20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Ivan Davydov discusses Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s strategy in the light of the April 29 protest; Andrei Pertsev argues that the Russian authorities made a huge mistake by launching a controversial urban renovation program; Lev Gudkov explains Prime Minister Medvedev’s plummeting approval rating; and Yakov Mirkin writes that the Russian economy’s dependence on oil has not decreased, contrary to a recent government report. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Open Russia's #ENOUGH campaign is part of Khodorkovsky's strategy. Photo: enoughputin.org. 


The New Times: Khodorkovsky’s Strategy

  • Author: journalist Ivan Davydov.
  • On April 29, Open Russia’s #ENOUGH protests will call for Vladimir Putin to decline from standing for a fourth presidential term in the 2018 elections. As part of the protest, demonstrators will deliver signed letters to the presidential administration.
  • The new protest is inevitably being compared to Navalny’s March 26 anti-corruption protests in the context that the Russian opposition has rarely found common ground to cooperate.
  • The March 26 protests specifically targeted Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, but for the protest movement as a whole, as well as Open Russia’s campaign, there is a more obvious figure—Vladimir Putin.  
  • Davydov writes that regardless of similarities or differences, any success gained from the #ENOUGH demonstrations would be a mutual success for both Open Russia and Navalny.  
  • However, the author notes, there seems to be a lack of concrete intentions on the part of the #ENOUGH campaign, which many may see as the work of someone who is out of touch: Khodorkovsky, who was deprived of ten years of active life in prison, is unable to participate in the political life of the country as a result.  
  • Still, Khodorkovsky does have a consistent strategy and an awareness of the consequences of his actions (e.g. the Kremlin often carries out searches of members of Open Russia, conveying the message: “Being with Khodorkovsky is dangerous!”)
  • His main task is to not create individual superstars, but to prepare the Russian people to take over the running of the country after Putin. He is creating a new political class.  
  • In his speech on the “Russian Europeans,” Khodorkovsky spoke of the need to unite people in support of Russia’s future after Putin, giving the current regime 6-8 years before it collapses. Still, Khodorkovsky sees his goal not as regime change, but as ensuring that when the time comes, catastrophe can be avoided.  
  • At the recent Open Russia conference in Tallinn, Khodorkovsky stepped down from his post as chairman of the movement. Alexander Solovyev, the young former assistant to Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov, was elected as his successor. Khodorkovsky said he will focus on the movement’s ideology and educational initiatives.
  • Davydov also notes that the #ENOUGH campaign is a sign that Open Russia is taking its movement to a new level—into the world of street politics.

New Times, Стратегия Ходорковского, Иван Давыдов, 24 апреля 2017 г.


Carnegie.ru: Angry Citizens’ Second Coming: The Saga of the Five-Story Apartment Buildings

  • Author: journalist Andrei Pertsev.
  • The Moscow authorities recently announced a large-scale renovation program that involves demolishing large portions of the so-called khrushchyovkas—low-cost, five-story apartment buildings erected in the 1960s.
  • There are several problems with the program—from the lack of clear information on which areas are planned to be demolished and where residents will be resettled to inconsistent statements from various officials involved in the program.
  • What makes things worse is the absence of clear goals and vague criteria as to which buildings are subject to demolition.
  • The controversy has invoked the worst public fears as many people suspect that the authorities may want to target their buildings, some of which are still in a good condition and located in prestigious central areas of the capital.
  • Pertsev notes that the program has spurred Muscovites to form associations, build horizontal alliances and recall their constitutional rights (e.g. private property). As public indignation grows, people may come to see the current authorities as hostile and essentially illegitimate.
  • The author argues that the authorities would be ill-advised to march on with the program. That would only boost the protest further, causing “angry citizens” to take to the streets. Given the upcoming elections to local district councils, activists may use this opportunity to win seats there.

Carnegie.ru, Второе пришествие рассерженных горожан. Куда ведет история с пятиэтажками, Андрей Перцев, 25 апреля 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: Lev Gudkov: “Medvedevs Rating Has Been Dropping Since He Was Elected President

  • Author: Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center.
  • A recent poll by the Levada Center showed that 40 percent of Russians support the resignation of Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. In response, Medvedev’s spokesperson called the poll politically motivated.
  • According to Gudkov, it’s a typical reaction from the authorities: when they don’t like the numbers, they try to discredit the source.
  • “The authorities are used to taking a boorish tone and calling everyone spies, foreign agents and criminals, knowing that our loyalist courts will always defend the authorities, not the victim.”
  • Medvedev’s popularity peaked in September 2009, reaching 69 percent, but it has been slowly decreasing ever since. Alexei Navalny’s documentary only catalyzed the process.
  • “Some may not notice, but the country is in crisis: incomes are dropping, prices are rising,” says Gudkov. “It’s causing deep resentment, as there is no public force that could consolidate people.”
  • Gudkov also adds that officials at all levels—governors, government members, Duma deputies—are seeing their ratings decline. It looks like the tsar is good, but the “boyars” are bad. 

Новая газета, «Рейтинг Медведева падает с момента его избрания президентом», Лев Гудков, 27 апреля 2017 г.


Republic.ru: Have We Overcome the Oil Curse? An Answer to Medvedev

  • Author: Yakov Mirkin, head of the Department of International Capital Markets at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO).
  • Dmitry Medvedev has recently reported to the president that the share of the oil-gas revenues in the federal budget has decreased, claiming it’s a sign that the Russian economy is changing, and the dependence on oil export is falling.  
  • Mirkin argues that it’s not quite so. The economy is trying to recover after the crisis, with the military industrial complex and the agricultural sector being the key factors.
  • At the same time, there are three crises related to the real-estate market, retail trade, and the currency (the overvalued ruble).
  • Russia’s financial system is extremely unstable, notes Mirkin. Growth is only present where the government has created artificially stable market conditions, or where world prices in raw materials have risen. If oil prices fall, the ruble will suffer a shock and the economy could enter another crisis.
  • Reports have claimed that non-raw-material exports have risen, but this is more myth than truth. The whole economy has been working overtime to extract and export materials, but has received much less in currency for its exports. This is true even of areas said to have been restructured: machinery, equipment, and transport production.
  • Mirkin contends that the fall in the role of oil and gas is due to the price, not to a restructuring of the economy: if in 2013 a ton of Russian oil sold for $734, in 2016 it was $289. As for natural gas, the average price in 2013 was $342 per 1000 cubic meters; in 2016, it was just $157.
  • So, in fact, Russia has not weaned itself off of gas and oil revenues, it is simply receiving less income from it.  

Republic, Слезли с нефтяной иглы? Ответ Медведеву, Яков Миркин, 24 апреля 2017 г.


Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.