TL;DR: Bard and the Medicine Ball

What a day.

It began with the news that 400 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals had gathered over the weekend in Moscow for a Viennese-style ball — maskless and socially un-distanced — even as Coronavirus cases in the country continue their unabated climb.

By the end of the day, farce had given way to tragedy, as the Russian Prosecutor General announced it was declaring Bard College — a US liberal arts school, which has a mini-campus in St. Petersburg — an “undesirable organization”, meaning that all foreign professors and students will be barred from Russia, while any Russian citizens who maintain a relationship with the institution could face up to six years in prison.

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TL;DR: Meet Cute

So, Geneva went more or less the way I expected it to: Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin shook hands, exchanged unpleasantries, agreed to have their people get in touch with their other people, and moved on. In other words, the summit was a resounding success.

But seriously, what was the point?

On the genuine diplomatic front, there were some genuine wins:

  • The Russian and American ambassadors are headed back to Washington and Moscow, respectively, which is where they belong;
  • Anthony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov have a mandate to map out an agenda for strategic arms control, which is likewise where they belong;
  • Biden headed home without an obvious agenda for new sanctions, which makes Putin happy; and
  • Putin headed home without any obvious fodder for maligning Biden, about which Biden cares very little, but hey, it’s nice.

But as great as all of that is — and moving the Doomsday Clock a few seconds away from midnight is truly a great thing — was that really worth Putin having his lunch handed to him by ABC’s Rachel Scott?

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TL;DR: The quiet part out loud

Memo to the execs over at NBC: no offense to Kier Simmons, but Kevin Rothrock — Tweeter extraordinaire and inimitable host of the The Russia Guy podcast — should have been the one to interview Putin.

I got the chance to sit down with Kevin a few weeks ago (virtually, of course), and he managed to get me to spill most of my secrets, including:

  • Whether political scientists are allowed to have emotions;
  • How to read more than is humanly possible;
  • The difference between “personified” and “personalized” power;
  • Why I hate it when people talk about “Russia” and “the Russians”;
  • How Putin manages to get anything done when he’s repressing the opposition all day; and
  • What separates British and American Russianists.

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TL;DR: Who do you trust?

According to the FT’s global vaccine tracker, some 32.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have made their way into the shoulders of Russian citizens — or just 22.7 per 100 residents. By comparison, the UK has administered 106.8 doses per 100, the US 93.2.

By any measure, that has to be a disappointing result, not least for a country that has a reasonably well functioning medical system and had an approved Covid-19 vaccine available months before anyone else in the world. But for once, at least, I’m not convinced the Kremlin should take the blame.

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TL;DRussia: Are you a killer, Mr. President?

I was struck by this excerpt from Vladimir Putin’s pre-summit interview with NBC, for two reasons: Because of how well Kier Simmons did to get an answer, and because of how much better it might have been, had he done a little bit more homework.

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TL;DRussia: I Dream of Geneva

Cornwall is lovely this time of year, but it ain’t Geneva. And Boris Johnson? Well, he’s no Vladimir Putin.

Even as Joe Biden, on his first trip abroad, arrived for the G7 summit here in England and signed a renewed ‘Atlantic Charter’ with the UK, all anyone seemed to want to talk about was his meeting next week with Putin. And that’s understandable: We know what to expect from Johnson and the G7, but a powwow with Putin is a bit of a cat in a bag.

The uncertainty of that meeting hasn’t stopped a number of commentators from being very, very sure that it’s a very, very bad idea, so when I spoke to ABC TV (Australia) about it earlier today — see the video via the link below — I attempted to temper that a bit, making (or trying to make) the following points:

  1. While we are not in a new Cold War, we are reverting to a Cold War-era style of summitry.
  2. Biden will talk about Navalny, about Ukraine, about Novichok and maybe even about election interference — and he should talk about all of those things — but it won’t make a difference.
  3. For all the negatives, the upcoming summit has the potential to lay the groundwork for a process that will prevent the world from becoming a more dangerous place — and that’s a good thing.

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Back to Normal

After four years of Democrats outstripping Republicans in “tough on Russia” rhetoric, the “Russia hawk” shoe is finally back on the (*ahem*) right foot.

Predictably, the news that the Biden Administration would back off its threat to sanction German and other European companies who engaged in the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project met with howls of indignation from Republicans:

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Вот и поговорили

По следам недавней лекции в Университете Гента, Женя Альбац пригласили поговорить с замечательными Мишель Берди и Денисом Волковым на тему “авторитарного гражданство”. Жалко, конечно, что так мало, можно было бы и продолжить. Но отмечу один очень важный момент: я не говорю (и никогда бы не говорил!) ни об “авторитарных гражданах”, ни об “авторитарном человеке”. Наоборот, я пытаюсь осмыслить “гражданство” в авторитарном контексте. Получилось ли осмыслить – судите сами!

No Turning Back

There’s an adage in political science that you shouldn’t predict the future if you’re likely to live long enough to see it. It’s a good maxim, and while I generally try not to break it, I sometimes fail.

One of those times was back in November 2018, when I looked at the combination of economic and political challenges facing Vladimir Putin, the options on his menu, and tried to predict what he’d do. Looking back, I was right about most things, but wrong about one. I wish I hadn’t been.

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