Vladimir Putin & Russia August 2023-

Written by  //  May 12, 2024  //  Foreign Policy, Russia  //  No comments

Putin’s legal troubles
A quick survey of recent and drastic problems

‘Navalny’ Review: Speaking Truth to Power in a Corrupt System
Even with its subject in prison, the documentary plays like a crowd-pleaser. (April 2022)
Putin’s palace. The story of the world’s biggest bribe
full investigation, narrated by Alexei Navalny with English subtitles
Putin’s palace. The story of the world’s biggest bribe (YouTube)
This video was recorded by Navalny before his return to Russia, but we decided to publish it afterward: Alexei didn’t want the main character of this investigation — Vladimir Putin — to think that we are afraid of him and that we can uncover his biggest secret only while being abroad. (February 2021)
Putin’s Failures to Deliver
On each of the three areas where Putin held out the promise of something better to the Russian people-economic growth, political stability, geopolitical status-he has delivered failure.
Steven Pifer
(Brookings) On ascending to the presidency in 2000, Vladimir Putin offered the Russian people a growing economy and higher living standards, the prospect of stability after the chaotic 1990s, and a vision for Russia’s return to great power status. Twenty-three years late, he fails on all counts. (2 August 2023)
New proverb. Keep your friends close, and your enemies
Russia Fatally Poisoned A Prominent Defector In London, A Court Concludes
On his deathbed, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence agent who defected, accused Vladimir Putin of ordering his assassination.
(NPR) The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death, while Lugovoi and Kovtun have suggested that the defector may have poisoned himself. However, critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB officer, say Litvinenko’s death is part of a deliberate policy to “liquidate” defectors. (22 September 2021)
The mysterious, violent and unsolved deaths of Putin’s foes and critics
Alexei Navalny is latest of Putin’s opponents to have died over course of Russian leader’s nearly 25 years in power (16 February 2024)

12 May
Putin replaces Shoigu as Russia’s defense minister as he starts his 5th term
Putin signed a decree on Sunday appointing Shoigu as secretary of Russia’s Security Council, the Kremlin said. The appointment was announced shortly after Putin proposed Andrei Belousov to become the country’s defense minister in place of Shoigu.
The announcement of Shoigu’s new role came as 13 people were reported dead and 20 more wounded in Russia’s border city of Belgorod, where a 10-story apartment building partially collapsed after what Russian officials said was Ukrainian shelling. Ukraine hasn’t commented on the incident.

7 May
5 things to know about Putin’s inauguration
Russia’s Vladimir Putin was sworn in as president again on Tuesday in a stage-managed ceremony eerily similar to previous efforts.
‘Together we will win’: Putin sworn in as Russia’s president
The United States and most European Union countries boycotted the inauguration ceremony at the Grand Kremlin Palace.
Vladimir Putin swore the oath of allegiance to the Russian Constitution at his inauguration for a record fifth term as president, and as he further tightened his grip on power said the country would emerge victorious and stronger from the current “difficult” period.
Triumphal Putin is inaugurated for fifth term as Russian president
Vladimir Putin was inaugurated on Tuesday [7 May] for a fifth term as president in a ceremony that highlighted his quarter-century grip on power in Russia.
(WaPo) In the gilded Andreyevsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace where Russian czars were once crowned, Vladimir Putin on Tuesday swore the oath of allegiance on Russia’s constitution at his inauguration for a fifth term as president. The traditional pomp and ceremony conveyed his might as Russia’s supreme, uncontested leader for the past quarter-century.
Bristling with optimism about his ongoing war against Ukraine, Putin, 71, declared he would place Russia’s security above all else and promised that the country would be victorious. Russia is seeking to conquer and annex four regions of southeastern Ukraine, in addition to Crimea, which Russia invaded and illegally annexed in 2014.
Putin sits at the heart of the West’s illiberal axis
Vladimir Putin’s sympathizers share an aversion to the West’s perceived liberal establishment, and see a positive vision in the Russian president’s rejection of it.
Analysis by Ishaan Tharoor
As Western penalties have been unable to hobble the Russian war machine, Putin’s muscular, nationalist ideology continues to find sympathizers elsewhere. The Kremlin’s friends include E.U. leaders — namely, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — despots in the Global South, and prominent members of the American right. They all share an aversion to the West’s perceived liberal establishment, and see a positive vision in Putin’s rejection of it.

“Russia, Remastered”
Under Putin, a militarized new Russia rises to challenge U.S. and the West
(WaPo) As Vladimir Putin persists in his bloody campaign to conquer Ukraine, the Russian leader is directing an equally momentous transformation at home — re-engineering his country into a regressive, militarized society that views the West as its mortal enemy.
Putin’s inauguration on Tuesday for a fifth term will not only mark his 25-year-long grip on power but also showcase Russia’s shift into what pro-Kremlin commentators call a “revolutionary power,” set on upending the global order, making its own rules, and demanding that totalitarian autocracy be respected as a legitimate alternative to democracy in a world redivided by big powers into spheres of influence.
“Russians live in a wholly new reality,” Dmitri Trenin, a pro-Kremlin analyst, wrote in reply to questions about an essay in which he argued that Russia’s anti-Western shift was “more radical and far-reaching” than anything anticipated when Putin invaded Ukraine but also “a relatively minor element of the wider transformation which is going on in Russia’s economy, polity, society, culture, values, and spiritual and intellectual life.”
In “Russia, Remastered,” The Washington Post documents the historic scale of the changes Putin is carrying out and has accelerated with breathtaking speed during two years of brutal war even as tens of thousands of Russians have fled abroad. It is a crusade that gives Putin common cause with China’s Xi Jinping as well as some supporters of former president Donald Trump. And it raises the prospect of an enduring civilizational conflict to subvert Western democracy and — Putin has warned — even threatens a new world war.

