Russia in 2017 – 2018

Written by  //  July 11, 2018  //  Russia, U.S.  //  2 Comments

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This Is How Vladimir Putin Manufactures Conflict Between Nations
(Observer.com) The cornerstone of the Chekist worldview is provocation, what the Russians call provokatsiya. It’s not new, indeed it was honed into a secret weapon in the late Tsarist era, to be perfected under the Bolsheviks. I’ve tried to explain this alien concept to Westerners for years, and it really boils down to a basic, rather nasty concept:
Provokatsiya simply means taking control of your enemies in secret and encouraging them to do things that discredit them and help you. You plant your own agents provocateurs and flip legitimate activists, turning them to your side. When you’re dealing with extremists to start with, getting them to do crazy, self-defeating things isn’t often difficult. In some cases, you simply create extremists and terrorists where they don’t exist. This is causing problems in order to solve them, and since the Tsarist period, Russian intelligence has been known to do just that.

30 May
Putin critic Bill Browder freed after brief arrest in Spain
(BBC) After an hour in custody he was released because the warrant was no longer valid, Spanish police said.
Mr Browder is widely credited with the creation of the Magnitsky Act – a 2012 range of sanctions from the United States on top Russian officials accused of corruption.
The act was named after his former lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered an alleged tax fraud in Moscow – and died in a Russian prison in 2009.
Since then, Mr Browder has campaigned for investigations into the alleged fraud.
‘Murdered’ Russian Journalist Shows Up Alive at Press Conference
(New York Magazine) On Tuesday, Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, was reportedly shot and killed in Kiev. On Wednesday, at a news conference organized to give reporters updates about his assassination, he showed up alive. The 41-year-old appeared Wednesday with the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) to admit that he faked death in order to foil a very real plot to murder him. Vasily Gritsak, chief of the SBU, said investigators have nabbed a Ukrainian man who was recruited by Russia’s security service and paid $40,000 to kill Babchenko.
Ukraine Says It Faked Journalist’s Death To Thwart Russian Plot
(Radio Free Europe) the Reporters Without Borders media watchdog criticized Ukrainian authorities for staging Babchenko’s death, saying it “would not help the cause of press freedom.” …
“All it takes is one case like this to cast doubt on all the other political assassinations,” he said, referring to the deaths and attempted assassinations of several Kremlin critics outside of Russia in recent years.

Comment from a European observer: An absolutely brilliant operation perfectly executed. The object of the planned hit lives and the perpetrators are neutralised. I bet that Putin is not amused, however Lavrov was for once not lying when he assured that the Russians did not kill Babchenko. Putin hates to loose face, so expect an encore.

13 April
Russia pushes back on multiple fronts as conflict with West escalates
(WaPost) Russia banned a popular messaging app, threatened to pirate U.S. goods, and claimed Great Britain had orchestrated a staged chemical attack in Syria — all on the same day.
Friday’s rapid-fire series of events underscored the intensity with which Russia’s estrangement from the West and its rollback of domestic freedoms continues to play out. Analysts warned that rock bottom is still far off.
Pro-Kremlin politicians blamed the United States and its allies for the rising tensions and said that the West should stay out Russia’s domestic affairs. Even opponents of the regime said that President Trump’s tweet this week telling Russia to prepare for a missile strike on its ally Syria didn’t help reduce tensions, and warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has many ways of increasing them even more.

3 April
Russian expulsions: ‘If there was ever a time for diplomacy, this is it’
Former Canadian ambassador to Russia Jeremy Kinsman calls for a new, robust roadmap for dealing with Putin and asks: which global leader is prepared to stick to it?
(Open Canada) If ever a situation called for diplomacy, this is it. Effective “diplomacy” does not mean avoiding confronting facts in order to appease an adversary. It means deploying them in private to detoxify a crisis. Once it is communicated that Putin cannot continue as he has without real damage to Russia’s interests, there needs to be agreement for new rules and a roadmap for going forward, bearing in mind new technologies have new vulnerabilities to novel attacks.

27 March
The Atlantic: Russian Repercussions: The Trump administration expelled 60 Russian diplomats on Monday in response to the poisoning of a Russian former spy and his daughter on British soil, which many in the international community have accused Russia of perpetrating. (The Kremlin has denied the country’s involvement.) The expulsion, which marks a turning point in President Trump’s stance on Russia, is part of a unified international response that could seriously undermine Russian intelligence networks—but it may take different strategies to change the Kremlin’s ways.

20 March
And Now What? Russian Foreign Policy in Putin’s Fourth Term
Moscow has undergone a lively debate on the future course of its foreign policy – which may now become obsolete by the poisoning of Sergei Skripal
(European Council on Foreign Relations) The events of recent years have shattered quite a few foreign policy assumptions in Moscow. The Russian leadership did not expect the West to introduce strong sanctions after Crimea and to stick with them for years. Then, it expected China to compensate for lost Western investments. It expected Hillary Clinton to win the US elections and become a tough anti-Russian president. Then it expected Donald Trump to become a soft Russia-friendly president. It expected the EU to collapse under the weight of its own in internal contradictions at the wake of Brexit. It expected Ukraine to collapse under the weight of its unreformed economy, corruption and unruly political passions. It expected the settlement in Syria to be a lot easier. Alas, the world turned out to be more unpredictable and complicated than many Russians thought.
These failed predictions have occasioned a lively foreign policy debate in Moscow – on the meaning of Donald Trump, on the fate of the European Union, on what to expect from China, on what next in Syria and Donbas.
… these questions [re poisoning of Sergei Skripal ]are now wedded to the question about the course of Russia’s foreign policy. Just two weeks ago, the various factions in Russia assumed that after the elections, Putin would choose his course and then we will know. Now, whoever committed the crime seems to have chosen for him.

