The largest coalition of support for the Russian regime in modern history is over. Due to the fusion of the ruling elite and business, the Russian authorities have no one left to blame for poverty and falling standards of living besides themselves. But the government may have one last trick up its sleeve: repression.
Viktor Zolotov’s video message to Alexei Navalny—a crude and highly personal address for an influential national security official—underscores the increasing incoherence of the authorities’ strategy for dealing with Navalny. More important, it points to the emergence of a state of “every man for himself” and the splintering of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
Unhappy with plans to raise the retirement age, the decline in their living standards, and tax hikes, Russians can’t vote for the real opposition. Strong candidates are either not allowed to run or prefer to cooperate with the authorities by not running, while in-system parties deliberately tone down their rhetoric. Under such conditions, the protest vote becomes random: people are willing to vote for anyone but the ruling regime candidates.
Russia wants to be a player in Afghanistan, and that means dealing with the Taliban. But the postponement of a planned international conference in Moscow, involving a once-reviled group, shows that Russia’s influence is still limited.
The Moscow-Beijing relationship, while not an alliance, is also more than the strategic partnership it still calls itself. It is best described as an entente — a basic agreement about the fundamentals of world order supported by a strong body of common interest.
In an economic system that wasn’t so focused on solving government problems or fulfilling the “public agenda,” the state wouldn’t have to find ways of extracting funds from business to spend on social programs.
Chinese participation in Vostok-2018 is groundbreaking. It sends a powerful message about the evolving relationship between the great Eurasian powers, which just a couple of decades ago viewed each other as adversaries.
The approval ratings of Russia’s leaders and its institutions have been declining for more than three years. The erosion of popular support has been accelerated, rather than caused, by the unveiling of the government’s pension reform plan, and Russians are increasingly concerned by the state of not only their pensions but also their country’s foreign policy and its economy
Ahead of Sunday’s elections, the multifunctional Sobyanin brand was promoted like the latest washing machine.
Russia is not the only country in whose forestry industry the Chinese are active. Chinese businesses’ behavior largely depends on the degree of control exercised by the local authorities, and forestry is a great illustration of this.
While the world watches the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov, who is becoming Russia’s best-known political prisoner, most penitentiary protests have nothing to do with politics. Rather, they are about improving conditions in prisons and human dignity. Their occurrence and their tendency to be covered up testify to the lack of true accountability in the Russian prison system.
Former Ukrainian security service officer Alexander Khodakovsky is a leading candidate for the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). His appointment would be in sync with the current trend of replacing popular leaders with in-system security officers. The move would close a chapter in the revolutionary history of the DPR, and would indicate that Moscow is prepared to reintegrate Donbas into Ukraine and transfer power in the unrecognized republics to leaders who are more acceptable to Kiev.
Putin’s formula for pension reform might allow him to stem his political losses. Even if his ratings don’t grow, they might at least stop falling. But the cost of saving Colonel Putin will turn out to be exorbitantly high for the budget and the economy.
The less specific presidential orders are, the greater the speculation about what Putin actually wants done. This deliberate vagueness allows the president to see more clearly both the new power balance and the political material he will have to deal with in the next six years.
Recent months have seen extremism cases in Russia multiply, a disturbing development in which some see echoes of the Great Terror. However, while the authorities’ campaign against so-called extremists is not a deliberate policy of the Kremlin, which intended for the laws on extremism to serve as precision instruments, it represents a system breakdown. Russia’s law enforcement agencies are applying the law in their own interest, and the consequences are dire. Now, ordinary citizens, who face the same reprisals as opposition activists, as do their children, will leave their comfort zones.
Unexpectedly, Baku has begun to debate joining the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, Azeri rhetoric aside, until Baku comes to see accession to the “Eurasian NATO” as critical to regaining control over Nagorno-Karabakh—its top political priority—it is unlikely to pursue CSTO membership, just as it has declined to participate in other multilateral initiatives in which Yerevan is involved.
Recent changes in the Belarusian government only affect the socioeconomic sector. The doves from the Foreign Ministry and the hawks from the security services remain untouched, because the reshuffle has little to do with the foreign policy agenda: it’s the economic situation that concerns President Lukashenko the most.
Moscow is realizing that even if Trump survives the many scandals that surround him, he won’t be able to deliver major improvements in U.S.-Russian ties.
In the Caspian region, gas issues have been relegated to second place for both Russia and Iran, while the top priority is security. Both countries are trying above all to prevent the presence in the Caspian Sea of states from outside the region, especially any military presence. This chiefly concerns the United States, and no one is attempting to hide that.
Putin’s successful foreign policy agenda is starting to lose its power to command public support in the face of growing domestic frustrations.