Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. С днем ​​россии: A (Not Very) New Era in Russian Politics

 

Before COVID became the center of international news coverage, much attention was being paid to Vladimir Putin’s sudden reorganization of the Russian government and proposed overhaul of the Constitution, which has seen little change since 1993. Naturally, Vladimir Vladimirovich did not attempt to bring about these changes with a spirit of liberal democracy and healthy regime change in mind (indeed, some would say that it is very unhealthy to even think about regime change in Russia). The spread of the virus, though, which he was unable to halt even after closing the Russian border with China in January, put a wrench in his plans. 

Russia is still, right now, the third most affected country in the world with at least half a million cases (this is data compiled and released by Putin’s government, after all), and a health system that is not up to the challenge in a multitude of ways. Putin was well aware of this, which is why he closed the border so early and implemented a strict lockdown when the situation started to deteriorate. But now, more important concerns are at hand. The President has pressured the Moscow government into lifting restrictions, and, after a holiday celebration today, has planned a concert for tonight in Red Square. These moves come in plenty of time to get people comfortable with going outside and attending rallies ahead of a July 1 vote on the changes. 

It says something that the mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, has discouraged people from participating in the events or significantly changing their routine from those they have followed in lockdown, declaring the changes a significant risk to the health of Moscow residents and their families. Sobyanin, a member of United Russia, has little to gain from such a stunt, and much to risk, considering that after he so quickly dropped Dimitri Medvedev in the wake of corruption allegations, Putin seems to have little sentimental attachment even to those that have been for him from the start. (Indeed, the mayor may want to have someone start tasting his food if radiation isn’t normally on his menu). 

Which poses a question: почему? Putin has been typically vocal about how popular the measures, which include an overhaul of term limit rules that would let him remain in power until 2036, when he is 83 years old, and puts the Constitution in precedence over international law, are and how easily they will pass. I have very little doubt that the measures will pass, mostly because Russian elections are about as on the level as in any thinly veiled tyranny, but combined with his decreasing popularity, Putin’s insistence on getting people out to vote suggests that he does not feel altogether confident in the state of his regime. 

There has been a slow, steady decline in Putin’s overall popularity and his trust rating among prominent Russian politicians, over the last few years. And Levada, an independent polling agency, has also noted a sharp rise in the number of citizens ready to take to the streets to protest declining standards of living. The police and the FSB, by and large, are in Putin’s pocket, so there is little doubt that even if protests got out of hand, he could ultimately regain control. With the assured contraction in the Russian economy because of COVID, though, and the losses already beginning to be suffered because of increasing oil and gas independence from the country, he faces a serious problem. 

At its core, Putin’s support is based on a desire in the country to see a strong, assertive Russia on the world stage and a coherent society at home (hence his cozying up to bishops and anti-LGBT actions). Even Vladimir Vladimirovich is constrained by financial reality, though, and he cannot afford to start taking military action against neighbors, especially when it might invite sanctions, to boost support and provide government assistance to raise living standards after the damage the economy has suffered recently. He is lucky, or rather more likely has made his own luck, in that with the death of Boris Nemtsov there is no one figure who symbolizes opposition and an alternate path to him. But the mounting problems remain. 

The other thing that I think Western observers have to consider in this situation is that Russia is a country that has never really made a successful go of democracy. Opposition leaders like Gary Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky face a good deal of ridicule, and certainly they don’t command a huge deal of popular support in Russia, but having the backing of an educated, urban elite in a country that still struggles with adopting the cultural aspects of democracy might be enough to present a real blow to Putin. Russia already has a brain drain problem and compounding that at the same time Russia desperately needs development in other sectors as revenues from oil and gas diminish would not be pretty. 

There is little doubt in my mind that Putin, just as he has managed to win every election since 2000, will get his wish with these Constitutional reforms. At the same time, serious thinkers and diplomats in the West should pay real attention to the stress points in his power base, and start considering how it may unravel, or weaken when a successor comes (if he makes it that far), vs. how they would like to see it come apart. Russia post-Putin, no matter how that comes about, is bound to be messy, but I think there is also an opportunity there for creating a more successful partnership that we did after 1991. After so many people, in the former USSR and the West, dedicated their lives to delivering that region from the horrors of communism, it would be gratifying to at least see Russia on a slow path to greater freedom.

