(De-)Mobilizing America

159188490711894620As Vladimir Putin launched the public campaign for his constitutional reform, he took the opportunity to tell Russia a bit about the United States, and about democracy in general.

“What is democracy?” Putin asked (rhetorically, in more ways than one). “It’s the power of the people, that’s right. But if the people elect their higher authorities, then those higher authorities have the right to organize the work of the organs of executive power in such a way as to guarantee the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population of the country. And what’s happening there [in America]? The president says, ‘We need to do X’, and the governors say ‘Go to hell.'”

Perish the thought.

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I might have been wrong about Putin

I’ll say it: Sometimes I get it wrong. Or not quite right. Which is almost the same thing.

In case you’ve missed it, today’s news is that Valentina Terehskova, a United Russia Duma Deputy and the first woman in space, proposed ‘resetting’ Putin’s presidential terms, allowing him to run again. The Speaker of the Duma called Putin. Putin said ok. And that was that.

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A Story

If I might be allowed to be an activist for a moment, rather than an academic, I’d like to tell you a story.

In September 2011, when I was living in Moscow, I went to meet a friend and colleague — a Russian academic at a major Moscow university — just to catch up, and to talk about some research we might do together.

When I walked into her office, the look on her face was one of despair. Quiet, composed and dignified — but emotionally and morally eviscerated. I did not have to ask her why.

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The Unrealism of Realists

For the latest another addition to my (very long) list of reasons why the community of international relations scholars who call themselves realists should be banned from using the term, see (if you have the stomach) Tom Graham’s latest foray in Foreign Affairs. If you don’t have access to the journal, you can get the gist of the idea from Serhiy Kudelia’s Facebook post below:

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United Liberal Democratic Russia?

By most accounts, United Russia is finished.

I suppose that’s not surprising, given that it was never really expected to last even this long. Cobbled together in 2001 through the merger of the Unity and Fatherland All Russia Parties — which themselves had been cobbled together by various Kremlin factions only a few years earlier — United Russia won its first Duma elections in 2003. Prior to 2007, no other ‘Party of Power’ in Russia had survived to contest two consecutive Duma elections. It has been the dominant force in Russian politics ever since, enjoying the unfaltering support of the Kremlin.

But not any more. While Putin’s own ratings have barely been touched by five years of economic hardship, the same cannot be said for United Russia. Widely seen as the ‘Party of Swindlers and Thieves‘ — a monicker promoted by opposition leader Alexei Navalny — United Russia has scraped by on a combination of electoral manipulation and ‘administrative resource’. But the final indignity came in yesterday’s regional elections, as Kremlin-backed candidates throughout the country were forced to run as independents, to avoid the stench emanating from the ostensibly ruling party. And even that didn’t help very much.

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