20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Alexander Morozov writes about the possible goals of a Putin fourth term; Lilia Shevtsova argues that Moscow stands to lose from the current changes to the global order; Vladimir Pastukhov analyzes the Navalny-Strelkov debate in the context of the ideological struggles throughout Russian history; Yekaterina Schulman, Gleb Pavlovsky and Nikolai Petrov sum up the achievements of the first term of Russia’s 7th State Duma. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Vladimir Putin visits the Sirius education centre for gifted children. Experts view this event as an attempt to reach out to younger voters. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky / TASS.


RBC: Image of the Future: Possible Goals of Putin’s Fourth Term

  • Political scientist Alexander Morozov reviews problem areas that must be addressed in Putin’s likely fourth term as president: setting the basic goals of the Russian state; showing that Putin can be “the leader of the young”; and giving guarantees to civil servants.
  • Putin is all but assured a win in the first round of voting. But a long-term program for his presidency is yet to be drafted, and Morozov diagnoses four areas where progress must be made and domestic policy strategies can be molded.
  • 1) the digital economy: As Russian hackers are already a recognizable brand, the administration could try to realize the concept of Russian “cyber-hegemony” in the battle for global software markets.
  • 2) the need for judicial reform: This is the only “political reform” that may be implemented by Putin. The flaws of the judicial system are widely discussed in Russian society owing to the merging of state security agencies and courts, but any attempt to sever the link may lead to volatile consequences.
  • 3) urban development in major cities: This is an attractive option for the Kremlin, as it would shift attention from sectoral to territorial development, and would preoccupy those circles who usually fight for free elections and are against authoritarianism.
  • 4) rebuilding of the military: This is a compulsory long-term goal that cannot be disrupted by any quarrelling over budget allocation. The author links this to the long-term goals of strengthening sovereignty.
  • Putin will also need a key branding concept to use on the campaign trail. This has changed from campaign to campaign, depicting Putin as restoring Russia’s stability and retaining her sovereignty. Putin must now change tune and ensure that he promotes himself as “the leader of the young.”
  • Morozov concludes that the usual problems discussed in the run-up to elections, such as the development of SMEs and the quality of education, carry no real political significance and are not relevant to prolonging the existence of the current authorities. 

РБК, Образ будущего: какими могут быть основные задачи четвертого срока Путина, Александр Морозов, 28 июля 2017 г.


Radio Liberty: Trump’s Crater

  • Political Scientist Lilia Shevtsova writes for Radio Liberty that Moscow stands to lose greatly from the significant changes that the U.S., and consequently the global order, are about to experience. She details four key points of the new global situation.
  • 1) Sanctions against Russia represent a change in U.S. foreign policy. Even before Trump, the American establishment was dissatisfied with how Obama’s White House reacted to external pressures. Trump’s blatant fascination with the Kremlin made it inevitable that Congress would limit his role in foreign policy towards Russia and the provision of national security.
  • 2) Russia’s encroachment on the constitutional framework of the U.S. has led to the “Russia factor” becoming a long-term unifier among Democrats and Republicans, and has reinforced the goals of the U.S. military-industrial complex.
  • 3) The confiscation of the presidential right to cancel sanctions means that President Trump can no longer exchange sanctions for a deal with Moscow. The lack of a possible deal only serves to increase the threat of using politically forceful methods.
  • 4) Moscow cannot rely on Europe to break with the U.S. in regards to Russian policy. Even if American sanctions hurt European businesses, Europe does not have the strength to defend its own interests against the U.S. Despite anti-American sentiment, Europe will be forced to seek a common line with Washington over Russian relations.
  • The discussion in the Kremlin concerning how to annoy America speaks volumes about the hopelessness of the situation. Russia's “symmetrical responses” in no way hurt the U.S., and all proposals, such as supporting North Korea, are rooted in despair at the situation.
  • Shevtsova argues that a confrontation between Russia and the West is not inevitable. The West is more prepared to slowly compress Russia through sanctions and convince it to come to the discussion table.
  • It would be “state suicide” if Moscow reacted with confrontation. Once again, Russia must pay for the unintended consequences of its actions. Its attempts to influence the U.S. presidential elections mean that even worse punishment awaits.

Радио Свобода, Воронка Трампа, Лилия Шевцова, 1 августа 2017 г.


