11/12 Weekly Roundup

Dear Readers,

The stunning election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America throws into question the entire strategic foundation of U.S. policy toward Russia and broader Euro-Atlantic security since the end of the Cold War. The latest edition of our Weekly Roundup pulls together the most cogent analyses in the past week attempting to shine a light on the possible ways forward amid these uncertain times. As always, thanks for reading and enjoy.

The number one reason to fix U.S.-Russian relations” by Josh Cohen (Reuters, 11 November 2016)

Here’s how Trump’s election will affect U.S.-Russian relations” by Joshua Tucker et al. (The Washington Post, 10 November 2016)

Why Russia has no reason to celebrate a Trump presidency yet” by Ivan Tsvetkov (Russia Direct, 10 November 2016)

The Paradox of Russia’s Support for Trump” by Maxim Trudolyubov (Kennan Institute, 10 November 2016)

Trump’s Victory Bodes Well for US-Russia Ties, But Expect No Tectonic Shifts” by Simon Saradzhyan and William Tobey (Russia Matters, 10 November 2016)

The Trump presidency: How will it affect ties with Russia?” by Fred Weir (Christian Science Monitor, 10 November 2016)

Surviving the Trumpocalypse: first thoughts…” by Mark Galeotti (In Moscow’s Shadows, 9 November 2016)

What does a Trump presidency mean for Russia?” by Chris Weafer (Business New Europe, 9 November 2016)

The Art of the Deal: Russia Is Keen For Trump’s Ad Hoc Diplomacy” by Vladimir Frolov (The Moscow Times, 9 November 2016)

Russia’s leaders have no idea how to handle Trump” by Evgeny Minchenko (Center on Global Interests, 7 November 2016)

Cordially,

Elisey and Peter 

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Image Credit: Open Democracy Russia

10/22 Weekly Roundup

Dear Readers, 

Enjoy our latest edition of the Weekly Roundup, a collection of must-read articles on U.S.-Russian relations and the broader Eurasia region compiled at The Elicitor each week. Make sure to check out this interview with Cliff Kupchan for an insightful take on the current state of U.S.-Russian relations, courtesy of the Eurasia Group. Also, see our media page for a video blowing up social media: a four-year-old Russian girl named Bella speaking seven different languages. We encourage you to share this newsletter with family, friends, and colleagues, subscribe to the Weekly Roundup, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Thanks for reading and enjoy! 

A Race for an Unknown Prize” by Maxim Trudolyubov (Kennan Institute, 20 October 2016)

Whodunnit? Russia and Coercion Through Cyberspace” by Robert Morgus (War On The Rocks, 19 October 2016)

The Big Draw: Selling the Soviet Past” by Andrew North (Eurasianet, 19 October 2016)

Putin’s paranoia: fear and loathing inside the Kremlin” by Maeve Shearlaw (The Guardian, 18 October 2016)

Fort Ross forum: Fostering a new dialogue between Russia and the US” by Pavel Koshkin (Russia Direct, 18 October 2016)

Russia’s Syria Policy Upsets Central Asian Muslims” by Uran Botobekov (The Diplomat, 18 October 2016)

Corruption Is Killing Ukraine’s Economy” by Kenneth Rapoza (Forbes, 14 October 2016)

Putin’s Response Options to U.S. Cyber Attack” by Jeffrey Carr (Medium, 14 October 2016)

America’s Russia Policy Has Failed” by Thomas Graham and Matthew Rojansky (Foreign Policy, 13 October 2016)

Putin Urging Russian Officials to Return to Russia” by Bethania Palma (Snopes, 12 October 2016)

International Society and World Orders” by Richard Sakwa (Valdai Discussion Club, 11 October 2016)

Labor Conflicts in Russia Almost Double” (Sean’s Russia Blog, 11 October 2016)

Russia, China Can Help Kashmir Tensions” by Dmitri Trenin (Carnegie Moscow Center, 10 October 2016)

The South Caucasus Unfreezes” by Jeffrey Mankoff (Foreign Affairs, 10 October 2016)

Dealing with a simmering Ukraine-Russia conflict” by Fiona Hill and Steven Pifer (Brookings Institution, 6 October 2016)

Daughterland: Erotic patriotism and Russia’s future” by Maria Engstrom (Intersection, 27 September 2016)

