Maxim Trudolyubov

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President Vladimir Putin of Russia visited a memorial in late March for victims of a fire at a shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. Credit Pool photo by Alexei Druzhinin

Last month, Vladimir V. Putin was re-elected as Russia’s president in a plebiscite-like ceremony with all other candidates essentially decorating the ballot’s margins. Years of aggressive campaigning, tinkering with electoral rules and eliminating competition had long prepared the field for an easy win.

The tough part now, for Mr. Putin, is to deal with the consequences of 18 years of being able to do whatever he pleases. His fourth term (fifth if we count the four years of Dmitri Medvedev’s presidency as what they were, a Putin regency) is off to a tumultuous start.

Russia is facing a coordinated, if symbolic, retaliation by the West against Moscow’s alleged chemical attack in Britain.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Vladimir Putin of Russia sunbathing during his vacation last week in the remote Tuva region in southern Siberia. Credit Alexey Nikolsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a rare bipartisan move, the United States Congress has voted to intensify sanctions against Russia, and President Trump has signed them into law. Even before the American leader put pen to paper last week, President Vladimir Putin of Russia fired back by demanding the removal of hundreds of Americans and Russians from the staffs at American diplomatic missions in Russia.

Mr. Putin had watched the United States turn an already painful list of sanctions from an easily reversible presidential decree into a law that would be next to impossible to repeal any time soon — a sorry result of a policy that the Kremlin had adopted in hopes of lifting sanctions altogether.…  Seguir leyendo »

For Russians, Bleak Realities at Home

Russian hackers have been making front pages recently in the United States and Europe, but few people in Russia seem to care or even notice. The Russia of international media and the Russia that we, Russians, know from the inside could not be further apart.

Abroad, President Vladimir V. Putin is seen to be upsetting the post-Cold War balance of power in Europe, pushing the United States out of the Middle East and instigating a nationalist-demagogic resurgence across the Western world. Having just helped install an American president of his choosing, he has even more king-making opportunities awaiting him in 2017, in elections set for the Netherlands, France and Germany.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Kremlin’s intensifying confrontation with the West has already put the Russian economy under severe strain. But the Russian population seems to accept falling incomes and general uncertainty as the price of what its leaders portray as a national resurgence. Encouraged by the jingoistic state-run media, Russian society seems to applaud war policies that would subject a Western leader to fierce inquiries or removal from office by a disapproving electorate (the British prime minister Tony Blair’s fate after his acquiescence in the American-led Iraq war is one example).

Arguably, Russia is the only major power that no longer hesitates to shatter longstanding relationships with others.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Sore Losers of Russia

Everyone loves to win. But in Russia, obsessing about victories past or present, military or artistic, is a national pastime.

At least, that’s the impression you get if you listen to Russia’s politicians and its state-run news media. That Russia’s leadership in arts, sports and fighting terrorism is not sufficiently recognized by the rest of the world is a daily staple, a very public kind of acute status anxiety.

Celebrating triumphs is preferable, of course. Russians do not like losing. In fact, their leaders make a show of being very sore losers indeed.

Take the Eurovision song contest. Despite being extremely kitsch, the event is taken seriously in Central and Eastern Europe — for reasons that often have little to do with music.…  Seguir leyendo »

At a recent awards ceremony at the Kremlin for scientists, artists and public intellectuals, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia couldn’t help but recount his country’s achievements. But he also offered a word of caution. "We still have a lot of unsolved problems and questions," he said. "It is certainly no time for us to be ‘dizzy with success."

Don’t be deceived by such expressions of humility. Many Russians view Mr. Putin as highly successful — and the president himself very much agrees. His approval rating has reached levels upward of 80 percent for nearly two years, and few, certainly none at a Kremlin event, are making a public case for redefining or even amending the notion of what constitutes a Moscow leader’s success.…  Seguir leyendo »

Almost anything Vladimir Putin touches these days is perceived by the West as a weapon, and almost everything he does is seen as an attack, very often a successful one. The Kremlin can change facts on the ground, stage quasi cease-fires and create zones of influence to exert pressure on other nations. It has done so in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, and the pattern is now being repeated in Syria.

