In the MEDIA

Russia’s foreign intelligence service has a new director. What can we expect from Igor Kostyukov?

By Tatiana Stanovaya, for RIDDLE

On November 22 news emerged that Igor Korobov, head of the Main Directorate of the General Staff (the military intelligence service more commonly known as the GRU), had passed away after a prolonged illness. First deputy vice-admiral Igor Kostyukov was appointed acting head of the service. Russian media, even referring to their own sources unanimously assert that Kostyukov will eventually become Korobov’s official successor. What awaits Russia’s foreign intelligence service after Korobov’s death, and what should be known about its new director?

Let’s start with a few important points. Firstly the GRU, much like any other secret service, is a conservative organisation which takes a dim view of any attempts at reform or significant reshuffles of personnel. Consequently, Korobov’s successor is a subordinate deemed close to his former boss, and one with a deep knowledge of military intelligence. Kostyukov served as deputy head of the GRU until the very last moment, and also stood in for Korobov when his illness got worse.

Kostyukov also supervised the GRU’s activities in Syria, an issue so important to Vladimir Putin that dealing with it suggests regular contact with the Russian president. In 2017 he was awarded the Hero of Russia medal. As such the main goal of the Russian authorities here appears to be guaranteeing the continuity and stability of the GRU’s work.

Biographical details about Kostyukov are scarce. He was born on February 21, 1961 in the Amur Region. A source close to the Ministry of Defence told RBK that upon graduating from the Military-Diplomatic Academy, Kostyukov served as a military attache and then worked for the GRU. The journalist Sergey Kanev wrote in a Facebook post that Kostyukov is the youngest of all serving generals, that he was previously resided in Italy, and that he now oversees the war in Syria. Kostyukov’s son Oleg once worked at the Russian Embassy in Italy. Kanev earlier suggested that another deputy director of the GRU, Sergey Gizunov from St Petersburg, was a contender to Korobov’s position.

RBK drew particular attention to the anti-American character of Kostyukov’s rhetoric. When Kostyukov spoke at the Sixth Moscow Conference on International Security in April 2018, he declared that Donald Trump’s administration seeks to obtain preferential treatment in political and economic affairs by force. Kostyukov went on to call the US Navy’s carrier strike groups and strategic bombers the main instruments of Washington’s foreign policy. However, it should be emphasised that in the current situation the entire Russian elite, and particularly its military and security officials, are anti-American and anti-western in general. In these circumstances, moderation is regarded with suspicion and seen as evidence of unreliability. Ivan Safronov, a special correspondent for Kommersant FM who was present at the conference, noted that Kostyukov spoke as a rapporteur about the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific Region and reported on the issue of North Korea. At the same time, Kostyukov gave a highly informative presentation on the situation in the Middle East and the circumstances of forces present there, with a particular focus on Iraq and Syria.

The second key point is that the GRU now operates under significant pressure after high-profile revelations about the outright failures of its previous work. Nevertheless, it’s important to note Putin’s personal reverence for intelligence officers; in his eyes, whatever mistakes or incompetence they may have shown, they are true heroes. Several observers have already suggested that the arrival of Kostyukov spells reform for the GRU, which may lead to its weakening. Alexander Kolpakidi, a historian of the Russian security services, said in an interview with Kommersant FM that the country’s military intelligence service might even lose some of its current functions: “Reshuffles, changes, and some reforms have probably even begun. I’m sure they’ll try to get rid of all the blunders and ensure they are not repeated in future. The fact that the GRU turned out to be involved in such scandals is surprising; in the Soviet period a competing security agency, now called the SVR but then known as the PSU, was known for them. I think it’s most likely that the GRU will stop dealing with these issues.”

Instead, it may be more logical to expect the opposite: a performative strengthening of the GRU, a move indirectly confirmed by Vladimir Putin’s proposal to restore its former name, the “Main Intelligence Directorate.” In this regard, the GRU has two major advantages. Firstly, it maintains its own operational combat units, which is important given that Russia is involved in a number of active conflicts. Secondly, the role of the Ministry of Defence has markedly increased. This is an important fact given the psychology of Putin, who prefers to entrust critically important jobs to those he strongly trusts. This means that the GRU is now under the patronage of Sergey Shoigu. The Minister of Defence is rightly called the most influential security official in Russia today, despite occasional rumours of the president’s displeasure with this or that mistake in his work. For Putin, Russia’s strategic military power is a critically important issue, and one in which the GRU’s scientific and technical intelligence plays a central role.

Thirdly, there’s no doubt that we should expect increased competition between the GRU and the SVR (the two agencies are traditional rivals.) Kommersant’s source in the General Staff said that Igor Kostyukov “would have to establish relations with his ‘parallel,” meaning the SVR, with which the GRU had clashed in recent years due to the difference in their working methods. In particular, the military believed that the SVR was primarily engaged in ‘desk intelligence work,’ while the GRU went out and unearthed real information using a wide network of agents and informers, thus playing a significant role in international relations. This leak to Kommersant neatly sums up the GRU’s point of view.

However, it is important to bear in mind the SVR’s approach. A number of media outlets wrote that the agency has tried to distance itself from the failures of the GRU, even dropping hints to western counterparts that it had not played a part in its competitor’s staggeringly incompetent escapades. For the SVR, the latest scandals are a blow not only to the “guys from the GRU,” but to all the country’s intelligence agencies. But it will not be easy to encourage Putin to take concrete political decisions to resolve the problem, whether structural reforms or personnel changes. The SVR today is led by Sergey Naryshkin, a “technocrat” who came to the position in 2016. Naryshkin’s new role was less an “appointment” in the full sense of the word but rather compensation for his losing the post of Speaker of the Duma. His current political influence cannot be compared with Shoigu’s. Therefore, even if the Kremlin does pay attention to the SVR’s moaning, it is far more likely to work with the GRU on mending its ways than to reallocate influence to the SVR’s benefit. Nonetheless, the SVR does have one advantage: the head of the agency is a political appointee unlike the head of the GRU, so enjoys direct contact with the president.

While Kostyukov’s appointment should not be seen as a catalyst for wider personnel or structural changes in the GRU, it will mark a trend towards reducing the vulnerability of the military intelligence service, fixing errors, and improving its overall efficiency. At the same time Kostyukov, much like anybody else appointed as head of the GRU, will focus on stabilising the agency’s influence in order to strengthen its position among Russia’s defence and security establishment. Even if Putin decides in favour of significant structural changes to the country’s security agencies (which has been expected for a long time), military intelligence will continue to occupy a central place in whatever balance of power emerges. There is no point in waiting for its influence to abate.


Commentary for Carnegie Moscow center

How the Kremlin Ceded Control Over Russia’s Social Agenda

Amid painful economic choices, political elites and government officials in Russia are growing distant from the public. Meanwhile, the mainstream media’s coverage of social issues is becoming increasingly alarmist, a sign that the Kremlin is losing control over Russia’s social agenda. With its response to social issues a mix of contempt and indifference, it seems that the government’s new maxim and the defining principle of Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term is “the state doesn’t owe you anything.”
A look at mainstream media headlines in Russia shows that while the Kremlin expends significant energy in promoting its national security and foreign policy agenda, it is almost completely oblivious to social issues. Indeed, in Russia, the mainstream media mainly focus on three areas: the president and, to a lesser extent, his cabinet; military and diplomatic conflicts abroad; and the lack of alternatives to the current regime. These three pillars have defined the Kremlin’s information policy for the past six years.

Missing from this list is the government’s social policy, something the mainstream media once vigorously defended during Vladimir Putin’s first two presidential terms. Discussion of social policy gave way to the promotion of innovation and modernization under President Dmitry Medvedev before disappearing from the headlines entirely following the annexation of Crimea, which unleashed a wave of euphoria that sustained the regime for several years. It allowed the Kremlin to maintain a high approval rating while neglecting social issues amid unfavorable economic conditions.

As post-Crimea euphoria has receded, causing the public to shift its attention from the television to the refrigerator, the issues of social injustice and declining standards of living have come to the fore. The Kremlin has opted against actively addressing social issues and ceased to manage its coverage in the mainstream media, bringing about what is best described as an informational free-for-all.

Those who believe that Russia’s government exerts total control over the press will be surprised to learn how social issues are now covered in the mainstream media. Amid painful and highly unpopular economic choices—from raising retirement ages to increasing the VAT—the mainstream media’s news reports on the subject have come to resemble the blog posts of Alexei Navalny and the pamphlets of the radical left.

The last few years have witnessed the transformation of the way in which Russia’s regime legitimates itself. Upon assuming the presidency, Putin based his rule on a social contract that promised Russians income growth and action on social issues. It enabled him to adopt reforms that virtually eliminated the oligarchs of the 1990s, as well as opposition from regional governors, and produced the famous power vertical.

As Russia’s new political elites assumed key positions in the system, the social contract was gradually amended in their favor. In his third presidential term, Putin drifted away from the people, focusing instead on protecting his inner circle. That process is now complete, with the government openly telling the people that “the state doesn’t owe you anything,” in the words of Olga Glatskikh, a Sverdlovsk regional government official.

This evolution has led to two practical consequences. First, the Kremlin has lost all interest in managing the mainstream media’s coverage of social issues, inadvertently affording the press unprecedented freedom in reporting on the subject. As a result, even pro-government news outlets have taken to covering social issues with an eye to increasing their readership. Hence the flood of alarmist headlines on social issues, which are grounded in fact yet seem unnaturally critical by Russian media standards.

Second, government officials’ priorities have changed. The interests of voters have taken a back seat to those of their Kremlin superiors. With resources dwindling, government officials have abandoned political correctness. As they attempt to sell deeply unpopular changes to ordinary Russians, whose opinion of the government has long since ceased to determine whether it remains in power, they sound more like accountants than servants of the people.

Indeed, Medvedev’s infamous phrase—“there’s no money, but hang in there”—is increasingly echoed at various levels of government. United Russia lawmaker Ekaterina Lakhova has recommended that Russians experiment with a “wartime diet” rather than ask the government for greater handouts, while State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has defended raising retirement ages by warning that things may worsen further and implying that pensions may be abolished altogether.

In Russia, the political survival of a government official depends on the answer to the following question: “What is Putin going to say?” The president does not care about petty social issues when there are greater matters at stake, from geopolitics to the lofty goals stated in the May Edict. Inventing accomplishments in defiance of the facts on the ground, bureaucrats fiddle with official data to suit their own needs.

