20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Andrei Kolesnikov, discusses the Kremlin’s search for a core constituency in the 2018 president elections; Nikolai Petrov analyzes the recent state repressions against Russia’s regional elites; Fyodor Lukianov details the framework of the relations between Russia, Europe and the U.S.; Vladislav Inozemtsev argues that Russia’s key economic problem is the lack of a consistent development strategy; Dmitry Travin writes about fear as one of the foundations of the Putin system. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Vladimir Putin attends the All-Russian career guidance forum, Proektoria, in the Russian town of Yaroslavl, as part of the national open lesson “Russia Focused on the Future.” Photo: Mikhail Metzel / TASS.


New Times: Putin as the Nation’s Grandfather

  • Andrei Kolesnikov, chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes that in the search for a core constituency for the 2018 president elections, the Kremlin seeks to win over retirees with the occasional pension, young people with technology, and women with female presidential candidates.
  • In line with “Grandfather Lenin,” Putin is morphing from Russia’s father to grandfather as a result of his recent appearances during the “Direct Line” televised conference, the Tavrida National Youth Educational Forum, and his “open lessons” on September 1.
  • The latter was entitled “Russia Focused on the Future,” because, Kolesnikov notes, instead of focusing on the lackluster present, Putin wants to capture the country’s youth with fantastic stories about flying to Mars and the “passionarity” (to borrow the term from Lev Gumilev) of the Russian people.
  • To Kolesnikov, Putin has moved on from the ideology of Ivan Ilyin to that of Lev Gumilev, which can explain why chimerical “sovereignty” for Putin is more important than the development of his own country—he sees direct linkages from Gumilev’s theory of ethnogenesis to extreme nationalism.
  • Putin’s reference to “passionarity” may also derive from the word “passion”—the term was used on the same day that news surfaced detailing the Presidential Administration’s plans to find a female candidate to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections.
  • However, none of the women selected are known to anyone, and none could aspire to being more than a member of Putin’s convoy. Similarly, no progressive young people stand a chance of running against the current president.
  • Overall, the Russian system seems built on state corporatism: all gender and social groups are divided up and controlled from the top down.
  • The Kremlin’s struggle to win over the youth as the electoral “meat” for the next presidential term, the lack of desire to modernize the extremely inefficient political and economic system, and the weakening of the modernization agenda underscore the fact that Russia is not moving forward.

New Times, Путин как дедушка нации, Александр Колесников, 4 сентября 2017 г.


Vedomosti: Repression Methods Are Tested in the Regions

  • Political scientist Nikolai Petrov discusses the recent state repressions against Russia’s regional elites and argues that starting in 2015, the siloviki were given carte blanche to attack governors and their associates.
  • Petrov notes that in the mid-2000s similar methods were applied  to tame independent mayors who dared to oppose governors’ policies in their regions. The target was later expanded to include senior regional officials and now governors themselves.
  • The key tool is initiating criminal investigations leading to the forceful replacement of the target with someone more loyal to the siloviki (attacks are mostly implemented by Russia’s Investigative Committee and FSB, with the latter getting stronger since 2014).
  • According to Petrov, in 2016 only one governor fell victim to this method, 13 deputy governors and four mayors of regional capitals. Already in 2017, two governors have been arrested, followed by seven vice-governors or deputy heads of regional governments, and one mayor.
  • About 2 percent of the roughly 800-900 people in this top echelon of the regional elite are being attacked this way annually.
  • Analysis has shown that detainments of members of regional and municipal elites under various charges increased threefold in 2013 compared to 2012 and has averaged 600 cases per year since then. In 2015, the process shifted toward targeting higher officials.
  • Petrov observes that not only has the number of targets grown, but also the gravity of charges—prison terms have increased from two years to twenty.
  • The “victim” is usually chosen on the basis of several factors, with the crucial one being the lack of a strong patron, not the alleged crime itself.
  • Petrov concludes that in most cases the arrested officials are guilty, but no more so than their colleagues who remain at liberty. Thus, it has nothing to do with fighting corruption but rather switching to a “battlefield” modus operandi. The principle of “for my friends everything, for my enemies the law” still applies, except that the circle of “friends” has narrowed down.
  • Petrov compares the current repressions to decimation, originally applied in Roman legions, i.e. the killing of one in every ten of a group of people as a punishment for the rest. Fear becomes the key resource that substitutes declining rents. 

Ведомости, Методы репрессий отрабатываются в регионах, Николай Петров, 5 сентября 2017 г.


