Max Seddon

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The surprising resilience of the Russian economy

Addressing a crowd of activists on Friday in Tula, the capital of Russia’s arms industry, Vladimir Putin crowed that the country’s economy had defeated western sanctions imposed after his invasion of Ukraine.“They predicted decline, failure, collapse — that we would stand back, give up, or fall apart. It makes you want to show [them] a well-known gesture, but I won’t do that, there are a lot of ladies here”, Putin said to a round of applause. “They won’t succeed! Our economy is growing, unlike theirs”.Russia’s president gloated that Russia’s economy had not only withstood an onslaught of sanctions from western countries — but was now bigger than all but two of them.…  Seguir leyendo »

Planning for the Ukraine invasion was carried out by a tiny group of people handpicked by Vladimir Putin © FT montage: Getty Images/AP

At about 1am on February 24 last year, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, received a troubling phone call.

After spending months building up a more than 100,000-strong invasion force on the border with Ukraine, Vladimir Putin had given the go-ahead to invade.

The decision caught Lavrov completely by surprise. Just days earlier, the Russian president had polled his security council for their opinions on recognising two separatist statelets in the Donbas, an industrial border region in Ukraine, at an excruciatingly awkward televised session — but had left them none the wiser about his true intentions.

Keeping Lavrov in the dark was not unusual for Putin, who tended to concentrate his foreign policy decision-making among a handful of close confidants, even when it undermined Russia’s diplomatic efforts.…  Seguir leyendo »

Herman Gref, CEO of Sberbank, and Elvira Nabiullina, Russian central bank governor, with Putin © FT montage: Bloomberg/Getty Images

One month before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s top economic confidants visited the Russian president’s residence at Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow to brief him on the likely fallout from western sanctions.

Putin listened as Herman Gref, chief executive of state-owned lender Sberbank, led a 39-page presentation warning the Russian president of disastrous consequences if tensions over Ukraine, then already at fever pitch, were to escalate further still.

A close ally of Putin’s since their days in the St Petersburg mayor’s office in the 1990s, Gref had a reputation for being the most liberal member of Putin’s extended circle — and for speaking his mind.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia’s wartime economy: learning to live without imports

One August afternoon, a taxi pulled up to a hotel in Istanbul and a group of men got out, speaking Russian. They pulled five suitcases out of the car.

The cases were packed with equipment they had purchased in Austria. The goods were not particularly unique — professional electronics, for use in schools — but they were made by a western brand that had decided to boycott Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“It was made to look as if it’s just for personal use . . . As if I’d bought it all for myself”, says Stanislav, who met the men at the hotel in Istanbul, took them out for dinner and then flew home to Moscow with the cases.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin under pressure: what is Russia’s next move?

In late August, occupation authorities in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kupyansk held celebrations to mark Russian Flag Day.

A few dozen people — including both pro-Kremlin activists and locals who had stayed in the town after it was captured by Russian forces six months ago — unfurled an enormous 60mx40m Russian tricolour on the main square, then waved flags and danced to a medley of patriotic tunes.

Just a few weeks later, the Russian occupying forces were gone after a surprise Ukrainian attack forced them to surrender more than 3,000 sq km of territory, leaving tanks, armoured vehicles and supplies.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia’s melancholy oligarchs

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raged this spring, the billionaire oligarch Mikhail Fridman called Kristina Kvien, then the US’s most senior envoy to Kyiv, with a proposal.

Fridman — who grew up in Lviv, in western Ukraine, but has Russian and Israeli passports and made most of his estimated $13bn fortune in Russia — would donate part of his wealth towards repairing damage from the war.

In return, the US would help him avoid the sanctions that were being imposed on oligarchs, which western policymakers hoped would force them to break with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

After Kvien raised questions about Fridman’s proposal, the conversation quickly became heated, according to three people familiar with the matter.…  Seguir leyendo »

Germany’s Russia problem: Ukraine crisis tests new government

Under mounting pressure to provide more help to Ukraine as it braces for a possible Russian invasion, the German government proposed last week what it thought was a bold new initiative: it would supply Kyiv with 5,000 helmets.

The announcement was met with a wall of derision. “What kind of support will Germany send next?” asked Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. “Pillows?”

In the first crisis of the post-Merkel era, Germany is floundering. The complex legacy of the second world war is weighing on its efforts to craft a coherent policy on Russia. A new government in office for only seven weeks is being pulled in one direction by its powerful pacifist lobby and in the other by Washington.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukraine: what does Vladimir Putin want?

When Russia first began massing troops, tanks and artillery on its border with Ukraine in March, Vladimir Putin insisted the deployments were just a snap exercise.

But as the build-up has continued to swell to as many as 175,000 personnel, the US has warned allies the Russian leader may be planning a renewed invasion for real this time — and found Moscow in an increasingly belligerent mood.

In the past few days alone, Putin has likened Ukraine’s policy in the Donbas, the border region where Russia has led a slow-burning separatist war since 2014, to “genocide” — words Kyiv fears may be a pretext to invade.…  Seguir leyendo »