Russia September 2020-

Written by  //  April 16, 2021  //  Russia  //  1 Comment

Wikipedia: List of journalists killed in Russia
Putin’s Palace:History of world’s largest bribe
Reuters: Russia
Carnegie Moscow Center
Eurasia Daily Monitor
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Navalny allies plead for EU to pressure Moscow over medical access
Two allies of Navalny, Vladimir Ashurkov and Leonid Volkov, wrote to the 27 EU ministers to urge them to discuss Navalny’s health at their next meeting on Monday, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.
The letter raised similar health concerns to those voiced on Tuesday by Navalny’s wife, who said after visiting him in prison that he was having difficulty speaking and had lost more weight.
“Alexei’s health is steadily deteriorating,” the letter said, citing an unofficial copy of test results that showed spinal problems.
“He now feels numbness not only in his both legs, but also in his left hand, along with pain in his back and muscular impairment,” the letter said.
“Alexei is also suffering from a fever and a heavy cough. Several inmates in his penal colony unit have recently been diagnosed with tuberculosis,” it added.

14 April
Kremlin to Washington: Putin-Biden summit depends on U.S. behaviour
(Reuters) Putin’s spokesman said on Wednesday that the proposed summit, in a yet to be chosen European country, was contingent on future U.S. behaviour in what looked like a thinly veiled reference to potential U.S. sanctions.
Biden proposes summit with Putin after Russia calls U.S. ‘adversary’ over Ukraine
(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden called on Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to reduce tensions stirred by a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s border and proposed a summit of the estranged leaders to tackle a raft of disputes. (Deutsche Welle (DW)) The Biden-Putin call came as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met with top NATO officials in Brussels, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the alliance chief, Jens Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg tweeted Russia “must end its military build-up in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations & de-escalate immediately.”

10 April
On Ukraine’s doorstep, Russia boosts military and sends message of regional clout to Biden
(WaPo) Russia’s motivations for the buildup are still unclear and do not necessarily signal a looming offensive, Ukrainian and Western officials said.
But moving forces from as far away as Siberia — more than 2,000 miles away — to near Ukraine and onto the Crimean Peninsula has injected new levels of alarm in a region that has been a key flash point between the West and Moscow since 2014.

5 April
War Scare Is Putin’s Natural Element
By: Pavel K. Baev
Starting a real war would surely be a step too far for the Kremlin at this moment; but Moscow’s conscious intensification of the situation represents another step forward along the slippery ground of political posturing and faking muscular resolve. Putin is by no means a risk-taker or a natural warrior, yet his experience with waging wars, starting from Chechnya in the early days of his “reign” and continuing in Syria, tells him that the costs are affordable while human suffering is of little import.
(Jamestown Foundation) The current escalation of tensions around eastern Ukraine is dangerous and may appear untimely and inopportune while Europe and Russia seek to focus on managing the latest COVID-19 pandemic wave as well as addressing its accumulating economic and social consequences. Nevertheless, a deliberate political choice is dictating the uptick in violence in the Donbas war zone, raising the risk of renewed major military conflict. This choice is being made in the Kremlin, and the rationale becomes comprehensible only within the context of the ongoing transformation of President Vladimir Putin’s regime into an autocratic police state (VTimes, March 31).
Russia’s sluggish economic recovery somewhat mars Putin’s reappearance in the political limelight, and yet he remains reluctant to disburse state reserves through a meaningful stimulus package (Kommersant, April 2). What worries Russians the most, at present, is the widening gap between their incomes and fast-rising consumer prices: only 25 percent of respondents in a recent opinion poll confirmed that their income is higher than what they consider a necessary minimum (Newsru.com, March 26). The government relies on administrative measures to curtail inflation, but prices on basic food products keep climbing (Novaya Gazeta, March 30). The agricultural lobby accepts the limitations and even some bans on export, but as compensation, farmers demand guarantees of profits on the domestic market; and this undermines the political instructions to ensure price stability (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 31).
Putin appears to have little interest in these mundane matters but feels the need to address the deepening discontent in order to boost his sagging popularity—and in his experience, nothing works better toward these aims than a crisis on Russia’s borders (Republic, April 2).
Maxim Samorukov: Are Russia and Ukraine Sliding Into War?
With Moscow massing its troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea, Kyiv has little chance of standing its ground if the standoff deteriorates into a military confrontation. Yet there are reasons to believe that neither side intends to unleash a war.
(Carnegie Moscow) After six years of an uneasy and at times violent truce, the specter of a new war is looming large in Russia-Ukraine relations. In retaliation for Kyiv’s recent crackdown on pro-Russian media and politicians, Moscow is staging a large-scale and ostentatious military buildup along the Ukrainian border. The situation is especially volatile in Donbas, where the ceasefire between the Ukrainian army and Moscow-sponsored breakaway territories has effectively broken down. Both sides accuse each other of provocations and regularly exchange fire, with the casualties mounting among both military personnel and civilians.
Amid this grim reality, the two countries’ claims that they are doing everything they can to avoid a war ring hollow. Yet their protestations may not be entirely untrue. Although both Kyiv and Moscow are eager to reap the benefits of the sudden escalation, a rational assessment of the potential risks should ensure they stop short of a full-fledged military confrontation.

