20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Alexander Baunov discusses the Bolshoi Theater’s decision to cancel a highly anticipated ballet titled Nureyev that caused a great stir; Alexei Makarkin comments on the idea of establishing the so-called Malorossiya on the territory of the DNR and LNR; Kirill Martynov details the current presidential campaign; and Vedomosti envisions a utopian future for Putin’s Russia. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


The Nureyev ballet ensemble farewell photo after the ballet was cancelled by the Bolshoi Theater. Photo: Kirill Serebrennikov (center) / Facebook.


Carnegie.ru: The Heretic in the Church. Who’s Afraid of Serebrennikov?

  • Last week, the Bolshoi Theater cancelled the premier of Nureyev, a ballet directed by acclaimed director Kirill Serebrennikov. The decision was made by the theater management, even though the first four performances were sold out.
  • Alexander Baunov, editor-in-chief of Carnegie.ru, argues that the management had to choose the lesser of two scandals. Given the fact that Rudolf Nureyev, a famous Soviet ballet dancer who defected to the West, was openly gay, Bolshoi director Vladimir Urin faced either the upset caused by a cancelled premier, or the furor that would erupt after staging a supposedly gay love story.
  • It seems that he prioritized his own career and the theater over the production.
  • Baunov notes that the story is more complicated than a mere struggle between a retrograde theater director and a progressive artist. Urin was keen for the Bolshoi to be free to stage modern productions, as it had been doing for many years.
  • Another explanation involves the figure of Serebrennikov. The official narrative paints his work as nefarious. This can be traced to Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, known for trying to impress Putin by “protecting Russian culture” from the corrupting influence of the west.
  • By setting himself against Serebrennikov and the liberal school, Medinsky is trying to ingratiate himself with the regime after a number of embezzlement and corruption cases against his staff.
  • Baunov contends that the real struggle in Russian politics today is not between Putin and Navalny, or between power and opposition, but between those who see Russia as leading the way towards modernity, and those who see her at the head of the resistance against modernity.
  • The Serebrennikov affair is merely an attempt by one group to establish itself in the political arena, to demonstrate to the wider public that those who trample on tradition will be removed.
  • For some, writes Baunov, culture should be like the church: united in its support for the regime. The ultimate goal is a socially conservative unification of culture, and if Putin and Medinsky aren’t prepared to see this task through, someone else will.

Carnegie.ru, Еретик в соборе. Кто боится театра Серебренникова, Александр Баунов, 14 июля 2017 г.


RBC: Pipe Dream: How They Wanted To Turn DNR into Malorossiya

  • Political scientist Alexei Makarkin comments on the claim recently made by Alexander Zakharchenko, head of the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), to create a federative state of Malorossiya (Little Russia) on the territory of Ukraine. The concept of this state was further detailed by DNR supporter and writer Zakhar Prilepin.
  • The claim is an inverted version of the legislation currently being developed in the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv that envisions the integration of the DNR and LNR back into Ukraine.
  • Despite the fact that the Kremlin defied Zakharchenko’s idea, the author doubts that the Russian authorities were wholly in the dark. The Kremlin has several competing power centers, and one of them could have signaled support.
  • Makarkin also suggests that this development may signify an ongoing management crisis regarding both the DNR and LNR projects. Both “republics” were created on a temporary basis with the expectation that the current Ukrainian government would collapse. Three years later, internal discontent is starting to surface.
  • Makarkin recalls another project of a similar nature that was put forward in 2014 under the banner of Novorossiya (New Russia). The difference is that that project had some historical roots, while Malorossiya resembles a “farce.”
  • The author concludes that the stir-provoking idea will be forgotten soon. But it does raise many questions, including those of the political competency of the DNR leadership and Russia’s larger goals in the Ukraine conflict.

РБК, Неудачная перспектива: как ДНР хотели превратить в Малороссию, Алексей Макаркин, 19 июля 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: Where Is the Campaign Headed?

  • Political editor Kirill Martynov comments on the 2018 presidential campaign in Russia. Vladimir Putin is holding pre-election meetings and discussing social issues in the provinces, though not officially.
  • According to some sources, Putin will run as an independent candidate, not as part of United Russia.
  • Other parties are not sitting idle either. For example, long-time liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky and his party Yabloko are campaigning under the policy of returning Russian troops from Syria.
  • Alexei Navalny continues to open regional branches of his own Progress Party, despite constant attacks from the authorities.
  • Next year’s ballot will determine the future of Russian authoritarianism, argues Martynov. It’s not just about who wins, it’s about whether the election will be seen as legitimate if the opposition is not allowed to run. If the authorities lose legitimacy, it will change the atmosphere in the post-2018 period.
  • Sergei Kirienko, deputy chief of the Presidential Administration and advisor to Putin on domestic policy, has been given the task of making Putin’s victory seem legitimate. And one of the components of such legitimacy is involving young people and a broad majority.
  • Martynov notes that the March 26 protests dampened Kiriyenko’s efforts. As a result, Putin’s “direct line” phone-in was postponed until June, and when it finally happened the question of whether Putin would run or not was carefully avoided, though hinted at.
  • It is assumed that the campaign will begin only in December 2017, leaving voters just four months to decide their leader for the next six years.

Новая газета, Куда идет кампания, Кирилл Мартынов, 17 июля 2017 г.


Vedomosti: A Simple Future for Putin 

  • As the 2018 presidential campaign in Russia gets closer, the Kremlin is struggling to find an official reason to justify a fourth Putin term. In this editorial, Vedomosti offers some ideas.
  • Since no one even discusses the idea of a future without Putin, the best solution would be to project the best years of Putin’s previous terms onto the future. That period would be the “noughties,” when high oil prices allowed the Kremlin to win the hearts and wallets of the Russian people.
  • On this basis, the hypothetical future would include these elements: oil prices at $140 per barrel; Russia becomes an oil-digital power and constructs numerous pipelines to the West and East; the Russian military triumphs in Syria and defeats ISIS; Donald Trump repeals sanctions and becomes a regular guest in Moscow; the EU and NATO disband; Ukraine joins Russia; the domestic opposition vanishes.
  • This is, of course, a utopia, note the authors, but it is aligned with the wishes and ambitions of the client—Vladimir Putin.
  • The core challenge facing the Kremlin today is how to construct the image of a Putin-less future, regardless of when it has to be achieved. But it seems that no one in the current government is even considering the notion.

Ведомости, Простое будущее для Путина, Марина Железнова, Андрей Синицын, 18 июля 2017 г.