Republic: On Navalny, Strelkov, Liberal Audience and Open Russia

  • Political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov analyzes last week’s debate between opposition leader Alexey Navalny and self-proclaimed “Kremlin emissary” in eastern Ukraine Igor Strelkov (Girkin) in the context of the ideological struggle between Slavophiles, Westernizers and revolutionary democrats throughout Russian history.
  • Pastukhov argues that Russian history manifests itself in vicious cycles, where great ideas turn into revolutions, which subsequently turn into corruption and degradation of the revolutionary idea.
  • This “carousel” was played out in the Russian ideological battles between Slavophilism (Russian nationalism and patriotism), Westernism and revolutionary democracy, and the battle lines are still drawn accordingly.
  • Such was the case in the Navalny-Strelkov debate. Strelkov was the Slavophile, Navalny the revolutionary democrat and journalist Mikhail Zygar, who chaired the debate, embodying the Westerner spirit of liberalism.
  • While liberal ideologists criticized Navalny for his absence of clear political views and “leaderism,” the debate effectively legitimized Navalny as leader of the liberal opposition because the pair discussed a liberal agenda and addressed their words to a liberal, not nationalist, audience.
  • The central issue of the debate was the question of power, and Navalny, despite being blamed for the absence of an agenda, was able to express his attitude towards state power efficiently.
  • Pastukhov claims that Russia cannot have a political ideology insofar as it remains a pre-political society that has not yet separated property from power. This means that the prevailing left-right political spectrum does not fit Russian standards.
  • Instead, the basic category of Russian life is state property, a legacy of the patrimonial system and the linchpin around which Russian politics revolves.
  • The three strands of ideological discourse in Russia were apparent in the debate: Slavophilism, Westernism and revolutionary democracy. These took the form of patriotism, liberalism and progressivism.
  • In Pastukhov’s words, patriots believe that power must be served, liberals that power must be curbed, and progressives that power must be used correctly.
  • Essentially, patriots want to protect Russia from hostile external forces such as Western cultural imperialism; liberals desire to protect Russian politics from the merciless Russian soul, while revolutionary democrats are bent on destroying all those who are not on their side.
  • Pastukhov concludes that Russian politics has many levels, each of which must be completed before crossing to the next.
  • The first level must be the formation of a constitutional consensus of liberal and democratic-revolutionary forces. There is nothing more dangerous for the opposition than attempting to cut corners and fight without a common goal. Finding this common goal is more important than disagreeing about the future of Russia.

Republic, О Навальном, Стрелкове, либеральной аудитории и Открытой России без кавычек, Владимир Пастухов, 31 июля 2017 г.


Vedomosti: Awakening of the Sleeping Parliament

  • Political scientist Yekaterina Schulman reviews in Vedomosti the results of the first spring assembly of the seventh State Duma.
  • The author writes that the functioning of the parliamentary session, as predicted, will be defined by two objective factors: legislative framework and political conditions.
  • While modern Russia’s first three legislative bodies were dominated by diverse democratic competition and bitter battles between presidential supporters and Communist opponents, the following assemblies of the State Duma have been overshadowed by the shoring up of presidential power and the restriction of civil electoral rights.
  • The Duma’s place in the “big electoral cycle” also influences its outlook, meaning that, compared to the instability of the executive branch and the endless wars between the security structures, the State Duma gains a relatively stable collective legitimacy.
  • Given that we are witnessing the strengthening of alternative power centers across Russian state structures, Schulman views former deputy chief of the Presidential Administration Vyachselav Volodin's appointment as Duma chairman as an opportunity for the Duma to increase its political clout and rid itself of the “rubber-stamp” label.
  • Some of the ways the Duma could increase its political weight are through tightening regulations and legislative discipline under the Duma's control and restoring the negotiation positions between parliament and government.
  • The Duma cannot expect to be considered an equal partner by the executive branch, so its fight for independence is limited to the field of symbolism.
  • Shulman concludes that Duma deputies are not fighting in the interests of society, but are engaged in battles with other power groups and state actors for influence.

Ведомости, Пробуждение спящего парламента, Екатерина Шульман, 30 июля 2017 г.


Ekho Moskvy: A Long Political Season 

  • Journalist Svetlana Sorokina hosts a discussion with two political scientists, Gleb Pavlovsky and Nikolai Petrov, on her radio show. The three sum up what has been achieved by the State Duma over recent months.
  • In his speech at the Duma’s closing session, Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said that debates in the Duma had become a more important instrument for lawmaking than ever before, and that the makeup of the Duma had changed markedly.
  • Petrov agrees with these observations, noting that the Duma is indeed more diverse than ever before and expressing the hope that it will be more fluid and less rigidly defined by party allegiances. So there is great potential, but it remains to be seen whether this will be realized.
  • Pavlovsky adds that the Duma is currently the most influential actor on the political stage. Volodin’s influence is strong, and he is keen to increase parliament’s punching power as his own personal resource.
  • Petrov thinks that Volodin is a positive influence on the Duma, since, as a talented politician, it is in Volodin’s interests to keep the Duma independent, which hopefully will make the Duma more of an active participant, and less of a passive tool, in Russian politics.
  • Equally, the Duma is made up of many regional representatives, so as a political organ it may be able to represent a wider swathe of the Russian population.
  • Petrov believes that Russia is currently in a transition period, since the old representatives have been replaced by technocrats.
  • The expert also believes that Putin looks weak in the eyes of the world, and as a result his domestic position is compromised as it has always been linked to his foreign policy.
  • On the topic of U.S.-Russia relations Petrov comments that even after Trump and Putin, the current paradigm for Russian-Western relations will endure for many generations.  
  • On the issue of economic reforms Pavlovsky remarks that Russia is becoming ever more complex as a country, and is already too complex for the simplistic system of governance in place.
  • He also adds that now is a turning point for the opposition, and it remains to be seen whether Navalny can build a viable political model to what is already in place, rather than simply superficial reforms.

Эхо Москвы, Долгий политический сезон, Светлана Сорокина, Глеб Павловский, Николай Петров, 1 августа 2017 г.