*For any Russian-speaking Ricochetti, this episode of Mikhail Sokolov’s current affairs show is a good, in-depth discussion of the issues in my piece. I will try my best to find something similar in English, or with English subtitles (because I don’t have anywhere near the will to try to add subtitles to that entire hour-long interview; I’m sorry for being so lazy).

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  1. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    KirkianWanderer:

    There is little doubt in my mind that Putin, just as he has managed to win every election since 2000, will get his wish with these Constitutional reforms.

    Surely you don’t think he’d stoop to stealing yet another election?

    • #1
    • June 12, 2020, at 10:27 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer:

    There is little doubt in my mind that Putin, just as he has managed to win every election since 2000, will get his wish with these Constitutional reforms.

    Surely you don’t think he’d stoop to stealing yet another election?

    Нет, dear leader is the most honest man in the whole Russian Federation, he and his amazing shirtless horse riding powers would never need to stoop to do such a thing. (At this point, I should probably be checking my tea for Novichok). 

    • #2
    • June 12, 2020, at 10:38 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. The Reticulator Member

    I didn’t know Gary Kasparov was now a factor. Back when he was writing articles for the WSJ, one of Putin’s 50-cent bloggers at the WSJ tried to tell me that nobody respected Kasparov because he was a coward who wasn’t even living in Russia, and that I should instead pay attention to people like Navalny and Nemtsov, who had respect because they were actually on the scene. I didn’t know anything about Nemtsov, but a short time later, maybe just a couple of weeks later, Nemtsov was shot within view of the Kremlin.

    But I’m curious as to why you didn’t include Navalny in the opposition? I watch his YouTube videos at times, but there haven’t been so many of late. I don’t even know if he was recently locked up again for a time. He does a good job of exposing corruption in the Russian government, but does not talk much (i.e. not at all) about what structural changes he would like to make. 

    • #3
    • June 12, 2020, at 12:37 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Al French of Damascus Moderator

    Aren’t you concerned that writing articles like this might get your Russian visa cancelled?

    • #4
    • June 12, 2020, at 12:42 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I didn’t know Gary Kasparov was now a factor. Back when he was writing articles for the WSJ, one of Putin’s 50-cent bloggers at the WSJ tried to tell me that nobody respected Kasparov because he was a coward who wasn’t even living in Russia, and that I should instead pay attention to people like Navalny and Nemtsov, who had respect because they were actually on the scene. I didn’t know anything about Nemtsov, but a short time later, maybe just a couple of weeks later, Nemtsov was shot within view of the Kremlin.

    But I’m curious as to why you didn’t include Navalny in the opposition? I watch his YouTube videos at times, but there haven’t been so many of late. I don’t even know if he was recently locked up again for a time. He does a good job of exposing corruption in the Russian government, but does not talk much (i.e. not at all) about what structural changes he would like to make.

    He seems to be trying to fill the void of Nemtsov, although I’m not sure that he is exactly interested in the top job so much as getting Putin out and being a prominent voice of dissent. Although he identifies as Russian, he is half Azerbaijani and half Jewish, so I sincerely doubt that he could actually win an election. Dumb oversight on my part, Kasparov and Khodorkovsky were just the first two that came to mind (and I listened to an interview with Khodorkovsky on Radio Liberty yesterday, so I had him on the brain). I love that Putin has the same fifty cent army as Xi, I wonder who came up with it first.

    • #5
    • June 12, 2020, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    I love that Putin has the same fifty cent army as Xi, I wonder who came up with it first.

    The pay scale may be different in Russia, but I like applying that term to them. I sometimes taunt them about not being worth the pay they are getting. (It has been a while, though. I just re-subscribed to the WSJ, and haven’t checked to see if Xi’s or Putin’s are still around.)

    • #6
    • June 12, 2020, at 12:57 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Al French of Damascus (View Comment):

    Aren’t you concerned that writing articles like this might get your Russian visa cancelled?

