Dedicated Russian thread

Or in comparison to former spy / mafia boss

It’s amazing that in the 21st century that people in public positions are able to speak a foreign language
I’m not in a public position and I can speak passable French (> 30 years after school), understand a little German (> 45 years since living there as a small child on a British army estate)
 
In comparison with his ministers Putin's English is not bad.

They are both reading set speeches, so I can't tell who between them is better at speaking off the cuff. However, I listened to both of them for about a minute and while both have strong accents I wouldn't say that one was really "better" than the other. I found both of them understandable if I focused on what they said. Of course I regularly have to deal with people in Canada who were born abroad and for whom English is a second language, so perhaps I am more used to dealing with a variety of different accents than you are.

On the other hand, there are a number of American and UK accents (e.g. parts of Glasgow) which are incomprehensible gibberish and they may as well be speaking another language so far as I am concerned.
 
Journalists, Doctors and Diplomats appear to have a habit of falling out of upper floors where Russia is concerned. Latest from the Russian Embassy in Germany, believed to be an Intelligence Officer. The article also has that word beloved of the Russian trolls:

Der Spiegel, which broke the news, identified the victim as Kirill Zhalo, 35, the son of a top Russian intelligence officer. German authorities believe Mr Zhalo was in fact a spy working under the cover of second secretary, the website reported.

He was found lifeless in a pool of blood shortly after 7am on 19 October.

It is unclear if he died before or after the fall. In line with standard protocol, there was no local police investigation or autopsy and the body was taken away to Moscow the next day.

Bellingcat, an investigative journalism website, has corroborated family ties to General Alexei Zhalo, the deputy head of the Second Directorate of Russia’s security agency. Data from leaked car registration databases show the two men shared addresses – first in a family home in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, and later in Moscow.

The FSB’s infamous Second Directorate has a mandate of protecting “constitutional order”. In practice, this has extended to hardline operations controlling dissidents, opposition politicians and journalists.

Bellingcat allege the Directorate was also responsible for the brazen daytime assassination of former Chechen rebel commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin’s Tiergarten in August 2019.

Writing on Twitter, Christo Grozev, the publication’s main investigator, noted that the younger Zhalo was moved from Vienna to Berlin just two months before that assassination. “That may just be a coincidence,” he said, “But German authorities believe the killer received support on the ground in Berlin.”

German authorities, not impressed by what they described as a “contract killing” in their backyard, later ordered the expulsion of two Russian diplomats. Moscow has denied any involvement in the assassination.

Whatever the truth of the latest incident, suspicions and conspiracy theories about state involvement are bound to linger. “Falling from windows” has become a loaded term in Russia – serving as it does as a frequent explanation for dozens of unexplained deaths of politicians, muckraking journalists and state officials.
 
They are both reading set speeches, so I can't tell who between them is better at speaking off the cuff. However, I listened to both of them for about a minute and while both have strong accents I wouldn't say that one was really "better" than the other. I found both of them understandable if I focused on what they said. Of course I regularly have to deal with people in Canada who were born abroad and for whom English is a second language, so perhaps I am more used to dealing with a variety of different accents than you are.

On the other hand, there are a number of American and UK accents (e.g. parts of Glasgow) which are incomprehensible gibberish and they may as well be speaking another language so far as I am concerned.

I meant that minister Mutko spoke with apparent heavy Russian accent visible to everybody (including those who don't speak English at all).
Putin's pronunciation is of course miles away from pronunciation of native speakers but much close to standard English of foreigners whose first language is not English.
This version of English is in fact lingua franca of educated people (in Europe for example) and they understand each other pretty well because of simplified London style of pronunciation, bounded vocabulary and absence of rarely used idiomatic expressions.
Accents, style of pronunciation of native English speakers is a big separate theme.
 
Interesting Podcast from RUSI about how Moscow is continuing its aggression against Georgia:

When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, Moscow annexed 20% of Georgia's sovereign land space using traditional military force.

