Letter From the Editors: Sept. 11 - 17, 2017

Author: Matthew Larson

Who’s Calling the Shots in the Kremlin?

Putin’s about-face last week on the issue of an international peacekeeping presence in Ukraine still has many analysts scratching their heads. Initially categorically opposed to the idea, especially Ukraine’s concept of it, Putin last week suddenly ordered Russia’s diplomats to submit draft resolutions to the UN Security Council outlining a scenario for deploying armed peacekeepers to protect the OSCE monitoring mission operating along the demarcation line. But is this a genuine effort by the Kremlin to make progress toward resolving the conflict or just another attempt to leverage the situation in its favor, putting the ball back in Ukraine’s court with some added spin on it? Tatyana Stanovaya says the whole Donetsk Basin peace process is becoming a farce: "Every peace initiative turns out to be not so much a step toward compromise as an attempt to expand or defend one’s position."

Putin’s unexpected decision is part of a wider pattern of recent abstruse Kremlin decision-making, says Nabi Abdullayev. He says that while in the past, Kremlin watchers focused mainly on trying to figure out the ranking within "the informal court of Putin’s personal friends-turned-billionaires," now the more relevant but currently equally unproductive exercise is figuring out what the Kremlin’s decision-making process looks like. Even the old exercise of determining who is in Putin’s inner circle, and what role, influence and standing these members have is becoming more convoluted as some long-standing high-profile courtiers are getting sidelined ahead of the 2018 presidential election.

Gubernatorial elections held on Sept. 10 brought sweeping victories for Putin appointees, who received an average of 76.3% of the vote. The high margins, with a turnout of 35.8%, bring risks for the Kremlin, political analysts comment. Dmitry Oreshkin says manipulation was used to achieve more turnout in areas that benefit the Kremlin and less turnout in areas that could hurt it. But ...

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