20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup: Vladimir Pastukhov analyzes the ongoing discussions of Navalny’s dictatorship potential; Yelena Milashina reports on the secret killings on official orders in Chechnya; Dmitri Trenin and Alexander Baunov provide opposing views of the results of the Trump-Putin meeting; and a CEPR report tracks protest activity in Russia. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump finally held their first official meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev / ZUMA Wire / TASS.


Republic: Why Is the Liberal Intelligentsia Afraid of Navalny More Than Putin?

  • Political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov argues that the Russian liberal intelligentsia is too focused on the question of “Who is Mr Navalny?”. Such discussions provide a great opportunity for intellectualizing and self-promotion.
  • However, the only reason Navalny gained popularity in the first place is because  the Kremlin singled him out as a political target for fear of a “Russian Maidan,” thus marking him as the leader of the Russian opposition.
  • Another reason is that Navalny himself chose the easiest and most direct way to target the Kremlin, by exposing corruption within its walls. He didn’t bother to intellectualize about higher matters. This simple, yet very efficient tactic, coupled with Navalny’s personal qualities, can deliver extraordinary results.
  • It is no secret that competition in the rarefied liberal circles in Russia is tough, and Navalny provokes resentment in their ranks due to his independence and nonpartisanship. He is seen by some as a potential dictator.
  • Pastukhov criticizes the liberal circles for their political impotence and inability to see the abyss between expectations and reality. “The liberal intelligentsia lives in a utopia, dreaming about a hero who will slay the dragon… and will give power to the most prominent members of the Russian intelligentsia.”
  • Pastukhov notes that the concerns about Navalny may be true: in his view, Navalny is a classic Bolshevik whose only goal is gaining power. Being a political animal is part of politics, but the liberal intelligentsia wants to stay above all of that.
  • The problem, therefore, is not Navalny, but the mindset of the liberals and their “political overfastidiousness” that doesn’t allow them to coalesce. “If the intelligentsia is so scared of a new Putin, they need to squeeze Putin out of themselves, drop by drop, as Chekhov once said [about a man squeezing the slave out of himself].”
  • The author concludes that Navalny will never be a second Putin because they are both creatures of concrete historic conditions that are very different. Whoever comes after Putin (a leader outside the Putin system) is doomed to be the anti-Putin, but he will also be very different from the liberal ideal.
  • The goal of Russian society today, then, is not to fight against Navalny or undermine his struggle for power, but rather focus on creating a strong, organized force that will be able to impose its will on any potential dictator.

Republic, Почему либеральная интеллигенция боится Навального больше, чем Путина? Владимир Пастухов, 10 июля 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: “They Were Executed” 

  • Journalist Yelena Milashina, who covers Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta, reports on the recently revealed secret executions of gay people under the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov.
  • On January 26, 2017, tens of people were shot dead in Grozny. It happened in secret and without warning. Novaya Gazeta published the names of the 27 known to have died (the list is not complete).
  • In early April, Novaya Gazeta reported on the mass persecution and attempted murder of gay people in Chechnya. The newspaper informed investigators of its findings, along with anonymous testimonies from survivors who were imprisoned and tortured.
  • Soon thereafter, however, Igor Sobol, deputy head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, who tried to meet with victims in order to encourage them to submit testimonies, was unexpectedly appointed to a new position after only two weeks of investigating the case, disrupting the procedure. If there are no victims and no investigator, there was no crime. This silence is the Chechen authorities’ main defense.
  • Novaya Gazeta decided to go public with the list of victims, which includes both homosexuals and other Chechen citizens detained without charge since December 2016. The publication asserts that these people were executed on official orders.
  • The author believes that rather than being killed for being gay, the people on this new were executed on suspicion of extremism (though there are, of course, no legal records)
  • Based on her own investigation, the author concluded that after 17 December 2016, the Chechen authorities began detaining people as part of a special operation. Victims were not charged, but simply put in underground prisons.
  • 200 people had been detained by January 2017, and were arrested six weeks later on charges of illegal arms dealing and participating in illegal armed organizations. During this six-week-long illegal detention, the authorities obtained forced confessions. Some of those detained were killed.
  • On the night of January 26, 2017, 27 people were killed. The victims were shot and buried in hastily dug graves.
  • Novaya Gazeta insists that this information ought to be followed up by the Russian authorities. However, the Russian state is as unconcerned by these crimes as it was by the murder of Boris Nemtsov, for which reason the paper has released the list of victims.

Новая газета, Это была казнь. В ночь на 26 января в Грозном расстреляли десятки людей, Елена Милашина, 10 июля 2017 г.