19 March
Vladimir Putin secures record win in Russian presidential election
Senior officials say decisive victory reflects popular support for muscular foreign policy
(The Guardian) Putin’s victory, with a 76.7% share of the vote, comes amid high tensions between London and Moscow over the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in the UK on Monday to begin testing samples from the 4 March attack, which Putin has denied was Moscow’s doing.
After landslide re-election, Russia’s Putin tells West: I don’t want arms race
(Reuters) Putin’s victory, which comes at a time when his relations with the West are on a hostile trajectory, will extend his political dominance of Russia by six years to 2024. That will make him the longest-serving ruler since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and has raised Western fears of spiralling confrontation.

14 March
U.K. moves against Russia expels 23 diplomats after ex-spy’s poisoning
(Globe & Mail) Britain has escalated its growing feud with Russia, kicking out 23 diplomats and raising tensions to levels not seen in decades. Canada and other Western allies offered little more than words of support and Russia hit back with a vow to retaliate.
Britain also suspended high-level contacts with the Kremlin after Prime Minister Theresa May directly implicated Moscow in the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter last week in Salisbury. Ms. May said Britain would also pull all dignitaries from this summer’s World Cup in Russia and consider moves to toughen anti-espionage laws and freeze Russian assets.

13 March
Russia says it is not responding to British ultimatum on nerve toxin attack for now
“Russia will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance,” an embassy spokesman told Reuters.
Any punitive measures against Russia would elicit a response, he said
Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov found dead at his London home
Counter-terrorism unit investigates death of Berezovsky friend who claimed political asylum in UK after fraud conviction
(The Guardian) Nikolai Glushkov, 68, was discovered by his family and friends late on Monday night. The cause of death is not yet clear. One of his friends, the newspaper editor Damian Kudryavtsev, posted the news on his Facebook page.
Without confirming the man’s name, the Metropolitan police said the counter-terrorism command unit was leading the investigation into the death “as a precaution because of associations that the man is believed to have had”.

7 March
Why Russia’s presidential election is like no other
(CNN) Russian President Vladimir Putin will win the election — that’s a given. He maintains the overwhelming support of the Russian people, while the state has kicked his main opponent out of the race and sanctioned other candidates in the running.
The outcome is so deeply etched in stone, even Putin himself seems bored. His campaign has been woefully lackluster.
But on March 18, there will be one thing for the President to worry about: Turnout. It could be embarrassingly low, some polls suggest, and could raise questions about the legitimacy of Putin’s long-running authority

13 and 20 January
Putin’s Revenge
Two-part Passionate Eye documentary that “draws on more than 60 interviews with heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, diplomats, Russian politicians, historians and journalists to trace how Putin went from low-ranking KGB agent to long-serving president of a newly assertive Russia with the ability to wage cyber-war in the U.S. and across the globe.”

8 January
Putin’s road from Damascus: After the “victory,” what?
By Pavel K. Baev, Nonresident Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe
What is obvious is that the maturing partnership with and dependency on Iran—caused by the intervention in Syria—is not helpful at all for developing the Saudi connection.
(Brookings) 2018 will mark the seventh year of civil war in Syria, with around 400,000 Syrians dead and over 12 million displaced. Although the so-called Islamic State has been militarily defeated in Raqqa, no one party is in control of the country—and there is hardly much hope that the tragedy will end soon.
It was somewhat incongruous, therefore, that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to declare Russian victory in Syria last month—Russia hasn’t even met the very narrow definition of “victory” as ensuring the survival of the Bashar Assad regime. He ordered the withdrawal of the main part of Russia’s military grouping, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that 38 planes and some support units had returned home. The thing is: This amounts to less than half of total Russian forces there, not even counting the private contractors. The planned expansion of Russian air and naval bases demands more troops for keeping them secure, and it is necessary to increase the number of Russian advisers if the Syrian army aims at launching new offensives, for instance against the Idlib enclave.
Russia remains stuck in the Syrian trap and at best, its perceived success will gradually fade into a stalemate. Meanwhile, the variety of bad options is rich, and the worst-case scenario of a sudden collapse of the Assad regime is not far-fetched. …
Putin’s ability and readiness to talk with all parties to the multiple Middle Eastern conflicts—from Hamas to the Syrian Kurds, and from the Saudi royals to the Libyan warlords—has been a major asset for his personal policy in the region. The intervention in Syria was supposed to reinforce these communications, granting Moscow a prominent regional position for advancing its interests. Now, however, it has to decide how and whether the “brotherhood in arms” with Iran aligns with these interests. The usual trick of telling every dialogue partner what he (in this male-dominated milieu) wants to hear cannot help in making this decision.