Ukraine says it foiled alleged Russian plot to kill Zelenskyy and intelligence officials as gift for Putin
2 men caught were colonels in Ukraine’s state guard service allegedly recruited by Russia, officials say
Ukraine’s state security service said it caught two agents for Russia plotting the assassination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top officials as “a gift” for Russian President Vladimir Putin as he was sworn in for a new term in the Kremlin on Tuesday.

6-7 May
“Russia, Remastered”
To please Putin, universities purge liberals and embrace patriots
Russian university leaders are imbuing the country’s education system with patriotism to favor Putin, quashing Western influences and dissent.
Two weeks before the start of his 25th year as Russia’s supreme political leader, Vladimir Putin made a sweeping proclamation: “Wars are won by teachers.”
The remark, which Putin repeated twice during his year-end news conference in December, shed light on a campaign he is waging that has received little attention outside wartime Russia: to imbue the country’s education system with patriotism, purge universities of Western influences, and quash any dissent among professors and students on campuses that are often hotbeds of political activism.
We reported for months on changes sweeping Russia. Here’s what we found.
“Russia, Remastered” reveals how Vladimir Putin is harnessing the war in Ukraine to transform his own country and fulfill his vision of a restored superpower.
Under Putin, a militarized new Russia rises to challenge U.S. and the West
As Vladimir Putin persists in his bloody campaign to conquer Ukraine, the Russian leader is directing an equally momentous transformation at home — re-engineering his country into a regressive, militarized society that views the West as its mortal enemy.
Putin’s inauguration on Tuesday for a fifth term will not only mark his 25-year-long grip on power but also showcase Russia’s shift into what pro-Kremlin commentators call a “revolutionary power,” set on upending the global order, making its own rules, and demanding that totalitarian autocracy be respected as a legitimate alternative to democracy in a world redivided by big powers into spheres of influence.

Putin starts new six-year term with challenge to the West
By Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Trevelyan
Putin is sworn in for fifth term
U.S. and many EU states stay away
Putin says he’s not ending dialogue with West
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was up the West to choose between confrontation and cooperation as he was sworn in for a new six-year term on Tuesday at a Kremlin ceremony that was boycotted by the United States and many of its allies.
More than two years into the war in Ukraine, Putin said he wanted to “bow” before Russia’s soldiers there and declared in his inauguration speech that his landslide re-election in March was proof the country was united and on the right track.

4 April
Russia: The Really Dangerous Ones Are Sane
There are plenty of crazies in Russian politics who make bizarre claims about their country’s victim status (“the evil West made us do it”) and issue blood-curdling but implausible threats about using nuclear weapons on their enemies. But the really dangerous ones are quite sane.
Gwynne Dyer
… There is a huge logical leap between the actual outcome Medvedev is trying to deter (‘return Russia to the borders of 1991’) and the alleged consequences of having to give back the conquered Ukrainian land (‘the disappearance of …our great Motherland’). He was clearly aware that he had to bridge that gap with rhetoric. He is therefore really sane.
Sane is worse, because it means that the regime’s leading figures and their propagandists have accepted that the regime’s survival (deliberately conflated with the survival of the Russian state and people) now depends on destroying the basic rule that has kept the great powers more or less at peace with one another for the past 79 years.
That rule says that henceforward borders may not be changed by force. Conquest used to be legal and was the motive for most of the wars in history. But the new rule was written into the UN Charter in 1945, and subsequently made even more explicit in the Final Act of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1975 (both signed by Moscow).
That rule says that henceforward borders may not be changed by force.
… Some territories do still change hands by force, but the rule has been surprisingly effective because almost every country abides by the principle that nobody should recognise such conquests as legitimate. … It’s not the crazies we have to worry about. It’s coldly rational nationalists like Medvedev and chief propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, who now argues that the great project of extending Russia’s borders to include all lands and peoples that Moscow defines as ‘Russian’ requires the destruction of this basic rule. … if the concept of inviolable borders is scrapped, especially when the great powers are involved, then we are heading straight back to 1939.

2 April
Putin’s New Front in the Ukraine War Is in the Balkans
The Russian leader is pushing propaganda and religious strife in Kosovo and Bosnia to distract NATO from his illegal invasion.
By James Stavridis, Bloomberg Opinion columnist, retired US Navy admiral, former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
(Bloomberg) Throughout Russia’s history, tsars looked for ways to dominate what they called the “near abroad” of their sprawling empire. In today’s world, President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of neighboring Ukraine follows that strategic arc. If he is victorious, it is logical he would turn his attentions to Moldova, the next stop on the road to Eastern Europe — and where a Russian separatist enclave, Transnistria, already is occupied by Russia.
But there is another very attractive target nearby: the western Balkans. The turbulent stretch of territory to the southeast of Europe includes four stable North Atlantic Treaty Organization members: Croatia, Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia. But the Kremlin has its eyes on other prizes: Serbia, Kosovo and the ethnically divided nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. How might Putin seek to extend Russian influence and undermine North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union engagement in this important corner of Europe?

