This week's editor

Heather McRobie

Heather McRobie is an editor at 5050.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

What force (and forces) can the Kremlin use against the opposition?

Ukraine_Euro

The Kremlin’s nervous reaction to May’s ‘March of the Millions’ on Bolotnaya Square, and uncertainty around a protest action planned for tomorrow have led many to suspect that the Russian government is looking seriously at using force to suppress opposition. Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan analyse the resources at its disposal.

 

Is Russia’s protest movement a flash in the pan?

Putin is back in power and the numbers of Russians actively protesting against the regime have dwindled. Six months on, what has the protest movement achieved and does it have a future? Dmitry Travin points to huge differences of opinion in different areas of the country and among different strata of society, and concludes it all depends on the economy.

A near doubling in Russian wiretaps over five years – and that’s only the legal stuff!

In a previous article, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov asked who was bugging the Russian opposition. Here they develop this theme, looking at how a combination of recent legislation and new technology has allowed Russia’s many security agencies to expand their activities still further.

Fears and threats in the realm of fantasy

Cold War weapons remain an important political tool in the 21st century, if only because it’s easier to deal with imaginary problems than real ones. Fydor Lukyanov wonders whether the world’s political elite will ever get around to tackling more actual and pressing concerns. 

Why are Pussy Riot girls still in prison?

Reaction inside Russia and further afield to the imprisonment of 3 members of a punk rock girl band after their performance in one of Moscow’s cathedrals has been by turns outraged and baffled. The girls are still on remand, awaiting trial for hooliganism (maximum sentence 7 years). One can only hope they will triumph in the end, says Yelena Fedotova

Lines in shifting sands: Russia’s response to the Syrian uprising

Russian policy in the Middle East has been largely driven by pragmatic calculations of trade and geopolitical influence, in direct opposition to notions of liberal interventionalism and the ‘Arab Spring’. This week’s shocking massacre by Syrian forces in Houla, however, has fundamentally challenged the durability of that approach. Will Russia now fall in line with the position of its western partners? wonders Margot Light.

Averting a new NATO-Russian arms race

Angered by the decision to push NATO eastwards and the prospect of other post-Soviet states soon joining the alliance, Russia has become engaged in a game of high-risk brinkmanship with the US. A swift ‘resetting of the reset' is needed if dangerous rivalries are to be prevented from spiralling out of control, says Hall Gardner.

Russia’s drinking habits today – still hooked on vodka, or do they prefer vino?

Russians and vodka have always been a notorious and combustible combination, but the availability of alcohol has been in a constant change of flux over the last few decades as successive governments have tried to wean the public off the bottle. Mikhail Loginov reports from St Petersburg on changing habits. 

Big business under threat in Putin’s Russia?

A new president could be a new start and hope for the future, but Putin’s return to the presidency signals stagnation, rather than stability. The liberal and conservative elites are at loggerheads and the new wave of privatisation in the oil and gas sector will only exacerbate the problem, says Shamil Yenikeyeff

Vlad Putin and the loneliness of the long distance president

Vladimir Putin unexpectedly pulled out of last weekend’s G8 summit in the USA, sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place. He gave as his reason the need to finish work setting up his new cabinet, but eminent Moscow journalist and music critic Artemy Troitsky has another explanation for the president’s change of plan.

Russia's search for an anti-corruption model – from Sweden to Singapore

Just about everyone in Russia - the Kremlin, the opposition and most Russians in the street – agrees that corruption is one of the country’s most serious problems. Newly re-elected President Putin has promised to fight it, but where should he start, and what models in other parts of the world should he be looking at? Mikhail Loginov considers some of the possible alternatives.

How Moscow protesters turned from angry urbanites into enraged citizens

Vladimir Putin’s swearing-in as President last week was accompanied by protest rallies that were brutally broken up by police, and their organisers imprisoned. But as the Occupy Abay sit-in and organised ‘strolls’ through the centre of Moscow have shown, protesters are gaining confidence and adopting new tactics. Journalist Tikhon Dzyadko, who was himself hurt in the recent clashes, reports.   

European dis-Union: lessons of the Soviet collapse

Europe's crisis is being felt at multiple levels, from the future of the eurozone and divisions between member-states to the rise of populist forces. But is the crisis likely to lead to the European Union's disintegration? The precedent of the Soviet collapse offers some lessons, says Ivan Krastev.

The cosmonauts have landed: tales from an occupied Moscow

Russia has a newly inaugurated president, but its capital has been shaken by two days of unexpected violence and arrests. Writer Lev Rubinstein was drinking coffee in a downtown Moscow cafe popular with the city’s intelligentsia when riot police arrived, cleared the building, and arrested a number of the customers. This is hardly the behaviour of a confident and legitimate government, he contends.

Putin returns, but will Russia revert to ‘virtual democracy’?

As Vladimir Putin embarks on his third presidential term, the inevitable question must be how long he will be able to use old techniques, political technologies, to keep the lid on the pressure cooker of discontent. In the new situation the political and economic cost to Putin of continued repression is considerably higher, but, most importantly, the Grand Illusion, which kept the ratings high, is now over, says Andrew Wilson

The Russian Orthodox Church: from farce to tragedy?

Evidence of cronyism, inappropriate luxury and an un-Christian lack of clemency towards punk band Pussy Riot have led many Russians to question the role of the Russian Orthodox Church. Now the subject of open ridicule, the Church has allowed itself to be engulfed in the wider crisis of the Russian state, writes Tikhon Dzyadko. 

Two fingers to the court: why right-wing criticism of the ECtHR is misguided

Following the UK government’s bungled attempt to deport Abu Qatada, many Tory MPs have taken to heavy criticism of the European Court of Human Rights. While their rhetoric may please parts of the domestic audience, it risks damaging the very serious and substantial human rights work the Court is doing in Russia, explains Oliver Bullough

Russian politics: is Kudrin the cure for Putin’s ‘tandem malaise’?

