20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s media highlights: Vladimir Pastukhov explains the ongoing struggle inside the Kremlin elite, in which Igor Sechin is currently winning; Sergei Medvedev writes about Russia’s culture of violence and the need to start a public conversation about the state terror of the past; Vladislav Inozemtsev offers a new plan for resolving the Ukraine crisis; Vladimir Dvorkin suggests that the leaders of Russia and the United States should move forward with arms control agreements; and Novaya Gazeta examines the state of the representative offices in Russia’s regions.


Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin is currently winning in the Kremlin's internal feuds, but his victory may turn out hollow. Photo: Mikhail Metzel / TASS.


Republic: Sechin’s Acceleration

  • Author: Vladimir Pastukhov, political scientist, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford.
  • The fight for control of Bashneft and the battle between rival clans of siloviki is the prevailing explanation for the recent arrest of Aleksey Ulyukaev, but the author suggests a much deeper political motivation.
  • Pastukhov explains that there are essentially two common answers to the question, “What is going on?”: “stealing” and “fighting.” Both in a sense are correct, yet insufficient.
  • Pastukhov argues that this struggle is political: it is not so much for the redistribution of resources as it is an early sign of the reconfiguration of the system. And it seems that Rosneft’s CEO Igor Sechin is beginning to form his own election campaign. However, Sechin may not have yet realized all the risks: his brawl with the Kremlin clans could easily turn into a hollow victory.  
  • Sechin effectively opened up a new era in the relationship between government and the press when he successfully unleashed a wave of attacks and lawsuits against Vedomosti and Novaya Gazeta, subsequently forcing the papers to retract articles on elements of Sechin’s concealed wealth.   
  • Sechin has in this sense gone further than Putin in actively censoring the Russian press. Paradoxically, notes Pastukhov, you can now write more freely about Putin than you can about Sechin.
  • On the other side of the conflict stands Dmitri Medvedev. Having minimal influence on the security services and by extension on current politics, he occupies the more favorable position, thus becoming Sechin’s antipode and number one opponent.  
  • Although the prevailing impression is that Putin stands behind the arrest of Ulyukaev, Kremlin officials understand that it is Sechin’s game and that he is able to influence the president’s opinion, edging over all other aspects of the presidential administration.  
  • Pastukhov observes that Sechin instills in others more fear than Putin, and fear is the most effective resource in Russian politics, ultimately exercised by only one person.  
  • Sechin can break the conventions and smash the rules of Putin’s “political etiquette,” nudging the president toward decisions he is not ready to make.
  • Putin is currently playing a complex game, and an important condition for success in this game is maintaining political balance. Excited by his early success, Sechin risks provoking a reaction from Putin or many of his own opponents.
  • Pastukhov concludes that Sechin’s acceleration could turn out to be a false start. Ulyukaev is not the only high-ranking Russian official to be the target of surveillance, and the FSB has many other subdivisions that are not influenced by Sechin.  

Republic, Ускорение Сечина. Возглавил ли он пелотон или бежит впереди паровоза? Владимир Пастухов, 24 ноября 2016 г. 


Republic: The Karagodin Effect: Why Are the Authorities Scared of the Tomsk Philosopher?

  • Author: journalist and historian Sergei Medvedev.
  • In November Tomsk State University Philosophy Department graduate Denis Karagodin published a story on his blog in which he revealed a document sent to him by the regional FSB archives, confirming that his great-grandfather had been executed during the 1930s purges.
  • Karagodin investigated this case for about five years, and what sets it apart is that the documents indicate the names of the executioners.
  • The story was picked up by the liberal media, but also caused a great stir in the pro-Kremlin media. The latter claimed that Karagodin’s efforts to initiate a public conversation about the country’s grim past pose a direct threat to the Russian state.
  • Medvedev argues that the overreaction of the Kremlin’s surrogates shows that Karagodin found the regime’s Achilles heel—anonymous state terror. Throughout the whole of Khrushchev and Brezhnev’s rule, only about a hundred of Stalin’s top chekists were openly held to account.
  • This anonymity caused a major distortion in the Russian people’s psyche: victims and executioners lived together side by side: “the black hole called ‘repressions’ was carefully ignored” both on the public and the private level.
  • “This conspiracy of silence became a continuation of terror,” writes Medvedev. And this unspoken terror still cripples Russian society to this today, with at least 40 women dying from domestic violence daily.
  • The problem, writes the author, is that violence in Russia is a socially acceptable norm, a way of interaction between the authorities and the public, of resolving conflicts and sorting out relationships among both adults and children. Therefore, de-anonymization of this violence is needed for society to mature: “It must be named, attributed, and condemned.”
  • The Russian culture of violence is based on two pillars—the right of the strong and the silence of the weak, or as Medvedev puts it, “the silence of the lambs before their executioners.”
  • Some commentators claim that “a bad peace is better than a bad quarrel,” calling for forgiveness and reconciliation, but Medvedev argues that such claims reflect a typical Russian way of avoiding responsibility by shifting the discussion from legal factors toward the blurry world of ethics and political expediency.
  • Therefore, Karagodin’s intention to open an investigation into the murder of his great-grandfather seems a better option to the author; but separating the executioners from the general “subjectlessness” of Russian life and bringing them into the legal domain makes him dangerous for the system that a few years ago got so angered with the U.S. Magnitsky list.

Republic, Эффект Карагодина. Почему власть боится томского философа? Сергей Медведев, 29 ноября 2016 г.


