Vladimir Putin’s elite can be called a Politburo 2.0, whose members each have a delegated role in political life. But Putin also has a court, which shuns publicity and exercises informal power in everything from foreign policy to cultural life. This system looks increasingly difficult to manage as Putin approaches his fourth term.
The Russian government is sending out the message that unofficial culture will be tolerated as long as it agrees not to seek state funding. But drawing the dividing line between official and unofficial will not be easy.
Russia’s recent regional and municipal elections saw an increase in voting by the reform-minded minority and a decrease in voter turnout among Putin’s former majority. However, the Kremlin chooses to ignore these trends, turning a blind eye to the possibility that the active minority and the discontented passive majority may eventually meet.
Washington and Pyongyang will eventually need to resume direct talks. With neither party ready for that yet, at first secret contacts will have to be organized in third countries. In the meantime, de-escalation is the order of the day, and Russia one of its unlikely brokers.
Relations between Russia, Europe, and the United States are in flux as none is able or wants to maintain what it once had. An attempt to revive the Cold War paradigm has failed, and a new framework of relations has not formed. This state of uncertainty will most likely endure until each player achieves a measure of domestic stability.
The United States is still the leading power, yet this dominance is no longer uncontested. This contestation is coming in a big way from China and other countries.
The new leadership in Uzbekistan wants to replace the Soviet-era political-economic model, but Uzbek technocrats are still unable to effectively challenge the entrenched security chiefs. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is studying the experiences of Russia, Kazakhstan, and South Korea in hopes of bringing Westernized, apolitical economic specialists to Uzbekistan.
Despite all the reputational risks posed by its war games with Russia, Minsk is trying to reap diplomatic benefits from them. The Belarusian military can show Western observers that Minsk’s guarantees can be trusted. On the other hand, it can convince Moscow that the country isn’t “going down the Ukrainian route,” because it isn’t afraid, despite the West’s concerns, to carry out major exercises with Russian forces.
If Russian judges started acquitting defendants, far fewer suspects would end up in court because cases unlikely of leading to a conviction would be weeded out in advance. That would reduce the burden on judges and lead to a reduction in state funding for the judicial branch—something no judge wants to happen.
Russian Muslims are protesting the situation in Myanmar. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is laying claim to a separate regional foreign policy based on the defense of Muslims abroad. It is a broader phenomenon than that and reflects the distinct identity of Russian Muslims and the failure to build a proper nationalities policy in Russia.
Russia’s new relationship with the EU could be that of a hybrid vehicle that can run either off the old internal combustion model of East-West geopolitical division or off the new system of global, regional, and sub-regional regimes that preserve and expand the “shared spaces” of Russia and Europe.
Sociological research shows that up to two-thirds of the population supports changes in Russia. But they are not necessarily the kind of changes that the democratic community likes to discuss, and the majority of those polled have no understanding of how their desired changes might come about.
Recent US sanctions against China and Russia are signs of the Trump administration’s toughening approach to North Korea. Ironically, these sanctions come on the heels of a UN Security Council resolution imposing new measures against North Korea that the US, China and Russia voted in favor of.
Is opposition leader Alexei Navalny a “Kremlin project,” a “future tyrant,” or “Russia’s only hope?” Conversations about Navalny often proceed along these moral lines, though it is Navalny’s practicality—especially in the technological realm—that has been the driving force of his popularity.
Russians have become skeptical about a truly global order. At best, interactions with Western countries will be transactional, based on national interests when those happen to coincide or come close.
The high-profile trial of former Russian economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev is not playing out according to the script that most analysts had expected. The prosecution’s case increasingly relies on the testimony of one man, state oil chief Igor Sechin, making this master of Kremlin intrigue potentially politically vulnerable.
Putin has embraced patriotism and Eurasianism, but Russia must soon confront economic, security, and demographic headwinds, as well as the imperative of reform.
Putin directs a foreign policy devoted to the concept of Russia as a great power. Even if he steps down as president in 2024, Putin will likely continue as Russia’s primary leader for years to come.
China’s brief ban on social media posts mentioning Putin sheds light not only on Chinese Internet regulation but also on broader elements of Xi Jinping’s political system.
Russia’s foreign policy priorities in the coming years hinge upon solidifying Russia’s great power status outside the post-Soviet space as well as reducing the country’s political isolation.