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[sticky post]Welcome to Nikolai Zlobin's Political Blog in English
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Here you can follow my recent articles translated from Russian to English, as well as find links to the original texts. My Russian language LV blog can be found here: n_zlobin.

Between Two Poles: How Russia May Soon Find Itself In Ukraine's Position
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There is little doubt that as the May 25 presidential elections draw closer, the situation in Ukraine, both internally and externally, will continue to escalate. And it’s no wonder. On the one hand, no serious external power, naturally, will risk opposing elections in any country which has found itself in the midst of an extended political crisis. There is simply no other method for creating a legitimate government. Moreover, preventing an election would mean continued uncertainty, tension, and the prolongation of the current interim government, whose legitimacy is under serious doubt. But on the other hand, if successfully conducted elections and a national referendum take place, the ability of both internal and external actors to influence Kyiv will be largely lost.

The West will accept any outcome of the election, especially considering that, surprisingly, the pro-Russian and Russian-speaking forces—of which there are many in Ukraine—have not put forward their own candidate. From what we know, they did not even attempt to reach an agreement with any of the existing candidates to support their campaign in exchange for certain guarantees after the elections.

Russia, which has positioned itself as a supporter of traditional law and which, in principle, cooperates exclusively with legitimate authorities, also can’t afford to refuse to accept the results of these elections. Moscow will have to work with whatever Ukrainian leadership comes to power after May 25.
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Hard Politics and Soft Politics: The U.S.–Russia Struggle to Lead the New World Order
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The discussion surrounding Russia’s annexation of Crimea is sure to occupy the international community for some time. The world might never even come to a relative consensus on the issue. But is that even necessary?

In the United States, for example, there will always be experts and politicians who will consider the events in Crimea to be unacceptable. They make up the majority. Sixty-eight percent of Americans today consider Russia an enemy country—the debate is about just how much of an enemy Russia is. There are also those who acknowledge Russia’s logic; they believe Moscow couldn’t have acted any other way in this particular situation and that its behavior was fully in line with its national interests. The latter group is fewer in number, but it still isn’t small. There is also a third group of people who take a neutral position. Rather than looking at the situation through black-and-white glasses, they try to see the full range of colors and contradictions in the Crimean story.


More than 60 percent of Americans believe the United States shouldn't interfere in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

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The Last Protector of Russian Sovereignty
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I find it interesting that the “Magnitsky List”, being discussed actively in the US has caused such an emotinonal reaction from the Russian elite.  It seems that possiblity of being included in this one or a similar document frightens Russian officials even more than, say, American BMD system in Europe. However for the rest of Russians the introduction of the list mostly raises a rhetorical question: what makes those included in the list different from thousands of other corrupt officials and judges?  Those others might have been just lucky not to have had worked on a case that attracted so much international attention.  The way Russians see it today, is that if it were different people involved in the Magnitsky case – the result would have been just the same. Americans see those in the list as villains, Russians see them as typical examples of government officials and judges. 

One of my high-ranking acquaintances has recently taken part in the hearings at the High Court of London concerning the case of Russian Oligarchs. The strongest impression that he carried out of the court room was that of the atmosphere and feeling of the Rule of Law that was present during the whole process. And that is something that one won’t find in Russia.

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Russian Society Has Outgrown the System
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Although Vladimir Putin has returned to Kremlin as a president, he will be a president of a different country than he was in 2004 or Dmitry Medvedev was in 2008. During the election campaign Putin was constantly asked how come in the last 12 years he hadn’t managed to fix all the issues that he was promising to fix in 2012 and after. Putin’s answer was that in his 8 years as a president and 4 more as a prime minister the leadership of the country had different priorities. Theoretically that is a good answer – it is the leadership’s responsibility to prioritize, however whether it can prioritize the right way or not is determined by the voters. Hence the question is – how do the current priorities and leadership’s agenda reflect the real problems that Russia is facing today. The answer to this question will determine whether Putin’s next presidential term will be a success or a failure. In my personal opinion there is a number of extremely troubling issues in Russia that demand immediate attention.

One of them is the rapidly increasing contrast between the social maturity of Russian public and the current political system. Russian society is starting to resemble a post modernist society more and more – Russians are quickly becoming a part of the global community, leaving the “sovok” mindset behind and losing the traditional unquestionable fear of the authority. Young and middle aged members of Russian society are among the first ones in Russia who, while retaining specific national features, manage to combine it with the system of values and traditions of their peers from well developed countries. However the political system that the Russian government is offering them today is strictly pre-modernist. It’s becoming more apparent by the day that this system only operates to serve its own interests and is incapable of satisfying political vision of people outside of the government machine.

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Why is there a Prime Minister in Russia
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Everyone is playing the guess game of how long Dmitry Medvedev will “survive” as the new prime-minister of Russia. In this article I raise several questions concerning the role of prime-minister in Russia and most importantly – why is there a prime-minister in Russia altogether.