Cordially,

Elisey and Peter

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Photo Source: Intersection

10/1 Weekly Roundup

Dear Readers, 

Enjoy our latest edition of the Weekly Roundup, a collection of must-read articles on U.S.-Russian relations and the broader Eurasia region compiled at The Elicitor each week. Make sure to check out the latest essay from Guest Contributor Julian G. Waller on recent parliamentary elections in Belarus. Also, see our media page for a new recurring segment titled ‘To Infinity and Beyond The Headlines,” which highlights a few of the most eclectic stories covered in regional media over the last few weeks. We encourage you to share this newsletter with family, friends, and colleagues, subscribe to the Weekly Roundup, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Trump Through Russian Eyes” by Nina Krushcheva (Project Syndicate, 29 September 2016)

What Is Russia Up To, and Is It Time to Draw the Line?” by David Sanger (The New York Times, 29 September 2016)

Russia’s Next Move on Ukraine” by Dmitri Trenin (Carnegie Moscow Center, 27 September 2016)

Greenland’s receding icecap to expose top-secret US nuclear project” by Jon Henley (The Guardian, 27 September 2016) 

How Stable is Russia? Part 1” by Aaron Schwartzbaum (Bear Market Brief, 26 September 2016)

Uzbekistan: New Leader Carrying Out Personnel Overhaul” (Eurasianet, 26 September 2016)

Beyond utopia: rediscovering the lost legacy of Soviet design” by Tom Cubbin (The Calvert Journal, 26 September 2016)

Poland and cooperation with Turkey in the European Neighborhood” (Charles University in Prague, September 2016)

My experiences traveling as a black woman in Russia” by Oneika Raymond (Oneika the Traveller, 18 July 2016)

The State of Russian Studies in the United States” (ASEEES, July 2015)

Cordially,

Elisey and Peter

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Photo Source: The Guardian

September 2016: To Infinity and Beyond The Headlines

The International Practical Shooting Confederation of Russia performed a variety of classical and folksy music using Glocks (RT). 

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A Moldovan criminal group attempted to smuggle over 10,000 packs of cigarettes into Romania with a mini motorized airplane (Crime Moldova, independent.md).

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Ten dancers from Kemerovo, Novokuznetsk, and Novosibirsk competed in a ‘twerk’ competition at a bar in the Siberian city of Kemerovo (Monavista, a42.ru).

Bus drivers of Stary Oskol in the Belgorod region of Russia staged a vehicle-flashmob spelling out ‘Putin, Help” in protest against a city decision to terminate a contract with the largest carrier in the area over poor quality of services (Radio Svoboda). 

9/24 Weekly Roundup

Dear Readers, 

Enjoy our latest edition of the Weekly Roundup, a collection of must-read articles on U.S.-Russian relations and the broader Eurasia region compiled at The Elicitor each week. Guest Contributor Julian G. Waller follows up with another essay on legislative elections in the post-Soviet space: the implications of two new opposition parliamentarians in Belarus. Also, please take a minute to sign a petition against the Sept. 5 decision to brand the Russian pollster Levada Center a ‘foreign agent.’ We encourage you to share this newsletter with family, friends, and colleagues, subscribe to the Weekly Roundup, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

That brief U.S.-Russia strategic partnership 15 years ago? New interviews reveal why it derailed” by Andrew Kuchins (The Washington Post, 23 September 2016)

Russia: let’s improve Baltic air safety! NATO: No thanks, we’ll pass” by Danielle Ryan, 23 September 2016)

Clinton’s New Hard Line on Moscow” by Molly O’Toole (Foreign Policy, 22 September 2013)

The Ebbing of Democracy in the Western Balkans” by Judy Dempsey (Carnegie Europe, 22 September 2016)

Color Commentary on Russia” by Jay Ogivly (Stratfor, 21 September 2016)

Unveiling the KGB school of economic management” by Ben Aris (bne IntelliNews, 21 September 2016)

Authoritarianism by Stealth: Russia After the Duma Elections” by Alexander Baunov (Carnegie Moscow, Center 21 September 2016) 

A fresh start for a new version of the KGB” by Ekaterina Grobman (Russia Direct, 20 September 2016)

The Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union: Geopolitics, Geo-Economics and Opportunities for Europe” by Sijbren de Jong (Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, September 2016)

Социально-экономическое развитие России: обретение новой динамики” by Dmitri Medvedev (Вопросы экономики, 2016)

Cordially, 

Elisey and Peter

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Photo Source: BBC

The Slightest Crack in the Rubber-Stamp: Belarus’ Almost-Unsurprising Parliamentary Election

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Among the states of Eurasia, contemporary Belarus is perhaps the closest in resemblance to the old Soviet Union. It remains a highly authoritarian country under the firm control of President Aleksandr Lukashenka, a collective farm boss who reversed a brief period of democratization in the mid-1990s. Having ruled for more than two decades, Lukashenka has maintained a polity dominated by state-owned corporations, a powerful and repressive security apparatus still called the KGB, and a political system totally dominated by his own loyalists. Through well-executed bouts of elite purging, he has managed to prevent the rise of independent oligarchs, has successfully undermined civil society, and has stymied efforts at rival power-bases emerging within or without state institutions.

