Russia July 2019 – September 2020

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Russia, China, and the Indo-Pacific: An Interview With Dmitri Trenin
What is the current state of Russia’s relations with China and the Indo-Pacific? And what are the prospects for Russia as an Indo-Pacific power?
(Carnegie Moscow Center) Russia has had to recognize that in the East, as well as in the West, it is now flanked by a power with a superior economic strength, a source of investment, and a modernization resource. Hence, it has rebalanced its foreign policy more evenly between Europe and China/Asia. Russia has been able to adapt to a strong China; it has managed to build a relationship with it, squarely based on national interests. After the 2014 Ukraine crisis and the ensuing confrontation with the United States and alienation from Europe, Russia has “pivoted” to itself, as a major independent player, with China its key strategic partner. Russo-Chinese relations rest on a formula: never against each other; not necessarily always with each other. This combines reassurance with freedom of maneuver.
U.S.-Russian confrontation has been more recently followed by the confrontation between the United States and China. Both are bitter rivalries with their own fundamental underlying causes, and neither relationship is likely to improve in the foreseeable future. The Sino-Russian rapprochement began in 1989 and has been going strong ever since. The outlook is positive, though in many ways it is an asymmetrical relationship, with China’s fast-growing GDP dwarfing Russia’s, which is stagnant.
… All Central Asian countries profess to pursue “multi-vector” foreign policies. Even though Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are members of a security treaty organization with Russia, and the first two have also joined the Eurasian Economic Union, they value their ties to China, the United States, Europe, and others, and back Moscow only selectively during U.N. votes. They have largely de-Russified culturally and linguistically. No Russian sphere of influence there, just vestiges of Russian historical presence. China is the most dynamic and often the principal economic actor in the region, while Russia continues as a security guard of sorts.

17 September
Nina L. Khrushcheva: The Buck Stops with Putin
Whether or not Russian President Vladimir Putin directly ordered the poisoning of Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny, he created the system that allowed it to happen – one that is ineffective, unaccountable, and prone to destabilization by rogue actors. The West should hold him responsible.
(Project Syndicate) Merkel has called for Russian authorities to launch an independent and transparent investigation into Navalny’s poisoning. The European Union and the United Kingdom have echoed that call. If such an investigation were to expose the Russian state as the culprit, the European Commission suggests, new sanctions may be in order. …
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insists that there are “no grounds to accuse the Russian state” of being involved. Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, went further, arguing that Western intelligence agencies may have orchestrated the poisoning to discredit Russia.While Naryshkin narrative is farfetched, he has a point: the attack on Navalny does Russia more harm than good. The decision to poison a high-profile political opponent immediately before local elections – with a Soviet-developed nerve agent, no less – defies political logic. And with protests against August’s fraudulent presidential election , the timing seems especially odd.

8-10 September
Questions raised over veracity of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine test data
A group of international doctors have written to the British medical magazine The Lancet raising questions about the veracity of the data presented in a recent paper that showed the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was “100% effective” in Phase II trials.
Russia has rushed through the registration of the vaccine and intends to give it to those in high-risk jobs, such as health workers, in October. A general roll-out of the vaccine is planned for early in the New Year after Phase III trials are completed.
On August 11, Russia became the first country worldwide to register a vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19). It was named Sputnik V and prepared by the Gamaleya National Research Center. It passed Russian clinical trials in June-July. It is based on a known platform previously used to fight Ebola. On August 15, the Healthcare Ministry announced the production launch of the preparation. On September 8, the first batch of the vaccine was released for civilian circulation.
Russia has drawn heavy criticism for rushing the test and the fast-track registration of the vaccine that has as yet not been fully tested. However, now there is some evidence to suggest the data from the Phase II trials may have been falsified.

Germany hands over its Novichok investigation data to OPCW
(bne IntelliNews) [Angela Merkel] went on to suggest that sanctions on Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline could not be ruled out unless the Russian government co-operated in the investigation “within days” but stopped short of explicitly saying the project would be halted. Merkel has received a lot of flak for backing the project that will by bypass Poland and Ukraine, saying it is an “economic” project and should not be linked to the political problems between the two countries, although that stance has been weakened by her latest comments. Pressure on Merkel to nix the project has been mounting among German politicians as relations between Moscow and Berlin drop to a new low.
Now that Germany has released the data to the [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons OPCW] the government regards its obligations fulfilled. German Government Deputy Spokesperson Martina Fitz noted that in the wake of this step, Berlin does not see the conditions for Germany to hand over its conclusive evidence to Russia in relation to Navalny’s case. “We maintain our position, calling on the Russian side to provide information [on Navalny],” she said.

From The Times: Alexei Navalny was put into an induced coma and flown to Germany. What does this latest incident mean? And why was Angela Merkel’s government keen to take him to Berlin? (Podcast)

G7 foreign ministers condemn ‘confirmed poisoning’ of Putin critic Navalny
“We, the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and the High Representative of the European Union, are united in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, the confirmed poisoning of Alexei Navalny,” said the statement.
Germany briefed the G7, which the United States is chairing this year, on its determination that Navalny “is the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve-agent of the ‘Novichok’ group, a substance developed by Russia,” the G7 statement said.
Clouds gather over Nord Stream 2 in Germany after Navalny poisoning
Chancellor Merkel believes it’s “wrong to rule anything out” when it comes to Berlin’s reaction to the Navalny poisoning. This could spell trouble for Nord Stream 2, the massive gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany.
(DW) A project halt would leave Europe with less gas and higher prices, should Europe instead switch to fracking gas from the United States, liquefied gas from Qatar or other pipeline gas from Algeria, Libya or Azerbaijan, said Hermes.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant in its Monday edition said Gazprom “can extend its contracts at least into 2021 even without Nord Stream 2.”
Separately, Vienna-based Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov expressed suspicion about the timing of Navalny’s case and the gas pipeline project. “Suspicious coincidence of Navalny case and the final stage of Nord Stream 2 construction, which some states desperately want to be closed. I am not fond of conspiracy theories but it is obvious that the tragic events with Navalny are very timely and helpful for opponents of NS2,” he tweeted.
Nord Stream 2: Why Germany may pull plug on Russian pipeline
(BBC) Chancellor Merkel’s government is facing growing criticism from European partners, who say the pipeline makes Germany too dependent on gas from a politically unreliable country. The US is a particularly vociferous opponent, and is threatening sanctions against European companies involved in the project.

