The voice of the regions

Regional protests have become a fixture in Russian politics in recent years. This is partly due to worsening social and economic conditions as well as the emergence of well-organised and resilient grassroots networks in several regions. They also highlight four underlying issues that the Kremlin has not been able to solve or wish away. And they risk upsetting some of the basic understandings, upon which the whole political system is built.

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NY Dispatches: three single days of voting

Russia held gubernatorial, regional legislative and municipal elections on Sunday, 13 September. While traditionally the day was called a “single day of voting”, it actually took place over three days, in line with amendments to electoral legislation adopted earlier this year. I have analyzed the significance of these elections for the Institute of Modern Russia last week. The following is a short list of the lessons learned now that preliminary results have been announced.

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NY Dispatches: Navalny’s poisoning

German doctors treating Alexey Navalny in Berlin confirmed today that Russia’s most prominent opposition politician was most likely poisoned. As of Monday, 24 August it seems that Navalny might survive the attack, but little is known about his condition (unless you get your news from the “Bild” tabloid, which you should not). Yet, there are a couple of lessons and conclusions that we can draw from the attempt on his life.

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Russia’s options in Belarus

I need to contact Putin,” said Alexander Lukashenko, “Belarus’s former president” – as Lithuania’s minister of foreign affairs called him recently – after almost a week of unrelenting and ever-growing protests and strikes against the falsification of a presidential election that he claimed he won, and against horrific violence against Belarusian citizens on the streets and in the torture chambers of Belarusian security forces, which resulted in several murders. Lukashenko did contact Putin, but from the short summary that appeared on the Kremlin’s website it is unclear what, if anything, was promised. “All problems should be quickly resolved,” the Kremlin’s report went, to prevent “destructive forces” from using these against the alliance of the two countries. I am not going to analyze the situation in Belarus – there are a multitude of excellent Belarusian and Belarus-focused analysts for that (click here for a continuously expanding list). I will discuss what Russia’s options are and how far I think Putin can and will go.

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Elections that matter

Elections, however rigged and manipulated, have been an important source of legitimacy for the political system that Vladimir Putin created. Elections provide the procedural background to electing the docile legislatures on which to pass laws. For Putin they provide an opportunity to show force by putting his popular support – or his ability to squeeze the desired result out of public officials – on display. For Putin’s supporters and his lieutenants in public administration they provide an opportunity to declare their support for his rule. For opposition supporters – occasionally and under controlled circumstances – they provide an opportunity to express their disagreement and score small victories. Elections have underpinned Putin’s two decades of rule but as we have seen recently, they require an increasing amount of engineering and tinkering. And this will cause problems.

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NY Dispatches: the arrest of Sergey Furgal

On Thursday, 9 July the agents of the Investigative Committee, working together with the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested the governor of the far eastern Khabarovsk Krai, Sergey Furgal, a former Duma deputy and member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) of the “systemic” or tolerated opposition. In response, massive crowds turned out on Saturday to protest his arrest. Even though the charges seem at least plausible, Furgal’s arrest bears every distinctive mark of a political hit job. It is almost certainly meant to send a warning to other regional leaders and opposition parties, but it may have implications going even beyond this.

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A show of force

According to the official results 78 percent of the 67 percent of Russian citizens who voted in a plebiscite on Vladimir Putin’s constitutional reform – or just over 50 percent of all voters – supported the reform, which will enter into force on July 4. The vote seems to have been egregiously rigged and thus is unlikely to lend much public legitimacy to the reform. But perhaps this was not the goal anyway.

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