20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, New Times profiles the key beneficiaries of Putin’s fourth-term presidency; Alexander Baunov outlines why genuine reforms after Putin’s re-election are impossible; Vladimir Frolov discusses the recent unprecedented visit of the three heads of the Russian special services to Washington; Pavel Chikov details the encroachment of Russian state regulation on the Internet; and Pavel Aptekar examines the growing prestige of the “chekist” profession.


President Vladimir Putin and Sergei Chemezov, CEO of Rostec Corporation (right). The latter is expected to benefit manyfold as a result of Putin's re-election. Photo: Mikhail Metzel / TASS.


  1. New Times: Beneficiaries of the March victory 

  • Journalist Denis Vardanyan profiles the two main representatives of Putin’s pre-election campaign: the head of the Rostec corporation, Sergei Chemezov, and billionaire Yuri Kovalchuk—both of which are counting on dividends from a Putin victory.
  • This election year, Putin’s electoral headquarters, comprised of many officials and public figures, are not actually entrusted with Putin’s campaign—they are only its public face. It’s a sharp departure from 2012, when then First Deputy of the Presidential Administration Vyacheslav Volodin led the campaign.
  • Chemezov befriended Putin in East Germany in the 1980s, and later followed him into the presidential administration. His team is responsible for a key area in the electoral process: working with industrial enterprises. They have promised to collect more than 1.5 million signatures in support of Putin and ensure that all enterprises back him in the elections. In the public part of the campaign, Rostec will play a big role as Putin travels around, especially when meeting factory workers.
  • Since 2005, Kovalchuk has been head of the Kurchatov Institute, the leading scientific institution in the Russian nuclear industry. Many in the Kremlin are directly associated with Kovalchuk, including Deputy Chief of Staff Sergei Kirienko.
  • Though Chief of Staff Anton Vaino and Chemezov are more intimately connected, Kirienko and Kovalchuk have information policy on their side; Kovalchuk’s sphere of influence is television channels, except those that are part of the state media holding VGTRK. He expects to strengthen pro-Putin positions in the media and to build support among younger demographics.
  • After the election, there will be large-scale reshuffling in the Kremlin, during which Kovalchuk expects to consolidate his position, particularly as he pushed for the resignation of Alexei Gromov, the curator of information policy. Kirienko ideally wants to become the new head of the Kremlin administration. And the Chemezov-Vaino duo wants to strengthen its authority—Vaino could even become prime minister.
  • As some groups strengthen, others weaken—in this case Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is not mentioned in Putin’s campaign, and Duma Chairman Volodin, whose team was removed from managing United Russia.
  • As a Kremlin source explains, everyone naturally wants to report to the president that victory was achieved through their efforts—then they will win the biggest piece of the “holiday pie.”  

New Times, Бенефициары мартовской победы, Денис Варданян, 5 февраля 2018 г.


  1. Carnegie.ru: The Trench of Vladimir Putin. Where the Fourth-Term Line of Defense Will Be Drawn.

  • Alexander Baunov, editor-in-chief of the Moscow Carnegie Center, outlines why any extensive and profound changes in Russia in the name of reform after the re-election of Vladimir Putin are impossible.
  • Though the population is more ready for change than is commonly believed, the word “reform” isn’t popular because of its association with the “turbulent nineties.” But regardless, Putin can find a thousand reasons why the word “reform” and the set of actions the word implies is not an indisputable blessing for Russia.
  • Putin’s ideal Russia is something like a period of Soviet-era stagnation, with a permanent leader and undoubted international influence, but without the old Politburo (hence the rejuvenation of technocratic power), without a commodity deficit, and with an economic model that keeps store shelves fully stocked.
  • What’s more, there is no desperate Russian economic situation today. Putin is seen not only as a successful commander in the Chechen War, Crimea, and Syria, but also as a ruler during a time when incomes have grown, when consumer culture ceased to be Soviet and post-Soviet, and approached the Western model.
  • After the crises of 2009 and 2014, the Russian economy hasn’t sunk during the period of sanctions, and large-scale reforms risk destroying this “unremarkable achievement,” writes Baunov.
  • Reforms can only be sold to the Russian leadership for the sake of preservation—the idea that it is necessary to accelerate to stay in place and to strengthen the regime.
  • Though the next term is considered to be Putin’s last, no one has actually broached the subject with Putin, Baunov reminds. Anyone in Putin’s inner circle who brings up the question of what happens after 2024 puts themselves in jeopardy.
  • As of now, there are two opposing processes unfolding in Russia. First, in domestic affairs, Putin is departing from manual and daily management, allowing his administration, the Duma, United Russia, the economic bloc, the siloviki, and some influential regional leaders to compete for what they want in politics. Second, there is an increasingly exclusive concentration of foreign-policy power in Putin’s hands.
  • Baunov concludes that instead of moving toward an Iran or Venezuela-like country, Russia is become something like the complete opposite of Saudi Arabia, marked by a daily life that is highly distinct from the West, but whose foreign policy is firmly embedded in the Western security system.
  • Putin, who first tried to be an ally of the West, is now building his and Russia’s legitimacy on the denial of this idea.

Московский Центр Карнеги, Окоп Владимира Путина. Где пройдет линия обороны четвертого срока, Александр Баунов, 5 февраля 2018 г.


