Putin’s endgame? Part 2: the problem of institutions

In the second part of No Yardstick’s series on the issues shaping Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term, we now look at the composition of the new Russian government, formed in May, and through it, the problem of institutions. The new government is headed by Dmitry Medvedev who is now Russia’s longest-serving prime minister in the post-Soviet period. Yet, this comes with little political clout. In fact, Medvedev’s government is a strange collection of proxies, promises and personages, but real power lies elsewhere. Most importantly, it is a government of shortages.

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Putin’s endgame? Part 1: the problem of power

In the first part of No Yardstick’s series on the issues shaping Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term, we will first look at the core psychological question of the term: the projection of power in a period most think will be transitory. Vladimir Putin’s trust rating, according to VTsIOM, a state pollster has fallen by ten points between January and March. Turnout at the presidential election that confirmed, with a sweeping majority, his fourth term, did not live up to his advisors’ expectations, even according to official figures. Most importantly, Putin has faced challenges in two fields very important for his political persona, which seemingly caught him off-guard.

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Putin or apathy: presidential election live blog

Twelve hours of live blogging the Russian presidential election. Analysis to follow.

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More of the same

In a little more than two weeks, Vladimir Putin will, again, be elected president of Russia. From his own point of view, Putin has succeeded in achieving the most important objective of his third term: making the prospect of a sudden, radical political change in Russia unlikelier. In his fourth term, Putin will face a very different task: demonstrating to his other electorate, the Russian political elite that he is still in charge. This very likely means more political theatre instead of actual governance. With the same people at the top.

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For the want of better

Just a couple of months ago, it might have seemed that the theme of Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential campaign would be the story of a strong leader in a country besieged from all sides. Diverting the anger of voters towards an imaginary foreign enemy when things go south domestically is an old trick, one that Putin himself had successfully used in the past. Yet, by all accounts, Putin decided not to go with this strategy. The world around him hardly changed; Russia has not convincingly emerged from its economic crisis, either. So why does this decision make sense to Putin? And how can it backfire?

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Forget about revolutions

What does the Kremlin’s low-key approach to the 100th anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution tell us? By itself, not a lot. Things are not going well in Russia, but this should not be enough to make Vladimir Putin afraid of a revolution. However, the president, haunted by the ghosts of tsarism, may feel like he needs to hedge against the risks of next year. He may have found the most suitable surrogate to deliver his message, which is: you don’t want a revolution.

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Skills for the future

The unluckiest bunch of political leaders in Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term are regional governors. Since 2012, their political autonomy shrunk together with their resources, while they have been facing higher expectations from Moscow. Regardless of the relative degradation of their position, however, governors still have a very important role, i.e. ensuring the legitimacy of next year’s presidential election. This requires political savvy that many of the new regional leaders appointed in the past year seem to have. They may turn into a secret political asset in Putin’s upcoming fourth term. 

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