2017

vladimir-putin-2  Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/AP

Russia: The Conspiracy Trap
By Masha Gessen
(New York Review of Books) More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. He may sacrifice more of his people, as he sacrificed Flynn, as further leaks discredit them. Various investigations may drag on for months, drowning out other, far more urgent issues. In the end, Congressional Republicans will likely conclude that their constituents don’t care enough about Trump’s Russian ties to warrant trying to impeach the Republican president. (6 March 2017)

30 November
Neither Russians nor the West Understand the Full Dimensions of What’s Happening in Moscow, Gudkov Says
… neither in Russia nor in the West is there a full appreciation that “the development of events in Russia really is dangerous for the European community. That must be understand with absolute clarity,” the sociologist continues. Unfortunately, in the West too, “economic and political interests are pushing people toward a pragmatic cynicism.”
According to [Levada Center director Lev] Gudkov, everyone must understand with absolute clarity that Russia today under Vladimir Putin is “a toxic state, a dangerous state, which is maintaining its legitimacy through the provocation of conflicts, the threat of war, and the threat of confrontation.” In this way, it “mobilizes society within Russia in support of the powers that be.”

17 November
Red Scares, Then and Now
By Alexander Baunov, Thomas de Waal
The Putin government’s unpredictable and provocative behavior may appear threatening, but it really amounts to an effort to compensate for the Kremlin’s inability to project real power.
(Project Syndicate) The danger now is that valid concerns about Russian interference in the US political system will give way to conspiracy theories, as in past Red Scares.
All of these claims are focused strictly on US politics, rather than on larger geopolitical considerations. But, given that Soviet communism collapsed more than a quarter-century ago, it is worth asking what threat the Kremlin really poses to the US.
… we should remember that Russia is dangerous only so far as Western societies allow it to sow confusion in their midst.
Russia’s smaller neighbors, not least Georgia and Ukraine, have real reasons to regard Russia as a threat to their sovereignty. Britain, the US, and Germany do not. Russia’s GDP is half that of California. Its defense budget is one-tenth that of the US. And the channels through which it exports its propaganda, RT and Sputnik, are marginal media outlets that few in the West watch.
Moreover, Putin’s Russia, like Xi’s China, has a paucity of strategic allies. At the United Nations General Assembly in March 2014, only 11 small countries – including Armenia, North Korea, and Zimbabwe – opposed a resolution condemning Russia’s seizure of Crimea. That is a far cry from the influence the Soviet Union once enjoyed.
… If the US and European governments really want to demonstrate that their version of Western culture is the better one, they need to devise policies for reaching out to Russia’s urban middle class. The message should be that the West’s problem is with Putin’s regime, not Russia itself.

12 November
Failure of Kremlin’s ‘Trump is Ours’ Plan Leading Some in Moscow to Rethink Ukraine Policy, Piontkovsky Says
(Windows on Eurasia) The failure of Vladimir Putin to get a sit down with Donald Trump represents “the agony of [the Kremlin’s] ‘Putin is Ours’ special operation” and is leading some in Putin’s entourage to think about some kind of “hybrid capitulation” that both the US and the Russian people will accept, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.
Ever more people in the Russian capital, the commentator says, recognize that Putin’s play for Trump has “turned out to be a very big mistake. Had Clinton won, everything would have ended with another rest. In any case, the attitude of the US toward the Putin regime would be much more positive”
That is because, Piontkovsky continues, the closeness between Putin and Trump at a time of Russian aggressiveness has mobilized “the majority of the military-political establishment” against Moscow. As a result, “Trump and [US Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson are not players on the Ukrainian issue.”

1 November
Robert Mueller Will Never Get to the Bottom of Russia’s Meddling
By Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies and the author, most recently, of “After Europe.”
(NYT op-ed) The common sense in Moscow foreign policy circles today is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States, not by cooperating with it. Speaking two weeks ago at the Valdai International Discussion Club, President Vladimir Putin declared that post-Communist Russia’s gravest mistake was “putting its trust in the West.” In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia wanted to imitate the West, its values and institutions; today Moscow is focused on mirroring Western policies with respect to Russia, doing to the West what Russians believe the West is doing to them.
And contrary to conventional wisdom, Russia’s craving for global power status is not simply about nostalgia or psychological trauma. It is a geopolitical imperative. Only by proving its capacity to be a 21st century great power can Russia hope to be a real, equal partner with countries like China, which it needs to take it seriously. Believe it or not, from the Russian perspective, interfering in the American presidential election was a performance organized mostly for the benefit of non-American publics.

3 September
Russia Opens First Criminal Case Involving Bitcoin
(Forbes) The Russian government has a balancing act to do: they want to show that crypto-currencies will not be tolerated as a money laundering unit, on one hand, while on the other hand want to show they are rolling out the welcome mat for bitcoin and similar technologies. It’s the latter, or risk losing out on major, global, life changing opportunities going forward.
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs press officer, Irina Volk, the three defendants illegally cashed the millions in bitcoin and are being brought up on charges of “Illegal Banking”. The exchange came to light after investigators found an unusual amount of activity in bank accounts stemming from 300 bank cards and sim cards used to store the digital currency. The money was being shifted into different accounts owned by family members, prosecutors believe.
In the past, Russian courts have blocked bitcoin-exchanges and websites where people could transfer it into rubles, but they never brought anyone up on criminal charges for doing so. Russia surely has a problem with money laundering and where authorities believe it can crack down on activities, it will. Bitcoin, and Russia’s No. 2 crypto-currency, Ether, are new ways for Russians to avoid taxes and hide cash from ill-gotten gains.

