20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s media highlights, Alexander Baunov, Leonid Isayev and Yekaterina Chulkovskaya offer their views on the context and the consequences of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov’s assassination in Ankara; Alexander Rubtsov continues his series of essays on Russia’s political narcissism; and Gleb Pavlovsky shares his insight on Alexey Navalny’s presidency bid. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Members of the Turkish honor guard carry the Russian flag-draped coffin of Ambassador Andrei Karlov who was assassinated in Ankara on December 19, 2016. Photo: Dha / Depo Photos via ZUMA Wire / TASS.


Carnegie.ru: Ambassador and Aleppo. Dimension of Guilt 

  • Author: Alexander Baunov, editor-in-chief of Carnegie.ru.
  • In his commentary on the assassination of Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Baunov addresses the notion of seeing this murder as revenge for Russia’s actions in Syria. He argues that some experts and politicians are rushing to pin the blame on Moscow as an easy target, considering how it was demonized by the media over its intervention in Syria.
  • Baunov notes that all diplomats, regardless of the policies pursued by their governments, are under the protection of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; therefore anyone who justifies this assassination as a form of civil protest is beyond the norms of the civilized world.
  • This point is best illustrated by the different reactions to the Ankara attack and the one that happened simultaneously at a Berlin Christmas market: according to the established narrative, the evil inflicted on Russia had a reason, as opposed to the evil brought to Germany.
  • Baunov contends that from the point of view of radical Islam, there is no difference between the West’s supposedly “correct” Syria policy and Russia’s supposedly “incorrect” one. In any civil war, a black-and-white view that divides the participating parties into victims and executioners is wrong.
  • The author conducted a simple experiment using Google. For example, a search for “Aleppo 2010” shows pictures of a prosperous tourist center, while “Aleppo 2012” returns ruins, dead bodies in the street, and refugees.
  • The highest number of casualties Syria suffered in 2013 and 2014 (73,000 and 76,000 respectively), while 2016 brought 46,000. Russian troops came to Syria at the end of 2015, and but by this time most of the damage had been done to the city by other parties to the conflict.
  • The tragedy of Aleppo, writes Baunov (and this makes it similar to Grozny and the Chechen wars) is that civilians are prey to not one, but multiple parties  at war with each other.
  • Differentiating between real and fictional guilt doesn’t mean vindicating any of the parties or the one that is perceived as bearing the most guilt.
  • Baunov concludes that if the international community wants to end the war, instead of confirming its worst expectations and calming down, it should not act like a bad Russian investigator who wants to pin all the “cold cases” on one criminal.
  • The world order resulting from such a conviction would hardly be a triumph of justice.

Carnegie.ru, Посол и Алеппо. Измерение вины, Александр Баунов, 21 декабря 2016 г.


Forbes.ru: Assasination of Russia’s Ambassador in Ankara: Who Attacked Him and Why

  • Author: Yekaterina Chulkovskaya, Turcologist, Editor at Russia Beyond the Headlines (a publication sponsored by the Rossiyskaya Gazeta publishing house, the official outlet of the Russian government).
  • The assassination of Andrey Karlov shocked the Turkish authorities. President Recep Erdogan and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu called it a “provocation” aimed at hurting Russia-Turkey relations. The idea was picked up on by other Turkish officials and pro-government experts and media.
  • Later, the pro-government media put forward the official version of what had happened: the assassinator, 22-year-old former police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas, was allegedly a member of the Gülen movement, classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey under the name of FETÖ (Gülenist Terror Organization). According to this version, FETÖ members, inspired by the West, have infiltrated Turkish official structures to undermine the Erdogan regime.
  • The second version holds that Altintas acted on behalf of the radical Syrian opposition (e.g. Al-Nusra Front) that until recently controlled Aleppo and hoped through this assassination to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey.
  • However, none of these two versions, let alone less plausible ones (e.g. that Altintas was mentally ill and acted alone), offers an actual explanation of the murderer’s motives.
  • Russia also accepted the idea that the assassination was a provocation with the goal to sow discord between Moscow and Ankara and sabotage the meeting of the Turkish, Russian, and Iranian prime ministers scheduled for the following day. Whoever was behind the murder didn’t achieve this goal.
  • The author concludes that Russia has become an active player in the Middle East, and the consequences of its engagement can be tragic. 

