20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup: Oleg Kashin views Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s recent interview as a “breakthrough” for the Russian political scene; Alexander Baunov discusses the US sanctions against Russia; Konstantin Gaaze analyzes the possibility of Putin bringing the government under direct subordination to the Kremlin; Sergei Medvedev analyzes the recent Siemens turbines scandal and links it to Russia’s losing its sovereignty; and Boris Vishnevsky highlights the disturbing developments inside the Russian judiciary. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Open Russia founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and video blogger Yuri Dud during the interview. Photo: khodorkovsky.ru.


Republic: Khodorkovsky and Dud: Revising the 1990s as a Breakthrough to the Future

  • Journalist Oleg Kashin reflects on an interview given by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in which the founder of Open Russia talks about his experiences of 1990s Russia and the need to find inspiration from the period in order to develop a new future for Russia. The interview went viral with around 2 million views on YouTube by the end of this week.
  • Kashin writes that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s position of attack on the Kremlin from outside the country puts him in a different revolutionary camp to Navalny, but nonetheless makes him an important part of the anti-Putin political scene.
  • Yuri Dud, the interviewer, did not ask about Khodorkovsky's judgement on present-day Russia, instead opting to use Khodorkovsky as a memoirist, not an active politician. Khodorkovsky was asked to speak about his unique experiences in prison and to recount his own version of 1990s Russia.
  • In the interview, Khodorkovsky refers to the mass privatization of the 1990s as “unintended fraud” insofar as senior Soviet citizens were defrauded for being unable to learn how to take advantage of the new opportunities brought about by market reforms.
  • Khodorkovsky also sheds light on the post-Soviet morals and relations in the 1990s state apparatus. The fact that Khodorkovsky provided financial assistance to members of the State Emergency Committee, the body that initiated the 1991 coup against Gorbachev, forces us to view the 1990s Russian elite from a different viewpoint.
  • Another part of the interview was dedicated to the role of big business in the reelection of Boris Yeltsin in 1996, forcing the oligarchs to invest in preserving the existing regime at the time.
  • While the contest was framed as a battle between continued capitalism and a return to communism, Khodorkovsky attests that the choice was in fact between a formal, peaceful Yeltsin victory or a Yeltsin victory through the bloody and forceful retention of power.
  • Thus, the oligarchs backed Yeltsin and ensured his victory to avoid a vicious fight for power that would have been similar to 1993, when a constitutional standoff between president and parliament ended in the bombing of the latter and multiple deaths.
  • Kashin notes that Khodorkovsky's recount of 1990s Russia in the interview with Dud opens up new political possibilities for him, one being the prospect of an alternative to current state rule. This alternative is based on the same foundations as the Putin regime: 1990s Russia.
  • The use of propaganda as the main instrument for suppressing society, all-powerful security structures and the manipulation of “administrative resources” during election campaigns are all phenomena that formed the basis of Russia well before Putin's ascent to power.
  • Kashin concludes that Khodorkovsky, a memorable face from 1990s Russia, has the opportunity to revise the narrative in which Yeltsin's Russia is framed, thereby posing an alternative to the entire Yeltsin-Putin epoch. It is impossible to plan for the future without understanding the past, and the interview with Khodorkovsky was an important step in this direction.

Republic, Ходорковский и Дудь: ревизия девяностых как прорыв в будущее, Олег Кашин, 9 августа 2017 г.


Carnegie.ru: The Doubling of Trump. Who Is Destroying Western Unity?

  • Carnegie.ru editor-in-chief Alexander Baunov discusses the US Congress’ decision to impose wide-ranging economic sanctions on Russia. The fact that is was done without the agreement of the European allies testifies to a growing disunity in the West that plays into the Kremlin’s hands.
  • Putin's decision to respond to the sanctions during the procedural pause between the Congress vote and the presidential signature also shows that he intended to avoid a personal quarrel with President Trump and instead pin the blame on the US Congress.
  • Some in the US political establishment believe that Russia has tried to illegally involve itself in US politics for decades. Baunov confirms that Russian hackers have been active since before Trump’s presidential campaign and that pro-Russian web users have written pro-Kremlin commentary on a variety of Western media platforms for many years.
  • The Kremlin did not take into account that a career politician like Obama, who displayed aggressive anti-Russian rhetoric in the run-up to his first presidential election but then pressed the ‘reset’ button to fix U.S.-Russia relationship when in office, would be in a better position to act independently than a non-systemic president in the form of Donald Trump, who merely wishes that he could replicate Obama’s feat in regard to Russian policy.
  • Obama's foreign policy considered the unity of the West a vital factor. Every time his administration punished Russia or dealt with wider international issues, it ensured that all allies were consulted, the global economy was unharmed and that the West maintained a moral height that descends from a voluntary community of values and unity of response.  
  • However, Baunov notes, the latest round of sanctions were not approved by some EU countries such as Hungary, Germany and Italy, which objected to such stringent sanctions.
  • Moreover, Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, warned that the sanctions threatened the stability of the G7. This means that U.S. allies are becoming victims of the fight between Trump and his opponents in Congress.
  • Baunov concludes that US sanctions have ultimately played into the Kremlin’s hands, as they have disrupted the West’s unity of response and created the same contradictions that are favored by Russian diplomacy.

Carnegie.ru, Удвоение Трампа. Кто разрушает единство Запада, Александр Баунов, 7 августа 2017 г.