Over the subsequent 13 years, however, Georgia has been subject to constant political, economic and societal coercion as Moscow tries to steer Tbilisi into the Russian sphere of influence. The tradecraft used by Moscow might simply be an evolution of what we previously knew as 'active measures', but – as Georgian analyst Natia Seskuria tells Peter Roberts – it certainly feels new.

 
As part of the Kremlin's campaign to revise the gruesome history of the Soviet State and to rehabilitate the mass-murderering dictator Josef Stalin it has taken steps to close down "Memorial" the human rights group which was set up to investigate and publicise the gross abuses of that regime:





How indicative an example of the "Muscovite Mindset". A reminder of my take on this:

A short and not exclusive summary of the “Muscovite Mentality”.

1. For a Muscovite it is inconceivable that state power is not concentrated at the apex of the pyramid. In Muscovy, this is at the Kremlin and usually rests in one man or a small cabal. No important decision can be made by any other organ. A Muscovite genuinely believes that all political and economic power in the West, is ultimately controlled from Washington - just as Moscow strives to control all political and economic power in as large an area as it can, so does Washington. Multiple power centres cannot be allowed to exist within a political entity as this undermines the power of the centre.

2. A Muscovite sees world affairs as a giant “zero-sum game” with the strings being pulled by the major power centres. For a Muscovite the “Main Adversary” remains the USA. So anything which a Muscovite perceives as detrimental to Muscovy is advantageous to the USA. An independent Ukraine is detrimental to Muscovy, therefore the USA must be causing the independence movement there. For a Muscovite independent NGOs undermine the power of the State, therefore they must be operating under the aegis of Washington. Any citizen of Russia that protests against the Kremlin, is perceived by a Muscovite to be weakening the State, therefore they are being supported by Washington and can be considered traitors.

3. The concept of “Rule of Law” is totally alien to a Muscovite. A Muscovite firmly believes that “the law” is just a tool to serve the ruler in order to make the State strong. It is for the ruler to make the law and to apply it or change it as required.

4. The concept of “Separation of Powers” is totally alien to a Muscovite. The “Executive” is the only Power. The “Legislative” and the “Judicial” are mere [often cosmetic] appendages to facilitate the rule of the “Executive”.

5. The concept of “Separation of Church and State” is totally alien to a Muscovite. The Church serves the State and it is inconceivable that the Church can be regarded as a separate power base.

6. The concept of an empowered “Civil Society” is totally alien to a Muscovite. There can be no organisations which are not answerable to the State. The citizen is there to serve the State. The State is not there to serve the citizen, but to use him/her as it sees fit.

7. The concept of a “Free Press” is totally alien to a Muscovite. The media is there to serve the State. The media must reflect the State position. If independent media offer a different point of view, then they are attacking the State and are seen as traitorous. Of course as this is seen as detrimental to the State, it therefore must have the backing of Washington.

8. The Muscovite sees the world from this point of view and naturally assumes that the rest of the world must have a similar viewpoint [for a Muscovite any different viewpoint is obviously unnatural]. As Muscovy sees all other political entities as competitors in a “zero-sum game”, therefore they all must view Muscovy in the same way. As Muscovy is therefore constantly under threat, it must defend itself. Attack is the best form of defence, therefore Muscovite aggression is logically defensive in nature and thus Muscovy pursues a “peace-loving” policy [even when invading other countries]. There is no contradiction in the “Muscovite mindset”.

9. Muscovy currently feels extremely threatened. Not from without, but from within. The peoples of “all the Russias” are finally, slowly but surely realising that there is a truth in the world that is not the “truth” of the Kremlin. That there is another way of organising a society than that which has been forced upon them by Muscovy for centuries. The countries and nations that had been subjugated to the “Muscovite Yoke” are incrementally breaking away and making it successfully in the modern “free” world. That Ukraine, the seat of the original great principality of Kievan Rus [the legacy of which was stolen and warped by Muscovy] was moving away from Muscovite control, precipitated a crisis. If the so called “Little Russians” can embrace change in the organisation of their society - what will stop the so called “Great Russians” from following suit? [Incidentally the Muscovites coined the terms “Little and Great Russians”. The inhabitants of Ukraine and Belarus were originally called “Rusi” or “Ruthenes” as opposed to the “Rossiyani” further east in the Principalities of Pskov, Novgorod, Muscovy etc.]