Forbes.ru, Убийство посла России в Анкаре: кто и зачем совершил нападение, Екатерина Чулковская, 20 декабря 2016 г.


Forbes.ru: Political Narcissism in Russia: Very Unhuman Relations

  • Author: Alexander Rubtsov, head of the Center for Philosophical Studies of Ideological Processes (Russian Academy of Sciences).
  • Rubtsov continues a series of articles on Russia’s collective political narcissism that is linked to suffering from an inferiority complex and engaging in various compensation techniques. For a collective subject (e.g. social group, nation), a narcissist sees the world as a “mirror for self-admiration, an entourage and an instrument.”
  • Rubtsov refers to the differentiation between the “grandiose” (outgoing and extraverted) and “vulnerable” (entitled to special treatment but having low self-esteem) narcissists observed by W. Keith Campbell in his book The Narcissism Epidemic, and argues that the current regime in Russia exhibits the latter traits.
  • To compensate for its inferiority complex, the Russian regime is desperately seeking attention (“mirroring”) of any kind from the outside. “We’ve shown them!” is the classic formula for that kind of narcissism, and in Russia it transcends not through the official rhetoric but rather—and to the full extent—through the televised propaganda.
  • What is more important, the regime cannot show anything for the domestic audience: “We’ve proved it to ourselves!” doesn’t work. “Rising from the knees” only makes sense if validated by external factors. In the domestic economy, the country is still waiting for the proverbial bottoming-out.
  • Such narcissists both endure and enjoy the need to showcase themselves even at the expense of self-humiliation and self-destruction, and feel especially high by inducing fear in others. Clearly, this type of narcissist is doomed to solitude.
  • Being incapable of empathy for others, the vulnerable narcissist is actually highly self-empathetic—capable of justifying all of their actions. As a collective subject, such a narcissist has many layers that include the “blind faith of the masses” and the “cynical rhetoric of the rhetors.”
  • Within this logic, one person affected by the regime’s ideology will justify the fact that the regime lies, because the enemy also lies, and “our side” is right to lie as well: à la guerre comme à la guerre.
  • This logic also explains what other observers call Russian “social patience,” which, paradoxically, is perceived by many as a direct consequence of the restoration of Russia’s great power status: “the enemy is scared of our greatness and therefore tries to harm us.” One should remember that, ironically, the original Narcissus died of hunger.
  • Self-justification and lack of empathy for others (not for oneself) lead the collective narcissist to destroy social, political, ideological, and ultimately human communication in pursuit of total demagogy and winning at any cost. However, in some cases, hunger can serve as a cure for the collective narcissist.

Forbes.ru, Политический нарциссизм в России: очень нечеловеческие отношения, Александр Рубцов, 16 декабря 2016 г.


New Times: Gleb Pavlovsky: “Navalny Is De Facto Challenging Putin Personally”