25 March
Moscow attack: How Putin could use the concert hall massacre to his advantage
From murky apartment bombings to the Beslan school siege, Russia’s leader never misses an opportunity.
The corpses from Friday night’s terror attack in Moscow were barely cold before Russian President Vladimir Putin began looking to spin the tragedy to his own benefit.
The brisk response, while cynical, was to be expected. Just look at his history.
Since Putin rose to the upper echelons of power in 1998, first as the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the successors to the Soviet Union’s KGB, and later as Russia’s prime minister and eventually president, the country has suffered some 15 terrorist attacks.
While few have been as deadly as last week’s massacre at the Crocus City Hall music venue on the outskirts of Moscow, in which at least 139 people were killed by terrorists, almost all have been used by Putin to strengthen his grip on power.
Following the Friday massacre, even though a branch of the Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility, Putin seized the opportunity to blame Ukraine (despite presenting no evidence). Kyiv — which Putin has been attempting to conquer since launching a full-scale invasion in February 2022 — is merely the Kremlin’s latest convenient scapegoat.
Here are some previous occasions on which Putin used a brutal attack on Russia to consolidate or boost his authority — along with some thoughts on what might come next:

17-18 March
Putin’s political theater
(Politico) Russia’s weekend-long presidential election was an act of political theater in every way. Among the long lines of people waiting at polling stations across the country were eager voters dressed up in costumes as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Emperor Nicholas II or even as Barbie. Then there were the fictional results themselves — the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
For the world, the implication of his victory seems to be that he will double down on his disastrous invasion of Ukraine, and any hopes that Moscow could take a different course are a very long way off. For Russia, however, the consequences are murkier, aside from the inevitable continued crackdown against domestic dissent. Putin, who has been in power longer than some of the soldiers fighting his war have been alive, has to maintain the appearance that he is there forever.
The moment the door opens to the possibility that he might step down, or die in office, it will unleash a wave of infighting and palace intrigue as rivals fight to position themselves to succeed him. Retirement isn’t usually an option for tyrants — but in Putin’s case, it’s unthinkable. The system he has created relies on him to control it; it’s not in place because Russians genuinely want it.
This weekend’s election was supposed to paint a picture of Russia as a stable state where politics cannot change. Yet it was just last year that Wagner warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin looked set to take the capital in an all-out coup. And the war only deepens the divide between security officials, army chiefs and the billionaire business elites that Putin has so far managed to keep behind him. All that pressure is building, waiting to explode again, whether Putin himself admits it or not. Only now it’s almost certain he won’t be alive to see it.
25 years on, is Putin unstoppable?
(GZERO media) Consider:
His economy has largely weathered sanctions and is humming again — on a war footing.
He faced down an insurrection from his own warlord protege last year.
He dispatched his most eloquent and charismatic critic to the grave.
The war in Ukraine wasn’t the four-day cakewalk to Kyiv he imagined, but Russia again has the upper hand in a grinding war of attrition as Ukraine scrambles to find more military aid.
The Putin-curious Donald Trump leads the polls ahead of this fall’s US presidential election.
… Russia today is a far cry from the booming country of 2006-2012 that was pumping oil at $120 a barrel and winning bids for the World Cup and the Olympics while Putin gallivanted around on a horse, in an F1 car, or in a giant Siberian crane disguise.
But Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin currently has virtually unfettered control over the economy, society, and war machine of a nuclear superpower. The big question now is what he’ll do with that power next, and who might stand in his way.
Putin basks in electoral victory that was never in doubt even as Russians quietly protest
Vladimir Putin has almost completely crushed dissent in Russia but on Sunday at noon local time, lines formed at some polling stations in Russia and at embassies around the world
(AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin basked in a victory early Monday that was never in doubt, as partial election results showed him easily securing a fifth term after facing only token challengers and harshly suppressing opposition voices.
With little margin for protest, Russians crowded outside polling stations at noon Sunday, on the last day of the election, apparently heeding an opposition call to express their displeasure with Putin. Still, the impending landslide underlined that Russian leader would accept nothing less than full control of the country’s political system as he extends his nearly quarter-century rule for six more years.
Putin hailed the early results as an indication of “trust” and “hope” in him — while critics saw them as another reflection of the preordained nature of the election.

6 March
Navalny’s widow calls for Russia election day protests against Putin
Yulia Navalnaya calls presidential election a ‘sham’, urges Russians to register their protest at polling stations.
(Al Jazeera) In a video on YouTube, Navalnaya on Wednesday urged Russians to gather at polling stations on March 17 and spoil their ballots or vote against Putin, who is almost certain to win a fifth term as president.
How Putin’s crackdown on dissent became the hallmark of the Russian leader’s 24 years in power
(AP) — When charismatic opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on a bridge near the Kremlin in February 2015, more than 50,000 Muscovites expressed their shock and outrage the next day at the brazen assassination. Police stood aside as they rallied and chanted anti-government slogans.
Nine years later, stunned and angry Russians streamed into the streets on the night of Feb. 16, when they heard that popular opposition politician Alexei Navalny had died in prison. But this time, those laying flowers at impromptu memorials in major cities were met by riot police, who arrested and dragged hundreds of them away.
In those intervening years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia evolved from a country that tolerated some dissent to one that ruthlessly suppresses it. Arrests, trials and long prison terms — once rare — are commonplace, especially after Moscow invaded Ukraine.
Alongside its political opponents, the Kremlin now also targets rights groups, independent media and other members of civil-society organizations, LGBTQ+ activists and certain religious affiliations.
“Russia is no longer an authoritarian state -– it is a totalitarian state,” said Oleg Orlov, co-chair of Memorial, the Russian human rights group focused on political repression. A month after making that comment to The Associated Press, the 70-year-old Orlov became one of his group’s own statistics: He was handcuffed and hauled out of a courtroom after being convicted of criticizing the military over Ukraine and sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