12 June
Across Russia, Protesters Heed Navalny’s Anti-Kremlin Rallying Cry
(NYT) The police detained the architect of the national protests, the Kremlin critic Aleksei A. Navalny, as he emerged from his apartment building to attend a rally that he had forced into the center of Moscow. There were scattered reports of hundreds of detentions elsewhere, too.
The protests were the broadest antigovernment outpouring in Russia in years, with people in more cities heeding Mr. Navalny’s call than his last series of demonstrations in March.

29 May
Lengthy and fascinating analysis of the relationship between Putin, Arkady Rotenberg and the new Russian oligarchy
As Clifford Gaddy, an economist who studies Putin’s economic strategy, put it, “His vision of the country’s entire economy is ‘Russia, Inc.,’ where he personally works as the executive director” and the owners of nominally private firms are “mere divisional managers, operational managers of the big, real corporation.”

Putin’s Shadow Cabinet and the Bridge to Crimea
Why the Russian President’s childhood judo partner is leading the country’s most ambitious construction project.
(The New Yorker) Crimea, … [is] connected to Ukraine by a narrow isthmus to the north but is separated from Russia by a stretch of water called the Kerch Strait. Ukraine, to which Crimea had belonged, viewed Russia’s occupation as illegal, and had sealed off access to the peninsula, closing the single road to commercial traffic and shutting down the rail lines.
In response, Putin convened a council of engineers, construction experts, and government officials to look at options for connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland. They considered more than ninety possibilities, including an undersea tunnel, before deciding to build a bridge.
… the bridge would span nearly twelve miles, making it the longest in the country, and would cost more than three billion dollars. When completed, it would symbolically cement Russia’s control over the territory and demonstrate the country’s reëmergence as a geopolitical power willing to challenge the post-Cold War order.
The bridge would be a demanding and technically complex project. … in January, 2015, the Russian government announced that Arkady Rotenberg, a sixty-three-year-old magnate with interests in construction, banking, transportation, and energy, would direct the project. In retrospect, the choice was obvious, almost inevitable.

17 May
A reminder that there is not much new under the sun
Vladislav Inozemtsev: Russia’s Cold War Habit
(Project Syndicate) The adversarial relationship between Russia and the West began over a century before the Cold War. Back in the 1820s, Russia emerged not only as the principal victor in the Napoleonic wars, but also as the most conservative – or, more accurately, reactionary – force in Europe. Under Czars Alexander I and Nicholas I, it stood ready to counter any sign of a renewal of the “revolutionary plague” infecting the continent’s monarchies.
By 1830, the rift between the “Holy Alliance” countries (Russia, Prussia, and Austria) and the rest of Europe was deep. And, when Russia suppressed two “color” revolutions – the Polish revolt of 1830-1831 and the Hungarian revolution of 1848-1849 – it became even deeper. Both interventions incited a massive surge in anti-Russian sentiment across the continent.
What most people think of as the Cold War began nearly a century later, after World War II, when the Soviet Union, seeking to expand its sphere of influence, installed communist governments from Poland to Bulgaria. In 1946, it began to destabilize Greece, and at the Council of Foreign Ministers, established under the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, the Kremlin demanded control over Tripolitania in North Africa – a demand that Western leaders rejected. The next year, the Soviet Union prevented its satellite states from participating in the Marshall Plan, aimed at restoring Europe’s economy after the war. Joseph Stalin subsequently imposed a blockade on West Berlin, in a failed effort to enforce compliance with that decision.
The Cold War brought the Soviet Union and the US to the brink of war over Korea in the 1950s and Cuba in 1962. But, as in the nineteenth century, the confrontation was mostly about control of Europe, exemplified in the Soviet interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. … The war in Afghanistan in the 1980s finally exhausted the Soviet Union’s military and economic potential, impelling it to abandon its satellites in Europe and finally to collapse.
Today’s cold war has much in common with the two previous confrontations. For one thing, as was the case in the 1820s and late 1940s, Russia is aggressively rejecting Western values and opposing the US. Though no one is threatening to attack Russia, anti-Western hysteria is being used once again to divert attention from domestic economic challenges and consolidate support for the country’s leader.

10 May
Russia sweet-talks AIIB as Oreshkin vents fury at EBRD loan ban
(Global Markets) Although EBRD’s decision not to lift its ban on new loans to Russia was expected, the country’s reaction was not: its economy minister attacked the bank as a tool of foreign policy and claimed that its finances did not deserve a triple-A rating.

