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This week's editor

NSS, editor

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to 50.50.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Hijab Wars

In Dagestan, where government forces are pitched against insurgents, and the official priesthood against the Salafites, the third front concerns women. Marina Akhmedova reports from the region on the totemic role of the hijab in these events.

Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus

Why are the freedoms of women in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan so constrained? Is Islam to blame? Is it a consequence of war in the region, or of poverty? Or do the reasons lie elsewhere? These questions form the basis of a new series on openDemocracy Russia.

The limits of Putin’s power

As Russia’s politicians go off for their summer break, political commentator Kirill Rogov takes a look at the latest opinion polls. His conclusion? Putin’s hardline policy towards the opposition is turning out to be counterproductive.

Abkhazia, from conflict to statehood

A bitter post-Soviet war in 1992-93 saw the Black Sea territory of Abkhazia resist invasion from Georgia and establish an independent statehood. But amid non-recognition from all but a handful of countries, and persistent hostility from Georgia, the young republic has faced many challenges in the subsequent two decades. The leading scholar of Abkhazia and advocate of its case, George Hewitt, presents an overview of these twenty years and outlines a scenario for the future.

Chinese systems and Western technology: the Kremlin moves to control the internet

On July 11, the Russian Duma passed legislation to establish a central register of extremist websites. The new laws are ostensibly designed for child protection; Andrei Soldatov senses the real aim is to take control over the country’s burgeoning social networks.

‘Pussysteria’, or the awakening of Russia’s conscience

On 10th July a Moscow court extended the pre-trial detention of three members of feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, charged with hooliganism after they performed a ‘blasphemous’ and anti-Putin song in the city’s main cathedral in February. Vladimir Pastukhov believes there is much the case tells us about the relations between the Putin government and the Russia’s Orthodox Church.

Russian journalists: poor, venal… but (usually) honest

Journalism in Russia has never been easy, but today the complications are many. If you write to order, you may be financially better off but you will be despised. If you are honest, then you can end up risking life and limb. But despite the dangers there are still journalists prepared to stand up and be counted, says Mikhail Loginov.

The death of the Russian village

Traditionally Russia’s agricultural land was subdivided into a patchwork of villages and fields, interspersed by forest and marsh. Now the villages are deserted and crumbling: the state closes them down, often on a whim, and young people leave to find work elsewhere. Matilda Moreton tells the tragic story based on fieldwork in the Russian North.  

A good infection – remembering Bookaid

Against the backdrop of Soviet disintegration, a grassroots campaign was launched from Britain to send hundreds of thousands of books to libraries across Russia and its ex-colonies. As Bookaid celebrates its twentieth anniversary, two of its organisers, Susan Richards and Ekaterina Genieva, consider a venture that still has resonance today – the struggle to establish civil society across the territory of the old Soviet empire. 

Fathers and sons: a generational gap in the Russian opposition?

As Putin’s new government beds in and shows its teeth against the protesters, Dmitry Travin takes a look at the generational differences among the opposition. Life experience makes many of the older generation more weary of street protest, yet on other fronts people are beginning to speak with one voice. 

The Kremlin’s Revolutionaries


Revolution may be a dirty word in Russia, but journalist Maхim Trudolyubov argues that conditions for revolution are ripening, and that those responsible are not opposition forces outside the Kremlin, but those working within its walls.

Putin’s draconian new laws – a sign of his limited options?


After previous repressive measures by the Kremlin, the ‘March of Millions’ in Moscow on 12th June was expected to turn ugly. Raids on leading oppositionists had many talking about another 1937 (the year of Stalin’s Great Purge), yet the expected provocation and police brutality did not happen. Julia Pettengill assesses the significance of this restraint.

Voices from Abkhazia: Helmut’s Story


Born in Germany during the war, Helmut ended up in a Soviet internment camp. Later he moved to the region of Abkhazia on the Black Sea, where he settled. Now nearly 70, he recounts the fascinating story of his life so far away from his home country to Maxim Edwards

War minus the shooting: Russia vs Poland at Euro 2012


‘War minus the shooting’ was George Orwell’s definition of sport, unpleasantly brought once more to mind during the recent battles between Russian and Polish football fans. There is a long history of animosity over sporting events between the two countries, but there could be a way forward, says Zygmunt Dzieciolowski

Azerbaijan: the geopolitical conundrum


The recent Eurovision song contest catapulted Azerbaijan into world news and focused attention on its internal problems. But foreign policy issues are a cause of considerable concern too. The country is caught in between Iran, Russia and the West and finding a way to meet the needs of all of them is going to be extremely difficult, says Elkhan Nuriyev.

Optimism in diversity? Moscow’s March of Millions

Despite a heavy riot police presence, a spirit of optimism and unity was tangible at Moscow’s ‘March of Millions’ yesterday, says Susanne Sternthal. The self-proclaimed ‘leaders’ of the opposition, on the other hand, were reduced to playing a secondary role.

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


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.


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