10. The "Muscovite mindset" also appears to be quite racist. This explains the pre-occupation with the West and particularly the USA as the "Main Adversary"; whereas a more logical conclusion would be that the primary threat to Russia, in terms of sovereignty (economic and political) is from China. But the Muscovite tends to look down arrogantly on non-Europeans (conveniently forgetting his own historic tutelage at the hands of the Mongols). However, it is because of this that the "Muscovite mindset" views the Chinese political system as similar to its own and thus not a threat in the way the Western political system is, in its potential to undermine the control of the Kremlin through its (perceived insidious) appeal to the masses.
 
The Economist edition of 13th-19th November carried a very useful leader piece and then also an expanded briefing article on repression in Russia.

They really underscore how the above explained "Muscovite Mindset" has such a pernicious effect on the Russian peoples. It also shows that the Kremlin sees that the greatest threat to its rule and the continued ascendancy of the "Muscovite Mindset" over the Russian peoples, comes from the ruled over subjects and not from external sources. The external threat is played up to justify internal repression.


And


For those who cannot access, see below:

20211113_LDD002_0.jpg

Vladimir Putin

Russia’s new era of repression

It will lead to confrontation with the West

Editor’s note: On November 11th, after The Economist was published, Memorial, the human-rights group mentioned in this editorial, announced that Russian prosecutors have demanded it be shut down.

ANDREI SAKHAROV, a Soviet dissident and physicist, used to argue that repression at home invariably becomes instability abroad. His own life was evidence of it. His internal exile was lifted in 1986 by Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, who as the architect of glasnost released political prisoners and tolerated free speech. It was no accident that Mr Gorbachev’s rejection of repression coincided with the end of the cold war.

Today Sakharov’s thesis is being demonstrated once again—in reverse. According to Memorial, a human-rights group, Russia has more than twice as many political prisoners than at the end of the Soviet era. Memorial, which Sakharov helped set up to document Soviet abuses, has itself been branded a “foreign agent” and attacked by state-sponsored thugs.

At the same time, Russia’s relations with the West have also entered a dark period. In order to justify repression at home, President Vladimir Putin is telling his people that Western policy is designed to obliterate the Russian way of life. Mr Putin now builds in cold-war confrontation to his dealings with the West. Its leaders need to prepare for what comes next.

The latest phase of repression began in 2020 with the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most famous political prisoner, and winner last month of the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought. Mr Navalny survived the attack, only to be incarcerated and abused in Penal Colony No 2, one of the country’s harshest jails.

Since then, Mr Navalny’s organisation has been outlawed and much of his team chased out of the country. Those who stayed are being pursued. On November 9th Lilia Chanysheva was arrested and now faces ten years in prison for having worked for Mr Navalny while his organisation was still legal. The net is spreading beyond politics. The same day, Sergei Zuev, the 67-year-old head of the top liberal university in Russia, who is recovering from heart treatment, was taken from house arrest to a prison cell, perhaps to force a false confession in a fabricated case.

A third of the Russian government’s budget is spent on security and defence. Much of this is directed inwards, at the sort of people The Economist features this week in a documentary film (see economist.com/russia-film): people who have had enough of Mr Putin’s rule and the corruption of his regime. As incomes have fallen and discontent has grown, so Russia’s many police and security services have swollen. With 10% more staff than in 2014, they now outnumber Russia’s active-duty military forces.

For Mr Putin, repression does not have a reverse gear. He will not be able to restore the prosperity that helped buoy his ratings during his first decade in power. True, the fortress economy that the Kremlin has developed since 2014 can withstand sanctions, especially when energy prices are high, as now. But Russia, which is more like Iran than China, does not have the dynamism to generate sustained, robust growth.