Russia’s Weak Strongman
The Perilous Bargains That Keep Putin in Power
(Foreign Affairs May/June) …if Putin is unrivaled at home, he is not omnipotent. Like all autocrats, he faces the dual threats of a coup from elites around him and a popular revolt from below. And because of the compromises he has had to make to consolidate his personal control over the state, Putin’s tools for balancing the competing goals of rewarding elites who might otherwise conspire against him and appeasing the public are becoming less and less effective. He has weakened institutions such as courts, bureaucracies, elections, parties, and legislatures so that they cannot constrain him, meaning that he cannot rely on them to generate economic growth, resolve social conflicts, or even facilitate his peaceful exit from office. This leaves Putin dependent on the fleeting commodity of personal popularity and the hazardous methods of repression and propaganda.
… Russia remains a great power, albeit a diminished one. Although Leonid Brezhnev, who led the Soviet Union at the height of its global power, would be appalled by the country’s current military capabilities and geopolitical status, Boris Yeltsin, who inherited a country in collapse, would view them with envy. Russia’s nuclear might, geography, and seat on the UN Security Council ensure that it ranks among the great powers—as do its educational, scientific, and energy prowess. The country has more college graduates as a proportion of its population than almost any member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It produced an effective COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year, and it will provide Europe with low-cost energy for years to come and remain a major player in global energy markets. Those who dismiss Russia as a regional power are mistaken.
Putin faces no immediate threat to his rule. He is a deft tactician with considerable financial resources facing a disorganized opposition. Yet no amount of shrewdness can overcome the agonizing trade-offs of running Russia the way he does. Cheat enough in elections so that you don’t risk losing, but not so much that it signals weakness. Rile up the base with anti-Western moves, but not to the extent that it provokes an actual conflict with the West. Reward cronies through corruption, but not so much that the economy collapses. Manipulate the news, but not to the point where people distrust the media. Repress political opponents, but not enough to spark a popular backlash. Strengthen the security services, but not so much that they can turn on you. How the Kremlin balances these tradeoffs will determine Russia’s immediate future. But the trend toward greater repression over the last four years, and its likely continuation, does not bode well for Russia or its leader.

4 April
Pentagon on alert as Russia steps up saber rattling in Eastern Europe and beyond
(The Hill) Russia has upped its saber rattling in Eastern Europe and the Arctic, a move that has put the Biden administration on alert.
In the past two weeks, Moscow has moved to test Washington and its allies on land, in the air and at sea with a buildup of military equipment in eastern Ukraine, military flights near Alaskan airspace and submarine activity in the Arctic.
… All leaders have pledged that Washington would stand by Kyiv.
But Russia on Friday warned NATO against deploying troops to Ukraine, threatening that such actions would escalate tensions and that Moscow would be forced to respond.

31 March
US expresses concern about rising Russian-Ukrainian tensions
(AP) — The Biden administration on Wednesday expressed concern about what it called escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made calls to his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts.
Blinken expressed the administration’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the State Department said.

10 March
Why Navalny Makes Many Russians Uncomfortable
(Carnegie Moscow) The opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s near-deadly poisoning, his return to Russia, and his subsequent imprisonment have only increased the Russian public’s distrust and disapproval of him, according to a recent poll. The explanation couldn’t be more banal: it’s a case of shooting the messenger.
With his investigations into senior officials and the film about “Putin’s palace,” Navalny has presented new proof of the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the country’s leadership. But the passive majority doesn’t want to know, and would prefer to block out unfavorable and compromising information about their country.

28 February
Kremlin critic Navalny moved to penal colony outside Moscow to serve jail term
The state news agency TASS specified that Navalny will serve his term in penal colony number 2 in the town of Pokrov, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow.
Ruslan Vakhapov, a local activist of the prisoners’ rights group Jailed Russia, described conditions as particularly severe. … Many prisoners cooperate with the colony administration and help them to control other inmates closely, abusing them if they violate a strict daily schedule, Vakhapov said.

