Putin’s Intelligence Crisis

February 3, 2017
Amid the political and diplomatic chaos in the US since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, the Russian leadership has been experiencing its own turmoil, until recently kept under wraps, but now emerging into the open. Read full article

Russia: The End of the Illusion?

February 23, 2016
A recent poll by the respected Levada Center in Moscow reported that more than half of all Russians—53 percent—think the greatest threat now facing their country is economic impoverishment. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has been confronted with some of the most devastating revelations of high-level government corruption yet to surface during the Putin era. Read full article>>

Egypt:Why Putin Needs the FBI

NOVEMBER 9, 2015
The investigation of the crash of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31 took an unexpected turn on Friday, when unnamed senior US officials told CBS News that Russian authorities had requested the help of the FBI.
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Why Russia Needs Syria

OCTOBER 13,2015
In both the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts, the Kremlin is trying to provide a counterweight to NATO. Yet while Russia has managed thus far to hold its own in Ukraine, the Syrian gambit is far riskier. Russian journalist Yulia Latynina says, “The scandals over Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will seem like kindergarten in comparison to what in a month the western media will be saying about Russian involvement in Syria.” Read full Article

A Kremlin Conspiracy Gone Wrong?

MARCH 15,2015
When Russian authorities rounded up five Chechen suspects in the assassination of leading opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, it appeared the Kremlin was following a predictable path. Instead, the arrests have led to new speculation about the Kremlin’s involvement in the murder.Read full Article

Russia: Another Dead Democrat

MARCH 2, 2015
Not only was Russian politician and liberal activist Boris Nemtsov very close to the Kremlin when he was shot dead on Bol’shoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. He was also in an area that was under the intense surveillance of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), a security agency under the direct control of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Read Full Article

Flight MH17: Will Russia Get Away With It?

NOVEMBER 19, 2014
A growing number of unofficial investigations show unambiguously that a Russian missile system was used to down Malaysian flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Read Full Article

Obama’s Putin Delusion

MARCH 29, 2014
Are we playing Vladimir Putin’s game? On Friday, amid what may be the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban missile affair, the Russian president put in a surprise call to President Obama. The purpose of the call, apparently, was to raise the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, though it remains unclear whether Putin wants to negotiate with the West or was just trying to ascertain Obama’s level of concern about further Russian encroachments on Ukraine—and possibly neighboring Moldova. Whatever the case, the White House seems to have been caught completely off-guard by Putin’s call, just as it was by Russia’s military take-over of Crimea last month. Read Full Article

Putin’s Golden Dilemma

MARCH 5, 2014
On the surface, it would appear that Russian President Vladimir Putin has gained the upper hand in Ukraine since sending Russian troops to Crimea: while Western leaders have vigorously protested the incursion, there has been little enthusiasm for some kind of direct action in support of the new government in Kiev. Yet behind the military posturing and defiant rhetoric, Putin and his advisers seem hesitant to deploy Russian troops beyond Crimea, and on Monday they halted large-scale military maneuvers in Russia’s western military district, which had aroused panic in Kiev. Is the Kremlin more worried about this crisis than we think? Read Full Article

The Hidden Face of Russian Security

JANUARY 21, 2013
As the US prepares to send more than two hundred athletes to Sochi, concerns about terrorism continue to mount. The December bombings in Volgograd might have been anticipated or even thwarted if the FSB had not botched an earlier investigation. Meanwhile, continued threats provide a convenient pretext for more crackdowns on civil rights.Read Full Article

Snowden in Exile

AUGUST 31, 2013
It is probably unfair to draw comparisons between Edward Snowden and Kim Philby, another Westerner who fled to Russia, whose betrayal of his country as a double agent did unprecedented damage and cost many lives. Snowden was not an agent of a foreign state, and was apparently motivated to divulge NSA secrets to journalists by his indignation at the discovery of the NSA’s pervasive and intrusive eavesdropping program. But the longer Snowden remains in Russia, at the mercy of his Russian hosts, the greater the chances of his ending up like Philby and living the life of a man without a country. Read Full Article

Playing Moscow’s Game

JUNE 3, 2013
As usual, the Russian government is playing a tough game with the US and its Western allies over Syria, with the revelations in late May that it plans to deliver advanced S300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime, along with a reported ten new MiG fighter planes. Yet while voicing criticism of these deals, the Obama administration has been welcoming a series of senior Russian officials to Washington, and Britain has actually softened its relations with the Russian government in recent weeks. Why is the Kremlin getting away with this? Read Full Article

Russia After Boston: A Free Pass on Human Rights?

