Andrei Kolesnikov

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Laying flowers in memory of slain Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, Moscow, February 2024. Evgenia Novozhenina / Reuters

On May 7, as Russian President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for his fifth term in office, no one in Russia was prepared to protest. Given the country’s protracted and costly war in Ukraine, its creeping autocracy, and now this spring a major terrorist attack and widespread floods, outsiders may have wondered why people are not taking to the streets in large numbers and calling for an end to Putin’s rule. Are Russians simply unable to think and act for themselves?

The situation is more complicated than it appears. Yes, Russian society is in a state of conformist apathy, justifying the war to itself by borrowing words given to the public by the authorities; the political opposition is in exile, in jail, or dead.…  Seguir leyendo »

Urnas electorales con el escudo de la Federación Rusa en un colegio electoral. Foto: Semen Salivanchuk / Getty Images


En su afán por construir una sociedad monolítica y consolidada, el Kremlin sólo ha logrado impulsar un pensamiento doble y una indiferencia evasiva aprendida. Una existencia apuntalada en bayonetas y porras policiales nunca podrá ser cómoda.


El modelo de poder de Vladímir Putin se encamina hacia las elecciones presidenciales de marzo de 2024 apoyándose en gran medida en dos pilares inestables: el conformismo pasivo y el miedo, este último exacerbado por la repentina muerte en prisión del líder opositor Alexéi Navalni un mes antes de los comicios. Aunque nadie duda del resultado de las elecciones, la campaña presidencial está exponiendo ya el mito de una consolidación firme en torno a un presidente irremplazable.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian servicemen at a mobile recruitment center in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, March 2024. Sergey Pivovarov / Reuters

From March 15 to 17, Russia will hold a presidential election to refresh Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power. There have never been any real doubts about the outcome, which will herald his fifth term in office. But the Kremlin has taken extraordinary steps to make sure: On February 8, the Central Election Commission announced that the antiwar candidate Boris Nadezhdin was disqualified from running. Eight days later, Alexei Navalny died in an Arctic prison colony, an event widely blamed on the Russian state, eliminating Russia’s most prominent opposition leader. Navalny was not running in the election, but Russian politics had been until recently reduced to a Navalny-Putin confrontation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a ceremony with youth organizations, Red Square, Moscow, November 2023. Gavriil Grigorov / Sputnik / Reuters

“If there is Putin, there is Russia; if there is no Putin, there is no Russia”, the current speaker of the State Duma, the aggressive loyalist Vyacheslav Volodin, pronounced, back in 2014. He was outlining an ideal autocracy, one in which the country would be equated with its ruler and vice versa. At the time Volodin spoke those words, the Kremlin was basking in an upsurge of national euphoria following the annexation of Crimea. With the so-called Putin majority ascendant, the government could hasten its shift toward such a regime with broad popular approval.

But Volodin was a bit ahead of his time.…  Seguir leyendo »

The End of the Russian Idea

In June 17, 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin staged a special ceremony on the St. Petersburg waterfront to mark the anniversary of three flags: the flag of the Russian Federation, otherwise known as Peter the Great’s tricolor, formally unfurled in 1693; the imperial Russian flag, introduced by Tsar Alexander II in 1858; and the Red Banner, the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle, adopted by the Soviet state 100 years ago and later used by Joseph Stalin. Putin watched the event from a boat as the National Philharmonic and the St. Petersburg State Choir performed the national anthem, which, thanks to a law Putin enacted in 2000, has the same melody as its Stalin-era counterpart.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin ya no es el mismo

El día del malogrado alzamiento de Yevgeny Prigozhin en Rusia, Moscú enmudeció. Había poco tráfico el sábado, y apenas personas en la calle. Se cancelaron actos y se cerraron parques, y prácticamente todo el mundo se quedó en casa, pegado a internet, mientras el convoy del ejército privado de Prigozhin se acercaba a la capital rusa.