24 February
Why Won’t Amnesty International Call Alexey Navalny a Prisoner of Conscience?
The Russian regime has used both its vast media infrastructure and its judicial system to vilify its opponents, including the opposition activist Alexey Navalny.
By Masha Gessen
On Tuesday, Russian media reported that Amnesty International will no longer consider the jailed Russian politician Alexey Navalny a prisoner of conscience. “Western Human-Rights Activists Have Changed Their View of the Blogger” one headline read. “Amnesty International Has Revoked Its Decision to Consider Navalny a Prisoner of Conscience,” another said. A fact check might rate these headlines “somewhat true.” Similar headlines in the Western media followed. This turn of events appears to be about a pressure campaign on Amnesty that got the organization trapped in its own scruples.

19 February
2021: Another Sad Year for EU-Russia Relations
(Carnegie Moscow Center) Premature and contrary proclamations of success with regard to Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine underpin the impression of politicization. Independent media, activists, and health workers face severe punishment for the spreading of “fake news” about the pandemic. Under such circumstances, it remains difficult to get a clear picture about the real situation in Russia. The excess mortality statistics for 2020, published by the Federal State Statistic Service at the beginning of February, indicate that the death toll is likely to be more than quadruple the official number, reaching well over 300,000 deaths.
Regardless, Moscow insists that Russia has fared much better in the pandemic than Western democracies. It sees itself in a position of relative strength that other international actors need to acknowledge. In Brussels and other EU capitals, on the other hand, the portrayal of the situation in the EU by the Russian authorities and media was perceived as yet another attempt to undermine and destabilize.

15-17 February
Jeremy Kinsman: Another Russian Revolution?
(Open Canada) Masha Gessen…doesn’t believe Navalny can bring Putin down. Change, Gessen says, is more likely to come from inside the regime than from the streets. But regime insiders can measure the public’s mood, too. A battle for minds is on. Parliamentary elections in September will test support. Will all those who remember the bruising chaos and poverty of the 1990s still support Putin?
Navalny in prison evokes the character known as “Z” in the 1969 Costa-Gavras film about a martyr in the struggle against dictatorship; he’ll be physically in jail but virtually everywhere.
Alexander Baunov: Why the Kremlin’s Anti-Navalny Strategy Just Might Work
(Carnegie Moscow Center) It appears that Navalny may have overestimated the readiness of ordinary people to support him. Just like Putin, Navalny may live in an information bubble.
He and his team are brilliant at generating media attention, viral content, and huge numbers of viewers of his anti-corruption videos. But this popularity may not necessarily translate into active support offline. The reasons for this are numerous. There is huge inertia within Russian society. Most people sense that the regime is not, in fact, on the verge of collapse, and that mass street protests are unlikely to facilitate or accelerate the end of the Putin era.
Masha Gessen: The Evolution of Alexey Navalny’s Nationalism
(The New Yorker) What Navalny has been trying to imagine is a post-imperial Russian national identity. Putin’s brand of nationalism is founded on nostalgia for the Soviet empire. The nationalist opposition to Putin, when it existed, was isolationist and xenophobic. Navalny’s position is rooted in a belief in the fundamental right of self-determination.
Navalny’s political views have developed in an unusually public way over the past decade. He has never apologized for his earliest xenophobic videos or his decision to attend the Russian March. At the same time, he has adopted increasingly left-leaning economic positions and has come out in support of the right to same-sex marriage. This strategy of adopting new positions—without ever explicitly denouncing old ones—is probably the reason the suspicion of ethno-nationalism continues to shadow Navalny.

5 February
Russia Expels European Diplomats Over Navalny Protests – Foreign Ministry
Russia will expel diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany over their alleged participation in recent “unauthorized” rallies in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.
The expulsions come amid European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell’s visit to Moscow, where he lamented to his counterpart Sergei Lavrov that ties between Europe and Russia had fallen to new lows over Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment.
The move was met with uproar and condemnation in European capitals.