Meanwhile, the West goes on declaring one Kremlin success after another in ways that many Russians themselves cannot see. Under an editorial headline “Putin’s Syria Victory,” for example, The Wall Street Journal opined on Feb.…  Seguir leyendo »

Much has changed for Vladimir Putin since the terror attacks in Paris. The trope that aggressions in Crimea and Ukraine show that he is more of a threat to the West than ISIS was useful to President Obama’s critics, but that’s now older than yesterday’s news. Given the joint French-Russian airstrikes against ISIS in Syria last week, Russia is now a de facto Western ally. Putin the pariah has a shot at redemption, or so it might seem.

Just weeks ago, François Hollande declared that the Russian leader was “not our ally in Syria,” and warned — albeit obliquely — that Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

When your country launches a surprise air campaign in some faraway place, you might naturally ask questions about the goals, the costs and the consequences. But this, evidently, is not the Russian way. Ever since the Kremlin began its bombing campaign in Syria, I’ve been asking people here what they think about our foray into the war-torn mess of the Middle East, to little or no avail. The subject does come up, but not in the way you might think.

Apparently for most Russians, discussing the wisdom of plunging into a sectarian conflict hundreds of miles away is not nearly as exciting as simply watching televised images of warships firing cruise missiles into the darkness.…  Seguir leyendo »

After watching the local and gubernatorial elections in Russia on Sunday, one cannot help wondering: Why bother? Why does the Kremlin need to push the illusion of democracy when the results are predetermined?

The only region where an opposition force worthy of the name was allowed to participate — in Kostroma oblast east of Moscow — saw voting marred by bullying and the arrests of anti-Kremlin candidates. No one could figure out why the Democratic Coalition, the only grouping of parties openly critical of President Vladimir Putin, was even allowed to run.

All municipal, regional and gubernatorial elections in Russia are held on the same day, and in nearly all of them United Russia, the main pro-Kremlin party, was victorious.…  Seguir leyendo »

Whenever Russians think about Iran, soul-searching ensues. Some look at the Iranian system favorably, and some despise it, but in the aftermath of the recent deal to limit Iranian nuclear production in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions and increased commercial contacts with the outside world, many Russians, worried by their country’s growing status as an international pariah, have begun to ask themselves: “Are we the new Iran?”

This may sound strange to foreign ears, but it is not really so far-fetched. Many Russians, both inside and outside the Kremlin, admire the Iranian way of dealing with a hostile world.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is a widespread view in the West that Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and confrontational policies toward the United States and Europe are an attempt to revitalize aspects of its lost Soviet glory days. But if we look at some of the Kremlin’s domestic policy initiatives, we see a country struggling to become less “Soviet” in its actions and reform its decrepit institutions before it’s too late.

Many of the reforms now underway reflect Moscow’s long-overdue recognition that the Russian state simply cannot afford to maintain costly Soviet-designed structures, such as free higher education for all students or an oversized military based on mass mobilization.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia’s Victory Day, celebrated on May 9th, has for decades been its most unifying event of the year domestically and its least controversial holiday internationally. But because of the peculiarities of the Kremlin’s politics of history, Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing struggle over Ukraine, even the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War has become divisive.

Heads of state the world over have been invited to the military parade in Moscow to mark the defeat of Hitler’s Germany. According to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, leaders from China, Israel, the Czech republic, Serbia, North Korea and most former Soviet republics are planning to attend.…  Seguir leyendo »

How did Vladimir Putin, the president who promised Russians stability when he first came to power in 2000, become today’s high-stakes gambler, presiding over an economy in crisis and the war in Ukraine? Why do his priorities now center on his political survival, even as the price he is making ordinary Russians pay for it grows out of all proportion?