Hence the logic of confrontation. Soviet rulers waged the cold war from atop the ideology of communism. Russia’s securocrats assert that traditional values of family, culture and history are being corrupted by the liberal and licentious West and that only they can defend them. Fighting back against the West lets the Kremlin portray all those who oppose it—journalists, human-rights lawyers and activists—as foreign agents. In this way, Mr Putin’s regime depends on anti-Western ideology for its politics just as it depends on oil and gas for its prosperity.

Dictators insist that how they treat their subjects is a question of sovereignty. In fact, repression is everyone’s business. One reason is that human rights are universal. The other is that violence at home spreads beyond a country’s frontiers.

Both Russia and Belarus, where the dictator Alexander Lukashenko is propped up by the Kremlin, have murdered dissidents abroad. Russia shot down a passenger plane and Belarus hijacked one to arrest a local dissident. Poland and Lithuania have sheltered the Belarusian opposition in self-exile. Backed by the Kremlin, Mr Lukashenko is taking revenge by flying in refugees from the Middle East and shunting them to its borders to engineer a humanitarian crisis.

On a greater scale, Mr Putin meddles in Western elections, peddles anti-vaccine propaganda and fights proxy wars with America in Africa and the Middle East. He is using the promise of extra supplies of gas to weaken ties between the European Union and countries like Ukraine and Moldova. He has once again massed troops on the Ukrainian border and is flying nuclear-capable bombers to Belarus.

The good news is that just as most of the Soviet people did not believe in the advantages of communism over capitalism, so most Russians do not believe in the advantages of confrontation. For all Mr Putin’s propaganda, two-thirds have a positive view of the West. Nearly 80% say Russia should see it as a partner and a friend. This is most pronounced among the young, who reject state violence and favour human rights instead.

Western politicians should take note of this divergence between the Kremlin and the Russian people. One response is to harmonise sanctions and focus them on the powerful Russians who loot the state and abuse the people. That entails Western countries standing up to the lobbying of their own service industries, which get rich from helping Mr Putin’s cronies launder their reputations, pursue their legal vendettas and shelter their illicit wealth.

Think ahead
They should also start laying the foundations for a post-Putin Russia. Nobody knows whether that will come in years or decades. But it is hard to see Mr Putin’s system surviving him.

The West should therefore invest in people who share its values. It should speak out against human-rights abuses inside Russia. The flood of Russian students, journalists and intellectuals seeking a better life will increase. Western governments should accommodate them. Latvia and Lithuania are hosting independent media outlets and dissidents. Russian students should be welcomed to Western universities. By doing so the West would not just be helping the victims of Mr Putin’s repression, it would also be helping itself. ■

A 15-minute film, “How Putin is silencing his opponents”, is available here. A longer version, “Fearless: The Women Fighting Putin”, a co-production of The Economist and Hardcash Productions for ITV, is available to readers in Britain on ITV's website

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Putin’s new era of repression"



Edited to add: The other article is too big to fit also in this post and will follow.
 
Last edited:
20211113_FBD001_0.jpg


Manacled in Moscow

Vladimir Putin has shifted from autocracy to dictatorship
And Russians across the country are feeling the heat

Editor’s note:
On November 11th, after The Economist was published, Memorial, the human-rights group mentioned throughout this briefing, announced that Russian prosecutors have demanded it be shut down for violating the “foreign agents” law described in the article.

ON OCTOBER 14TH Twins Garden, in Moscow, was among the first Russian restaurants ever to be recognised with Michelin stars. In celebration it treated guests from the beau monde to magnums of Bollinger alongside its signature “sea urchins with citrus and shiso leaves” and innovative “3D-printed bean ‘squid’ with asparagus and black caviar”. From its rooftop terrace overlooking Pushkin Square guests could marvel at Moscow’s beautifully lit skyline. Below them pedestrians strolled along recently repaved streets lined with cafés and boutique shops, or rushed to catch the new production of “Tosca” at the Bolshoi. Delivery bikes sped back and forth attending to the needs of those staying at home—or stuck in their offices.

