20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, experts continue the discussion on the political precedent set by the Primorye Territory electoral controversies. Another debate unraveled around Russia’s sanctioning a number of Ukrainian nationals and legal entities in what seems a symbolic action. Finally, the recent Levada poll reveals Russians’ attitudes toward personal responsibility for the state of affairs in the country.


Primorye's political crisis continues. After Russia's Communist Party leadership had refused to participate in the second gubernatorial elections in the region, its former candidate Andrey Ishchenko announced he would run as independent. Photo: open sources.


  1. Primorye Challenge

The story: After holding a party conference, the Primorsky Communist branch announced that it will not participate in the second gubernatorial elections in the region, set for December 16. In doing so, the party failed to re-nominate their former candidate Andrey Ischenko, who has since announced he will run as an independent, so long as he is able to collect the required signatures. [Vedomosti]

The rundown:

  • The first election in Primorye occurred on September 9 between then-acting governor Andrey Tarasenko and Ischenko. It led to a runoff on September 16, in which Ischenko took the lead, only to be suddenly surpassed by Tarasenko. The Kremlin ultimately cancelled the election, citing violations.
  • Regarding the party decision, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov stated: “We believe that [Ischenko] won the election in the previous round. We also believe that the last elections were falsified and that this falsification is of a criminal nature.” Essentially, by participating in the runoff, the party would have to recognize the cancellation of the first election, which it refuses to do.
  • There are various potential motives behind the CPRF’s decision: a shortage of funds for a new campaign; the impossibility of transcending the municipal filter; the desire to remain undefeated. But ultimately, this decision weakens the Communists in Primorye, and as a party more broadly. For Oleg Kozhemyako, the new candidate endorsed by United Russia, the CPRF’s decision erodes the legitimacy of his probable victory.
  • It is also likely that the protest energy against United Russia won’t die down for the runoff. Primorye residents are now more disinclined to vote for a Kremlin-endorsed candidate and regional elites are unhappy with Kozhemyako. At the end of October, the CPRF’s Center for Political Culture Studies found that out of 500 Primorye respondents, 30 percent planned to vote for Ischenko, 22 percent for Kozhemyako. [Vedomosti

What it means:

  • Aleksey Makarkin, Center of Political Technologies: The CPRF’s decision means it will lose face so as not to fight with the authorities. While this hurts the image of the Communist Party in Primorye, it might help smooth tensions in other regions. Oryol, which elected Communist Andrey Klychkov this year with the support of United Russia, would greatly benefit from normal relations with the federal center. [Republic]  
  • Tatyana Stanovaya, R.Politik: Of the four gubernatorial failures (from the perspective of United Russia), only Primorye’s was serious—a result of both local issues and federal problems, like the pension reform and declining incomes. But while personnel issues—including the appointment of technocrats with zero political experience—may divert attention away from the ongoing fall in President Vladimir Putin’s popularity, the Kremlinis underestimating its own decline. [Carnegie.ru]


  1. Sanctions against Ukraine 

The story: Last week, the Kremlin enacted sanctions on 322 individuals and 68 legal entities in Ukraine, freezing non-cash money, and securities and property on Russian territory, as well as banning the withdrawal of funds from Russia. Ukrainian politicians without business dealings with Russia say their inclusion on the list is largely symbolic. However, others believe the Russian sanctions are aimed to influence Ukraine in the runup to its presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2019. [RBC, The Bell]

Key facts:

  • The list includes 127 deputies from the Verkhovna Rada (about one-third of the Ukrainian parliament), including former prime ministers Yulia Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as well as the businessmen Andriy Kobolev of Naftogaz and Viktor Pinchuk of East One Group. President Petro Poroshenko is absent from the list, but it includes his son, Aleksei.
  • Formally, these sanctions are retaliatory: Last May, Kiev enacted sanctions against 1,700 Russians and 750 Russian companies, including Oleg Deripaska of Rusal and Alexey Miller of Gazprom, as well as some Russian imports. In October, Ukraine also joined the European Council’s September anti-Russian sanctions. For this reason, the Kremlin maintains that the sanctions were initiated by Ukraine. [RBC