    Mine from last year was only for 30 days (tourist visa), so I would need to reapply anyway (I was actually supposed to spend most of this summer in Moscow as an intern at a language institute). As far as long term, the reality for me is that I don’t want to be a Russia specialist, and most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had trouble getting in. I would be kind of impressed if the GRU monitored Ricochet and managed to trace all of this back to me.

    • #7
    • June 12, 2020, at 1:02 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    I love that Putin has the same fifty cent army as Xi, I wonder who came up with it first.

    The pay scale may be different in Russia, but I like applying that term to them. I sometimes taunt them about not being worth the pay they are getting. (It has been a while, though. I just re-subscribed to the WSJ, and haven’t checked to see if Xi’s or Putin’s are still around.)

    They definitely still show up in YouTube comments, both Russian and Chinese. You might like this video; the creator has been making China centric content for years (American that lived there for a decade, speaks the language, has a Chinese wife, etc) and is continually harassed by them, so he made a parody of their view of China and the CCP. 

    • #8
    • June 12, 2020, at 1:05 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Al French of Damascus (View Comment):

    Aren’t you concerned that writing articles like this might get your Russian visa cancelled?

    Mine was only for 30 days (tourist visa), so I would need to reapply anyway (I was actually supposed to spend most of the summer in Moscow as an intern at a language institute). As far as long term, the reality for me is that I don’t want to be a Russia specialist, and most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had trouble getting in. I would be kind of impressed if the GRU monitored Ricochet and managed to trace all of this back to me.

    The head of the Russia program for early and mid career historians at my school (who was also employed by another top three British uni) has also had two masters students who were either critical of the regime or poking around in things die under mysterious circumstances, so I also have to make a real risk vs reward calculation when considering whether or when to return. It’s also just an unpleasant place to live in a lot of ways.

    • #9
    • June 12, 2020, at 1:07 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Just remembered that I’m wearing my favorite Russian shirt today.

     

    • #10
    • June 12, 2020, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tajik for “Sorry?”

    • #11
    • June 12, 2020, at 2:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    That is what Google Translate makes out of “XAЙФA.”

    • #12
    • June 12, 2020, at 2:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Percival (View Comment):

    That is what Google Translate makes out of “XAЙФA.”

    That’s probably true, but it’s the Russian transliteration of Haifa/חיפה. I bought it from an indie clothing store in Israel, which did a series on Soviet style architecture in Israeli cities. 

    • #13
    • June 12, 2020, at 2:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Percival (View Comment):

    Tajik for “Sorry?”

    I completely blanked on the fact that Tajik sometimes uses Cyrillic script; it’s one of those things that’s sure to either make me think I’m having a stroke or I don’t know any Russian when I try to read it without realizing what it is (I have the same problem in Arabic because my roommates are Pakistani, so I can read Urdu but don’t understand any of it, and sometimes it takes my brain a minute to comprehend that).

    • #14
    • June 12, 2020, at 2:40 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  15. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    That is what Google Translate makes out of “XAЙФA.”

    That’s probably true, but it’s the Russian transliteration of Haifa/חיפה. I bought it from an indie clothing store in Israel, which did a series on Soviet style architecture in Israeli cities.

    Ah! When I tried with Russian I got “XAIFA.” Figured that had to be wrong.

    • #15
    • June 12, 2020, at 3:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Percival (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    That is what Google Translate makes out of “XAЙФA.”

    That’s probably true, but it’s the Russian transliteration of Haifa/חיפה. I bought it from an indie clothing store in Israel, which did a series on Soviet style architecture in Israeli cities.

    Ah! When I tried with Russian I got “XAIFA.” Figured that had to be wrong.

    Most auto translation platforms struggle like heck with non-Western languages, especially when it’s a transliterated word. The only one I’ve found that does a decently accurate job with more than a word or two in Russian is Reverso Context.

    • #16
    • June 12, 2020, at 3:12 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  17. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with

    I’d bet serious money that the bribe doesn’t have to be all that impressive.

