20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Denis Vardanyan argues that Putin’s bet on “young technocrats” is a propagandistic myth; Natalia Zubarevich identifies what is different about the current round of gubernatorial resignations; Maxim Artemiev points out that the resignations show that  the regional leaders’ economic performance was not a factor in these decisions; Yevgeny Gontmakher discusses whether the authorities can provide a sense of justice to the public in the runup to the 2018 elections; and Vladimir Frolov speculates about the possible parameters of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy 4.0. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


October 6, 2017: Rosmormort CEO Andrei Tarasenko, now acting governor of the Primorye Territory (left), and Yuri Trutnev, Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to Russia's Far Eastern Federal District (front), seen after a ceremony introducing Tarasenko as the acting governor. Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin fired Vladimir Miklushevsky, who governed the Primorye Territory since 2012, as part of the ongoing "gubernatorial purge" campaign. Photo: Anton Balashov / TASS.


  1. New Times: Old Men Are Relevant Here

  • The claim that Putin is promoting “young technocrats” has run amuck since August 2016 when the 44-year-old apparatchik Anton Vaino took the place of the head of the Kremlin Administration and longtime associate of the president, 63-year-old Sergei Ivanov.
  • But based on Putin’s latest appointments, journalist Denis Vardanyan argues that this is a propagandistic myth. While it is logical that Putin would want to renew the elite on the eve of his fourth term, the president does not always dare to drastically alter its makeup.
  • The most striking example of this was the resignation of Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov in 2006, who ended up a few weeks later as the Minister of Justice.
  • In some cases, without a “personnel bench,” Putin needs to return officials from the netherworld; in others, he entrusts important posts to those who have proven themselves; and in others still, the influence of old factions is so great that real renewal is impossible. Each of these three scenarios were manifested this week.
  • Ivanov, now demoted to the symbolic position of the president's special envoy for environmental issues and transport, in fact remains one of Russia's most influential politicians. Last week, Putin appointed one of Ivanov's longtime main associates, Andrei Chobotov (57), to the head of the Kremlin anti-corruption department.
  • All September, people close to the Kremlin considered the question of who will replace the Krasnoyarsk governor Viktor Tolokonsky. None of their shortlists included Viktor Uss (62), who lost his chance of becoming governor 15 years ago and ever since has been the speaker of the local legislative assembly. Instead, the attention focused on Mikhail Kotyukov (40), head of the Federal Agency for Scientific Research.
  • The hubbub about Kotyukov caused tension inside the Presidential Administration. In the end, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu intervened, promoting Uss.
  • When Dagestan’s president Ramazan Abdulatipov announced his resignation and publicly criticized the federal authorities, the Kremlin considered both the deputy head of the National Guard Sergey Melikov and the former head of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov, but in the end went for Vladimir Vasiliev (68), who held high positions even under Boris Yeltsin.
  • In conclusion, Vardanyan writes that good relations with influential businesspeople and the president's confidence are still the unconditional guarantee of success.

NewTimes, Старики здесь уместны, Денис Варданян, 1 октября 2017 г.


  1. Carnegie.ru: The “Governor Fall”: Where Will the Current Wave of Gubernatorial Resignations Lead 

  • While the current wave of gubernatorial resignations is being discussed like big political news, this Kremlin tendency has long been routine.
  • Natalia Zubarevich, Director of the Regional Program of the Independent Institute of Social Policy, identifies what is different about this round of resignations and why it could become important in the next political and economic cycle.  
  • Zubarevich recalls that in the first two years of Medvedev’s presidency, more than 30 governors who had a high level of popular support and controlled regional elites and businesses were replaced. Another series of resignations happened from 2012-2013, connected to the reinstatement of the gubernatorial elections.
  • The most recent round is similar to previous resignations in that it replaces governors with low popularity ratings and those who conflict with the regional elite. However, it is tied not to the gubernatorial but to the presidential elections, and the new appointees are mostly young technocrats with little governing experience who are not well known in their assigned regions.
  • The series of new appointments also comes, according to Zubarevich, largely from the Federal Security Service (FSB).
  • Like the other rounds of resignations, the latest ones sharply decrease the quality of governance. The new appointments prevent administrative competitiveness and point to a complicit local elite; that supports bringing in high-ranking outsiders to cut the regional budgets.
  • The rules for resignations are now less clear. This round, none of the decisions were based on regional economic development. The overall role of governors and the opportunities for them to build relationships with regional business have shrunk sharply since the 2000s.
  • Governors are turned into scapegoats who can at any point be forced to resign, labelled responsible for any problems created on the federal level.
  • Moreover, even the results from the imitation electoral system mean nothing.
  • Zubarevich concludes that while the changes in the governor corps may not seem important at first glance, overall they are a destructive blow to the country’s already nonexistent federalism and even to the idea among the populace that federalism is necessary or potentially a good thing.
  • But as these slumbering federal institutions transition to a new political and economic cycle, there is a chance that the level of competence and leadership among the new governors could grow in importance. 

Carnegie.ru, Губернаторопад. К чему приведет нынешняя волна отставок глав регионов, Наталья Зубаревич, 4 октября 2017 г.