APRIL 22, 2013
The close cooperation between Moscow and Washington on the Boston bombing investigation raises new questions about the issue of human rights in Russia. Revelations that the alleged bombers were two brothers of Chechen origin, and that Russian authorities had warned their American counterparts in 2011 about one of them, the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, has put pressure on the FBI for not adequately following up on the Russian requests. Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts? Read Full Article

Russia: The New Struggle With Putin

OCTOBER 10, 2012
Although they have gotten little attention in the Western press, the regional elections taking place throughout Russia on October 14 may be Vladimir Putin’s greatest test since his return to the presidency last spring. With voters in seventy-three of Russia’s eighty-three regions going to the polls less than a year after the Kremlin faced allegations of widespread fraud in parliamentary elections, the looming question for Putin is whether he can ensure a favorable outcome without overt manipulation. For the opposition, a primary concern is whether their candidates will even be on the ballot. Read Full Article

Putin’s Propaganda Man

JUNE 16, 2012
Though he was inaugurated only weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin already faces serious challenges to his administration. Following his March election, in which fraud was alleged by numerous observers, the inauguration itself was clouded by street protests in which hundreds were detained. And in an extensive new survey of Russian voters, the Center For Strategic Studies in Moscow now finds that public support for Putin’s government is eroding steadily, raising the possibility of a political crisis before he finishes his six-year term. If the report is accurate, then the Kremlin is going to have to find new ways to contain the discontent, especially if the economy starts to decline because of the downturn in Europe and lower oil prices. Read Full Article

Stealing Russia’s Future

MARCH 6, 2012
It came as little surprise that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won Russia’s March 4 presidential election, but the fact that he received over 63 percent of the vote was unexpected. To be sure, the Kremlin had launched a huge propaganda effort on Putin’s behalf, and the four other candidates on the ballot, including billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (who represented no party and had no clear platform), hardly offered viable alternatives. But Putin’s popularity had been eroded following December’s disputed parliamentary elections, and recent large-scale protests had called into question the continued strength of his support. Read Full Article

The Kremlin Strikes Back

JANUARY 26, 2012

Judging from his outburst last week during a televised meeting with Russian media chiefs, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is getting rattled by the increasingly vocal opposition to the Kremlin. In a tense exchange with Aleksei Venediktov, editor of the radio station Ekho Moskvy, a key forum for the opposition, Putin recounted how he had listened to the radio during a ski trip with President Dmitry Medvedev and was shocked to hear a broadcast that was favorable to the planned US missile defense system, which the Kremlin vehemently opposes. Although Venediktov remained calm and deferential, Putin then blurted out: “I see that you are upset with me. I see it in your face. Why? I do not take offense when you pour diarrhea on me day in and day out, and yet you have taken offense.”

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Making the Case Against the Kremlin

DECEMBER 6, 2011
No one expected Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s dominant United Russia party to do as well in Sunday’s parliamentary elections as it has in the past. Indeed, the Kremlin was so nervous about United Russia losing seats in the Duma that it unleashed its prosecutors on the respected Russian independent vote-monitoring organization Golos (it was fined $1000 a few days ago for procedural violations), and Western election observers now say the vote was “neither free nor fair.” Even so, the extent of United Russia’s decline is startling: it drew slightly less than 50 percent on Sunday, down from the more than 64 percent of the vote it got in 2007.
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Putin’s Risky Course

OCTOBER 7, 2011
As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin celebrates his 59th birthday today, it is arguably an especially happy occasion for him. Two weeks ago, on September 24, President Dmitry Medvedev announced that he would step aside so that Putin, instead of him, could represent the United Russia Party in the March 2012 presidential elections. This means that Putin—who after years of dominating the political scene is unlikely to face a credible challenger—could serve as leader of the Kremlin until 2024, when he will turn 72, around the same age as his predecessors in the Soviet era. But perhaps Putin should not celebrate too soon.
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Caving to the Kremlin

SEPTEMBER 16, 2011
Judging from Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Moscow on September 12, the British government has decided to cave into the Russians in the long-running dispute over the November 2006 murder in London of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. The victim, who was highly critical of Vladimir Putin and had been given asylum in Britain in 2000, died an agonizing death at a North London hospital on November 23, three weeks after being poisoned with polonium 210—a rare and highly lethal radioactive substance. As a result of Russia’s unwillingness to cooperate with its investigation of the crime, Britain ended intelligence sharing with Moscow and introduced new visa restrictions on Russian businessmen trying to go to the UK. But Cameron’s meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin this week indicates that Britain is reassessing its Moscow strategy—and by extension, its view of the Russian leadership. Read full article

Hope for Khodorkovsky, and for Russia?

JUNE 8, 2011
At first glance, it is hard not to conclude that the future looks dire for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, the former Yukos executives who have been in prison since 2003 and are widely seen as victims of the Kremlin’s power politics and greed over oil assets. On May 24, a Moscow City Court upheld a second verdict against the two men on charges of stealing oil and money-laundering, which was issued last December; in reducing their sentence by just one year, the decision requires them to serve five more years in a Siberian labor camp. (No wonder Khodorkovsky’s mother burst into tears when the court announced its verdict.) A week later, the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg denied a claim by Khodorkovsky’s lawyers that his original arrest in 2003 was politically motivated. And on Tuesday, Moscow’s Preobrazhensky District Court sent back applications for the parole of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, which had been submitted by their lawyers ten days ago, saying some of the required paperwork was missing.
Yet despite this apparent bad news, there may be growing reason to hope that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev will be released early. Read full article

