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.

The Theater of Diplomacy

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I wrote a review of Alexander Etkind’s Roads Not Taken: An Intellectual Biography of William C. Bullitt and Michael McFaul’s From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia for Bookforum. Unfortunately, the review is behind the dreaded paywall. So here’s the pdf and the opening:

As relations between Russia and the United States continue to worsen, one of the unexpected twists in the unfolding drama has been the dragging of each nation’s ambassadors into the limelight. Usually, these diplomatic figures spend most of their time hosting parties and attending state ceremonies. But the compulsion to conjure phantoms has made two recent ambassadors—Michael McFaul, Obama’s ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, and Sergey Kislyak, Putin’s ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2017—into the public faces of their countries’ treachery.

Bizarre as the current situation is, the role now being played by ambassadors is not entirely novel. Diplomats have often been cast in leading parts in international political dramas. (“An ambassador resembles in some way an actor exposed on the stage to the eyes of the public in order to play great roles,” the French diplomat François de Callières wrote in 1716.) But how much power to shape events does an ambassador really have? In light of the conspiracy theories that have proliferated during the current standoff between the US and Russia, two recent books couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The first, McFaul’s memoir, From Cold War to Hot Peace, recounts his experiences as Obama’s main Russia hand and then ambassador during Putin’s revanchist third term. The second, Alexander Etkind’s biography Roads Not Taken, traces the life of William C. Bullitt, the first American ambassador to the Soviet Union. Taken together, the books provide a valuable picture of the aspirations— and the limitations—of diplomatic engagement during critical moments in US-Russian relations over the past century.

Read the entire review.