Recent Posts

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.

Meet the New (Old) Ministers

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(Top down, left to right: Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister; Viktor Zubkov, First Vice-Prime Minister; Igor Shubalov, First Vice-Prime Minister; Igor Sechin, Vice-Prime Minister; Sergei Sobyanin, Vice-Prime Minister; Sergei Ivanov, Vice-Prime Minister; Aleksei Kurdrin, Vice-Prime Minister; Aleksandr Zhukov, Vice-Prime Minister; Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister; Rashid Nuraliev, Minister of Internal Affairs; Aleksei Kudrin, MInister of Finance; Sergei Shoigy, Minister of Public Safety; Dmitri Kozak, Minister of Regional Development; Tatiana Golkova, Minister of Health and Social Development; Elvira Nabiullina, Minister of Economic Development; Anatolii Serdiukov, Minister of Defense; Igor Shchegolev, Minister of Communications; Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education; Iurii Trutnev, Minister of Natural Resources; Aleksei Gordeev, Minister of Agriculture; Sergei Shmatko, Minister of Energy; Viktor Khistenko, Minister of Industry, Vitalii Mutko, Minister of Sport; Aleksandr Avdeev, Minister of Culture; Igor Levitin, Minister of Transportation; and Aleksandr Konovalov, Minister of Justice.)

Things to note are:

Putin basically brought his tail from the Kremlin into the White House. The top faces should be familiar to anyone paying attention. The number of Vice Prime Ministers was raised from five to seven. Shubalov’s promotion and Kurdin’s double role as Finance Minister and Vice-Premier is being viewed as a liberal bulwark to hawkish Sechin and Ivanov. Dmitri Babich notes that all seven men owe their careers to Putin and four of them (Ivanov, Sechin, Zubkov and Shuvalov) are his personal friends.

Two big figures in the “siloviki war” Vikor Cherkesov and Nikolai Patrushev have been removed from their respective positions as the head of the Federal Drug Control Service and the FSB. The former will now head the federal agency for buying military hardware. The latter will become the head of Medvedev’s Security Council.

The Moscow Times sees this shuffle as an overall blow to the siloviki. So does Yevgenia Albats, who told the Indepdenent‘s Shaun Walker that “The appointments suggest that the warriors have lost and the traders have won.”

Despite the fact that the government looks stable, Jonas Bernstein evaluates the expectation that the Medvedev-Putin tandem will at some point collapse.

The New York Times’ C. J. Chivers predictably sees the appointments as yet another move to “retain a grip on power and the direction of policy in Russia.” Like the Moscow Times he makes much of the fact that Putin sat in the same seat as he did as President, while Medvedev sat in a seat “viewers have come to regard as one for subordinates.” Reuters is also making much of the chair. Lyndon over at Scraps of Moscow simply calls the chair thing “stability.”

Equally predictable, RFE/RL sees the cabinet with so many familiar faces as the “preservation of power.” Wasn’t that the point all along?

Not all are winners though. Sergei Ivanov, who was once a presidential hopeful was demoted from a First Vice Primer to a simple Vice Premier. Communications Minister Leonid Reiman and Justice Minister Vladimir Ustinov have to hit the pavement and find new jobs. I doubt the revolving door between the Russian government and Russian corporations will make job hunting difficult.

Medvedev has appointed former Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin to be his chief of staff. He also promoted Head Putin ideologist Vladislav Surkov to first deputy chief of staff and elevated another Putinite, Alexei Gromov, to be deputy chief of staff.

Few new faces were brought into the Putin’s government or Medvedev’s administration. For the most part things look like they did before. Economic liberals are balanced with security minded conservatives.

I don’t imagine any major conflicts, or at least no more than usual among the elite. The board of Kremlin Inc. is continuing with business as usual. Let the plundering resume!