Looking farther in the near-abroad

One of the most amazing stories coming out of Russia this year was, in fact, coming out of somewhere else: Armenia. In April, Serzh Sargsyan, president in 2008-18, attempted to continue ruling the country from the newly empowered position of the prime minister. This was going to be a first in a former Soviet state. In 2008, as Sargsyan was ascending to power, Vladimir Putin did swap places with Dmitry Medvedev, but continued to rule through the deep state rather than by allotting more power to his new position. In 2012, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili did change his country’s constitution in an apparent bid to carry on as a strong prime minister post-2013, but his plans were thwarted by a sudden electoral upset in 2012. Sargsyan did not have the kind of unrivalled influence in Armenia that Putin does in Russia; on the other hand, he also did not have to worry too much about electoral upsets in an Armenia that is less democratic than Georgia. Everything seemed to work out smoothly.

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Problem solvers

The FIFA World Cup has ended, and with it, so did a month-long distraction of the Russian public from public affairs. At the same time, the summer political recess or “cucumber time” began. The hope in the Kremlin was that Russians would enjoy their time off rather than showing their indignation with the government’s pension reform – and yet, on Saturday, tens of thousands of people rallied against plans to raise the retirement age. The rest of the summer may still turn out to be eventless; but the pension reform will definitely be one of the issues shaping the Russian political agenda in the autumn. If one forgets the speculations about power dynamics that the debate around the reform unleashed, for a moment, the way that the reform has been handled tells two important stories about politics in Russia.

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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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