The diners might also have made out, less than a kilometre away, the building housing Memorial, Russia’s oldest human-rights organisation, which was at the time being stormed by masked thugs. Dozens of them, accompanied by state TV crews, crashed into a screening of “Mr Jones”, a film by Agnieszka Holland, a Polish director, about the famine Stalin inflicted on Ukraine in the early 1930s. The thugs jumped onto the stage and pumped their fists in the air, shouting “shame”, “fascists” and something about Goebbels. When the police arrived, they used a pair of handcuffs to lock the building’s doors closed, sealing the staff inside until the small hours of the morning.

In 1987, when Memorial was set up to document Stalinist repressions, the state was holding about 200 prisoners of conscience. Today, according to Memorial’s count, Russia has at least 410 political prisoners. On the day the Michelin stars were awarded, Vyacheslav Egorov, an activist involved in protests against a landfill site in a historic town near Moscow, was sentenced to 15 months in prison. A few days earlier, Sergei Zuev, the rector of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (known as Shaninka), one of the country’s leading independent universities, was taken to a prison cell from his hospital bed; the university faces closure. After being released and undergoing cardiac treatment he was jailed again on November 9th.

On October 27th Gleb Maryasov, a libertarian activist, was sent to a penal colony for ten months for blocking roads during a protest in January. On October 29th, the day on which the victims of Stalin’s repression are commemorated, four Crimean Tatars were sentenced to 12-17 years in jail. Hardly a day goes by without someone being fined, sent to jail, officially deemed “undesirable” or declared a “foreign agent”, as Memorial has been—a distinction which requires targeted organisations and individuals to preface every public utterance, in capital letters, with these exact words in Russian:

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) IS CREATED AND/OR DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTION OF FOREIGN AGENT.
The increasing number of political prisoners—there are eight times as many as there were six years ago, according to Memorial—is not a return to Soviet form, as the high life which surrounds the repression bears witness. But the people of late-1930s Berlin would find the mixture of the two quite familiar.

Echoes of that era are also to be found in Russia’s official rhetoric of ressentiment and imperial nationalism. They can be recognised in media images of the male body beautiful, encouraging healthy living, and in laws against homosexual propaganda. They were voiced in a recent speech by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, extolling the country’s “spiritual values and historical traditions” and denouncing the decadence of Western liberalism. Mr Putin took the opportunity to praise Ivan Ilyin, a philosopher who in the 1920s embraced Italian fascism as a model for Russia.

Sitting pretty
For much of his rule, Mr Putin was more readily associated with kleptocracy, fakery and cynicism than with a coherent ideology which inserted the state deep into everyday life. During his first decade in power, the 2000s, economic growth—much of it to the benefit of his friends and former KGB colleagues, but significant amounts enjoyed more broadly—provided more or less all the support his regime needed. In his second decade, when growth faded and protests broke out in large cities, nationalist propaganda and anti-Americanism became more prevalent. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in Ukraine kept people entertained, excited and on-side. There was repression, but Russia’s ruling elite was more interested in wealth than violence. Literary-minded Russians could take comfort in lines from “Letters to a Roman Friend” a poem by Joseph Brodsky: “You are saying procurators are all looters, But I’d rather choose a looter than a slayer.”

Mr Putin’s regime is now rendering that distinction moot. As Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader poisoned in August 2020 and jailed this year, recently wrote from his prison cell: “An official taking a bribe and a policeman pulling a bag over the head of a prisoner tied to a chair are one and the same person. His law is the superiority of the strong over the weak. The superiority of the interests of a corporation over the rights of an individual. The willingness to commit crimes as an act of loyalty.”