  1. Republic: Close Contacts. Why the Leaders of the FSB, SVR, and GRU Went to Washington.

  • International relations expert Vladimir Frolov discusses the unprecedented visit in late January of the three heads of the Russian special services—Sergei Naryshkin of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Igor Korobov of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) and Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal Security Service (FSB)—to Washington.
  • The visit occurred in spite of the fact that Naryshkin and Korobov are under personal U.S. sanctions.
  • The visit points to some important and personal political decisions, but neither cooperation in fighting terrorism, nor the preparations for the World Cup in Russia, justifies such a high-level envoy. It also coincided with the publication of the “Kremlin report.”
  • Russian and American media discussed meetings between Naryshkin and Bortnikov with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of U.S. Central Intelligence Dan Coates, but other meetings were not verified.
  • Despite recent tensions, Russia and the U.S. have maintained high-level contact. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent conflict in Donbass, Barack Obama invited Bortnikov to an international forum on combating terrorism. Pompeo came to Moscow at the height of U.S. hysteria about Russian interference in the U.S. election.
  • The recent trip by the Russian intelligence services to Washington was not disrupted by reports, the day before, from Dutch intelligence  that the SVR-controlled Cozy Bear allegedly had hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee.
  • For a long time, and especially after Trump’s election, Moscow sought to thaw contacts with U.S intelligence, and when it happened after the Ryabkov memorandum in February 2017, it was a huge success for Russia. Focus on topics like the fight against terrorism helps avoid publicity, inflated expectations and the torpedoing of progress with political intrigues.
  • What else might be on the agenda? Frolov believes that a strategy to prevent the return of foreign militants from Syria and Iraq, as well as the situation in Ukraine, Iran or North Korea may be on the table.
  • In fact, the visit may have been a delegation of 10-15 Russians, considering Bortnikov, Naryshkin and Korobov lack expertise on these issues (the Russian Foreign Ministry does not participate in negotiations among the special services).
  • It is also noteworthy that news of the visit was leaked by two Russian sources: Putin himself and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov. Americans regard this as a Russian attempt to stew divisiveness between the U.S. secret services and the White House leadership—proving Trump’s desire to cooperate with Russia. For the Kremlin, it demonstrates Putin’s strength before the election.
  • Frolov concludes that in any case, Moscow won, and the door for normalizing relations is slightly ajar.

Republic, Близкие контакты. Зачем руководители ФСБ, СВР и ГРУ ездили в Вашингтон, Владимир Фролов, 5 февраля 2018 г.


  1. RBC: The Network: How the State Increases Control over Runet

  • Pavel Chikov of the international human rights group Agora writes on the encroachment of Russian state regulation on the Internet.
  • The attitude of the state to the Runet can be divided roughly into three unequal stages:
    • 1) Ignoring: this period lasted until Dmitry Medvedev became president.
    • 2) Medvedev: As president, Medvedev had a brief honeymoon period with technology. Once marginal activists and bloggers became recognized by the state.
    • 3) Control: The 2012 adoption of the law allowing the state to block websites with contentious content marked the end of the second phase, and ever since there has been a systematic increase in the role, influence, and control of the state online.
  • Many sites became unavailable because they share a common IP address with someone on the blacklist. Because of this, the total number of blocked Internet resources exceeds 10 million—a turning point last year for the Russian authorities, whose system of identifying sites to be blacklisted is suffering from gross inefficiencies.
  • The state has since turned its focus on persecuting Internet users. As per the amended Criminal Code, if previously the authorities would declare a certain category of information forbidden and then block this content online, now the content itself can be criminalized.
  • Bloggers are still persecuted under anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code, and preliminary investigation into such cases is done by the Investigative Committee. But the FSB is becoming more influential in Internet-related cases, which have ballooned in number in the past few years (so-called anti-extremist verdicts have doubled since 2015).
  • The state has also attacked online anonymity on messaging services like Telegram, and at the same time seeks unrestricted access to users’ data. Last year, the FSB announced that Telegram was being used by terrorists, fined the messenger, and created conditions to block it in the future. Later on, it banned the use of VPNs to access blocked sites.
  • The final trend, concludes Chikov, is the spike in attacks and threats against online journalists and activists. The past decade has seen 214 such cases, almost a third of which occurred in the last year. More than half of the threats came from the authorities.
  • In light of these trends, the Internet is increasingly becoming a sphere where Russian law enforcement exerts its control over all players in the system who are either victims of violence or subjects of criminal prosecution.

РБК, Попавшие в Сети: как государство усиливает контроль за Рунетом, Павел Чиков, 5 февраля 2018 г.


  1. Vedomosti: How the Special Services Became Prestigious

  • Against the background of deteriorating relations with the West, prestige for the “chekist” profession has increased: 45 percent of Russians would like to see their children and grandchildren serve in the special services, according to a recent Russian Foundation of Public Opinion (FOM) poll. Pavel Aptekar examines what’s behind the high rating.
  • Positive opinions of the special services are at 66 percent—almost double the number recorded in 2001 (35 percent). Negative opinions fell from 34 percent to just 12 percent. During the same period, the percentage of Russians who have a positive connotation of the FSB grew from 42 to 69 percent.
  • The popularity of the special services as a profession outshines medical and legal specialties, but the growth of its prestige is also noteworthy, which Grigory Kertman of FOM says is linked to increased confrontation with the West.
  • To Kertman, the image of Russia as a besieged fortress constantly replayed on television screens enhances the perceived need for special services in the minds of citizens, not least because of terrorist attacks committed or prevented on Russian soil and abroad (though few are aware of the discrepancy between the number of terrorists caught versus the number of convicts).
  • Heroic documentaries about chekists released in recent years have also lessened the negative images surrounding Soviet-era repression.
  • Finally, various high-profile scandals involving governors, ex-Economic Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, and high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs have convinced Russians that the FSB has defeated its rivals in the behind-the-scenes clash of the special services and risen to the top of the hierarchy.
  • People believe that chekists—not businessmen or officials—are the real masters of the country.

Ведомости, Как спецслужбы стали престижными, Павел Аптекарь, 6 февраля 2018 г.