The shooting down of an airliner shows how reckless Vladimir Putin’s sponsorship of Ukrainian rebels has been ... For all his anti-Westernism, Mr Putin cares about his international image enough to want to avoid defeat. ... He cares even more about his power at home. The Russian people are keen on both the war in Ukraine and Mr Putin: his approval rating is a remarkable 83%. Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin consultant, wrote recently that Russians see the war as a “bloody, tense and emotionally engaging” television drama that has little to do with reality but which they want to see continue. Mr Putin prospers as the drama’s producer and leading man; he cannot rewind the narrative in such a way as to extricate himself. ... But the audience’s enthusiasm does not mean it wants to pay to keep watching. So far the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea have seemed of greater symbolic than economic importance, and this plays to Mr Putin’s strengths. In Russia he controls the symbols. But serious economic sanctions of the sort to which the EU seems to have inched closer could do him genuine harm, given the already stagnant economy. ... If concern along those lines led to Mr Putin’s efforts on the international stage, though, it does not seem to have changed the situation in eastern Ukraine, or the show being offered to Russian television audiences. ... One explanation for the lack of change could be that Mr Putin does not believe that Europe will act decisively. The evidence of history seems to be on his side. Though on July 22nd the council of ministers sent a stronger message than it had before, Europe retains a deep ambivalence about inflicting real economic pain on Russia. ... Ukraine, the rebels and Russia show every sign of eschewing any opportunity it might offer for reflection and reconciliation. The incompatibility of their interests has only been thrown into sharper relief.
A charismatic showman with a penchant for provocative bombast, the motorcycle club's leader is perhaps Russia's most recognizable nationalist star. Over the past decade, he has transformed a once-underground biker gang into a self-styled vanguard of patriotic holy warriors, reportedly 5,000 strong, with close ties to the Kremlin. In the Russian media, he can regularly be heard trumpeting the country's greatness while warning that its enemies — America, Europe, homosexuals, liberals, traitorous "fifth columnists" — intend to undermine Mother Russia. He and the other Night Wolves often hold motorcycle rallies to promote Russian patriotism and Orthodox Christianity, making rumbling pilgrimages to churches and holy sites. He has vowed to defend the Kremlin from Maidan-inspired protesters and has pledged to die for Vladimir Putin, the country's president. He has famously declared that "wherever the Night Wolves are, that should be considered Russia." Recently, the club held a three-day anti-NATO rally in Slovakia. Lately, the Surgeon has taken to praising Stalin. ... The Surgeon and his Night Wolves have flourished in this nationalist ecosystem. The club has reportedly received more than $1 million in grants from the Kremlin to support patriotic performances like the Sevastopol bike show. On several occasions, Putin himself has famously mounted a three-wheel Harley and ridden alongside the Surgeon. In 2013, Putin awarded the Night Wolves' leader an Order of Honor for his "patriotic education of youth." In June, the Russian press announced a cosmonaut would carry the club's flag into space. ... the Surgeon tells me the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. had left him deeply embittered. "All the values were lost, everybody started kicking their history, spitting on their own granddads," he says. "All these pretenders I always hated — they painted themselves so quickly from Communists to capitalists." His disillusionment, he explains, led to a time of desert wandering, a search for answers. Eventually he identified those responsible: proponents of democracy, liberalism, Wall Street.
It has been a year since the guards at a prison camp just below the Arctic Circle told Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and once the richest man in Russia, to pack his things. They put him on a plane to St. Petersburg; there they handed him a parka and a passport and put him on a flight to Berlin. Since that day of release and exile, Khodorkovsky has been living outside Zurich and travelling to capitals throughout the West, making speeches, accepting awards, and hinting broadly at a return to Russia. He will tell anyone who asks that, after a decade in various prison camps, he would not mind displacing the man who sent him there—Vladimir Putin. ... He is fifty-one now; he’s become stockier since his release, and his graying hair has grown out of the prison buzz cut. He was dressed casually, as always, in jeans and a sweater, and spoke in a quiet, well-mannered voice. Still, as he took questions onstage from a journalist from Le Monde, he displayed none of the modesty of his forebears in dissent. Andrei Sakharov would never have spoken of taking up residence in the Kremlin. “It wouldn’t be interesting for me to be President of the country when the country is developing normally,” Khodorkovsky said. “But if the issue becomes that the country needs to overcome a crisis and undergo constitutional reforms, the main aspect of which is the redistribution of Presidential power to the courts, parliament, and civil society, that part of the job I would be willing to do.” ... When it came to Putin, his remarks were sly, glancing. “It’s hard for me to say that I’m thankful,” he said of his release. “But I am glad.” It was quite the understatement from a man who, once estimated by Forbes to be worth more than fifteen billion dollars, had been reduced to a life of manual labor. In the camps, Khodorkovsky never knew if he would ever be released. And when he finally was, in December, 2013, it was as a public-relations gesture before the Sochi Olympics—when Putin still cared about the West’s opinion of him. ... The way forward, Khodorkovsky said, was to form a horizontal network among like-minded, Western-leaning Russians—Western “adaptants”—which the state could not easily destroy. He was counting on the ten or fifteen per cent of Russians who fit this category. In some cities, like Moscow and St. Petersburg, he believed, it could be as high as a third. This amounted to a “minority within a minority,” he conceded, but in Russia a progressive, or radical, minority has always been the engine of political change.
On Sept. 1, in the Siberian port city of Vladivostok, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a wide array of issues with Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait. The two-hour interview ranged from islands disputed with Japan to the price of petroleum and the vicissitudes of Gazprom, the immense state-owned enterprise that supplies natural gas not only to his country but to much of Europe. Putin, the longest-ruling Russian leader since Leonid Brezhnev, weighed in on the U.S. election, as well as his relationship with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
The regulator closed almost 100 banks in 2016, and in a cleanup with few precedents, Nabiullina has shut almost 300 over the past three years. This may be only the beginning. There are about 600 banks left across the world’s largest country, but Fitch Ratings analyst Alexander Danilov, adjusting for population, calculates that as an emerging market Russia would be fine with about 1 in 10 of those. ... she runs what in Russia is called a “megaregulator.” When it comes to the economics behind Putin’s overarching goal of restoring Russia’s place in the world, there’s no one more influential. ... As central bank governor, she’s in charge of a banking system whose weak links are an economic burden, driving up the cost of financing so badly needed in the face of stagnant growth. She’s also the chief guardian of Russia’s foreign currency reserves. Those holdings are more than just a tool of monetary policy; according to several senior officials, Putin views them as a vital safeguard of the country’s sovereignty. ... The full picture only becomes clear when they’re shut down and regulators have to track the assets. In those cases, only about 40 percent of what the banks claimed was on their books actually existed