21 February
Russia’s opposition died with Navalny
The sad truth is the absence of any serious mass opposition to Putin inside Russia — let alone to his war in Ukraine — speaks volumes.
(Politico Eu) In the past few days, there have only been scattered protests across Russia: In Moscow, mourners have been laying bouquets at the Wall of Grief — a monument to the victims of Stalin-era persecution. Other towns and cities have also seen improvised Navalny memorials pop up. And according to rights group OVD-Info, over 400 people had been detained by Sunday.
… the sad and disturbing truth is that even without the intimidation and dramatic jump in the number of political prisoners, the absence of any serious mass opposition to Putin inside Russia — let alone to his war on Ukraine — speaks volumes.
It’s evidence of the continuing support Putin still has from most Russians, who appear to share his chauvinistic attitude toward Ukraine, the Baltics and Central Asia. They adhere to his historical narrative that Ukraine is irrevocably part of the “Russia World.” And they’re grievance-harboring irredentists too — just look at the polls after Crimea’s annexation in 2014.17-18 February
Navalny’s Death Shocked the World, but Will It Galvanize Opposition to Putin?
His death united world leaders and demonstrators in grief, but it also left Russia without a charismatic counterweight to its leader’s increasingly repressive policies.
Vladimir Putin, riding high before Navalny’s death, seems unstoppable
(WaPo) With Navalny’s demise at age 47, further military assistance for Ukraine still blocked in Congress and Ukrainian forces retreating on the battlefield, a lot seems to be going Putin’s way a month ahead of a presidential election in Russia that he is certain to win.

16-17 February
Putin Kills Off the Handsome Princes
By Matthew Kaminski
(Politico) … In another country, Borya and Alyosha — the diminutives by which they were known to many — might have had their happy endings. They were the dashing princes, Putin the toad. But this story takes place in the land of the Tsars. Here the Tsar murders at will. His people are numbed to it — some bravely laid flowers Friday night at an impromptu memorial in Moscow, but we know too how this will end. Alyosha will be a memory, as is Borya. How will it end for Putin? The recent leader he resembles most, Stalin, died angry, ashen-faced and ailing, but in his own bed. It took over thirty years for any glimmers of optimism to emerge in Russia, in the 1980s with Gorbachev’s glasnost, openness, and the experiment with democracy in the 1990s, to be snuffed out with Putin’s ascendance in 2000. That’s not a happy thought. There aren’t any about Russia these days.
They say authoritarians who survive have a talent for identifying and eliminating the greatest threats to themselves. To paraphrase Kremlin chump Tucker Carlson, Putin is a very talented man. He chose his prey well.
Jeremy Kinsman: Navalny is Now Immortal, and Putin Has Never Been Weaker
Alexei Navalny’s murder — because that is what it is — will make of his example a precious national legend of bravery. The open secret of the personalized autocracy’s venality has now become a public truth.
(Policy Magazine) There was hope that one day Alexei Navalny would emerge from imprisonment, like Nelson Mandela, when the regime crumbled, to re-establish decency. Russians will now confront the reality that he will not be present when Russia inevitably overthrows their criminal regime. Their sadness and bitterness is combustible. Putin is very much weaker as of today.
Why Russia Killed Navalny
Even behind bars, the dissident leader was a threat to the corrupt Russian dictator.
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) Alexei Navalny returned to Russia in January 2021. Right before he boarded the plane, he posted a film titled “Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Largest Bribe” on YouTube. The video, nearly two hours long, was an extraordinary feat of investigative reporting. Using secret plans, drone footage, 3-D visualizations, and the testimony of construction workers, Navalny’s video told the story of a hideous $1.3 billion Black Sea villa containing every luxury that a dictator could imagine: a hookah bar, a hockey rink, a helipad, a vineyard, an oyster farm, a church. The video also described the eye-watering costs and the financial trickery that had gone into the construction of the palace on behalf of its true owner, Vladimir Putin.
But the power of the film was not just in the pictures, or even in the descriptions of money spent. The power was in the style, the humor, and the Hollywood-level professionalism of the film, much of which was imparted by Navalny himself. This was his extraordinary gift: He could take the dry facts of kleptocracy—the numbers and statistics that usually bog down even the best financial journalists—and make them entertaining. On-screen, he was just an ordinary Russian, sometimes shocked by the scale of the graft, sometimes mocking the bad taste. He seemed real to other ordinary Russians, and he told stories that had relevance to their lives. You have bad roads and poor health care, he told Russians, because they have hockey rinks and hookah bars.
To date, that video has been viewed 129 million times.
The Russian prison system has said he collapsed after months of ill health. Perhaps he was murdered more directly, but the details don’t matter: The Russian state killed him. Putin killed him—because of his political success, because of his ability to reach people with the truth, and because of his talent for breaking through the fog of propaganda that now blinds his countrymen, and some of ours as well.

Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Aleksei Navalny, Putin Critic, Dies in Prison, Russian Authorities Say
The opposition leader, who was poisoned in 2020, had spent months in isolation.
(NYT) Aleksei A. Navalny, an anticorruption activist who for more than a decade led the political opposition in President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia, died Friday in a prison inside the Arctic Circle, according to the Russian authorities.
His death was announced by Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, which said that Mr. Navalny, 47, lost consciousness on Friday after taking a walk in the prison where he was moved late last year.
Navalny’s wife makes a dramatic appearance at a conference in Munich.
(NYT) Just hours after her husband was reported dead, Yulia Navalnaya made a dramatic, surprise appearance at a gathering of world leaders in Munich on Friday. Taking the stage, she denounced President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and vowed that he and his circle “will be brought to justice.”
The diplomats and political leaders at the Munich Security Conference were already reeling from reports that her husband, Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian dissident, had died in prison under suspicious circumstances when Ms. Navalny stunned the hall by striding in. Conference organizers quickly wrapped up a session with Vice President Kamala Harris and turned the microphone over to Ms. Navalnaya.
Evan Solomon on timing of Navalny’s death
Evan Solomon shares his thoughts on the death of Putin critic Alexei Navalny and the timing of it ahead of the Russian election.
Putin critic Alexei Navalny dies in prison
(GZERO media) News broke early Friday that Russian dissident Alexei Navalny – a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putinhas died in prison. “On 16.02.24 in the correctional colony number three, convict Navalny felt ill after a walk almost immediately losing consciousness,” the Federal Penitentiary Service for Yamal said in a statement, noting that emergency services were unable to revive him.
Navalny, a social media-savvy activist who led an anti-corruption protest movement of hundreds of thousands against Putin a decade ago, was poisoned with a nerve agent in Siberia in 2020 – an attack he blamed on the Kremlin – and flown to Germany for treatment. He later defied the Kremlin and returned to Russia, where he was promptly sentenced to 11 years in prison for fraud and other charges.
In August, a court dumped another 19 years onto his sentence for good measure, and in December, he went missing in the prison system for weeks amid concerns that he was being moved to an even harsher prison.
For more about the opposition leader’s life, check out GZERO’s interview with director Daniel Roher about his Oscar-winning documentary “Navalny,” starring the man himself.
The Documentary Aleksei Navalny Knew We’d Watch After His Death
The Oscar-winning film followed the dissident after an attempt on his life. It played like a thriller at the time; today it feels even more chilling.
(NYT) A few months after its premiere, “Navalny” made its U.S. streaming debut, where it continued to garner attention. Meanwhile, alive but in prison, Navalny stayed connected to the world. He’d built a strong social media presence, and he and his team (who remain in exile) kept posting during his imprisonment. And then, in March 2023, “Navalny” won best documentary feature at the Oscars, further evidence that the world was watching.
But if “Navalny” wasn’t intended as a postmortem, it’s chilling to watch it after reports of his death. He knows what might happen but doesn’t seem scared, just determined.
April 2021
What happens if Alexei Navalny dies?

Nerve agents, poison and window falls. Kremlin foes have been attacked or killed over the years
(AP) — The attacks range from the exotic — poisoned by drinking polonium-laced tea or touching a deadly nerve agent — to the more mundane of getting shot at close range. Some take a fatal plunge from an open window.
Over the years, Kremlin political critics, turncoat spies and investigative journalists have been killed or assaulted in a variety of ways.

8-11 February
Timothy Snyder: Putin’s genocidal myth
The foolishness of fascism, revealed in the Carlson interview
In a talk with Tucker Carlson, Putin uttered sentences about the past.  I will explain how Putin is wrong about everything, but first I have to make a point about why he is wrong about everything.  By how I mean his errors about past events.  By why I mean the horror inherent in the kind of story he is telling.  It brings war, genocide, and fascism.
Putin has read about various realms in the past. By calling them “Russia,” he claims their territories for the Russian Federation he rules today.
Such nonsense brings war. On Putin’s logic, leaders anywhere can make endless claims to territory based on various interpretations of the past. That undoes the entire international order, based as it is upon legal borders between sovereign states
In Tucker Carlson interview, Putin says Russia can’t be defeated in Ukraine
Russian leader says deal to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich possible after ‘reciprocal steps’.
(Al Jazeera) Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that defeating Russia in Ukraine is “impossible” while insisting he does not seek to expand the war to neighbouring countries such as Poland and Latvia.
In a high-profile interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Putin denied that he had territorial ambitions across Europe and said he would only send troops into neighbouring countries if attacked first.
Putin rants about Ukraine, detained US journalist and history in Tucker Carlson interview
Russian leader claims jailed US journalist Evan Gershkovich was caught ‘red-handed’ receiving secrets
(Independent UK) Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson released his interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who started with a long diatribe on Russian history and its relationship with Ukraine.
The two-hour, seven-minute interview was recorded on 6 February and released in full shortly before 6pm ET on Thursday. Carlson travelled to Moscow for Putin’s first interview with a Western media figure since the invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

7 February
Russia’s next election is likely to put Putin in power for longer than anyone since Peter the Great
By Rod Thornton, Associate Professor/Senior Lecturer in International Studies, Defense and Security, King’s College London
(The Conversation) … Although Putin could no doubt engage in some electoral chicanery to ensure that he is re-elected with a large majority, he will, however, be seeking to be backed by a significant mandate. He wants the election to appear to be a free and fair ballot.
He needs the election to be seen as “clean” as a means of cementing his legacy as Russian state leader. He does not want history to remember him as a leader who could only remain in power as a dictator.
And it seems that he will be re-elected by a clear majority of the Russian people. As leader, Putin has regularly been recorded as enjoying popular support. He recently had an 80% approval rating.
… While Putin does appear now to enjoy a high degree of popularity in Russia (albeit largely media-engineered), this may not last. The war in Ukraine drags on and it will demand continuing losses of both Russian blood and treasure. Most specifically, the war will require the commitment of more and more Russian men.
Another wave of – deeply unpopular – mobilisation is inevitable.
The massive costs of the war will put pressure on social welfare spending. And taxes will rise, as will inflation. The sanctions’ regime imposed on Moscow by the west will serve to undermine much of the Russian economy. Times will become harder for ordinary Russians and Putin will inevitably be blamed.
He may win these presidential elections in March, but just how long he can remain in power, given the unavoidable demands of the coming months, may be uncertain.