To understand how Mr. Putin evolved one must look back to the traumas that shook Russia in the 1990s, and how his predecessor dealt with them. When Boris Yeltsin became the country’s first democratically elected president in 1991 he surrounded himself with intellectuals — political and social scientists, market economists and journalists.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Russia, where religious holidays have not supplanted secular ones, New Year’s Eve is much more important than Christmas. The fact that the country’s biggest holiday marks the turn of the calendar illustrates the special relationship Russians — and particularly their rulers — have with time.

Historically, many Russian leaders have fallen into two broad categories: those who tried to freeze time (Czar Nicholas I and Leonid Brezhnev, for example), and those who wanted to speed it up (Peter the Great, Alexander II, Nikita Khrushchev). The former group worshiped tradition, the latter emphasized change. In any case, attempts to turn back the clock have always alternated with outbursts of frenetic activity.…  Seguir leyendo »

There was a time when we Russians thought of our country as one of those burgeoning, dynamic places, a land of diamonds in the rough. But today Russia is no longer an emerging nation. Instead, it’s hiding its face from the world.

As a result of the Kremlin’s own actions, and Western countermeasures, Russia may gradually find itself cut off from many of its international links, “unplugged” from capital markets, global news media, foreign expertise, and even the World Wide Web. To stay on top of Russia’s power pyramid, President Vladimir V. Putin and his minions feel they must corral and tame the Internet.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vladimir Yevtushenkov, an oligarch under house arrest in Moscow since mid-September on charges of money laundering, may or may not be guilty of any wrongdoing. But he is different from many of his ilk in one important way: He is one of the rare moguls who lives and pays taxes in Russia but directly owns a major stake in his London-listed company Sistema. The vast majority of his peers operate through chains of shell-companies that lead to obscure off-shore havens.

Yevtushenkov had been thought to enjoy special protection. But the fate of the once-powerful billionaire, No. 15 on the Forbes list of Russia’s richest men, has clearly changed.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why so many Russians are addicted to Putin

Watching Russia’s worrying trajectory under President Vladimir Putin, many foreign observers ask how a leader who is so apparently driving his country toward the abyss can remain so popular. The answer is simple: Putin’s supporters — that is, a hefty majority of Russians — do not see the danger ahead.

According to the independent Levada Center, Putin’s approval rating increased from 65 percent in January to 80 percent in March, immediately after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The rate reached its peak in early August, at 87 percent, when many believed that Russia and Ukraine were on the brink of all-out war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Adictos a Putin

Al observar la preocupante trayectoria de Rusia bajo el Presidente Vladimir Putin, muchos observadores extranjeros preguntan cómo puede seguir siendo popular un dirigente que está conduciendo tan claramente a su país hacia el abismo. La respuesta es sencilla: los partidarios de Putin –es decir, una gran mayoría de los rusos– no ven el peligro futuro.

Según el independiente Centro Levada, el porcentaje de aprobación de Putin aumentó del 65 por ciento en enero al 80 por ciento en marzo de este año, inmediatamente después de la anexión de Crimea por Rusia. El porcentaje mayor, el 87 por ciento, se alcanzó a comienzos del pasado mes de agosto, cuando muchos creían que Rusia y Ucrania estaban al borde de una guerra declarada.…  Seguir leyendo »

When the Kremlin announced a ban this month on food imports from the United States and the European Union, Russian social networks exploded with jokes about the empty store shelves in the Soviet Union. But the shelves won’t be empty; they’ll simply be stocked with mostly basic and bland items, a reflection of government policies that are pulling the country back to the past and highlighting its inner tensions.

Western sanctions and Russian countersanctions have laid bare the interdependent connections between President Vladimir Putin, his oligarch courtiers and his supporters among the broader population. He will use his control over oligarch wealth to alleviate the difficulties sanctions will bring to his followers, while his critics and those Russians who are not part of his base will likely face tough times.…  Seguir leyendo »