Los moscovitas también compraron boletos de avión. Los precios de los vuelos de salida del país se dispararon el sábado a medida que los rusos trataron de asegurarse opciones. No era que Prigozhin pudiese ser su presidente lo que les preocupaba, sino la indeseada posibilidad de enfrentamientos en las calles de su ciudad, típicamente animada y despreocupada.…  Seguir leyendo »

An alleged drone attack on the Kremlin, Moscow, May 2023. Handout / Reuters

When two drones crashed into the roof of the Kremlin in early May, the Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn’t need to wait for an investigation to identify the culprit. The attack was masterminded by the United States, not Ukraine, he stated confidently. “Kyiv only does what it is told to do”, he explained. A few days later, after the Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin, a staunch Russian nationalist and outspoken supporter of the war, was nearly assassinated by a bomb placed in his car, Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated with equal confidence that the United States was behind that crime, too. This was despite the fact that the person identified as the prime suspect was clearly someone from the fringes of society who, like Prilepin, had apparently fought alongside Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region.…  Seguir leyendo »

A banner of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 2023. Alexey Pavlishak / Reuters

For more than two decades, ordinary people in Vladimir Putin’s Russia could count on at least one fundamental right: the right to remain passive. As long as they were willing to turn a blind eye to corruption at the top and the never-ending rule of the Putin regime, they were not required to demonstrate active support for the government. Whatever Russia was doing in the world need not concern them. Provided that they did not interfere in the affairs of the elite, they were free to live their lives.

Since the Russian government announced its “partial mobilization” in September-October 2022, that right has been taken away.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sasha Dovzhyk's work on Ukraine is supported by the IWM project, Documenting Ukraine. Courtesy Sasha Dovzhyk

It’s the evening of February 23, 2022. In Kyiv, the boss of a news site relaxes with a bath and candles. In Zaporizhzhia, a young woman goes to bed planning to celebrate her husband’s birthday in the morning. In Moscow, a journalist happens to postpone his travel plans to Kyiv.

Within hours, their lives are dramatically and radically transformed. The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin launches his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In the space of a year, the war has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions more. It has unleashed unfathomable atrocities, decimated cities, driven a global food and energy crisis and tested the resolve of western alliances.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soldiers at the Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, near Moscow, January 2023. Yulia Morozova / Reuters

In the late Soviet era, only twice did Moscow’s military interrupt the daily lives of ordinary citizens. The first occasion was the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which went largely unnoticed by many Russians because few knew what was going on. The second was the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which had far greater consequences. For many people, the sight of zinc coffins being flown back from a distant southern country, even as Marxism-Leninism was losing currency at home, shattered the moral foundations of the Soviet project.

In 2022, Moscow’s military once again interrupted the lives of ordinary citizens with an invasion, and the result has been even worse than either of those previous events: Russia has just lived through the most terrifying year in post-Soviet history.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian police detaining a protester in Moscow, September 2022. Reuters

In late September, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his “partial mobilization”, the Russian bards Aleksei Ivashchenko and Georgy Vasilyev performed in Moscow. Ivashchenko and Vasilyev, who belong to the once popular late-Soviet genre of singing with guitar, enjoyed a wide following in Moscow’s university community of the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1,500 spectators included many who came of age during those years. On YouTube, the concert received an enthusiastic response, garnering more than a million views. For Moscow’s liberal elite, the event amounted to a kind of antiwar rally: in the songs and remarks of the bards there were many direct hints at the current situation.…  Seguir leyendo »

A portrait of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at a May Day rally, Moscow, Russia, May 2022. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

The harsher and more repressive the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin becomes, the more successful the reign of Joseph Stalin appears to ordinary Russians. In the five years leading up to 2021, the number of Russians who agreed that “Stalin was a great leader” doubled from 28 to 56 percent, according to polls carried out by the independent Levada Center; over the same period, the number of those who disagreed with that statement fell from 23 to 14 percent. Since 2015, Stalin has been lionized on national holidays, and discussion of his repression has largely been stifled. Such is the interest in the Soviet dictator that it sometimes seems as if he is competing with Putin.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Russian troop convoy moving in the Zaporizhzhya region, Ukraine, July 2022. Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

At least since Soviet times, Russians have used dark humor to cope with dictatorship. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization has already been colloquially dubbed the mogilizatsia, a wordplay on mobilizatsia, the Russian word for “mobilization”, and mogila, the word for “grave”. What is more, in practice, this move-to-the-graveyard is proving to be far from partial. Despite assurances by Putin and his defense minister that the draft would be limited to 300,000 people, primarily military reservists who had already served in the army and in conflict zones, Russians have already witnessed the forced conscription of men of all ages across the country.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of Russia’s Presidential Regiment, at the Kremlin, Moscow, April 2019. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Situated on the Baltic Coast, the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is closer to Europe than any other part of Russia. It is surrounded by NATO powers, Poland and Lithuania. A former Prussian territory, it also has a long tradition as a center of European culture. Immanuel Kant walked its streets in the eighteenth century; Thomas Mann wrote a novella there in 1929. Until the war in Ukraine began, the region even had a modicum of integration into European life: Kaliningrad did a brisk trade with Lithuania and Poland, and its residents could enter Polish territory by using a special card.

