20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s Russian media roundup: Dmitry Trenin details the issues that President-Elect Donald Trump can discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin; Andrei Pertsev delves into the potentially dangerous outcomes of the Kremlin propaganda; Alexander Rubtsov dissects Russia’s political narcissism; Konstantin Gaaze looks into the juxtaposition of the concepts of the “multinational people” and the “Russian nation;” and Nikolay Petrov explains the recent reshuffling inside the Kremlin. 


President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence address supporters at the Election Night Party. Photo: Dennis Van Tine / abacapress.com / TASS


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RBC: A Chance for Rapprochement: What Putin and Trump Can Talk About

  • Author: Dmitry Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
  • Trenin views Trump’s presidency as a loss for the Democratic Party but a win for American democracy with its peaceful transition of power.
  • Based on Trump’s statements during the campaign, Trenin concludes that he will focus on domestic issues and abandon the U.S. claim to global leadership. Trump’s being a “domestic politician” opens up opportunities for a “productive dialogue” with President Putin. The bilateral relationship has a chance to exit the “danger zone,” which should not be squandered.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, the Kremlin did not have a favorite candidate in this election. Although Russian state media supported Trump, it did so only as an opponent to President Obama and Hillary Clinton as a successor to his policies.
  • Notwithstanding the Clinton campaign’s outlandish allegations about the Kremlin’s hand in the DNC hacking attacks, the author claims that the “Russia factor” did indeed play an important role in the U.S. election.
  • Trenin notes that Putin’s bad relationship with Obama was not driven by emotions, but rather by Russia’s refusal to be subordinated to the U.S.-led post-Cold War world order. No outcome of the U.S. election could change that notion.
  • Trenin argues that a Clinton presidency would have cemented the status-quo with the prospect of a further deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations. The incoming Trump presidency “opens the door to the unknown,” and while this may not be good for the Kremlin, the author writes that Trump’s unpredictability might have been exaggerated by his opponents.
  • Congratulating Trump on his victory, Putin expressed hope that renewed cooperation would overcome the crisis. The key task for now is to establish a working relationship between the Kremlin and Trump’s future administration.
  • The next step will be to lay the ground for a personal meeting between the two presidents, the goal being not to discuss issues but rather create an environment conducive to dialogue. No doubt Putin will prepare for this meeting meticulously and do nothing to jeopardize it in any way.
  • Acknowledging the national interests of both countries “in all their variety but without global ambitions or moralization” could be the central theme of a productive dialogue.

РБК, Шанс на сближение: о чем могут говорить Путин и Трамп, Дмитрий Тренин, 9 ноября 2016 г.


Carnegie.ru: Dangerous Victory: Why the Russian Propaganda Supported Trump

  • Author: journalist and Andrei Pertsev.
  • Russian propaganda put the U.S. election center stage in the daily news coverage, while at the same time downplaying Russia’s own parliamentary elections.
  • The way the struggle of the two candidates was presented to the Russian public was simple: Donald Trump as an outsider, “our guy” in the U.S., was up against Hillary Clinton, who represented corrupt American elites. Moscow was accused of interfering in the election on the side of Trump even though no hard facts were presented. Still, this narrative played in the Kremlin’s favor, highlighting its power.
  • Ordinary Russians connected with Trump not only because he called for better relations with Moscow, but also because of the way he was allegedly bullied by the U.S. establishment and media. The Russian public likes to support the underdog, especially if he is victimized.
  • Yet The Kremlin did not expect Trump to win. The trick was to inculcate the idea that the elites would not “let” him win, that the election would be rigged, showing the public that rigging happens everywhere and Russia is not special in that sense.
  • The Trump story resonated so well with the Russian public that people got more emotionally involved with the U.S. election than they did with the domestic one. And the dream came true—their candidate won. But what does it really mean for Russians hoping for a Putin-Trump “bromance”?
  • Pertsev argues that despite the expectations that Trump will lift  sanctions on Moscow and establish “zones of influence” with Russia, the U.S. president-elect never gave such promises. Moreover, Trump will not be able to “make America great again” or appear strong by giving concessions to the Kremlin.
  • Very soon pro-Trump Russians may realize that Trump is not their “friend” but a foe. And given the fact that the Kremlin might have “helped” him get elected will put additional pressure on Putin, as it may be perceived as a foreign policy blunder on his part.

Carnegie.ru, Опасная победа: зачем российская пропаганда так поддерживала Трампа, Андрей Перцев, 10 ноября 2016 г.