RBC: Peaceful Сontact: The Value of the Two Presidents’ Meeting in Hamburg

  • Political analyst and Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin comments on the first official meeting between presidents Trump and Putin.
  • The G20 summit results are positive because Trump and Putin both acknowledged the importance of U.S.-Russian relations, which have been steadily worsening for the past three years.
  • The author believes that this friction will continue after Hamburg, since the two countries are fundamentally opposed on how the world order should be structured. The important thing is simply to avoid war.
  • This means that the de-escalation zone in southwest Syria is important: if such a zone can be successfully negotiated, it bodes well for cooperation even within a framework of rivalry.
  • War should not be an option. But keeping it off the table is difficult because the US and Russia are currently engaged in all sorts of other conflicts, including an arms race, cyber warfare, economic sanctions, information and propaganda wars.
  • The conflict in Donbass will not be resolved any time soon; the best that can be hoped for is a ceasefire under the Minsk agreements that will hopefully end the shelling.
  • The Ukraine conflict has shown that without U.S. engagement and cooperation between Washington and Kyiv, Donbass cannot be stabilized. Trump appointing a special representative for Ukraine is a step in the right direction.
  • However, though his actions have been encouraging, Trump is unpredictable. Additionally, Trump’s power is tempered by Congress, and there is strong anti-Russian feeling among the American elite, who would prefer to replace Putin with another leader.
  • Therefore, now more than ever there needs to be a strong focus on conflict management—on avoiding conflict by remaining vigilant.

РБК, Мирный контакт: в чем ценность встречи двух президентов в Гамбурге, Дмитрий Тренин, 8 июля 2017 г.


Carnegie.ru: The Sit-down Summit. The Outcome of the Trump-Putin Meeting

  • Carnegie.ru’s editor-in-chief Alexander Baunov provides a different view of the Trump-Putin meeting (as opposed to Dmitri Trenin’s opinion above).
  • Trump’s meeting with Putin was, in the author’s opinion, a failure. Trump wanted it to be his flagship diplomatic meeting; Putin wanted to have a long meeting that would prove his diplomatic skill and the two countries’ closeness.
  • Trump, however, was nervous about appearing too close, as it would prompt accusations of treason and conspiracy back home, but he also wanted to defy the U.S. senators by pursuing a good relationship with Russia.
  • Baunov argues that Trump doesn’t need a personal relationship with Putin, but he needs to prove to critics that he is not pandering to the Russian president. If the latter is too hostile, Trump will be no different from Obama.
  • Despite his revolutionary campaign rhetoric, Trump has been conventional in his dealings with other partners, including Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Iran. Trump has already mentioned Russia in the same breath as these “enemies” at a rally in Warsaw.
  • Trump has failed to negotiate with Russia before and ended up using force (the bombing of a Syrian military base after a chemical attack on civilians by the Assad regime).
  • The harsher Trump is in his relations with Moscow, the weaker he looks in relation to the press, bureaucrats and senators back home. The meeting therefore showed that on the outside, Trump must appear tough, while on the inside he is willing to negotiate.
  • Trump has a lot to offer Putin—an end to sanctions, expanding business relations, the legitimation of Crimea. But Putin does not have much to offer Trump.
  • The United States would like Russia to stop opposing it, but doesn’t need to make concessions at the negotiating table—it can just continue to keep the pressure on Russia.
  • Thus, Trump is stuck, because if he relaxes the pressure on Russia to get what he wants, it will seem as if Russia has won. It is tempting for Trump to cease to cooperate. However, his voters may want a friendly Russia, and that is why Russia’s recent upgrade to a U.S. “enemy” could give Putin leverage.
  • Everyone in the U.S. would prefer a friendly Russia. Whether Trump can negotiate this without making any sacrifices remains to be seen.

Carnegie.ru, Сидячий саммит. Что дала встреча Трампа и Путина, Александр Баунов, 8 июля 2017 г.


CEPR Report: 2017, a Year of Protests: On the Increased Number of Protests in Q2

  • The Center for Economic and Political Reforms (CEPR), headed by Russian Central Election Commission former employee Nikolai Mironov, released a report tracking protest activity in Russia.  
  • According to the report, 662 protests were recorded in Russia in H12017. Of these, 284 were in the first quarter; the figure rose to 378 in the second quarter. St. Petersburg saw the most protests, followed by Moscow. However, protests took place in almost every region of the country.
  • The report links these activities to Russia’s socioeconomic conditions.  
  • The March 26 and June 12 protests were the result of tensions running high in Russian society; in Moscow they are linked predominantly to plans to renovate the city center. “The protests are a response to concrete phenomena rather than being abstractly political,” the report notes.
  • People attracted to the protest movement feel their problems are due to corruption and abuse of power. This anger begins locally, but can mushroom into anger against the system as a whole.
  • Social tensions are also created by reduced quality of life for many citizens: real wages have been going down for 25 months. Compared to October 2014, real wages are down 12.7 percent.
  • The number of citizens earning below the poverty line is on the rise, leaping from 19.1 million in 2015 to 21.4 million in 2017.
  • In Q22017, the CEPR observed 225 ongoing legal disputes between employers and employees. Of these, 25 spilt over into labor protests, mainly linked to wages being paid late or not at all. The strained relations have spread throughout the country.

Центр экономических и политических реформ, Протестный 2017 год: рост числа протестов во II квартале года, 10 июля 2017 г.