Devenir la Russie

« Jettez vos regards prudents sur Paris » – a averti le poète hongrois Janos Batsanyi ses compatriotes nobles en 1789, et ce week-end, de nouveau, de nombreux regards prudents seront jetés sur Paris. Aujourd’hui, cependant, ce sont les citoyens français qui devraient regarder Budapest avec précaution pour voir où la présidence de Marine Le Pen les conduirait et pour comprendre ce que signifie un leader politique qui est redevable à la Russie.

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Becoming Russia

“Cast your wary eyes on Paris” – thus warned the Hungarian poet Janos Batsanyi his noble compatriots in 1789, and this weekend, once again, many wary eyes will be cast on the French capital. Today, however, it is French citizens who should cast their eyes on Budapest to see where a Le Pen presidency will lead them and what it means when a political leader is indebted to Russia.  

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The tired, the poor and the huddled masses

March was Alexei Navalny’s month. One year before Russia’s next presidential election, protests prompted by a corruption investigation by the opposition candidate into the fortunes of Dmitry Medvedev conquered the streets of Moscow and what is probably even more important, other Russian cities. Four years after his somewhat haphazard mayoral campaign in Moscow, Navalny is turning into a formidable politician on the federal level. Anti-corruption protests are an important part of this, but perhaps even more importantly, Navalny is also tapping into the animosity of regional elites against Moscow.

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Fool me once

Russia seems to be winning the fight against the liberal order. Even if the foundations of the Russian state are rotten and there is growing discontent in Russia against the crumbling economy, this does not seem to have shaken Russia’s rulers. The fact is that if anything, Vladimir Putin and his allies make a splendid illusionist: they make their domestic and foreign audiences believe that today’s Russia is a normal state and its leaders are presentable politicians. What we actually see is a peculiar form of anarchism. 

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A fake new world

In past weeks, it has become increasingly certain that Vladimir Putin is going to run for a fourth term in 2018. He has replaced most of his core team. He ordered his parliament to define Russian identity in a law – a question central to the president’s new political vision. The ever-expanding borders of Russia, Putin’s newest “quip” made in front of a schoolboy, may be part of the definition. Even foreign policy seems to be going his way with the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the candidacy of Francois Fillon on the French right. But while Putin’s fourth term seems certain, there is a growing sense of uncertainty in Russia. The elite has experienced tectonic changes – including the surprise arrest of Alexei Ulyukayev, the minister of economy, in November on corruption charges. Russia’s regions face growing fiscal uncertainties and for an increasing number of protesting workers, uncertainties have become existential. Is Vladimir Putin, just as his potential new ally, Donald Trump, using uncertainty as a tool? Perhaps. But the coming years in Russia are more likely to be allabout the construction of a virtual reality. And Putin might even pull this one off.

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Who you gonna call?

Russia held a painstakingly engineered election to the State Duma in September. The results revealed a lot about the looming legitimacy crisis of Russia’s governing structures, while the aftermath of the election gave a hint about the planned strategy of Russia’s rulers to solve it. The following months will require only a little less than a magic trick – or else, structural reforms. The question is which path seems to be easier to the Kremlin.

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Elections matter

In less than a month, Russia will hold elections to the State Duma. These will be the first legislative elections since the scandalous vote in 2011, and the first elections after Russia’s electoral reforms, with half the seats now filled with candidates elected in single-member constituencies. The vote should be exciting and interesting. Somehow, however, it is not. Most Russian citizens – and even most Russia-watchers – would dismiss the election as unimportant or predictable or both, followed by a (sometimes very verbose) yawn. Indeed, the election, like most things in Russian politics today, is hardly more than a centrally administered redistribution exercise. But this does not mean that it is unimportant. Only, its importance lies in the future.


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