2 February
Russia finds ‘errors’ in paperwork of candidate hoping to stand against Putin
Election commission finding could disqualify anti-war Boris Nadezhdin from running
Russia’s elections commission has said it found “dead souls” among the more than 100,000 signatures of support submitted by Boris Nadezhdin, the sole anti-war candidate in next month’s presidential election, in a sign that he could be disqualified from a carefully managed ballot meant to deliver victory for Vladimir Putin.

31 January
What is Russia’s role in the Israel-Gaza crisis?
Fiona Hill and Kevin Huggard
(Brookings) … Putin builds a museum of Judaism in Moscow and becomes, as he says, the “patron of the Jews.” He regularly meets with one Moscow-based rabbi, Berel Lazar, and constantly repeats jokes that Lazar tells him. In fact, the rabbi reputedly becomes one of his close confidants during his first presidential term. So, Putin creates this picture of a vibrant relationship with both Israel and the remnants of Russia’s Jewish communities. Putin designates Judaism as one of the official indigenous religions of Russia alongside orthodox Christianity and Islam. He sees this as part of Russia’s greatness—as a culture housing these three great world religions, and also Buddhism to some extent. It’s not that there aren’t tensions, of course. Many of the emigre Jewish groups who have archives and materials housed in Moscow—such as the library of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, for example—and want them transferred to their communities in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere, end up clashing with the Kremlin. Putin refuses to relinquish the materials because he says they are part of Russian patrimony, Russian heritage. They were written or collected on the territory of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, so they belong to the Russian state, not a religious community.
Putin also uses the new relationship with Israel to enshrine Russia’s position in the Middle East. He sees Israel as a key pillar for Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, alongside Iran and Saudi Arabia, which makes for some strange bedfellows in Russian foreign policy.
… Now all of that becomes completely and utterly ruptured or unglued—all the wheels fall off this bus, not just on October 7, but beforehand as a result of the war in Ukraine. In the last two years since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Kremlin started calling Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Jewish president of Ukraine, a Nazi and directly offended Israel on this issue.

2023

25 December
Alexei Navalny discovered in remote Arctic penal colony
Jailed Russian opposition leader ‘doing well’, according to aides, nearly three weeks after going missing
Navalny’s aides had been preparing for his expected transfer to a “special regime” colony, the harshest grade in Russia’s prison system.
Russian prison transfers are notorious for taking a long time, sometimes weeks, during which there is no access to prisoners, with information about their whereabouts limited or nonexistent.

15 December
As Russia ramps up ‘traditional values’ rhetoric − especially against LGBTQ+ groups − it’s won Putin far-right fans abroad
Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, Assistant Professor of Religion and Anthropology, Northeastern University
(The Conversation) The LGBTQ+ “movement” is “extremist,” and its activities will be banned beginning in 2024, according to a ruling a justice of the Russian Supreme Court handed down at the close of November 2023.
This newest decision builds on 10 years of legislation pushed forward by President Vladimir Putin’s government in the name of “family values,” … With theological support from the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin and his supporters portray Russia as a bulwark of “traditional values.” This trend is poised to only increase in 2024, with Putin’s decree that it is the “year of the family.”
That vision appeals deeply to many conservative Christians outside Russia, as well. …
Traditional values have become a fixture in far-right movements around the world, some of which see Russia as a model of the future they desire. In Russia and beyond, many conservative Christians in these movements have focused on LGBTQ+ populations, whom they portray as threats to their vision for society – and are not deterred by antidemocratic politics, if its figures voice support for their social goals.
In Russia, traditional family values have historically been linked to patriotism, Russian ethnic identity and service to country. These ideas were supported from the 1970s onward by writings from a young priest-monk named Kirill Gundyaev, who became head of the Russian Orthodox Church, or ROC, in 2009.

14 December
An emboldened, confident Putin says there will be no peace in Ukraine until Russia’s goals are met
(AP) — Emboldened by battlefield gains and flagging Western support for Ukraine, a relaxed and confident President Vladimir Putin said Thursday there would be no peace until Russia achieves its goals, which he says remain unchanged after nearly two years of fighting.
It was Putin’s first formal news conference that Western media were allowed to attend since the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The highly choreographed session, which lasted over four hours and included questions from ordinary Russians about things like the price of eggs and leaky gymnasium roofs, was more about spectacle than scrutiny.
But while using the show as an opportunity to reinforce his authority ahead of an election in March that he is all but certain to win, Putin also gave a few rare details on what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

13 December
Desperate Putin makes £80m cash grab by money laundering gold to bankroll war
A new report is calling for wider sanctions against Russia, new supply chain controls, and increased accountability for international mining companies involved with regimes funding Wagner.
The report, titled the Blood Gold Report, exposed how Russia‘s Wagner mercenaries, known for their involvement in secret wars and resource plundering, are contributing to Putin’s war chest.

