20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s Western media highlights, Mark Leonard writes in Project Syndicate that the post-Cold War international order is being challenged at several fronts simultaneously by countries like Russia, Iran, China and Saudi Arabia. And Stephen Blank points out in his comment for the Atlantic Council that the West (specifically the U.S. experts and policymakers) fail to fully comprehend Russia’s behavior and its motives. Meanwhile, in the Russian media, Yakov Mirkin continues the debate on the poor state of the Russian economy.


Vice-Admiral Kulakov antisubmarine ship ensures Russia's air defence in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: Vadim Savitsky / Russian Defense Ministry's Press Office / TASS


from the West

The New Interventionists

Mark Leonard, Project Syndicate

In this opinion piece for Project Syndicate, Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes that countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran “are increasingly intervening in their neighbors’ affairs” in a self-interested (and twisted) application of the Western “humanitarian intervention doctrine,” Responsibility To Protect. Instead of protecting people from their governments, these states are protecting governments from their people. Leonard cites Russia’s involvement in Crimea and Syria as prime examples of this new phenomenon; other examples include Saudi Arabia’s backing of Sunnis and Iran’s support for Shiites in Yemen and Syria. Ultimately, Leonard predicts that in time, “the roles countries have played” in the post-Cold War order will reverse: Western states will eschew interventionism, while countries that “have traditionally called for restraint” will be more likely to involve themselves in sovereign countries’ affairs when self-interest necessitates it.


Why Syria Won't Save U.S.-Russia Relations

Paul J. Saunders, The National Interest

Paul Saunders, the executive director of the Center for the National Interest, argues against the notion that a positive working relationship between the U.S. and Russia in Syria will lead to cooperation on other bilateral issues down the road. Saunders claims that “the U.S.-Russia relationship won’t improve in any enduring way without wider support among elites in the two countries.” At the same time, he admits that because the United States’ economy is performing so much better than Russia’s at the moment, many Washington policymakers believe that working toward a more positive bilateral relationship would be more advantageous to Russia than for the U.S. As a result, Saunders says, an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations is appearing increasingly unlikely.


Why Does Putin Surprise Us Again And Again?

Stephen Blank, The Atlantic Council

In this guest post for New Atlanticist, American Foreign Policy Council senior fellow Stephen Blank criticizes the U.S. government’s failure to maintain a sufficient cohort of Eurasia experts within its ranks. Because Russia is waging an information war against the West, Blank believes that the United States must build an intelligence and policymaking community that fully understands how Russians think—and this, he says, requires a combination of cultural, lingual, historical, and defense-oriented expertise. Blank also believes that the United States would benefit from a revitalization of traditional government mouthpieces such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the United States Information Agency. Until the U.S. tries to understand Russia more comprehensively, Blank believes that it will be at a significant disadvantage as it attempts to contain Russia abroad.


from Russia

Two Years after Crimea: The Evolution of the Political Regime

Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie.ru

As we approach the two-year anniversary of Putin’s invasion of Crimea, Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center discusses the annexation’s effect on Russia’s public consciousness. Kolesnikov writes that most Russians support Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula—even those who have protested against Putin’s policies in the past. In effect, even Russia’s liberals are divided into two camps: the “patriots” and the “Westerners.” Much of the public’s support comes from Crimea’s history in imperial Russia; in a sense, the annexation is seen as a “restoration of historical justice.” Kolesnikov notes that as the Russian economy has soured, the Russian public has directed its frustrations toward local authorities and the “fifth column” of traitors, rather than toward Putin himself. In fact, Kolesnikov writes, most Russians still consider Putin the solution to—not the cause of—these problems. Ultimately, he predicts that the anti-Western, post-Crimean order will, at the very least, survive through the 2018 Russian presidential election.


Unnecessary holidays: How Much Long Vacations Cost the Country

Vladislav Inozemtsev, RBC

In his latest opinion piece for RBC, Vladislav Inozemtsev comments on Russians’ “excessive” proclivity for vacation, arguing that if Russians worked more days out of the year, Russia’s GDP would rise by 2% just in the first 12 months. On average, Russians take off about a third of all days out of the year. As a solution, Inozemtsev proposes reforming Article 122 of the Russian Labor Code, which he says unnecessarily credits weekend holidays toward workers’ paid leave. Given Russia’s low levels of technological progress and industrial labor, the resource sector’s lackluster performance, and immigrants’ mass migration from Russia, Inozemtsev says that it is urgent that Russians begin contributing more to the country’s GDP.


The Mechanics of Solutions: Why Change in Russia Is Not Possible

Yakov Mirkin, Slon.ru

In this piece for Slon.ru, Dr. Yakov Mirkin, head of the Department of International Capital Markets at IMEMO, details the poor state of Russia’s economy and its decision-making apparatus. Demand and income have fallen, apartment sales have dropped, and crime has risen. Mirkin writes that despite advanced economies in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and a few other major regions and cities, Russia’s economy as a whole is regressing to a level of development more in line with African countries. He argues that even Moscow and St. Petersburg are heading toward an economic “red line” of sorts, past which risks to the public’s social welfare will increase substantially. Mirkin reluctantly predicts a slow decline for the Russian economy.


 This week's roundup was compiled by Daniel Frey.