20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s Western media highlights, Mark Galeotti argues in the Guardian that the doping scandal facing the Russian Olympic team is a symptom of the regime’s decline. In Politico, Michael Crowley and Julia Ioffe analyze the relationship between Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin in the wake of the alleged Kremlin-sponsored leak of Democratic National Committee emails. And Franklin Foer explains in Slate why Donald Trump plays the role of a “useful idiot” for the Kremlin, despite claims that he is a Manchurian Candidate for Putin. Meanwhile, in Russian media, discussions focused on Putin’s reshuffling in the top echelons of power and the regime’s pivot toward a “Chekistocracy.”


Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Democratic presidential nominee, is known for her tough stance on Putin's Russia. Warm feelings are not lost between her and the Russian leader. In 2010, they held a meeting at Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence. Photo: Maxim Shemetov / TASS


From the West

Why Putin Hates Hillary

Michael Crowley, Julia Ioffe, Politico

This week in Politico, Michael Crowley and Julia Ioffe discuss allegations that the Kremlin is behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, and talk about the trajectory of Hillary Clinton’s attitudes towards Putin and his regime. According to the authors, Clinton has never hidden her “disdain for Putin” or her tough stance on Russia. She was always skeptical of the Obama administration’s “reset” in relations with Moscow. However, nothing seems to have angered Putin more than Clinton’s position on Russia’s December 2011 parliamentary elections and her support of the mass protests against the regime that broke out afterwards. Her statement that the Russian people “deserve fair, free, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them” certainly provoked Putin, and triggered the accusations made by the Kremlin that the opposition was relying on State Department money to organize the protests. It does not matter whether Putin actually believed Clinton was plotting to overthrow him or not. What have always concerned Putin are the “regime change” policies pursued by the U.S., which Clinton zealously advocated for. In 2014, Clinton provoked Putin again by comparing the annexation of Crimea to “what Hitler did back in the ’30s.” Though there is no direct evidence that the Kremlin orchestrated the DNC email hack, many experts deem this version, embraced by the Clinton campaign, plausible. The authors cite an American diplomat who suggested that the Kremlin expects Clinton to win the election, and that “They’re sending her a message that they are a power to be reckoned with and can mess with her at will, so she had better take them seriously.”


What the Olympic Doping Scandal Says about the Decline of Putin's Russia

Mark Galeotti, The Guardian

In his piece for the Guardian, Mark Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University, argues that a deeper analysis of the Russian Olympic team’s doping scandal reveals not only the way Putin’s regime operates, but also the decline and stagnation of present-day Russia. Galeotti notes that sports and politics are inextricably linked in Russia, and a failure in sports is perceived as a failure of the regime itself. According to the Kremlin’s narrative, “every contest has only winners and losers.” Thus, it becomes absolutely necessary not to lose, even if achieving the desired end requires illegal means. Moreover, the Russian public views violation of a law as “normal” if they believe everyone else is doing it. Many Russians justified the doping based on the assumption that other countries, including the United States, have problems with doping too. In a similar vein, the Russian public justifies Russia’s “hybrid warfare” and state propaganda, arguing that the West does the same. Under this worldview, the current doping allegations are seen as discriminatory against Russia and political in nature. Because the Kremlin is so good at portraying Russia as a victim, Galeotti argues, Putin finds himself in a win-win situation: “If he cheats and gets away with it, he wins as the victor. If he cheats and gets caught and excoriated, he wins as the victim.” Yet such an approach poses two serious problems in the long run: first, Russia is no longer trusted internationally; second, pretending that everything is fine or blaming the West for all problems only accelerates Russia’s decline.


Donald Trump Isn’t a Manchurian Candidate

Franklin Foer, Slate

Franklin Foer, a contributing editor for Slate, discusses the reasons behind Trump’s fawning remarks about Putin and his soft stance on Russia, arguing that though Trump is not a Manchurian Candidate—he does not take orders from the Kremlin—he does have a symbiotic relationship with the Kremlin. For Putin, Trump is a useful tool—a way to hurt and discredit the United States and those who have opposed Putin’s actions outside of Russia’s borders. That’s why Putin’s propaganda television network, RT, routinely praises Trump and criticizes Clinton. For Trump, “a real estate guy who sucks up to power to gets buildings done,” according to Foer, doing business with Russia is a priority. Foer notes that it was the Russian investment and money coming through an Icelandic investment fund “in favor” with Putin’s elite that supported Trump’s mega-building projects following his 2004 bankruptcy. It’s not hard to see how Trump profits from Russia, and how Russia profits from Trump. As for the DNC email hack, Foer reminds us that Trump expressed his hope some time ago that Russia would obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails. The author argues that Trump has committed a serious offence by advocating that a foreign country steal secrets from the United States—not for some high-minded reason, but simply to discredit his foe.