Are we witnessing the death throes of Russia’s ruling tandem? Since last September, when their (apparently) joint decision to swap posts was announced, speculation has been rife about who President Putin’s next prime minister will be. He made a public promise to Medvedev, but now another infinitely more acceptable candidate is positioning himself for the job, says Daniil Kotsyubinsky

A case for community policing in Russia

Russian police reform has so far been about centralisation and modernisation. Mark Galeotti suggests that the time is now right for a focus on localisation and humanisation, too.

 

The Kremlin and the hackers: partners in crime?

The recent Russian parliamentary and presidential elections were notable for the wide use of cyber attacks on the websites of the liberal media, as well as opposition hackers accessing officials’ intranet email exchanges. But was this a question of large-scale collusion between the Kremlin and professional hackers, or an altogether more amateur effort by political activists? In the latest article in their ‘Project ID’ series, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov investigate the destructive forces targeting the Russian internet.

Dispatch from Perm: hands off our healthcare!

Reforms to public health systems are always dictated by the need to cut costs. Russia is no exception, but the results are proving catastrophic. Access to state treatment is ever more limited and often unaffordable private health services are the only way of getting better or staying alive. Roman Yushkov and Vasily Moseyev consider the situation in Perm region and wonder if this is not part of a cunning freemarket plot.

Tatarstan’s new activists

Like many other Russian cities, Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, has seen public protests since December’s rigged parliamentary elections. A particularly striking feature is the youth of many of the protesters and their range of concerns. What they most seem to fear, however, is a government clampdown on the internet, says Oleg Pavlov.

Sergei Udaltsov: has the Russian left found its new leader?

Sergei Udaltsov, leader of Russia’s ‘Left Front’ movement, had barely been heard of before the recent elections, but his emotional speeches, hunger strike, imprisonment, not to mention an incident in a frozen fountain, have since turned him into a hero. Ilya Azar met Udaltsov in a Moscow coffee shop and reflected on the emergence of an unusual and fearless politician onto the stage of mainstream politics. 

Russia: is change really inevitable?

Very many people inside (and outside) Russia would like to see a change in the current way the country is governed. The protest movements that were formed after the recent elections made this appear a real possibility, but that was then. What now? Vladimir Zvonovsky considers four scenarios.

Crisis planning: what chance a ‘soft’ Putin?

In the second of his analytical articles, Dmitri Travin gives further consideration to Russia’s way forward under its new (or not so new) president, Vladimir Putin. Will he insist on keeping to his hard line or might he take the ‘soft’ option? That too is fraught with potential risk.

A global fair trade: Unctad's lesson

The global power-balance is being changed by the rise of the non-western "Brics" states. This makes the pioneering work of a body committed to linking trade and development in the interest of the world's poor more relevant than ever.

The free city of Moscow: reflections on Russia’s protest movement

It is easy to write off the events of the last few months as a predictable prelude to bureaucratic revanchism. But the unanticipated protest movement also brought about a significant change, writes Alexei Levinson. This was the sense that Russians can now become members of an internalised free society. They are unlikely to give up this feeling any time soon. 

Crisis planning: which way forward for Putin’s regime?

The elections are over; the protests continue, though in muted form. Russia’s way forward is not solely a matter of internal politics, but closely linked with Europe’s economic problems. So far Putin has been protected by high oil prices, but he could still prove to be dangerously weak, and what then? Dmitri Travin considers the options

Medvedev’s party reform: concession or convenience?

The protest movement which was born after Russia's recent parliamentary elections achieved one very rapid result when President Medvedev announced a programme of political reform, including a new law on political parties. Excellent news this may be, but the opposition will need to keep its eye on the ball, says Grigorii Golosov

Vladimir Putin, the waiting game

Russia's comeback president - a born-again reformer, a pragmatist, or a remoulded authoritarian? The impending economic troubles of Vladimir Putin's third term will force his his true political character to the surface, says John Besemeres.

Four Russias: rethinking the post-Soviet map

Russia has traditionally been conceptualised as a single entity, albeit divided into many regions, but is this approach appropriate given the country's stratified population? Natalia Zubarevich argues that for a better understanding of Russia and where it is going we need to think not geographically, but arithmetically.

Dangerous allies: when football hooligans and politicans meet

Football hooliganism occurs in societies all over the world - even in the Soviet Union, however much that was officially denied. In today’s Russia, however, football fanaticism has developed clear political undertones, with evidence that some groups have been colluding with the Kremlin against its opponents. Is this a ticking timebomb? wonders Mikhail Loginov

Orenburg: East or West? Home is best!

Orenburg is typical of many provinicial Russian towns in that the government does what it wants, while the people try to make ends meet. Despite the rising prices, few Orenburgers see the point in talking about the endemic corruption that surrounds them. For them, it's the bigger issues, such as education and the family, which count, says Elena Strelnikova

The Kremlin versus the bloggers: the battle for cyberspace

The Russian authorities became aware of the power of social media late, but have since been making up for lost time with a campaign of dirty tricks against the opposition’s web presence. Irina Borogan and Andrey Soldatov outline the history of the government’s strategy and assess its effectiveness.

Kiss and run: documentary casts fresh light on pro-Putin youth movement

Plucked from obscurity in the Russian provinces, Masha Drokova was a rising star of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi. Yet she was also friends with Oleg Kashin, an independent and critical journalist who was later nearly killed by assailants allegedly connected to her movement. Drokova’s evolving moral dilemma is captured in a remarkable new documentary, Putin’s Kiss, which opens in the UK on Sunday.

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