20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Maxim Trudolyubov weighs in on Russia’s “other” invisible state that can be described as a modern-day “oprichnina”; Alexander Goltz analyzes the first clash in 60 years between Americans and Russians; Konstantin Gaaze delves in a dispute over the definition of Putin’s regime in the UN Security Council this week; Andrei Movchan describes the consequences of Communist presidential candidate Pavel Grudinin’s program for the Russian economic and political agenda; Alexei Levinson dissects the recent polls on Russian attitudes to other countries.


Concord Catering general director Yevgeny Prigozhin (dubbed by the media as “Putin's cook”) is believed to control the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary firm that employs mercenaries who were involved in the deadly confrontation with U.S. military in northern Syria. Photo: Mikhail Metzel / TASS.


  1. Republic: The Two States of Vladimir Putin: Ordinary and Oprichnina

  • Vedomosti columnist Maxim Trudolyubov weighs in on Russia’s “other” invisible state—the one that increasingly receives headlines for instigating private wars and manipulating public opinion in foreign countries.
  • These non-state forces have a noticeable impact because they are deliberate public-private partnerships, which the state can continue to deny its participation in.
  • Putin’s tenure is marked by the forced withdrawal of state institutions and their impact on operations—this is also the most important political tool of the Kremlin today.
  • Putin himself doesn’t trust the state—it’s too transparent to enemies. So today, there are two states: the “ordinary” state and the private, invisible state.
  • The tradition of the “outside” or “separate” state stems from the oprichnina, a tsarist state outside the ordinary, zemschina state—this elite body set up by Ivan the Terrible represented a new institutional reality whose members received property and wealth only for faithful service to the monarch.
  • Putin’s new oligarchs—modern-day oprichniki—are free of rules and have access to super profits, and in return, they wage his wars and build his bridges. And though the two states don’t have to be at war with one another, they can’t coexist harmoniously.
  • For example, the ordinary state is headed by the prime minister, which is unpleasant for the leader of the private state. Reform programs are written into the ordinary constitution, but at one predictable flick of the wrist from the “other” state, these plans evaporate.
  • If Putin someday weakens his control over the elections, he’ll be able to choose the leader of the ordinary state, but leave himself as the head of its tsarist sibling. But for now, Trudolyubov concludes, only figures in the “ordinary” state are discussed openly, giving us no insight into the plans of the private state moving forward.

Republic, Два государства Владимира Путина. Обычное и опричинина, Максим Трудолюбов, 20 февраля 2018 г.


  1. New Times: Payback for the “Tractor Driver” Exploits 

  • Columnist Alexander Goltz analyzes the first clash in 60 years between Americans and Russians and what it might lead to.
  • The Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg have published reports that mention dozens of Russians killed by partially American-initiated airstrikes in Syria last week. At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledges only five deaths.
  • But to Goltz, it doesn’t matter how many Russians died. Of fundamental importance, however, is the fact that for the first time since the Korean War, Americans and Russians have confronted one another in a direct clash.
  • The U.S. military continues to state that they were unaware of who exactly felt the impact of its aircraft, but the question remains moot. One of the more sensational statements by U.S. generals is that B-52 strategic bombers were involved in the attack—these planes were based one-and-a-half hours away, and could not have participated in the three-hour battle unless they were already in the air, suggesting that the clash was intentional.  
  • Russian politics enjoys its own “secret operations,” which are not secret to anyone. But when anything from the war in the Donbass to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is brought up, Putin and Sergei Lavrov repeat their favorite phrase: “Well, prove it.”  
  • In asking for proof, the assumption is that there is no jury trial that could possibly evidence Russia’s violation of international law. Suffice it to recall how Russia blocked moves to set up an international court to investigate the downing of the Malaysian Boeing in the sky over the Donbass.
  • Finally, the U.S. decided to play by Russia’s rules. Tired of hearing about the “tractor drivers and miners” who receive tanks from the “military,” weary of being told that the whole Russian battalion is comprised of “those who are not there” (that is not Russians) they decided to strike. A number of Russian and American experts believe that, given the general degradation of bilateral relations, a chain of proxy conflicts can lead to a dangerous and irreversible scenario. One can only hope, Goltz concludes, that Moscow and Washington both realize this danger.

New Times, Ответка за подвиги “трактористов”, Александр Гольц, 19 февраля 2018 г.


  1. MBK Media: It’s Not a Regime. How to Distance Oneself from Policies Harmful for Russia

  • Political commentator Konstantin Gaaze analyzes a dispute in the UN Security Council this week that emerged when U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, referred to “the regimes of Kim, Assad, and Putin.”
  • In response to the comment, the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, argued with Haley, stating that Russia is “not a regime—it has a legally elected president and appointed government.”
  • This, Gaaze writes, is one of the principal clashes between the political languages of the West and modern Russia. For Haley, “regime” is a legal concept. For Nebenzya, the Russian leadership is politico-theological in nature.
  • Aristotle classified political communities based on two criteria: number of rulers and whose interests they act in. In true forms of government—monarchy, aristocracy, polity—ruling is for the common good. In the perverted forms—tyranny, oligarchy, democracy—they rule in the name of themselves.
  • Nebenzya took offense at Haley’s comment because the word “regime” now has a negative connotation—an illegitimate or puppet government lacking in sovereignty.
  • But Haley had something else in mind: she wanted to emphasize that 1) Russia is a group in power that separates itself from the international community and acts against it, and 2) the group in power separates itself and acts against the interests of its own country. Instead, the ruling parties act in their own interests.
  • This is hard to explain in Russia, where the problem has long been cracked. Kremlin ideological “experts” have proclaimed Putin “transcendental” and a priori part of Russian life—there is no gap between the preservation of Putin’s power and Russia’s interests. If Putin disappears, Russia will disappear as a subject of world politics.
  • In this case, Haley seems to care more about the interests of the Russian people than Nebenzya does. It would be an exaggeration to blame Russia, not Putin’s regime—Russian citizens should be able to distance themselves from politicians who are harmful to the interests of their homeland.

