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.

Who’s to Blame for Peregruzka?

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The plastic Reset button snafu has perhaps gotten far too much press than it deserves, and admittedly I’ve played my part in promoting the story.  If anything Americans can add peregruzka and perezagruzka to their Russian lexicon of tovarishch, borscht, vodka, glasnost, perestroika, da, and nyet. But amid all the cracks at Clinton for the goof, few have asked who is responsible for the mistake.  And since American discourse is so obsessed with “accountability,” one would imagine that the culprit would have stood up by now and engaged in a bit of samokritika.  Don’t hold your breath. The only words coming out of the State Department is the frank admission that they screwed up, which I guess is refreshing since the last Administration was so reluctant to admit mistakes.  Nevertheless, the question of who dunnit? is intriguing foreign policy nerd gossip even if wholly unimportant in a world-historical sense.  So who is to blame, or as the Russians say, “Kto vinovat?” Here’s what the Cable uncovered:

U.S. government officials were hesitant to point fingers, at least publicly. A State Department spokesman told The Cable he had no idea and had not heard anyone else ask the question, hinting perhaps that it was a story hardly worthy of pursuit.

Other State Department sources insisted that Foggy Bottom’s area specialists and premier Russian speakers — among them Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, who was in Moscow last month, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, and his deputy Ian Kelly, were not the culprits.

Pressed, State Department sources suggested it might have been a communications staffer in the secretary’s office. “But [Clinton] was amused and not annoyed,” one source stressed.

One former senior official said he questioned whether the gag gift, even had it been properly translated, was appropriate. “It’s a pretty important relationship. This risked having it become an attention grabber. They might have been more serious about it.”

But others said to lighten up.

“Not sure where the translation came from, but the fact is we screwed up in not catching it before meeting,” said one senior U.S. government official. “I guess that’s one of perils of gag gifts. Anyway — we made a mistake, no excuses.”

So it wasn’t the State Department careerists and Clinton wasn’t (publicly) annoyed. Still that poor anonymous staffer must be shitting bricks.  I guess we’ll only know the gravity of the mistake if there’s a sudden job opening in Clinton’s staff.  I can see the ad now:

Wanted: Reliable and well organized person interested in international affairs.  Must like travel and hobnobbing with potentates.  College degree needed. No experience necessary. Russian language skills a must.