From Russia

Building Up Siloviki

Nikolai Petrov, Vedomosti

Political scientist Nikolai Petrov analyzes the reformatting of power and law-enforcement structures within the Russian government that started earlier this year, and points out that similar significant change was last observed in 2008 “during the transition to [the four-year presidential term of Dmitry Medvedev, with Putin as prime minister, also known as] tandem.” However, the current configuration of power structures, wherein the key role is given to employees of the Federal Protective Service (FSO), started to emerge as early as 2013. By June 2016, FSO expansion led to a full renewal of its leading organs. The situation in the Federal Security Service (FSB) has developed following the same pattern—expansion, competition stifling, leadership renewal. As a result of the reshuffling, the Internal Affairs Ministry stopped being a “powerful military structure,” while the Defense Ministry, FSB, and the recently created National Guard have strengthened their positions. The author notes that “serious staff reshuffling took place in the higher echelons of the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office.” Given the crucial role of the special services in Russia’s political system, Petrov calls it a “Chekistocracy,” and the ongoing generational change inside this system leads to the creation of its modified version—“Chekistocracy 2.”


The Belyaninov Casus: Why Some Are Allowed to Be Rich, and Others Are Not

Andrei Kolesnikov, RBC

Recent high-profile investigations ranging from the arrest of Nikita Belykh to this week’s resignation of Andrei Belyaninov, head of Russia’s Federal Customs Service (FTS), are telling signs of the fact that the regime has shifted its focus from foreign adventurism to domestic fights. “The system is purging itself before the elections and a new political cycle,” writes Andrei Kolesnikov, who chairs the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. With Belyaninov’s apartment having been publicly searched, the author poses questions: Why is the FTS head being targeted? How is he different from other high-profile members of the system that the author calls an “oligarchic autocracy and commercialized Sovok” (the latter being the essence of the Soviet mentality)? Kolesnikov ventures a possible answer: the regime is signaling that no one is safe and anyone can fall victim to the “self-purge.” Such a signal is all the more grave given Russia’s increasing self-isolation, which impedes possibility of escape abroad. The only beneficiaries of the “purge” are Russia’s personalist system and the person who created it—Vladimir Putin.


Looking for Easy Solutions: Why Khodorkovsky Needs Populism

Mikhail Krutikhin, Forbes.ru

Oil and gas analyst Mikhail Krutikhin looks into the current state of affairs in Russia’s energy industry as part of a discussion raised at an event in Irkutsk organized by the Open Election project, launched by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Irkutsk event focused on an initiative, put forth by the opposition, to transfer the “natural resource rent” to the country’s pension system. The author notes that across the region of Irkutsk, people have only good things to say about Yukos (an oil company created by Khodorkovsky that used to be quite active in the region), while they are very critical of the state corporation Rosneft, which absorbed former Yukos’s assets after the government took over and bankrupted the company). The contrast in opinions is so drastic, argues Krutikhin, that it seems obvious that “the Yukos syndrome will be poisoning Russia’s business climate for a long time,” because “transferring the private company’s assets under control of the bloated, politicized state structure damaged all—the oil industry, national economy, and the public.” The author compares attitudes to the “natural resource rent” that exist in developed countries and in Russia and contends that in Russia, officials are supposed to be managing the national wealth on behalf of the people (to whom this wealth, including natural resources, belongs), but the people do not see the officials as hired public servants, but rather as a group “sent from above” that has special rights and no responsibilities. Changing social psychology, as well as the current regime, is hard, but the initiative to transfer the rent to the country’s pension fund—regardless of the fact that this could be perceived as populist—is worth discussing.

Nini Arshakuni helped compile this week's roundup.