1-3 February
Understanding Alexei Navalny
By David Mandel, professor of political science at Université du Québec à Montréal and a long-time socialist and trade union activist in Canada.
(Canadian Dimension) Naval’nyi’s courage and tenacity, as well as his tactical skill, cannot be doubted. But a large majority of Russians do not see him as a credible alternative. Although Russians are far from enamoured with the present regime, in the traditional Russian fashion, based on historical memory, they fear what might come to replace it. And they do not have to look far—indeed, only to Ukraine—to see the altogether dubious results of populist movements in the former Soviet Union (the “colour revolutions”) that ousted sitting governments. … Putin’s accession to power coincided with an economic recovery from a very deep and prolonged depression, the reassertion of Russia’s independence on the international stage and an end to the state’s drift toward balkanization. These factors still play in his favour, while his regime does everything it can to ensure that no credible alternative to Putin can emerge.
EU leaders condemn Russia’s jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny
(Euronews) The Russian government has accused Western countries of stoking the unrest after embassies in Moscow posted maps of the first demonstration calling on their nationals to steer clear of them because of likely violence.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Tuesday that the presence of foreign diplomats at Navalny’s court hearing was proof of the “West’s attempts to deter Russia.”
Jeremy Kinsman and Larry Haas: CTV Diplomatic Community, Feb2: the anxieties of autocrats – Russia and Myanmar
Andrei Kolesnikov: Might Versus Right: Putin’s Bunker and the Protests Outside
(Carnegie Moscow Center) Putin’s willingness to resort to police batons has polarized society and radicalized those who are dissatisfied with his rule. The moral cause of those taking to the streets across Russia is undermining the foundations of the Putin regime. Vladimir Putin, in possession of a vast army of riot police, might ask of Russia’s opposition leader: “How many divisions does Alexei Navalny have?” But a conflict is not just fought using brute force; there is also moral strength. And right now, that moral strength is on the side of the protesters.
Aleksei Navalny Is Resisting Putin, and Winning
Aleksei Navalny was in the prisoner’s dock, but it was Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his corrupt cohort who were really on trial.
(NYT editorial board) in this David v. Goliath saga, the 44-year-old Mr. Navalny has succeeded through raw courage and perseverance in putting Mr. Putin on the defensive. The imprisonment was Mr. Navalny’s move. Mr. Putin had tried for years to give him only brief sentences to avoid making him a martyr. But by voluntarily returning from convalescence in Germany, and then releasing a devastating YouTube video showing the obscenely opulent palace Mr. Putin was building himself on the Black Sea, Mr. Navalny left the president little choice but to dispatch him to a labor camp, and thus transform him into a powerful symbol of resistance.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny jailed for two years and eight months
Court locks up Putin’s foe despite threat of protests and international condemnation
The court’s decision makes Navalny the most prominent political prisoner in Russia and may be the most important verdict against a foe of Putin’s since the 2005 jailing of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

28 January
Alexei Navalny Grows More Powerful Every Time Putin Talks About Him
One day we may look back on January 2021 as the beginning of the end of Putin’s reign.
By Vadim Nikitin
(The Nation) Moments after touching down in Moscow, Navalny was whisked away to a makeshift court hastily convened at a local police station and jailed for 30 days. Just then, his team released the secret weapon. The video titled Putin’s Palace has now been watched 97.5 million times and spawned anti-government rallies in over 120 cities across Russia.
For all the furor caused by the video, it’s remarkable how little new information it contained. The allegations behind Putin’s Palace—that the Russian president is the hidden beneficiary of a sprawling property on the Black Sea built with taxpayer money embezzled by his friends and family members—were first revealed back in 2010. Nor was there anything particularly unusual about Navalny’s arrest: He has spent significant portions of the past decade behind bars.
… According to Sergei Guriev, a leading economist who fled Russia in 2013 and teaches at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, the nationwide protests of January 23 were “unprecedented in their scale and breadth,” spreading far beyond the usual metropolitan flashpoints of Moscow and St Petersburg. “They do not imply the end of the regime,” said Guriev by e-mail, “yet they are a challenge the Kremlin has not seen before.”

27 January
To Silence Navalny, Putin Will Try to Enlist the West
Washington Should Beware Falling Into the Kremlin’s Trap
By Jeremy Stern
(Foreign Affairs) In public, both the United States and Europe will almost certainly refuse to accept a “choice” between standing up for Navalny and working constructively with Putin. But in practice, the Kremlin will not willingly let them have it both ways. Throwing real support behind Navalny’s freedom and movement while disciplining Russian behavior in the international arena would be an almost inconceivable feat of Western diplomacy.

25 January
Alexander Baunov: The New Face of Russian Protest
(Carnegie Moscow Center) Saturday’s protests were undeniably anti-regime, anti-elite, and anti-corruption, but not necessarily liberal, pro-Western, and pro-democracy. [They] were not like the local movements seen in recent times. Instead of several different causes, which make the opposition agenda appear incoherent, the latest protests were all united by the same cause: opposition to the ruling regime, and support for the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The protests had a broader support base than both the usual liberal protests and those by Navalny supporters. Many of those who took to the streets emphasized that they were moved to do so not by Navalny. …people saw this as a protest against lawlessness and—in light of last year’s changes to the constitution, which allow President Vladimir Putin to effectively remain in the job for life—the usurpation of power.
Saturday’s protests were also noticeable for the lack of humorous slogans and placards in comparison with previous Russian protests (and the current Belarusian protest movement). The protesters were very serious, even gloomy.

23 January
Alexei Navalny: ‘More than 3,000 detained’ in protests across Russia
(BBC) Russian police have detained more than 3,000 people in a crackdown on protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, monitors say.
Tens of thousands of people defied a heavy police presence to join some of the largest rallies against President Vladimir Putin in years.
In Moscow, riot police were seen beating and dragging away protesters.
Mr Navalny, President Putin’s most high-profile critic, called for protests after his arrest last Sunday.