Belarus protests: Opposition leader ‘tore up passport’ to avoid expulsion
(BBC) A detained Belarus opposition leader prevented officials from forcibly expelling her to Ukraine by tearing up her passport and throwing it out of a car window at the border, colleagues who travelled with her have said.
On Monday Maria Kolesnikova was forced into a van by masked men in Minsk.
Ms Kolesnikova’s colleague Anton Rodnenkov said he and another colleague had been kidnapped on Monday, driven between buildings, and interrogated with hoods over their heads and their hands tied.
They accepted an offer to leave Belarus with Ms Kolesnikova but when the car reached the border she refused to cross.
What Russia Really Has in Mind for Belarus
And Why Western Leaders Must Act
By Michael Carpenter and Vlad Kobets
For six weeks, Belarusians have been taking to the streets to protest the allegedly rigged election that extended the 26-year rule of Alexander Lukashenko. Russia has thrown its weight behind the authoritarian leader, sending advisers to Minsk and offering a $1.5 billion loan to prop up the country’s economy. But Moscow’s meddling may be about more than keeping Lukashenko in power. The Kremlin’s goal is “soft annexation,” Michael Carpenter and Vlad Kobets argue, “culminating in a full-fledged Union State that would mean the de facto absorption of Belarus into Russia.”

2 September
Novichok nerve agent used in Alexey Navalny poisoning, says German government
(CNN) German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said toxicological tests on samples taken from Navalny had been carried out at a German military laboratory, providing “unequivocal evidence of a chemical nerve agent” from the Novichok group — Soviet-era chemical weapons.
In a statement, Seibert said it was “startling” that “Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent in Russia.
A European observer comments:
“As this poison has not until now been available to others than Russian government agencies, this casts a shadow on my first assessment that Putin was not behind this. Now it looks as if he was. However, there still is the possibility that some other operator has got one of the official services to do the job without consulting Putin. Best to wait until the BND has done their job.”

25 August
Jeremy Kinsman and Larry Haas tackle the thorny issue of Belarus and what to do about Lukashenko whom Jeremy describes as “one of only two national ‘leaders’ whom I thought instantly were clinically insane.”
Wednesday Night’s Nordic observer suggests install Viktar Babaryka. He is in jail since June after having stood as a candidate for President. He is a former banker and previously led Belgazprombank which was owned by Gazprom. He would be a chap suitable for Putin/Russia and the demonstrators.
Lukashenko could retire and move to his estate in Saltykov (bought 2013 by Naftan for 27 M dollars, but actually owned by Lukashenko). Everybody saves face, Putin gets what he wants and the demonstrators will be satisfied with some changes in the security-apparatus.
The Belarus protests erupted because of these 4 things
What’s happening in Belarus is not all that unusual. Analysts of election protests have shown claims of fraud and economic pain make post-election protest more likely. Our research findings also suggest human-rights violations, especially political imprisonment, increase the probability of post-election protests.
(WaPo) Widespread protests in Minsk and other cities, as well as strikes, have continued since the election, with protesters declaring the election results fraudulent and demanding a new election.
The Belarusian government responded with violent repression, detaining and allegedly beating thousands of protesters. During the weekend, the government shut down media websites and newspapers, amid continued threats to escalate the crackdown on protesters.
Human rights organizations and outside observers have routinely accused Lukashenko’s regime of violating human rights and not holding free and fair elections. Lukashenko’s government jailed his challengers in the lead-up to the election, and the incumbent’s main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — a candidate for president and spouse of another jailed candidate — was forced to flee the country after the election.

20-24 August
Top Putin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned, German doctors confirm
(Vox) If Navalny recovers, he may have even more credibility to form a larger opposition movement against Putin as a result of the suspected attack, experts say. Instead of getting rid of his biggest political rival, Putin (or whoever might be responsible) may have just made him more powerful.
Whether or not Navalny bounces back and is able to wield that power if he does is what many inside and outside Russia — and certainly many inside the Kremlin — will be waiting to see.
But was Putin behind it? We may never know.
Tests indicate Alexei Navalny was poisoned, says German clinic
Kremlin critic being treated with same antidote used after 2018 nerve agent attack in Salisbury
Supporters have said that they believe the Kremlin is behind the attack. Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny ally whose husband was stabbed with a syringe in a 2016 attack that sent him into convulsions, told the Guardian that similar attacks were the “hallmark of the Kremlin”.  She and others said that they believed that such an attack could only be authorised by a senior Russian official with Putin’s knowledge.
Navalny, Being Treated in Germany, Looms Over Russian Politics
His sudden, unexplained illness comes amid political uprisings in Russia’s Far East, and just weeks before municipal elections take place across the country.
By Melissa Eddy and
(NYT) The sudden illness struck Mr. Navalny, the most persistent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, just as popular uprisings have sprung up in Russia’s Far East and in neighboring Belarus — and only weeks before Russians vote in municipal elections on Sept. 13.
How it will affect the political scene, analysts in Russia said, will hinge in part on Mr. Navalny’s longer-term condition and whether he will be able to return home.
“Sometimes, instances that are publicly perceived as political terror do demoralize the opposition,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a Moscow-based political analyst, said in an interview, “and at other times they motivate people to protest, or at the least, to vote in protest.”
If Mr. Navalny remains in Germany for a lengthy recovery, or indefinitely as a political exile, the Kremlin stands to benefit politically, she said.
“It is very useful to have an opposition figure in exile,” Ms. Schulmann said. “He can be cast in the state media as a person who fled Russia. They can present it as unpatriotic behavior.”
Gwynne Dyer: Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny and Thomas Beckett
Putin’s position is rather similar to that of England’s King Henry II, who ordered the assassination of that martyred cleric by accident, so to speak, and was then covered by shame and regret for his murder (or so he subsequently claimed).
Could something similar have happened in Russia last week? It won’t end up with Putin barefoot and flogged by monks, of course, but maybe his minions just exceeded their instructions? After all, that was Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s excuse when his henchmen chopped up journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul two years ago, and no government has officially questioned his word on that.
Alexei Navalny has long been a fierce critic of the Kremlin. If he was poisoned, why now? And what does it mean?
(The Conversation) Navalny, who has been the victim of numerous attacks over the years, was reportedly asked by a group of supporters in the city of Tomsk a day before he became ill why he wasn’t dead yet. According to one supporter, He replied that it wouldn’t be beneficial for Putin. That it would lead to him being turned into a hero.
… There is little question…that he is a key representative of a new generation of Russians who are not afraid to criticise the state and, after almost a century of nightmarish upheavals, want to finally live in a “normal country.”
A key part of this normality is reorienting Russia away from its backward-looking, post-imperial, Cold War posturing to become a forward-looking country focused on building better schools, infrastructure and health care.
… Although making Navalny a martyr certainly does not seem to help the Kremlin at this point, it is also possible the attack involved rogue elements of the Russian security state who were threatened by Navalny’s anti-corruption exposés. … If it does turn out to be a poisoning, we are unlikely to ever get definitive answers of who ordered the attack. But it does send a chilling message to those who criticise the current regime. And it is a sad reminder to the next generation of Russians that they do not (yet) live in a “normal country.”
Kremlin critic Navalny is flown to German hospital; in ‘worrying’ condition
(Reuters) – Gravely ill Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was evacuated to Germany for medical treatment on Saturday, flown out of the Siberian city of Omsk in an ambulance aircraft and taken to a hospital in Berlin.
Alexei Navalny: ‘Poisoned’ Russian opposition leader in a coma
The anti-corruption campaigner fell ill during a flight and the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, where doctors said he was in a coma and they were trying to save his life.
His team suspects something was put in his tea at an airport cafe.

Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kalesnikava: ‘The international community should not stand aside’
(Atlantic Council) On August 9, Belarus held a presidential election that was marred by fraud. According to the official results, Alyaksandr Lukashenka won with 80 percent, although the EU and United States do not recognize the results. Fearing for the safety of her children, the likely winner, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, fled to Lithuania. Tsikhanouskaya ran for president flanked by Maria Kalesnikava and Veranika Tsapkala. On August 22, we spoke to Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kalesnikava. The interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Belarus, explained: How Europe’s last dictator could fall
Facing the worst crisis of his 26 years in power, Lukashenko turned to his powerful neighbor, Russia, for help. Putin has been both ally and foe to Belarus over the years, depending on his political calculations. Russia has promised to protect Belarus from external military threats. But Putin appears unlikely to assist Lukashenko against protesters. He warned foreign powers not to interfere in Belarus’s affairs, either.
(The Conversation) As a researcher on Eastern Europe born and raised in Belarus, I’ve been watching the president’s handling of this crisis closely. I find he made two major mistakes since the contested Aug. 9 vote – errors that may help explain how dictators fall.
Error 1: Hubris
Holding elections with foregone results is part of the modern autocrat’s playbook. … Lukashenko has long gotten away with improbably high electoral margins. This time was different because of the grassroots activism that took place ahead of the presidential vote.
Lukashenko had eliminated his main rivals…. Rather than give up on the election, the opposition united around the seemingly improbable candidacy of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a housewife with no political experience.
Error 2: Counterproductive violence
Lukashenko conceded nothing. Instead, he called in the riot police.
Belarus has seen post-election crackdowns before, in 2006 and 2010. But this time the police repression was far more violent. Police violence only triggered much bigger protests. Worker strikes and demonstrations demanding free elections have since taken place at dozens of government-owned and private enterprises across Belarus.
… Lukashenko’s opposition is starting to “bureaucratize.” On Aug. 18, the opposition founded an entity called the Coordination Council of Belarus, to coordinate a peaceful transfer of power. Lukashenko declared it an attempt to seize power. Bureaucracy sounds boring. But it may decide whether Lukashenko stays or falls.

19 August
The election campaign superstar is now touring in support of the strikers, but fears of new police force are growing in Minsk
(Pledge Times) The strikers clearly receive the expected guest. The applause is as enthusiastic as being part of the opposition election campaign leadership trio Marya Kalesnikava rises on a stage erected in the central square of the city of Salihorsk.
Putin talks Belarus future with EU leaders
(DW News) According to experts Vladimir Putin’s Russia isn’t pinning its hopes on the weakened autocrat, but on the fact that Belarus is and remains a pro-Russia country. They believe the Kremlin wouldn’t mind a change in government, as long as it doesn’t involve an abrupt turn toward the West, the EU or NATO.
Kremlin Begins Security Forces Support for Lukashenko Following Regional Security Service Defection
(Institute for the study of war/ISW) Lukashenko began courting the Kremlin by characterizing his opposition as Russophobic on August 18. Lukashenko began a new information operation characterizing his opposition as Russophobic in a Belarusian security council meeting on August 18 around 1400.[23] Lukashenko falsely accused his opposition of seeking to impose “a creeping ban on the Russian language,” establish an autocephalous Belarusian Orthodox Church independent from the Moscow Patriarchate, join the EU and NATO, leave the CTSO, and close Russia’s two radar bases in Belarus.[24] Lukashenko previously accused the protests of being both Russian and Western-organized.[25] Lukashenko likely deliberately mischaracterized the protests in an effort to gain Kremlin support. The protesters are not anti-Russian and their core demands have been Lukashenko’s resignation, an end to police brutality, and new elections.

15 – 16 August
The latest Tweet from Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center’s Director.
Options for Kremlin in #Belarus:1)Intervene in force:disastrous. 2)Do nothing:risks chaos & being drawn in later. 3)Spt Lukashenko:waste of money,loss of country. 4)Join EU in calling for new poll:next time they’ll want to control RUS elections. 5)Arrange itself for dialogue & transition.
The choices facing Putin in Belarus are all fraught with risk
(CNN) Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been an extraordinary outlier in the monumental change that has swept through the former Soviet Union — for 26 years, he’s remained the pre-eminent figure in his impoverished country. Meanwhile, aging central Asian dictators have died or stepped aside, Russian President Vladimir Putin has weathered oligarchs, dissidents and sanctions, and neighboring Ukraine has seen two revolutions and a civil war.
But this weekend’s two phone calls with Putin — the first sought by Lukashenko after days of unprecedented protest following a highly contested presidential election and police violence — mark a turning point. And it is one fraught with a geopolitical risk significantly bigger than the attention the crisis is currently getting in European capitals and inside the Beltway. Reminiscent of the violent protests in 2014 in Kiev, it is a moment when a relatively localized moment of dissent could plunge Europe into crisis.
Tens of thousands hold biggest protest yet; Lukashenko defiant
(Al Jazeera) Belarusian leader rejects calls to step down as tens of thousands rally for largest protest yet against disputed vote.
Under Siege in Belarus, Lukashenko Turns to Putin
The shift toward Russia comes at a time of crisis for President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, who has frequently played Moscow off against the West.
(NYT) After claiming for weeks that Russia was plotting to overthrow him, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus appealed to the Kremlin on Saturday for help against a wave of protests and strikes triggered by police violence after a disputed presidential election.
Mr. Lukashenko spoke by telephone with President Vladimir V. Putin, Belarus’s state news agency Belta reported, and secured a promise of Russian security assistance should Belarus request it. The agency quoted Mr. Lukashenko as saying that Mr. Putin had pledged that, if needed, “comprehensive assistance will be provided to ensure the security of the Republic of Belarus.”
The Kremlin’s own account of the leaders’ conversation, however, gave no indication that Mr. Putin had offered any concrete support or even a clear endorsement of Mr. Lukashenko’s staying in power.