New Times: The Catch of Minsk-2

  • Author: Vladislav Inozemtsev, director and founder of the Center for Post-Industrial Studies in Moscow.
  • Inozemtsev argues that the Kiev authorities need to abandon the Minsk negotiations that are currently at a dead-end, and offers a new approach to resolving the Ukraine crisis.
  • Ukraine is trapped: its leaders cannot renounce Donbass without angering the public and therefore are forced to follow the Kremlin’s agenda of conducting endless negotiations with the separatists.
  • Meanwhile, the West’s interest in Ukraine is wearing off; the leaders of the DNR and LNR have come to realize that it’s possible for them to exist separately from Ukraine; a growing number of actors both in Russia and Ukraine are interested in preserving the status quo.
  • As part of the new plan to help Ukraine break the vicious circle, Inozemtsev suggests that Kiev should “embrace defeat” today in order to modernize the country and become a prosperous nation in the future. Walking away from the imposed negotiations will also give Kiev back its political subjectivity.
  • The first step of the plan should be for the Kiev authorities to recognize the results of the May 2014 independence referenda in the DNR and LNR. Defining the borders will sharply decrease the influence of the pro-Russian parties and politicians from the eastern regions on Ukrainian politics.
  • The second step is to sign a non-aggression pact with the two new republics, with NATO and the CSTO serving as international guarantors of collective security.
  • Third, Kiev needs to pass a number of legislative acts (including amendments to the Constitution) on the citizenship of DNR and LNR residents (they should be recognized as Ukrainian nationals with a guaranteed right to move to Ukraine within a two-year period) and on reunification of the territories temporarily withdrawn from Ukraine’s jurisdiction.
  • The key idea of Inozemtsev’s plan is for Putin to face the fact that by splitting Ukraine and carving away the DNR and LNR, Moscow will have to support them, which may cost $5-7 billion of investment annually.
  • For Kiev, de-linking with Donbass will create an incentive to focus on reforms, rather than patriotic rhetoric, and on integration with the EU. Even if the plan fails and Moscow starts pushing Donbass back to Ukraine, Kiev will have room for maneuver, which it is currently completely deprived of.

New Times, Уловка “Минск-2”, Владислав Иноземцев, 28 ноября 2016 г.


Carnegie.ru: U.S.-Soviet Union Summit in Reykjavik as an Example for Today’s Leaders

  • Author: Vladimir Dvorkin, distinguished military fellow of the Carnegie Moscow Center's Nonproliferation Program.
  • 30 years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan met in Reykjavik, Iceland, to resume the dialogue as “trust had collapsed” between the Soviet Union and the United States. One of the key issues discussed at this historical summit was nuclear weapons.
  • Although no agreement was signed in Reykjavik, the political will expressed by the leaders of the two superpowers made it possible for a number of treaties to be drawn up and signed within the next five years, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
  • Dvorkin, who helped draft both treaties, calls them “unprecedented,” as the control system over the implementation of the nuclear arms reduction was exceptionally open on both sides, despite the climate of secrecy in which both opponents were forced to operate.
  • The New START treaty signed by Russia and the U.S. in 2010 would have been impossible without the sophisticated framework developed for 1991’s START.
  • But as the “reset” between Russia and the U.S. faltered, a crisis in the nuclear arms control emerged, followed by an overall deterioration of the relationship between Russia and the West over Ukraine and Syria. And the current crisis is the longest in the 50-year old history of arms control, notes Dvorkin.
  • In 2013 and 2016, President Obama approached the Kremlin with an offer to continue the strategic arms reduction, but his recent proposal provoked a harsh response from Moscow, which blamed the U.S., among others, for expanding its global missile defense system, imposing sanctions on Russia, etc.
  • Compared to the original treaty, few inspections are being carried out under New START, prompting Dvorkin to argue that the lack of information may lead the opponents to exaggerate each other’s arsenals and cause a new arms race.
  • The author concludes that the two current leaders of Russia and the United States should look back to the Reykjavik summit and use it as a model for maintaining global security and stability.

Carnegie.ru, Саммит СССР — США в Рейкьявике как пример для нынешних лидеров, Владимир Дворкин, 22 ноября 2016 г.


Novaya Gazeta: The Federation Facade 

  • Author: Alexey Polukhin, editor-at-large of Novaya Gazeta
  • Polukhin speculates as to which definition of the Russian state is least applicable: democratic, rule-of-law, or federal. Arguing that Russian democracy and rule of law are abundant in simulacra (ombudsmen, Public Chamber, lack of direct elections, etc.), the author observes the country’s federalism likely serves as a facade.
  • Each constituent entity of the Federation has its own flag, coat of arms, and anthem, plus its own constitution, permanent representative, and analogous embassy in Moscow.  
  • Why are permanent representatives necessary? Their official functions sway between representing interests and ensuring cooperation between local businesses and government. In short: they are cogs in a sterile bureaucracy.
  • Thus, the usefulness of permanent regional representatives is negligible in most cases. They are of little use but come at high expense; their positions must be kept alive and justified by large incomes in order to maintain the facade that regional representation is relevant.  
  • The average budget of a regional representative sits somewhere between 20 and 30 million rubles a year ($312,000 to $468,000). Across 85 regions this makes annual budget expenditure around 1.7-2.7 billion rubles ($26-42 million).  
  • The author claims that if these useless political positions were scrapped, the subsequent funds could provide for up to three new schools in each region.  
  • The article examines six representative embassies across Russia: St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk, Crimea and Sevastopol, Samara, Murmansk, and Omsk. Each example stands as a showcase of the way corruption works in the regions; how political interests are tightly interlinked with the businesses and financial dealings of top embassy officials; and how essentially useless these political institutions are.

Новая газета, Фасадная федерация: Как устроены и зачем нужны постпредства регионов России, Алексей Полухин, 28 ноября 2016 г.


 Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.