Don’t Fall for Putin’s Propaganda About Ukraine

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Voronezh, August 5, 2014 (Kremlin)

With Russia possibly on the verge of escalating the Donbas War, it’s worth repudiating Vladimir Putin’s justifications for invading Ukraine.

This summer, Putin explained at length why he believes Russia and Ukraine are inseparable. His is a selective version of history that is illuminating insofar as it reveals Russian attitudes toward Belarusians, Ukrainians and other Slavic peoples in Eastern Europe; it’s not an excuse for denying Ukrainians their right to self-determination. Read more “Don’t Fall for Putin’s Propaganda About Ukraine”

Why Putin Wants to Change Russia’s Constitution

Barack Obama Vladimir Putin
American president Barack Obama speaks with Australian foreign minister Bob Carr as Russian president Vladimir Putin opens a plenary session of the G20 in Saint Petersburg, September 6, 2013 (White House/Pete Souza)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called for a referendum to approve constitutional changes that would nominally hand more power to parliament.

The changes, if approved, might improve Russia’s rating in the Freedom House index, but democracy is probably not on his mind.

Only hours after his yearly address to the combined Federal Assembly, in which he made his proposals, Putin accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and replaced him with the little-known head of the Federal Tax Service, Mikhail Mishustin.

The moves have left both Russians and Russia experts wondering: what’s happening? And what’s next? Read more “Why Putin Wants to Change Russia’s Constitution”

Trump’s Presence Will Be Felt When Merkel and Putin Meet

Vladimir Putin Angela Merkel
Russian president Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel attend a conference in Moscow, November 16, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

German chancellor Angela Merkel is traveling to Moscow on Saturday, officially to discuss the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Ukraine, as well as the tension between Iran and the United States, with Vladimir Putin.

Hanging over the meeting will their countries’ deteriorating relations with the United States. Read more “Trump’s Presence Will Be Felt When Merkel and Putin Meet”

Vladimir Putin Is Not Your Conservative Hero

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin looks out a window in Budapest, Hungary, February 17, 2015 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

In an interview with the Financial Times, Vladimir Putin claims “the liberal idea” has “outlived its purpose” and seeks to position himself at the head of a global reactionary movement against immigration, open borders and multiculturalism.

The Financial Times knows that Putin’s evisceration of liberalism chimes with anti-establishment leaders from American president Donald Trump to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Matteo Salvini in Italy and the Brexit insurgency in the UK.

But true believes ought to take a closer look at the Russian leader. He may sound like an ally, but he’s really not interested in your cause. Read more “Vladimir Putin Is Not Your Conservative Hero”

Leaders Are Not Their Countries

It’s a tried-and-tested strongman tactic: conflate yourself with the nation to silence your critics.

Viktor Orbán used it this week, when he told critical members of the European parliament they were condemning not only him and his government but the entire nation of Hungary.

Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president, had the right response when he called this the “coward’s way out” of a debate. Read more “Leaders Are Not Their Countries”

Putin Wins Sham Election, Trump Battles FBI

To no one’s surprise, Russia’s Vladimir Putin won another six-year term as president on Sunday. Against a slew of unimpressive, Kremlin-approved candidates, Putin supposedly won 76 percent support with 67 percent turnout.

Here is the best analysis I’m reading:

  • Robert Coalson: The Kremlin has placed Putin entirely above and outside of politics. His supporters may complain about various policies or problems in their lives, but they don’t connect those problems with Putin.
  • Mark Galeotti: Having turned the law into an instrument of state policy and private vendetta, having turned the legislature into a caricature without power of independence, and having encouraged a carnivorous culture of self-aggrandisement and enrichment, can Putin afford to become an ex-president? Conventional wisdom would say that he cannot; without being at the top of the system, he is at best vulnerable, at worst dead, and he knows it.
  • Torrey Taussig: One of the greatest threats to a personalist regime’s stability is succession. Systems governed around a cult of the individual set up a self-defeating incentive structure. Once power has been consolidated, the leader will seek to eliminate able and ambitious competitors who could threaten his rule. This strategy, while effective in the short term, hollows out the leadership funnel in the long term. Unlike in autocracies run by strong parties, in which leaders rise within the party’s hierarchy, personalist systems have no institutional structure for preparing the next generation of autocrats. Read more “Putin Wins Sham Election, Trump Battles FBI”

Putin’s Success Abroad Built on Rotten Foundations at Home

Moscow Russia
Moscow, Russia in the early morning (Unsplash/Jean Colet)

2016 was a good year for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader. He tightened his grip on the Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula his army snatched from Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine continues to battle a Russian-backed insurgency in its southeastern Donbas region, delaying its Westernization. Russia has made itself indispensable to a resolution of the war in Syria and voters in the Philippines and the United States embraced Putin’s truth-free style of politics to elect strongmen of their own.

But all this has come at a cost: Russia’s economy is now in a precarious state.

Western sanctions — imposed after Russia seized the Crimea — and lower oil prices have pushed the economy to the brink of recession. Oil projects with Western majors like ExxonMobil and Shell are on hold. Russian companies can no longer borrow in the West.

Russian gross domestic product is down from a $2.2-trillion peak in 2013 to $1.3 trillion today. GDP per capita has fallen from $15,000 to $9,000, the same level where it was ten years ago. Read more “Putin’s Success Abroad Built on Rotten Foundations at Home”

Putin Dismisses Confidant in Russian Elite Shakeup

Sergei Ivanov’s dismissal as Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff this week is the most important change in the upper echelon of Russia’s political elite since Putin returned to the presidency four years ago. Ivanov was the longest-serving head of the Presidential Administration in post-Soviet Russia. He has now been appointed to the largely powerless position of presidential representative for ecology and transportation. This is certainly a demotion.

But that does not mean this was an abrupt change or a purge.

Two weeks ago, Putin’s replacement of four governors and several other high-ranking cadres was dubbed an empowerment of people with a background in the security services, the so-called siloviki.

Now Ivanov, the highest-ranking silovik, has been dismissed and replaced by a diplomat. Read more “Putin Dismisses Confidant in Russian Elite Shakeup”

Putin Removes Medvedev Appointees in Security Shakeup

Nine top security officials lost their jobs in Russia this week, five of whom had been appointed by the previous president, Dmitri Medvedev, between 2008 and 2012.

Among those were the head of Russia’s witness protection program and two police chiefs in the regions of Omsk and Tomsk.

The changes come only weeks after Vladimir Putin, who returned to the presidency in 2012, replaced the long-time head of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), Evgeni Murov.

The organization is somewhat comparable to America’s Secret Service in that is responsible for the protection of federal officials and property, but its full purview is ambiguous.

Health problems were said to play a role in the removal of the septuagenarian Murov, but Russia watchers also saw his agency getting the short end of the stick in a contest with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB spy agency Putin himself served in.

Murov’s replacement came only a month after Putin created a brand new paramilitary service, the National Guard, which answers directly to the Kremlin as opposed to any minister. With an avowed Putin loyalist, Viktor Zolotov, at its head, this new organization has all the trappings of a Praetorian Guard. Read more “Putin Removes Medvedev Appointees in Security Shakeup”