20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Alexei Levinson compares Russian attitudes toward the West in 2000 and today; Denis Volkov explains how the March 26 protests were different; Novaya Gazeta reports on how Russian schools reacted to the protests; Republic interviews Anatoly Chubais; and Vladimir Zharkov argues that a deal between Trump and Putin should not have been expected in the first place. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


This week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (right) visited Moscow where he met with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov (left). Both sides agreed that the bilateral relationship is currently at "a low point." Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov / TASS. 


RBC: There Will Be No Deal: How Trump Engaged in Foreign Policy and Upset Moscow 

  • Author: political commentator Vladimir Zharkov.
  • It has only been three months since the proclaimed “honeymoon” in U.S.-Russia relations, and the new president is already talking tough on Russia.
  • Zharkov argues that it should have been expected: both Russian and American jingoistic enthusiasm that Trump’s foreign policy would be radically different was not rooted in reality.
  • Trump’s personal factor cannot change the fundamental reality: Washington sees Putin’s Russia as a serious challenge to international stability and security; its actions go against U.S. interests and its allies.
  • It appears that Barack Obama was the most comfortable U.S. president for Putin’s Russia, as he believed in the rationality of the Russian leadership and relied on the idea that the status of “regional power” would be sufficient for Russia. But by largely ignoring Russia, Obama unwittingly encouraged Putin’s dangerous ambitions.
  • What could Trump do with this foreign policy legacy? One should have not expected a new Yalta and dividing the world into “influence zones.”
  • The modern world no longer adheres to the old principles: free trade and global financial capital determine the agenda today. Trump’s protectionism conflicts with this, and no wonder he already had to depart from some of his key campaign promises.
  • Given Trump’s failures on the domestic issues (immigration, healthcare), he will need to compensate for them on the international arena with many opportunities to demonstrate strength and boost the falling approval ratings.
  • Interestingly enough, the Kremlin is using the same rationale in its policies.

РБК, Сделки не будет: как Трамп занялся внешней политикой и огорчил Москву, Владимир Жарков, 11 апреля 2017 г.


Vedomosti: Russia’s Projection to the West

  • Author: Alexei Levinson, sociologist at Levada Center.
  • Russian people believe that Vladimir Putin’s key achievement is that the West regained its respect for Russia.
  • In 2000, polls showed that 24 percent of respondents thought that the prevailing attitude to Russia in the West is empathy—the opposite of respect for Russians. 21 percent cited Western resentment of Russia, and 19 percent indifference.
  • At the same time, 35 percent of Russians didn’t care about the West, while 34 percent said they respected it.
  • In 2017, in a similar poll, only 4 percent of Russians said they thought the West has empathy for Russia; 22 percent said the prevailing sentiment in the West is apprehension; and 21 percent thought that the West fears Russia.
  • Russians also changed their own attitudes toward the West. Only 15 percent said they respected it; 7 percent expressed loathing (up from 3 percent in 2000); and over 40 percent said they didn’t care about the West at all.
  • Anti-Western attitudes, the idea of Russia as a great power, and approval of the country’s leader are the three main constructs of the mass consciousness in Putin’s Russia today.
  • However, it is noteworthy that anti-Western moods are more popular among the poorest social groups; Putin’s approval runs higher among the younger population, but so does the approval of the U.S. (48 percent against the average 37 percent). And among Putin’s loyalists, approval of the U.S. is even higher—50 percent.

Ведомости, Проекция России на Запад, Алексей Левинсон, 10 апреля 2017 г.


Carnegie.ru: What’s Different About the New Wave of Russian Protests?