Grigory Okhotin of OVD-Info, a media and human-rights organisation that monitors political repression and provides legal help to its victims, notes a shift in the government’s tactics. Once it wanted to contain, and by doing so deter, political threats. Now it wants to eliminate them. Political power has shifted from civilian technocrats to militarised and often uniformed “securocrats” happier with violence. The regime has moved from being a consensual autocracy supported by co-option and propaganda to a dictatorship resting on repression and fear.

This aspect of Mr Putin’s power has deep roots. In 2015 it claimed the life of Boris Nemtsov, a liberal opposition politician. Having warned of the lethal danger of Mr Putin’s corruption he was subjected to a hate campaign before being shot dead on a bridge next to the Kremlin. But since the summer of 2020 it has been applied more widely. According to a poll by the Levada Centre, also a “foreign agent”, the fear of repression, now shared by 52% of Russia’s population, and of state violence (58%), are at all-time historic peaks, trumping the fear of losing a job, falling into poverty or being struck by natural disaster.

Politics has been banned. Mr Navalny’s organisation has been crushed and declared “extremist”. His entire team has been forced out of the country; their remaining relatives are harassed and persecuted. The father of Ivan Zhdanov, one of Mr Navalny's right-hand men, was put on trial in October. On November 9th Liliya Chanysheva, a 39-year-old politician who ran one of Mr Navalny’s regional offices, was arrested on a retroactively applied charge of “extremism”. She could face ten years in jail.

Open Russia, a pro-democracy organisation funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former billionaire once jailed and since exiled, has been declared “undesirable” and forced to close. Its former boss, Andrei Pivovarov, is facing six years in jail for Facebook posts. Thousands are denied the right to stand for election because of real or imagined association with Mr Navalny—as are 9m people (8% of the electorate) with previous criminal records or dual citizenship, according to Golos, an election-monitoring outfit that is also a “foreign agent”.

One example is Violetta Grudina, who once worked for Mr Navalny in Murmansk, an Arctic port, and who is profiled in a film produced by The Economist and Hardcash Productions (see economist.com/russia-film). After Mr Navalny’s organisation was banned, she decided to stand as an independent candidate in local elections. Her office was vandalised, she was forced into a covid hospital, and then disqualified for being part of an “extremist organisation”.

The crackdown has not been as harsh as some before it. The regime has not used lethal force—at least not in its own name. Many have been allowed—indeed encouraged—to leave the country. This is not a liquidation, nor is it a tyranny built on a cult of personality. Rather it is something cobbled together to retain power in the face of falling popularity and eroded legitimacy. It is similar in kind, if not yet in resistance and violence, to that of Alexander Lukashenko in neighbouring Belarus. It does not thrive on mass mobilisation and hysteria. Its aim is to suppress crowds not excite them. It neither inspires nor requires enthusiasm in the masses.

Maybe this time
Just as well. Mr Putin’s access to the masses is not the easy matter it once was. He was brought to power by television, which then helped him consolidate his control. The public was dependent on the medium that he monopolised. Anything that was not televised did not exist, which was bad news for opposition figures. And that which did not exist could still, when necessary, be televised—as in the case of Ukrainian “fascists” in Crimea.

20211113_FBC148.png


The rise of the smartphone changed all that. By 2018, 80% of the population was using the internet and 82% of 18- to 44-year-olds were watching YouTube. According to a recent report by Liberal Mission, a think-tank, the share of TV, radio and newspapers in overall media consumption has shrunk from 70% to 45% since the mid-2010s, while online sources’ share has grown from 18% to 45% (see chart 1).

In the same period, trust in Mr Putin has fallen from 60% to 30%. In the 2000s members of the younger generation were among Mr Putin’s most loyal supporters. That has now been reversed (see chart 2), and not just because of internet access. The young feel more disgust at corruption, which deprives them of prospects, and have a more positive view of Europe and America. They resent the state’s increasing intrusions into their lives and they value human rights. But the internet has undoubtedly helped cement those feelings and bring together those who feel that way.