30 July
Moscow’s cozy vista Belarusian and Russian political experts explain the Kremlin’s options in Minsk ahead of an uncertain presidential election
Less than two weeks before Belarus holds presidential elections, the country’s intelligence services arrested nearly three dozen Russian nationals supposedly acting as mercenaries. Belarusian police also recently arrested popular opposition presidential candidate Viktor Babariko (Viktar Babaryka), whom incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko has directly accused of working for the Russian energy giant “Gazprom.” So far, the Kremlin’s response has been circumspect, despite the alarming allegations and a sometimes rocky relationship with Minsk over the past 18 months, during which time integration with Russia has stalled and Lukashenko has made efforts to repair ties with the West. Meduza spoke to a handful of political experts in Belarus and Russia about Moscow’s expectations going forward.

24 June
Russia referendum: All you need to know on the vote that could see Putin stay in power until 2036
(Euronews) Russia is set to hold a July 1 referendum that could see President Vladimir Putin stay in power until 2036.
The vote will be over whether to accept constitution changes that would allow Putin to run for another two presidential terms.
The proposed changes to the country’s 1993 constitution were revealed in January and backed by Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, in March.
What are the constitutional amendments set to change?
There are around 200 amendments proposed to the constitution even though Putin has traditionally been opposed to changes, experts say.
Mark MacKinnon: Barring a miracle, Putin will soon rule Russia indefinitely. But what happens after that?
(Globe & Mail) The Russian President’s reputed obsession with past strongmen – and their ignominious deaths or defeats – may be a key reason for the coming referendum to keep him in office until 2036. But observers say it’s hard for him to control what will happen next to his legacy, or his country.
There’s a tawdry feel to the referendum that Russia is holding to approve changes to its constitution. There are prizes for voting – intended to drive up turnout – but no substantive debate about the amendments, the most dramatic of which will allow Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has already ruled the country for more than 20 years, to remain in office until 2036.
Though polls show Mr. Putin’s popularity rating is at its lowest ebb since he first became a public figure in late 1999, the result of the referendum is assumed. Bound copies of the new constitution are already on sale in Moscow bookstores.

22 June
Gwynne Dyer: In an epic essay, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sounds afraid and he has good reason to be
He has written a 9,000-word essay on the risk to world peace to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and published it in the leading American foreign policy magazine The National Interest.
Putin called it ‘The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of the Second World War,’ which presumably refers to the end of the war in early May of 1945, but that was obviously last month. Instead, he scheduled publication for this week, because June 22 is the date when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. He wanted to write this piece so badly that he deliberately mixed up the dates.
One of his objectives is to rectify the ignorant omission of any mention of Russia’s leading role in defeating Nazi Germany in the Anglo-American celebrations of the anniversary last month.
…So far, so predictable, you might say, but the concluding third of Putin’s essay is quite different. It is an almost desperate plea for the preservation of the international order embodied in the rules of the United Nations and especially of the Security Council, which has kept the peace between the nuclear-armed great powers for such an astoundingly long time.
Putin is right: the United Nations is not a naively idealistic organization, and the Security Council is brutally realistic about how to keep the peace between nuclear powers. It has done so successfully for 75 years, but it is now threatened by the rival, non-negotiable nationalisms of many countries and the growing isolationism of the United States.
Rather like the 1930s, in fact. Putin is not older or naturally wiser than the other leaders, but he is Russian and KGB-trained, so he remembers the history a lot better. He is actually scared, and he’s probably right to be.

4 June
Russian Power Plant Spills Thousands Of Tons Of Oil Into Arctic Region
(NPR) Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency after a giant diesel fuel spill in a remote Arctic region 1,800 miles from Moscow.
After the accident Friday at a power plant owned by Norilsk Nickel, one of Russia’s largest mining companies, Putin skewered officials for their sluggish response.
“Why did government agencies find out about this only after two days? Are we going to find out about emergencies from social media now?” Putin asked a Norilsk Nickel manager during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Of the approximately 23,000 U.S. tons of oil products that spilled into the environment, nearly 17,000 tons flowed into a river, according to Russia’s environmental inspection agency. By comparison, the volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska was about 39,000 tons of oil.

7 May
The Putin Regime Cracks
Tatiana Stanovaya
The pandemic has revealed a truth of the Russian government. Vladimir Putin has become increasingly disengaged from routine matters of governing and prefers to delegate most issues.
(This article aims to explain how the Putin regime operates and its growing internal conflicts by classifying five different elite groups. For brevity’s sake, it does not cover specific aspects of the Russia government’s response to the pandemic (this will be the subject of future research). Nor does it examine the public dimensions of Russian politics (for example, parliamentary developments and media activity). The focus is on the inner workings of Russia’s main decisionmakers.)
(Carnegie Moscow) President Vladimir Putin’s clever maneuver to dispense with the Russian constitution’s provisions on presidential terms limits will, in theory, allow him to stay in office until 2036. Yet by rewriting the constitution and reshuffling the government, Putin did far more than throw most of the Russian elite off-balance. Putin’s efforts signal that he is building a new political regime that will be more conservative, more ideological, and more anti-Western in its outlook.
Everything is not going to plan, however. The planned reconfiguration of Russia’s political system has been complicated by the collapse of global oil prices and the unprecedented disruption caused by the coronavirus. The April 22 quasi-referendum to “approve” the constitutional amendments is now on hold while the Kremlin tries to deal with both the virus and a new economic crisis. These twin challenges represent the biggest shock the Putin regime has ever faced and are likely to feed popular dissatisfaction.

