Andrei Kolesnikov

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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 »

Uno por uno, el Presidente ruso Vladimir Putin ha ido sacando de sus cargos a sus asesores más cercanos y antiguos. La víctima más reciente (y seguramente no la última) es Sergei Ivanov, ex agente de la KGB (como el mismo Putin) y ministro de defensa, que acaba de ser obligado a dejar sus funciones como jefe de estado mayor del Kremlin.

Ivanov, dirigente relativamente importante, está siendo reemplazado por un administrador más bien ornamental: Anton Vaino, ex jefe del Directorado del Programa de Protocolos. De manera similar, el reformista ministro de educación y ciencias, Dimitri Livanov, fue despedido y reemplazado por la insulsa burócrata Olga Vasilieva, en lo que resulta ser un inusual nombramiento de una mujer conocida por sus opiniones estalinistas (imaginad al presidente francés dando un puesto importante del gabinete a un funcionario medio perteneciente al Frente Nacional de extrema derecha).…  Seguir leyendo »

Hace dos años, un largo proceso de autoritarismo y aislacionismo creciente bajo el presidente Vladímir Putin culminó con la anexión rusa de Crimea. Pero aunque la comunidad internacional condenó la acción, los rusos aparentemente la recibieron con agrado. De hecho, el “regreso” de la península al control ruso tuvo un profundo efecto sobre la opinión pública, que parece haber fortalecido el poder de Putin, a pesar de los profundos desafíos políticos y económicos a los que se enfrenta Rusia.

En marzo de 2016, el 83% de los rusos apoyaba la anexión de Crimea, mientras que solo el 13% se le oponía.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cuando el presidente ruso, Vladimir Putin, habló ante la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas el 28 de septiembre, sabía que captaría la atención del mundo y eclipsaría al presidente norteamericano, Barack Obama, con su llamado a crear un frente unido en la lucha contra el Estado Islámico. Pero Putin se estaba dirigiendo a los rusos también, plenamente consciente de la necesidad de distraerlos de las aflicciones económicas cada vez más evidentes de su país.

El año pasado, la distracción era la anexión de Crimea, seguida del apoyo a los separatistas pro-Rusia en el este de Ucrania. El reciente envío por parte de Rusia de aviones, misiles y unos miles de tropas a Siria es un sustituto patriotero de aquel proyecto "Novorossiya" fallido.…  Seguir leyendo »

En un tratado de 1970 titulado Salida, voz y lealtad, Albert Hirschman analizó las tres opciones que tienen las personas insatisfechas con organizaciones, empresas y Estados: irse, demandar cambios o ceder. En los 45 años desde que se publicó el libro, el marco planteado por Hirschman demostró su utilidad en una muy amplia variedad de contextos. También puede ser muy útil para comprender la política rusa actual.

En 2011 y 2012, muchos ciudadanos rusos, bien educados y relativamente pudientes, se volcaron a las calles para exigir democracia real, con la esperanza de usar su “voz” para cambiar el sistema desde dentro.…  Seguir leyendo »

La actitud occidental para con Rusia se basa en la suposición de que una presión continua sobre ese país obligará al régimen del Presidente Vladimir Putin a hacer concesiones o incluso provocará su desplome. Nada podría estar más alejado de la verdad.

La suposición subyacente a la eficacia de las sanciones occidentales es la de que el profundo deterioro económico resultante de ellas volverá al público ruso, en particular la minoría selecta política y financiera, contra el Kremlin. Putin no podrá soportar la disensión en aumento de las zonas urbanas acomodadas y la incipiente clase media.

Entretanto, según esa concepción, la presión militar –en forma de un posible ayuda letal a Ucrania– inmovilizará igualmente a los rusos de a pie contra Putin.…  Seguir leyendo »