2017 was the one hundredth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution and the year in which ISIS was decisively defeated and its caliphate dismantled. While both movements may seem safely behind us, and are separated by a century and almost three thousand kilometers, they are connected by a thread of significance that we would be rash to consider mere history.
Pace Marx, history does not always repeat itself as a farce. Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, it returns as yet another tragedy. Much like the Bolshevik revolution, this initially minuscule extremist movement accomplished the improbable feat of rapidly attracting tens of thousands of followers from all over the world, conquering major cities and vast tracts of land, and creating a new state.… Seguir leyendo »
One of the most popular Russian satirical characters, a 19th century fictional idiot-savant by the name of Kozma Prutkov, has coined dozens of aphorisms, many of which have become proverbs. One of my favorites is: “If you see a ‘buffalo’ sign on an elephant’s cage, do not believe your eyes.” When Vladimir Putin declares the end of a military operation that, at a very low cost, has been highly successful in geostrategic and domestic political terms and promises to accrue still more benefits, we would do well to apply Kozma’s words.
No matter what he says to his Western counterparts, Putin had no intention to fight ISIS when he sent advanced Su-35 fighter jets and bombers, sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and some 4,000 troops to Syria last fall.… Seguir leyendo »
As Russia deepens its involvement in Syria, it risks more than a military quagmire. Its intervention exacerbates a growing domestic threat, one that could destabilize the whole country. A new brand of radical Islam is rising in Russia, fueled by Russian fighters eager to perpetrate acts of terror at home.
Even a decade ago, the scope and depth of this emerging terrorist network would have seemed inconceivable. While Russia has suffered its share of domestic terrorism, those crimes were largely perpetrated by Chechen fighters based in the North Caucasus region. When Moscow declared an end to its counterterrorism operations in Chechnya in 2009, it suggested that the threat of radical violence had been largely contained.… Seguir leyendo »
Less than a month after French President François Hollande mused that sanctions on Russia should be lifted (apparently reflecting the prevailing sentiment in much of the European Union), Russia has launched a new offensive through its proxies in Ukraine. Facing a full-blown crisis, with the Russian economy estimated to be contracting by at least 5% this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be unconcerned about further economic pressure and diplomatic isolation. Is he irrational? As the only one making important decisions in Russia today, does Putin not care about the sanctions? He is not and he does. His is a multiphased, well-calibrated endgame to destabilize Ukraine and to weaken the sanctions at the same time.… Seguir leyendo »
Foreign policy is traditionally not a hot topic for presidential primary candidates this early in the game, so I was surprised to receive a request recently to talk about Russia from one of the often-mentioned candidates. But, of course, it is not too early. The United States no longer has the luxury of ignoring Russia. For the first time since the mid-1980s, it has become one of the most pressing national security concerns, and presidential contenders will be asked what they plan to do about it.
So what — in the traditional “two-pages-or-less” campaign format — should a putative candidate know?… Seguir leyendo »
The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has finally spurred the United States and Europe to agree on imposing additional sanctions on Russia. But Vladimir Putin’s tactics in Ukraine are likely to be far more influenced by his domestic political calculus than by international pressure. In fact, given how important winning — or at least not losing — the proxy war in Ukraine has become to the popularity and legitimacy of the Putin government, the sanctions are unlikely to have much effect in the short run. Instead, it seems probable they will lead to an even greater resolve on Putin’s part to support the separatists in Ukraine.… Seguir leyendo »
At the moment, our preoccupation is President Vladimir Putin’s next move outside Russia. Will he invade eastern Ukraine? Will he move into Moldova? But even more worrisome than these territorial issues is what Putin may have in mind for Russia itself.
The Russian president did not engineer the Ukrainian crisis, but he has exploited it to begin forging something far more dangerous than land grabs: namely, a political arrangement that could secure his rule of Russia for life. The annexation of Crimea has fueled nationalist hysteria and paranoia within Russia, and Putin has ridden that wave, reshaping his government into one that is far more repressive, ideologically driven, openly messianic and founded on a revisionist view of history that is explicitly anti-West and anti-American.… Seguir leyendo »
Every Olympiad is a venture, a mammoth undertaking, what the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky mused about poetry — “ezda v neznaemoe,” a ride into the unknown. It is thus largely because four dangers haunt every modern Olympic Games: unfavorable weather, be it too cold or not cold enough; shoddy construction in the mad rush to finish; public protests by various groups seeking to spotlight their causes; and, since the early 1970s, terrorism.
