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Russia: Back to no future

By Blog Admin, on 18 June 2013

Moscow Russia anti-Putin Graffiti R-EVOLUTION-2

Photo: Victorgrigas via Wikimedia Commons

With his regime running out of steam, Vladimir Putin is resorting to the rhetoric of the past and traditional values. Marie Mendras sees little future in it. 

The moment of truth for a non-democratic leader is when he needs to revive his fading authority and legitimacy. A snatched electoral victory over a year ago brought Vladimir Putin no new popularity, indeed quite the opposite.

Since his return to the Kremlin, his words and actions have reflected entirely negative emotions, such as fear of his own people, distrust of the elites around him, and a desire to avenge himself on those who have dared oppose him. Much of his energy goes on proving himself right and his critics wrong: he even accuses these of working for foreign powers and endangering national security. Putin has not recovered from the humiliation and scare of last year’s political contest, and is now facing tough economic and social challenges. The choice he has made is to try to restore his authority with a combination of targeted repression, doctrinaire ideology and an increase in control over institutions and companies. This is an unlikely recipe for success.

Weakened legitimacy

Vladimir Putin was re-elected on a controversial vote in March 2012. He could have won his new mandate more honestly, had he accepted the possibility of a second round runoff, but he was determined to win an absolute majority in the first round. He wanted to humiliate the other ‘authorised’ candidates by raising himself high above them, proving that he was the one and only – and a loyal Central Electoral Commission conferred on him a generous 63% of the vote. A year on, all the voters’ associations and NGOs that investigated election fraud are being harassed and some, like the Golos association, might have to close down. Key figures in the movement for free elections are also being prosecuted.

Putin’s election in 2000 and 2004, and Dmitry Medvedev’s election in 2008, were ‘managed’ ballots as well. This time, however, things turned out less manageable than usual. The widespread and vocal public protest of the winter of 2011-12, news of which flew around the country in a few keystrokes, exposed all of the regime’s rottenness and trickery. And the anger of a revitalized civil society was directed at the leader in person, under the ubiquitous slogan: ‘Putin, ukhodi!’ [Putin – out!]. His party fared badly in the parliamentary elections of December 2011, and in Moscow itself its performance was a complete disaster.

Throughout the 2000s, Vladimir Putin built his power and legitimacy on order, rising living standards and Russia’s growing global status. However, he will have more difficulty delivering in all three of these areas in the months and years to come, and he will be held to account for it. (more…)

Skolkovo: Russia’s Silicon Valley or hollow real estate project?

By Blog Admin, on 20 February 2013

Many Western journalists see it as a Russian Silicon Valley, but to date the Skolkovo innovation city has been less silicon and more shiny new buildings and federal roubles. It still tells us a lot a about politics and economics in Russia today, argues Imogen Wade

Skolkovo Silicon Valley

Image: Applied Nomadology via Wikimedia Commons

Skolkovo, Russia’s newest and most Western-oriented centre of innovation, has received much media attention from Russia and abroad.

Some coverage, like that in the Irish Times and Wall Street Journal has been full of praise, boldly proclaiming that Skolkovo will be Russia’s ‘window on the world of technology’, as  St Petersburg – built on a swamp land by Peter the Great in the 18th century –  was once Russia’s ‘window on Europe’. Others  hint at troubles ahead for Skolkovo tied to Putin taking over as president again in 2012.

Many more are more dubious of Skolkovo’s chances of success. The leading Russian economics magazine  Kommersant Dyengi published a controversial article in September 2012 which argued that Skolkovo had become nothing more than a real estate project. A survey of educated Russians in 2011 found that people were largely sceptical that Skolkovo could be successful given Russia’s corruption, bureaucracy and unstable political and economic climate. 

What is Skolkovo?

Launched in 2010, Skolkovo is the most high-profile and newest manifestation of a policy shift in Russia towards economic diversification, innovation-based growth and modernisation that began around 2002. Situated about 20km from Moscow city on farmland once used for growing cucumbers, Skolkovo aims to be a physical and virtual ‘cluster’ of firms, researchers and graduate students promoting technological innovations and providing high quality infrastructure, human capital and a corporate environment that will encourage technological innovations. All activities relate to one of five pre-determined themes, which are also Russia’s strategic science priorities: IT, biomedical sciences, energy-efficiency, space, and nuclear technologies. (more…)

Politics and social media: why Eastern Europe’s politicians are all atwitter

By Blog Admin, on 13 February 2013

Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe are taking to Twitter in increasing numbers –  but with mixed results, finds Philipp Köker.

Twitter Town Hall audience

Photo: P.Souza via Wikimedia Commons

 Since Barack Obama’s use of twitter and other social media in his successful 2008 presidential campaign, more and more politicians (or their PR advisers) have discovered the power of delivering short, 140-character messages to supporters. This digital revolution has also not left politicians in Central and Eastern Europe unaffected and many leaders in the region are now on twitter. However, not all of them are using it effectively and some have even given up on it already.

