20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s media highlights, Dmitry Trenin details Moscow’s foreign policy options under Trump’s presidency; Leonid Volkov discusses Russia’s new information security doctrine; Dmitry Travin draws parallels between the 1917 and 2017 political developments; Boris Grozovsky explains why Russians have come to terms with endemic corruption; and Novaya Gazeta provides expert views on Rosneft’s share offload to Glencore.


Igor Sechin meets with Vladimir Putin to report on Rosneft's $11 billion deal with Glencore. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / TASS.


Carnegie.ru: On the Western Front: Russia’s Politics After the U.S. Presidential Elections

  • Author: Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
  • Despite the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president, Trenin argues that the paradigm of U.S.-Russia relations will remain largely the same: power competition and opposition on a number of key issues in international affairs. Russia’s policy toward the West will be refined, rather than revised.
  • Trenin contends that as of early 2017 Russia will posit itself as a global power that aspires for a world order that excludes domination by any single state and an international relations system based on the balance of interests and powers of the leading countries.
  • Russia’s conflict with the United States reflects the end of American hegemony and the emergence of a more balanced structure of the world order. The trend is also signaled by the rise of China and potentially India.
  • The hostility in U.S.-Russia relations peaked in 2016; according to Trenin, the election of Hillary Clinton would have led to further confrontation, while a Trump presidency offers new opportunities. The latter’s approach to foreign policy promises to be businesslike, pragmatic, and transactional, while lacking the traditional moral supremacy view that has evolved among the Washington foreign policy elite after the Cold War.
  • But one should not expect a full revision of U.S. foreign policy—it will likely involve a deep correction, essentially advancing Barack Obama’s approach (spending cuts on foreign policy and strengthening of the national base).
  • Russia will continue to advocate its security interests and press the U.S. recognize it as an equal global power. The United States, on the other hand, will continue attempts at preserving its global leadership, thus extending the competition with Russia.
  • Russia’s relationship with Trump will not be easy, writes Trenin, since Moscow is not among Trump’s policy priorities, and anti-Russia sentiment still prevails in Washington. No new ‘reset’ should be expected.
  • Trenin details where cooperation can be achieved on the most pressing issues:
    • Syria, where Russia can sustain its geopolitical gains in the region and the U.S. can achieve multiple goals, including winning the fight against jihad and relaunching the political process in the country, containing Iran’s influence, etc. Both sides will need to compromise to realize this.
    • Ukraine, where mutual understanding can be theoretically achieved through implementing the Minsk Accords; however in practice they are unlikely to be realized.
    • The U.S. will continue to support Ukraine’s choice to integrate with the West, and reaching a sustainable ceasefire along the line of contact seems like a more realistic outcome to hope for. Diplomatic discussions on the Crimea issue should not be expected.
    • NATO: Russia will continue to reject the ideas of Ukraine becoming a NATO member and deployment of U.S. military bases on its territory, showing its discontent through certain “unfriendly” actions with the goal of convincing Washington that these issues are a casus belli for Moscow.
    • The only way to achieve progress on the NATO issue is to increase military transparency on both sides. It is crucially important to restore military communications to prevent all kinds of incidents. The NATO-Russia Council can be transformed into a center of crisis diplomacy and information exchange.
    • EU: Upcoming elections (presidential and parliamentary) in Europe’s leading countries will determine their relationship trajectory with Moscow.
    • China: Coordination with Russia on improving U.S. policy toward China will not be successful, but Moscow could still offer cooperation in the Northern Pacific and Arctic regions.

Carnegie.ru, На западном направлении: политика РФ после выборов президента США, Дмитрий Тренин, 7 декабря 2016 г.


Republic: The Dulles Plan 2.0. Who’s Encroaching on Russia’s Spiritual Values on the Internet?

  • Author: Leonid Volkov, founder of the Internet Defense Society (NGO) and member of Alexei Navalny’s Progress Party.
  • On December 5, Vladimir Putin signed a new information security doctrine. The following day, the State Duma introduced a new bill proposing to amend the Criminal Code by making  attacks on online critical infrastructure carry a prison term of up to ten years.
  • Volkov analyzes the document and notes that it’s very clear, compact, univocal, and, in a sense, logical. For example, the doctrine essentially states that the enemy and the main threat are external, and that the Internet has been turned into another field of geopolitical competition and even warfare.
  • It also notes that the online enemy (read foreign intelligence) will try to influence young Russian minds, undermine the country’s banking system, “steal secrets,” etc. Therefore, it’s crucial to develop Russia’s own autonomous networks to protect the RuNet.
  • The problem, according to Volkov, is that the doctrine focuses only on the foreign threat and completely ignores the internal one; malevolent insiders are much more dangerous than foreign hackers.
  • The second problem is that the doctrine doesn’t explain what is meant by “online critical infrastructure,” what it consists of, and what measures exist to protect it. The definition contained in the Duma bill is too broad and open to endless interpretation.
  • The third problem is that the document is based on unproven and mostly wrong assumptions: e.g. the enemy will try to cut Russia off from the Internet to exert political pressure; there is no proof that such sabotage is even possible in practice, as the Internet is self-governed and decentralized by default.
  • Finally, the protection measures envisaged by the doctrine are very expensive, while no explanation is provided for where the funds will come from.
  • Volkov concludes that in some aspects Russia’s new security doctrine can be compared to a popular conspiracy theory, such as the Dulles’ Plan, according to which the CIA intended to corrupt Soviet values to win the Cold War.

Republic, План Даллеса, версия 2.0. Кто посягает на духовные ценности России в интернете?, Леонид Волков, 8 декабря 2016 г.