МБХ медиа, Он нам режим. Как дистанцироваться от политик, вредных для родины, Константин Гаазе, 22 февраля 2018 г.


  1. Carnegie.ru: Where will Grudinin’s “20 steps” lead the Russian economy?

  • Economist Andrei Movchan describes the most likely consequences of Pavel Grudinin’s “20 steps” for the Russian economic and political agenda.
  • Grudinin, the number-two candidate in the 2018 presidential election, is most likely fleshing out an agenda that will win him no more than 5-10% of the vote. But maybe, this is the first—albeit awkward—version of the leftist program, and the first sign of a leftist turn in Russian domestic politics and economics.
  • Grudinin’s leftist turn is a natural consequence of the current “feudal democratic” regime, and the final phase in the process of economic destruction and, likely, of the Russian state. It guarantees the transition to emission incentives, the finalization of economic nationalization, and the introduction of large-scale economic restrictions such as price regulation, blocking capital flow, and external isolation.
  • On the nationalization point, Grudinin is late to the game, writes Movchan—the bulk of business is already owned by the state, either directly or through state corporations. These state-owned companies pay less revenue to the budget than private ones, and while Grudinin hopes to create a development budget, a big question is how the government will use state corporations to stimulate this development.
  • This harkens back to the USSR, when the government decided to give state enterprises more funding to incite investment and development, only to end up with total technological archaization, a drop in productivity, overproduction of unnecessary, capital-intensive products, and, ironically, a product deficit.
  • Another step is the “gasification” of Russia, covering all parts of the country, no matter how provincial. A Grudinin government, reflecting the varying capabilities of regional budgets, would provide a free supply of gas, electricity, and water to citizens. The question again is, who will pay for this—apparently Gazprom is doomed to the same fate as Venezuelan oil companies, facing losses on investment, abandonment of technology, and declining production.
  • With gas already comprising 16% of the country’s annual budget, if the state finances all three above-mentioned utilities, the budget will be reduced by at least another 16%. But the bigger problem is that nationalization enlarges the already titanic state companies. Small business can’t survive in such an atmosphere, and more citizens will flock to the giants, leaving behind the same small villages and towns that Grudinin will be pumping gas into.
  • Grudinin also proposes to reduce prices on essential products, medicines, and transport. This will lead to a total deficit, high inflation, and the destruction of the supply system. The quality of products will fall in accordance with the price ceiling, and imports will be at the whim of the state itself.
  • Other steps, whether they guarantee high-quality, affordable housing, full support to mothers and children, or the revival of national culture all raise the same issue—where will the money come from?
  • It seems that Grudinin seriously intends to restore the USSR. If his policies come to fruition, they will be a catastrophic blow to the ruble and purchasing power, cause massive deficit and black market growth, and heighten Russian isolationism.
  • Even in 1990, concludes Movchan, Russia was at least promised reforms and peaceful development. The first year of Grudinin’s rule would be just the opposite, and could only lead to the explosion and disintegration of the country—civil war, famine, and unpredictable foreign affairs.

Carnegie.ru, Куда приведут экономику России «20 шагов» Грудинина, Андрей Мовчан, 19 февраля 2018 г.


  1. Vedomosti: Even Irreconcilable Enmity Fades with Time

  • Though given the deterioration of relations between Russia and the U.S./European Union, the potential for “real” war is now much smaller than it appeared in 2015-2016. Replacing it is the idea that “they are all against us,” as seen in a recent Levada Center poll, discussed by sociologist Alexei Levinson.
  • As during the Cold War, this type of hostility seems multilayered to those who promote it. The first layer is Russia’s neighbor-enemies—the Baltics, Poland, and now Ukraine. These countries aren’t considered independent; they only act on someone else’s orders (the West’s).
  • In a survey, 35 percent of Russian respondents stated a positive attitude toward Ukraine, 32 percent toward the EU, and 26 percent toward the U.S. Only 13 percent declared a negative opinion on China. And though less than a decade has passed since Georgia was “forced into peace” by tanks and bombers, and Georgians were expelled from Russia, 52 percent of Russians think of the country in a positive light.
  • Russian men, and particularly those in the working class, are more likely to make negative assessments of all countries, but primarily the U.S.
  • But it is most interesting to see generational differences, concludes Levinson. Young people have a less confrontational lens on the world—they do not have an overly negative opinion of Ukraine, and are 1.5 times more likely than older generations to express a positive attitude toward the U.S. and the EU. Maybe it’s because young people watch television less?

Ведомости, Даже непримиримая вражда гаснет со временем, Алексей Левинсон, 20 февраля 2018 г.