20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Andrei Pertsev and Alexander Kynev analyze the results of the September 10 elections in Russia and evaluate the performance of the opposition candidates; Ilya Rozhdestvensky discusses the downfall of FSB General Oleg Feoktistov; Ilya Shumanov delves into the core questions in the Ulyukaev case; and Alexander Soldatov conceptualizes the ongoing campaign by the “Orthodox extremists” against Aleksei Uchitel’s Mathilda. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


The September 10 municipal elections in Moscow. Photo: Aleksei Belkin / TASS.


Carnegie.ru: The Two Sides of the Turnout. What the Moscow and Regional Elections Show

  • Journalist Andrei Pertsev analyzes the results of the recent Russian elections, which he believes pointed to an active minority that mobilized in Moscow’s municipal elections against candidates fielded by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. The results also showed that the former Putin majority now lacks incentive to go to the polls.
  • The results confirmed that ballots were cast for the opposition even when a candidate did not lead an especially brilliant campaign—the most important thing was not to vote for a candidate in office.
  • There was also movement to opposition from the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and A Just Russia, as these factions are considered the Kremlin’s pawns.
  • It could be said that Dmitry Gudkov’s nominees and the Yabloko Party prevented real radical oppositionists from gaining seats in the municipal councils in Moscow, but this does not diminish the presence of the opposition.
  • Although the opposition numbers are not high—they did not win enough seats to pass the “municipal filter” required to run for mayor—Pertsev notes that if they succeeded this significantly in the municipal elections, there is no stopping them in the presidential elections.
  • The Kremlin may prefer to ignore these tendencies, pushing away the idea that the oppositional minority, ready for change, and the frustrated passive majority may, sooner or later, come together.
  • Another unfortunate lesson for the administration is that low turnout can be just as risky as high turnout. For example, despite the fact that Dmitry Mironov, one of Putin’s protégés, won 79 percent of the gubernatorial vote in Yaroslavl, less than a third of regional residents voted for him. It is possible that this tendency will bleed into the presidential elections as well.
  • Still, the Kremlin seems to see the results of the rigged gubernatorial elections that preserved United Russia’s reign as testament to popular support and their success in choosing candidates. Pertsev posits that the presidential elections will succumb to this same atmosphere of self-deception.

Carnegie.ru, Две стороны явки. Что показали выборы в Москве и регионах, Андрей Перцев, 11 сентября 2017 г.  


Vedomosti: The Crisis of a System-wide Opposition and Its Risks for Sobyanin

  • Political scientist Alexander Kynev assesses the results of the September 10 elections, which indicated the public mood and society’s reaction to the technology used by the authorities. The results also say a lot about the state of the political party system in Russia and identify trends and options for the future of certain leaders.
  • First, Kynev writes that the most important and least expected results were the victories of independent candidates both in Moscow’s municipal elections and in the Duma elections in the city of Bolshoy Kamen. More important than alignment with any political party, these candidates stood for change and opposed the municipal authorities.
  • The parties already represented in the political system, accustomed to behind-the-scenes arrangements and self-censorship in elections, performed about the same as in the 2016 federal elections, which, compared to the 2012 elections, is a bad sign for them. When it came to the opposition, voters generally looked to new candidates and parties.
  • Kynev believes the case of the Liberal Democratic Party, which remained in more or less a stable position, is an ersatz protest stemming from a general distrust of everyone already participating in the system.
  • Second, the elections again proved that voting in early September undermines the quality of campaigning and the level of public legitimacy in the results. The administration's strategy of using raffles and lotteries to compensate for low turnout did not help the electorate grow, and it continues to discredit elections as an institution.
  • Kynev adds that the authorities need to learn how to campaign normally because this affects the quality of votes cast. Moreover, as soon as someone capable of conducting a quality campaign and effecting real mobilization appears, the current system will crash.
  • Finally, the Moscow votes are above all a personal protest against the city’s incumbent mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, and his policies. These results, which are imbuing the city with a new enthusiasm and energy, make it difficult to imagine that Sobyanin will win the 2018 mayoral elections if in 2013 he barely won 50 percent of the vote.
  • The federal authorities either need to cancel the mayoral elections (which would be risky and provocative) or search for other solutions. What just happened in Moscow, Kynev concludes, is merely the beginning.

Ведомости, Кризис системной оппозиции и риски для Собянина, Александр Кынев, 11 сентября 2017 г.


