20 years under Putin: a timeline


“Does Russian Nationalism Have a Future After Ukraine?”

Panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (April 21)

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center for Information and Analysis
Paul Goble, former special assistant for Soviet nationalities, U.S. Department of State
Catherine Cosman, senior policy analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

According to Verkhovsky:

  • After the 2011–2012 protest rallies, the ruling regime attempted to mobilize public support by promoting traditional/conservative values. However, no clearly stated ideology was put forth (e.g., there is still no comprehensible definition of what “traditional values” are).
  • Despite their efforts, nationalists have failed to gain more support among the general public in Russia. Russian citizens still demonstrate a discernible lack of trust in representatives of nationalist groups.
  • It initially seemed that following the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, the Russian nationalist movement would gain momentum; however, the opposite has happened. There has been a great split between Russian nationalists, with some of them supporting pro-Russian separatists and others considering the war in Ukraine a provocation and speaking out against the Kremlin.
  • Since the beginning of 2014, Russia has seen no public riots on ethnic grounds. Even the “Russian March” gathered fewer supporters than usual.
  • Today, we can affirmatively state that Russian nationalism no longer exists in its original form. A new nationalist movement will likely be facilitated by government intervention, to include those involved in military operations in Ukraine, as well as other groups and participants.

According to Goble:

  • The tragedy of Russia is that the Russian state became an empire before its people became a nation. Russia has never been a nation-state; consequently, the country has been dealing with a number of issues.
  • Uncertainty over what Russia is, what its borders are, and so on has always been an open question.
  • There is also a complete lack of certainty over what a Russian is, including confusion between the meanings of russki and rossyiski.
  • Nationalism can become a counterweight to state power in cases in which a nation predates a state. In Russia, the state defines the nation and, ultimately, nationalism. When the state is weak, nationalism tends to be weak.
  • Over the last 200 years, all efforts aimed at developing an official nationalism have failed.
  • Russia never accepted the borders of 1991. Very often, Russian leaders simply do not see existing borders.


“What Is the Future of Russia’s Opposition?”

Panel discussion at the Legatum Institute in London (April 21)

Leonid Volkov, member of the Central Council of Russia’s Party of Progress
Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK)
Anne Applebaum (moderator), director of the Transition Forum at the Legatum Institute

According to Volkov:

  • The democratic coalition, which will include six parties and two political movements (Open Russia and Solidarity), will be called upon to unite the advocates of the pro-European choice.
  • Many Russians share core European values and believe Russia to be an integral part of European civilization, culture, religion, and education.
  • One of the main objectives of the democratic coalition is to establish the necessary conditions for the opposition to take part in the 2016 elections. The coalition also aims to receive 10 percent of the votes in the regional (federal) elections in Kaluga, Kostroma, and Novosibirsk.
  • After Putin’s departure, Russia will have to deal with four major issues: (1) Crimea, (2) the Northern Caucasus and Chechnya, (3) the national economy, and (4) the effects of propaganda on the Russian people. The last issue will be the most challenging one.
  • The new democratic coalition seems likely to open a new “window of opportunity.”
  • All long-term projects the opposition activists have jointly worked on have been successful.

According to Ashurkov:

  • Russia’s European choice includes a number of key aspects, such as a fair political system, fair and free elections, free mass media, an independent judiciary, and a market economy.
  • Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, has been joined by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the leader of the Open Russia movement who enjoys significant influence in Russian politics.


“The Authoritarian Resurgence: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela”

Panel discussion at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. (April 23)

Javier Corrales, professor of political science at Amherst College
Andrew J. Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University
Frederic Wehrey, senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Lilia Shevtsova, senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution

According to Shevtsova:

  • Over the last century, the Russian model of personalized power has shown a remarkable ability to adapt.
  • It has succeeded in changing political leaders, regimes, legitimacy, survival mechanisms, and attitudes toward the West.
  • Today Russia is using the term “the West” in a completely different way than it has in the past. If in the past the Russian political regime tried to copy and imitate liberal principals in order to facilitate its integration into Western society, today the regime is using a policy of containment, turning the West into the enemy and Russia into a “besieged fortress.”
  • At some point, the Russian leadership realized that the situation in the country had gotten out of control and could not cope with new challenges.
  • Ukraine has become a testing ground for the Russian system of personalized power, which is dying but does not want to die.
  • The situation surrounding Ukraine is an attempt to define where the line in the sand is for the Russian regime. Ukraine is extremely important for the survival of this personified power system.
  • Today the opportunities to promote democracy in Russia by means of Western organizations appear to be scarce.
  • At the same time, the West has enough resources and opportunities to influence the Russian “fifth column” abroad.