This week, the Russian parliament’s legislative committee rubber-stamped a bill granting former presidents lifelong immunity from prosecution. According to the proposal by members of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, a former president cannot be indicted on criminal or administrative charges, detained, arrested or searched — and the same status would apply to his residence, communications and documents. This all-encompassing immunity can only be overturned by agreement of the supreme and constitutional courts as well as two-thirds of the vote in both houses of parliament. In other words, it would be practically impossible.

The move follows another legislative initiative that would make any former president a senator-for-life, a practice associated with the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman attends a memorial for Gulag victims in Moscow on Oct. 30. (Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Last week, Russia once again observed an annual ritual known as “Return of the Names,” a nationwide act of remembrance for millions of victims of the Communist regime. Every year, Russians gather near the former KGB headquarters in Moscow and in cities across the country to read out the names of relatives and others who perished under Soviet rule.

This year, the pandemic meant that the ceremony had to be shifted online, but thousands still tuned in all over Russia. The civic group Memorial, which oversees the commemoration, issued a statement noting that, “the totalitarian state did not just kill people — it also wanted to erase their names from history.…  Seguir leyendo »

For a US State Department employee in Guangzhou, China, it started one evening in 2018 with a sound like a glass marble hitting the floor overhead with a loud crack, followed by headaches, insomnia and memory loss. Fifteen other American officials in China reported similarly inexplicable symptoms.

A few months earlier, in a Moscow hotel room, visiting CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos experienced what felt like vertigo. His health steadily deteriorated over the following months and years, with migraines, dizziness and exhaustion, to the point where he was forced to retire.

Two senior US intelligence officers suffered the same abrupt and baffling medical problems on a visit to Australia earlier this year.…  Seguir leyendo »

This time four years ago, officials in Moscow were preparing — along with the rest of the world — for what appeared to be inevitable: a Hillary Clinton presidency. It was a grim prospect for Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time Russia was overwhelmed by a string of scandals.

That summer, the world had learned about the massive state-sponsored doping program in Russian sport. In September, a Dutch-led international investigation found that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, shot down while flying over Ukraine, had been downed by a Russian missile, killing all 298 on board. Around the same time, Russia launched a brutal bombing campaign on the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians and devastating the city.…  Seguir leyendo »

¡Cuánto puede cambiar en un año! En el otoño de 2019 el presidente ruso Vladímir Putin parecía estar en la cresta de la ola: la agitación en Occidente – incluida la presidencia de Donald Trump, el drama de la brexit y los feudos europeos por cuestiones que iban desde las migraciones hasta la energía – le habían permitido crearse la reputación de alguien firme y asertivo en la política mundial. Ahora, la firmeza se asemeja más a una esclerosis y las consecuencias se extienden más allá de las fronteras rusas.

A menudo se presenta la crisis de la COVID-19 como una aberración, una crisis sin precedentes que exige una respuesta sin precedentes; pero aunque eso pueda ser cierto, muchos de los desafíos que generó tanto en Rusia como en Occidente eran ya incipientes mucho antes de la aparición de la SARS-CoV-2.…  Seguir leyendo »

De cómo YouTube trajo de regreso la política a Rusia

Por generaciones, la televisión ha ocupado un lugar prominente en los hogares rusos. Para muchos, relajarse viendo las noticias tras un largo día de trabajo es una rutina cotidiana. Se puede gritar a la cara de quienes estén en pantalla, pero sin embargo la gente sigue pegada a ella. En la era soviética, las estaciones mentían descaradamente en los seis canales; hoy mienten con más descaro todavía, y en muchos más canales.

De hecho, la Rusia del siglo veintiuno tiene apenas un canal de televisión liberal independiente: mi empleador Dozhd TV, que ha sido excluido de los principales paquetes de televisión por cable debido a la presión de las autoridades.…  Seguir leyendo »

In over a year since President Zelenskyy embarked on his diplomatic effort to ‘end war with Russia’, there have been some steps forward in releasing prisoners of war and a short-lived ceasefire period. But few have any illusions peace is likely in the near future.

Vladimir Putin’s statement in June that ex-Soviet republics had left the USSR ‘with gifts from the Russian people’ – meaning they had gained supposedly ‘Russian’ lands – shows he has no intention of changing Russia’s policy of revisionism and disruption.