11 April
(WaPost World View) The idea of coaxing Russia away from Iran is “certainly not going to go anywhere now,” said Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Indeed, he said, “the opposite result has been achieved.”
In many respects, Iran and Russia aren’t natural allies. There’s much that divides them, not least hundreds of years of historical rivalry. Both countries are energy exporters vying for similar markets. Both governments harbor larger ambitions of geopolitical dominance in the Middle East. And, of course, there are always going to be limits to any alliance between the Islamic republic and a Russian leadership partially animated by a brand of Christian nationalism.
“Russia is hardly interested in Iran’s so-called Axis of Resistance, which stretches from Iran to Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria and essentially consists of Shia forces,” noted Mohsen Milani in Foreign Affairs last year. “Given its ambition to become a great power in the Middle East, it cannot alienate the Sunni countries. Nor is Russia interested in antagonizing Israel. In fact, relations between Israel and Russia are exceptionally friendly.”
But Russia and Iran need each other in Syria to buttress Assad. “The glue is their common enmity toward the United States” and Washington’s imperatives in the region, Vatanka said.
“At the moment, it is going to be difficult to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran,” wrote Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in February. “Too many interests hold them together.” And after the events of the past few days, those bonds seem even harder to unwind.

4 April
St Petersburg bomb suspect identified as 22-year-old born in Kyrgyzstan
Russian investigators say Akbarzhon Jalilov detonated bomb that killed 14 on metro carriage and left DNA on second device
Central Asia link to St Petersburg bomb is worrying sign for Kremlin
Repressive policies of Kyrgyzstan and other former-Soviet central Asian republics have led to radicalisation of some Muslims there.
Russia: The ghost of a terrorised past
The latest bombing in St Petersburg comes after two decades of terrorist attacks in Russia.
By Leonid Ragozin, freelance journalist based in Moscow.
(Al Jazeera) Putin could have gone into history as Russia’s most successful leader in two centuries, but he chose to stay in power and preside over an economic recession that was caused by an oil price slump in 2014 and the country’s international isolation over its intervention in Ukraine.
The last thing he needed in those circumstances was another terror attack in a large urban centre. But it happened in his native city, and on the day of his visit. There is hardly a way for him now to pull the old trick of consolidating in the face of perceived adversity – the way he did in 1999 or when he seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The best he can do is to mitigate the negative PR impact and pray there are no new calamities in store.

Russia’s Aftermath: The death toll is up to 14 in yesterday’s explosion on a St. Petersburg metro, and the attacker, a suicide bomber, has been identified. Here’s what we know so far. Russia faced a similar attack in 2010, and has been struck by terrorists several times since then; the frequency of the attacks has seemingly diminished their impact. Attacks on Russia may only increase in the future: While Monday’s attack still hasn’t been claimed by a terrorist group, the country’s military involvements in the Middle East are almost certainly making enemies.

3 April
St Petersburg metro explosion kills 11 in Russia
(BBC) Eleven people have been killed and 45 injured in an explosion between two underground stations in St Petersburg.
An attack in Russia: St Petersburg suffers
(The Economist) The pictures made the carnage horribly clear: a metro carriage with its doors blown off and bloodied bodies strewn across the platform. Russian authorities soon confirmed what many had suspected—that this afternoon’s explosion, which killed at least ten and left more than 50 wounded, was being treated as an act of terrorism. Although the country is in shock, its citizens are no strangers to terrorism, writes our Russia correspondent

31 March
Jeremy Kinsman: Meet Alexei Navalny, Russia’s political underdog with bite
Navalny may not be able to beat Putin in next year’s presidential election, but he is inspiring a new kind of thinking in Russia.
(Open Canada) Putin may not be losing sleep now because Navalny’s growing popularity makes him a threat for the presidency in 2018. But the president may have tremors of worry at 3 a.m. about all those kids who aren’t buying the contrived and staged official narrative.
The odds are not huge that there will be political changes in Russia in the next few years. But the odds are pretty good that as younger Russians move up, they won’t buy any longer the condition of political infantilism to which they have been assigned by Citizen Putin.

26 March
Anti-corruption demonstrations sweep across Russia
The protests show opposition leader Alexei Navalny remains a force
(The Economist) VLADIMIR PUTIN won his first presidential election on March 26th 2000. Exactly 17 years later, tens of thousands of Russians across the country came out to protest the corruption that has come to define his tenure. The demonstrations, the most significant challenge to Mr Putin’s regime since 2012, began on Russia’s Pacific coast, where hundreds marched through Vladivostok. … Mr Navalny’s selection of Mr Medvedev as a target was a strategic calculation. Mr Putin remains popular, and even Russians who dislike him would hesitate to protest against him directly. Mr Medvedev is widely disliked and seen as weak. Many Russians hold him responsible for the weak economy. Over the past three years, as the oil-price collapse and Western sanctions tipped Russia’s economy from stagnation into recession, consumers have been hit hard. Though GDP growth has turned a corner and is projected to return to positive territory again this year, retail sales continue to fall and inequality is growing. Nonetheless, the protests were not restricted to Mr Medvedev; they were a statement of general dissatisfaction with the system.
Anti-Putin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, protesters detained at Moscow rally
Police arrest more than 130 people during anti-corruption protests in Russia.
(Politico Eu.) The show of force by anti-corruption protesters came after Navalny’s foundation published a video accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of having acquired a number of mansions and yachts through illicit means. In the video, which has been viewed nearly 12 million times, Medvedev is accused of having used charities and NGOs to collect large bribes, which were then allegedly used to buy acquire the assets.

