20 years under Putin: a timeline

Photo: LSEE Research on SEE


“Russia in the Balkans”

Conference at the London School of Economics in London (March 13)

Nikolai Petrov, professor of political theory at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow
Konstantin von Eggert, political analyst and Kommersant FM radio columnist

According to Petrov:

  • The year 2014 was a decisive one for Russia, a year when the Kremlin made several irreversible choices.
  • It will be impossible to change the current trajectory, in particular the emphasis on military mobilization. The rhetoric of the “besieged fortress” by Russia’s political leadership will likely continue, as will further repression of political freedoms.
  • The annexation of Crimea caused a rapid boost in the popularity of Putin and the government, but this increase will be temporary. At the same time, the Kremlin has become a hostage of the moves it has made.
  • The current regime will not last long: the situation in the country will most likely be very different in two years.

According to von Eggert:

  • Russian foreign policy is driven by the domestic agenda. In seeking to understand this foreign policy, one must keep in mind the goal of the regime, which is to stay in power: “not letting the Maidan come to Red Square.”
  • Among the Kremlin’s most important recent decisions was its abandonment of the South Stream project, which could have increased Russian influence abroad.
  • In the 1990s, Russia’s foreign policy maintained a delicate balance between keeping positive relations with Western partners and expanding Russia’s presence in neighboring regions.
  • With the backdrop of continued conflict between Moscow and Brussels, the countries of the Balkans will gradually move toward Brussels.


“The War in Ukraine: The Roots of Russian Conduct”

Panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (March 19)

Maxim Trudolyubov, opinion page editor at Vedomosti
Wayne Merry, senior fellow for Europe and Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council
Elizabeth A. Wood, professor of Russian and Soviet History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

According to Trudolyubov:

  • In 2007, American economist Michael Porter was invited to Russia to provide advice to the Russian government, and he asked a very important question: “What is the purpose: a strong state or prosperity of the people?” At the time, it was a difficult question to answer.
  • According to a Levada Center survey, around 60 percent of Russians said it was more important to them that their country be prosperous than feared, while 35 percent said being feared was more important to them.
  • In February and March 2014, the Kremlin made the choice to be a country that is feared.
  • It is no longer possible to switch the priority back to economic prosperity and political reforms. These issues are too small compared with grand narratives such as patriotism. Many Russians believe in the ideas of constant danger and external enemies.


“A New Cold War? Explaining Russia’s Current Confrontation With the West”

Harriman Lecture by Ambassador Michael McFaul at Columbia University in New York (April 8)

According to McFaul:

  • The current confrontation between Russia and the United States is unprecedented in the history of relations between the two countries.
  • Eighty-three percent of Russians consider the United States as its main enemy. Similar attitudes can be observed in the United States.
  • In 2012, the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), Russia’s answer to the European Union, was the number one priority in Russian foreign policy. It was expected that Ukraine would become part of the EEU.
  • In the lead-up to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, there was evidence that the political situation in the country would move in a different direction. A few weeks after the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky from prison, McFaul was in the Kremlin and asked a top official why they had finally decided to let him go. The official responded: “This is because we want to get things back on track with you guys.” The Sochi Olympics also seemed to signal that a new Russia was emerging.
  • The “reset” policy between the two countries helped them to implement multiple collaborative projects. The current crisis in the countries’ bilateral relationship cannot be explained by aggressive American policies.
  • The United States did not push former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of power. The U.S. did not have a strategy of regime change in Ukraine. The only thing the U.S. tried to do was to cut a deal between Yanukovych and opposition leaders.
  • Putin does not have a master plan to recreate the Russian Empire. His actions related to Ukraine have been those of “an individual being tactical and emotional.”
  • The basic orientation of Russian foreign policy will not change while Putin remains in power.