Many people, especially in Russia, use Facebook as a professional tool, whereas I keep it primarily for personal friends. To bridge the gap between this blog and my twitter feed, though, I have now set up a separate, open FB page, Mark Galeotti on Russia which I will use for my thoughts, links and random postings specifically relating to Russia. Please feel free to go Like this page (so it will appear on your feed) and likewise direct anyone else you think might be interested in it to do the same!
Posted by Mark Galeotti on November 11, 2016
Perhaps we should have been warned by the American predilection for zombie apocalypse dramas, that it was a precautionary signal from deep within the zeitgeist. I write this with not all the states declared, but the all-but-certainty that Donald Trump is going to be the next US president, swept into the White House on a tide of populism, nativism, spite, and downright anti-intellectualism, such as to make the whole Brexit affair look positively mannered and statesmanlike. A few quick thoughts:
- Let’s not exaggerate Trump’s actual impact on the world. Amidst the eschatological angst, it is important at least to start by noting that — as every president has had to discover — he (and someday she) is just one person. Even an aligned Congress can act as a brake on some of the more lunatic or destructive policies, as will the very machinery of government. Besides, Trump gives little evidence of being details-oriented or having any clear sense of a vision, which will mean that he may well prove more willing to let the machine grind along, so long as he gets enough photo ops and adulatory mentions. Yes, there is no question that a Trump presidency will have serious, dangerous implications, but here the very framing of the US political system — designed, after all, to make executive power hard to apply — and his own limitations may be useful.
- It’s winter in Central Europe. Whether or not Trump actually means anything he said, especially his backpedalling from US commitments to the defence of NATO allies, nonetheless this must be a real concern in the Baltics and Central Europe. Ultimately, there is no reason to believe Russia has any territorial designs on NATO states, but it will, if it feels it has the chance, bully and intervene. More to the point, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, even Belarus are going to have to come to terms with a future in which they are unlikely to be able to count on serious Western support and protection. Putin may have pushed for a Yalta 2.0 division of Europe, but this election essentially hands him the half of that deal he wanted, by default.
- The Kremlin’s glee must be tinged with a degree of nervousness. Nonetheless, the Russians never expected Trump to win, and their calculus was based on trying to ensure a Clinton presidency was weakened from the gate. Yes, Trump has been bizarrely positive about Putin and there is the possibility of a Putin-Berlusconi-type mutual man-crush as ageing, soi disant alpha males find fellow reinforcement in each other. But much of the Kremlin’s geopolitical playbook has been based on it being the unpredictable, risk-taking party, relying on the West to be the responsible adult, the force for stability and reason. Trump’s friendship is hardly an asset on which to rely, and his balance an even less stable foundation. The Kremlin might actually feel it has to be a little more cautious and predictable, precisely because it is dealing with someone who actually internalises the kind of devil-may-care belligerence Putin affects.
- Syria will burn. Between Trump’s open desire to get some more bombs dropped, and his expressed willingness to deal with the Assad regime as a lesser evil to Islamic States, we can expect no push for peace and regime change in Syria. Eastern Aleppo may itself prove a harbinger of this war.
- History restarts, and democracy loses some of its force of appeal. The notion that the end of the Soviet idea in 1991 meant that history had ended and liberal democracy had won has long been debunked, but this is pretty much the final spadeful of earth on its coffin. It is unlikely that, for the moment, American democracy will have anything like the same power of example, just at the time when Europe is in a populism and legitimacy crisis of its own.
- The security concerns are global. Trump appears to be unconcerned with climate change — the single greatest global security threat — and almost relishing a more confrontational approach to geopolitics. I can hardly see him interested in development aid, or disaster relief, or humanitarian foreign politics in general; his basic calculus appears to be a short-termist profit maximisation for USA Inc. This is bad for everyone, whether American or Zimbabwean, or from somewhere in between.
- Some hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. There always needs to be some hope, but I confess this morning I am scrabbling around in the corners of this particular Pandora’s box to find any. It may galvanise Europe to be more serious in defending itself from overt and covert threats, no longer being able to count on the big brother across the ocean. At the very least hitting the 2% of GDP NATO target expenditure more consistently would be a plus.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on November 9, 2016
Remember Evgeni Nikolaevich Zinichev? He was the former Putin bodyguard made acting governor of Kaliningrad region, who, I’d expect, had a record-breaking brevity of tenure. Appointed in July, on October he left the position at his own request, citing family reasons (although even at the time, locals suspected it was more that he didn’t like the job). Well, it doesn’t seem to have done him any harm: at the end of October he was appointed to a new, specially-created sixth deputy director position at the Federal Security Service, although it only just seems to have been reported.
The 50-year-old Zinichev served in the Soviet KGB, then the forbears of the FSB, before moving to the Federal Guard Service (FSO) in 2006, working as a bodyguard in Putin’s Presidential Security Service (SBP), increasingly the wellspring of a new generation of the elite. In June 2015, he became head of the FSB’s regional directorate for Kaliningrad. (Where, incidentally, he received what for him may have been some rather uncomfortably press scrutiny, not least about his slightly suspect educational record).