10 March
‘Revolution? What Revolution?’ Russia Asks 100 Years Later
(NYT) The Kremlin plans to sit out the centenary of the Russian Revolution.
Never mind that the upheavals of 1917 transformed the country and the world, abruptly ending the long rule of the czars, ushering in the Communist era and spawning an ideological confrontation with the West that still resonates.
There will be no national holiday on Sunday, March 12, the date generally recognized as the start of the uprising. Nor will there even be a government-issued official interpretation, like the one mandating that World War II was a “Great Victory.”
The official reason proffered for ignoring the event is that Russia remains too divided over the consequences of that fateful year.
The more likely explanation, some Kremlin officials, historians and other analysts say, is that President Vladimir V. Putin loathes the very idea of revolution, not to mention the thought of Russians dancing in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of any ruler. Moreover, 1917 smudges the Kremlin’s version of Russian history as a long, unified march to greatness, meant to instill a sense of national pride and purpose.

8 March
THE RETURN OF THE CZAR
One hundred years after the Russian Revolution, an emboldened Putin regime is embracing its czarist past. Could 1917 happen again?
By Allen Abel
(Maclean’s) St. Petersburg, whose paradisiacal pastel facades often hide musty decay within, is one of Europe’s greatest treasuries of art and architecture. And now, what began here a century ago—the abdication and murder of a God-empowered czar and the slaughter of his children; the red-flagged overthrow of the czar’s overthrowers; decades of civil war and a century of siege, invasion, repression, disintegration and upheaval—is returning to haunt the living and the consecrated dead.
It has been precisely 100 years since Nicholas II, czar of all the Russias, abdicated from the throne that his ancestors had held for three centuries, his palaces surrounded by citizens crying “There is no bread!” Condemned in Soviet textbooks as “Nicholas the Bloody,” a bumbler whose personal command of Russian troops in the First World War caused the senseless death of millions, the last czar has been revivified by the regime of Vladimir Putin as a nationalist paragon, and canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as a martyr, passion-bearer, saint, a symbol of unity and love of the Russian folk.
Fifty years ago, the Communist behemoth swelled with statal optimism, even as the market shelves lay bare. At Expo 67 in Montreal, the USSR’s soaring, glass-walled pavilion boasted of how the Soviet state was exploiting the resources of land, sea and sky “in the name of man, for the good of man.”
Fifty years later, National Geographic calls the state of the Russian soul “a hapless search for a uniting idea.” In place of Nicholas the Bloody, the Russian nation has repeatedly chosen Vladimir the Barebreasted—seizer of enclaves, annihilator of opponents, hacker of emails, hater of Hillary, fan (real or feigned) of U.S. President Donald Trump. If you’ve got the rubles, there is no shortage of bread. Or Bentleys.

6 March
Ukranian businessman with links to Donald Trump and Russia dies in unexplained circumstances
Alex Oronov, who had family ties to President’s lawyer, reportedly organised meeting aimed at helping give Russian President control of Crimea

4 March
The ultimate guide to Donald Trump’s Russia connections
(Quartz) As the investigations pile up, we’ve put together a compendium of Trump and his advisers’ ties with Russia. We will update the list as warranted (and please let us know if we’ve missed anything).
We begin with Trump’s cabinet picks and current or former advisors. Next we move onto Trump’s own business and personal connections with Russia, followed by the specific speculation that has arisen since Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency.

3 March
Common wisdom on Russia is not wise
(Ceasefire) Christopher Westdal has the distinction of being the only Canadian diplomat to have served both as Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine (1996-98) and Russia (2003-06). Below is a slightly edited version of his remarks as spoken to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons of Canada.
Vladimir Putin is no choirboy; no great power leader ever is. The President of Russia is many other things: a patriot, a patriarch – Tsar Lite, say, formidably intelligent, informed and articulate, pragmatic above all, a proven leader tough enough to run the vast Federation, ruthless if need be in serving its interests – and genuinely popular. Putin is also, proudly, a spy – and deception is an essential tool of espionage. So, of course, those “little green men” were Russian – but, of course, Moscow won’t say so. As Putin explained at a Munich Security Conference, “We’re all adults here.”
But still, I find the current narrative about Russia’s role in the world overblown, full of exaggeration about Russia’s record, motives and capabilities, while blind to its obvious economic, demographic and security vulnerabilities and its necessarily defensive strategic posture.
Jeremy Kinsman comments:
His testimony was straight, a lot straighter than members were used to no doubt.
There’s a lot of hysteria over Russia – which is not the USSR re-invented. (Nor imperial Russia.) What is Russia? A mess of grievances, hubris, delusions, and some justified national pride. As someone wrote these last days, we maybe made a condescending error in identifying Russia as a state in stumbling transition toward what we assumed is the natural human social condition, a democracy. For most Russians (I regret to admit), it’s not a transition – they like where they are. It’s hard today to persuade them the US is the city on the hill.
Their intentions for the neighbourhood? Their sense THEY are under pressure from NATO, etc., is real. They push back. They are disrupters.
If I were Estonian I’d be nervous, but Russia has no intention of testing NATO art 5 by invading. They will test Estonian resolve, though, on their treatment of Russians. Ukraine was sui generis. Did Russia start the war with Sakashvili? I think Cheney did, to tell the truth.
The Trump factor is more than odd. His campaign question “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got along with the Russians?” Was a seductive one, and reasonable, but totally superficial.
Putin’s behavior is explainable but very risky. He’s gone too far on interfering in the election. He didn’t swing it and couldn’t have expected to. His motive seems to stem from his obsessive need to expose US hypocrisy. He believes the US tried to change regime in Kiev (because he never takes reformers’ ideals at face-value, having none to speak of, and in any case he knows that Ukrainian reformers’ anti-corruption positions are equally an indictment of his own regime.) See my post yesterday in a discussion on FaceBook.

