20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, New Times outlines four potential candidates for the position of prime minister during Putin’s presumed fourth term; Gleb Pavlovsky contends that the central political conflict in today’s Russia is not between Putin and Navalny, but between Putin and those who support a transition to the post-Putin future; Vladimir Pastukhov discusses the ways the October Revolution can influence Russia in the 21st century; Grigory Yavlinsky argues that the rise of Bolshevik power in Russia was the real geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century; Konstantin Tarasov explains why the Bolsheviks won in 1917.


Could Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin be the next Russian Prime Minister under Putin's fourth term? Photo: Sergei Fadeychev / TASS


  1. New Times: Four Candidates for the Prime Minister Post

  • In previous terms, Putin’s prime ministers have been non-influential officials or left on the political sidelines. Discussion of who will be appointed in the president’s fourth term has already begun, even on state television. While this history suggests that Putin could appoint virtually anyone as prime minister, journalist Denis Vardanyan outlines four potential candidates.
  • The liberal reformer: Former Financial Minister Aleksei Kudrin is one of the people Putin maintains a close relationship with and trusts most. He has proven his capabilities in the currency crisis of 2014 and in authoring Russia’s economic development strategy for 2018-2024.
  • Crucially, Kudrin will only be appointed as prime minister if Putin seeks to undertake serious liberal reforms—raising the retirement age and abandoning the strategy of increasing salaries at a faster rate than labor productivity.
  • The centrist reformer: Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, is being so actively discussed as a potential appointee that he has had to publicly refute the rumor. But Sobyanin’s track record shows that if Putin says he needs to be prime minister, he will probably leave his current post.
  • Unlike Kudrin, Sobyanin would not insist on reforms, for which Putin does not seem ready. At the same time, it is possible that the current mayor could be chosen to take the brunt of unpopular economic and social measures if Putin decided to enact them.
  • Medvedev, again: As the person who gave Putin power, the president will not dismiss his faithful ally—this has recently been evidenced in Dmitry Medvedev’s role in the Ulyukayev case. Medvedev is also a convenient choice for Putin—after Navalny’s film “Don’t Call Him Dimon,” Medvedev can continue to absorb popular discontent, acting in Putin’s defense.
  • But Medvedev lacks the political power to enact any serious reforms. After the elections, Putin must also demonstrate political rejuvenation, and it’s not clear how this could be accomplished if both he and Medvedev remain in government.
  • A young technocrat: The most logical version for a renewal of power would be the appointment of a young technocrat—a successful official without political ambitions. Such figures have recently received gubernatorial posts and it is inevitable that they will appear in the higher tiers of government.
  • The main candidate is 35-year-old Maksim Oreshkin, the head of the Ministry of Economic Development, who is allegedly already playing a more significant role than his predecessors. Putin would need him if he fears turning into a “lame duck” during his last term; that way, Putin can concentrate all power in his hands. At least the fact that he is young would be progress, concludes Vardanyan.

New Times, Четверо на место премьера, Денис Варданян, 6 ноября 2017 г.


  1. Carnegie.ru, Autumn of the Politician. Putin in the Era of Collective Regency

  • In the face of the three preceding apolitical elections, Gleb Pavlovsky, the president of the Russian Institute, reflects on how Alexei Navalny has returned politics to the electoral system and what this means not only for Putin, but also for Putin’s system.
  • The current campaign’s central conflict is not between Putin and Navalny, but between Putin and the supporters of Navalny, or rather those who support a transition for Russia—a transition to the post-Putin future. Many of Putin’s supporters are not in support of his system.
  • As Navalny’s movement consolidates, Putin’s absence in politics becomes increasingly noticeable. With a president increasingly behind the scenes, even the noise surrounding the rise of the young technocrats cannot drown out the fact that there are blockages to political renewal in Putin’s system.
  • To Pavlovsky, Putin now finds himself in a regime of collective regency. The highest echelons of the Kremlin do not rule, but rather serve in a “palace of management.”
  • The author argues that fixating on Putin in the 2018 elections—a transition period—is a mistake; the election is less about the president and more about preserving the current political system. Putin’s delayed entry into the campaign does not stem from willpower, but his willingness (or lack thereof) to start liquidating his own regime.
  • Navalny poses a risk for Putin’s system, regardless of whether he is able to register and participate in the campaign.
  • For Navalny, the registration issue is actually an advantage to his campaign—it allows him the freedom to mobilize widely. But Pavlovsky provides a caveat: Navalny’s campaign has yet to provide an answer as to how it will function when it is formally refused registration and in the run-up to March 2018.
  • The real question is whether Navalny will be able to preserve his movement beyond these obstacles. He could perhaps transfer his electorate to Ksenia Sobchak.
  • Putin stands at the top of a disintegrating hierarchy, and his fourth term is already burdened with Russia’s transition into a normal state. Pavlovsky concludes that while he has the strongest chance of remaining in the Kremlin, the 2018-2024 term raises the question of a future president, an issue linked to the future of Russia.