Meanwhile, with Putin’s approval rating at pre-Crimea levels and the Kremlin recovering from embarrassing defeats in recent gubernatorial elections, the Kremlin is choosing to draw on its ample resources to manage political risks instead of addressing social issues. For the Kremlin, the only challenges worth dealing with are critics like Navalny, who has been repeatedly arrested; their supporters, who are persecuted after each round of anti-government protests; and the liberal press, like the New Times, which was slapped with an enormous fine after interviewing Navalny. The Kremlin easily overlooks headlines on social issues that fuel the public’s fear and anger, since these are not seen to pose a direct threat to its political survival.

Simply put, the authorities are no longer able to respond to social needs. Nor will Moscow find it easy to restore control over the social agenda, even if it tries to return to it tomorrow. The government has simply forgotten how to empathize with the public and understand its demands, which it increasingly perceives as excessive and politically untenable. To understand the nature of Putin’s fourth presidential term, look to the government’s new maxim: “We don’t owe you anything.”

Carnegie Moscow Center

Commentary for Carnegie Moscow Center

The Illusion of Control: The Kremlin Prepares for Falling Ratings

Tatiana Stanovaya
However resilient the Putin regime might look to an outsider, it isn’t ready and isn’t preparing itself for a possible decline in its popularity ratings, which may unleash consequences beyond the fall of individual governors and the ruling United Russia party. The Kremlin doesn’t believe that Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime as a whole could become unpopular, so it considers the current decline in support for the government to be a natural and manageable outcome of the recent increase in the retirement age.

Declining support for the government is gradually becoming one of the main problems for President Vladimir Putin’s regime, since the popularity rating of any state institution and the legitimacy of the entire system stem directly from the level of support for the president.

The Kremlin’s recent losses—its candidates were effectively defeated in four gubernatorial elections—have prompted the question of how the presidential administration and the president himself intend to adapt to the new conditions. Is Russia in for yet another wave of political reform, or will the Russian authorities make a different, unexpected move that could help them recapture past levels of popular support, as they did previously with the annexation of Crimea?

Before making any predictions about the Kremlin’s next moves, it must be acknowledged that the federal authorities don’t see the current decline in ratings and the gubernatorial election defeats as anything exceptional. They put these things down to simple miscalculations in the selection of candidates, rather than to changes in the public mood.

Only one of the four gubernatorial election losses—that in the Primorsky region—is seen by the Kremlin as serious, but even there the authorities link their problems to regional specifics, not complex nationwide issues such as increasing the retirement age or the fall in real incomes. As for the other regions, the Kremlin ascribes the losses to the longevity of the incumbent governors, who have apparently forgotten how to talk to people and have gotten too accustomed to automatic victories guaranteed by presidential support and the absence of real competition.

This interpretation allows the government to shift the focus from the decline in Putin’s popularity, which the system refuses to accept as a threat, to the problem of personnel rotation. Hence, government decisions in which appointing new figures takes precedence over using political instruments like parties, elections, and competition.

We saw a confirmation of these tactics right after the elections, when the federal center removed governors who appeared to have been in power for too long and who could have had problems getting reelected later. Their replacements were selected according to the principles of the corporate vertical: they are technocratic managers with little political experience, let alone political ambition. The center intends to elect them with the help of a populist agenda and political strategies. In this context, the governor becomes part of an impersonal corporate management mechanism, rather than an individual actor in a political process.

This reaction indicates that the Kremlin doesn’t believe that Putin and the Russian regime as a whole might become unpopular, so it treats the current decline in their ratings as a natural and manageable outcome of the unpopular recent move to raise the retirement age. The overall mood in the presidential administration is that there is no catastrophe, nothing to panic about. Everyone there is convinced that there is no alternative to Putin, so his rating can’t seriously decline.

This attitude also reflects the fact that Putin’s entourage is increasingly oriented toward the president’s own expectations and perception of his personal historical exceptionality that firmly protects him from any competition. Only Putin’s hand-picked successor could be an alternative to Putin: that’s the logic that has underpinned all the political decisions of the past few years. And if the president’s popularity continues to fall, there’s no doubt that the Kremlin will see it as anything but the president’s political weakness.

This is why we should not expect direct gubernatorial elections to be scrapped: a possibility that some have recently started to talk about. The Russian regime isn’t prepared to make that decision, and the president’s recent speeches are evidence of that. At a meeting with members of the Central Election Commission, he praised the electoral system and stressed the importance of elections for the people.

In reality, Putin’s reverential treatment of elections has little to do with any democratic propensities he might still have. He is simply convinced that the fairness of the regime’s agenda and the infallibility of its course make electoral losses impossible.

Putting an end to direct elections would mean that the president was acknowledging his unpopularity and the legitimacy of protest sentiment. In any case, Putin made it clear that the authorities will preserve the municipal filter—which requires those running for office to collect endorsements from local council members—by describing it recently as “democratic.” The president’s logic is simple: if the municipal filter didn’t prevent opposition candidates from being elected, it is not as harsh as it was made out to be.

At this time, the Kremlin is not remotely inclined to allow cardinal changes to the political system. Any changes that may occur will have to do with the transit of power rather than adjustments made due to falling ratings.

It’s not incompetence or lack of political foresight that makes the Kremlin underestimate the impending political risks. Rather, Kremlin officials are overly fixated on Putin’s moods. Unlike their predecessors, who mostly focused on the political system, the current political strategists cater to the president’s personal political needs, ensuring his comfort. The creative freedom and intrigues enjoyed by former deputy chiefs of staff Vladislav Surkov and Vyacheslav Volodin are absent, and there is no prospect of their return. This is probably why “administrators” have turned out to be more in demand today than political strategists.

However resilient the Putin regime might look to an outsider, it isn’t ready and isn’t preparing itself for a possible decline in its ratings, which may unleash consequences beyond the fall of individual governors and the ruling United Russia party. We already saw what that sort of decline can lead to back in late 2011, when even some members of the in-system opposition parties like the Communist Party and A Just Russia, as well as prominent establishment figures like former finance minister Alexei Kudrin and businessman and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov joined protesters on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square.

To maintain stability, the Kremlin is currently left with two potentially effective mechanisms. The first is to artificially inflate its ratings with the help of information campaigns and the institutional toughening up of the regime, eliminating the vestiges of real competition.
That option looks far more realistic than the alternative: regime liberalization, which terrifies the Kremlin and is seen as capitulation to the West by a significant part of the Russian elite, especially among the siloviki.

The regime is opting to create a corporatist state, which automatically equates corporate interests with the interests of the people, stripping the latter of their last remaining political rights. Only a lack of resolve among the “administrators” and the absence of an order from above to tighten the screws leave any hope for pluralization, which will only come from below.


November 13, 2018

Commentary for The Independent

‘Legendary’ GRU military intelligence agency should have historical name restored, says Putin

“This was a psychological and political show of support by Putin,” says Tatiana Stanovaya, CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “He was telling them that he would support them to the end regardless of the failures and their poor fortunes.”

For Mr Putin, those failures are secondary to a much larger struggle with the West, says Ms Stanovaya.

“He believes the GRU are the victims of this story and has made it very clear that you shouldn’t expect any radical changes in the service,” she says. “Even personnel changes, which may yet happen, will not take place immediately.”

“It’s clear Putin has given the order for the leaks to stop,” says Ms Stanovaya. “That’s where he sees the vulnerability. Far from dismantling the GRU, he wants them to end up stronger.”


From information war to intelligence agency battles

Commentary for European Council on foreign relations

The unmasking of GRU agents will intensify inter-agency battles between Russian intelligence services, and may stoke yet more conflict with foreign states

Western and independent journalists’ exposing of Russian agents present in Salisbury was a shock for the Russian government, even in a period of renewed international scrutiny of its intelligence services. The biggest lapse on the part of Russia’s services since the end of the cold war will change how the Kremlin organises them. The key question now is how it will: set about improving the effectiveness of the military intelligence service – the “GRU”; protect its serving operatives; and avert future failures. Speculation about the government disbanding the GRU, meting out severe punishment, or sacking its top brass is misguided: instead, it is likely to take steps to actually strengthen military intelligence.

In the first instance, some personnel changes are indeed likely. Rumours have raced around Telegram that GRU chief Igor Korobov may be replaced, potentially by his first deputy Igor Kostukov. But, whatever happens, the GRU itself will still benefit from Vladimir Putin’s firm support.  (Incidentally, the GRU no longer exists as such, although Western media remain prone to use the term.)

More importantly, the GRU’s troubles have provoked new struggles within and between the Russian intelligence agencies. Each is seeking to gain advantage from the situation and to ensure the blame falls on other services. The SVR – the Foreign Intelligence Service – has pointed to the lack of professionalism at the GRU and sought to regain responsibility for political intelligence. KGB successor, the FSB, meanwhile, may revisit its old dream of merging the SVR into itself. Indeed, some Western media have suggested thatt an SVR agent could have leaked the details of the Salisbury operation to Britain. The FSB may use this to reinforce its own version of this story: that the unmasking of Russian agents represents betrayal of one service by another. The Novaya Gazeta newspaper recently published leaked information claiming to show that SVR chief Sergey Naryshkin’s family possess Hungarian residence permits and property there. This instantly weakened Naryshkin’s position, giving reason to suspect that the GRU’s desire for revenge lay behind the disclosure. Even if untrue, the situation is surely highly fraught.

The Russian government will not now become more cautious or oblige the intelligence services to be less indiscriminate in their activity

The Kremlin considered merging the SVR and the FSB in 2016, but put the idea aside once Putin appointed Naryshkin – then speaker of the Duma – as head of the SVR. It resurfaced, however, at the beginning of 2018, when the expectation began to grow again that deep structural changes to Russia’s state apparatus were imminent. The FSB tried once more to advance its idea of enlarging itself by swallowing up others. The eventual lack of change is likely due to former Presidential Administration chief Sergey Ivanov, who is still a key figure in Putin’s inner circle. In any case, the trials and tribulations of other services have given the FSB new arguments in the furtherance of its own interest.

In Putin’s eyes the chemical attack on Sergei Skripal is an example of “the fuss between security services” which “did not start yesterday”, as he said during a controversial and emotional speech at Russian Energy Forum. But The Economist has shared the Western security services view over the case, namely that Salisbury was “a step too far”. “Russia has broken an unwritten rule of the spying game by using intelligence for offensive purposes”, the newspaper quotes Sergei Boeke of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs as saying.

