny (trained as a lawyer) started taking corrupt state corporations to court and blogging about it. Then he created a site called RosPil that crowdsourced the work of exposing questionable government deals. … In effect, Navalny trained a set of thousands of Russian Internet dwellers to do something concrete with their disaffection. And by the time the election season kicked off, in March, Navalny’s mantra of “vote, and vote for anyone but United Russia” found a deep resonance among his following, and quickly spread.
Putin calls Russia protesters ‘leaderless’
(Al Jazeera) Facing biggest challenge yet in 12 years of rule, PM rejects demand for election rerun but promises “clean” March vote.
‘Extremist’ writings of ex-Canadian MP, lawyer banned in Russia because of criticisms of China
(National Post) An appeals court in Russia has held that writings by former Canadian MP David Kilgour and prominent human rights lawyer David Matas constitute banned extremist literature that “can create for the readers a negative image of China.”
As a result, both men could be subject to criminal prosecution if they were ever to go to Russia to discuss their investigations of organ harvesting against executed Falun Gong practitioners by Chinese authorities, which are detailed in two reports and a book, Bloody Harvest.
A Warning Shot For Putin
Parliamentary Elections and the Reawakening of Russian Politics
(Foreign Affairs) With its entrenched advantages, the Kremlin’s United Russia party should be safe for now — but if Vladimir Putin doesn’t acknowledge the widespread dissatisfaction with his rule, he may soon find that force is the only way to preserve his regime.
Russia’s Plan to Disrupt U.S.-European Relations
(Stratfor) Tensions between the United States and Russia have risen in the past month over several long-standing problems, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and supply lines into Afghanistan. Moscow and Washington also appear to be nearing another crisis involving Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov says he will challenge Putin in presidential election
(WaPost) “The society is waking up,” Prokhorov said at the news conference in Moscow to announce his candidacy. “Those authorities who will fail to establish a dialogue with the society will have to go.” … The tycoon said he has never had a chance to meet with Putin or Medvedev to talk about his botched attempt to build a liberal party. But he expects the presidential campaign will help him build a new party — this time not with the help of the Kremlin, but with the assistance of Russia’s grass-roots activists.
Putin accuses U.S. of meddling in election protests
(Foreign Policy) Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the United States had helped orchestrate the protests in Russia over the results of the recent parliamentary election. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said, “gave [opposition activists] a signal, they heard this signal and started active work.”
On Dec. 6, Clinton raised what she called “serious concerns” about the conduct of the election, calling for a full investigation into reports of vote rigging. (BBC) Russia protests: Gorbachev calls for election re-run
CHART OF THE DAY: How To Buy An Election, Vladimir Putin-Style
(Business Insider) The below chart comes from the Citi report From Arab Spring to Russian Winter, which describes the vote as a “watershed moment” in post-soviet Russia. The fact that people are demonstrating highlights Putin’s loss of grip; what’s more, thanks to the mediocre economy, it may be hard for Putin to buy back the votes he needs.
You see, there’s a decent relationship between areas in Russia that receive a high amount of government money, and those areas where people vote for the United Russia party (Putin’s party).
The relationship was the same this year as it was in 2007 — the more money the government spends in an area — the more support United Russia gets. But the vote totals are down, and it’s not clear that Putin can buy back his support.
Russian elections spark protests by opposition, Putin supporters
(WaPost) After extensive reports of electoral misconduct raised the possibility that United Russia’s tempered victory was itself inflated, the next surprise was the protest Monday night.
Crowds of mostly young people — largely written off as indifferent to politics — gathered after international monitors described widespread ballot-stuffing throughout the country and interference by the administration in the campaign.
Putin’s party clings to reduced majority in Russia
(Reuters) – Vladimir Putin’s ruling party clung to a much reduced majority in parliament on Monday after an election that showed growing weariness with the man who has dominated Russia for more than a decade and plans to return to the presidency next year.
President Dmitry Medvedev said the election was “fair, honest and democratic”, but European monitors said the field was slanted in favor of Putin’s United Russia and the vote marred by apparent manipulations including ballot box stuffing. [Update] (Reuters) – Several thousand protesters took to the streets on Monday to demand an end to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s 12-year rule after voters cut his party’s parliamentary majority in an election that was condemned as unfair by European monitors. More
First, They Came for the Journalists
(Foreign Policy Magazine) One year after Oleg Kashin was brutally attacked in Moscow, the noted journalist looks back on the clownishly futile investigations — and the climate of fear that threatens his profession.
BP’s $6.75bn Russian oil gamble spills into dangerous territory
(The Guardian) As a massive legal action over the Gulf of Mexico disaster looms, the British oil giant faces a claim in a New York court for $1bn damages amid allegations involving billionaire oligarchs and the criminal underworld on the oil frontier of Siberia
Ukraine: To Seek IMF Fund Thaw After Russian Gas Price Pact
(WSJ) The Ukrainian government has agreed with the IMF that “after the negotiations with Russia on the price of gas and other questions, we will start close cooperation with the IMF mission on adjusting the program of cooperation for 2012,” [Prime Minister] Azarov said Friday.
Chanting ‘Russia for Russians,’ thousands of nationalists and neo-Nazis march through Moscow
(WaPost) Thousands of far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis marched through Moscow on Friday calling on ethnic Russians to “take back” their country, as resentment grows over dark-complexioned Muslim migrants from Russia’s Caucasus and the money the Kremlin sends to the restive region.
Russia set to end 18-year wait to join WTO
(Reuters) – Russia is on the verge of ending its 18-year wait to join the World Trade Organization after accepting a trade deal with Georgia, the last big obstacle to membership of a club that will seal its integration into the global economy.
David Jones: It’s Not Your Father’s Moscow
‘Our’ Soviet Union was epitomized by Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. All gone. In its place is something new—and to a casual, albeit attentive observer, considerably better. Hill Times – subscriber only
Russia says ready to aid euro zone through IMF
(Reuters) – Russia is ready to hold talks with individual euro zone member states on providing them with financial help through the International Monetary Fund, a Kremlin aide said on Monday.
[Arkady] Dvorkovich, Russia’s sherpa to the Group of Eight industrialized countries and the wider Group of Twenty powers, said Russia had held talks with other emerging economies on aiding the euro zone during its debt crisis.
Is Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian dream worth the effort?
(The Guardian) The Russian prime minister’s union plan is not meant as a return to the Soviet past, but he would do well to check precedent
… comes the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, perhaps looking to lift the attention of a restive public at home to something more elevated than a peremptorily staged presidential succession, supporting the idea of creating a Eurasian union of former Soviet-bloc nations that could become “one of the poles of the modern world, serving as an efficient link between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region”.
Putin explicitly denies that this is about rebuilding the USSR. Nevertheless, there has been a lot of talk of Eurasia since the collapse of the USSR and there is a close connection between the Eurasia concept and Soviet history. Belarus and Kazakhstan have already embarked on commercial integration and the new union will hope to take that further, perhaps attracting other former Soviet republics into its orbit: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are mentioned.
Ex-police colonel charged over murder of Anna Politkovskaya