Category Archives: halls of power

Medvedev the Sucker

Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center and chair of the Davos Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Russia, writing in the Moscow Times, says that Dima Medvedev has been put in place by the Putin regime as the sucker standard bearer for reform; he’ll then be submarined, reform condemned as a failure, and replaced by Putin as dictator for life.

History has seen many cases of the ruling elite leading society into a dead end while convincing the people all of the time that the road is leading toward a bright future. But it is a truly unique situation when a country’s leaders admit that they are at a dead end and then search for a way to stay there. This is precisely what the Kremlin is doing with President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernization program. Russia is trying to build a 21st-century society while preserving a system of personified power rooted in the 16th century. Even those who believe Medvedev’s best reformist intentions can’t avoid the question: How can the Kremlin pursue modernization if power remains in the hands of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the man responsible for so much of the country’s anti-modernization?

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Another Original LR Translation: Without Putin


Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has a new book out entitled  Without Putin (Bez Putina) in which he carries on an extended dialogue with former NTV pundit Yevgeny Kiselyov.  Novaya Gazeta, whose publishing house is issuing the volume, has published an extended excerpt, and what follows is our staff translation (Dave Essel played no part and is not to be blamed for our errors, of which we would be pleased to be advised). If you are in Russia and want to buy the book, click here for the information.  Note that we’ve added some explanatory material [in brackets] that is not in the original text.

I.  Russia in Default

[LR:  Mikhail M. Kasyanov was deputy minister of finance from 1995 until May 1999, when he became Finance Minister.  The Ministry of Finance is analagous to the U.S. Treasury Department.   A year later he became deputy prime minister, and from May 2000 to February 2004 he was the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation under the newly-elected “President” Vladimir Putin. He is now a leading figure in the “Solidarity” opposition movement that seeks to unseat Vladimir Putin and roll back Putin’s anti-democratic crackdown.  When he sought to run for president against Dima Medvedev, his name was stricken from the ballot and he was placed under investigation for alleged electoral fraud.]

Mikhail Kasyanov

The situation at the beginning of 1998 was unusually tense.  The price of oil had dropped to 12 dollars, but the ruble was not moving down as it should have done.  In May, commenting on a report on the macroeconomic situation by the Board of the Ministry of Finance, I said what I thought was obvious:   “Listen, this means we have no choice but to urgently to devalue the ruble.”  [LR:  Kasyanov’s goal was to avoid default on Russia’s sovereign debt by increasing foreign financial flows with a discounted domestic currency.  This would, of course, heavily burden the pocketbooks of the people of the country.]  They fell on me like a pack of wolves. “How dare you make such a suggestion in the middle of a crisis!?” they shrieked.  But Oleg Vyugin, a fellow deputy finance minister, and I both insisted that an anti-crisis program be implemented immediately.  In particular, we needed a large infusion of cash from the IMF so as to buy time to implement reforms across the board in the public sector.

Yevgeny Kiselyov

Why was so much precious time lost?

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A bird named Yeltsin in a Gilded Cage

The Moscow Times reports:

President Boris Yeltsin spent his retirement in a “golden cage,” his phone tapped and the Kremlin controlling visitors, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in excerpts from a forthcoming book.

Vladimir Putin, who replaced Yeltsin as president in 2000, forced Yeltsin to celebrate his 75th birthday in the Kremlin and controlled the guest list, Kasyanov wrote in his memoir, excerpts of which were published in the opposition weekly The New Times this week.

“Yeltsin was very upset that they forced him to celebrate his birthday in the Kremlin and not as he wanted, freely, informally,” Kasyanov wrote in the book.

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EDITORIAL: Ryzhkov on his Knees


Ryzhkov on his Knees

It’s not often that we feel pity for Russians.  We didn’t when Anna Politkovskaya got shot, because we figured it was better for her not to have to watch her country come undone before her eyes, and we knew she probably saw it as an honor to give her life for her country.  In fact, the only time we can remember feeling pity was when Oleg Kozlovsky got drafted into the army, something nobody could possibly have forseen occuring, a new low in the history of national government.  The specter of dedovshchina hanging over the head of that brave and brilliant, thoughtful young academic was heart-rending.

But now we feel it again, feel it in spades, for poor ex-parliamentarian Vladimir Ryzhkov, who had the pleasure of meeting U.S. President Barack Obama last week and wrote about it the Moscow Times. We can’t imagine any more compelling proof of just how badly Obama botched his Russia sojourn than the pathetic effort of Mr. Ryzhkov to sing Obama’s praises.  Reading it, Obama shoud be ashamed.  Ryzhkov, of course, should want to crawl under a rock.

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EDITORIAL: Behind Putin, Incompetence and Corruption


Behind Putin, Incompetence and Corruption

A stunning fact recently revealed by scholar Paul Goble is that no Russian ambassador earns more than $36,000 per year, less than the average yearly salary in the United States.  And scholar Andrei Illarionov shows us that the men pulling the strings for these “diplomats,” (who in fact have no real freedom of action and act like puppets of the Kremlin) are nothing but a barbaric hoard of KGB thugs.

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Piontkovsky on Putin’s Minions

Heroic scholar Andrei Piontkovsky, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, writing in (of all places) the Lebanon Daily Star:

Germany’s ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is a legend in Russia. He serves Gazprom’s interests for a measly couple of million euros a year, sits in at sessions of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and writes books about his staunch friendship with “Genosse Wladimir,” who, in the not-so-distant past, earned himself the well-deserved nickname of “Stasi” among business circles in gangster-ridden St. Petersburg.