And Russia’s recent engagement in Belarus, which could see Minsk losing sovereignty as the result of any bargain Lukashenka may have struck with Putin to stay in power, further endangers Ukraine’s northern border.…  Seguir leyendo »

The problem with freezing conflicts in a defective fridge is that after a while they start to stink. That’s what happened to the nasty ancestral feud between the Armenians and Azeris in the rugged mountain terrain of Nagorno-Karabakh. Vladimir Putin slammed them into the freezer drawer marked “Eastern Ukraine, South Ossetia, Transnistria and miscellaneous other territories — to be consumed at leisure” and forgot. Now he is faced with a full-scale war on the southern borders of Russia that could soon turn into a geopolitical flashpoint.

That’s how imperial power unravels: the centre neglects the periphery, blood is spilt and strength ebbs away from the leader.…  Seguir leyendo »

Archipiélago Novichok

El líder opositor ruso Alexei Navalny encabeza la Fundación Anticorrupción en Moscú. En agosto una grave enfermedad obligó a trasladarlo de Siberia a Berlín para recibir tratamiento; más tarde, los médicos y la Organización para la Prohibición de las Armas Químicas confirmaron que la causa había sido el agente nervioso Novichok. Hace poco, ya en proceso de recuperación, Navalny dialogó con Tikhon Dzyadko, jefe de edición de Dozhd TV, la única red de teledifusión independiente que queda en Rusia.

Lo que Occidente podría hacer

Tikhon Dzyadko: Hace poco, la Unión Europea aprobó sanciones contra seis personas y una entidad rusas, en conexión con el envenenamiento que usted sufrió en agosto.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel. His turn to revisionist nationalism has called into question Germany’s decades-old approach to Russia. Credit Michele Tantussi/Reuters

Germany is no longer playing nice with Russia.

In the past few weeks, Germany has helped to rescue Russia’s main opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, and accused Moscow of poisoning him; rolled out the red carpet for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who tried to topple one of Russia’s satellite regimes; and accused the country of state-orchestrated murder on German territory. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s pushing for sanctions on Russian officials.

It all seems to add up to something close to a confrontation — and a decisive move away from Germany’s decades-old approach, which sought to gently coax Russia into a more productive relationship.…  Seguir leyendo »

Human rights activist Yuri Orlov speaks at the American Jewish Committee's annual meeting on May 14, 1987, at New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel. Orlov, a Soviet dissident, spoke of the meaning of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union. (Marty Lederhandler/AP)

The death of renowned Russian physicist and human rights advocate Yuri Orlov last week prompted tributes from governments across the world. The one notable exception, unsurprisingly, was Orlov’s own, in Russia, whose record on human rights is almost indistinguishable from that of the regime he defied in the Soviet era. Knowing Orlov as I did, I think he would consider this silence a more fitting recognition than any hypocritical statement the Kremlin could have made.

Born in 1924, Orlov witnessed firsthand what the 20th century had in store for our country — from Stalin’s forced collectivization, which Orlov saw as a child, to World War II, where he distinguished himself in combat against the Nazis.…  Seguir leyendo »

Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images Gulag researcher and rights activist Yuri Dmitriev following his first trial, in which charges of child pornography were dismissed, Petrozavodsk, Russia, April 5, 2018

Western democracies have expressed concern and outrage, at least verbally, over the Novichok poisoning of Alexei Navalny—and this is clearly right and necessary. But much less attention is being paid to the case of Yuri Dmitriev, a tenacious researcher and activist who campaigned to create a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror in Karelia, a province in Russia’s far northwest, bordering Finland. He has just been condemned on appeal by the Supreme Court of Karelia to thirteen years in a prison camp with a harsh regime.

The hearing was held in camera, with neither him nor his lawyer present. For this man of sixty-four, this is practically equivalent to a death sentence, the judicially sanctioned equivalent of a drop of nerve agent.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Toxic Alien Is Taking Over Russia

Take any of the many highways out of the Russian capital and you can dissect the country’s strata like rings on a tree. Sentinel apartment towers replace the bustling illuminated center, then the belt of auto dealerships and box stores drifts by. Gradually, the landscape becomes sparse, with villages and towns sporadically punctuating the stretch of meadows and forests for thousands of miles in every direction.