A perfect example of Lukashenka’s absolute grip on a country whose main journalistic cliche is the tired phrase ‘Europe’s last dictatorship,’ is its barren and hollow legislature – the Belarusian House of Representatives. Having eschewed creating an institutionalized regime party long ago – as Lukashenka has really never needed one to ensure control – the parliament is made up almost entirely of ‘independent’ deputies who are personally loyal to the president. Looking more like the old Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies than a modern legislative organ, the House of Representatives is an institution utterly devoid of political content. The body ritualistically passes every law it sees, has no control over the state budget (a critical power that legislature’s often need in order to act as effective checks against the executive), and has been filled with only loyalist deputies since 2000.

September 11th’s parliamentary election in general followed the traditional script of authoritarian elections that has dominated Belarus for the majority of its history as an independent state. Turnout was at its usual rate of just under 75% – with over 30% of ballots having been cast early, a process which makes detecting fraud more difficult. The vast majority of elected deputies were unaffiliated independents, with a smattering coming from various professional associations and many either bureaucrats or state-owned company managers. On a more positive note, 38 out of the 110 seats will be filled by women, giving the legislature a respectable 34% female representation that is not always achieved in democracies. Additionally, only 28 deputies had sat in the previous parliament – one could almost optimistically note that new loyalist faces are better than old ones.

The big news in the election, however, is the victory of two actual opposition figures to the parliament. According to official figures, Anna Konopatskaya of the long-oppositional United Civic Party and Elena Anisim of the Belarusian Language Society (a civil society organization) both won their districts, with 23.7% and 40.5% of the vote, respectively. 2 out of 110 does not seem like much, and it surely does not presage any kind of major liberalization from Lukashenka’s hardline regime, but it is a notable event nonetheless. Belarus’ opposition activists and parties are infamously fractious and divided, with little true support across the country (borne out even in pro-opposition polling).

Most discussion thus far has rightly focused on the reason that this – even if only symbolic – result was allowed at all by a regime thoroughly capable of ensuring only loyalist victories. Many attest that this is a cosmetic effort to appease Western governments by holding broadly fraud-free, nonviolent elections with tiny opposition achievements, a tactic that had been deployed to similar effect during the last presidential election. In a country as closed as Belarus, with total media domination, legitimate fears of repression, employment dependent on the state, and a feckless opposition, actual ballot fraud is often simply not necessary to get the desired outcome. Perhaps this will be the excuse the West needs to justify further cooperation and economic support for the country.

Others have pointed to seeing these two minor opposition victories as largely meaningless, and that there can be no change without the destruction of the regime. Therefore, talking about these results distracts from the real struggle against authoritarianism. Others have worried that the victories will legitimize dictatorial institutions, that winning in and of itself is a form of antidemocratic, immoral compromise.

What few have noted so far is what this means for Belarus’ rubber-stamp parliament itself. The addition of two deputies from the opposition should not change the broad functioning of the institution as a mechanism for rote passage. Two deputies are not enough to deny quorum, to obstruct or delay legislation, or demand any sort of concessions or compromises. Two are not even enough to cause trouble through physical violence or disruptive tactics – often the recourse of larger opposition parties in non-democratic regimes. The committee system of the Belarusian legislature is undeveloped to say the least, and there are simply no institutional means by which two figures can achieve much of anything, nor should we have this expectation.

Under such circumstances, a common tactic for such minute oppositions is to simply boycott the institution, staking a moral position despite their election. Research shows, however, that this is usually a mistake when the opposition is small – a gesture serving only to strengthen the moral feelings of oppositional true-believers. Instead, the two will be most impactful by remaining as voices in the chamber, giving speeches and adding a discordant note to otherwise blandly unanimous support for the regime. This kind of tactic is not a guaranteed thing – there are many ways for a parliament speaker to prevent floor speeches if they desire – and there is no assurance that the average person will ever learn of what is said in the chamber, as that will depend on domestic media. Yet if the Belarusian opposition wishes to get anything out of their new, nominal inclusion in a long-closed national political institution, we should expect to see these deputies to make the most of their positions through symbolic actions that do not threaten their foothold within the parliament. Furthermore, sustained socialization between these members of the opposition and the sea of regime loyalists – as well as a newfound treating of a parliamentary seat as meaningful – may provide for unintended consequences over the course of this legislative session.

