On restructuring and reconstruction

Vladimir Putin’s proposals to restructure the debt of Russian regions will likely provide regions with some much-needed fiscal relief in an election year. Putin expects governors to come up with ideas, spend on them and take responsibility for their implementation. But don’t get too excited: the federal government will remain in charge and the proposals foresee no major structural change, be it political or economic. Indeed, debt relief is likely to remain uneven, and without significant investment growth, Putin’s proposals will just kick the can further down the road, while leading to further fiscal and political centralization.

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Empty promises

A boastful statement by a party chairman and a meandering interview with a Duma deputy offer a glimpse onto the limits that “systemic” opposition parties and their politicians have to observe in Russia, and how they are trying to use the opportunities that the system provides. They also suggest that as Russian politics is becoming more authoritarian and polarized, these opportunities are fading, which is also a risk for the authorities.

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Not up to data

The Russian authorities have shifted gears in their attempt to control information flows in the country, but this does not only concern data leaks and information published by investigative outlets. Two recent stories serve as reminders that the authorities are increasingly unwilling to publicize or tolerate unflattering data on the state of the country. This endangers policymaking and usually does not even work.

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NY Dispatches: voting rights for Donbas residents?

Yesterday it was reported that the State Duma is considering a bill that would make it possible for the residents of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics – separatist territories in Eastern Ukraine under de facto Russian control – who hold Russian citizenship to vote in this year’s Duma election. How could this happen and what are the risks?

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Elections ahead – Part IV

Six months before this year’s Duma election Russia’s political landscape is in flux. The future of “smart voting” remains a factor of uncertainty. Shifts in public opinion, the Kremlin’s new red lines and how the systemic opposition has reacted to these, however, provide some clues about the political space that will be contested in the coming months.

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NY Dispatches: Russia and the Council of Europe, again

Petr Tolstoy, the vice-speaker of the State Duma said this week that Russia should “revisit its role” in the Council of Europe and consider leaving it, should the CoE initiate a procedure against Russia due to the jailing of Alexey Navalny. Tolstoy added that Russia could, in this case, create its own version of the European Court of Human Rights. This is a bluff and the only good answer is for the Council of Europe to call it.

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Three tales from the regions

In Ernest Hemingway’s novel, “The Sun Also Rises”, a character, Mike is asked how he went bankrupt. He answers: “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” This is also how political change often happens. Small-scale, incremental changes that go unnoticed prepare the ground for something momentous further down the road. It can therefore be interesting to look at the small cracks. Let me share three stories from the past weeks from three Russian regions, which hold a series of lessons about the decay of Russia’s political system and the chances of a widening opposition movement.

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