20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s media highlights, we introduce a new twist by recapping not only Western media on Russia, but also three key analytical articles from the Russian media that help untangle the intricacies of the problems facing Russia today. In Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti profiles Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, arguing that this bright diplomat deserves a better position than just articulating the Kremlin’s narrative. And in Forbes Russia, Alexander Rubtsov studies Russian patriotism—a concept that President Vladimir Putin has recently designated as Russia’s national idea.


Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the press conference following a meeting of the International Syria Support Group. Photo: Alexander Shcherbak / TASS 


From the West

Free Sergei Lavrov!

Mark Galeotti, Foreign Policy

New York University professor Mark Galeotti’s latest article for Foreign Policy is part character study and part commentary on the internal workings of the Putin regime. Galeotti claims that ever since Putin’s “return to the presidency in 2012, [he] has surrounded himself with a tighter and tighter circle of friends and cronies, while marginalizing those who’ve spent years running the country.” According to Galeotti, the list of those marginalized now includes Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov; from his perspective, “Lavrov’s job is increasingly not to shape, but merely to sell, Russian foreign policy.” Putin has become increasingly impervious to outside influence—and now, it seems, that includes even those who occupy senior positions in Moscow.


Russia Wields the Kurdish Weapon

Walter Russell Mead, American Interest

Walter Mead, a professor of foreign affairs and editor-at-large of the American Interest Online, writes about the Kremlin’s backing of the Syrian Kurds, which he considers a move by Putin to “disrupt American alliances” in an effort to “reduce what’s left of America’s Syria policy into utter incoherence and strategic collapse” and, ultimately, to “further weaken the strategic underpinnings of American power.” Mead criticizes the White House’s “incoherence” in Syria, arguing that the Obama administration should use its remaining time in office to construct a more decisive strategy in the Middle East.


How Russian and Iran Took Advantage of Syrian Peace Talks to Choke Aleppo

Kyle Orton, The Independent

In this piece for The Independent, Middle East analyst Kyle Orton comments on the recently announced ceasefire in Syria. Orton describes how the “Russian-Iran-Assad coalition” is using the agreement as a cover to advance on the besieged city of Aleppo, and to pursue additional bombing campaigns against al-Nusra and the Islamic State—which effectively function as code for anti-Assad rebel forces. Ultimately, Orton asserts that if Russian-backed pro-government forces take back Aleppo, only terrorist groups will “remain as significant opponents,” and consequently, Assad will have effectively won; the international community will be forced to accept, or even support, the Assad regime’s efforts to combat ISIS. Thus far, Orton writes, the Obama administration’s passivity has increased the likelihood of such a scenario coming to fruition.


From Russia

Neither Investors, Nor the Public Believe in the Economy

Interview with Tatiana Maleva, Novaya Gazeta

In this interview for Novaya Gazeta, economic sociologist Tatiana Maleva discusses the decline of the Russian economy and how people are reacting to the downturn. Maleva contrasts the current situation with the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, during which the Russian government managed to keep wages relatively stable. Now, however, Maleva says that the government has proven unable to keep wages from falling. Meanwhile, the “working poor,” a group with no savings at all, has been growing steadily as a demographic in Russia. Are Russians making the right choices amid the economic downturn? Maleva concedes that thus far, most Russians are not protesting in response to this decline, but she emphasizes that the future may prove different.


Four Patriotisms: What Defines One’s Love for Motherland

Alexander Rubtsov, Forbes Russia

In this piece for Forbes Russia, Alexander Rubtsov ponders what it means to be patriotic in contemporary Russia. Must a true patriot be solely devoted to the welfare of his country? Or can people consider themselves citizens of the world and still be patriotic? Rubtsov identifies four types of patriotism in Russia: (1) patriotism from the top down, which encourages “belt-tightening” for the greater good and storylines of national victimization; (2) patriotism from the masses, which is often a symptom of widespread impoverishment, resentment, and humiliation; (3) patriotism for profit, an idea onto which opportunists latch for personal gain; and (4) “true” patriotism, to which only a select few who are willing to sacrifice themselves for their country and the common good adhere. Rubtsov ultimately argues that patriotism should not be confused with hostility toward other countries—that, in the truest sense of the word, patriotism is defined by contributions to one’s own country, not the destruction of foreign ones.


“Coming-Out” for Corruptionists

Vladislav Inozemtsev, Slon.ru

In an opinion piece for Slon.ru, Vladislav Inozemtsev comments on corruption in Putin’s Russia. Instead of confronting the issue from a moral perspective, he approaches it in purely economic terms. In the West, Inozemtsev writes, political success and economic success are largely separate entities. In other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the opposite is true—those who control the country also control the country’s wealth. However, according to Inozemtsev, corruption is low in such countries because the ruling class has little incentive to steal from itself. Russia, however, occupies a place between these two extremes. Russia’s leaders want to rule without limits on their power, while seeking, at the same time, to appear like honest European politicians. Inozemtsev argues that Russia’s economy can no longer sustain such a double life—the country’s leaders must either accept corruption as a norm, or they must fight it outright.


This week's roundup was compiled by Daniel Frey.