20211113_FBC147.png


One way of looking at the change is by comparing the three waves of protest in 2011-12, 2017 and 2019. The protests of 2011-12, the largest up to that time, were a response to elections seen as rigged and to the return of Mr Putin, who had previously switched from president to prime minister, to his previous office. They were political protests spurred by political events.

The next protests of comparable size, in 2017, were triggered by a YouTube video. An account of the corruption of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister at the time, put together by Mr Navalny, was seen by 4.5% of Russians within a couple of weeks, his supporters say, and its claims were heard by three times as many. Mr Medvedev’s approval rating fell by ten percentage points. Encouraged, Mr Navalny called on people to take to the streets, and they did.

In the Liberal Mission report, Kirill Rogov, a political analyst, argues that “The biggest threat to the regime is not the protest itself, but the reaction of society.” On that basis the 2019 protests were the watershed. Barred from standing himself, Mr Navalny nominated allies to run in Moscow’s local elections. When the Kremlin blocked them, people took to the streets and violence ensued. After the 2017 protests, 40% of the public had sided with the police and only 27% with the protesters. In 2019, 41% sympathised with the protesters and condemned the police violence. The Kremlin lost nearly half of its seats on the city council. The protesters had, for the first time, garnered real support.

That did not mean they were winning. Though Mr Navalny had support in Moscow and some other places, only 20% of Russians approved of him. But 80% now knew who he was. One of the key assets of any autocracy—the apparent absence of any alternative—had been lost. The Russian elite started to talk about succession. So Mr Putin changed the constitution to let himself stay in power indefinitely and reinforced that change with repression.

It has been largely a pre-emptive strategy. Many Russians believe Mr Navalny’s videos showing the extent of the regime’s corruption and think him brave, but few are committed to doing anything about the situation. That is how Mr Putin wants to keep it. The difference in the treatment of those arrested during the protests of 2019 and those arrested in protests at the time of Mr Navalny’s return in January is revealing. In 2019, the vast majority were quickly released with a fine, whereas in 2020 roughly half of the 11,000 arrested were held for up to two weeks. More than 130 criminal cases have been launched in the aftermath, according to OVD-Info.

Facial-recognition technology also allowed the police to make arrests weeks or even months after the main protests—a delayed response that adds to the anxieties of all who participated. Mr Okhotin of OVD-Info argues that such anxiety has become an important instrument of oppression in itself. So has the cynicism of jailing protesters during the pandemic for “violating epidemiological restrictions”, in a country where 80,000 people can be gathered into Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium to cheer Mr Putin. If Mr Navalny tried to inspire a sense of agency, the Kremlin wanted to plunge them back into a state of helplessness.

In 2019 Mr Putin signed a “sovereign internet” law which forced internet providers to install special equipment that allows the state to block, filter and slow down websites. Gregory Asmolov, an expert on the internet at King’s College London, says the goal is not to build a Chinese-style firewall but to influence people’s choices. If people don’t know what they are missing, they will not look for it.

The Kremlin has cracked down on “influencers” and independent media outlets that feed interest in politics, while herding web users towards local social-media networks—which happily share information with the security services—and video-hosting platforms that are easy to control. International services are harried with fines and hobbled with slow download and upload speeds, making video sharing almost impossible. Most Russian opposition figures believe that within two years YouTube will not be available in Russia.

Tomorrow belongs to me
For now the Kremlin seems to have succeeded in applying enough repression, and thus generating enough fear of worse to come, to accomplish its needs.But the screw continues to be turned. For one thing, the repression is not limited to achieving the Kremlin’s political aims; those close to Mr Putin are able to use this machinery for their own ends. Mr Zuev’s persecution, for example, appears to be to some extent collateral damage in a fight between a detained former vice-president of Sberbank, Russia’s largest state bank, and Arkady Rotenberg, one of Mr Putin’s closest business associates.

And Russia’s securocrats are not going to pack their bags and go home when they control a significant and growing chunk of public expenditure. More than 10% of the national budget is spent on internal security. There are a third more police and security staff than active-duty soldiers.