Carnegie.ru: The Atlantic Drift. What Estrangement From Europe and the U.S. Means for Russia

  • Fyodor Lukianov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, discusses the framework of the relations between Russia, Europe and the United States, which officially took shape 20 years ago.
  • At the core of this framework was Moscow’s recognition of Brussels as the European center, while Russia was set to become a member of “Greater Europe.”
  • But the neighbors issue proved to be fatal, while the enlargement of European and Transatlantic institutions served as a trigger. The Ukraine conflict blew up the existing structure.
  • Lukianov argues that understanding the current shifts in the European and Transatlantic institutions is crucial for predicting what may happen next between Russia and the EU.
  • Donald Trump’s scant interest in European affairs is not unique—disappointment in EU allies has been growing since George W. Bush.
  • Over the last 30 years, Europe has transcended three stages: being “Western Europe” in a political sense, that is being a divided Europe and opposing Moscow; being “Greater Europe,” implying oversight by Washington with Moscow playing a secondary role; and then “Crisis Europe” (since 2010), ridden by multiple crises—first the euro, then Ukraine, refugees, etc.
  • Europe has since resorted to the “Western Europe” schema, which is unstable, because Russia doesn’t fit the role of a systemic adversary. A new format has not yet been found.
  • Lukianov suggests a format that could go by the name of “Smaller Europe,” albeit more united. He argues that Merkel’s statement on Europe’s need for self-reliance at the recent G7 summit is unprecedented evidence of this kind of thinking.
  • The author projects that an anti-American Europe ready to embrace Russia is not in the cards, but argues that EU unity on sanctions will be harder to maintain.
  • All three—Russia, the EU and the U.S.—have discarded the old framework, but a new one will remain elusive until all the corners of this triangle stabilize. Lukianov concludes that the triangle might in any case become a square, i.e. the new format will inevitably need to account for China as well.

Carnegie.ru, Атлантический дрейф. Что означает для России отдаление от Европы и США. Федор Лукьянов, 6 сентября 2017 г.


RBC: The Return to Normality: How to Accelerate Russia’s Economic Growth

  • Director of the Center for Post-Industrial Society Studies Vladislav Inozemtsev argues that the main problem of the Russian economy is not its dependence on oil prices or the level of nationalization of its main sectors, but the lack of a consistent development strategy from the country’s leadership.
  • Since the early 2000s, Russia has stood at the same fork in the road: Does the country seek to achieve a high standard of living, or does it just want to “rise from its knees”?
  • To Inozemtsev, Russia’s economic stagnation is due to the country’s delay in choosing one of the available development techniques:
    • to reach “First World” status (by way of economic and political integration into this system),
    • to carry out “authoritarian modernization” that promotes industrial development using cheap raw materials without concern for national manufacturers,
    • or to liberalize the economy and turn the country into a gigantic offshore that would attract investors and allow national and foreign private businesses to rebuild the country.
  • When oil prices were high, it seemed that Russian economic growth was stable, but this feeling was based on a completely unrepresentative picture: the almost 70 percent in GDP growth from 2000-2008 occurred in sectors that were virtually absent in the Soviet and early post-Soviet economy—wholesale and retail trade, construction and development, banking and financial business, mobile communication and the Internet, etc. In those years, Russia was only an emerging economy in which industrial production was growing more slowly than GDP.
  • The crisis of 2008 shattered this illusion. The recovery of oil prices did not lead to economic growth in Russia and the GDP growth rate hit zero even before the seizure of Crimea and the outbreak of war in Ukraine.
  • Neither can the increase in military spending stimulate the economy—unlike in developed countries where military orders are executed by private companies.
  • Inozemtsev concludes that if the Russian leadership wants to restore the economy, then it needs to stop considering Russia an exception and employ normal economic techniques and strategies that have been proven effective based on dozens of historical examples. 

РБК, Возвращение к нормальности: как ускорить рост российской экономики, Владислав Иноземцев, 4 сентября 2017 г.


Republic: When Will We Get Scared?

  • Political scientist Dmitry Travin discusses the foundations of the Putin system. He starts by mentioning the recent story of Chulpan Khamatova, a famous Russian actress and founder of the Gift of Life charity, which received government funding, has come under attack from pro-government loyalists for calling the arrest of director Kirill Serebrennikov a “tragedy.”
  • People like Khamatova, who dare to speak up, are rather unique in Russian society insofar as the majority of the public are apolitical and only react to political challenges when their habitual ways of life are threatened.
  • Travin points to the lack of public panic when Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006. The murder of an anti-Putin journalist did not alarm the public as very few Russians partake in such dangerous work.
  • Politkovskaya’s murder is an example of a much larger trend. Political assassination in Russia is difficult to expose given that those responsible are the backbone of the political system.
  • When lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in prison in 2009, again the public was not scared. After all, he had been trying to expose financial fraud, something which the everyday citizen would never consider attempting.
  • During the Magnitsky affair, it became clear that removing vigilant citizens from the scene is not a failure of the system, but its very basis (other elements are high levels of corruption and legal and illegal taxation of businesses). The Serebrennikov case is yet another illustration of the works of this system that took shape after the annexation of Crimea.
  • In this system even corrupt officials are losing their possessions abroad as a result of Putin’s contention that Russia has no need for relations with the “cruel” West. The only winners are security structures that aim to maximize their power and frame Russia as a besieged fortress.
  • In the early 2000s, Putin intended to create a system whereby people lost the feeling of absolute freedom, but had no sense of fear. He wanted to create an authoritarian regime conducive to the country’s development and led by men whom Putin saw as guarantors of stability.
  • At some point, however, fear crept into the equation. Travin concludes that since the annexation of Crimea, no citizen is safe from the reaches of the state. Even those who supported the system now recognize that it will no longer give them peace.

Republic, Когда нам станет страшно? Дмитрий Травин, 31 августа 2017 г.