Vedomosti: Non-revolutionary Situation

  • Author: political scientist Dmitry Travin.
  • As the centennial anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution nears, many Russian analysts are starting to draw parallels between the past and the present, with some looking for mystical connections.
  • Mysticism aside, Travin finds some ground between the two periods. As in 1917, today’s regime bears only a few elements of democracy, with the Westernized part of the society believing that the lack of democracy is a serious impediment to modernization.
  • However, in 1917 revolution happened due to two coinciding developments: a costly war and the tsar’s delegitimization due to the rise of Rasputin. Today, the leader’s legitimacy is still very much intact, albeit hinging not on Putin’s divine origin, but his personal charisma. And the wars Russia is waging today are rather small, mostly victorious and not so costly.
  • Russia’s leaders understand that revolutions are caused by the two factors mentioned above and not by “foreign agents.” They want to rule safely and quietly.
  • Russia today holds more similarities with the Brezhnev era, with its stability, slow deterioration of living standards, and growing discontent among the elites, yet with nothing denoting an approaching social revolt.
  • During the Brezhnev era, the KGB worked to eliminate opposition leaders and control the protest—no Stalin-scale repressions were necessary. At the same time, the Communist Party showed surprising solidarity within its ranks. Similar signs can be observed in Putin’s Russia as well.
  • Travin concludes that despite the growing discontent registered by the opinion polls. there are no signs of an upcoming social revolt in Russia.

Ведомости, Нереволюционная ситуация, Дмитрий Травин, 7 декабря 2016 г.


Novaya Gazeta: The Market Feels Qatar: Experts Comment on Rosneft Share Sale

  • Novaya Gazeta spoke to a number of energy analysts who shared their opinions on Rosneft’s sale of a 19.5 percent stake to Qatari energy producer Glencore.
  • Mikhail Krutikhin, partner at the energy consulting firm Rusenergy:
    • As opposed to Chinese buyers who refused to support the Russian government line prevalent in Rosneft’s board, Glencore likely agreed on the issue.
    • Also, Glencore previously contracted an additional 220,000 barrels of Russian oil, and the deal is essentially an advance payment under the contract.
    • Politically, the deal could be a way for Qatar to tease the U.S.
  • Alexander Pasechnik, head of the Analytical Department of the Foundation for National Energy Security:
    • This is a lucky moment for the company, for Rosneft’s management and for the oil and gas industry—it sends a favorable signal to investors.
    • The deal comes as a surprise: Glencore is affiliated with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), a sovereign fund, and the country’s economy is highly politicized; besides, Qatar is Russia’s direct competitor in the gas sector.
    • The government will work closely with regulators, therefore shock effects to the ruble exchange rate should not be expected this time.
  • Marcel Salikhov, head of the Economy Department at the Institute of Energy and Finance:
    • Everyone expected Rosneft to have to buy back its own stocks, but the fact that the company managed to attract foreign investments under sanctions is a good sign.
    • Glencore’s main motive is to get access to Russia’s upstream projects, while for QIA it’s a chance to increase the dividends rate.
    • The injection of $10.5 billion into the Russian foreign currency market may cause serious distress, so the government will try to realize the deal without the market knowing when the money comes to the country.
    • Rosneft’s decision to place bonds worth 600 billion rubles a few days before the deal could be a measure to weaken the potentially stronger ruble on the eve of the deal.

Новая газета, Рынок испытал Катар. Эксперты комментируют сделку по продаже госпакета «Роснефти», Арнольд Хачатуров, 8 декабря 2016 г.


RBC: How Russians came to terms with corruption

  • Author: economic analyst Boris Grozovsky
  • In the wake of the recent arrest of Economy Minister Aleksey Ulyukaev, Grozovsky draws from a variety of research data to show the effects of corruption on Russian society, and how Russians respond to it.   
  • Russians are fairly resolute about the fact that there are few honest men at the top of society, claims Grozovsky. According to a Levada Center poll conducted in February 2016, 76 percent of Russians believe that the government is either fully or greatly affected by corruption.
  • Furthermore, 44 percent of Russians believed that most people live in accordance with the law, whereas 41 percent thought the opposite. Interestingly, 82 percent were sure that, given the chance, most others would break the law; however these respondents claimed that they themselves were an exception to these law breakers.
  • Most Russian people do not consider everyday corruption as something out of the ordinary. There is an atmosphere of, “If not me, then someone else will just do it anyway.”
  • Grozovsky cites various research papers that conclude that the surer citizens are that those around them are taking bribes, the more likely they are to break the law themselves. And the more widespread corruption is in a country, the more tolerant its citizens become towards it.
  • In authoritarian regimes a bribe can be a symbol of loyalty. As Noah Buckley’s paper Calculating Corruption: Political Competition and Bribery under Authoritarianism shows, taking a bribe confirms that the person is “a member of the team.”  
  • This notion can be attributed to the Ulyukaev affair, writes the author. If a friend of the president offers you a little present for your service to the rodina, refusing can be very dangerous indeed, as it is a symptom of dissent.  
  • The conclusion holds strong that if everyone is sure that everyone else is taking bribes, then everyone is most certainly going to follow suit. The more convinced people are that such behavior is inherent in all of us, the more likely it is that they will themselves become engaged in corrupt activities.
  • Grozovsky argues that this vicious cycle is likely to continue until real political competition returns to Russia, allowing the cycle to be broken.  

РБК, Все берут: как россияне смирились с коррупцией, Борис Грозовский, 6 декабря 2016 г.


Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.