RBC: A Cabinet in Putin’s Name: What Putin Could Do With The Russian Government

  • Journalist Konstantin Gaaze analyzes the possibility of Putin bringing the government under direct subordination to the Kremlin ahead of the 2018 presidential elections, and the plausible ways in which such a move could be brought about.
  • Among all the rumors flying around Moscow in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election, Gaaze names the liquidation of the government as an executive class as the most thought-provoking.
  • The concept behind such an idea is grounded in the belief that the last six years of economic strife is down to the Putin’s lack of leverage over other areas of state life, such as the inner workings of government departments and big business.
  • According to this way of thinking, the president is not an institution, but an embodiment of the state whose administrative powers are insufficient. This idea would naturally develop into the abolition of the post of prime minister, and the deputy prime ministers would move to the Kremlin to form a new design directly subordinate to the president.
  • Gaaze argues that Putin discovered the true power of the post of head of government during his time as prime minister, where, with the backing of the Duma, he vetoed several strategic initiatives from President Medvedev on privatization and budget allocation. Putin thus realized that the prime minister can, in certain cases, hold more power than the president. This explains his possible intent to abolish the post altogether.
  • Furthermore, subordinating the government to the presidency would allow a so-called “Politburo 2.0” to be established, whereby the president can distribute vital information and commands to his inner circle.
  • The rearrangement will also reduce significantly the power of the security structures, shirk usual governmental procedures and increase the role of the Russian parliament in the country.
  • It is possible that Putin will become a patriarch-like figure after the presidential election, appointing an energetic prime minister ready to take his place when the time comes. However, this is unlikely, as Putin has taken personal control of his presidential campaign, and looks to be turning himself into a permanent state institution.

РБК, Кабинет имени Путина: что президент может сделать с правительством, Константин Гаазе, 4 августа 2017 г.


Republic: The Siemens Case: How Russia is Losing its Sovereignty

  • Historian Sergei Medvedev argues that Russia is slowly losing its sovereignty and the state has lost the ability to control the country’s economy and politics.
  • A case in point is the recent Siemens turbines scandal in Crimea. It emerged that the Russian state had, in violation of EU sanctions, moved to Crimea electricity turbines bought from the German manufacturing company Siemens.
  • Medvedev quotes Stephen Krasner, an American political scientist, who wrote that the word "sovereignty" has four meanings: international legal sovereignty, Westphalian sovereignty, internal sovereignty and the sovereignty of interdependence. At the moment, Russia only fulfils the first two criteria, as control over domestic processes and the possibility of integration into the globalized system have both weakened.
  • According to Medvedev, the problem stems from retrograde thinking by the Russian political class, which lives in the past, does not want to share power with transnational organizations and is unwilling to face the reality of global politics.
  • Russia, he claims, does not even fit the most basic definition of sovereignty, nor even does it have control over its domestic and foreign policy.
  • The author considers Russian foreign policy to be toothless, using great-power dialogue to engage in endless monologues about wounded Russian pride.
  • The path to ultimate sovereignty down which Russia is headed leads to the likes of Iran and North Korea. Adventures in the pursuit of sovereignty, such as the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in the Donbass, have actually undermined Russia’s position in the modern world and eroded the nation’s independence.
  • The Kremlin is dependent on Western technology, has lost foreign and internal sovereignty, and, through strengthening Putin’s "vertical of power," has lost control over the social and economic situation in the country.
  • The Kremlin's increased grip on power could have been the only goal, with the campaign for sovereignty acting as an ideological cover.
  • Medvedev concludes that sovereignty is not about a direct line to the president. It is about the constant work of the authorities to transform the country and integrate it into the wider world. The fact that Russia's new borders are not internationally recognized and that it cannot supply Crimea with electricity show that Russia's quest for sovereignty is heavily flawed and unsustainable.

Republic, Казус Siemens. Как Россия теряет свой суверенитет, Сергей Медведев, 4 августа 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: Police Denunciation is Becoming the ‘Queen of Evidence’ for the Russian Justice System

  • Civic activist and author Boris Vishnevsky writes that modern Russian jurisprudence is demonstrating an increasing belief in police witness testimony as infallible, thereby worryingly contradicting the constitutional provision of "innocent until proven guilty."
  • Vishnevsky comments that the practice of judging the accused based solely on police evidence started ten years ago, but up until recently the accused could occasionally persuade the judge of their innocence and the fraudulent nature of police evidence.
  • Nowadays, the arguments of the defense in Russian courts are treated critically, and are often deemed “far-fetched” or “expressed for the purpose of avoiding statutory responsibility.”
  • In the cases of the recent anti-corruption rallies in major cities across Russia, the judicial system unfairly convicted many of vague offenses related to disturbing the public order with no evidence other than police testimony. This is a blatant inversion of the presumption of innocence.
  • The same procedure occurs in relation to elections. Often, opposition parties have to prove in a court of law that their lists of signatures collected for electoral registration do not contain forgeries. Their evidence is often viewed as biased and questionable, while the testimony of election commission members is seen as objective and credible.
  • Vishnevsky concludes that the new infallibility of police testimony is akin to the Stalinist belief that state organs are beyond reproach: this is a sign of a police state that is independent of the rule of law. Ultimately, the persecution of those who oppose authority demonstrates that the courts protect the regime instead of the rule of law.

Новая газета, Полицейский донос для российского правосудия — новая «царица доказательств», Борис Вишневский, 5 августа 2017 г.

Russia under Putin

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