Putin’s ‘Return’ Opens Way to Upheavals

One of the surest signs of repression in Russia is a flourishing culture of political jokes. The 1930s and the 1970s, in particular, bear testimony to this. In 2008, when Vladimir Putin tricked term limits by becoming prime minister under hand-picked President Dmitri Medvedev, a new joke was born in the Moscow intelligentsia’s kitchens. The year is 2020. Putin and Medvedev are in a bar, drinking beer. Putin looks up and asks: “Dima, do you remember which one of us is president, and which one is prime minister?” Medvedev thinks for a short while, then replies: “I think you are president, Vladimir Vladimirovich, and I am prime minister.” “Then it’s your turn to pay for the beer,” responds Putin.

Kremlin Closes the Curtain on Its ‘Liberal’ Project

One inconvenience of heading a puppet political party is that, at any moment, the puppet master may remind you who is really pulling the strings. Mikhail Prokhorov learned this lesson the hard way. Last week, the Forbes billionaire, whose fortune is estimated at $18 billion (making him the third-richest man in Russia and the eighth-richest man in Europe), was publicly shown his place by a midlevel Kremlin apparatchik. Radii Khabirov, deputy head of the internal politics section at the presidential administration—a subordinate of the Kremlin’s notorious deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov—directed the national convention of Right Cause party to dismiss Prokhorov as leader.

Russia’s ‘Election’: The Games, the Truncheons, and the Opposition

As Russia’s “parliamentary campaign” gets underway, its participants—the handful of officially sanctioned parties—try their best to animate the predetermined spectacle, which will end on December 4 with a convincing “victory” for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia. Two parties—Right Cause and Just Russia (through its youth wing, the Young Socialists)—have unveiled “shadow governments” that would take power if they win in December. Right Cause, led by Forbes billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, staffed its fantasy cabinet mainly with business figures, such as banker Yevgeny Ivanov (finance minister), power company executive Mikhail Slobodin (energy minister), and pharmacy owner Artyom Bektemirov (health minister). If Prokhorov’s list at least has some corporate logic, the “shadow government” presented by Just Russia defies comprehension.

Medvedev Opens ‘Election’ Season

On Monday, during his meeting with leaders of the seven registered political parties, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed decree number 1124, calling parliamentary elections for December 4. Between ten and thirty days from now, parties must hold their conventions and nominate candidates for the State Duma (by way of nationwide lists). The four parties currently in the Duma—United Russia, Just Russia, the Communists, and LDPR—are placed on the ballot automatically; the three remaining groups—Yabloko, Patriots of Russia, and Right Cause—must collect at least 150,000 signatures by October 19 in order to be registered.

When Russia Chose Freedom: Remembering August 1991

Just the same, no simpler
Are the tests of our times:
Can you come to the square?
Dare you come to the square?
Can you come to the square?
Dare you come to the square?
When that hour strikes?

— Alexander Galich, St. Petersburg Romance (1968)

Putin’s Regime, from Despotic to Kafkaesque

When Vladimir Putin’s government set out to mute public criticism, its censorship primarily targeted large television networks: NTV, TV-6, TVS were successively shut down or seized by the state. The squeezing of influential newspapers soon followed. Today, it seems, even talking to people on the streets or in their homes has become a censored activity.

The Kremlin’s Hand in the Middle East

This year, which has been dominated by news from the Middle East, also marks the twentieth anniversary of the dissolution of the USSR. There may be more in common between the two than first meets the eye. Behind the Desert Storm, a new book by Russian historian Pavel Stroilov that has just been published in Britain—and that has already become a source of controversy—sheds light on top-secret Kremlin documents and suggests that many of today’s problems in the Middle East have their origins in the waning years of the Soviet empire.

The Kremlin’s Know-How: A Secret Election

For all the tricks the Kremlin has perfected over the years to ensure “correct” voting results, what happened last week in St. Petersburg was in a league of its own. The Russian authorities may have invented a new authoritarian know-how: an election organized in secret from candidates and voters.

The Kremlin Tries to Get Rid of Nemtsov

For Yuri Andropov, who headed the KGB from the 1960s to the 1980s, suppressing political dissent was a top priority. “Every such act represents a danger,” he told his colleagues in 1979, “The struggle against them must be decisive, uncompromising, and merciless.” The regime tried different approaches. Dissidents were convicted to long sentences for “anti-Soviet agitation”—an offense under Article 70 of the penal code—and sent away to prisons and labor camps alongside real criminals. Often, they were labelled “insane,” committed to special psychiatric prisons and subjected to torturous “treatment.” Both of these practices—criminal convictions and “punitive psychiatry”—met with worldwide condemnation and ultimately proved too costly for the Kremlin’s international image.

Russian Opposition Barred from Elections; Impostors Given Go-Ahead

The past week was an eventful one in Russian politics. On June 22, days after President Dmitri Medvedev told Britain’s Financial Times that he “would like the whole of political spectrum to be represented in our parliament,” the Ministry of Justice denied registration—and thus access to December’s parliamentary elections—to the Popular Freedom Party, a pro-democracy opposition bloc co-founded by the former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov. The decision came as no surprise: the Popular Freedom Party became the eighth political group to be rejected by the Russian authorities since 2007.

Elena Bonner, 1923–2011

On the evening of June 18, wire agencies carried a brief newsflash. Elena Bonner, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, and a tireless campaigner for human dignity in her own right, has died in Boston, Massachusetts. She was 88. According to her last wishes, her remains will be flown to Moscow and buried next to her husband’s at Vostriakovskoye Cemetery. Words of condolence poured from all over the world; from the European Commission and the European Parliament to the US State Department and the OSCE. After a two-day delay, even Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, has offered his condolences.

Russia’s First Presidential Election, Twenty Years On

On June 12, 1991, some 79 million Russians (74.7 percent of registered voters) went to the polls in the first ever direct election for head of state in the country’s thousand-year history. The position of president of the Russian Federation—then still a constituent part of the Soviet Union—was created in accordance with the results of a national referendum held earlier that year. Unlike Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, appointed by the Communist-dominated Congress of People’s Deputies, the president of Russia was to be elected by direct popular vote. To be registered, a presidential candidate had to either submit 100,000 signatures (in a country of 147 million) or secure the backing of one-fifth of the legislature. If no candidate received more than 50 percent in the first round, a runoff was to be held between the two top vote-getters.

The Kremlin’s Mr. Surkov Comes to Washington

Two weeks after a bipartisan group of US senators introduced a bill that would ban Russian human rights violators from entering the United States, one of the prime candidates for the blacklist hastily flew into Washington. Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s longtime deputy chief of staff and one of the main architects of its authoritarian policies, arrived in DC on Monday—ostensibly to discuss the business of the US-Russia working group on civil society, cochaired from the American side by Michael McFaul, President Obama’s senior Russia adviser and soon-to-be ambassador in Moscow. Discussions were conducted in secrecy: no official comments or press releases were issued by either side, before or after the meeting. According to the sources of Moscow’s New Times magazine, the real reason for Mr.


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