20211113_FBD002_0.jpg


Mariya Omelicheva of the National War College in Washington, DC, points to another self-perpetuating dynamic: she calls it a “repression trap”. Expanding the role of the security services amplifies the Kremlin’s perception of threat at home and abroad, justifying more repression. As long as the regime relies on the demonisation of foreigners—and “foreign agents”—this trap looks set to keep tightening.

So repression worsens even as resistance is held at bay. Protesters know that the people understand the regime’s corruption. According to a Levada survey, 55% found the picture of Mr Putin’s ostentatious wealth and corruption that Mr Navalny posted to YouTube on his return in January convincing. But they also understand that this in itself will not change things, at least not quickly. Only 17% said that the video changed their opinion of Mr Putin for the worse. And increased comforts provide a palliative for some.

On the eve of the last large protest in April, in a candle-lit Moscow café, members of the liberal intelligentsia sat huddled around small tables, bracing themselves for arrest at a protest the following day. Tatiana Gnedovskaya, an art expert, sang for them. Her normal repertoire is Russian and romantic. On that evening, though, she ended her set instead with night-club songs from 1930s Germany. No one needed to ask why. “We, too, have a sense of dark times coming” she said later, “but we continue to live and enjoy our lives while we can.” ■

A 15-minute film, “How Putin is silencing his opponents”, is available here. A longer version, “Fearless: The Women Fighting Putin”, a co-production of The Economist and Hardcash Productions for ITV, is available to readers in Britain on ITV's website

This article appeared in the Briefing section of the print edition under the headline "Manacled in Moscow"
 

SteveLancs

Old-Salt
Why Putin offers gas to keep the Europeans warm this winter is beyond me. Let them freeze. Asia will pay more and be much more grateful.
Also, when Putin retires do you think anyone with a kinder mindset towards the EU will take control?
I doubt it.
 

offog

LE
Why Putin offers gas to keep the Europeans warm this winter is beyond me. Let them freeze. Asia will pay more and be much more grateful.
Also, when Putin retires do you think anyone with a kinder mindset towards the EU will take control?
I doubt it.
Money you muppet. Russia is in financial difficulties since the price of oil fell through the floor. Russia needs the EU more than the EU needs Russia.
 
Money you muppet. Russia is in financial difficulties since the price of oil fell through the floor. Russia needs the EU more than the EU needs Russia.
That's why he reined in Lukashenko for suggesting that he cuts off the gas through Belarus. The Kremlin is desperate to get much of Europe dependent on Russian natural gas. Hence the push for the Nordstream 2 pipeline to complete and to get it approved in German legislation. Also why Schroeder got a fat sinecure at the Russian gas company.

Edited to add: The Russian economy is by and large a feudal rentier one with trusted regime suporters and apparatchiks being given the rights to run certain money spinning industries (most of them extractive) for a cut of the profits and the rest to be apportioned to the Kremlin from which the current man at the top runs the State and a slew of slush funds as well as skimming off what he can for himself. It is like an organised criminal gang running a country.
 
Why Putin offers gas to keep the Europeans warm this winter is beyond me. Let them freeze. Asia will pay more and be much more grateful.
Also, when Putin retires do you think anyone with a kinder mindset towards the EU will take control?
I doubt it.
Probs the same reason you keep spouting anti-vax crap on other threads, what did you do with Yar_s ? He was far more entertaining with his trolling and Russian forecasts.
 

SurviveToFight

Old-Salt
Why Putin offers gas to keep the Europeans warm this winter is beyond me. Let them freeze. Asia will pay more and be much more grateful.
Also, when Putin retires do you think anyone with a kinder mindset towards the EU will take control?
I doubt it.

You tell us, SteveLuhansk. What's the general feeling around the FSB/SVR samovar?
 
President Putin understands very well the cancer that's eating away at Western countries. He is warning them based on Russia's experience in the past.

Can you imagine a Western leader giving such a speech?

 

Latest Threads

Top