Now, many of the region’s inhabitants lament the end of cross-border commerce, which has reduced standards of living and cut residents off from many European products.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russians resting in front of a vacant storefront, Moscow, June 8, 2022. Evgenia Novozhenina / Reuters

Is Russia at war? To anyone visiting Moscow or even the provinces this summer, it can sometimes be hard to find much evidence. People are going about their usual lives, and the economy continues to function. There are no shortages of consumer goods; so far, so-called parallel imports—the system by which Russian importers circumvent Western sanctions by using third countries—have worked well. Only inflation has remained stubbornly intractable, with the annualized rate currently hovering above 16 percent. And, at least when they are asked, many citizens do not seem overly disturbed by what is happening on their western border.

According to survey data released by the independent Levada Center in June, Russians do not seem to be seriously concerned about the economic effects of the conflict: half of respondents say sanctions will strengthen the country and stimulate development, and another quarter say sanctions will have no negative effect on growth.…  Seguir leyendo »

If a Ukrainian grandmother with pro-Russian views did not exist, it would be necessary to invent her—or at least that is what the Russian government decided in April. At the time, Anna Ivanova inhabited a village near Kharkiv. One day, mistaking a group of arriving Ukrainian soldiers for Russians, she took out an old Soviet flag and waved it vigorously at them to remind them of their shared past and try to deter them from destroying the village. Instead, the Ukrainian forces, outraged at the sight of the hammer-and-sickle, took the flag from her and trampled it.

Caught on video, the episode was immediately seized on by the Kremlin.…  Seguir leyendo »

A damaged Russian artillery tank in Trostianets, Ukraine, April 15, 2022. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

In early April, the coffin containing the body of 75-year-old Vladimir Zhirinovsky—the ultranationalist and populist who was a crucial pillar of the Russian state for two decades—was taken to the Hall of Columns in central Moscow for people to pay their respects. Sixty-nine years ago, it was there that Stalin had lain in state, in the process killing one last wave of Russians, who were crushed to death in the huge crowds that had gathered to bid farewell to the Soviet dictator.

There was no stampede to see Zhirinovsky, although his funeral recalled a different moment from the Soviet era. His body had been brought to the Hall of Columns in an Aurus Lafet—the strictly limited-edition black hearse made by Aurus Motors, Russia’s much-hyped new luxury car manufacturer.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of the Russian Communist Party are seen ahead of a flower laying ceremony at Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's grave, marking the 142nd anniversary of his birth.

When the Soviet Union finally fell, it was in a mundane way, as if it had clocked off from a normal day's work.

On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the Soviet citizens and announced his resignation as president. A little after 7:30 p.m. that same day, the Soviet flag, waving in the wind, was lowered from the flagpole above the presidential residence in the Kremlin.

For five minutes the flagpole stood bare, as if to symbolize the transition of power. By 7:45 p.m. the Russian tricolor was hoisted on it.

The following day, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved. And with that, the empire in which I'd been born and spent the first 26 years of my life came to an end.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman walks past red banners devoted to Victory Day in downtown Moscow on Wednesday. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow intellectuals like to joke that our dark past is in fact our bright future. Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly seems to think so — and he’s not joking.

Every year on May 9, Russia celebrates the Soviet victory in World War II with a public holiday and an ostentatious military parade. This year, the covid-19 outbreak forced the Kremlin to postpone the parade. The festivities have ended up being limited to a military flyover and traditional fireworks display.

It turns out that the present isn’t quite as easy to control as the past. For years, Putin has been relying on the glories of history to try to galvanize the masses and distract them from current social problems — above all, the declining economy, sagging living standards and the paralysis of the political system.…  Seguir leyendo »

Rusia está atrapada en una batalla entre la historia oficial (la historia del estado) y la contra-historia (la historia de la sociedad civil y las memorias del pueblo). Este año en que se cumple el centenario de la Revolución de Octubre, el choque se instalará en el centro de la vida pública.

El presidente Vladimir Putin es la personificación de la nostalgia no tanto por los tiempos soviéticos sino por la sacralización del estado de ese período, que le permitió al gobierno utilizar, en lenguaje moderno, "noticias falsas" para fomentar sus propios fines. Por cierto, la Revolución de Octubre es recordada con una cuota no menor de ambivalencia e inquietud.…  Seguir leyendo »