Just over a year later, on 28 July 2016, he was appointed acting governor of Kalingrad region, as part of a general reshuffle I cover here. His first press conference notoriously lasted just 49 seconds, at which he called for inward investment and the ‘stabilisation of the socio-economic situation.’ Brevity was clearly to be his defining characteristic: on 6 October, less than two and a half months later, he stepped down even before his own inauguration.
At the end of October, though, he was appointed deputy director of the FSB, with the rank of lieutenant general. There were no spare slots, so a whole new position was created for him, seemingly without portfolio.
First of all, I wonder if this means Zinichev is being considered for higher office, cycling with frankly insulting speed through the gubernatorship just to tick that box on his CV before rushing him back to Moscow, where all real power lies. There certainly seems not only to have been no negative fallout from his lack of staying power in Kaliningrad, but also a particular eagerness to find him a comfortable and powerful berth at the FSB.
It also may be an uncomfortable situation for FSB director Alexander Bortnikov. Back at the start of 2015, the FSB backed its sometimes-rival GRU when it tried to fight off efforts by the Kremlin to parachute another ex-bodyguard, Alexei Dyumin, in to head it. That initiative was foiled, in part because Dyumin had no credible experience within military intelligence. Is Zinichev – who, after all, has real FSB experience – being installed either as Putin’s ‘political commissar’ within the FSB as a control agent, or else as a potential successor to Bortnikov.
Either way, the bodyguards continue to rise.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on November 5, 2016
Lots of travel this month, so fewer publications…
‘Warsaw’s window on Western fears about Russia,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 31 October
‘Коварные детки Кремля‘, Radio Svoboda, 29 October (with Anna Arutunyan) [in Russian]
‘Russian security reforms reflect stability fears,’ Jane’s Intelligence Review, 28 October (cover story for the November issue, sadly behind a paywall)
‘Putin’s Chaos Strategy Is Coming Back to Bite Him in the Ass‘, Foreign Policy, 26 October
‘Will the West Hack Back?‘, RFE/RL Power Vertical podcast, 27 October
‘Tensions between Russia and the West,’ Colgate Maroon News, 20 October (report on a talk I gave at Colgate University)
‘Late Putinism – between limbo and the lightning bolt‘, Business New Europe, 12 October
‘Aleppo is paying for Russia’s imagined global threat,’ ECFR Commentary, 10 October
‘Russia’s Imaginary Enemy,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 7 October
‘Murder, Inc.,’ RFE/RL Power Vertical Podcast, 7 October
‘Nebezpečí pozdního putinismu: žádný ďábelský génius, ale car v kokonu polopravd a lží‘, Česky rozhlas interview, 7 October (later in English translation ‘The Perils of Late Putinism: not an evil genius, but a tsar,’ by CEE New Perspectives here)
Posted by Mark Galeotti on November 2, 2016
Here’s September’s articles and miscellaneous acts of punditry:
‘An expert’s guide to Putin’s propaganda playbook’, CNN Opinion, 29 September
‘Putin Is Playing by Grozny Rules in Aleppo,’ Foreign Policy, 29 September
‘Expert: Putin’s Reported Plan to Restore KGB May Reflect Fear of Overthrow’, Voice of America 26 September [interview]
‘Mark Galeotti on the Russian elections,’ IIR video briefing, 23 September
‘”New KGB” plans betray Putin’s anxiety,’ ECFR Commentary, 19 September
RFE/RL Facebook Live video broadcast on the Russian elections, 18 September
‘Kremlin Kabuki,’ RFE/RL Power Vertical podcast, 16 September
‘Goodbye, Bastrykin?,’ openDemocracy: Russia, 15 September
‘Window on the East: Russia votes for a new Duma. Will it result in protests or status quo?’, Business New Europe podcast, 15 September [podcast]
‘Russians can make a difference in Sunday’s elections: by staying at home,’ Business New Europe, 14 September
‘As the Russian military faces cuts, Putin will lose muscle,’ Business New Europe, 12 September
‘Putin’s Original Sin,’ RFE/RL Power Vertical podcast, 9 September
Incidentally, just a reminder to people that from 1 September I have been a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague — I am no longer at NYU. Do follow the IIR’ twitter feed (@) for a Central European take on international affairs.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on October 12, 2016
August is traditionally the slow season (although rarely so when it comes to Russia), but also is the month in which I was moving to Prague to take up my new position as a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague. Nonetheless, here are my various publications:
‘Putin’s perverse win-win in the Olympic doping scandal‘, Vox, 23 August
‘“This Is a Strategy of Tension” – Galeotti on FSB Statement,’ interview on Hromadske TV, 20 August
‘Can government reshuffles bring any hope for Russia?,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 19 August
‘Putin’s incredible shrinking circle,’ openDemocracy: Russia, 16 August
‘Ossified Putinism,’ interview for Sean’s Russia Blog (SRB) podcast, 13 August
‘Vladimir and Nicholas: Putinism enters a new historic phase,’ ECFR Commentary, 9 August
‘What Turkey can learn from Russia about coup-proofing the military,’ War On The Rocks, 2 August
‘Confessions of a Kremlin conspiracy theorist,’ openDemocracy: Russia, 1 August
Posted by Mark Galeotti on September 5, 2016