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Category: Magazine

Issue 2/2018: The many faces of Putin

Vladimir Putin is set to win a fourth term as president of the Russian Federation. The March-April 2018 issue takes a deeper look at the consequences of Putin's presidency and what could eventually come after...

February 26, 2018 - New Eastern Europe

A Tale of Two Putins

Having turned the law into an instrument of state policy and private vendetta and having turned the legislature into a caricature without power of independence, can Vladimir Putin afford to become an ex-president? Conventional wisdom would say that he cannot. Without being at the top of the system, he is at best vulnerable and at worst dead, and he knows it.

In March Vladimir Putin will, it is safe to predict, win re-election. The real questions relate to what happens after the election, with some predicting a thaw, while others expect even more authoritarian policies. Will Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev be replaced? Will there be renewed overtures to the West? In many ways, though, this may betray our own biases, as Kremlinologists from democratic nations naturally assume that an election represents a boundary point from one state to another. Yet in a system such as Putin’s, sometimes described as a managed democracy, it is much more clearly managed than democratic. Indeed, of late it has come to feel as if the Kremlin regards the various trappings of democracy – not just elections but also press conferences, legislative sessions and consultations – as an increasingly irritating burden.

February 26, 2018 - Mark Galeotti

To challenge Putin’s regime

The Kremlin has nothing to offer Russian citizens except stability without economic growth and no clear perspective. This will eventually bring down Vladimir Putin’s regime. The opposition, however, is not yet fully ready to take power when that happens.

“Yes, Putin has many shortcomings, but there is no alternative to him.” I have heard this phrase in Russia countless times, from shopkeepers and artists, to professors of physics and retirees. I read it in Russian (mostly) state-controlled media. Nevertheless, I am surprised every time I hear it. “Well, of course not,” I usually reply. “After all, Putin takes all necessary steps so that no alternative will arise.” It is the main goal that the giant state propaganda machine, special services, heads of Russian regions and ordinary officials pursue 24 hours a day. Nineteen years after Vladimir Putin was first elected as president, the argument that there is no alternative illustrates only one thing: the absence of democracy in Russia. For many years, the country has been stuck with an authoritarian regime that has all but eliminated political competition and blocked any attempts to change the system. This is the regime’s strength as well as its weakness. Using an expression coined by leading Russian political analyst Lilia Shevtsova, the increasingly authoritarian regime needs a democratic form of legitimisation – this is the main political contradiction of the current regime in Moscow.

February 26, 2018 - Konstantin Eggert

Is Putinism sustainable?

At its core, Putinism is characterised by a fundamentally kleptocratic system that appears incapable of meaningful reform. For this reason, it is far more vulnerable to fissure than it may appear.

After nearly 20 years in power, Vladimir Putin has become more than just the symbol of an era – he is arguably its creator. A lawyer and former KGB officer, Putin is perceived by many to be one of the world's most powerful leaders and his cult of personality in Russia is unmatched by any other contemporary Russian politician. His tenure as president (2000-2008; 2012-present) and prime minister (1999-2000; 2008-2012) have left a permanent mark on Russia’s history. But is this regime sustainable? Does “Putinism” mean anything independent of its namesake?

February 26, 2018 - Łukasz Kondraciuk

Russia’s generation P

Russian digital natives have espoused a national identity that unites several governmentally sponsored narratives. The question, however, is how long Putin’s appeal to the younger generations will last. Even though they have not known anybody else in power, they might still be willing to trade great power aspirations for fresh tomatoes in winter.

With the presidential election looming, few people in Russia doubt that Vladimir Putin will remain the president. Google has already proclaimed Putin to be the winner. The Russian president might no longer enjoy 80 per cent support, but he is still by far the most popular politician in the country. A generation that has never known anyone else in power is now entering adulthood. And members of “Generation P” are going to vote this spring.

February 26, 2018 - Elizaveta Gaufman

In the name of Matilda

The controversy surrounding the recent Russian film Matilda reveals a great deal about Russian society today. While the film, billed as a big-budget historical romance of Tsar Nicholas II, fails to impress, the social sensitivities that have emerged as a result of the debate on the film illustrate a dangerous rise in extreme nationalist sentiments that may soon be beyond the Kremlin’s control.

Alexei Uchitel’s film Matilda (released in October 2017) was the most discussed cinematographic event in Russia last year. Similarly, strong emotions were generated in 2014 when the director Andrey Zvyagintsev released his Russian tragedy film, Leviathan. Both productions were accompanied by scandals and received widespread media attention. Admittedly, there is a fundamental difference between the two films. While the latter is a mature piece of artwork (one that tackles the profound problem of the citizen-state relationship), the former has very little to offer, both in terms of content and aesthetics. Assumedly, had there not been a scandal surrounding the release, the world would probably never have learnt about Matilda.