    Not that that invalidates your comment in any way.

    • #17
    • June 12, 2020, at 4:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with

    I’d bet serious money that the bribe doesn’t have to be all that impressive.

    Not that that invalidates your comment in any way.

    You’re not wrong. We were learning verbs of motion this year (hell) and one of our teachers likes to do practical scenarios every week, basically just giving us a sheet with a list of phrases/suggestions for a role play in English on one side and a few Russian words we may not know on the other. This particular week we were mostly using verbs of motion relating to forms of transport, and the scenario was about getting directions when driving a car in Russia and then accidentally ending up in a restricted zone. I looked up at her halfway through role playing with a friend and said “Irina, am I offering a police officer a bribe?” “Да, да конечно!” And then I just sat there, and thought about the fact that I had decided to learn a language where knowing how to offer an appropriate bribe was considered essential knowledge, and wondered about my ability to make appropriate life decisions.

    • #18
    • June 12, 2020, at 4:16 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  19. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with

    I’d bet serious money that the bribe doesn’t have to be all that impressive.

    Not that that invalidates your comment in any way.

    You’re not wrong. We were learning verbs of motion this year (hell) and one of our teachers likes to do practical scenarios every week, basically just giving us a sheet with a list of phrases/suggestions for a role play in English on one side and a few Russian words we may not know on the other. This particular week we were mostly using verbs of motion relating to forms of transport, and the scenario was about getting directions when driving a car in Russia and then accidentally ending up in a restricted zone. I looked up at her halfway through role playing with a friend and said “Irina, am I offering a police officer a bribe?” “Да, да конечно!” And then I just sat there, and thought about the fact that I had decided to learn a language where knowing how to offer an appropriate bribe was considered essential knowledge, and wondered about my ability to make appropriate life decisions.

    (In all seriousness, the one person who I talked to this about, who is an very well-known Russia historian but also a little odd, kind of intimated that it was more about getting the archivists interested in your project than money, but I don’t doubt money could help. I still have some ridiculous amount of Rubles in coins, because, understandably, no one wants the damn things).

    • #19
    • June 12, 2020, at 4:19 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with

    I’d bet serious money that the bribe doesn’t have to be all that impressive.

    Not that that i

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with

    I’d bet serious money that the bribe doesn’t have to be all that impressive.

    Not that that invalidates your comment in any way.

    You’re not wrong. We were learning verbs of motion this year (hell) and one of our teachers likes to do practical scenarios every week, basically just giving us a sheet with a list of phrases/suggestions for a role play in English on one side and a few Russian words we may not know on the other. This particular week we were mostly using verbs of motion relating to forms of transport, and the scenario was about getting directions when driving a car in Russia and then accidentally ending up in a restricted zone. I looked up at her halfway through role playing with a friend and said “Irina, am I offering a police officer a bribe?” “Да, да конечно!” And then I just sat there, and thought about the fact that I had decided to learn a language where knowing how to offer an appropriate bribe was considered essential knowledge, and wondered about my ability to make appropriate life decisions.

    (In all seriousness, the one person who I talked to this about, who is an very well-known Russia historian but also a little odd, kind of intimated that it was more about getting the archivists interested in your project than money, but I don’t doubt money could help. I still have some ridiculous amount of Rubles in coins, because, understandably, no one wants the damn things).

    When they want to take you to the police station I thought you were supposed to say something like, “Isn’t there some way I could pay a fine?” (заплатить штраф?)

    That’s what I’ve seen in a few movies, anyway.

    • #20
    • June 12, 2020, at 5:13 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  21. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    They definitely still show up in YouTube comments, both Russian and Chinese. You might like this video; the creator has been making China centric content for years (American that lived there for a decade, speaks the language, has a Chinese wife, etc) and is continually harassed by them, so he made a parody of their view of China and the CCP. 

    I like his style.

    • #21
    • June 12, 2020, at 5:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. The Reticulator Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    When they want to take you to the police station I thought you were supposed to say something like, “Isn’t there some way I could pay a fine?” (заплатить штраф?)

    That’s what I’ve seen in a few movies, anyway.

