Letter From the Editors: Jan. 25 - 31, 2016

Author: Laurence Bogoslaw

You Can't Play a Game on an Empty Field: Putin's Domestic and Foreign Quandaries

Late last year, Yekaterina Shulman described Russia as a "hybrid autocracy" (in the same category as Turkey, by the way) - a country that has multiple political parties, holds elections on a regular basis, and claims to have an independent judiciary and law-enforcement system, but in reality all major decisions come from the top executive level. Aleksandr Kynev's analysis of changes that took place in Russia in 2015 seems to confirm this idea: "The executive branch continues to gain more and more power, increasing the institutional disparity with other branches.***

We continue to observe the overall institutional weakening of political parties and nongovernmental organizations."

This week's news from the domestic front is replete with examples. Nikolai Epple analyzes the intentionally problematic definition of "political activity" as outlined in the Law on Nonprofit Organizations (it seems that even apolitical activities like science, medicine and art can become "political" if their practitioners engage in any kind of teamwork). Meanwhile, according to media reports, the Russian authorities are planning to shell out hundreds of rubles to implement an "anticrisis plan," including up to 340 billion "to keep a lid on social discontent."

While the overall context of these repressive measures is an economic crisis, prompted largely by a steep drop in oil prices, the obvious goal (says Kynev) is "to clear the political field of any independent players, making sure no new players emerge and existing ones don't get stronger."

Given President Vladimir's Putin uncontested power in the domestic arena, his "field-clearing" efforts have been largely successful. However, his attempts to accomplish something similar in Syria - to clear the country of political opposition factions that want to oust perennial leader Bashar Assad - have been both thwarted and criticized by other players on all sides. For example, ...

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