  • Author: Denis Volkov, sociologist at the Levada Center.
  • Volkov argues that the recent protests in Russia, despite higher than expected turnouts, cannot be perceived as a threat to the political system. The legitimacy of the government and Putin’s rating remain high as a result of the Crimea effect.  
  • The decline in standards of living seems to have come to a halt. Therefore, a rapid development of the protest movement should not be expected.
  • What is different about the recent protests is that they took place on a nationwide level, while the sole organizers were the Navalny team.
  • The protests showed that Navalny is the only leader of the democratic opposition able to count on large-scale support from the electorate. The problem is that the democratic portion of the electorate currently exceeds no more than 2-3 million people.
  • Volkov also notes that in general young people in Russia are apolitical and relatively content with life in comparison with older people.
  • There are several theories explaining the larger numbers of young people showing up for the March 26 protest. One is that older people were afraid of the consequences, while young people were unaware of the risks involved in protesting. Another is that young people were simply more in tune with the pace of information spreading through social media.   
  • Use of social media to mobilize political discontent is nothing new in Russia. However, over the last five years there has been a significant leap that has gone unnoticed:
    • On the one hand, more than 80 percent of Russians regularly watch TV, and so the government can relatively easily communicate their agenda.
    • On the other hand, more than 70 percent of young people in Russia use the internet as a source of news.  
  • Navalny is the first Russian politician to harness this fact, while the Kremlin is losing the ability to present a cogent picture of the world to young people.
  • It is not clear how the Kremlin will respond to this surge, but the status quo is getting harder and more expensive to maintain.

Carnegie.ru, В чем особенности новой волны протестов в России, Денис Волков, 6 апреля 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: Your Son Was at a Protest. That’s a “Fail” for Behavior.

  • Author: reporter Alina Ryazanova.
  • The involvement of young people in the protest movements has caused teachers and local authorities to talk to students about politics. Over the last few weeks videos recorded by students have appeared showing Russian teachers criticizing the opposition in class.
  • Various other reports gathered by Novaya Gazeta have shown that teachers often interject their political opinions into the classroom. The evidence shows a definite politicization of the education system, including local officials telling children that Alexei Navalny’s investigation into the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika’s corruption was “engineered by the West.”
  • According to the law, teachers are forbidden from using academic means to convey political propaganda. However, propaganda has been re-invented by the regime as “patriotic upbringing.”
  • For example, after the March 26 protests students were taken from their classrooms to a hastily-organized forum called “No Extremism” featuring a film screening that claimed political protests were a threat to peaceful life.  
  • At a school in Samara, a geography teacher gave a lecture that “cautioned” students about taking part in demonstrations. She also showed the “No to Extremism” film with a 16+ certificate to a class of 8-year-olds.
  • According to Evgeny Bunimovich, Ombudsman for Children's Rights in Moscow, teachers are not necessarily intruding politics into schools on command from above, but rather due to the influence of Soviet schools on their own upbringing.  
  • At the same, there have been numerous instances of teachers being fired for their anti-Kremlin stance, notably in Krasnodar where a teacher was dismissed for showing Navalny’s documentary on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.  

Новая газета, «Ваш сын был на митинге. За поведение — неуд.», Алина Рязанова, 10 апреля 2017 г.


Republic: “I Stopped Arguing About Who Is To Blame For Everything Long Ago”

  • Interview with Anatoly Chubais, head of Rosnano and one of the architects of Russia’s privatization program.
  • Chubais, who is currently leading one of Russia’s state corporations focusing on innovations, likes to discuss new technologies and the country’s progress in that area.
  • On alternative energy: by developing the energy wholesale market, Rosnano managed to launch solar and wind energy plants in Russia. By 2024, the overall generating capacity of wind energy is expected to reach 3,600 megawatts.
  • On private property: Historically, two market economy institutions have always been weak in Russia—private property and competition. The reason for that is not just the actions of the authorities, but also public attitudes.
  • On Boris Berezovsky: The late oligarch thought that big business runs politics and used to say: “Since we are so rich, it means we are very smart, therefore it’s right that we rule the country.” But Chubais thought differently: Berezovsky fundamentally misunderstood how the modern world functions.
  • On the Russian economy: in the coming years Russia’s GDP will grow by merely 1-1.5 percent, which means that a) the country’s role in the world will diminish; b) in terms of GDP per capita, Russia will lag behind all the developed countries; c) the Russian military and education system will inevitably get weaker.
  • On education: There is a saying that in Russia a person is shaped by three institutions: school, army, and prison. None of them can be called a center for liberalism, yet everyone goes through at least one of them. There have been few attempts to reform school, where most of the constraints are not technological, but intellectual. “It’s not about gadgets, it’s about the mentality of the whole teaching community.”

Republic, Анатолий Чубайс: «Я уже давно перестал спорить о том, кто у нас во всем виноват», Ирина Малкова, 12 апреля 2017 г.


Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.