Carnegie.ru, Осень политика. Путин в эпоху коллективного регентства, Глеб Павловский, 8 ноября 2017 г.


  1. Republic: The Revolution Has No End. What to Expect from the Main Startup of the 20th Century.

  • In his article, based on his talk at a joint conference between University College London, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov discusses the open-endedness of the October Revolution—not only the ways in which it failed, but also the ways it can influence Russia’s future in the 21st century.
  • The results of the Russian Revolution (Bolshevik victory) and the results of Bolshevism (largely unrealized) are not the same. October 1917 was more of a malfunction in the Russian Revolution that is, at best, a historical loss and, at worst, the beginning of a profound political degradation.
  • When perestroika began and the Soviet experience was reconceptualized, the Revolution came to be seen as a tragic error and the removal of Russia from the context of history.
  • The political goal of the Russian revolution was to remove autocracy and create a Russian version of national government. This mission did not succeed; the autocratic pattern was reestablished with a Marxist-Leninist myth that replaced Russian Orthodoxy. The pattern paused from 1989-1993, but Putin resuscitated it.
  • While the Revolution had unrealized goals, its blueprints for the Soviet project indicate that it sought to solve the problem of autocracy by instating republicanism, federalism, and parliamentarism.
  • The conclusion of Putin’s post-communist project, whenever it happens, will mark the end of the Russian Revolution; but to do so, it must accomplish everything it set out to do 100 years ago. Paradoxically, it also has to launch an anti-Soviet project—republicanism, federalism, and parliamentarism.
  • These programs, of course, were not integrated, and Russia remains a hyper-centralized state with a sacralized government, more or less unchanged since the time of Catherine the Great.
  • There are two global scenarios for Russia in the 21st century: the inhibition or the acceleration of the revolution. The first is a “controlled counter-revolution”—the authorities will continue to do what they are doing today, using the carrot-and-stick method until even the possibility of revolution is removed.
  • The second scenario, though much less likely, is a “managed revolution”—launching radical constitutional reforms, leading Russia to become part of a union of Eurasian states with a real federal and parliamentary republic.
  • This poses risks to Russia’s sovereignty and demands strength and courage from the Russian people and the political elite, but it is the only way that will allow the Russian Revolution to make a soft landing, instead of crashing full speed into the ground, writes Pastukhov.

Republic, Нет у революции конца. Чего еще ждать от главного стартапа ХХ века, Владимир Пастухов, 8 ноября 2017 г.