The Kremlin thinks differently: it is the West that has been breaking the rules by its overreaction to what was a routine operation, even if the operation happened to get out of control. A principal claim levelled against Russia is that it is not only engaged in spying but is also out to weaken Western democracy and political legitimacy – in contrast to how American, French, or even Chinese secret services behave. But to the Kremlin the world looks completely different: Putin believes that after the collapse of the USSR the United States continued to try to undermine Russia, and indeed redoubled its efforts in this direction after his regime emerged. Western actions led to conflict in the post-Soviet space, including in Georgia and in the Ukraine crisis. The Kremlin also strongly believes that Washington directs all other Western countries in its anti-Russian efforts, laying the ground to destroy Putin’s regime and the country itself. The Russian president has, on countless occasions, accused the West of attempting to interfere with Russia’s political system and elections in general through building a network of Western influence inside Russia. Oligarchs, pro-Western opposition, and NGOs form key links in this network.

As a result, whatever the misdeeds or mishaps of the GRU, Moscow views the post-Salisbury fallout as something the West has whipped up as part of its ongoing war against Russia. State media share messages which give an indicate of the Kremlin’s thinking in this direction, referring to “Western hysterics”.

So what will this mean for Russia’s intelligence agencies and their activities both at home and overseas? For one thing, the result will not be a Russian government that becomes more cautious or obliges the intelligence services to be less indiscriminate in their actions. Nor indeed will the services dial down their cyber-espionage or information warfare; the ‘à la guerre comme à la guerre’ approach to the West remains intact.

Instead, the government may adapt the tools it already has in order to deal with the challenge it believes it faces. The firm bond between political civil authorities and secret services is one such tool, and this relationship will now only strengthen, not weaken. The Security Council in turn will play a key role in this hardening: the conservative and anti-Western secret services influence on the council will make itself felt through the council’s role in both day-to-day and strategic political decision-making. Services’ desire to retaliate see them carry out some unmasking of their own, potentially of Western agents working in Russia, with a view to reminding the world that imperfections exist among services of all countries.

Russia may also now try to play the ongoing information wars more openly, establishing media more clearly directly linked to Russia itself, including new internet outlets and information agencies. It may also seek to work more intensively with social and political forces opposed to traditional elites and lacking faith in political institutions. The Kremlin will become less reticent about involving itself in information battles and using freedom of speech – a key achievement of democracy – as way in which to carry out “hybrid” intrusion.

Unfortunately, the information warfare already playing out across the globe now has a rocket-booster under it: confrontation between Russian secret services. For Russia it is counter-offensive time, no matter who broke the rules first.

Oct. 2, 2018

Commentary for Reuters

Espionage scandals show Russian army’s growing clout

Asked on Monday if there would be a shake-up at the defense ministry, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the low quality of the allegations leveled at GRU did not justify such changes.

“Russia believes there’s no point in reducing the GRU’s activities because that would be a unilateral concession that would not yield anything and probably be seen as a sign of weakness,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, who is well connected to the political elite and runs political analysis firm R.Politik.

“I think that malicious operations could even be conducted more often than in the past,” she said.

The Kremlin is dismayed by fraying informal communications channels between Western and Russian intelligence agencies, she said, and sees the espionage world as a realm without rules.

“The army’s influence will rise,” said R.Politik’s Stanovaya. “Putin believes Russia is in a state of war.”


October 9, 2018

Commentary for L’Opinion

Elections de mi-mandat: personne ne doute aux Etats-Unis de nouvelles interférences russes

Ayant « goûté » à la puissance qu’apporte la cybernétique, la Russie n’entend pas y renoncer, selon la politologue Tatyana Stanovaya

Selon la politologue russe Tatiana Stanovaya, créatrice du site R.Politik, la question de savoir si Vladimir Poutine devait s’engager auprès de Donald Trump de ne pas influencer le scrutin à venir s’est posée au Kremlin avant le sommet d’Helsinki. Elle a été vite tranchée, raconte-t-elle, dès lors que l’entourage du Président s’est entendu sur le fait que, dans le très fort sentiment anti-russe ambiant à l’Ouest, Moscou serait de toutes les façons pointé du doigt qu’il interfère ou non lors de ces élections.

Si elle se garde bien d’évaluer la réalité et l’ampleur que pourraient prendre d’éventuelles interventions russes lors des « midterm », Tatiana Stanovaya explique qu’après avoir « goûté à la puissance du pouvoir cybernétique, la Russie n’entend pas en tout cas y renoncer ». Elle a d’autant moins « l’intention d’abandonner le champ de bataille volontairement » que d’autres pays dans le monde ont commencé à investir le monde cybernétique et que le régime de Poutine craint de se trouver un jour à son tour l’objet de cyberattaques. « On a eu tort de prendre à la légère l’offre que Poutine a faite à Trump de créer un groupe de travail sur la cybersécurité », estime d’ailleurs la politologue.


October 4, 2018

Commentary for The Independant

The west has declared war on the GRU – but don’t expect Russia to tame its spies

For long periods of Mr Putin’s rule, the GRU was almost absent from the big intelligence table, with no obvious role in a shrinking empire. But its fortunes turned in 2008, after the war in Georgia, when the army realised it needed better intelligence for delicate operations. Another turning point came four years later, with the appointment of Valery Gerasimov as chief of the General Staff.

“Their horizon widened, and with supply came demand,” says Tatyana Stanovaya, CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “They settled into this new role just as Putin began to reject his own idea that Russia needed to be friends with the west.”

According to Ms Stanovaya, inter-agency conflicts have certainly grown since the Skripal scandal. Many officers have complained that the GRU had not been professional enough and were putting their president on the line. At the same time, she notes, systemic loyalty to the president guards against any major excesses, including leaks and hostile briefing. The first rule in Russia’s secret world is allegiance to Putin.

“For Putin, these guys are still heroes, living modestly, and risking their own lives to protect the motherland,” says Ms Stanovaya. “How can he criticise them? No, he’ll give them more muscle. Any step back would be seen as a recognition of defeat.”


October 5, 2018
The Independant

Commentary for The Independant

‘They committed political suicide today’ – Kremlin problems grow as Russian pension reform passes second reading

The Kremlin understood it would take a hit, said Tatyana Stanovaya, founder and CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik, but it might have overestimated its reserves. And its tactics have contributed to a sense of the president being detached from his people.

“There is still a huge problem of dialogue,” she told The Independent. “People are expressing anger at three things. First, they see international politics being handled with far greater urgency than internal economic problems. Second, they don’t see any positive agenda, only warnings that if you don’t support them, things will get worse. And third, they recoil at the language of ultimatum, the absence of discussion.”

According to Ms Stanovaya, the Kremlin plans to manage the growing public discontent by renewing the regional elite with new faces. By evening, the president had already moved to replace two governors. But this “corporate” approach did nothing to solve the fundamental problems of “distrust in the system and in a president who has lost his magic wand”.

Sooner or later, the Kremlin will be left with a choice, she said.

“They can either turn the screws further and risk creating a pressure-cooker environment. Or they can introduce moderate liberalisation, and risk things getting out of control.”


September 26, 2018
The Independant

Quotation in The Financial Times

Putin’s party suffers regional poll defeats over pension anger

United Russia loses governorships as retirement reform anger festers

The defeats announced on Monday come amid nationwide anger at government plans to raise the retirement age by five years, triggering protests across dozens of big cities and sending Mr Putin’s personal popularity sliding to a low not seen for more than a decade.

“On the morning of September 24, the authorities suddenly realised that there are people in this country,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, chief executive of R. Politik, a Russia-focused political consultancy.


SEPTEMBER 24, 2018
Financial Times

Commentary for Carnegie Moscow Center

Russia’s Youtube Duel: Zolotov vs. Navalny

Viktor Zolotov’s video message to Alexei Navalny—a crude and highly personal address for an influential national security official—underscores the increasing incoherence of the authorities’ strategy for dealing with Navalny. More important, it points to the emergence of a state of “every man for himself” and the splintering of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Viktor Zolotov, commander in chief of the National Guard, recently released a video message challenging opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has accused Zolotov of corruption, to a duel. Zolotov, one of the most formidable and secretive representatives of the security services and a former bodyguard of President Vladimir Putin, is viewed as close to the president. The very idea of such a video message, as well as its substance and style, runs counter to standard protocol in a political system where conflicts are usually resolved in a very different way.


17 September, 2019
Carnegie Moscow Center

The First World Cyberwar

by Tatiana Stanovaya for Riddle

Will Russia meddle in the 2018 US midterms? And if so, how? Such questions get asked often on American news media channels. In an interview with MSNBC, US Congressman Adam Schiff said he expects Russia may follow the same ‘vector’ as during the 2016 US presidential election. Facebook, all the while, has been taking urgent steps to prevent that outcome. Recently the social media giant claimed it had foiled a plot to disrupt the midterms. But the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg warned that the company’s information was still ‘not complete.’

With all the fabled talk since 2016 of notorious Russian hacker groups or St Petersburg troll factories, any influence campaign on a similar theme would not carry an element of surprise. An NPR poll shows more than half of Americans consider it likely that Russia will interfere. And even Donald Trump, who is vitally interested in proving that Russia made no interference in the 2016 elections (i.e. did not help him to win), after meeting Putin in Helsinki in July accused Russia of intentions to help the Democrats in the midterm elections.

Then again, the focus of Russia’s involvement might bring surprises. The New York Times quoted intelligence sources claiming that Russia intends to shift its cyberwar focus. Less political influence campaigns, more threats to America’s power grid.

The motives and nature of Russian meddling, however, often get over simplified in the West. It is viewed as a basic top-down issue: Will Vladimir Putin give the command to influence the American elections again? What are the new technologies and tactics and how can they be thwarted? Framing questions in this way leads to mistakes. It pushes an answer that Russia will meddle, but the reasoning is incomplete. The use of cyber is more than a logical and inevitable outgrowth of Kremlin attempts to influence Western democracies since the annexation of Crimea. The reality is much more ambiguous and less subject to top down control.

Quasi-state structures

To understand the motives and logic of the Kremlin leaders, one should take at least three points into account.

The first problem? Cyberwar matters enjoy a certain autonomy vis-à-vis political decision-making at the state level. This is a kind of geopolitical ‘outsourcing’. It means the ‘dirty work’ gets done by quasi-state structures, such as ‘troll farms’ or private military companies. Anyone who thinks that the Kremlin holds meetings to wonder whether or not to interfere in the U.S. midterm elections is seriously wrong.

This is not to say that there is no connection between the state and informal structures engaging in influencing the news. Yet these links are poorly institutionalised and remain confidential. An important facet here: for members of the government and the presidential administration (perhaps with a few exceptions) this sphere remains as ephemeral and mystical as for many outside observers.

