The Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki and its aftermath dominated this week’s news cycle in the Russian media. Another important development was the arrest of former ICR official Alexander Drymanov, which signifies a new round of the ongoing war between the Investigative Committee and the FSB. Finally, the closing remarks on the World Cup and its implications for Russia shaped a third notable storyline.

 

July 16, 2018: At a joint news conference following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Vladimir Putin presented Donald Trump with a World Cup ball. Photo: Mikhail Metzel | TASS.

 

  1. Putin-Trump Summit: The Results

The story: While President Trump’s grammatical blunders and oscillating faith in the U.S. intelligence agencies investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election wreaked havoc in the U.S., Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the Trump-Putin summit “better than super.” But what did the leaders actually discuss and what results do experts believe will stem from their meeting? 

Breakdown:

  • The presidents spoke on international political issues including Syria, disarmament, Ukraine, and Russian interference in the U.S. election. But more than anything, the summit was a way to reestablish contact—no concrete plans or agreements on how to approach these issues emerged.
  • Trump said the U.S. had behaved poorly vis-à-vis Russia and that the relationship between the two countries “has never been worse,” but that this status had changed with the onset of the summit.
  • Putin conceded that he wanted Trump to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but that the Russian government never has and never will interfere in internal U.S. matters. He questioned why anyone would expect Trump to trust him or vice versa, saying that the U.S. president “defends the interests of the U.S. and I defend the interests of the Russian Federation.”
  • On Syria, Putin said that Russia and the U.S. should cooperate to alleviate the humanitarian crisis—Trump also stated the desire to work with Russia to establish security in Israel. On Ukraine, they stuck mostly to discussing energy—Putin also said the U.S. could help set up the Ukrainian leadership to fulfill the Minsk agreements. [Vedomosti]

Cautious optimism before the summit:

  • Ivan Kurilla, historian, expert in U.S. politics: Improving relations with Russia will become a trump card in the U.S. president’s domestic cultural wars. If this happens, the Russian leadership will have to adjust its position on its own internal cultural wars, which would be a good side effect for the country. [Vedomosti]
  • After the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking the DNC, both Hillary Clinton’s campaign economist Shlomo Weber and security expert Yuval Weber suspected that the chances for any success coming out of the summit were practically nil. However, the possibility of a reduced U.S. presence in Syria in exchange for Russia to facilitate the removal of Iran from the Israeli-Jordanian border remained. [RBC]
  • Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center: Helsinki mainly signifies a resumed Russian-American dialogue. Even if the hybrid war between Russia and the U.S.undoubtedly continues, visits to Washington and Moscow will likely follow the summit, creating more opportunity for dialogue.
  • Still, though Helsinki thankfully wasn’t an emergency meeting, a normalization of relations probably won’t happen under Trump—and maybe not under Putin. [Carnegie.ru]

After the summit:

  • Vladimir Frolov: The summit was less productive than Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un. Putin won good PR by standing next to the American president at a press conference, but no tangible success will come of it—no deals were reached.
  • Because of Trump’s behavior, he will not be able to use a narrative of triumph from Helsinki, which would have made it difficult for the U.S. to introduce new sanctions against Russia. Instead, he now bears a narrative of betrayal against the American people. [Republic]
  • Political scientist Alexander Morozov argues that the summit is a bad sign, both for Europe and for Russia—and that the situation will further deteriorate if Trump continues his chaotic, meaningless, and ambitious behavior, distancing the U.S. from a policy of containment without any clear replacement.
  • It’s also likely that this course will lead to the increased role of the military in the American and European political establishment, as well as growth in NATO’s influence. [New Times]

 

  1. FSB against ICR

The story: On July 17, Alexander Drymanov, former head of the Moscow Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia (ICR), was arrested on allegations of receiving bribes from criminal bosses.

  • The arrest comes as part of a larger corruption caseinvolving prominent mob leader Zakhary Kalashov (aka Shakro Molodoy). A $500,000 bribe was paid for the release of the latter’s aide, Andrei Kochuykov, from a detention center.
  • Since Drymanov is a close ally of ICR head Alexander Batrykin, some sources speculate that the probability of Bastrykin’s resignation has just shot up [RBC].

Who is Drymanov?