Experts weigh in:

  • Andrei Movchan, economist: This round of sanctions is a diplomatic reaction, and will hardly influence the economy of either country—not least because no companies of interest to Russia are included on the list (as per Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s request). But it might affect a few individual industries like titanium and railroad wheels. [The Bell]
  • Grigory Chizhov, European Dialogue: The Russian sanctions will hardly affect the upcoming election in Ukraine. After almost five years of sanctions between the West and Russia, sanctions are no longer feared, especially since almost nothing has changed with them established. [RBC]
  • Konstantin Skorkin, journalist: Despite the conflict in Donbas, Russia has remained Ukraine’s main trade partner. With the new sanctions, Moscow is inviting Ukrainian oligarchs not so much to support a hypothetical pro-Russian candidate in the upcoming elections as to return to the pre-conflict status quo, particularly when it comes to ensuring all paths are open to business. [Carnegie.ru]


  1. Russians Feel Responsibility

The story: On October 31, Levada Center published the results of a recent poll that provides an interesting insight into Russian people’s attitudes to the concepts of personal responsibility and influence. The key takeaway is that today Russians’ sense of responsibility for what is happening in the country has sharply increased compared to last year—28 percent against 9 percent. [Vedomosti]

The breakdown:

  • Still, most of the respondents (92 percent) believe that they are personally responsible only for their families. Another “tier” of responsibility includes work and apartment building/block: 49 percent and 53 percent, respectively, believe they are responsible for the state of affairs in these areas, while responsibility for what is going at the city/town level is acknowledged by 33 percent of Russians.
  • In terms of influence, attitudes range as follows: 86 percent believe they can influence the situation in their families, 40 percent at work, another 40 percent in the apartment building/block, 16 percent in the city/town, and only 10 percent said they can influence the situation in the country at large.

What it means:

  • Karina Pipiya, sociologist, Levada Center: The current social and political context redirected people’s attention away from international developments towards domestic issues, such as the pension reform and the price increase. People have renewed concerns about poverty and the income drop, which triggered their “civil awareness.” However, so far, this “civil awareness” has not translated into a protest activity.
  • Nikolai Petrov, political scientist: This attitude shift is the result of the recent pension reform and the governor elections. While their sense of responsibility for the country has increased, Russians still don’t feel they can influence the situation in the country. At the same time, at the regional elections, they have realized that their votes matter and thus they can exert some influence. It’s an important shift that will play out in future elections. [Vedomosti]
  • Ivan Davydov, columnist: Despite the effectiveness of the Kremlin propaganda, the Russian people are not fools willing to share responsibility with jaded officials and oligarchs. It seems that behind this growth of awareness lurks a fear that something went wrong in the country. The Levada poll shows that there is no national unity—it hinges on the fact that Russians as a collective people can influence nothing. [Republic]


Other stories that mattered this week (in Russian)

  • Pension Wave: How St. Petersburg Became the Protest Leader”: The Center for Political and Economic Reforms published a report on protest activity in Russia. According to its data, 2,526 protests were held in the country in 2018, almost half of them related to the pension reform. 1,244 protests took place in the third quarter of 2018. St. Petersburg held more protests than any other Russian region. [RBC]
  • Planned Prices: What the Agreement between the Government and the Oil Companies Means”: Alexander Bylkin of VYGON Consulting discusses the recent decision by the Russian authorities to freeze gasoline prices, arguing that this is a sign that the Russian economy is incapable of functioning normally  under market conditions. [RBC]
  • A Cook with Bats in the Belfry”: Novaya Gazeta interviews Andrei Mikhailov, former business partner of Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the notorious “troll factory.” Mikhailov masterminded many “black” PR campaigns on behalf of Prigozhin’s media empire, but was pushed out of business and later kidnapped and beaten up by his former partner’s associates. [Novaya Gazeta]