Recent Posts

The Inadvertent Suicide of Boris Nemtsov

As the killing of Boris Nemtsov slowly fades from Western media’s collective memory, an investigation into the murder of another Putin opponent, the Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, is wrapping up in London. Both men died dramatically – Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium, dying a slow, grisly death in a London hospital, while Nemtsov was shot a mere 200 yards from the Kremlin. Both men also had a common enemy: Vladimir Putin.

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Notes on Putin’s Vanishing Act

And the world breathed a sigh of relief — Vladimir Putin reappeared yesterday after 11 days away from the public eye. His absence inspired a flourishing of wide-eyed theories from Westerners: perhaps a coup d’état? Visiting a Swiss lovechild? Or maybe just a bad flu? As the always-cool Putin remarked: “It would be boring without gossip.”

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The Return of History

From Moscow to D.C, officials are feeling nostalgic. Maybe they miss the terrifying simplicity of the atomic age, or perhaps a West vs. Russia proxy war in Ukraine has everyone giddy, but as Ukraine’s ceasefire dissolves again into civil war, policymakers are falling back on Cold War strategies to “win” in Ukraine. The dizzying blend of sanctions, denunciations, and covert warfare is lazy foreign policy, a knee jerk reaction that ignores Ukraine’s suffering while worsening the crisis. If a new Cold War was preventable a year ago, Russia and the West seem eager to ensure one now.

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Happy New Year From Uncle Putin

As is becoming traditional, Vladimir Putin celebrated the New Year by giving away puppies to children. The first lucky recipient of a presidential black lab was 6th grader Katya Sheveleva, who wrote to “Esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich” for a puppy just like his. Over the following weeks, he gave 3 more puppies away to Russian children after allegedly receiving their letters. Russian news became more infatuated when a 10-year-old refugee from Ukraine received a new iPod and notebook computer after writing to “Uncle Putin.”

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It Isn’t the Economy, Stupid

Russia’s economic woes have been a new excuse for light-headed speculation on the fall of Putin. The situation certainly looks bleak: oil prices are low, the ruble has nearly halved in value since January, and a recession is imminent. Economists seem ready to start carving Putin’s gravestone—Bloomberg wrote that the foundations of Putin’s regime are giving way, Reuters called the bad economic news “Putin’s death cross,” and Slate had the simply inane headline “Russia is So Screwed.”

Why the irrational enthusiasm?

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Russian Propaganda and the Americans Who Make It

The unlikely face of Russia’s information war with the West is a real estate investor in Florida. His name is Scott Rickard, and he is one of a coterie of American conspiracy theorists who have become central in Russia’s latest propaganda efforts. The Russians discovered Rickard through Iranian state media, who had been broadcasting interviews with him since 2012 and billing him as “an activist and former American intelligence linguist.” According to Linkedin, he has worked at a real estate investment company in central Florida since 2007, but over the last year and a half, he has been consulted in Iranian and Russian media over 200 times as a covert affairs expert, in nationally syndicated television, radio, and print. So who exactly is Scott Rickard?

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Soccer is not usually a dangerous subject for Russia’s elite, but Ukraine’s civil war has made Putin very sensitive to whiffs of disloyalty. All the oligarchs who met last month knew that. They were discussing how to avoid his anger, a frightening prospect that none expected in the normally calm course of running the national soccer league.

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All Language is Propaganda

The art of propaganda is subtly at work in Ukraine. Of course there have been angry speeches from politicians, diatribes from talking heads, and the usual written invectives from journalists. But all this is quite obvious, and none of it truly propaganda. More insidiously, political agendas have become embedded in the vocabulary of Ukraine’s chaos.

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Putin, Probability, and the Diplomacy of Desperation

Being a negotiator at last week’s conference in Geneva on the fate of Ukraine must have been the sort of quiet hell John Kerry has nightmares about. The stakes are high should negotiations fail–Russian annexation of Ukraine’s east, Ukrainian civil war, or perhaps the first confrontation between NATO and Russia since the Cold War. Diplomacy could never be more important than at Geneva last Thursday. Yet, as Russia has shown in days since, it is also becoming irrelevant.

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The Logic of Force

Putin’s decision to annex Crimea was shocking, but the international response was not. Obama’s speech last week at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague spoke to the grim inevitability of what some are calling a new Cold War. Obama’s calm, professorial tone belied a sad fact—his vaunted “reset” with Russia has definitively failed. It could be no other way.

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“The Americans are Involved”

Whenever Russia seems on the verge of causing global catastrophe, I like talking to Misha. Misha is a journalist with Echo of Moscow Radio in Yaroslavl, Russia, and a sharp observer of Russian politics. Terrifying world events, like those in Ukraine, drive Western journalists to the simplistic, but Misha is always happy to give me a perspective invisible in American journalism and delivered with typical Russian directness.

“They’re marauders”

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Sochi and Its Discontents

The Sochi Olympics have driven American journalists to new heights in coverage of the irrelevant. Is there poisonous tap water? Yes! How about strangely intimate public toilets? Of course. Do they have a yogurt ban for American athletes? Why wouldn’t they? What about a mass killing of stray dogs with poison darts? Fear not, yes

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Paint It Orange: Putin, Ukraine and the Failings of Western Media

Vladimir Putin is in a struggle for his own political survival, but you’d never know it reading an American paper. Unless American media graduates from old-school Kremlinology, we won’t notice until protesters flood the streets of Moscow.

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Mismanaged Democracy

Aleksei Navalny’s loss in Moscow’s mayoral election should have been a moment of reflection for Western observers. Weighted down by decades of Soviet stereotypes, journalists often see Russian politics as an autocratic farce and Navalny—an opposition candidate—as destined accordingly to lose the election. Indeed, Navalny only garnered 27 percent of the vote, losing to the Kremlin-backed Sergei Sobyanin. Yet his electoral loss was a political triumph.

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Congressional Bartering and the Death of Sergei Magnitsky

The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act has shown the ugliness of the American legislative sausage-making process and how great the void between policy and politics can become. The act, which penalizes Russian officials implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky in 2009, was born from domestic political concerns unrelated to American legislators’ concern over the rule of law in Russia. As the next presidential and congressional elections approach, conservatives see an opportunity in the bill’s passage to oppose the Obama administration and show they are tough on foreign policy and particularly Russia (a common bugbear for the likes of Senator John McCain and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney). Liberals see an opportunity to buff their own credentials while championing human rights.

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