6 May
Russia’s Coronavirus Cases Rise By Over 10K for Fourth Straight Day
(Moscow Times) Russia confirmed 10,559 new coronavirus infections Wednesday, bringing the country’s official number of cases to 165,929. Russia now has the world’s second-fastest rate of new infections behind the United States. It is the seventh most-affected country in terms of infections, having surpassed China, Turkey and Iran last week.

1 May
How Russia Can Maintain Equilibrium in the Post-Pandemic Bipolar World
To avoid becoming part of a Sino-centric power bloc and maintain international equilibrium, which is critically important to Russia’s status and self-image, Moscow must reduce its dependence on China by fostering its relations with other large economic and financial players: primarily European countries, India, and Japan.
(Carnegie Moscow Center) In principle, to avoid overdependence on others, Russia has the resources to start developing its own economy and advanced technologies, but unfortunately, the country’s current political and economic conditions block that path for the moment. Until the country can begin to use its internal reserves for economic self-empowerment, foreign policy could help.
In order not to fall into China’s lap and to maintain equilibrium, though not equidistance, between the United States and China (ties with China will grow stronger, even as the confrontation with the United States is likely to continue), Moscow must start fostering its relations with the other major economic and financial players in Greater Eurasia.

30 April
‘This situation is very scary’: Coronavirus is disrupting Vladimir Putin’s Russia
Faltering economy and lack of protective gear pose challenges to Kremlin
(CBC) COVID-19 appeared to come late to Russia, compared with North America and Europe, but now it’s striking with a vengeance, the damage compounded by the lack of personal protective equipment for hospital workers.
There are almost daily reports across the vast country — from St. Petersburg to Siberia — of hospitals being quarantined because of coronavirus outbreaks among staff.
On Thursday, the state news agency RIA novesti reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishutsin tested positive for the coronavirus and is in self-isolation. He is so far the most senior member of government known to have contracted the virus. President Vladimir Putin has not been seen in public with Mishutsin in weeks, and the prime minister broke the news by video conference.
Russia is poised to surpass 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, with approximately 900 reported deaths. Those are extremely low numbers compared with the experience of western Europe, where more than 20,000 people have died in each of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain.
Many doctors — even those sympathetic to the government — have told CBC News part of the challenge is that Russia’s tests return an unusually large number of false negative results.

23 April
Steven Pifer: Putin’s not-so-excellent spring
(Brookings) Early this year, Vladimir Putin had big plans for an excellent spring: first, constitutional amendments approved by the legislative branch and public allowing him the opportunity to remain in power until 2036, followed by a huge patriotic celebration of the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Well, stuff happens—specifically, COVID-19. Putin’s spring has turned out quite differently from what he had hoped.
… The global economic slowdown has caused demand for oil to drop by 20-25 millions barrels per day.On April 9, Russia and OPEC agreed to cut production by about 10 million barrels per day. On April 21, the price of a barrel of Brent oil fell below $20 …(the Russian government budget was designed to balance at a price of $42 per barrel) … Russia has to cut 2.5 million of barrels per day of production to meet its part of the April 9 agreement.
Managing the health crisis and its economic consequences, which could affect Putin’s approval rating—something to which the Kremlin pays extraordinarily close attention—is now the Russian president’s top preoccupation. This is not anything like he anticipated three months ago.

19 April
Russia reports record daily rise in coronavirus cases
(Reuters) – Russia on Sunday reported a record rise of 6,060 new coronavirus cases over the previous 24 hours, bringing its nationwide tally to 42,853, the Russian coronavirus crisis response center said.
The number of coronavirus cases in Russia began rising sharply this month, although it had reported far fewer infections than many western European countries in the outbreak’s early stages.

17 April
Coronavirus will strain Russia’s already troubled health care system
(Global) Aside from its ethnic cousins in Belarus or Ukraine, there may be no other European country less capable of combating the coronavirus pandemic than Russia.
To get a quick understanding why, it is only necessary to know that the average lifespan of a Russian male is 66 years. For comparison’s sake, the average Canadian male will live 15 years longer.
Russians, and especially Russian men (women outlive men in Russia on average by 11 years), have weak hearts, bad livers and high rates of cancer. Not a lot is yet known about COVID-19, but these three medical problems are known to make people more susceptible to complications from this pernicious infection.
There is another reason why Russia may become the next big lethal nest for the coronavirus. The free public health care system that most of its 145 million people rely on has been in a state of perpetual collapse for decades.

11 April
Kremlin says ‘huge influx’ of coronavirus patients putting strain on Moscow hospitals
(Reuters via Global) Moscow and many other regions have been in lockdown for nearly two weeks to stem the contagion, but hospitals in the capital are still being pushed to their limit, officials said.

13 March
War With OPEC Can’t End Well for Russia
Falling oil prices leave no chance Russia’s GDP will grow in 2020—a bleak prospect for both ordinary people and once optimistic investors.
(Carnegie Moscow) Oil prices plummeted this week after a stalemate in talks between Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Convinced it can force OPEC members to unilaterally decrease production, Russia may well end up worse off than its rivals in its bid to save face
Russia …cannot significantly increase the production of oil, its economy wasn’t growing even when oil cost $60 per barrel, the pension fund is running a deficit, and household incomes are lower now than eight years ago. The sanctions in place on Russia foreclose the possibility of large-scale external borrowing even when oil prices are high. If Saudi Arabia decides to raise the stakes, Russia—where the authorities’ ratings are already falling—will have to throw in the towel or suffer a long-lasting recession and yet another decrease in household incomes.
It’s possible that Russia will choose to fight until the bitter end. The Kremlin is accustomed to using force as a prelude to negotiations and typically refuses to make face-saving concessions.
Russia’s oil industry will indeed suffer with less funding for the development of technology and exploration. Yet this may not be such a bad thing if it forces Russia to diversify its economy and develop other industries.
Living standards will fare less well because the oil price impacts the ruble’s exchange rate directly. With a falling ruble, imports will become more expensive, hurting both consumers and manufacturers, as most inputs for domestic production are still being bought abroad.
The ruble’s fall will also hit Russian people’s savings (which are mostly held in rubles).