This is deliberate. Vladimir Putin’s ruling style is such that the state should not be held responsible for actions that lie beyond the law. No actions that go beyond the logic of partner-like relations with other countries can be traced back to formal power structures. This is important to understand: in the mindset of Putin’s regime, the state has hardly any links to cyber wars. All real responsibility for this is attributed to structures which are, so to speak, ‘politically friendly’ towards the Russian authorities.

Accordingly, the Kremlin in principle does not need wonder whether or not to interfere in the U.S. elections. The question is worded quite differently: Does it make sense to hamper the work of regime-friendly structures operating in the fairway to protect Russia’s geopolitical interests? If this question were to be answered in the affirmative, the geopolitical situation would need to change dramatically. However, such a change is not happening and is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

The second problem is the presumption of Russia’s guilt. On the eve of the Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki, there was a detailed discussion in the Kremlin. Should Russians assure the American leader (and how) that Russia does not intend to influence the midterm elections? Opinions in Putin’s close circles were divided into two unequal parts. The minority urged Putin to make every effort to erase any doubts and assure Trump that Russia would not ‘frame’ the head of the White House. They wanted Putin to insist Russia will not give any reasons for the American establishment to increase its pressure on Trump. In this context, Trump’s tweet about Moscow’s potential help for the Democrats is not only political speculation. It also reflects a fear of Moscow’s activity (if there is a will, Moscow could give a lot of reasons to get the American leader suspected of ‘collusion’). Realising this, Vladimir Putin was ready to give Trump all the needed assurances on the upcoming campaign.

Yet the second part of Putin’s close circles took a different stance. This part mirrors the mood of the majority of the Russian conservative elites who currently set the tone in Russian geopolitics. They persuaded Putin that there will be no change, no matter if Russia interferes in the elections or not. The Russian leader was presented with a simulation. The Kremlin, in this scenario, suppresses any initiative and activity from hackers and trolls. It commands the secret services to take a time-out. Would this help to reduce the anti-Russian sentiments in the West? Would it bring deescalation? The answer to this question is negative. There is a broad presumption of Russia’s guilt. As such, it becomes pointless and tricky for the Kremlin to ‘roll back’ and voluntarily renounce cyber-weapons. Putin’s political will or lack thereof is largely irrelevant. The accusatory tone of American elites and the media means an easy win for the Russian ‘hawks’. If there is no difference between interference and non-interference, why choose a weaker position?

Finally, the third, long-term problem. Cyberpolitics is not a one-time tool to influence current political events and processes. It turns into a vital infrastructure that requires high investments and political attention. The aim is to collect and analyse information about the ‘enemy’ and its weaknesses. Cyberpolitics is a mechanism to keep an eye on things at all times. To be relevant means staying active. Either strike a blow or take a pause. Unlike traditional warfare, the special nature of cyber weapons lies in the fact that they can be ‘deployed’ relatively unnoticeably in the enemy’s territory. Then they can be activated and regulated to manage the degree of damage or impact, depending on tactical tasks. Cyber weapons can be either passive (aimed at future operations or intelligence gathering) or active, affecting the current life of systems.

Having experienced the taste of cyber-power, Russia will not voluntarily renounce it. Hiding for a while is an option but it is certainly too late to even consider redeployment of cyber weapons. Incidentally, one should not be too caustic about Putin’s offer to Trump to create a cybersecurity task force. What underlies this proposal is a recognition of the fact that ever more countries are building their cyber-muscles. This process needs regulation. Moscow understands better than anyone else that Putin’s regime can become the target of such attacks tomorrow. Effective safeguards against such attacks (and also a lower degree of cyber vulnerability) are available right now only for technologically underdeveloped countries.

Today, the Kremlin is preparing for the worst in relations with the United States. It does not expect any positive developments in the foreseeable future. Hence, the wartime logic will continue to prevail among the overwhelming majority of the Russian elites. Most are deeply disappointed about what they see as an impossibility to negotiate things with the West. The first world cyberwar is entering into its most active stage. And Moscow does not intend to leave the battlefield voluntarily.


Commentary for CARNEGIE.RU

Two Trumps in Helsinki: Russia’s Approach to the U.S. President

The U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki lasted just one day, but the battle of interpretations that unfolded around it seems endless. Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s meeting is one of the most enigmatic diplomatic events of recent years. There is virtually no understanding of what the two leaders said, what (if anything) they agreed upon, and what the next steps might be.

But that isn’t because the next steps are being deliberately kept secret. Rather, even those plans that have tentatively been made could quickly dissolve amid mutual misunderstanding and antagonism.

There is only one conclusion that the Russian and U.S. political establishments can agree on: Putin “won” the July 16 talks. But was the Helsinki summit really all that successful for the Russian leader?

Each country has demonstrated a distinct emotional reaction to Putin’s supposed victory: anger in America, euphoria in Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the meeting as “better than super.” Meanwhile, in the West, the hashtag #TreasonSummit began trending in reaction to Trump’s submissive behavior and rhetoric.

Vladimir Putin did indeed look like the winner: at the closing press conference he outlined broad possibilities for future cooperation and recited several Russian proposals, from setting up a council of experts to cooperating on Syria. Meanwhile, Trump looked like a follower. He cast doubts on U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings and demonstrated an eagerness to resolve the crisis in bilateral relations. This made the summit a clear success for Russia.

But now that some time has passed, it is becoming clear that the initial assessments were dominated by emotions, and that Vladimir Putin’s success was more psychological than geopolitical.

Russia’s main objective in the run-up to the Helsinki meeting was not to reach specific agreements, but rather to institutionalize and legitimize dialogue. Putin offered Trump an assortment of potential initiatives, from broad and international to sensitive and local. For each issue, Moscow prepared a road map with just one goal in mind: to draw the White House back to the negotiating table to discuss all the issues.

Vladimir Putin proposed four new formats for cooperation. The first was the establishment of a council of experts well versed in the history of the two countries. Their mission would be to seek “points of contact between the two countries”—or, in other words, to work on a positive strategic agenda in U.S.-Russian relations. The United States has yet to respond to this initiative.

The second was the creation of a Russian-American business forum. This is a very ambitious idea, given the sanctions regime and the extreme toxicity of Russian money in the United States. It was cautiously accepted by the U.S. side, as confirmed recently by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. However, there are reasons to believe the two sides won’t be able to agree on the participants and aims of such a forum.

The third proposal, also acknowledged by Pompeo, was “to reestablish a working group on anti-terrorism” at the level of the deputy foreign ministers. The other option discussed was establishing dialogue between the national security secretaries—presumably U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. This could raise the stakes in unfinished personnel changes in Russia’s security and foreign policy blocs. A meeting between Bolton and Patrushev is reportedly already under works for August.

Finally, the fourth proposal was a cybersecurity working group. Its prospects remain unclear. Putin pitched this idea to Trump at their first meeting in Hamburg in July 2017. Back then, the White House immediately rejected the idea. The U.S. political establishment perceived it as flagrant trolling by the Russian president, who had been accused of overseeing cyberattacks against U.S. democracy.

On Syria, the conversation was provisionally divided between two goals. First, Trump was attempting to essentially create an anti-Iran coalition with Russia. That did not yield anything new. Second, Moscow proposed a humanitarian project envisaging refugees returning to Syria and efforts to develop infrastructure to deliver humanitarian cargo. Ultimately, the idea that Russia would give up Iran and receive something from the U.S. in return, widely discussed before the summit, turned out to be too unrealistic.

Finally, on Ukraine, Putin invited Trump to support the idea of a referendum on special status for the breakaway Donbas region. This was supposed to be an alternative to Moscow’s attempts to achieve legal recognition of the region’s autonomy with a special law or amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution. The White House categorically declined this offer and soon reinforced its position with the Crimea Declaration, which rejected Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.

But are any of these proposals practicable? The breadth of the Russian initiatives is overshadowed by their low likelihood of implementation. Furthermore, the more proactive Putin is, the more vulnerable Trump appears and, thus, the lower the chances are of progress on Putin’s initiatives.

All this explains why the summit looked like a victory for Putin: we can make a list of the Russian president’s objectives and proposals, but it is virtually impossible to say what Trump offered Russia. The intensity and relative transparency of Moscow’s intentions and Putin’s traditional directness stood in stark contrast to Trump’s frequently contradictory rhetoric. The only thing Trump said in his initial remarks at the summit’s closing press conference was that the United States needs to conduct constructive dialogue with Russia. The U.S. president also made abstract references to possible subjects of this dialogue (interference in the U.S. elections, the denuclearization of North Korea, the fight against terrorism, pressure on Iran), but he did not make U.S. national priorities at all clear.

The mismatch of Putin and Trump’s agendas in Helsinki created the impression that Trump had no counteroffers to openly make to Putin, that he was losing the initiative and just following Russia’s lead. In this sense, Putin really did outmaneuver Trump. However, this was largely the result of Russia’s acute need to normalize relations and its eagerness to cooperate on the full range of issues. Meanwhile, other than an abstract desire to “get along,” Trump had no plan of action.

As a result, Helsinki quickly lost its significance. It was eclipsed by the “post-summit”—the escalation of domestic pressure on Trump and the revision of the meeting’s results. The summit “continued”—without the presidents—as a chaotic information war between the United States and Russia’s respective establishments, a war that could have no winners.

Right after Helsinki, Trump reversed his denial of Russian election interference, invited Putin to visit DC in the fall, and then rescinded the invitation. He also accused Moscow of trying to help Democrats in the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, U.S. legislators began discussing a new sanctions bill that would target investors in Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline and strengthen restrictions on Russia. The United States also arrested Russian citizen Maria Butina, published the harshly worded Crimea Declaration, and accused Russian hackers of attacking the U.S. power grid. All of this is the result of the Helsinki summit and the price that Russia will have to pay for its tête-à-tête with Trump.

If Vladimir Putin’s main objective in Helsinki was to restore dialogue with the United States, as many suggest, Russia now appears to have some new doubts: should it view Trump as the ultimate objective, or only as an instrument for promoting Russian foreign policy priorities? These are essentially two different approaches to building relations with Washington. Moscow is torn, trying to make headway on both, but actually creating obstacles to progress.

Under the first approach, where Trump is the objective, the U.S. president can and should be an active player in normalizing bilateral relations. The supporters of this approach, particularly in the diplomatic community, feel that the U.S. president needs time to overcome the anti-Russia sentiment at home and strengthen his standing in the U.S. administration.