2 March
(Quartz) US president Donald Trump continues to be dogged by concerns about his connections to Russia and suggestions that several of his advisers were in contact with the Kremlin during his election campaign.
As pressure mounts, Trump reportedly hires the best US expert on Putin’s psyche
(Quartz) Amid intensifying demands for action to combat an offensive by Moscow against the West, US president Donald Trump has reportedly appointed a paramount expert on Russian president Vladimir Putin as his chief Russia adviser.
Fiona Hill, a dual US-UK citizen and the co-author of a seminal psychoanalysis of the Russian leader called Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, is to serve as Trump’s Russia adviser on the National Security Council, reports Foreign Policy.
Hill, who runs the Europe program at the Brookings Institution, did not respond to a request for comment; nor did Brookings. But Hill formerly served as the Russia expert for the National Intelligence Council, the coordinating body for the 17 US intelligence agencies.
If he has indeed chosen Hill, Trump will at least in part inoculate himself from suspicions that he is too cozy with Putin. A mile-a-minute dispenser of minutiae on Russia and much of the former Soviet Union, Hill and her co-author, Russia economic expert Clifford Gaddy, may know Putin as well or better than anyone in the US.

6 February
Kremlin says it disagrees with Trump’s assessment of Iran
(Reuters) The Kremlin said on Monday it did not agree with U.S. President Donald Trump’s assessment of Iran as “the number one terrorist state” and a Russian diplomat said any U.S. attempt to reopen an Iran nuclear deal would inflame tensions in the Middle East.
Trump and Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, have made clear they want to try to mend U.S.-Russia ties, which have slid to a post-Cold War low in recent years. But starkly different approaches to Iran, as set out by a raft of top Russian officials on Monday, could complicate any rapprochement.
Their comments also suggest that a policy idea Trump and his aides are reported to be considering — to try to drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran — may be a non-starter.
New flap erupts over Trump comparing U.S. ‘killers’ to Putin minions
(LA Times) Once again, President Trump’s professed admiration for his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is causing headaches for fellow Republicans and drawing fire from Democrats – but this time, with a twist.
When Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly observed while interviewing Trump that Putin is “a killer,” the president retorted: “You think our country is so innocent?”
Vice President Mike Pence, asked in several talk-show appearances about the president’s seeming comparison of officially sanctioned extrajudicial killings in Russia with unspecified U.S. actions, said Trump had merely intended to stress his own desire to re-engage the Kremlin.

3 February
Amy Knight: Putin’s Intelligence Crisis
(NYRB) Amid the political and diplomatic chaos in the US since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, Russian leadership has been experiencing its own turmoil, until recently kept under wraps, but now emerging into the open. To be sure, Russian President Vladimir Putin is still firmly in power, as evidenced by his hour-long conversation last Saturday with Trump and by Putin’s high ratings in opinion polls (which far surpass Trump’s). Yet we have now learned that, since the US election, there has been an unprecedented, and perhaps still continuing shakeup of top officials in Putin’s main security agency, the FSB, and that a top former intelligence official in Putin’s entourage died recently in suspicious circumstances.
Recent reports in the Russian press have connected the upheaval at the FSB to Kremlin-sponsored hacking of the US electoral process, and with the now infamous dossier about Donald Trump’s ties with Russian government officials compiled by former British MI6 operative Christopher Steele. (See Jeremy Kinsman comment below)

28 January
trump-makes-phone-callsTrump and Putin discuss ‘partnership’ on issues including Ukraine, Kremlin says
Cooperation in Ukraine would represent stark turn in US policy toward conflict, as Trump makes additional calls to Angela Merkel and other world leaders
A day of whirlwind diplomacy for Donald Trump on Saturday, including calls to five world leaders such as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was overshadowed by a global backlash against his ban on refugees.
The “congratulatory call” with Putin lasted an hour, the White House said in a short statement, and ranged from discussion of “mutual cooperation” to defeat the terror group Isis to negotiating an end to the Syrian civil war.
“The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” the White House said.
In the Kremlin’s more detailed account, Trump and Putin discussed “partnership” on a wide range of international issues, including wars in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme, the Korean peninsula and the simmering war in Ukraine.

13 January
Russia: US should be involved in Syria peace talks
(Middle East Monitor) Russia has agreed for the United States to be involved in the Syrian peace talks planned for 23 January in Astana, though notably only after US President Barack Obama has left office.
The news was confirmed by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who said: “The United States should be definitely invited, and that is what we agreed with Russia.”
Cavusoglu was speaking to journalists in Geneva yesterday after an international conference to thrash out a deal on Cyprus’ reunification.
Moscow and Ankara last month brokered a fragile Syrian ceasefire, but without the involvement of Washington.
The truce – which does not include Daesh or Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS), formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front – has brought a reduction in hostilities to large parts of the country.