17 – 19 January
Putin, Poison, and Self-Inflicted Wounds: Navalny’s Return to Russia
Alexander Baunov
Instead of blackballing Navalny, the Kremlin has turned him into the world’s most famous political prisoner.
(Carnegie Moscow Center) … the Kremlin has indisputably propelled him to the leadership of Russia’s beleaguered opposition, and in the process undercut one of its long-running political strategies over the past two decades: strengthening President Vladimir Putin’s standing by ensuring that the political landscape remains free of any meaningful political challengers.
Alexey Navalny’s Fearless Return to Russia
By Masha Gessen
The Russian dissident’s superpower is his ability to show people what they have always known about the Putin regime but had the option of pretending away.
Navalny has managed to subvert every one of the regime’s mechanisms of control. He began more than a decade ago with a one-man blog about bogus state tenders and outrageous government contracts. He has since built a media organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, that investigates corruption and abuse of power in Russia, producing extensive text and video reports that draw millions of readers and viewers. He has also created a network of field organizers who have outwitted the Kremlin’s system for election rigging; they’ve been successful in only a couple of local races so far, but the precedent they have established is terrifying for Putin. Navalny has been arrested repeatedly, detained for protesting, and convicted twice on trumped-up criminal charges, but none of these measures have succeeded in silencing him. He has inspired mass protests that compelled the authorities to release him in 2013, a day after he had been sentenced to five years in prison. Following his next conviction, he refused to comply with an illegal sentence of house arrest, and then took Russia to the European Court of Human Rights and won. When the state took Navalny’s brother Oleg hostage, sentencing him to three and a half years in prison, Alexey grew only louder and more effective. Finally, last year Putin’s secret police attempted to kill Navalny by poisoning him with the chemical agent Novichok. Navalny not only survived but co-authored an investigation of his own attempted murder. And he still refused to stay out of the country.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny calls for protests after court orders him to be held for 30 days upon his return
(WaPo) International pressure mounted for Navalny’s release as he was abruptly summoned to the hearing, which he described as “the highest degree of lawlessness.” His attorneys said they were given just minutes’ notice of the hearing.
Kremlin critic Navalny appears in court as calls grow abroad for his release
Poisoned Russian opposition leader was detained on return to Moscow from Berlin on Sunday
(The Guardian) The hastily convened court hearing took place at a police station near the airport. On the wall behind Navalny hung a poster of Genrikh Yagoda, a secret police head under Stalin who organised show trials and set up the Gulag prison camps.
Navalny Arrested on Return to Moscow in Battle of Wills With Putin
(NYT) Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, landed in Russia Sunday night five months after he was poisoned with a nerve agent.
Bloomberg Politics:
It was, as expected, a bit of a circus when Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny flew into Moscow last night from Berlin, where he’d spent months hospitalized after a nerve agent attack he’s pinned on the Kremlin.
His plane was diverted from one airport to another, his supporters were briskly cleared away by security forces, and he was arrested shortly afterward.
European leaders were quick to condemn his detention, as was Jake Sullivan, incoming national security adviser to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.
The Europeans are considering next steps, with renewed talk of sanctions. Navalny knew he was facing arrest and likely years in prison if he returned but wasn’t deterred. It’s a bid to give momentum to his cause, especially with Russian parliamentary elections in the autumn and a stuttering economy draining support for President Vladimir Putin.
Even so, the ball may be more in Putin’s court. The arsenal for retaliation is limited and Europe has shown caution before on anything much beyond finger wagging (the ruble barely reacted to the news). Germany’s Angela Merkel has been firm in her insistence that a key gas pipeline with Russia is not to be touched.
Biden will be less inclined than Donald Trump to give Putin a pass on his shenanigans. But there again Biden’s options for action are limited. Detaining Navalny allows Putin to test the waters early on with the new U.S. administration. — Rosalind Mathieson

2020

Sergei Guriev on the Political and Economic Future of Russia (video)
Dr. Sergei Guriev is a famous Russian economist from North Ossetia. Until 2013, he was the rector of the New Economic School in Moscow. At the same time, he was also an economic advisor to Prime minister Medvedev. However, in 2013 his world was turned upside down: he had to flee Russia after being investigated by the government about cases concerning oil tycoon Mr. Khodorkovsky and opposition leader Mr. Navalny.
Dr. Sergei Guriev then went to Paris to become a professor at Sciences Po. Furthermore, between 2016 and 2019, he was the chief economist of the European Bank of Development and Reconstruction (EBRD).
In this interview, we would like to look at the eventful year 2020 for Russia: it suffered from the oil crisis and the COVID crisis, the opposition leader Navalny was poisoned, elections are coming up and there are riots in neighboring Belarus. How did Russia handle these crises according to Dr. Guriev? Do we, as the West, have an inaccurate view of Russia? What will the future look like for Vladimir Putin?
See also Oct. 2019 interview in Russian with subtitles

21 December
Navalny Says Russian Agent Confessed to Plot to Poison Him
Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, published a recording of a phone call in which he says he tricked a security official into exposing the plot.