14 February
Vodka on the RocksRussia’s relations with the West are not about to get any better.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center
US-Russian relations continue to deteriorate. Expectations on both sides are extremely low. Arms control is unraveling fast, with the Trump administration seemingly more likely to let the New START treaty expire within a year than to extend it. Opens Skies may be another agreement that US President Donald Trump would like to discard. The coming US presidential election might well result in new accusations of Russian meddling, which would lead to new sanctions against Russia.
Russia’s relations with Europe continue to disappoint. Expectations of a breakthrough or at least significant progress on Donbass, which were raised as a result of the Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary elections of 2019, have had to be significantly rolled back. It is possible that the line of contact in Ukraine’s east may see a prolonged lull in shelling and shooting, with more civilians freely crossing the line to go about their daily business and prisoners still kept by both sides returning to their families. What also seems probable, however, is a long-term freeze of the political status quo in Donbass. The [Minsk agreement], whose implementation is a sine qua non for the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia, will remain unfulfilled. Moscow’s insistence on a special constitutional status for Donetsk and Luhansk remains anathema to Kyiv.
… Against this background, Moscow’s relations with – and public attitudes toward – a number of Eastern European countries, from Poland to the Baltic States to Ukraine, have reached new lows.
The bad news is that the Moscow-Washington confrontation will continue; the good news is that there will be some guardrails built around it. Russia’s relations with European countries will vary from the pragmatic, such as with France, Germany and Italy, to the highly toxic, such as with several Eastern European neighbors. The conflict in Donbass is unlikely to rekindle or escalate, but nor will it be solved anytime soon. Crimea will stay Russian, but will not be internationally recognized as such. There will be no hostilities in the Baltic Sea area, but hostility on both sides of the NATO-Russian divide will become more deeply entrenched. The Arctic will become busier commercially, but more militarized as well. The Balkans, while no longer an East-West battleground, will be a sandbox for small-time geopolitical games. The Eastern Mediterranean, however, is emerging as an area where Russia, again, is competing with the West.

20 – 23 January
Behind Façade of Transition, Putin is Creating a Corporate State, Pastukhov Says
“The empire which appeared to have receded into the past has struck back, becoming again the main principle of the state construction in Russia, one almost elevated into constitutional rank,” Pastukhov concludes.
(Windows on Eurasia) Having made certain concessions to the Russian parliament on the appointment of ministers, the Kremlin leader “made two enormous steps” in the opposite direction, first by elevating the status of the force ministers by means of putting their approval in a different category and second, by extending this principle to the regions as well.
What these changes mean, of course, is that “the distance between the real rules according to which Russia has lived for a long time and the constitutional Potemkin village” that Moscow has claimed to be operating under but hasn’t at least since Putin came to power “has been reduced.”
Gwynne Dyer: Putin bids for post-retirement influence but not for immortality
Last week the Russian president announced a wave of constitutional reforms, and the vast majority of foreign observers, especially in the West, jumped to the conclusion that Putin is changing the system so that he can stay in power forever.
Twenty years in power (his current term as president expires in 2024) is not enough for Putin, the foreign pundits insist. He can’t risk leaving power, they explain, or Russians would start asking where his vast illicit wealth came from. And then the pundits spin off into lengthy tirades about how he is evil incarnate, even comparing him to Stalin.
Putin names new Cabinet as key members of Russian government stay
Russian President Vladimir Putin formed his new Cabinet Tuesday, replacing many of its members but keeping his foreign, defence and finance ministers in place.
(Globe & Mail) The Cabinet shakeup comes as Putin has launched a sweeping constitutional reform that is widely seen as an attempt to secure his grip on power well after his current term ends in 2024.
Immediately after announcing the proposed changes last week, Putin fired Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who had the job for eight years, and named tax chief Mikhail Mishustin to succeed him.
On Tuesday, Putin issued a decree outlining the structure of the new Cabinet and named its members. He appointed his economic adviser Andrei Belousov as first deputy prime minister and named eight deputy prime ministers, including some new names, such as Dmitry Chernyshenko who was the head of the organizing committee for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov have retained their jobs. Siluanov, however, was stripped of his additional role of first deputy prime minister, which he had in the old Cabinet.
Other leading figures in the previous Cabinet, including Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev, also stayed.
Russia Prepares for New Tandemocracy
Putin’s proposed amendments to various roles amount to something resembling an insurance policy, which suggests that the president has already decided who his successor will be, though he may not name that person for another three years.
(Carnegie Moscow Center) President Vladimir Putin’s state of the nation address on January 15 made it quite clear that he will step down from the presidency in 2024—or earlier—as the Russian constitution requires, but only after he has put in place a system enabling him to influence his successor. This means a return to a tandemocracy like that seen in 2008–2012, when Putin stood down and served as prime minister under Dmitry Medvedev to adhere to the constitutional ban on more than two consecutive presidential terms.
Just how much power the State Council will wield in the future is one of the biggest questions arising from Putin’s plans for constitutional reform. Most probably, its authority will be directly proportionate to Putin’s concern that the next president could break free of his control.

9 January
The only winner of the US-Iran showdown is Russia
The heightened tensions between the United States and Iran over the killing of Qassem Soleimani offer Russia another opportunity to increase its influence in the Middle East, argue  Strobe Talbott and Maggie Tennis. This article originally appeared in Slate.
(Brookings) Beyond strengthening Russia’s position, the Soleimani strike contributes to Russia’s goals of driving a wedge between Washington and its partners and advancing global perceptions of the United States as volatile and belligerent. Moscow has already succeeded in undermining U.S. relations with Middle Eastern allies. The prime example is Turkey: Although Russia and Turkey were on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria, they now jointly control operations in the north of the country after a remarkable October 22 agreement between Washington and Ankara to establish a “Syria Safe Zone” and the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In reaction to Soleimani’s death, Turkey released a statement that it opposes “foreign interventions, assassinations and sectarian conflicts in the region.”
Moscow could also benefit if the U.S. strikes create more disunity between Washington and its European allies. Numerous U.S. decisions in the Middle East have frustrated allies, particularly its withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Reports suggest that the Trump administration even failed to warn Britain and other allies ahead of the strikes on Soleimani. If Washington does not heed its allies’ calls for immediate de-escalation, the United States could find itself further isolated on the world stage. Washington could incur additional damage to its relationships with European allies if Iran now hastens its pursuit of a nuclear weapon as a result of the strikes. Iran announced Sunday it would stop obeying all restrictions imposed by the Iran deal on its nuclear activities. Russia has been a vocal critic of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the deal and instead mount a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. In fact, Moscow’s position has placed it on the same side as European powers like France and Germany opposing the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions.
For a while it seemed that Trump was trying to fulfill his campaign promise of a reduced U.S. presence in the Middle East. Now, it seems as if he’s trying to draw the country into another prolonged quagmire — whether as a distraction from impeachment proceedings or to force Iran to the negotiating table, it is too early to tell.
Russia, on the other hand, is left with the enviable position of capitalizing on the turbulent behavior of the United States in the Middle East, regardless of whether the United States and Iran go to war. Ultimately, U.S. actions will strengthen Russian leadership: first, by removing American competition, and second, by turning regional and global sentiment against the United States.


