Risky business

Economic growth was all the talk in Russia in recent weeks. The debates that have started earlier this year seem to have identified the problem – a chronically low investment rate – correctly. The solutions offered, however, reflect an inability to move beyond the thinking that resulted in this situation at the first place.

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NY Dispatches: crackdown on Navalny

Recent weeks saw the Russian authorities conducting an unprecedented crackdown on Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, which included labeling it as a “foreign agent”. Below I am trying to answer the questions of what triggered this crackdown and whether the goal of the authorities is to eliminate the foundation altogether.

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A competitive succession

When two close Putin associates give strangely identical but ideologically divergent interviews, suddenly all the talk is about the Kremlin’s towers and Putin’s succession, instead of the September regional elections, which the Kremlin would like to leave behind as soon as possible. It would be easy to dismiss the back-to-back interviews with Rostec head Sergei Chemezov and defense minister Sergei Shoigu as an attempt to engineer public discourse. But there is more to this story than first meets the eye. This time, we might actually see the outlines of the post-Putin transition emerging.

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NY Dispatches: the limits of smart voting

Russia held local and regional elections on Sunday. While in Moscow where the election was preceded by weeks of protests over disqualified opposition candidates and police brutality, United Russia lost one-third of its deputies in the Municipal Assembly (including a high-profile member), in all 16 regions that held gubernatorial elections the governing party’s candidates triumphed, sometimes helped by blatant rigging. Even in Moscow where Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” strategy – instructing voters to vote for the non-United Russia candidate with the best chances – worked the best, the governing party will keep its majority and turnout stayed below 22 percent. The vote was, at best, a partial success for Navalny but as it showed the limits of smart voting, the opposition can start working on moving beyond these.

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NY Dispatches: A single day of voting

On 8 September, in a little less than two weeks elections are going to be held across Russia with 16 regions electing governors and 12 regions (13 if you count the occupied Crimea) electing legislative assemblies. In recent weeks, both Russia and the rest of the world paid attention to Moscow where the disqualification of opposition candidates from the election to the municipal assembly triggered large-scale protests. But the Moscow election is not the only interesting race to take place next week and the stakes are high.

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NY Dispatches: The way ahead for Moscow

Thousands of people were arrested in Moscow for participating in protests against the disqualification of opposition candidates in the election to the city council, and later against police brutality, or simply for walking in the vicinity. This has not discouraged Muscovites from pouring out onto the streets again. The protests are not a game-changer yet, but they are shaping public discourse. The reaction of the authorities is regrettable, but it is a logical outcome of the system’s internal incentives – which also make any dialogue between the political elite and the protesters unlikely. 

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NY Dispatches: Russia’s growing Welfare Fund

Russia’s frugal fiscal planning and the recovery of oil prices may land some extra money for the government to spend in the next two years, before the 2021 legislative election. Who gets this money, when and how will say a lot about the changing balance of power within the political elite as well as about Vladimir Putin’s contingency plans. 

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