    Or when the KGB man says, “Are you trying to offer me a bribe?” you’re supposed to reply, “No, just offering to show my gratitude.” I’ve seen that more than once, too.

    • #22
    • June 12, 2020, at 5:21 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. Front Seat Cat Member

    Interesting post – I expect to see more aggressive moves from P as the year progresses…..as in toward the Middle East and Israel’s natural resources, as well as those under the surrounding sea, and cozying up to the U.S.’s other adversaries, and we all know who they are. The chess board is filling up and the moves will be historical…..buckle up and pray.

    • #23
    • June 12, 2020, at 6:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with

    I’d bet serious money that the bribe doesn’t have to be all that impressive.

    Not that that i

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    most useful Russian archives have either been resealed or are almost impossible to get into unless you have something great to bribe the staff with

    I’d bet serious money that the bribe doesn’t have to be all that impressive.

    Not that that invalidates your comment in any way.

    You’re not wrong. We were learning verbs of motion this year (hell) and one of our teachers likes to do practical scenarios every week, basically just giving us a sheet with a list of phrases/suggestions for a role play in English on one side and a few Russian words we may not know on the other. This particular week we were mostly using verbs of motion relating to forms of transport, and the scenario was about getting directions when driving a car in Russia and then accidentally ending up in a restricted zone. I looked up at her halfway through role playing with a friend and said “Irina, am I offering a police officer a bribe?” “Да, да конечно!” And then I just sat there, and thought about the fact that I had decided to learn a language where knowing how to offer an appropriate bribe was considered essential knowledge, and wondered about my ability to make appropriate life decisions.

    (In all seriousness, the one person who I talked to this about, who is an very well-known Russia historian but also a little odd, kind of intimated that it was more about getting the archivists interested in your project than money, but I don’t doubt money could help. I still have some ridiculous amount of Rubles in coins, because, understandably, no one wants the damn things).

    When they want to take you to the police station I thought you were supposed to say something like, “Isn’t there some way I could pay a fine?” (заплатить штраф?)

    That’s what I’ve seen in a few movies, anyway.

    Yep, just that and an amount. 

    • #24
    • June 12, 2020, at 6:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  25. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    When they want to take you to the police station I thought you were supposed to say something like, “Isn’t there some way I could pay a fine?” (заплатить штраф?)

    That’s what I’ve seen in a few movies, anyway.

    Yep, just that and an amount. 

    However, I figured it would be interesting to be hauled into the police station. When they’re filling out the form and ask, “отчество?” I can reply with my father’s first name, which is also my middle name. So that part would work out reasonably well. My wife is not interested in having any such episodes, though.

    In Poland when we were walking along the road in my grandmother’s village, a police vehicle drew alongside and the young officer asked me a question which I couldn’t understand. I asked if the gentleman could speak English. He could not, and was not interested in waiting while I typed something on Google Translate, so he drove off. Later our vehicles met on a rough fire road in the woods, and we just waved at each other.

     

    • #25
    • June 12, 2020, at 7:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    When they want to take you to the police station I thought you were supposed to say something like, “Isn’t there some way I could pay a fine?” (заплатить штраф?)

    That’s what I’ve seen in a few movies, anyway.

    Yep, just that and an amount.

    However, I figured it would be interesting to be hauled into the police station. When they’re filling out the form and ask, “отчество?” I can reply with my father’s first name, which is also my middle name. So that part would work out reasonably well. My wife is not interested in having any such episodes, though.

    In Poland when we were walking along the road in my grandmother’s village, a police vehicle drew alongside and the young officer asked me a question which I couldn’t understand. I asked if the gentleman could speak English. He could not, and was not interested in waiting while I typed something on Google Translate, so he drove off. Later our vehicles met on a rough fire road in the woods, and we just waved at each other.

    The general rule of thumb that I follow is to use my given middle name when dealing with immigration (because it’s what is printed on the visa and on an American passport) and to use my patronymic (Филиповна) introducing myself to people, because it’s more common than using a last name.

    • #26
    • June 12, 2020, at 9:21 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
    • This comment has been edited.