9 December
Belarusian Crisis Through the Prism of Virtual Realities
(Eurasia Daily Monitor) At the December 2 virtual summit of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), President Alyaksandr Lukashenka once again expressed his view that the protest movement in his country is a rebellion masterminded by the West. He called the behavior of Poland and Lithuania particularly unbridled. Furthermore, he suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic boosted social tensions all over the world. But whereas, in the West, he contended, the authorities do not hesitate to use brutal force to crack down on rallies, they employ a double standard when castigating Belarus for achieving the same ends. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Belarusians themselves have enough “political maturity to calmly […] build an internal political dialogue with all political forces and resolve all their issues on their own, without pressure and outside interference. I have no doubt that it will work out, especially bearing in mind the political experience of the President of Belarus.” Putin then delivered his “verdict on Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. That is, I [Putin] once again invited him to leave calmly and without delay”

8 December
Is Crimea Now Costing Russia More Than It Is Worth?
By Paul Goble
(Eurasia Daily Monitor) In the euphoria that surrounded Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea six years ago, most Russians were more than willing to spend money to integrate that region into the Russian Federation. But at that time, they had little idea just how much that process would cost. Not only did that aggressive breach of international law trigger Western sanctions against Russia, but the authorities in Moscow also never gave the public an honest estimate of just how much money would need to be spent, nor for how long, even after the Kremlin proclaimed the peninsula’s absorption an accomplished fact. Were the Russian economy doing well, that might not matter; but it is not (see EDM, May 6, 12, 18, November 30), and the subsidies going to Crimea are, of course, unavailable to support the domestic needs of the increasingly hard-pressed Russian people in Russia proper. That contradiction could, therefore, encourage Putin to try to launch a new military advance to cover these losses.

14 November
Was the Nagorno-Karabakh Deal a Missed Opportunity for the CSTO?
Another diplomatic win for Russian bilateralism or a missed opportunity for one of Moscow’s regional multilateral institutions — the Collective Security Treaty Organization?
(The Diplomat) On November 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to broker a deal for a complete ceasefire and cessation of hostilities in the recently renewed conflict between Armenian and Azerbaijan. The two former Soviet republics have been locked in a standstill conflict since 1994 when a ceasefire brokered by Russia was established but was interrupted on several occasions, most recently in 2016. Nagorno-Karabakh is officially a part of Azerbaijan, whose territorial integrity was reaffirmed by U.N. Security Council resolutions, and even more resolutely supported by the U.N. General Assembly in 2008, which demanded a complete withdrawal of Armenian troops. However, since the ceasefire in 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh had functioned as a de facto sovereign entity.
The renewed fighting put Moscow in a difficult situation. After all, Russia is the main great power in the former Soviet space, and it feels responsible for what it declared in 2008 as its “regions of privileged interests.” Furthermore, Armenia is Moscow’s close ally and a fellow member of both a military alliance, the Collective Treaty Security Organization (CSTO), and an economic bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The two sides have close bilateral ties and an alliance that requires Moscow to come to Armenia’s aid should it need it.
At face value, the peace seems like yet another diplomatic win for Russia and an expression of strong statesmanship by its president. … [However] Some analysts do not see any immediate benefits for Russia coming out of this apparent resolution of the conflict, given that Moscow will have to bear the challenging burden of protecting the civilians, incur the financial costs of military deployment, and be seen as an overpowered disruptor in the West. The West wanted to see a multilateral solution to this, and there are doubts about the ability of a rather limited Russian force to fulfill such a challenging peacekeeping task. Some even argue that Russia’s lack of more resolute backing of Armenia is a sign of its gradually diminishing hegemony over the region and acceptance of the increased influence of other players (like Turkey). Another analysis suggests that Ankara’s prestige and regional influence came at the expense of Russia’s given that it was Turkish support that turned the war in Azerbaijan’s favor, while Moscow’s client Armenia did not receive the same level of backing and was being defeated.

13 November
The Kremlin Prepares for a Biden Presidency
The election of Joe Biden represents a return to a familiar status quo ante in U.S.-Russia relations: they will be largely unproductive but have an aura of reassuring familiarity.
By Joshua Yaffa
(The New Yorker) ten days after the election and six days since Joe Biden was declared the President-elect, the Russian state continues to be muted in its response. Vladimir Putin has yet to send the usual pro-forma congratulations to Biden. “We believe it would be proper to wait for an official announcement,” Putin’s spokesman said, referring to the Trump campaign’s various legal challenges lodged with U.S. courts. Few politicians are making the rounds to gloat on state television about how things are turning Russia’s way.