These parliamentary elections in Belarus are no game-changer for the regime, nor any kind of sign that President Lukashenka’s grip on power is loosening. The Belarusian House of Representatives will continue in its role as a rubber-stamp, and political power will remain firmly in the domain of the presidency and the powerful ministries of state. And yet, even the slightest change in the composition of the submissive deputies that populate this quasi-Soviet institution can provide new opportunities for political actors long-marginalized in Belarusian society. This signals a new arena through which watchers of Belarus’ highly restrictive politics will look to, and may just reinvigorate – if however slightly – a long-emasculated legislative institution.

Julian G. Waller is a fourth-year Ph.D student at George Washington University whose research focuses on formal political institutions in hybrid regimes and electoral authoritarianism with a regional interest in post-communist Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet space.

Photo Source: RFE/RL

9/17 Weekly Roundup

Dear Readers,

Enjoy our latest edition of the Weekly Roundup, a collection of must-read articles on U.S.-Russian relations and the broader Eurasia region compiled at The Elicitor each week. Make sure to read our most recent essay publication written by Guest Contributor Julian G. Waller in time for the Russian parliamentary elections this weekend. We encourage you to share this newsletter with family, friends, and colleagues, subscribe to the Weekly Roundup, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Polite Farmers and Gentleman Truckers at the Moscow Court” by Maxim Trudolyubov (Kennan Institute, 16 September 2016)

Russia at the Heart of a Conspiracy Theory Dividing Poland” by Ola Cichowlas (The Moscow Times, 16 September 2016)

Goodbye, Bastrykin? Work a Little Harder, Steal a Little Less” by Mark Galeotti (oDR, 15 September 2016) 

Combined Military Operations: The Practical Challenges of U.S.-Russia Cooperation in Syria (Part II)” by Michael Purcell (Center on Global Interests, 15 September 2016)

Origins of the war in Donbass” by Paul Robinson (Irrussianality, 14 September 2016)

Interview with Yabloko Duma Candidate Dmitri Gudkov” (sports.ru, 14 September 2016)

From Russia to MIT” by Caroline Knox (MIT News, 14 September 2016)

Why China Subsidizes Loss-Making Rail Transport via Russia and Kazakhstan” by Ivan Zuenko (Carnegie Moscow Center, 13 September 2016)

Gorgeous Maps of an Ugly War” by Tanvi Misra (CityLab, 9 September 2016)

Ukraine’s Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” by Nicolai Petro (The National Interest, 7 September 2016)

Cordially,

Elisey and Peter

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Photo Source: MIT News

9/10 Weekly Roundup

Dear Readers,

Enjoy our latest edition of the Weekly Roundup, a collection of must-read articles on U.S.-Russian relations and the broader Eurasia region compiled at The Elicitor each week. Make sure to read our most recent essay publication written by Guest Contributor Julian G. Waller on the implications of the upcoming Duma elections for Putin’s regime. We encourage you to share this newsletter with family, friends, and colleagues, subscribe to the Weekly Roundup, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Thanks for reading and enjoy! 

Preserving the Calm in Russia’s Muslim Community” by Alexey Malashenko (Carnegie Moscow Center, 9 September 2016) 

How ‘The State’ Survived the Collapse of the Soviet Union” by William Pomeranz (Kennan Institute, 8 September 2016)

Russia builds on G20 success in push to shed sanctions” by Nick Allen (IntelliNews, 8 September 2016)

Causes and Impact of Post-Soviet Collapse” by Tatzhit (Fort Russ, 7 September 2016)

Sure, the U.S. and Russia often meddle in foreign elections. Does it matter?” by Dov Levin (The Washington Post, 7 September 2016)

Russia: How to exercise political control” by Katherin Hille (Financial Times, 7 September 2016)

The Kremlin Really Believes That Hillary Wants to Start a War With Russia” by Clinton Ehlrich (Foreign Policy, 7 September 2016)

Magazine Defends Pro-Kremlin Piece” by Hayes Brown (Buzzfeed, 8 September 2016)

How to write a Russia ‘realist’ article” by Jim Kovpak (Russia Without BS, 7 September 2016)

Interview to Bloomberg” by Vladimir Putin (Kremlin, 5 September 2016)

Cordially,

Elisey and Peter

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Photo Source: Siberian Times