  • Drymanov, 50, has worked in the ICR since 2008 and was involved in some high-profile investigations, such as the second Yukos case and the case regarding ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia following the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. In 2014, he also oversaw the Savchenko case.
  • He was appointed head of the ICR’s Moscow Directorate in 2015. In January 2018, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office accused him of receiving a bribe from Shakro. In June 2018, Drymanov took a leave of absence followed by resignation [Kommersant].
  • Accusations were made against Drymanov as part of a bribery case against another ICR official, former head of ICR internal security Mikhail Maximenko. Three other ICR officers were also arrested as part of the investigation [RBC]. 

What it means:

  • This arrest signifies a new round in the feud between the ICR and the FSB, as the latter casts another blow to Bastrykin by arresting one of his closest allies. With the election cycle over, the feud has inevitably intensified. [New Times]
  • The idea of Bastrykin’s resignation, and the consequent reform of the ICR (including dissolution), has already been floated. In May, for example, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Bastrykin might be leaving the ICR for a position as a judge at the Constitutional Court (it has been also reported that the Court’s chairman, Valery Zorkin, might be retiring soon) [RIA].
  • Maxim Varyvdin, head of the crime desk: Drymanov has had tensions with the chekists since his appointment to the ICR’s Moscow Directorate. He preferred to run investigations independently without “taking notes from certain operative services,” which some took as a personal insult. Drymanov himself also believes he had been framed by one of the subordinates who testified against him [Kommersant].

Dig deeper: Open Russia details the Shakro Molodoy case, which had originally sparked the war between the FSB and the ICR.

 

  1. The World Cup is over: What now?

The World Cup in numbers:

  • As opposed to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Russian games saw 98 percent full stands on average—some matches were completely sold out. Of the 3 million tickets sold, only a mere 5-7 percent were purchased on the secondary market given stricter restrictions by FIFA and the Russian organizing committee.
  • World Cup participants shared a record $400 million between themselves. FIFA, which operates on a four-year cycle between tournaments, made $6.1 billion in total—6.7 percent more revenue than from the previous cycle, which ended with the 2014 World Cupin Brazil. Much of this stemmed from contracts with Chinese companies that sponsored the championship and from high levels of Chinese tourism.
  • Despite threats, no boycott of this year’s championship took place, and a total of 29 world leaders attended the games. Four billion people watched World Cup matches around the world. [RBC

Will the celebration last?

  • Simon CooperFinancial Times columnist: The World Cup is a carnival, but everything will now return to the status quo. The last thing Putin wants is for Russians to feel that public spaces belong to them. Putin, whose ratings declined during the games because of the pension reform, will probably not even see short-term positive benefits from the World Cup. [Vedomosti]
  • Alexander Gubsky, journalist: The World Cup won’t prevent corruption in the Russian regime or the dearth of free elections. But the games let Russians see themselves and their country from their best side—and share this with tourists. [Vedomosti]
  • Questioning whether the resources poured into building new stadiums and infrastructure will pay off, economists Arseny Stolyarov and Gleb Vasiliev write that it depends on what calculations are being made and whether the focus is on explicit or implicit, short-term or long-term effects.
  • GDP growth is expected by the Central Bank, but there are also more abstract (and positive) impacts: the chance for Russia to improve its international reputation, the attractiveness of the country to foreigners, and the level of happiness among Russian citizens. [RBC]

 

Other stories that mattered this week (in Russian)

  • Let us forget all bad things. [History] textbooks will be rewritten to reflect the 2014 events”: Journalist Alexei Baykov writes about the Kremlin’s idea to produce the so-called “unified history textbook”—an idea put forward by Putin in 2013. Recent interviews with education policy experts and officials suggest that Russian history is being retrospectively reassessed to reflect new political realities, such as “Crimea is ours” [Novaya Gazeta].
  • The past cannot be returned. Russia will no longer be a great scientific power”: Journalist Maxim Artemyev comments on the award of Hero of the Russian Federation recently given to Sergei Kiriyenko, former Rosatom head and currently Putin’s deputy chief of staff, against the backdrop of the government’s blatant failure to properly fund Russian science. [Forbes.ru]
  • Farewell to paternalism”: Economist Dmitry Travin argues that, instead of implementing tax reform to stimulate Russian business, the government is planning to increase value-added tax only and thus prolong stagnation [Vedomosti].

 

Every Friday, we release a comprehensive digest of the most compelling articles related to Russia.

If you are interested in getting a rare insight into what Russia is really about; what the Russian government and the Russian people are really thinking; what the Russian expert community is really discussing; subscribe to our weekly newsletter below or by letting us know at info@imrussia.org.

Truly yours,

IMR team

Our newsletter delivers a digest of analytical articles and op-eds published on our website, along with the latest updates on the IMR activities on a monthly basis.