Michael Khodarkovsky

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Putin’s Nightmare: The Ballot Box

On Sept. 8, Russians will vote in municipal and regional elections, and the authorities are afraid. Not of any foreign power’s interference in Russia’s elections — there have been no fair elections in decades — but of Russia’s own people and opposition candidates, who are far more popular than the official nominees.

Moscow’s old bag of electoral tricks survives — for example, moving elections from December to early September so that summer vacations would leave challengers little time to organize. The authorities have resorted to new tricks too, like clogging the electoral system with fake candidates and putting party loyalists on the ballot as independent candidates.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, left, and Metropolitan Epiphanius, the head of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, conduct a service after presenting the “Tomos,” a scroll containing the decree, in a symbolic ceremony sanctifying the Ukrainian Church’s independence from the Russian Orthodox Church at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, earlier this month. Credit Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

On Jan. 5, some 150,000 people lined up in front of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. They came to see a single document called a tomos, issued a few days before by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew. There, on a piece of parchment, written in ornate Greek, English and Ukrainian, were words that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had dreamed about for centuries: The document made the Ukrainian Church autocephalous, meaning it is now fully independent from Moscow.

This declaration of independence came about despite months of behind-the-scenes attempts by the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church officials to dissuade Patriarch Bartholomew from issuing a tomos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov at the opening session of the Bishops Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in November at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Credit Artyom Geodakyan\TASS, via Getty Images

On the night of July 16, 1918, Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, was murdered with his wife and five children in a basement in Yekaterinburg, where they had been detained by the Bolsheviks for four months. On orders from Moscow, they were shot and bayoneted, and their mutilated bodies were set afire.

That much has been generally agreed on, based on overwhelming evidence gathered by numerous experts. Yet the Russian Orthodox Church continues to pose more questions, hinting at the darkest of conspiracies: Were the remains that were later exhumed really those of the imperial family? If not, how many were murdered, and where were they buried?…  Seguir leyendo »

Emperor Nicholas I of Russia in a sleigh, 1850. Artist unknown. Credit Fine Art Images/Heritage Images, via Getty Images

We have been through this before. Well, almost.

In the 1960s, American and European cities were convulsed by riots and antiwar protests, and in the early 1970s the Watergate scandal threatened to derail American democracy. Then, as now, the Kremlin was jubilant as Western democracies seemed to teeter on the brink.

But soon enough, Americans were landing on the moon, the Vietnam War ended, Nixon was forced to resign, and it was the Soviet Union’s crumbling facade that could no longer disguise its own social rifts and divisions. Within the next two decades, Western democracies continued to thrive, if unevenly, while the Soviet Union lost its empire and itself fell apart.…  Seguir leyendo »

Throughout Eastern Europe, Moscow has been implicated in cyberattacks and election interference from Estonia to Bulgaria. Germany, which will hold elections in September, is experiencing cyberattacks and fake news.

Even more surprising than Russia’s aggressive behavior has been the timid response of the West, which has let Moscow engage in cyberwarfare with impunity. President Obama said this month that during their meeting last September, he told Mr. Putin “to cut it out.” That hardly sounds like a president concerned with a grave threat to American democracy. His warning to Mr. Putin may have forestalled even more brazen Russian attacks, but enough damage had already been done.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Russian Emergencies Ministry launched a sweeping nationwide civil defense drill earlier this month. Russia Emergency Situations Ministry press service, via Associated Press

The Russian media have been talking up war for some time, but it has now reached new heights of warmongering. Dmitry Kiselev, a television journalist known for his close ties to the Kremlin, keeps threatening the West with nuclear weapons. Another ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, the voluble ultranationalist party leader Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, recently declared that if Hillary Clinton were elected, it would mean World War III.

Clearly, the Kremlin is deliberately creating a sense of impending war by having its own media insist that NATO has put Russia under threat — from the military alliance itself and its democratic ethos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Looking to become a homesteader these days? As of May 2, a new Russian law provides for a free land grant of 2.5 acres to any citizen willing to move to a vast territory along Russia’s Pacific Coast and China’s border. This is Russia’s Wild Far East, at 2.4 million square miles almost three times the size of Alaska, Washington State and Oregon combined, but populated by merely 6.3 million people.

Still, many Russians are suspicious of the government’s offer. For good reason. During Russia’s privatization phase in the 1990s, each citizen was issued a voucher for shares in government-owned enterprises.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian Thugs vs. The Avant-Garde

On Aug. 14, members of the ultraconservative Orthodox Christian organization, God’s Will, stormed into an exhibition that had just opened at Moscow’s storied exhibition hall, the Manezh. The exhibition, “Sculptures We Do Not See,” was a retrospective of Russian avant-garde art from the 1950-60s. The intruders smashed several pieces, shouting that the exhibits were offensive to Christians and that mocking religion was punishable under a criminal code. Four linocuts and a part of the sculpture installation titled “Beheading of St. John the Baptist” were damaged.

This is not the first time that members of God’s Will have used physical force against people or events they consider anti-Christian and anti-Russian.…  Seguir leyendo »

During those tense days in early March when Vladimir Putin disappeared from public view, the Russian president issued only one official statement: He instructed his prime minister to prepare a blueprint for a new federal agency that would work toward “consolidating the unity of the multiethnic nation of the Russian Federation.”

The move passed relatively unnoticed, but it raises provocative questions. Why suddenly create a new arm of government when funding for other departments is being frozen or cut? And why did the choice to lead the agency fall upon Igor Barinov, a member of Parliament and a retired colonel of the Federal Security Service with experience in special operations in Chechnya and counterterrorism?…  Seguir leyendo »

On Jan. 10, a protester holding a sign “I am Charlie” was arrested in Moscow and later sentenced to eight days in jail. A few days later, the federal media watchdog ordered the St. Petersburg edition of the Business News Agency to remove the new cover of Charlie Hebdo from its website. The same agency was warned that reprinting the cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad could be considered a criminal offense, and that it would violate the “ethical and moral norms formed in Russia through the centuries of different peoples and faiths living side by side.”

On Monday, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, whom Vladimir V.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagine the unimaginable: Suppose an American supreme court chief justice asserts in an interview that “slavery in the United States, despite its extremes, was a principal bond that maintained the deep unity of the nation.” Now replace “slavery in the United States” with “serfdom in Russia,” and you have the exact quote from an article by the chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court, Valery D. Zorkin, published on Sept. 30.

In legal terms, serfdom, an institution that bound peasants to the land, is considered to be a less-cruel form of bondage than slavery. In practice, however, Russian serfs were routinely bought and sold and regularly physically abused.…  Seguir leyendo »