They are counting on the Republicans to maintain their majority in Congress after the midterm elections, hoping that—together with economic growth—this will stabilize Trump’s position in the U.S. establishment. If that occurs, Russia could negotiate with Trump on extending the New START Treaty, divide up Syria, and discuss Ukraine.

Under the second approach, where Trump is the instrument, the U.S. president is seen not as a practitioner of U.S. foreign policy but as a mechanism for disrupting it. Part of the Russian elite, particularly its members from the security services, views Trump as a political outsider who is rejected by the U.S. establishment. He is a convenient instrument for sowing chaos in U.S. politics, testing the strength of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, and splintering the West’s traditional common geopolitical front.

These conservative players trust neither Trump nor any forums created with his involvement. Their skepticism is based on their deep conviction that the entire U.S. system seeks to destroy Russia and subvert the Putin regime. For them, the summit was a serious victory if only because it prompted a wave of panic in the United States about Trump’s potential treason.

This political camp has no intention of reaching agreements with Trump or the United States. Furthermore, it will be opposed to any hint of normalizing bilateral relations, because that would stand in the way of the policy of fueling chaos and disarray in the United States. One cannot simultaneously invest in Trump as a partner and attack the U.S. system, because, in the latter scenario, the system will always seek to destroy Trump.

The results of the “post-summit” show that the concept of “Trump as the instrument” is more accessible and achievable for Russia, while the concept of “Trump as the ultimate objective” leaves fewer hopes for real results.

Yes, Putin was able to come off as the stronger and more mature leader, and it looked like Trump was afraid to say to Putin’s face what the U.S. elite wanted him to say. But if the Kremlin wants to invest in Trump, it will need greater flexibility and a better understanding of the significance of the “Russia problem” for the U.S. establishment. So far, Russia’s elite appears distinctly unprepared for that.

2 August 2018

Commentary for NPR

‘Better Than Super’: Russia Reacts To Trump-Putin Summit In Helsinki

“They’re not cracking open the champagne in the Kremlin but are getting ready for long, hard work,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst. “They didn’t plan to close any deals or move ahead on any issues. They wanted to legitimize dialogue — to bring it back.”

There is relief in the Kremlin that Trump didn’t do anything unpredictable, make any demands on which further cooperation would depend or just appear ambivalent, according to Stanovaya. But despite the friendly atmosphere, she said, the Kremlin is aware Trump could still end up taking them by surprise.

Read more

17 July

Interview for Liberation

La politologue Tatiana Stanovaya explique que Poutine n’attend pas de Trump qu’il soit prorusse, mais que grâce à ses sorties il divise le front occidental uni contre son pays.

Vladimir Poutine est sorti par le haut de sa première rencontre bilatérale avec Donald Trump. Pour la politologue Tatiana Stanovaya, fondatrice de la revue R.Politik, l’objectif – rétablir le dialogue avec Washington – a été atteint.

Qu’est-ce que la Russie a obtenu à l’issue de la rencontre entre Trump et Poutine ?

Poutine mise sur le long terme. Personne au Kremlin n’attendait d’avancées concrètes. Les deux objectifs du pouvoir russe, et de Poutine personnellement, étaient de débloquer le dialogue et de définir des directions pour commencer à discuter sérieusement. La Russie peut se targuer d’avoir réussi, mais ce succès est fragile et réversible. On ne se fait pas d’illusions sur le fait que le président américain, une fois rentré à Washington, peut faire volte-face. Comme l’an dernier, par exemple, quand les Russes et les Américains avaient annoncé à Hambourg [en marge du G20, ndlr] la création d’une unité de cybersécurité. Dès son retour, Trump a changé d’avis. Pour le Kremlin, le président américain n’est donc pas un interlocuteur fiable avec lequel on peut trouver des accords stables sur les questions stratégiques, mais il faut néanmoins que le dialogue se renoue au niveau des chefs d’Etat, c’est ce qui compte le plus. Les contacts qui existent, notamment sur le plan militaire, sont trop locaux et ne touchent pas aux questions importantes des sphères d’influence, de processus de paix ou encore de la destinée de Bachar al-Assad, etc.

Si le Kremlin ne se fait pas d’illusions sur Trump, est-ce qu’il y a des tentatives de le contourner pour établir d’autres canaux diplomatiques ?

Trump reste le principal atout pour les Russes aux Etats-Unis. La question n’est pas de savoir s’il est prorusse. Ce qui compte, c’est qu’il soit antisystème. Ça casse une position occidentale unifiée et toutes les logiques traditionnelles. Poutine sait qu’il ne peut pas discuter avec un Occident qui lui oppose une résistance unie et dure. Son principal objectif est donc d’affaiblir la pression des Occidentaux, leur politique d’endiguement qui nuit aux affaires russes, aussi bien intérieures qu’extérieures.

Dans ce cas, au-delà de l’image d’un dialogue qui repart, quelles avancées concrètes peut espérer Moscou dans la coopération avec Washington ?

Concrètement, sur les grands dossiers comme l’Ukraine, la Crimée, la Syrie, les sanctions, la Russie n’a pas de plan sur la manière d’obtenir ce qu’elle veut de Trump.

La colère provoquée aux Etats-Unis par les propos du président américain, que l’on accuse de trahison, peut-elle être une bonne chose pour le Kremlin ?

J’ai l’impression que personne, à Moscou, ne s’attendait à une telle réaction. Qui plus est, les accusations contre les douze agents du GRU [le renseignement militaire russe] ont été perçues en Russie comme un coup de poignard dans le dos. Au Kremlin, on ne se dit pas «Poutine va discuter avec Trump», mais «deux superpuissances vont enfin s’occuper de l’ordre mondial». Et là, une partie des élites américaines – qui, pour Moscou, ne représentent pas l’Amérique – frappe Trump dans le dos et l’empêche de régler des questions d’une importance cruciale. Je pense que le Kremlin a sous-estimé la portée possible des paroles de Trump sur les Américains. Les Russes auraient peut-être pu prendre des précautions, faire en sorte qu’il ne se retrouve pas dans une position aussi vulnérable. En même temps, le Kremlin considère que ce n’est pas son affaire de sauver la peau du président américain. Et est convaincu que la vague de soupçons sur l’ingérence russe va finir par retomber. Notamment après les élections de mi-mandat de novembre, dont la Russie se tiendra ostensiblement à l’écart et tout le monde le verra. Poutine a dû promettre des choses dans ce sens.

17 July 2018

Illusory Stability: Putin’s Regime Is Readier Than Ever for Change

by Tatiana Stanovaya
The events of the last four years in Russia show that its fabled stability and lack of change have stopped being the top political value. Today, the Russian regime is more ready than ever for transformation. Before, any decisions had to be approved by the president and were made at a snail’s pace because Putin had no time. Now, it’s the other way around: decisions are made quickly precisely because Putin has no time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently re-elected for a fourth term, finalised the lineup of his new government and presidential administration in June. Many people expected that Putin would use the start of his new term to significantly refresh his staff, but no personnel revolution took place, and even officials whose fate had seemed sealed kept their jobs.

This lack of change in staffing is often explained as proof that the president has once again opted for stability, fearing radical change in his entourage. Yet falling back on the stability card could turn out to be a false premise that doesn’t explain the logic of the president’s actions and wrongly describes the nature of what is going on. There are reasons to believe that the Putin regime today is, on the contrary, more prepared than ever before for change, including within its staff.

The events of the last four years show that Russia’s fabled stability and lack of change have stopped being the top political value. Proof of this is the staff reshuffles of 2016, which significantly renewed the ruling elite and strengthened the trend of replacing Putin’s old associates with young technocrats who have nothing to do with Putin’s past. That process began after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, when the role of the siloviki in making state decisions increased dramatically, while that of civil institutions fell accordingly. At the same time, conflicts among the elites grew deeper, because Putin was distracted from internal affairs, which gave more autonomy to various factions. All of these were factors in the decision to revamp Putin’s entourage in 2016, and remained relevant in March at the time of his re-election.

A crucial development that demonstrates that the regime is prepared for personnel reshuffles and is generally less attached to stability is the unfreezing of banned topics and the move toward implementing reforms that Putin has been putting off for years. The domestic economic agenda has taken on political significance, and the state has begun slaughtering sacred cows with its proposals to raise the retirement age and reassess tax policy.

Let’s suppose that, despite the importance of carrying out pension reform today, Putin had the political choice not to raise the retirement age. In the media, there is an active discussion over the difference between the president’s current position and his position 13 years ago: in 2005, he dismissed the idea, saying, “I am against increasing the pension age, and while I am president, no such decision will be made.” His spokesman points out that the situation in the country has changed since then. But is that the only issue here?

One of the reasons for pension system reform is the president’s growing political confidence: his dependency on the mood of the electorate is decreasing, his fear of falling ratings is receding, and his feeling of control over the political situation is cementing. In a sense, Putin is being nationalized, and transforming from a political leader into an institution that belongs to the entire state mechanism.

In this situation, the president himself is beginning to reason not as a political leader running the state, but as the embodiment of that state, disregarding passing threats to concentrate on state priorities. This transformation, which has been underway since 2014, makes the regime capable of changes that it would not previously have undertaken.

It is also worth noting that for several years now, the topic of color revolutions has disappeared from Kremlin discourse, having lost its status as chief bogeyman. The point is not that the Kremlin has stopped believing that the West is prepared to attempt regime change in Russia, but that the regime itself feels less vulnerable.

An interesting trend has appeared: after six years of the government failing to make significant decisions, the state has suddenly started to become increasingly dynamic. This concerns not only pension and tax reforms, but also the new presidential decrees issued in May, which appear to be far better thought through than those signed in May 2012, at the beginning of Putin’s third term.

Putin’s changed role has led to the gradual unfreezing of key administrative institutions. If before, any decisions had to be approved by the president and were made at a snail’s pace because Putin had no time, now it’s the other way around: decisions are made precisely because Putin has no time.

The president is increasingly inclined to delegate responsibility, and that means that the system’s overall volatility and dynamism will grow. When Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeats that Putin is not involved in the pension reform, he isn’t just saving his boss from a hit to his popularity; he’s indulging in a bit of wishful thinking. The head of state doesn’t want to deal with raising the pension age, or getting bogged down in dull accounting calculations about pensioners. Putin has the luxury of being able to distance himself from making an unpopular decision, having chucked this hot potato over to the politically accountable government.