It would, of course, be hard to match Obama’s 26 million followers but recently Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves @IlvesToomas and former Russian president and current prime minister Dimitrii Medvedev @MedvedevRussia and @MedvedevRussiaE have both advanced to moderate twitter stardom. Both tweet in English as well as in Estonian or Russian, respectively (Medvedev even has separate accounts for each language); yet more importantly, they both tweet themselves.

While Ilves’ ten thousand followers do not yet measure up to Medvedev’s 1.9 million followers (for his Russian account –  the English account has close to half a million followers), the Estonian president has earned his followership by providing interesting posts and concise policy statements, as well as by interacting with his followers on a regular basis –  his twitter feud with Princeton economist Paul Krugman last summer might be an additional motivation to follow him) Medvedev on the other hand predominantly tweets pictures from state visits including a photo of a Finnish sauna and the view from his hotel window in Rio de Janeiro and, in contrast to Ilves, prefers to congratulate Arnold Schwarzenegger on his birthday rather than engage with followers.

(more…)

“Medvedev is written off by Russian commentators, but they might find they’ve done so too soon”

By Blog Admin, on 14 December 2012

Dmitry Medvedev in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, November 2011-28

Photo: www.kremlin.ru Creative Commons license

Russia’s former President – and current prime minister – Dmitrii Medvedev is sometimes seen as a political puppet of Vladimir Putin. However, as Pete Duncan tells SSEES Research Blog, Medvedev’s role may have been underestimated.

 SSEESResBlog: Medvedev is often seen as a politically weak figure, wholly dependent on Putin. US diplomats privately described him as playing Robin to Putin’s Batman. Why does he deserve a whole chapter in your book on Russian foreign policy?

 PD: As president Medvedev had responsibility for foreign and security policy and Putin specifically gave him that responsibility. Even though Putin was still the most powerful figure in Russia at the time, it’s clear from looking over the four years that Medvedev made his mark on foreign policy. His foreign policy was separate from and different to that of Putin.

 This was partly a matter of style – that’s the most obvious difference – but style can become a matter of substance. And that’s what happened. As soon as Medvedev got the opportunity to change the state of relations, which had got so bad. Already in 2007-8 but then with the war in Georgia, Russia’s relations with the West were the worst they had ever been since the fall of the Soviet Union.

 When Barrack Obama came to power and the new American administration decided, they had to have the reset and Medvedev took full advantage of that. Now Russia and America were on friendly terms again. It’s very hard to see Putin with his KGB and macho background being able to pull that off. Or even getting support from the American side for it. (more…)

Greedy presidents

By Blog Admin, on 25 October 2012

 Presidents in the former Soviet Union need to play a shrewd political game to stay in power, argues Andrew Wilson

Victor Yanukovic 25dec09 3125

Viktor Yanukovych Photo: Roland Goodman

Most East European states are a long way from democratic; but the stability of their regimes depends on respecting certain rules of the game, such as dividing the spoils. It is normally the President who acts as ‘Lord of The Rings’ to keep the various circles of interest in balance – though there are several ways of playing the role. The president may be above the game, or he may control the key forces of balance in the game, like kompromat or ‘judicial resources’. He may be a player himself (less likely herself), which would give him weight; but if he and his supporters win control of too many resources they will not be trusted by the other players.

More than twenty years after the fall of the USSR, ‘transition’ may be a forlorn hope, but time can undermine balance: several East European regimes are now showing destabilising signs of incumbents’ greed. (more…)

LGBT rights under attack in Russia

By Blog Admin, on 24 October 2012

Putin Medvedev Berlin gay pride poster

Poster at Berlin Gay Pride/CSD event, July 2012

Anti-LGBT legislation in St Petersburg is having unforeseen consequences and mobilising Russia’s ‘gay diasporas’ overseas, argues Richard Mole

Almost 20 years after it was decriminalised, homosexuality in Russia is coming under renewed attack.  In March St Petersburg became the fourth Russian city to adopt legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’. While commentators argued that the vagueness of the law, which bans ‘public action aimed at propagandising sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism among minors’, would make it difficult to bring successful prosecutions against transgressors, LGBT rights activist Nikolay Alexeyev was convicted in May for breaching the law by picketing St Petersburg City Hall with a banner, which read ‘Homosexuality is not a perversion’.

 Alexeyev’s insistence that there were no minors present at the City Hall can be taken as proof, if proof were needed, that the law was not motivated by a desire to protect Russian children or Russian society but is the latest in a series of legislative measures used by the state to intimidate political opponents and generate an atmosphere of legal disquiet. Were activists to go ahead and hold meetings or rallies which were subsequently attacked, police could use the law to justify not intervening to protect activists, as the events could be deemed ‘homosexual propaganda’ –  a criminal offence. (more…)