  1. Forbes.ru: Technocrats in Power: Challenges and Perspectives of the New Governors 

  • Forbes contributor Maxim Artemiev argues that the new wave of gubernatorial resignations means one thing: that the efforts of regional leaders are secondary to economic trends. In the hope of improving the economy, the Kremlin has sent young technocrats to work.
  • It is unrealistic that these young and progressive replacements will make their entrusted regions self-sufficient because of the economic crisis (the imposed sanctions and the reliance on raw materials). Their experience in federal agencies will help to take money out of the budget, but it will not help them to create new jobs.
  • Though the development of a freely and honestly elected local government could be the best way to create an attractive image for a region, governors pursue policies that subordinate and diminish local self-governance.
  • Right now, it is widely believed that mayors steal, so governors must control them. But at the same time, the number of governors arrested for corruption approaches one in ten.
  • Another problem is the presence of businesspeople in political roles. In Russia, governors tend to operate in the Soviet tradition of first secretaries of provincial committees and lack the management tools to work under market conditions. This inevitably leads to corruption and administrative arbitrariness.
  • A "good" governor in Russia is one who performs his or her tasks, but uses modern jargon like "drivers of development" and "targeting.” But this makes Russia even more backward because it impedes the necessary formation of modern institutions of democracy.
  • In conclusion, Artemiev argues in favor of real elections. While elections do not bring the best people to power, the last 13 years have proved that Russian leaders are not getting any better through top-down appointments from the Kremlin.

Forbes.ru, Технократы у власти: вызовы и перспективы новых губернаторов, Максим Артемьев, 2 октября 2017 г.


  1. Vedomosti: The New Left Turn

  • In 2005, Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote in Vedomosti about the need for justice in an article titled “The Left Turn.” Rereading it today, one can only wonder at the author’s optimism that the 2008 elections could turn the country’s situation around.
  • But with the election of Medvedev and the return of Putin, not only was justice not secured, but cut further adrift. In the runup to the 2018 presidential elections, economist Yevgeny Gontmakher discusses whether the authorities can provide a sense of justice today.
  • When Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, the country's systemic economic problems and the protests in Moscow signaled that handing out money would not be enough to muffle calls for justice.
  • The annexation of Crimea turned out to be a timely move and, as Putin correctly calculated, marked the triumph of "historical justice," but this euphoria will not extend beyond 2018.
  • Though the GDP decline has ended, the draft for the 2018-2020 budget shows that the population will receive no benefits. Pensions are meager and few, and healthcare and education financing will not increase in any way.
  • The demand for justice is still relevant and its postponement could give rise to major political problems in the foreseeable future. Gontmakher sees two options for action:
    • The first and most probable is to do nothing, because the population will remain silent and people believe they have already lived through enough in their lifetime. This idea is promoted by the state propaganda, reinforcing the belief that without the state everything will collapse.
    • The second is for the authorities themselves to turn left. Though not a leftist, Aleksei Kudrin, for example, proposes ideas of the classical left-wing European type, from increasing funding for education and healthcare and developing municipal power to stimulating small business and improving the effectiveness of the police.
  • While Gontmakher sees no prospects for the second option as it would create numerous risks for the existing political order, the first is only reinforced by state-encouraged idiocy. In conclusion, he writes: “Will we wait for a catastrophic outcome for Russia, or will we begin to save the country?”

Ведомости, Новый левый поворот, Евгений Гонтмахер, 3 октября 2017 г.


  1. Republic: Putin and the World: What Will Russia’s Foreign Policy Be after the Elections?

  • International relations expert Vladimir Frolov discusses the possible parameters of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy 4.0, and whether it will be impulsive and risky or strategically restrained and aimed at minimizing conflicts.
  • This question is of particular importance because Russia’s recent foreign policy tactics have failed, leaving the country with numerous problems abroad and at home.
  • At the Russian International Affairs Council, Russia's foreign policy elite agreed: Putin’s current foreign policy is brilliant, but the country’s economic weakness and technological backwardness limit the opportunities for further victories and can even increase the country’s vulnerability on the world stage.
  • The elite also sees overcoming the confrontation with the West as a necessary condition for successful modernization; still, the Kremlin should reduce foreign policy ambitions to focus on internal development and technological advancement.  
  • Despite the turmoil of the Western elections this year, neither has the liberal world order collapsed nor the rigidity of Western sanctions on Russia diminished, as the Kremlin may have hoped. Russia is still involved in two armed conflicts in Ukraine and Syria with no clear exit in either case.
  • On the other hand, since mid-2017 the Kremlin has shown restraint regarding Libya, Yemen, and previously launched efforts to destabilize the Balkans to block the expansion of NATO and the EU. It is not yet clear if this restraint is a long-term strategic course or just a tactical maneuver.
  • Frolov concludes by outlining three key goals that are preventing Russia’s strategic restraint in the international arena today:
    • Desire to control the foreign and defense policies of the “frontier states”—Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and possibly Serbia. Moscow has two tools to achieve its goals—bribing elites and hybrid war—but risks more crises like that of Ukraine.
    • Opposition to “color revolutions” and armed insurrections against authoritarian regimes throughout the post-Soviet space and the Middle East. The Kremlin misinterprets threats as a form of Western military aggression and delivers unnecessary military responses to non-military challenges.
    • Strategic deterrence of the U.S. and undermining the American influence in the world. Like in the Soviet period, this means getting involved in regional conflicts even when there is no national interest.

Republic, Путин и мир: какой будет внешняя политика России после выборов? Владимир Фролов, 3 октября 2017 г.

Russia under Putin

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