Delegating responsibility for untangling administrative knots is no longer the exception, but is becoming routine, which is impacting staffing policy. Another example of this is the revised approach to the informal system of running the North Caucasus: a region of critical importance for the stability of the Putin regime. A bold experiment with personnel is underway in Dagestan (the system of having quotas for different Dagestani ethnicities within the regional authorities has been scrapped, and the region now has its first non-Dagestani acting head, Vladimir Vasilyev), while federal siloviki are gaining influence there and powerful clans are being routed (as evidenced by the arrest of the wealthy Magomedov brothers). Such experiments are hard to describe as part of a stable staffing policy or fear of change.

The reappointment of people to Putin’s entourage who were widely expected to lose their posts is far from a refusal to make changes to staff, and certainly doesn’t come from a fear of change. The Russian regime today is readier than ever before for changes, and it needs them. Decisions concerning personnel are coming to a head in many areas, above all in the security forces and foreign policy blocs, both of which carry out the president’s basic administrative requirements.

The fact that Putin did not undertake the large-scale reshuffle that was expected immediately after his re-election does not mean he has no intention of doing so. The dynamic of decision-making in picking his lieutenants depends too much on the geopolitical context, and as far as Putin is concerned, there are different cycles in place here that have nothing to do with elections — or at least, with the Russian elections.

3 July 2018

A Reshuffle of Russia’s Foreign Policy Top Brass Is Pending

Tatiana Stanovaya for Riddle

There were two key reasons in favour of Surkov’s dismissal. The first has to do with management and strategic understanding of the Ukraine crisis and the ‘Donbas project.’ Apart from other tasks, the FSB’s fifth service —  i.e. its intelligence and international relations service — deals with Ukraine. Colonel-General Sergey Beseda has been heading this service since 2009. He is one of the most influential leaders in charge of foreign policy at the FSB. He represented the special services in Ukraine in the days of the 2014 revolution trying to ensure the security of the Russian embassy and establish rapport with the Ukrainian secret services. In the autumn of last year, Beseda officially supported Leonid Pasyechnik, the Minister of State Security of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, who conducted a coup and ousted Igor Plotnitsky. Plotnitsky had closely followed Surkov’s instructions on the ground, although the latter had different plans as regards developments in the separatist republic. Besides, the siloviki have traditionally had little trust in spin doctors like Surkov, who are often suspected of showing excessive admiration of the West.

Secondly, Surkov’s position is undermined by a lack of visible progress on implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreements, as well as by the stalling of Russian–American dialogue with Kurt Volker. In addition, Russia’s uniformed services are not interested in compromises with the West and would rather opt for radical solutions (such as awaiting Ukraine’s collapse and a degradation of the unity of the West). That stubborn and radical standpoint complicates Surkov’s work.

So why the delay? In short, there’s a backlog of postponed decisions, and a wish to sit tight and wait for the geopolitical weather to change. A breakthrough in the geopolitical situation would give Putin the chance he needs for restructuring. That window could open unexpectedly: Trump’s volatility may bring surprising new developments, that Putin will do his best to spin as positive, and open the door to needed staff reshuffles.

Read more


What’s behind personnel changes in the presidential administration?

By Tatiana Stanovaya. Translated by Nicholas Trickett. This piece originally appeared in Republic.

Last week Vladimir Putin signed decrees mandating personnel and structural reshuffles within the presidential administration. Observers had waited impatiently for these changes: unlike the government, which mainly deals with the “Russian economy”, the presidential administration is the center of political and state management and the heart of Russia’s “big politics”. Intrigues have added regular rumors of the resignation of this or that key figure from Putin’s team: Yuri Ushakov, Vladislav Surkov, Larisa Brychevaya, and even, it seemed, the unsinkable Alexei Gromov. But the large reshuffles proved to be much ado about nothing: practically the entire administration kept their previous roles with certain pointed exceptions. In reality, important political processes motivated the decision to limit changes.

Enjoying the Spoils

The fact that Vladimir Putin didn’t carry out large reshuffles does not at all suggest that they aren’t planned or won’t be realized in a relatively short time (within 1-3 years). The president faced a dilemma: to postpone decisions for a couple of months until the whole package of new personnel configurations was ready – a number of anonymous Telegram channels have even written they could be set aside till the fall – or to limit changes to only the most necessary ones. There’s a good reason why the latter option was chosen – those handling domestic politics were in a hurry to “preserve their gains” and enjoy the spoils of an election campaign deemed successful from the president’s point of view.

Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign (more precisely, the work of domestic policy handlers) was heavily criticized by the opposition, groups near power and political technologists. The Kremlin was criticized for the lack of campaign platform, for its bloated and twisted missive to the Federal assembly (Putin’s presidential bid was announced very late, almost at the last possible moment), for its functional emptiness and the lack of an “image for the future” so intensely sought by pro-Kremlin experts since 2016. The campaign was also criticized for its minimal political competition, poorly conceived work with the systemic political opposition, and the case of Pavel Grudinin (who was built up into a convincing candidate before they tried to find every excuse to get him out of the race).

The fact that elections were held with competing managerial power centers . On the one hand, Sergei Kirienko – [Putin’s first deputy chief of staff] – and his team played an important decision-making role [as Kirienko was tasked with running the campaign]. This was made difficult due to Kirienko’s uneasy relationship with the head of the domestic policy shop, Andrei Yarin. On the other hand, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin – a former handler for domestic policy – and his agenda remained a strong influence on party politicking. In these conditions, Vladimir Putin’s reelection wasn’t an electoral task, but a fight over his political apparatus. Since Putin liked the campaign, winning the fight strengthened Kirienko’s team.

The competition between managers gives rise to intrigues: clearly Kirienko and his subordinates didn’t just claim a moral victory. They tried to make maximal use of the planned personnel and structural changes within the political cycle to their favor: this was their time to shine. And the longer Putin dragged it out, the less they could get since time dulls the emotional aspect of decision-making. Perhaps after six months, the president wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about the merits of his administration.

That’s why domestic policy handlers were, in fact, the main driver behind current personnel changes, which could have been made somewhat later by Putin’s logic. And that’s why these decisions were made in large part in favor of the domestic policy bloc. Sergei Kirienko was given administrative control over the State Council’s procurement office and the development of communication technologies and infrastructure in addition to the domestic policy office and office of public projects. At the same time, administrative authority over local governance was moved to the domestic policy office as well as youth policy, patriotic upbringing, and the development of internet projects.

A number of media outlets have indicated that Anton Vaino’s powers as the head of the presidential administration have expanded. However, first deputy Kirienko was given two additional responsibilities to balance out Vaino’s influence. The issue isn’t competition, but more Putin’s attempt to provide a more natural order of things. The head of the presidential administration – Vaino – shouldn’t lose face because [Putin] provided excessive resources to a subordinate. Vaino therefore was formally handed three policy portfolios for which he was actually already responsible: protocol, interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries, and anti-corruption initiatives.

Kirienko failed to grab the head of the domestic policy shop Andrei Yarin’s [influence]. But this is probably just temporary: the battle’s been lost, but not the war (although, of course, nobody in the Kremlin thinks in these terms or that there’s a real confrontation). For Kirienko as well as anyone handling domestic policy, a situation in which a manager doesn’t run a structure that’s “his own” is not only uncomfortable, but ineffective from a managerial perspective. For Kirienko, this means that either the office of public projects will continue to be given a greater role (led by Kirienko’s right-hand man Sergei Novikov) and the domestic policy office will be weakened, or Yarin will have to leave.

It’s not yet time

Keeping personnel changes in the presidential administration minimal is also an attempt by the president to delay key decisions that in the short or medium term could affect two important figures – Vladislav Surkov and Yuri Ushakov. Both are included in the provisional foreign policy bloc, which includes Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov was also predicted to resign, but his departure was postponed.

It’s important to note here that personnel decisions concerning figures like Lavrov or Surkov have less of personal and administrative logic for Vladimir Putin. Foreign policy is a special currency that can be traded for some purpose or other according to emerging market conditions. Wasting such a resource for nothing is clearly not desirable. Today, there’s no basis to expect positive outcomes for key strategic foreign policy questions. You can fire Surkov and Lavrov, but their places have to be filled with figures whose appointment could be read as a signal, a gesture, a certain message to an international society for which Putin has nothing to meaningfully offer. Therefore, there’s been no decision about Lavrov, and that means the others – Surkov and Ushakov – are left hanging. It’s not correct to say that Putin kept Surkov and Ushakov in their places. Putin has delayed replacing them for now.

In this case, the fate of the “Ukraine file”, currently stuck in permanent stalemate, will be especially significant. Any future successor to Surkov will be forced to do work that’s actually doomed to fail. Russian dialogue with the world community about the Donbas is increasingly moving from one that discusses the fate of the troubled region to a communication battle in which acting like Russia’s defense attorney is more important than reaching a compromise. Now that Surkov is being crowded out, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plays a more active role. Finally, the security services are also pressing Surkov too since they’re actively engaged with affairs in the Donbas. A gradual disengagement from Surkov’s function in foreign policy is taking place (he has to compete with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the provisional domestic policy, intra-Donbas bloc (where the General Staff and FSB have their own policy mechanisms and priorities).

Putin’s choice isn’t simple: either find Surkov’s replacement among diplomats (or even politicians) who are focused on the Minsk process, or among the “Chekists” who are interested in preventing humanitarian crises and coups in the LPR-DPR. The necessary conditions to make a confident choice aren’t yet clear. If Surkov leaves, it would be for personal reasons rather than Putin’s desire to give the resolution of the Ukraine crisis a push (of course, there won’t suddenly be a plan [for a resolution to the conflict]).

Filling a vacuum

Two new figures have joined the presidential administration, but only because there were vacancies. Konstantin Chuichenko was sent to the cabinet to be closer to his protégé Dmitry Medvedev and was replaced by FSB hand Dmitry Shalkov, formerly the head of the [Putin’s] “control center”.[i] Since 2015, Shalkov was responsible for intergovernmental affairs at the FSB, largely unpleasant work: for example, he pushed forward the “Chekist” laws. Prior to that, he led the main Military Investigation Department of the State Investigative Committee. Shalkov wasn’t too influential a player within the FSB and was more likely an outsider. For that reason, his departure can be seen as strengthening FSB director Alexander Bortnikov.

This becomes even more obvious considering the departure of another deputy from the FSB – Evgeniy Zinichev. Zinichev was expected to take Bortnikov’s place, but instead became the Minister of Emergency Situations. Thus, the FSB director who’d been actively “fired” during the last two years managed to get rid of two figures he was lumped with who weren’t members of his team. It’s important to note that the post of head of the “control center” is a largely technical role. Its main task is to maneuver between the interests of much more influential players who often have direct access to Putin.