12 January
The leaked Trump-Russia dossier rings frighteningly true
By Andrei Soldatov
There is factual confusion in this document but its depiction of the Kremlin’s tactics is sound
(The Guardian) Unverifiable sensational details aside, the Trump dossier is a good reflection of how things are run in the Kremlin – the mess at the level of decision-making and increasingly the outsourcing of operations, combined with methods borrowed from the KGB and the secret services of the lawless 1990s. That is not the picture projected by the Kremlin externally – namely, that the Russian government is an effective bureaucracy, strategic in foreign policy planning and ruthless in execution. And that, whatever the truth of Putin’s connections with Trump, makes it all pretty scary.
Russia: ‘Trump dossier as absurd as the Queen hiring people while shopping’
Moscow continues to ridicule allegations in leaked dossier that it had gathered compromising material on Donald Trump

Russia says US troops arriving in Poland pose threat to its security
Early deployment of biggest American force in Europe since cold war may be attempt to lock Trump into strategy
The Kremlin has hit out at the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the cold war, branding the arrival of troops and tanks in Poland as a threat to Russia’s national security.
The deployment, intended to counter what Nato portrays as Russian aggression in eastern Europe, will see US troops permanently stationed along Russia’s western border for the first time.
The move was billed as an attempt to reassure eastern European states who have been calling for the permanent deployment of US troops in the belief that Russia would be less likely to encroach on territory where US troops are present.

11 January
Russia waging information war against Sweden, study finds
Swedish Institute of International Affairs accuses Russia of using fake news and false documents to influence opinion

6 January
Russia says has begun reducing forces in Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the ceasefire in late December and said Russia would pull back some of its forces in Syria, where its military intervention has turned the tide in favour of President Bashar al-Assad.
The head of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that had begun on Friday with the Russian naval fleet led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier beginning its withdrawal from the east Mediterranean.

2 Comments on "Russia in 2017 – 2018"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson February 8, 2017 at 6:36 pm · Reply

    Re Amy Knight: Putin’s Intelligence Crisis
    A former Canadian Ambassador to Russia comments: “Amy Knight made a life writing earnestly about the Soviet-era KGB. She hasn’t changed technique or assumption because she hasn’t ever accepted there has been any change in Russia. This story is full of holes and unknowns, propped up by cherry-picked journalistic quotes from here and there with nary a fact to go on except that three or four Russian state and specifically cyber-security managers have been jailed. The fact is we have no idea why: it’s surely not that they leaked the Russian strategy of upending the US election to US officials. It may be that their activities to hack and frame were reckless enough to enable the damaging charges against Russia to gain credence – in other words, like Thomas a Becket’s killers, they went too far. The Christopher Steele “dossier” is a case-study of a report by a consultant trying like hell to keep the contract going. We’ve all seen them. … Putin plays hardball. His motives are rooted in psychological grievance that seems now to be core part of the Russian public mentality. He is a disrupter. There need to be costs. But he is rational and tactical, not strategic, and it is unlikely he will over-reach by tempting NATO Art 5, for example.
    As Amy notes, he is also – because he gets the Russian zeitgeist – highly popular, as is Xi Jinping. Both of them – especially Xi – have worked their way up by being tested again and again, and have emerged at the top by merit according to the lights of their less than democratic systems. For them, to see US democracy produce a leader of such utterly inadequate experience and capacity doubles down their disgust with democracy. Putin’s purpose is not to undermine US democracy but to point out how it undermines itself. He’s not wrong in his derisive view of the US election’s implications, but not being a democrat he has no idea of the capacity of a democracy to revive and reform. That is what has to happen in the US. It may be happening. Russia isn’t relevant to that.”

  2. Diana Thebaud Nicholson March 5, 2017 at 4:04 pm · Reply

    There’s a lot of hysteria over Russia – which is not the USSR re-invented. (Nor Christian imperial Russia.) What is Russia? A mess of grievances, hubris, delusions, and some justified national pride. As someone wrote these last days, we maybe made a condescending error in identifying Russia as a state in stumbling transition toward what we assumed is the natural human social condition, a democracy. For most Russians (I regret to admit), it’s not a transition – they like where they are. It’s hard today to persuade them the US is the city on the hill.
    Their intentions for the neighbourhood? Their sense THEY are under pressure from NATO, etc., is real. They push back. They are disrupters.
    If I were Estonian I’d be nervous, but Russia has no intention of testing NATO art. 5 by invading. They will test Estonian resolve, though, on their treatment of Russians. Ukraine was sui generis. Did Russia start the war with Sakashvili? I think Cheney did, to tell the truth.
    The Trump factor is more than odd. His campaign question “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got along with the Russians?” was a seductive one, and reasonable, but totally superficial.
    Putin’s behavior is explainable but very risky. He’s gone too far on interfering in the election. He didn’t swing it and couldn’t have expected to. His motive seems to stem from his obsessive need to expose US hypocrisy. He believes the US tried to change regime in Kiev (because he never takes reformers’ ideals at face-value, having none to speak of, and in any case he knows that Ukrainian reformers’ anti-corruption positions are equally an indictment of his own regime. J.K.

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