But in hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian President Vladmir Putin has looked at the stern quartet across a poker table and said: “I see you and I raise you.”
He takes the risk because a successful Olympics would be an enormous personal victory for a man who, according to a January poll, is personally liked by only 20 percent of the Russian people, down from 49 percent in 2008, and whose government is perceived by almost two-thirds of Russians as concerned with the preservation and strengthening of its power rather than the well-being of its people.… Seguir leyendo »
Almost a year into the Kremlin’s war on civil society, the legal veneer looked familiar: A May 15 letter from prosecutors informed the Levada Center, Russia’s most authoritative independent polling firm, that in publicizing the results of its polls it “aimed at shaping public opinion on government policy” and was, therefore, a “political organization.” And, as a political organization receiving foreign grants (from the likes of the Ford and MacArthur foundations), it had to register as a “foreign agent.”
Every assault on civil society is a tragedy for Russia. Nongovernmental organizations are, first and foremost, schools of democracy, teaching personal responsibility, self-organization, peaceful dissent and compromise.… Seguir leyendo »
Vladimir Putin is poised to win more than 50% of the vote Sunday and thus be “elected” president of Russia again. That’s not surprising: He has barred every pro-democracy opposition leader from running and limited the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens, who get their news mostly from the national television channels, to government propaganda. And after the spectacular and well-documented falsification of the results of the Dec. 4 parliamentary election, no one doubts that the wholly-owned Kremlin subsidiary that is the Central Election Commission will “draw,” as they say in Russia, any number that the boss orders.
However, this will be a Pyrrhic victory.… Seguir leyendo »
The news itself was hardly startling. It has been increasingly clear during the last year that the Regent (Vladimir Putin) would recover the throne from the Dauphin (Dmitry Medvedev). But now that it seems a certainty that Russia is headed for (at least) 12 more years of Putinism, alarm bells ought to be sounding. Why? Because by every indicator — macroeconomic, political, social — the system that Putin forged in the early 2000s is all but exhausted and is driving the country toward a dead end. It must be radically reformed, or better yet, discarded. But how can it be gotten rid of with its creator back in control?… Seguir leyendo »
A glorious revolution swept through Russia 20 years ago. Glorious, because it was almost completely nonviolent and because no one who was there will ever forget the sense of solidarity, camaraderie and even affection people felt for one another — and for the new Russia they so fervently anticipated. Revolution, because beyond the hundreds of thousands gathered in Moscow and on Palace Square in St. Petersburg, rallies against the hard-line putsch and for Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev took place in every major city. The revolution ushered in a new political system, changed the country’s economic foundation and created a new state: post-imperial Russia.… Seguir leyendo »
The flurry of interviews that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has given in the past few weeks has been thoroughly combed by experts and journalists in search of clues to the million-dollar mystery in Russian politics: Will Putin run in 2012 — or will he let his protégé Dmitry Medvedev serve another term?
There was no “smoking gun” (Putin is too clever for that), but the prime minister did articulate, openly and proudly, what amounted to a strategic agenda. It was a thoroughly and unmistakably reactionary one — and a point-by-point rebuttal of virtually every key element of the “modernization thaw” declared by President Medvedev, including the “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations.… Seguir leyendo »
The security of the United States continues to be tied to decisions in Moscow, as evidenced by President Obama’s touting of the pending strategic arms-control agreement with Russia in his State of the Union address. And those decisions, in turn, will hinge on Russian domestic politics. The central question is whether President Dmitry Medvedev’s increasingly radical rhetoric will begin to translate into policies that would spell a decisive break with those of his predecessor and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin.
Could 2010 become Medvedev’s equivalent of Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1987 — the year when, also after only two years in the Kremlin and against very strong opposition by hard-liners, Gorbachev began lifting totalitarian controls over politics by declaring glasnost and democratization?… Seguir leyendo »
Viewed from the outside, things have been going quite well for Russia recently. The United States has scrapped, at least for now, the plan to base missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Germany and Russia seem to have overcome opposition in Europe to their Nord Stream pipeline, despite fears that it will solidify Russia’s dominance of the European natural gas supplies. Oil prices have recovered from the disastrously low — for Russia — levels of last winter. And, far from buckling under pressure from the United States over sanctions against Iran, Russian leaders felt confident enough to concede almost nothing to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Moscow this week.… Seguir leyendo »