Another newcomer, Anatoly Seryshev, joined the administration, in large part, thanks to the weakness of his predecessor – Yegveniy Shkolov, the now former aide to the president who oversaw the fight against corruption and personnel. Seryshev was deputy director of the Federal Customs Service and his promotion is linked to National Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev and the head of Rostekh Sergei Chemezov. [Both have interests in the Federal Customs Service, which has been the object of clan fights within the FSB for years.]

Both Chuichenko and Shkolov, despite their significant formal status, were political outsiders to the presidential administration. The former was too pro-Medvedev and many issues were resolved with his exit. The latter was burned by the Denis Surgobov affair[ii] – games with the FSB in Russia usually end badly. Shkolov has turned from a legendarily powerful figure into a technical player from whom Putin has significantly distanced himself. Their cohorts are also likely to be invisible players, although their gain, undoubtedly, will consist of being left alone politically. In this sense, the technocratization of power is proving true.

Current personnel decisions are just a prelude to large reshuffles that have been postponed. Vladimir Putin will have to deal with the foreign policy bloc, where Sergei Lavrov and Yuri Ushakov are clearly on their way out and Vladislav Surkov has exhausted all of his political possibilities. The president will also have to optimize the makeup of the domestic policy bloc where unresolved issues remain. The current array [of personnel] will contribute to the accumulation of internal contradictions, the erosion of political heavyweights, and the arrival of younger technocrats. But Putin himself remains the main driver behind reshuffles. He clearly doesn’t want to act according to the dictated logic of pre-election cycles and makes decisions with geopolitical context most strongly in mind. That means the biggest intrigues are still to come.

[i] The “??????????? ??????????” could be literally translated as “control department”, but basically connotes a body and network of oversight powers within the presidential administration meant to serve as a sort of “lobby” before one ascends to talk to Putin. The office juggles competing interests in a technical, middle-management sense. Chuichenko’s new role is analogous to chief of staff for Medvedev’s cabinet. Shalkov’s role is difficult to precisely define given that he’s not actually Putin’s chief of staff and needs time to settle in. Chuichenko had served in the role for a decade.

[ii] Denis Surgobov was a former head of the Main Department of Economic Security and Anti-Corruption Activities within the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was arrested and sentenced after admitting to being part of a criminal organization and sentenced to 22 years in a labor colony. The sentence was lightened to 12 years by the Supreme Court.

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JUNE 27, 2018

Commentary on Macron’s visit to Russia for

“Macron dit clairement que le passage de la confrontation à une véritable coopération dépend largement de la Russie et de son comportement, de la résolution des problèmes en Ukraine et en Syrie, du comportement du Kremlin envers les démocraties occidentales (notamment les cyberattaques)”, estime Tatiana Stoyanova, politologue et directrice du groupe d’expert R.Politik. “Il place la balle dans le camp russe, ce qui est inacceptable pour Poutine. Je n’ai vu absolument aucun signe montrant que Macron s’adoucit ou change d’attitude envers la Russie. Il ne fait qu’augmenter la mise dans le dialogue avec Moscou, en jouant autant sur le bâton que sur la carotte”. 
“Je ne pense pas que cela crée une nouvelle situation. Les sanctions n’ont pas stoppé la coopération, qui se poursuit en dépit des sanctions. Il n’y a pas d’accélération, mais un désir évident des deux côtés pour trouver des mécanismes permettant de les contourner”, estime Tatiana Stoyanova.

The article on new Russian Government for

Political Dispersion: Russia’s New Cabinet

The political and administrative dispersion of governance is under way in Russia: regulatory functions are being scattered among government and near-government players, which will inevitably result in the formation of first moderate and then increasingly pronounced polycentricity within the state. Initiative will eventually stop being punishable.

The influence of major corporations and business groups in the new Cabinet has grown. Rostec state corporation head Sergei Chemezov has significant representation: Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov (defense-industrial complex), Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov, and Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova are all considered to have ties to him.

Chemezov is the only member of Putin’s inner circle whose protégés have been successful in government. In addition to the aforementioned ministers, presidential administration head Anton Vaino is also considered one of Chemezov’s men. Among the reasons Chemezov’s charges have done so well is that they tend to be nonconfrontational and technocratic, and have priorities that fit well into recent trends: import substitution and support of domestic industry, military modernization, and the digital economy.

Yevgeny Zinichev can also be classified as a political appointee. He is one of the most mysterious figures in the security service circles. He’s been Putin’s aide-de-camp in the Federal Protective Service, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for Kaliningrad region, and a deputy director of the FSB (named as a possible replacement for FSB head Alexander Bortnikov). Zinichev has now been appointed Emergencies Minister, a great affront to Shoigu, who has long been lobbying for the Emergencies Ministry—which he previously headed—to be merged into his Defense Ministry.

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Commentary for NPR on Macron’s visit to Moscow

French President Macron’s Planned Russia Visit Met With Skepticism

Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst in France, says the simple fact that Macron is in Saint Petersburg is important for the Kremlin because it raises Putin’s stature on the global stage. The two men first met a year ago when Macron surprised Putin by inviting him to the Palace of Versailles outside Paris.

The Kremlin views him as a leader who’s here today, gone tomorrow and that he’s unlikely to accomplish anything more in Saint Petersburg than he did during his visit in Washington. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

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May 24, 2018
National Public Radio

Commentary for RFI on Macron’s visit to Moscow

Un an après Versailles, l’acte II de la relation Macron-Poutine

« Macron peut se montrer plus dur ou plus conciliant, il peut se montrer pragmatique et dire que la Russie est un partenaire stratégique, ça ne changera rien, décrypte Tatiana Stanovaya, de l’institut de réflexion R.Politik. Parce que ce qu’attend la Russie, ce sont des actes, et un changement de politique à son égard, et je pense qu’il y a un certain niveau de défiance à l’égard d’Emmanuel Macron. Ce n’est pas seulement que la Russie se méfie de lui, c’est plutôt qu’elle le sous-estime… Moscou sous-estime son rôle, ses propositions, et ses ambitions. »

« Moscou veut profiter de cette situation pour montrer qu’une approche plus pragmatique est nécessaire vis-à-vis des sanctions américaines, lorsqu’elles s’appliquent aux entreprises non américaines, ajoute Tatiana Stanovaya. L’idée c’est de remettre en cause la légitimité de ces sanctions extraterritoriales, non seulement pour l’Iran, mais de façon globale, y compris lorsqu’elles concernent les entreprises européennes qui travaillent en Russie. »

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Radio France Internationale

Interview for Libération on Macron’s visit to Russia

«Le Kremlin est persuadé que Macron est sous l’influence de Trump»

Par Veronika Dorman — 

Pour la politologue Tatiana Stanovaya, qui dirige le cabinet d’expertise R.Politik, la visite d’Emmanuel Macron à Vladimir Poutine, dans le cadre du Forum économique de Saint-Pétersbourg, ces 24 et 25 mai, ne va pas modifier en profondeur les relations entre la France et la Russie, qui n’ont d’ailleurs pas vraiment évolué depuis la première rencontre entre les deux chefs d’Etat, à Versailles, il y a un an.

Dans quel état sont les relations entre la France et la Russie?

J’ai le sentiment qu’aussi bien du côté russe que de côté français, l’humeur est comparable. Pourvu que ça ne se détériore pas encore. Pour la Russie, ce qui compte avant tout, c’est le fait que le président français soit venu. Cela légitime le dialogue avec la Russie, et pas seulement sur le dossier syrien ou ukrainien, mais sur les relations économiques, les interactions des entreprises. Pour la France, cette visite est importante, car Macron se présente comme le porte-parole de l’Europe. Il établit très clairement son système de priorités, le rapport à la Russie est très structuré, Macron ne mélange pas les dossiers. Il ne craint pas de faire les déclarations et de prendre les positions les plus dures, tout en engageant le dialogue sur les sujets les plus sensibles. La politique de dissuasion actuelle est compréhensible et logique, mais n’est pas très efficace.

Quelle a été la dynamique de cette relation depuis la première rencontre entre les deux chefs d’Etat il y a un an à Versailles?

L’élite russe continue de se méfier de Macron et de le sous-estimer en tant que dirigeant. L’un des problèmes principaux de la diplomatie russe aujourd’hui c’est qu’elle sous-estime les leaders des autres pays, et surtout la France. Le Kremlin est convaincu que les Etats-Unis dominent la politique étrangère des états de l’Union européenne. Que Macron n’est pas libre, qu’il raisonne à l’américaine et que, quels que soient, ses projets, il demeure toujours sous l’influence de Washington. Au Kremlin on se dit: «Nous allons nous mettre d’accord avec Macron, investir dans le dialogue et la recherche de solutions communes, et ensuite Macron ira voir Merkel, ira à Washington et ils rebattront les cartes dans notre dos. Quel est l’intérêt de faire des efforts?»

Et pour la France?

Le problème est que la Russie n’est pas prête à développer le dialogue dans le sens proposé par la France. Prenons l’exemple du «Dialogue du Trianon»: la France le pense comme une interaction avec la société civile, la Russie impose une relation avec des fonctionnaires, des gens proches du pouvoir. Coté français, donc, c’est la déception et l’abattement. Et côté russe, comme ce n’était pas leur idée, ils sont assez indifférents.

L’un des dossiers brûlants qui vont être abordés est l’Iran, suite au retrait des Etats-Unis de l’accord sur le nucléaire.

Ni la France ni la Russe n’étaient réellement prêtes à la sortie des Etats-Unis de l’accord. Le risque existait, mais personne ne s’y est vraiment préparé. Je ne pense pas que Poutine et Macron aient des solutions très élaborées à ce stade. Macron propose un accord élargi, mais le Kremlin est réticent, car il trouve que c’est une solution à sens unique, avec beaucoup trop de responsabilités, sans vraiment de contrepartie. La Russie ne voit pas l’intérêt de travailler sur un tel accord, tout en restant ouverte à la discussion. L’Iran est effectivement le thème central, qui éclipse tout le reste, mais je n’attendrais pas une percée diplomatique. Les élites russes espèrent peut-être que le désaccord entre les Européens et Washington peut leur être bénéfique, mais en réalité cette discorde ralentira la politique de dissuasion plus qu’elle ne participera au rapprochement entre la Russie et l’Europe. La méfiance est trop profonde. Les relations trop abîmées, avec l’affaire Skripal, l’ingérence dans les élections… Et les décisions de Trump qui compliquent les relations internationales ne sont pas une raison pour que l’Europe révise ses relations avec la Russie.