12 November
Russia’s Comeback Isn’t Stopping With Syria
Get used to it, because Russian influence is coming to a region near you.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center
Russia is not a superpower, but it is back as an important independent player. And it will be playing in various regions around the world in the years to come.
… Russia’s achievements in the Middle East go way beyond the success in Syria proper. Moscow benefits from flexible semi-alliances with Turkey and Iran, oil price arrangements with Saudi Arabia and newly revived military ties with Egypt. It is again a player of some consequence in Libya, a power to which many Lebanese look to help them hold their country together, and a would-be security broker between Iran and the Gulf States — all this while maintaining an intimate relationship with Israel.
Today, such a degree of involvement with the Middle East obviously stands out in the Russian foreign policy landscape. Tomorrow, this is unlikely to be an exception. Already for some time, Moscow, in parallel with Washington, has been pursuing a political settlement in Afghanistan. This requires maneuvering between Kabul and the Taliban; Pakistan and India; and China and the United States. Last month, Mr. Putin held court for 43 African leaders in Sochi; it was Russia’s first summit with a continent where Moscow advertises itself above all as a security partner.
The credibility of this claim is supported not only by the Syria experience but also by Russia’s political and material support for Nicholas Maduro in Venezuela, who is still holding on, despite being declared illegal almost a year ago by some 50 nations led by the United States. Cuba, again under pressure by the Trump administration, is strengthening its ties with Russia, as demonstrated by the recent twin visits to Havana by Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and to Russia by President Miguel Diaz-Carnel. Besides Latin America’s leftist regimes, Moscow is reaching out to Brazil (a fellow BRICS member), Argentina and Mexico.
If the Middle East record is any guide, Russia’s newly energized foreign policy is not so much about the world order as about Russia’s place in that order.

25 October
As Putin Era Begins to Wane, Russia Unleashes a Sweeping Crackdown
A wave of arrests against journalists, opposition activists, doctors and religious believers raises a question: Is this a police state in the making or just a highly dysfunctional one?
By Andrew Higgins, Moscow bureau chief
(NYT) … Her conclusion — that relentless repression by Russia’s security forces is radicalizing Russian youth — now has the journalist, Svetlana Prokopyeva, facing up to seven years in jail for “publicly inciting terrorism.”
The prosecution of Ms. Prokopyeva and other harmless critics comes against the backdrop of foreboding and uncertainty over what might follow Mr. Putin, who has anchored the system for nearly two decades. Even the question of whether he will depart as scheduled in 2024 is the subject of speculation, since he remains more popular than any opponent despite a dip in his ratings.
The resulting jitters, exacerbated by economic stagnation and mostly small but widespread protests that erupted this summer, have left Russia’s numerous law-enforcement bodies scrambling to prove their mettle against potential threats, no matter how puny, and secure their future in a country they all view as a fortress besieged by enemies at home and abroad.
In the aftermath of the protests, which were broken up with often brutal force by the authorities, law-enforcement agencies last week conducted nationwide raids on news outlets critical of the Kremlin and on the homes and offices of people affiliated with the opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny.
… Mr. Putin’s Human Rights Council, shortly before this week’s purge of its more outspoken members, noted in a statement that the question of why people turn to militancy was “one of the most acute and debated” issues in criminology, and that journalism should not be criminalized. The council said it had “carefully studied” Ms. Prokopyeva’s text and “did not see in it any signs of justification of terrorism.”

26 August
Andrei Kolesnikov: Has Russia, Inc. Stalwart Chemezov Crossed the Barricades?
(Carnegie Moscow Center) It’s already entirely obvious that the regime has embarked on the path of more frequent and refined use of repression, and that the protests have been presented (and will continue to be so) by the Kremlin to the silent majority as the machinations of foreign powers. Sergei Chemezov’s comments on the public mood in Russia testify not to the specter of a thaw, but, on the contrary, to the fact that the clampdown is in full swing, and only individual members of the inner circle are apprehensive of the authorities’ new radical strategy of repression, which will provoke a new spiral in the war that is already de facto raging between the state and civil society.
20 August
Zelensky’s Flawed Choice of Tactics in the Donbass
(Warsaw Institute) Another phone call with the Kremlin, strange words about the death of Ukrainian soldiers in the Donbass, a request addressed to the French president regarding talks in the Normandy format – all of this does not bring Ukraine closer to ending the war in the Donbass. Volodymyr Zelensky seems to be trying to seize the initiative, however, his diplomatic efforts come off as chaotic and, in fact, further the Kremlin’s political goals. A few more months of such “softening” of Kyiv and Vladimir Putin may actually sit down for talks with Zelensky. However, then, the Ukrainian president will be in a much worse position and if he wants to achieve peace in the Donbass at all costs, it will come at a very high price. Entering into direct dialogue with Putin is extremely risky and, from Kyiv’s standpoint, it may also have a detrimental effect on the positions of Germany, France and the USA on the conflict in Ukraine.

11 August
Opinion: Growing discontent in Moscow poses challenge to Kremlin
As tens of thousands rallied on the streets of Moscow, Russia’s rulers reacted with violence and fear. Their worries are warranted, writes Miodrag Soric.
( Deutsche Welle) The protesters’ boldness has unsettled those in power, and the country’s rulers are reacting helplessly. Again and again the president and prime minister promise improvements like more money and higher wages. In reality, Russians’ standard of living has been falling for five years. Everyone knows it. They can feel it in their wallets.
Ultimately this is about more than just material things. Many ordinary Russians feel the government doesn’t represent or understand them.
Read moreOpinion: 20 years of Vladimir Putin destabilizing the world
Among the protesters were many liberal-minded youths calling for more freedom and western-style democracy, but there were also older Muscovites. They were carrying communist flags and mourning for the Soviet era, when, in their view, the state took care of its people. Old communists and young democrats — united by their certainty that this government is not taking them seriously anymore.
After 20 years, is Vladimir Putin’s untouchable image crumbling?
During Vladimir Putin’s two decades in power, polls have often shown Russians blame their government rather than their president for their problems. Amidst a new wave of domestic tension, that could be changing.