Russia is the biggest country on Earth and both the state and the people take pride in the size of its territory — “from the southern seas to the polar fringes,” as the current national anthem goes.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los rusos no se rinden

En Rusia, como en muchos otros países del mundo, los años bisiestos gozan de mala reputación. Se consideran años de sorpresas desagradables, problemas imprevistos y pruebas arduas. 2020 ha confirmado plenamente esta creencia. En febrero, Rusia casi se vio envuelta en Siria en un enfrentamiento militar con Turquía. En marzo se produjo una drástica caída de los precios mundiales del petróleo. Luego empezó la recesión económica global y, en abril, el país sufrió los estragos de la pandemia. El verano, marcado por las masivas protestas en las calles de Jabárovsk, terminó con el trágico incidente de Alekséi Navalni y un enorme malestar social en la vecina Bielorrusia.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ksenia Fadeyeva, who won a seat on the city council in Tomsk, Russia, on Sunday, is seen next to one of her campaign posters in the Siberian city last month. (Andrei Fateyev/AP)

On Aug. 19, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was meeting with local activists in the Siberian city of Tomsk. “Someone asked him the traditional question why he had not been arrested or murdered,” recalls one of those present, referring to the fates often suffered by Kremlin opponents. “He made a joke in response, as usual. The next day, there was no room for jokes.”

The next day, as the whole world now knows, Navalny collapsed from poisoning on a plane back to Moscow. The cause, according to German medical experts, was a nerve agent closely related to the Novichok substance used in the attack against former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain in 2018.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin es el responsable último

Los expertos médicos alemanes, franceses y suecos concuerdan en que Alexei Navalny, el crítico local de más alto perfil del Presidente ruso Vladimir Putin y fundador de la Fundación Anticorrupción, fue envenenado con el agente nervioso Novichok. Sobrevivió. Es posible que no haya sido así con la relación ruso-germana, y eso no necesariamente sería una mala noticia.

Recalcando la importancia de tomar “una posición clara”, la Canciller alemana Angela Merkel declaró que Navalny “fue víctima de un crimen que pretendía silenciarlo”. En su opinión, el caso plantea “preguntas muy serias” que “solo el gobierno ruso” puede –y debe- responder. “El mundo estará a la espera de una respuesta”, afirmó.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yesterday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi to discuss closer integration. The ongoing political unrest in Belarus — a small country that is politically close to Russia and borders it on its west — has led some observers to speculate Putin might intervene militarily to prevent Belarus’s government from being overthrown.

Putin faces his own domestic problems, with Russia in the middle of a deep recession. Intervention might be popular with the Russian public, just as Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was. However, as my research shows, this is unlikely: Ordinary Russians don’t like military adventures in bad economic times.…  Seguir leyendo »

A worker at the construction site of a section of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline near Kingisepp, Leningrad Region. Photo by Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel offered to provide medical care for Navalny in Germany after he fell ill from suspected poisoning in Russia, she could have hardly expected her humanitarian gesture would trigger a crisis in her country’s relations with Russia.

Merkel has used uncharacteristically blunt words to condemn the apparent attempt on Navalny’s life, saying the use of novichok raises serious questions that only the Russian government could answer. She described Navalny as being the ‘victim of a crime’ which was a violation of the ‘basic values and basic rights’ that Germany and its allies were committed to. Her tone and body language certainly showed how strongly she felt about the issue.…  Seguir leyendo »

Fresh allegations of Russian meddling in the upcoming US Presidential election shine a harsh spotlight on the dangerous deadlock between the nuclear-tipped powers. In a reprise of 2016, Moscow is apparently pushing hard for Donald Trump to win the White House. But is a Trump second term really in the Kremlin’s best interest? Or would a Joe Biden win actually be the more pragmatic outcome for Russia?

On the surface, a stable Biden presidency, including a strong, no-nonsense Vice President Kamala Harris, would seem unpalatable to Moscow. Biden is well-acquainted with Russian President Vladimir Putin from before and during his tenure as vice president in the Obama administration.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with winners of the Leaders of Russia contest via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Tuesday. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AP)

On Sunday, Russia will hold regional elections. Voters will cast ballots in some 9,000 races in 83 regions, with everything from elections to fill national legislature vacancies to elections for regional governors and municipal councils.

According to the respected Russian election monitoring group Golos, these elections are likely to be a sham. Even the Communists, a tame, officially recognized opposition party, have not been allowed to register candidates in seven of the 18 governor’s races. Real independent candidates have found it harder than ever to get on the ballot.

Since the beginning, the Putin system has been built on twin pillars.…  Seguir leyendo »