  1. Novaya Gazeta, State Revolution in Russia: A Century-Long Tragedy

  • Politician Grigory Yavlinsky argues that it was not the disintegration of the USSR (as suggested by Putin), but the rise of Bolshevik power in Russia that was the main tragedy and geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.
  • The Lenin-Stalin pseudo-state was founded on revolution, lies, and mass murder. Born out of a state revolution by leftist radical-extremists, Bolshevik power destroyed all positive experience of Russian statehood. On losing the November 1917 election, instead of building a state that functioned as a body of people’s representation, the Bolsheviks constructed a totalitarian system ruled by a new privileged class—the nomenclature of what was now called the Communist Party.
  • More than two centuries of Russian state-building oriented toward European law disappeared, as did Alexander II’s move toward democratization and the creation of civil society. The meaning behind the revolution—to accelerate this movement—also vanished.
  • This party saw Bolshevism as a shortcut to social progress—an answer to growing problems caused by the spread of the market economy and scientific achievements.
  • Through the Great Terror, the Bolsheviks physically eliminated any possibility of political, economic, ideological, and moral alternative, ruthlessly terrorizing people in order to keep them subordinate. The Communists compensated for systemic failures by sacrificing millions of people.
  • Putin and his officials are the real modern heirs to the Bolsheviks and want contemporary Russia to play the geopolitical role of the Stalin-Brezhnev USSR, dreaming of a “new Yalta” that divides the world into three powers—Russia, the U.S., and China—and destroying any domestic political alternative. They talk constantly about the dangers of coup d’états in the modern world—not least the revolution in Ukraine—while increasingly relying on the state.
  • But today’s Kremlin ideologists lack an image for the future, as well as an adequate response to current challenges. Uninspired, and excluded from the European path of development, they are left promoting something vaguely fundamentalist.
  • Russia has sufficient creative, intellectual, and economic potential to carve out a worthy place in the complex and competitive conditions of the modern world. It could turn global development in its favor, but breaking with Bolshevism is necessary for realizing this potential.
  • Russia doesn’t need great Soviet power or slogans like “Crimea Is Ours,” but a powerful alternative that will construct a genuine image of confidence in Russia’s future. The real project is to restore Russia’s links with its 1000-year-old self, Europe, and history, whose natural course was interrupted by the Bolshevik coup.

Новая газета, Госпереворот в России: столетняя трагедия, Григорий Явлинский, 8 ноября 2017 г.


  1. Vedomosti, Why the Bolsheviks Won

  • Konstantin Tarasov of the St. Petersburg Institute of History takes an in-depth look at the losing and winning coalitions in 1917 to explain why the Bolsheviks won—a question that he states is just as relevant today as it was a century ago.
  • At the time of the February Revolution in 1917, the Socialists-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks were the most influential leftist parties, comprising a moderate socialist bloc and advocating a long transition period from capitalism to socialism. They also supported the Russian war effort and the Provisional Government.
  • In contrast, the 250,000-member Bolshevik party lacked significant strength, its leaders polemicized. Over time, they began to expand their following and gained support in the soviets (councils) from leftists and moderate socialists.
  • But when Lenin returned from exile, he offered an unexpected agenda: to break with the moderate socialists and end the war. For Lenin, the “bourgeois-democratic” stage of the revolution was over, and it was necessary to proceed to the socialist stage.
  • In July 2017, under the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!” the Bolsheviks and their supporters demonstrated in various cities to persuade the soviets to take power from the Provisional Government, officially breaking with the moderate socialists.
  • After facing setbacks (rumors that the Bolsheviks were colluding with the Germans, while the army and Provisional Government regained power), an attempted military coup in St. Petersburg (the Russian capital at the time) subsequently “bolshevized” the soviets, soldiers, and the working class.
  • Because city facilities were seized and the Provisional Government met military force, the October events in St. Petersburg are often called a coup. But this narrative discounts the role of the Military Revolutionary Committee, created by the Bolshevik-led Petrograd Soviet (St. Petersburg was renamed to Petrograd in 1914 and went by this name until 1924), in transferring power.
  • If the Bolsheviks had tried to remove the Provisional Government from power only by military means, argues Tarasov, the events would probably have dragged on and could have resulted in their defeat. The victory of the Bolsheviks was not solely dependent on events in the capital, but part of a large-scale nationwide process. The transition took place over the course of a year, with some soviets taking power earlier, some later.
  • Further, the Bolsheviks did not take power in October 1917—many decisions were postponed until the Constitutional Assembly elections a few days later and the fight against moderate socialists in the soviets continued for several months.
  • Finally, the historian concludes that the Bolsheviks gained power because the moderate socialist bloc discredited itself by forming a coalition with the liberals, unifying left-wing radicals under the Bolsheviks’ pro-soviet vision. But the time for compromise had passed, and all sides were moving toward imminent civil war.

Ведомости, Почему победили большевики, 3 ноября 2017 г.