  • New Times spoke to Gleb Pavlovsky, political commentator and former presidential advisor, about Aleksey Navalny’s presidential bid.
  • Why now?
  • Now is a very good time to do so. Firstly, because it’s the end of the year, a time when there are usually no new political initiatives, and thus Navalny’s announcement will be discussed for at least the rest of the month. Second, the announcement was made right before the president’s end-of-year press conference (“Priamaya linia”), which means that the president will have to address Navalny’s recent announcement.  
  • Will it affect the Kirovles case?
  • It will. Russia is not a country governed by the rule of law. In court Navalny now will be defending his case not as a famous blogger, but as a presidential candidate. And in so far as the court’s decision will be political, that will automatically raise the case to the top level, i.e. Putin.  
  • Will he be allowed to run?
  • The important thing is that Navalny has opened the new political year by seizing attention and the right to dictate the agenda. This agenda is extremely clear: Russia after Putin. Navalny is de facto challenging Putin by announcing that he’s ready to take power away from him. It’s not clear, however, whether he’ll be allowed to run—it’s a police matter, not just political.  
  • Next step for Navalny?
  • One should not expect too much from the next step. There might be a few missteps, but right now he doesn’t have to make any moves. Following up his announcement could be dangerous, because any further details could raise the question of whether he’ll be allowed to participate in the elections, when the elections will actually be, and whether Putin will be there, or someone else.  
  • Still, Pavlovsky believes the next step should be to come up with an action plan, possibly in conjunction with other politicians. It’s not particularly important whether this be within the current regime or the opposition—the main thing is whether he can propose an exit strategy for the current crisis.  
  • What if the court rules against Navalny in the Kirovles case?
  • Navalny will automatically turn into a presidential candidate who is intentionally barred from partaking in the election. At the moment he is prominent mostly inside Russia, as a national figure. But this would make him an international figure and only add to his status, of course.  
  • All of this is still very much a virtual game, but the stakes are high. Navalny has made a step that can only strengthen his position. He will grow and become a huge figure in politics, and that in itself is a step towards leadership. The question is: can he unite the disparate interest groups and take control?

New Times, Глеб Павловский: «Навальный фактически бросает личный вызов Путину», 19 декабря 2016 г.


RBC: Post-mortem Diplomacy: What Awaits Russia-Turkey Relations 

  • Author: Leonid Isayev, Arabist, senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics.
  • Neither Vladimir Putin nor Recep Erdogan are interested in a new worsening of diplomatic relations between the two countries, particularly after their recent reconciliation following the downing of a Russian jet by Turkish forces.  
  • Some observers note that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 pushed the European continent into one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of humanity. Isayev argues that the killing of the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov is unlikely to provoke a world war.  
  • What this week’s tragic event shows is that external politics, particularly when connected with such a complex conflict such as Syria, should necessarily be as pragmatic as possible.
  • The murder of Andrei Karlov is a direct consequence of the recent conflict that has affected Russo-Turkish relations. Over the past six months the Russian media have been actively cultivating the image of Turkey as a historic enemy, and similar allusions were being broadcast simultaneously on Turkish television channels. This led to a heightened sense of suspiciousness among the populations of both countries.  
  • This sentiment has inevitably been exacerbated by the situation surrounding Aleppo. World media have presented Russia as having the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians on its conscience.  
  • However, the murder of Andrei Karlov is unlikely to lead to a worsening of Russo-Turkish relations, writes Isayev. It is more likely that it will be interpreted by Recep Erdogan as a provocation against his rule.  
  • The worrying thing is, however, that Turkey is likely to do all it can to appear to be working with Russian investigators in order to find who is responsible, but in reality it will probably end up placing the blame on one of its traditional enemies.  
  • Another point is how an armed man could so easily make his way into an exhibition in close proximity to a foreign ambassador, which is a gross mishap on the part of the Turkish security services. But a more important question should be: where were the Russian security services who should have been guarding our top diplomat in the country?
  • The attack comes on the eve of a meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, and Iran in Moscow to discuss the situation in Syria. Vladimir Putin stated after the attack that it had been directed against Russo-Turkish military action in Syria, therefore it is likely that ministers will agree to strengthen the status-quo in Syria’s northern regions.  
  • It’s no coincidence that immediately after the tragic incident both Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan called the attack a “provocation intended to weaken the normalizing of relations between Russia and Turkey.” Therefore, the killing of the Russian ambassador is unlikely to influence the restoring of relations between Moscow and Ankara. At the moment, national interests come first.  

РБК, Дипломатия после смерти: что ждет отношения России и Турции, Леонид Исаев, 20 декабря 2016 г.


Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.

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