Putting the Watch on Putin

APRIL 14, 2011
Russia’s democratic opposition gets a lot of criticism from political observers for failing to convey its message to ordinary Russians. No doubt this owes in part to the overwhelming dominance of the country’s political space by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his supporters as well as to general political apathy. As authoritarian states in the Middle East erupt in popular uprisings, the Russian public continues, for the most part, to be resigned to its political leadership. In a new poll conducted by the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), 61 percent of respondents said they take no interest in politics or public life, up from 39 percent in 2007. Read full article >>

Why the Kremlin Can’t Fight Terrorism

FEBRUARY 16, 2011
As the story of the horrific January 24 bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport continues to unfold, the parallels with past major terrorist attacks in Russia are striking. It is not just the high number of casualties (36 dead and 160 wounded) and that the perpetrators appear to have come from the volatile North Caucasus. As with earlier such violence, there were also serious warning signs in advance that were ignored, and the immediate handling of the attack by the authorities was botched. Above all, the confusing and contradictory response of both the security agencies and Russia’s leadership has once again raised troubling questions about the Kremlin’s counter-terrorism policies. Read full article >>

The End of the Medvedev Revolution?

JANUARY 5, 2011
Since a Russian judge sentenced former Yukos oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, to thirteen and a half years in prison on December 30, many commentators have viewed the outcome—after a 22-month trial that openly flouted judicial standards—as a major setback for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. After all, a little more than a year ago, Medvedev gained international attention for vowing to institute the rule of law in Russia and make foreign investment in Russia a top priority, and there had been growing speculation that he might begin to take on the entrenched interests of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. For the moment, those hopes seem dashed. In the long run, however, the case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev may hurt Putin more than Medvedev as the two rivals position themselves for the 2012 presidential contest. Read full article >>

All the President’s Men? Inside the Kremlin’s Moscow Problem

OCTOBER 12, 2010
Poor Yuri Luzhkov. He can’t keep his mouth shut. Just when it seemed that the fall-out from his abrupt dismissal in late September as Moscow’s mayor had begun to dissipate, Luzhkov gave an interview on CNN in which he once more attacked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the man who fired him: “Unfortunately, we’ve seen a whole set of circumstances happening in the country on Medvedev’s watch—calamities, terrorist acts, bad harvest and so on. These kinds of things don’t contribute to the tangible results of his work as the President.” Read full article >>

Moscow and the ‘Merchant of Death’

SEPTEMBER 2, 2010
Over the past couple of weeks, the case of the infamous Russian arms trader Victor Bout—who has supplied guns, ammunition, and material to groups ranging from the FARC in Colombia to the Afghan Taliban—has generated enormous attention and raised many questions. Considered one of the world’s most prolific weapons traffickers, Bout has become the object of a high-level tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow over US efforts to extradite him from Thailand, where he is being held. Yet amid all the speculation about Russia’s interest in the case, one of the more revealing clues about Bout’s Kremlin connections has gone largely unnoticed. Read full article >>

The Kremlin’s Chechen Dragon

MAY 27, 2010
In the summer of 2004, two years and four months before she was gunned down in the entrance to her Moscow apartment, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya made a bold visit to Chechnya to interview 27-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov, who had recently become (with the Kremlin’s blessing) the republic’s de-facto leader. It proved to be a harrowing experience. When they met face to face, Kadyrov could not contain his rage at Politkovskaya for reporting on his brutal rise to power, even threatening to have her shot. Politkovskaya concluded later that “a little dragon has been raised by the Kremlin. Now they need to feed it. Otherwise it will spit fire.” Read full article >>

What Happened to Wallenberg: Russia’s Chilling Revelation

APRIL 26, 2010
The fate of Raoul Wallenberg, the heroic young Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews before he was arrested by the Soviets in Budapest in early 1945, is one of the great unresolved mysteries of World War II. For decades, the official story from Moscow has been that Wallenberg died in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison on July 17, 1947—two and a half years after he was captured. But many questions have surrounded that story, and now the Russians themselves have come up with startling new information suggesting that Wallenberg did not die on that date. Read full article >>

Death in Detention: Russia’s Prison Scandal

JANUARY 7, 2010
The horrors of Soviet prisons and labor camps were described vividly in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Yevgenia Ginzburg’s Into the Whirlwind, and later, by the Soviet dissident and former political prisoner Anatoly Marchenko, in his 1969 memoir, My Testimony. To judge from a disturbing new report about the tragic death of 37-year-old lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in late November, Russia’s current penal system is almost as bad as it used to be. Read full article >>

Terror on the Nevsky Express

DECEMBER 4, 2009
The horrific November 27 bombing of the Nevsky Express halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg could have serious political repercussions for the Kremlin. News of the explosion, which killed twenty-six and injured around a hundred passengers aboard the luxury, high-speed train, sent shockwaves throughout Russia. Adding to the sense of danger were the deaths of two high-level federal officials in the attack, as well as a second bombing at the site many hours later, which injured Alexander Bastrykhin, the head of the powerful Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, and several of his subordinates, who had come to examine the damage. These bombings were followed by yet another explosion, on a railway track in the North Caucasian republic of Dagestan, on November 30. As Yulia Latynina, one of Russia’s top independent journalists put it: “The feeling of war, of a complete and total disintegration of the state, is hanging in the air.” Read full article >>