By Simon Saradzhyan
Simon Saradzhyan is assistant director of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism and a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.
It seems there has been no Russia watcher left in the world who has not opined on Vladimir Putin’s swift and not so covert moves in the Crimea, pondering: “who’s to blame and what to do?” In times like these it is also as customary for analysts of international affairs to wonder “to whose benefit?” Yet this question remains open even though some of the Western diplomats are already calling the current standoff the biggest crisis in Europe of the 21st century.
By Simon Saradzhyan
Half a year since Vladimir Putin’s election for a third presidential team, it is crystal clear that the expectations of a “Putin 2.0” raised by his aides during the campaign are plain unrealistic (unless, of course, “2” refers to the number of years that some of the more vocal critics of the Kremlin may have to spend in prison).
Putin initially signaled preparedness to accommodate some of the demands for liberalization voiced at the unprecedented protests that galvanized Russian cities in winter. But he has been taking pains since his return to the Kremlin to constrain the ability of the Russian public to rally for changes in the way he has run the country since 2000. Indeed, no leader voluntarily reinvents himself or his system of governance late in his rule and Putin is no exception, as a paper I have co-written to preview Putin’s return to power notes.
When asked whether there will be “tightening of the screws” three days after his victory in the March 4 poll, Putin said, laughingly: “Of course. How can we do without it? Don’t relax.” That turned out to be no joke. Not only did Putin backtrack on some of the promises of liberalization floated during the peak of the protests, but the state’s law-enforcement machine began to toughen their treatment of protesters, disrupting a rally held in Moscow one day before Putin’s May 7th inauguration even though it was authorized by the city authorities. Read more
By Simon Saradzhyan
Belfer Center Research Fellow
This August, Russia, Georgia and its breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia commemorate the fourth anniversary of the war that they fought in 2008.
But while the mood has been predictably festive in Moscow and the two provinces, which prevailed in that war, there has already been, as Russians say, at least one spoonful of tar in the barrel filled with honey. Anonymous authors have posted a ‘documentary’ on Youtube, in which three former high-ranking Russian commanders accuse Russia’s then Commander-in-Chief Dmitry Medvedev of indecisiveness during the initial stage of the 2008 war. The documentary doesn’t only criticize Medvedev, but also lauds his mentor and Russia’s current Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin as playing a decisive role in preparing a plan to repel Georgia and then ordering its execution. The incumbent president’s response to these claims indicates that his PR strategists may be seeking not only to boost Putin’s ratings, but also to offer a more convincing explanation as to why he had to come back to the Kremlin four years after stepping down and backing Medvedev to succeed him as Russia’s president. Read more
By Simon Saradzhyan and Nabi Abdullaev
(Updated Monday, March 5, 2012)
There was little doubt that Vladimir Putin would be elected president of Russia on Sunday and return to the Kremlin for a third term. The Central Elections Committee announced on Monday that Putin won more than 60 percent of the vote and avoided a second round. But there is also little doubt that the legitimacy of his presidency will be contested during his third term, given the scale of recent protests against his return and strong criticism of the Sunday vote, which some of the opposition leaders and independent observers condemned as unfair and fraudulent. Read more