New Times: The New People of Lubyanka

  • Journalist Ilya Rozhdestvensky discusses FSB General Oleg Feoktistov’s downfall and how “young technocrats” are taking over at the top.
  • The last operation that Feoktistov led was the detention of Minister of Economic Development Aleksey Ulyukayev. This happened in November 2016 after Ulyukayev met with Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, allegedly to receive a bribe of $2 million in exchange for supporting the Bashneft deal. Back in September 2016, Feoktistov, who had just been appointed vice president of security at Rosneft, laid the groundwork for their meeting.
  • However, in March 2017 Feoktistov was dismissed from Rosneft; no position was found for him afterward in the FSB when he tried to claim the post of deputy head of the Economic Security Service (SEB), and now he is preparing to retire. All of these factors raise a lot of questions.
  • The author cites sources speculating that Feoktistov’s downfall has to do with the fact that he defied Putin’s wish, failing in the year before presidential elections to limit the strength of the oil giant at the expense of one of the most powerful security forces in Russia.
  • Feoktistov’s work has been full of dramatic tales but the sun began to set on his career in the summer of 2016 when the Kremlin complained about his highly publicized investigation of the head of the Federal Customs Service Andrei Belyaninov.
  • Belyaninov received a public apology and the 6th Service of the Interior Security Department, once the most influential division, has since lost many of its operational functions.
  • Feoktistov’s reputation plummeted further given his close relationship to Mikhail Maksimenko, at the time the head of the internal affairs department at the Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee, who was arrested that same year.
  • Rozhdestvenskiy adds that another circumstance that forced Feoktistov to move to Rosneft is the arrival of a new crop of “young technocrats” to key positions in government, the presidential administration, and the law enforcement agencies.
  • For example, the technocrat Sergei Korolev, who became head of the SEB in the summer of 2016, was against an appointment for Feoktistov in the FSB.
  • In conclusion, Rozhdestvenskiy cites an FSB source who said that young technocrats like Korolev or Ivan Tkachev, the new head of the FSB’s Directorate K, don’t work “for ideas but for promotions.” Even with great merit, Tkachev’s skyrocketed career would hardly have been possible without the support of Korolev.
  • Known for their “unquestioning diligence,” the young technocrats believe that after 10 years of hard work, they will receive posts in state-owned companies.

New Times, Новые лубянские, Илья Рождественский, 11 сентября 2017 г.


RBC: Bribe or Reward: What the Ulyukaev Case File Tells Us

  • Head of Transparency International’s Russian branch Ilya Shumanov delves into the core questions of the Ulyukaev case.
  • Shumanov suggests ignoring the colorful but useless details of the case, such as the fact that the alleged bribe was placed in “a little basket with sausage,” and focusing on the real discrepancies instead.
  • There are three issues worthy of attention.
    • 1): the size of the bribe ($2 million), which is merely a fraction of what Rosneft paid to acquire Bashneft ($5.5 billion)—the deal that Alexei Ulyukaev as Economy Minister was allegedly blocking. Why take major risks for such a relatively insignificant gain?
    • 2): no one has been able to explain the bizarre form of the bribe—a heavy bag filled with cash. The common practice in the modern world is to wire money to obscure offshore accounts to hide all trails.
    • 3): it is highly suspicious that Rosneft’s Igor Sechin, the Kremlin’s heavyweight and one of the most influential people in Putin’s circle, suddenly became a victim of extortion. Ulyukaev would have to be insane to attack a person of Sechin’s political standing.
  • Shumanov concludes that the only question that makes sense in this case is what the money was actually for? He offers what he calls “the most logical explanation,” pointing out that it was likely a case of facilitation payments, or in other words, the common, albeit illegal, practice of taking money to ease bureaucratic formalities and fast-track the Bashneft acquisition. 

РБК: Взятка или премия: о чем говорят документы суда над Алексеем Улюкаевым, Илья Шуманов, 12 сентября 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: Orthodox ISIS

  • Alexander Soldatov conceptualizes the ongoing campaign launched by the so-called “Orthodox extremists” targeting Aleksei Uchitel’s Mathilda, a movie which tells the story of the affair between Tsar Nicholas II and Polish-Russian ballerina Mathilda Kschessinskaya.
  • The face of this campaign is Natalia Poklonskaya, former Prosecutor General of Crimea and current State Duma deputy. But the real drivers of the campaign are fringe elements and genuine extremists, such as members of the right-wing organization “Christian State--Holy Russia.”
  • Recently, they released a statement describing the film as an insult to Russia and its history, saying that it could drive some people to set cinemas on fire. Such attempts have, in fact, been made; movie screenings in Moscow have been suspended.
  • The author notes that in Russian Orthodox history forms of aggression can be found alongside the “spirit of love and mercy.” According to Archdeacon Father Andrei Kurayev, who fell out of grace with the Russian Orthodox Church, it was back in 2012 that Patriarch Kirill went whole hog on the “spirit of aggression” and has been increasingly calling for the protection of “wounded religious feelings” ever since.
  • Official Orthodoxy in Russia has thus transformed from the “gospel of love and repentance” into a “spiritual bond” (in Vladimir Putin’s words) that justifies repressions against dissidents.
  • Soldatov notes that despite open incitement of hatred by the Orthodox activists and extremists, the Russian authorities prefer to turn a blind eye on their dangerous acts. The reason is that their activities are beneficial to the regime as they distract from real, in-depth discussions about the historical lessons of the 1917 Revolution.
  • Concluding his analysis, the author notes that “chaos management” is an extremely dangerous tactic. Once control over chaos has been eased, chaotic forces may get unleashed and destroy everything, including those who try to “manage” them. 

Новая газета, Православный ИГИЛ, пока еще не запрещенный в России, Александр Солдатов, 12 сентября 2017 г.


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