8 August
Moscow’s Crisis Is Now Russia’s Crisis
(Carnegie Moscow Center) By agreeing to the brutal suppression of peaceful protests about Moscow city elections, Mayor Sobyanin has submitted to collective responsibility. For Putin and the Kremlin, it is impermissible that elections can be lost. This is a message for Russia’s next parliamentary and presidential polls. … Moscow has lost its status as a special political enclave in the country. The crackdown on protest is being directed not by the mayor but from the Kremlin. Both Russia’s rulers and the opposition see the confrontation as a trial run for a bigger showdown in the parliamentary elections of 2021 and the next presidential election of 2024.

Letter from Moscow
Much has changed in Moscow’s capital, where feelings about Vladimir Putin are more mixed than you’d think.
By Jeremy Kinsman
(Policy Magazine) This isn’t the place for profound political analysis, but the one thing most people agree western comment has wrong is our prevailing belief that Putin decides everything as a top-down dictator, mostly concerned with his own power. In Russia, he is generally seen as the guy who pulled the country up off the floor. We call him right-wing and autocratic. Most Russians would peg him as a relative liberal because they know there are more lethal potential tyrants in the wings that Putin fends off.
Most see Putin as an arbiter of various competing and diverse interests. His job has been to restore Russia’s stature, pride, and performance and a large majority of Russians credit him with a good job on those. He oversees, fairly loosely, an increasingly professional and technocratic administration that is almost apolitical. It isn’t a vision of inclusive and participatory democracy but it delivers.
Again, contrary to Western sentiment about Russia, Putin’s external adventures get mixed reviews domestically. Russians I know are tired of the extended conflict with Ukraine (though they see the Crimea annexation as a justified retroactive adjustment to the way the USSR broke up in haste). They don’t view the alliance with Bashar al-Assad as a trophy to cherish. Russians now travel abroad a lot; they get that there is resentment over Russian meddling in other peoples’ politics. On these issues, Putin’s nationalist populism may be out of step with European-inclined Muscovites. People are proud when he plays the statesman and mediator, especially when compared to Trump the disruptor. They like it when he pushes back against US unilateralism but they like it best when Russia succeeds in strengthening international cooperation among regional allies like the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Council, and on disarmament. (July 2019)

27 – 29  July
Opinion: The Kremlin fears its own people
Russian police reacted with force and arrested more than 1,000 people during opposition protests in Moscow. As the nervousness of Russia’s rulers increases, so does the courage of its opposition, writes Mirodrag Soric
(DW) Millions have now seen the images of the beaten demonstrators; they have caused outrage, in Russia and across the globe. Western companies that continue to invest in Russia — including Siemens, BASF subsidiary Wintershall and Daimler — need to take a good hard look at themselves. Anyone supporting Putin’s regime in Russia will soon have to defend that stance closer to home.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the elite surrounding him are ever more fearful of their people. And with good reason. The government is accountable for a worsening in the Russian standard of living in recent years. The economy is stagnating, infrastructure is crumbling outside the major cities and educated young people are leaving Russia in search of better prospects. And ever since the so-called pension reform, millions of older voters also feel betrayed by the state.
That’s why political opponents are being frozen out of the vote. That’s why the media is being controlled, and why independent journalists are being persecuted. The Kremlin fears protests like the devil fears holy water; it’s a typical reflex of the powerful in authoritarian states.
As people fear less, the powerful fear more
Alexei Navalny discharged from hospital despite doctor’s opposition
(BBC) Alexei Navalny is Russia’s most prominent opposition activist – and one of President Putin’s most vocal critics.
That’s why news of a sudden illness makes headlines.
Especially if it’s a sudden illness contracted in a Moscow jail.
There’s been no confirmation that Mr Navalny was poisoned. But his doctors – and his supporters – are keen to know what sparked such sudden symptoms.
Russia’s Alexei Navalny may have been poisoned: doctor
(DW) A Russian doctor has said the opposition leader’s symptoms suggest that he might have been targeted with a “toxic agent.” Berlin has urged Moscow to release over 1,300 prisoners arrested during Navalny-backed protests.
Navalny developed what authorities described as an “allergic reaction” while serving a 30-day jail sentence for promoting a banned protest march.
Navalny, a critic of President Vladimir Putin and the most visible face of Russia’s opposition movement, is regularly arrested for calling on protesters to demonstrate against corruption and non-liberal government policies.
He challenged Putin in the 2018 presidential elections but failed to make a stand after a Russian court banned him from participating over a criminal conviction for alleged financial crimes that he described as politically motivated.

Hundreds arrested at Moscow demonstration for free elections
Recent wave of Moscow protests was sparked by move to ban all but a few opposition candidates vying for city council.
(Al Jazeera) More than 500 people, including opposition leaders and city council election candidates, were arrested on Saturday as police cracked down on an unsanctioned demonstration for fair elections.
Hundreds of riot police and members of the national guard were dispatched to the centre of the capital, closing down streets near the planned protest site at city hall and rerouting demonstrators and bystanders.
The number of detentions, monitored by the independent OVD-Info group, was still growing after about 3,500 people had gathered. Prominent political figures were forcefully put into vans before the protest could start amid scuffles.
Nearly 1,400 detained in pro-democracy protest in Moscow – largest number of arrests in a decade

18 July
Storied Russian Miniatures Dwindling in Face of Icon Revival
Once upon a time, the small, picturesque Russian village of Palekh gained fame far and wide for producing religious icons.
Then one day, a revolution came and its adherents, growling, “There is no god,” banned such art.
Hundreds of artists eventually learned to adorn lacquer boxes instead, painting scenes from Russian fairy tales or romanticized versions of country life.
These delicate miniatures made the village famous anew, especially after foreign collectors plunked down tens of thousands of dollars buying an art form considered uniquely Russian.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox Church revived icon painting. It is miniature art now facing extinction.

12 July
Europe’s security watchdog reveals key evidence in the Nemtsov murder investigation
This week brought a potential breakthrough in the investigation of Russia’s most high-profile political murder in recent memory, the 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — or, rather, it would have, if Russian law enforcement had any intention of investigating it seriously.

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