In Russia we’ve seen two distinct administrative models so far. First one includes a prime minister whose main purpose is to execute the president’s political will and economic policy – basically a specialized vice-president of sorts. All prime-ministers but Putin played along those rules. The other model is prime-minister being an independent center of power, exactly what was taking place in the last 4 years. It is obvious that Medvedev will try to do his best to become an effective deputy to president Putin, however as we know it – Putin doesn’t need deputies. He never delegates anything important to anyone, preferring gofer management instead – if Putin thinks it’s important Putin gets involved himself.
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The Way of the President
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President Medvedev’s term is coming to an end. The majority of Russian public as well as Russian establishment has a rather low opinion of the results of this term. Those who praised him “in advance” have drastically changed their attitudes since then, bashing Medvedev for not fulfilling their high expectations and hopes. The good old national pastime of putting yet another leader on a pedestal before metaphorically throwing him face first into the ground continues. Gorbachev, Eltzin and now Medvedev have already been through this, with Putin by the way, about to follow suit.

In general I consider that Dmitriy Medvedev was not a bad president. Undeniably he could have done a lot of things better and some of those he shouldn’t have done at all in the first place. But considering the current political conditions of Russia he faired rather well as a politician – failing and succeeding just enough to be better than bad. I will not go into a  detailed analysis of Medvedev’s term in this article, but would like to mention that such task is not as straightforward as a number of “too fast to judge” commentators are making it to be.

At first it seemed that Medvedev had overestimated his own abilities as a President. He had gone seriously overboard with formulating a number of impracticable goals and missions and in addition to that it took him quite a while to realize the objective limits of his power. However we can’t really blame Medvedev for not fulfilling the high hopes which followed his becoming the president in 2008. After all it was not his personal responsibility to fulfill the random and sometimes groundless expectations of the public, just as much as he can’t blame the public for not fulfilling his expectations.

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Russia’s Place in the World
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At last Russian leadership has realized the importance of long-term strategic planning when it comes to foreign policy and issues of national security. Russia is too big and too important to ignore global trends and tendencies let alone not make any attempts to affects those trends and turn them around for its own benefit. The world today is going through a severe transformation - the old system is falling apart, giving way to a new world order. Right now global politics is a random combination of improvisations and impromptu, lacking any structuralized system of international relations or enforcement of international law. In such situation the long-term political and military planning is an indicator of the maturity and wisdom of any nation’s establishment.  

However for Russia, such planning is especially difficult to achieve. On the one hand – for the last two decades its political class has been completely devoted to solving countries internal tactical issues. As a result, today Russia is the only big country in the world with immense natural resources and nuclear strength that still is on the fence about what kind of a state it wants to be. It is still in the process of searching for an effective system of governance at the same time seeing maintaining its territorial integrity as the main problem and goal of its national security. Russia still hasn’t acquired strategic allies, doesn’t have a vision of its place in the world and even lacks a stable system of internal national values and priorities. Russia’s establishment today thinks strictly short-term and shows but zero initiative to start caring about the country’s future overall well-being. On the other hand, however, it is important that when strategic planning is implemented in Russia it is taken seriously instead of being another attempt at imitation.

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Leadership in Russia – Back to the 90’s
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It would seem that Putin’s victory at the presidential election should have brought stability to the country, make political game predictable and give peace of mind to private sector. In reality however everything seems to be the other way around. The completion of the election cycle has solved none of the problems. On the contrary most of the promises made by Vladimir Putin will eventually cause even more dissatisfaction in the society, due to their unrealistic and unrealizable nature. The first example of that is ilitary families already being denied most of the promised increases in financial support with state employees about to follow suit. At the same time the politics in Russia remains unpredictable and concealed from the public, incapable of transforming the outflow of capital from the country into an inflow. The true leaders of the country are non-public groups, conflicts between witch still define the future of the state. In other words – while promising to save Russia from returning to the 90’s, the leadership drove it right back into them.

Today, the authority is faced with the necessity to transform, but lacks any understanding of how to achieve the transformation. United Russia, the party that was at the head of the country mere months ago is now suspended in the air, in its current form doomed to disintegration. The government is attempting to create a new structure of administrative resources, while the new, poorly prepared political party legislation will inevitably lead to the drastic increase in organizations, declaring themselves parties. This will eventually fragment the society and political class to an even higher degree with the opposition being the main victim of that process. 

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Russia – in Dire Need of Reforms
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Russian society is cooling off after an unusually heated presidential race, which is only natural. The society has accepted the results of the elections while various political powers are taking a breather in order to get their thoughts together. However in the nearest future the debates and discussions will heat up again, as the country anticipates the next steps that the new leadership will be taking. And what those steps should be is quite clear - today Russia is in dire need of deep, systematic reforms on major levels.

Reforms in any country always become the reason for public dissatisfaction and upheaval, just as much in case of successful reforms as failed ones. The period of reforms might lead to the restructuring of relations between various social groups within the state, the resetting of existing social priorities and most importantly to the temporary loss of control to a certain degree. In case with Russia the latter is especially dangerous, considering that historically reforms in Russia have always shared spontaneous and sudden nature and were only used as the last resort.

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