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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Kremlin Inc.

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This week’s New Yorker has a lengthy article by Michael Specter entitled “Kremlin Inc.: Why are Vladimir Putin’s Opponents Dying?” The article is not available online. But lawyer Robert Amsterdam has provided a .pdf scan of it for those who don’t have access to the New Yorker. You can read it here.

The article is not so much about Putin’s opponents as it is about the nature of Russia under Putin. In fact, the question posed in the article’s subtitle—Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying?—is not directly answered. Perhaps his editors added it to make the article sexier. The only true dissident featured in the article is Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder is treated as a metaphor for Putin’s Russia. As Specter himself notes, Russia has traded stability for liberal democracy. Putin has put Russia back on a solid economic and political footing, returning it to an indispensable player in global affairs. This success did not come without cost. They have come as a result of tighter media and political control.

It would be a mistake, according to Specter’s article, to attribute this process wholly to the Putin years. It began under Yeltsin and was only centralized into the hands of the state under Putin. Whereas media in the 1990s was a weapon of Moscow’s oligarchs to wage information war against their economic and political opponents, under Putin, the state employs the media for its own ends. “Propaganda,” Specter writes, “has become more sophisticated and possibly more effective than it was during the Soviet years, when television was the tool used to sustain an ideology. The goal today is simpler: to support the Kremlin and its corporate interests.” If this is the case, and I believe it is, Russia has come inline with a process that has been occurring in the West for the last few decades: the concentration of the media into fewer and fewer hands all for the benefit of corporate interests. As the Wall Street Journal recently stated, “To many investors, Mr. Putin is a hero. The reason: the Russian stock market’s spectacular rally during his seven years of rule.”

For more discussion of Specter’s article, I also recommend listening to this interview with him on PRI’s The World.