Navalny’s whereabouts are unknown and a Russian prison says he’s no longer there, a spokeswoman says
(AP) — The whereabouts of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were unknown on Monday as officials at the penal colony where he is serving his sentence told one of his lawyers that he is no longer on the inmate roster, his spokeswoman said.
It had been nearly a week since the spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, had contacted Navalny. Prison officials “refuse to say where they transferred him,” she said in posts on X, formerly known as Twitter.
A Navalny lawyer waiting at another penal colony in the region where he could have been transferred was told the facility had no such inmate, Yarmysh said.

8 December
Putin will seek another term as Russian president, aiming to extend his rule of over two decades
Vladimir Putin has moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years, announcing his candidacy in the presidential election next March that he is all but certain to win.

6 December
Russia’s Putin is visiting the UAE and Saudi Arabia, seeking to bolster Moscow’s Mideast clout
(AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday before departing for Saudi Arabia in a one-day lightning tour intended to raise Moscow’s profile as a Middle East power broker, even as his war in Ukraine grinds on.
Putin landed in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates, that is hosting the United Nations’ COP28 climate talks. It was his first trip to the region since before the coronavirus pandemic and the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at the start of his talks with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Putin offered to discuss energy cooperation, the conflict in the Middle East and the “Ukrainian crisis.” He praised the current state of Russia’s relations with the UAE and congratulated the country for hosting the COP28 climate talks.

2 December
Hamas release of Russian hostages highlights Putin’s new Mideast stance
Since Oct. 7,…Putin has carefully calibrated his position, apparently keeping in mind Russia’s growing reliance on Iran, a main sponsor of Hamas, as a supplier of drones and missiles for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Russia initially expressed “concern” over the attack but did not condemn Hamas. And rather than stressing condolences to Israel, Moscow pointed fingers at the United States and the West, blaming Washington for decades of failure to resolve the long-simmering conflict in the Middle East and suggesting that Russia could be a mediator.

1 December
Putin’s War Party
How Russia’s Election Will Validate Autocracy—and Permanent Conflict With the West
By Andrei Kolesnikov
(Foreign Affairs) “If there is Putin, there is Russia; if there is no Putin, there is no Russia,” the current speaker of the State Duma, the aggressive loyalist Vyacheslav Volodin, pronounced, back in 2014.
… It was not until the 2020 constitutional reform, which “reset” Russia’s presidential term limits and solidified Putin’s mature dictatorship, that his formula was codified in the country’s institutions. And it was in 2022, with the beginning of the “special operation” in Ukraine, that the propaganda meaning of “Putin equals Russia” became starkly apparent. As the Kremlin would have it, Putin’s war is Russia’s war, and by extension, a war involving all Russians—a fanciful notion that not only plays into the hands of regime propagandists but which has been readily embraced by many Western officials, as well. Of course, the real picture is far more complex.
By now, the Putin majority has long since been taken as a given, and no one talks about it anymore. Instead, there is the pro-war majority, which supports the war partly by ignoring it in everyday life.

30 November
How Putin is reshaping Russia to keep his war-machine running
He is creating a class of wealthy bureaucrats, who are the war’s biggest supporters
(The Economist) WAR AND sanctions notwithstanding, in early November, the renovated Soviet-era “Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy” re-opened in Moscow. The original, inaugurated in 1939 just weeks before Germany and Russia invaded Poland, papered over the famine and terror of the preceding years. Instead, displays extolled the wonders of Soviet science and the virtues of collectivisation; a special ice-cream hall doled out treats to the masses and a 25-metre statue of Stalin gazed down munificently. Millions died in the dictator’s “great break” with the past, and Russia’s economy and society were completely reshaped, but it was all depicted as unadulterated progress.

17 November
Russia’s Putin tries to use Gaza war to his geopolitical advantage
By Andrew Osborn
Putin has used crisis to criticise United States
Issue helps him push new world order agenda
Russia seen as taking more pro-Palestinian stance
Moscow is offering services as a peacemaker
Russia-Israeli ties have worsened
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin waited three days before commenting on Hamas’ massacre of Israelis, which happened to take place on his 71st birthday. When he did, he blamed the United States, not Hamas.
… Moscow enjoys an increasingly close relationship with Tehran – which backs Hamas and whom Washington has accused of supplying Moscow with drones for Ukraine which is locked in a grinding war of attrition with Russia.
Hanna Notte, a Berlin-based Russian foreign policy expert, told the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center she thought Moscow had dropped its earlier, more balanced position on the Middle East and adopted “quite an overt pro-Palestinian position”.
“In doing all of this, Russia understands very well that it aligns itself with constituencies across the Middle East and even beyond – in the Global South, in their views on the Palestinian issue where the Palestinian cause continues to resonate,” she said.
It is precisely those constituencies which Putin is seeking to win over in his drive for a new world order that would dilute U.S. influence.

16 November
Famed Russian journalist’s murder is pardoned
(The World) Anna Politkovskaya was an enterprising reporter who covered Russia’s brutal war in Chechnya. She was assassinated in 2006. It is widely believed that the Kremlin, even President Vladimir Putin, could be linked to the slaying. Her killer was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014, but now he’s out. He enrolled to fight in Ukraine and in return for his service he was freed early. Host Marco Werman talks with Keith Gessen, who covered Politkovskaya’s murder trial in 2009, about the sudden turn in the murderer’s fortunes.