Forbes.ru: Political Narcissism in Russia: Revolt of the Masses

  • Author: Alexander Rubtsov, head of the Ideological Processes Research Center.
  • Rubtsov adopts a political psychology approach to analyzing the profound issues of Russian society.
  • Many early traumas lead to the so-called “narcissistic bubble” forming inside a child, distorting the sense of self-esteem and leaving the individual prone to an inferiority complex.
  • The newborn post-Soviet society lived through a traumatic “childhood,” and as a result Russian people tend to point the finger at these hardships and the burdensome Soviet legacy for the ills of the present.
  • Societies ridden by chronic developmental deviations (such as Russia) can relive their childhood traumas during a crisis period or transition to a new model. And sometimes they revert from “elderly dementia” to “narcissistic infancy.”
  • If at these critical times societies refuse to change by addressing and resolving the recurring issues and mature as a result, they are doomed to be plunged into the same vicious cycles all over again. Reaching the “dementia” stage, they repeatedly exhibit narcissism, bigotry, intolerance to criticism, and nostalgia.
  • One of the way this process manifests itself in Russia is through the resurfacing of the same archetypes: the “ascending narcissists,” who overcompensate their personal mediocrity by associating with the “glorious elements” of the state—its military, history, clergy; and the “descending narcissists,” who join the “revolting masses” in pursuit of financial benefits, but only mimic the public frustration, while privately judging the situation as “absurd and kitsch.”
  • Another trend is the “revenge of mediocrity”: following the party line, the “gray masses” consolidate and eventually start to eclipse those in power. The inflow of “mediocrity” into the Russian media, expert community, and politics is staggering: the only entry criterion is to show full loyalty to the official narrative, while the price to pay is to sacrifice one’s professional reputation.
  • The key problem is that the regime relies not on the masses, but rather on a crowd of “narcissistic fans” who pursue self-actualization. This results in a series of absurd, uncontrollable initiatives that have been overwhelming the political process in Russia. The author concludes that this trend cannot be stopped—the genie is out of the bottle.

Forbes.ru, Политический нарциссизм в России: восстание низа, Александр Рубцов, 9 ноября 2016 г.


Carnegie.ru: Leviathan Couldn’t Even Dream About It: How the “Multinational People” Gets in the Way of the “Russian Nation” 

  • Author: Konstantin Gaaze, political commentator.
  • Gaaze discusses the latest initiative to create a legal bridge between the concept of the “multinational people” defined in the Russian Constitution as “the bearer of sovereignty and the sole source of power in the Russian Federation” and that of the “Russian nation” referred to in Vladimir Putin’s 2012 executive order “On the Strategy of the State National Policy.”
  • Why does the Kremlin bring up the issue of “national policy” now? Clearly, it is not a random decision, writes the author, and the Kremlin may have thought its consequences through.
  • The initiative was voiced by Vyachslav Mikhailov, Doctor of History and Chair at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, who has previously written that the “multinational people” concept is not explained in the Constitution (is it a civic nation, a “super ethnos,” or an assembly of ethnoses”?). In fact, the authors of the Russian Basic Law might have meant “Russian nation,” but for some reason just couldn’t put it straight in the text.
  • Mikhailov argues that “Russian nation” is a meta-definition that includes both the Russian ethnos and minorities, while “multinational people” ignores Russians as the core ethnos of the people who inhabit Russia. “Without Russians, there would not have been Russia as a global power.”
  • Gaaze points to three problems in Mikhailov’s initiatives:
    • 1) It would be impossible to pass a law that would amend the definition given in the Constitution without changing the Constitution for which a Constitutional Assembly is required.
    • 2) The Constitution does not define what a Constitutional Assembly is, referring to a corresponding federal constitutional law, which has not been yet developed over the last 25 years of Russian statehood.
    • 3) If the “multinational people” is the bearer of sovereignty, it is also the only political reality in Russia, and it’s an integral, monolithic subject; any attempt at bringing the “core ethnos” to the fore will split the subject and thus destroy it.
  • The author concludes that the Kremlin’s fiddling with constitutional definitions is a dangerous game: destroying the bearer of sovereignty will effectively terminate the legitimacy of the Kremlin’s power itself.

Carnegie.ru, Левиафану не снилось: чем многонациональный народ мешает российской нации, Константин Гаазе, 3 ноября 2016


Vedomosti: The New Nomenklatura: the Matryoshkas of Change 

  • Author: Nikolay Petrov, political commentator and head of the Center for Political-Geographic Research.
  • The last two years have been critical for the Kremlin elite. In the wake of Vladimir Putin’s peaking popularity, a decline of formal and informal institutions has also occurred.  
  • To make the regime better equipped to deal with the impending problem of Putin’s ageing clique, the rules of the game have been changed to make the untouchable higher echelons of the elites more vulnerable to removal.
  • Balancing between loyalty and effectiveness, the regime launched a large-scale renewal of personnel that brought about a fundamental restructuring of the system.  
  • Some political heavyweights who once occupied key posts have been appointed to positions of little significance but high financial reward (i.e. Viktor Zubkov’s transfer to Gazprom). Meanwhile, key positions are being given to the second generation of Putin’s elite, among them the children of Putin’s inner circle.
  • Changes to the higher echelons of power have led to a significant devaluation of the roles of top managers, while strengthening the position of “shareholders” who do not play an active part in government.
  • The author suggests viewing the current system as an intermediary in which senior roles often come down to providing Vladimir Putin with full control of important regions and corporations and upholding the status quo.  
  • The 2016 “revolution” among the elite shows that Vladimir Putin is capable of sorting out systemic issues, yet unable to create a system that can support itself.  
  • The author concludes that elite reshuffling is not an end in itself, but a means of carrying out serious policy maneuvers and possibly even changing the nature of the regime itself.  

Vedomosti.ru, Новая номенклатура: Матрешки перемен, Николай Петров, 8 Ноября 2016 г.


Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.

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