12 November
Moscow’s New Rules
Simultaneous crises in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Kyrgyzstan have demonstrated Russia’s maturing approach to its neighborhood. Russia is learning to mind its limitations; to repel residual nostalgia; and to think straight, putting issues before personalities, and staying focused on its own interests, leaving the empire farther and farther behind.
(Carnegie Moscow Center) …the Kremlin that looked threatening only a few months ago appears weak, challenged, and indecisive. Contrasting views of Russia’s foreign policy are nothing new, of course, and have historically led to wrong conclusions about what the country might or might not do. The actual situation is more nuanced, just as the developments around the second Karabakh war suggest.
(See Comments of 16 November below)

5 November
Russian President Vladimir Putin to resign amid Parkinson’s concerns, reports claim
(New Zealand Herald) Reports coming out of the Kremlin suggest Vladimir Putin’s 20-year-reign could be coming to an end.
According to Kremlin watchers, the 68-year-old leader is set to step down at the start of 2021, over concerns he may have Parkinson’s disease.
A number of observers have pointed out that recent footage of Putin appears to show his legs constantly moving and his fingers twitching and, in some videos, he seems to be in pain while holding onto the armrest of a chair.
Speculation has also been fuelled by the fact legislation introduced by Putin is currently being rushed through parliament, to guarantee immunity from prosecution and state perks for former presidents, for life.

26 October
No Compromise in Sight for Armenia and Azerbaijan
A Century-Long Search for an Impossible Victory in Nagorno-Karabakh
By Thomas de Waal
(Foreign Affairs) The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh remains one of the most tragic and persistent disputes in Europe. It is one of the last pieces of unfinished business from the end of World War I, still fought by the zero-sum rules of the last century: Armenia and Azerbaijan seek to pummel each other into capitulation. The devilish intractability of this conflict stems from two factors: a century-old security dilemma, in which each side has sought to achieve a sense of safety and control at the expense of the other, thereby undermining the security of both; and a democratic deficit, a total absence of societal trust and real dialogue, that makes compromise between the two sides almost impossible. The current toothless European security order cannot restrain them, nor have recent talks orchestrated by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The main prospects for curbing the fighting lie in the logistical limitations of the rugged terrain of Nagorno-Karabakh and the willingness and capacity of two great powers—Russia and now, after a century’s absence, Turkey—to facilitate a peace deal.
The last outsiders to “resolve” the Karabakh conflict were the Russian Bolsheviks. Exactly 100 years ago, in 1920, the Bolsheviks’ 11th Army pushed invading Turkish forces out of the Caucasus, crushed the two newly independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and took over the disputed highland region.

Karabakh: Hatred and Euphoria Are Fuelling Madness
Independent, dissenting Azerbaijani voices have never been so ostracised.

19 October
What role is Russia playing in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Moscow sells weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan but has also led attempts for the battling sides to put down their arms.
(Al Jazeera) Armenian observers say that their nation – along with ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh – maintains the pro-Moscow geostrategic balance in the Southern Caucasus region that straddles Eastern Europe and Middle East.
To them, the biggest flareup of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that has killed hundreds of soldiers and dozens of civilians is a mere resumption of Ankara’s “imperialistic” policies – and anti-Armenian sentiments that led to the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey a century ago.
Armenia, Azerbaijan Accuse Each Other Of Breaking Latest Cease-Fire Within Minutes
(NPR) Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region took another turn on Sunday, with the two countries accusing each other of violating the latest cease-fire just minutes after it took effect.
The tiny region in the South Caucasus has been the site of hundreds of military and civilian deaths, significant property destruction and inflamed tensions since violence broke out between the two countries in late September, intensifying a decades-long conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but governed by ethnic Armenians as a de facto independent state.

13 October
The conflict we can’t ignore
Opinion by Michael Bociurkiw
(CNN) While the world is preoccupied with the Covid-19 pandemic, the regional conflict in the remote separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is threatening to escalate into a wider war on the doorsteps of Europe and Asia. Saturday’s Russia-brokered ceasefire has already crumbled, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledging Monday that hostilities were continuing.
Nagorno-Karabakh is controlled by ethnic Armenians located in Azerbaijan and both Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, have accused each other of violating the terms of the ceasefire. Given that the conflict can be traced back to the early 20th century, it is hard to imagine genuine peace taking hold without the resolution of long-standing grievances.
Already the agreement has been rejected by Turkey, an aspiring regional power and NATO member that has been backing Azerbaijan.
The region is a crucial transit point for oil, gas and commerce that, if interrupted, could reverberate through the global economy – especially for the European Union, which will soon begin receiving gas from Azerbaijan.
Now Iran may be poised to enter the fray. While President Hassan Rouhani said he hoped to “restore stability” to the region, the Iranian Border Guards commander said his forces have been placed in “necessary formation” after claiming that shells and rockets have landed on Iranian soil.