February 26, 2018 - Zbigniew Rokita

Russia’s Middle East crusade

Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East is a result of the United States’ lack of strategy in the region. Through its engagement in Syria, Moscow seeks a return to the first league of global players.

In mid-December 2017 Vladimir Putin unexpectedly visited the Hmeimim air base, southwest of the Syrian city of Latakia. He was the first president of a major power to visit the war-torn Syria since the conflict began seven years ago. The visit resembled a victory parade. While the level of triumphalism was clearly over the top, as Syria is still immersed in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Putin, two years after sending his troops, can deem his endeavour a success.

February 26, 2018 - Paweł Pieniążek

A German riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

The definite re-election of Vladimir Putin in Russia will consolidate his authoritarian model of governance and assertive foreign policy for another six years. In Germany, the formation of a new government is to be expected after an unusually long time of coalition talks. The question will then turn towards the direction of Germany’s Ostpolitik and the future of relations between Russia and the West.

In 1939 Winston Churchill famously remarked that he cannot forecast the actions of Russia: “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The same could be said of Germany’s Ostpolitik, which has left observers puzzled and perplexed in recent years. Previously and often simplistically explained by the catchwords “energy” and “business”, Germany’s role in the Ukraine conflict has seemingly defied all prior assumptions about Germany’s special relationship with Russia and its purely geo-economic interests.

February 26, 2018 - Liana Fix

How Russia could leave Crimea

The illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation is becoming a huge burden on the Russian economy and is limiting its modernisation potential. Therefore, one could speculate that a post-Vladimir Putin Russia may decide to undo the process of annexation in order to gain access to much-needed western investment and development aid. If such a scenario unfolds, there are some tools that already exist that could help ease the painful process of a Russian withdrawal.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea has resulted in damaging sanctions on the country as well as political isolation. Under the sanctions, Russia lost its potential for economic development and the annexation has hindered its modernisation. Nevertheless, the Kremlin continues to increase its military presence on the peninsula and refuses to backtrack on the issue. Since the Russian authorities believe the international community is not united on the issue, they believe that recognition of Crimea as Russian territory is only a matter of time.

February 26, 2018 - Pavel Luzin

Helping refugees in Russia. An act of bravery?

The influx of refugees has become one of the major challenges for Europe in recent years, which has required a response and mobilisation. In Russia, on the contrary, only a few non-governmental organisations are trying to help those who arrive to the country in a search of asylum. They face little compassion and a lot of bureaucracy.

According to the most recent figures from last October fewer than 3,000 people have refugee or provisional asylum status in the Russian Federation – a ridiculously small number for a country of 140 million. Thousands more who have applied will never receive such status and will be eventually deported. Yet, in Russia no one really pays attention to this problem.

February 26, 2018 - Natalia Smolentceva

Ukraine’s aviation fiasco

Ryanair’s decision to pull out of a deal with Ukraine in late 2017 will be a blow to the development of the country’s aviation sector. Experience has shown that as long as the market is dominated by Ukraine International Airlines, owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, there is little chance for market expansion. Nevertheless, there is some hope for 2018.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 opened a dark chapter in the history of Ukraine’s civil aviation sector, lighting a fuse that would see Donetsk International Airport razed to the ground and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot out of the sky. Though hostilities rumble on in the eastern Donbas region, life has gradually returned to normal for most Ukrainians. The number of passengers carried by local airlines grew 22 per cent in 2016 to reach 5.7 million – just shy of pre-conflict levels – thanks in large part to the flag-carrier Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) which has stepped up its role as a transit carrier linking Asia with Europe. Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport, UIA’s home base, accommodated more than ten million passengers last year and expects 20 million by 2023.

February 26, 2018 - Martin Rivers

Activists fight for Ukraine’s disappearing Soviet mosaics

Following the implementation of Ukraine’s decommunisation law in 2015, many Soviet-era mosaics have faded from the country’s landscape. One group however, is making a stand against their disappearance, arguing that the works hold significant artistic, educational and even touristic value.

The last decade has witnessed the release of countless coffee table books dedicated to Soviet-era architecture, reflecting a growing interest, particularly in Western Europe, in buildings often typecast as “relics of a forgotten future” and “remnants of a failed utopia”, among others. Such interest has veered beyond an affection for the buildings themselves, centring on design elements such as socialist mosaics.

February 26, 2018 - Elizabeth Short


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