Poutine a invité Macron dans le cadre du Forum économique de Saint-Pétersbourg. Faut-il y voir une intention particulière?

C’est une manière d’élargir le champ de manœuvre, en sortant du cadre des relations purement géopolitiques. D’obliger la France à parler de coopération économique, de stratégie, de défense, au-delà des dossiers épineux habituels qui empoisonnent les relations entre les deux pays.

24 mai 2018 à 19:30

Telegram Paradox, More of the Same Putin, Duma’s Counter-Sanctions

Russian media roundup, April 27 – May 4, 2018

  • Tatiana Stanovaya, political scientist: The rules of Russian domestic politics have changed, as the Duma emerges as a new player on the geopolitical field.
  • The most curious part of the bill is not its contents but the fact that it was not developed inside the Duma, and not by the Kremlin administration as one would expect. This shows Volodin’s bold ambitions and growing political power.
  • A larger interpretation points to a demonopolization of the policy-development system (but not yet the decision-making). As Putin’s priorities and interests appear more vague, large political players try to seize opportunities to advance their own agendas [RBC].

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How Western Sanctions Will Alter Ties Between Russian Big Business and the Kremlin

Tatiana Stanovaya,
The United States’ latest round of sanctions has hit Russia hard. In the future, the Russian state will have to share the emerging risks and minimize socioeconomic consequences for the impacted regions and industries. This will lead to a new wave of property redistribution based upon state — not economic — interests.

America’s latest round of sanctions has proven to be one of the most powerful blows against Russia since 2014. It has impacted not only government officials, but also influential business elite. And the shockwaves won’t stop there: the newest sanctions will affect budget and tax policies, property distribution, relations between government and the business community, macroeconomic indicators, and the public’s sense of social well-being.

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3 Mai 2018
Tatiana Stanovaya
Carnegie Moscow Center

Quotation from analytical Bulletin #2(3)2018 in BIP

La lettre confidentielle “Russian politics” affirme qu’au printemps 2017, le conflit entre Rosneft
et Transneft a été clos « du fait de l’implication personnelle de Poutine, qui a mis fin aux tentatives
de Setchine d’utiliser les ressources du FSB contre Tokarev ». Mais l’auteur de ces informations,
la politologue Tatiana Stanovaïa, déclare au BIP qu’elle « n’exclut pas que la chute des frères
Magomedov soit liée aux manoeuvres de M. Setchine, qui ainsi bloque la transaction sur le
NMTP ». « En outre, poursuit-elle, le coup porté aux Magomedov est aussi un mauvais coup pour
leurs amis au gouvernement et vieux ennemis de M. Setchine, à savoir le Premier ministre Dmitri
Medvedev et son bras droit, Arkadi Dvorkovitch, le vice-Premier ministre en charge de l’Énergie ».
Nous retrouvons là une ligne de fracture au sein des cercles dirigeants russes actuels : les siloviki
(membres des diverses forces de sécurité, dont le patron de Rosneft est proche) et ceux qui se
présentent comme les « libéraux ».
Pour Tatiana Stanovaïa, le jeu complexe qui se déroule autour de Transneft, et dont les tenants
et aboutissants ne sont pas tous clairs à ce stade, est « certainement un avatar de la situation
économique difficile que traverse la Russie, entre bas prix du pétrole et sanctions occidentales.
Les ressources financières se font plus rares et, du coup, les relations se tendent au sein de l’élite
politico-financière du pays ».

To read more

N°13589 — Lundi 7 mai 2018 — 54e année
BIP, le bulletin de l'industrie pétrolière
Régis Genté

Trump diffère les sanctions contre le géant russe Rusal

Commentary for Le Figaro

Le geste de bonne volonté américain signifie-t-il que Washington croit en la bonne volonté d’Oleg Deripaska? Rien n’est moins sûr. D’abord, la Russie n’est pas la seule à bénéficier de la mansuétude américaine du 1er mai. Washington a parallèlement décalé d’un mois l’introduction de taxes d’importation sur l’aluminium et l’acier pour d’autres pays: le Canada, le Mexique et l’Union européenne. Le répit accordé révèle que dans le cas de Rusal, une logique de nature protectionniste est également à l’œuvre, analyste Tatiana Stanovaya, directrice du groupe d’experts R. Politik, qui souligne aussi que les mesures américaines prises à l’encontre de Deripaska contrastaient par rapport à la logique générale des sanctions. «S’ajoutant à la ligne principale d’endiguement de la Russie, une priorité intérieure a émergé: protéger le marché américain de l’aluminium», indique Tatiana Stanovaya.

Sur la facette «endiguement» des sanctions, «les États-Unis considèrent probablement qu’une réduction de la participation de Deripaska sous la barre des 50 % est un processus complexe et long. Et même si cela se réalise, il ne sera pas facile de trouver un remplaçant qui ne soit pas associé au régime Poutine» et qui disposerait des ressources financières pour racheter des parts du capital à Oleg Deripaska.

«Les États-Unis ont forcé la Russie à “neutraliser” politiquement Rusal. Or, cette tâche s’avère complexe pour le Kremlin, non seulement d’un point de vue économique, mais aussi d’un point de vue politique», conclut l’experte.

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2 May 2018
Emmanuel Grynszpan

How Long Will the World’s Most Powerful Leaders Last?

Commentary for Bloomberg

“Putin wants to keep the levers of influence to give him a veto over his successor’s decisions,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst at the R.Politik think tank. “He has to build a system that will maintain the status quo even when he isn’t president—the Putin regime must remain even without Putin.”

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March 16, 2018

The Russian election and the rise of Putin’s young technocrats

Commentary for Financial Times

“They are focused on strengthening the political institutions,” says Tatyana Stanovaya, director of the analytical department of the Centre for Political Technologies, a Moscow consultancy. Such efforts are very different from enhancing democracy. “The system needs to be rejigged in a way that makes it capable of running on its own, without him but on the track he has determined,” adds Ms Stanovaya.

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March 15, 2018
FT Kathrin Hille and Henry Foy

The Real Drama In Russia’s Election Comes After The Vote

Commentary for HuffPost

Positions in Putin’s new government may instead fall to a new generation of officials whose ambitions the president can easily control.

“For Putin, it will be much easier to choose young technocrats for government positions instead of trying to persuade some politically strong, experienced figures,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, head of the political analysis organization R.Politik.

As a result, Stanovaya says it’s likely that these younger, less ideological figures who won’t challenge Putin’s authority will enter Russia’s government. Important figures in the Kremlin may then shift to roles more like Sechin’s, using unofficial means of wielding their influence while avoiding the accountability that comes with public office.

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March 17, 2018
By Nick Robins-Early

Putin eyes fourth term in polls as opposition cries foul

Commentary for AFP

While the result of the vote was a foregone conclusion, the next six years would be anything but predictable, said Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst with Moscow’s Center for Political Technologies.

“No one can tell now just how emotional and radical Putin’s actions will be under increasing geopolitical pressure,” she told AFP, adding the role of the military and the security service would increase.

“The regime is inclined to become more closed and tough.”

Read the article

March 18, 2018

Vladimir Poutine, un nouveau mandat pour quoi faire?

Commentary for Le temps

Bien avant le démarrage de la campagne électorale, les experts ont commencé à s’interroger sur la composition du futur gouvernement. Maintenir l’ultra-loyal Dmitri Medvedev, fusible pour les mesures impopulaires ou en cas de dégradation de la conjoncture économique, ou introduire du sang frais? «Il est plus facile de choisir de jeunes technocrates pour des postes gouvernementaux que de s’échiner à trouver des hommes politiques confirmés et expérimentés», estime la politologue Tatiana Stanovaya, directrice du cabinet d’experts R.Politik…
Quant au modèle politique, tout le monde s’attend à une consolidation de la «verticale du pouvoir». «Le régime tend à se refermer et à se durcir», observe Tatiana Stanovaya, qui souligne l’influence croissante du FSB (ex-KGB). «Ses dirigeants s’affirment comme une nouvelle noblesse. Le FSB s’est mis à influencer fortement les processus législatifs, la politique domestique (le contrôle de l’opposition) et même le développement de l’économie. Nous entrons dans une nouvelle phase: l’influence croissante du FSB sur la vie quotidienne. Un durcissement sera inévitable durant le quatrième mandat de Poutine. Je n’exclus pas l’instauration de mesures limitant la liberté de sortie du territoire.»

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19 mars 2018
Le Temps
Emmanuel Grynszpan

Looking Beyond 2018: Putin and the Technocrats

The 2018 Russian presidential election will be the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s presumed final act as he seeks to ascend to the pantheon of Russia’s great historical figures. But as Putin loses interest in some of the more down-to-earth details of government, the Kremlin is testing new models of technocratic rule in order to sustain the regime.

Read the article

October 6, 2017
Tatyana Stanovaya

Sure of Re-Election, Putin Barely Appears on Campaign Trail

Commentary for

“It’s a very strange campaign because Putin sees the election as a harmful thing that distracts him from his real task’’ of running the country, said Tatiana Stanovaya, an independent political analyst. “He’s not interested in what voters care about.’’

Struggling with a cold for much of the campaign, Putin attended few election events and, as in previous contests, dodged televised debates with his opponents. Meanwhile, state broadcasters lavished coverage on presidential visits to Russia’s regions.

With two days to go before the vote, the Kremlin Friday announced Putin had already ordered his staff to draft policy decrees covering the next term.

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16 mars 2018
Be Henry Meyer

Journée noire de la Bourse russe face aux nouvelles sanctions

Commentary for Le Figaro

Pour Tatiana Stanovaya, directrice du groupe d’experts R.Politik, « le Kremlin va chercher en premier à protéger ceux qui, aux yeux de Poutine, apparaissent
comme les piliers du régime, soit le gaz, le pétrole et les banques ». Mais d’un autre côté, la protection s’effectuera sur un principe politique, pour montrer à l’Occident que la pression fait face à une résistance. Une lutte va se dérouler
sur la question de qui a droit à la protection de l’État, car ses ressources financières sont très limitées, tout comme les instruments. « En fin de compte, cela bénéficiera aux Siloviki (dirigeants des structures de sécurité de l’État, NDLR) qui poussent vers une ligne isolationniste », précise Tatiana Stanovaya.

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April 4, 2018
Le Figaro

Rotating the Elite: The Kremlin’s New Personnel Policy

Whatever changes 2018 and 2024 bring to Russia’s leadership, the broader political system will become increasingly depersonalized, making it—rather than the president—the source of stability.

Read the article

JANUARY 30, 2018
Tatiana Stanovaya