9 October
Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Truce intended to exchange prisoners and recover dead, top diplomats say
The announcement follows 10 hours of talks between the diplomats in Moscow, which were sponsored by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who read the statement. It stipulated that the ceasefire should pave the way for talks on settling the conflict. If the truce holds, it would mark a major diplomatic coup for Russia that has a security pact with Armenia but also cultivated warm ties with Azerbaijan.

7 October
As Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Expands, Israel-Azerbaijan Arms Trade Thrives
A proliferation of flights between the two countries is linked to the renewal of the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region
(Haaretz) Nagorno-Karabakh is a 4.400-square-kilometer (1,700-square-mile) enclave with a population of 150,000. It is situated in the heart of Azerbaijan, but most of the population are Christian Armenians, with only a minority of Azeris or Turks. The enclave is a result of a Soviet tradition, the aim of which was to pursue a policy of divide-and-rule. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Armenia tried using peaceful methods in order to transfer the enclave to its sovereignty, but this met with opposition. War broke out between the two countries in 1988 over control of this enclave. This intensified in 1991 and lasted for three years, and included ethnic cleansing and a massacre of Armenians in Baku. Thirty thousand people died, and one million lost their homes.
… Turkey and Israel, currently hostile to one another (with Recep Tayyip Erdogan stating only last week that Jerusalem belongs to the Moslems), find themselves both supporting Azerbaijan, a Shi’ite Moslem country. On the other side, Iran, a third of whose population is of Azeri extraction (including its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), is supporting Christian Armenia and, according to some reports, supplying it with weapons. Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, is trying to please everyone, arming Azerbaijan as well.

5 October
Azeris and Armenians say civilian areas attacked, NATO seeks ceasefire
The fighting has raised international concern about stability in the South Caucasus, where pipelines carry Azeri oil and gas to world markets, and about the possibility other regional powers being dragged in – Azerbaijan is supported by Turkey, and Armenia has a defence pact with Russia.

2 October
Russian Journalist Sets Herself on Fire and Dies, Blaming Government
(NYT) The self-immolation by the journalist, Irina Slavina, 47, a longtime Kremlin critic, came a day after the authorities in her hometown of Nizhny Novgorod had searched her apartment.
Local authorities throughout the Russian regions have been putting pressure on independent media outlets and journalists. Many have quit established publications to create their own small websites or blogs. Before founding her own news website in 2016, Ms. Slavina worked in several local media outlets, where she always faced various forms of censorship.

1 October
Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are on the Brink of War
Local Tensions Meet Global Rivalries in Nagorno-Karabakh
(Foreign Affairs) On September 27, significant fighting broke out between the militaries of Armenia and Azerbaijan, two states that have been locked in an intractable conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh since the last days of the Soviet Union. Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions have seen periodic outbursts of violence in recent years, but the current fighting is the most serious since Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a cease-fire in 1994.
Domestic political factors in both countries militate against compromise. The international context surrounding the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has also shifted in ways that complicate efforts to peacefully address the underlying dispute. In particular, Turkey’s growing involvement in a conflict in which Russia has long been the dominant player risks both giving the protagonists—especially Azerbaijan—an incentive to keep fighting and opening up a new front in the Turkish-Russian rivalry that has already engulfed Syria, Libya, and to a lesser extent Ukraine.

One Comment on "Russia September 2020-"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson November 16, 2020 at 10:43 pm · Reply

    From a former Canadian ambassador to Ukraine:
    I am inclined to think of the Nagorno-Karabakh deal as a brilliant rescue operation by Mosow. If we take Dmitro Trenin seriously, the CSTO could not have handled the dispute. It only does light co-ordination . Besides, Azerbaijan is not a member.
    The danger for Russia in dealing with Nagorno-Karabakh is that Russia would have to choose between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The agreement Russia has reached on Nagorno- Karabakh has allowed the Russians to avoid choosing. The agreement furthermore brings the Russian armed forces back onto the area, strengthening Russia’s long term influence. The Turks apparently have been limited.

    Jeremy Kinsman:
    I agree with the above.
    I unusually consented last week to do an RT interview, because for once I too thought Russia had indeed done something helpful. The dismay from RT personnel with how pushy the Turks had been and were being was palpable.
    There is a problem, of course, in that the Armenians feel let down, defeated (and Aliev’s crowing about the great Azeri victory doesn’t help), and they don’t know who to blame, their own PM or the Russians who, they feel, didn’t help them enough!
    Armenia has always been pro-Russian, under the USSR, and they have had very good relations since 1991. THis Armenian government is its most democratically elected so far. Pashinyan is hurt politically by this loss of NK, but his party has a large majority in parliament.

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