20 September
The Backstory: The Sources of Putin’s Conduct
Is an alternative Russia possible? Is it destined to stay on its current trajectory, maintaining a hostile relationship with the West and an authoritarian regime at home? Or is it possible for Russia to take a different path? Would the fall of the regime in the Kremlin lead to a democratic turn in Russia—or would a more isolated and autocratic state emerge instead? These questions dominate today’s foreign policy debates, but they are also the very same questions that were on the minds of U.S. policymakers 70 years ago.
Did Kennan Foresee Putin?
What the Diplomat Got Right About Russia and the West
By Andrei Kolesnikov
(Foreign Affairs) In “America and the Russian Future,” his 1951 article in Foreign Affairs, the U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan plumbed the psychological forces that shaped the Soviet system. “No ruling group likes to admit that it can govern its people only by regarding and treating them as criminals,” he wrote. “For this reason there is always a tendency to justify internal oppression by pointing to the menacing iniquity of the outside world.”
This was an astute view of the Soviet regime during the final years of Stalin’s dictatorship, but it equally captures late Putinism today. As Kennan continued, “The outside world must be portrayed, in these circumstances, as very iniquitous indeed—iniquitous to the point of the caricature.” Thanks to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin, and other “comrades,” the Putin regime has created an image of a West that is not only hell-bent on destroying Russia but also a hotbed of LGBTQ orgies and a violator of traditional values—which, until recently, the average Russian did not even think about at all.
Indeed, under Putin, the Kremlin has relentlessly used the outside world to justify the repression of its own population:
America and the Russian Future
By George F. Kennan
Published on April 1, 1951

15 September
As Kim Inspects Russia’s Military, Putin Cultivates ‘Axis of the Sanctioned’
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, toured a fighter jet factory, as Russia’s president sought to cast himself as the champion of an anti-U.S. alliance in a meeting with another authoritarian.
(NYT) …the tour carried an implicit threat — an example of what analysts say is a growing danger posed by Mr. Putin’s increasingly warm relationship with authoritarian leaders who can pose problems for the West.
At the same time, according to U.S. officials, Mr. Putin is cultivating new sources of arms and munitions for his war against Ukraine.
“I think it’s really serious,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, who previously led analyses of Russia by the U.S. intelligence community.
The Russian president is ever more loudly casting himself as the leader of a global resistance to the United States, as Washington escalates its isolation of Russia and increases its support for Ukraine.
The Russian president is ever more loudly casting himself as the leader of a global resistance to the United States, as Washington escalates its isolation of Russia and increases its support for Ukraine.
Mr. Putin has embraced the Ayatollah in Iran. He has cruised the Neva River in St. Petersburg with African autocrats. He has sat side by side in the Kremlin making small talk with Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad.
His efforts crescendoed this week as he hosted Mr. Kim, the leader of one of the world’s most repressive and militarized governments, and one with missiles capable of hitting the United States.

27 August
Wagner chief Prigozhin’s lingering popularity a challenge for Putin
(WaPo) Russians mourning the death of Wagner chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin have set up makeshift memorials in nearly two dozen cities across Russia and occupied Ukraine in recent days, a sign of the commander’s lingering popularity and a potential challenge for President Vladimir Putin amid divisions within the elite and in the military over the conduct of the war.
Russian analyst and independent journalist Dmitry Kolezev, who left Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, said the Kremlin’s challenge was managing the anger of Prigozhin and Wagner supporters, including junior and mid-level military officers.
“Prigozhin, despite declaring loyalty to Putin, put his regime in jeopardy and showed his weakness, for which he received the inevitable punishment. I think the elites understood this signal very well,” he said.
“At the same time, there is a broader audience of military activists, supporters of the Wagner PMC and Wagner veterans, among whom there is a cult of Prigozhin,” Kolezev said. “Putin needs to prevent these people from becoming his opponents and keep them from possible radical actions, by paying tribute to Prigozhin and offering an alternative version of his death.”
23 August
A Very Public Execution in Russia
A jet plunging out of the sky sends an unmistakable message.
By Tom Nichols
(The Atlantic) A plane carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary chief who led a short-lived mutiny two months ago, crashed today in a sparsely populated area northwest of Moscow. According to Russian media, Prigozhin and at least one of his top commanders are dead. As is always the case with breaking news, there is much we don’t know, but the sight of Prigozhin’s jet falling out of the sky suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin has conducted a public execution of a man who was once a trusted friend but later provided the greatest challenge that the Russian dictator has ever faced.
Here’s what we do know. The aircraft was one of Prigozhin’s personal business jets. The plane, a widely used Embraer Legacy 600, took off from Moscow and likely was headed toward St. Petersburg, Prigozhin’s base of operations. It was flying at 28,000 feet before it plunged to earth, according to flight-tracking data. A second jet, also believed to belong to Prigozhin, then turned around and landed safely in Moscow, but Russia’s aviation ministry has confirmed that Prigozhin and the Wagner co-founder Dmitry Utkin were listed as passengers on the crashed jet.
This is functionally the end of the Wagner Group, which has been among the most effective Russian fighting units in Ukraine. But killing Prigozhin and his lieutenants makes sense, at least according to the Mafia logic that governs Putin’s Kremlin. Prigozhin not only threatened Putin’s authority; he humiliated him. During Prigozhin’s ragged rebellion, Putin was visibly furious, but he soon agreed to meet Prigozhin for a discussion in Moscow. For a gangster boss like Putin, having to meet with the man who betrayed him must have been intolerable: The Russian president has reportedly ordered people killed for far less than marching on the capital.
If the plane crash was an execution, however, plenty of questions remain. Why now? And why in Russia? There are several indications that this was not a random aviation accident, but a signature move by the Putin regime to remind Russians, and especially Russia’s elites, that no one survives opposing the Kremlin’s master.

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