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EDITORIAL: Who’s Behind the Kremlin Curtain?


Who’s Behind the Kremlin Curtain?

Recent public opinon poll data in Russia shows that 68% of all Russians believe that Vladimir Putin wields at least some presidential power. Just 15% say the actual president, Dimitri Medvedev, holds all of it.  57% of Russians believe that Medvedev’s successor will be Putin.

The data also indicates that 70% of Russians either have no idea whether the country is on the right track or not or think it’s on the wrong track.  What disturbs them is apparently that Putin is no longer in power, since those who believeved he would return were the most likely to say the nation was on the right track.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, 66% of Russians said they thought Russia was perceived by other nations as a force for good.  This flies in the face of opinion poll data from those other nations showing that their opinion of Russia has fallen dramatically during Putin’s time in office.  Not one major world nation, you will remember, agreed to recognize Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent despite Russia’s pleas to do so.

And it explains why Putin continues to receive so much support.  The Russian people are being lied to and, having allowed the Kremlin to cut them off from real information on TV and in newspapers, they aren’t able to realize it’s happening (we report below on Putin’s final assault on the independence of Russia’s Internet through the court system).   But, at the same time, the Russians are lying to themselves.  The most recent consumer confidence data shows that Russians don’t really believe Putin’s reassurances, since their confidence level is well below the world average and falling rapidly. In other words, as usual Russians choose to live in a world of self-delusion.

But the facts are gettting very hard to ignore.

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EDITORIAL: Putin’s Secret Xanadu


Putin’s Secret Xanadu

Last week the Moscow Times reported that it had discovered an attempt by the Kremlin to build “an illegal resort inside a protected nature reserve on the Black Sea” near the city of Krasnodar. 

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EDITORIAL: The Medvedev Family Fortune


The Medvedev Family Fortune

If you know, as being a well-informed and faithful LR reader you are likely to do, that Russian “president” Dima Medvdev’s wife was “once photographed wearing a Breguet Reine de Naples watch that sells for more than $20,000” and if you also know that Medvedev himself was once the boss of Gazprom, one of the world’s largest energy conglomerates, then it will probably surprise you to learn that, according to the Moscow Times, the combined bank accounts Medvedev and his wife are worth . . . wait for it . . . . less than $88,500 (all but $4,000 of it in hubby’s accounts) — and Medvedev’s total income last year was less than $124,000.  The MT observes:  “The presidency does not appear to have been too profitable for Medvedev, who has managed to add just 78,774 rubles ($2,357) to his savings since last year.”

But it will probably not surprise you to learn that Russian “prime minister” Vladimir Putin, when asked how much he had in his savings accounts . . . refused to say, even though it was Medvedev’s own decree that ordered these disclosures.  Putin did admit that he earned $14,000 more as prime minister than Medvedev did as president.

Now, would we be stepping beyond the bounds of reason and fair play, dear reader, if we were to suggest that both Medvedev and Putin are lying through their fangs?

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Does Medvedev have a Roving Eye?

Law professor and Russia scholar Ethan Burger and his colleague Mary Holland, writing on the Foreign Policy website, wonder whether Dima Medvedev has a roving eye:

When Vladimir Putin stepped down as president of Russia last May, he left little to chance. Just as his predecessor Boris Yeltsin had anointed him, Putin made sure that his loyal protégé of 20 years, Dmitry Medvedev, would take his place. Putin took the helm of the country’s dominant political party, United Russia, and then, as prime minister, expanded that position far beyond what the Constitution envisions. Although Putin rearranged the musical chairs, he continued to call the tune. Until now.

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EDITORIAL: The War against Russia’s Mayors


The War against Russia’s Mayors

Last week independent candidate Sergei Subbotin crushed his opponent from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, by a margin of nearly 2:1, and seized the mayoralty of the frozen far-northern city of Murmansk.  In perhaps history’s most egregious instance of hypocrisy, United Russia (itself perhaps the most spectacularly corrupt political party in world history) accused Subbotin of rigging the election with the complicity of the regional governor.  United Russia also lost a mayoral race in the central Russian city of Smolensk.

Some in the idiotic Russophile set may attempt to claim this means Russia isn’t a dicatorship but has real elections.  Dream on, morons.  Subbotin was quoted as saying: “I’m a supporter of Vladimir Putin.”

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EDITORIAL: Whither Medvedev?


Whither Medvedev?

Writing in the Moscow Times, Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Center states:

How can Putin hold onto his high ratings in the midst of a worsening economic crisis? It is possible that Medvedev’s frenetic schedule in recent weeks is one attempt at resolving that problem. Putin has to be somehow saved from the blow, pulled to the side so as to remove any hint of his being responsible for the negative consequences of the crisis. The only way to do that is to put someone else’s head on the chopping block. But now the country is faced with another problem: Who can rule the country besides Putin?

Of course, there is no guarantee that Medevedev is prepared to go “all the way” with this “chopping block” business, so Putin must hedge his bet. That is where Vladmir Frolov comes in.

Thus once again, writing in the Moscow Times, Putin shil Frolov has turned up the flame under the boiling pot of Russian failure that must be spilled on poor scapegoat, and sooner rather than later, sending a clear message to Medvedev that he must toe the line or be liquidated.

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Putin: No Longer a Leader

Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow, writing in the Moscow Times:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s speech Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos was noteworthy for two reasons. First, it did not contain the inflammatory anti-Western rhetoric that we have grown accustomed to hearing from Putin in past years. Second, it might have been the first time we heard a clear admission that Russia is no longer capable of being a “island of stability” in a global economic crisis.

Putin’s critics would probably say that his proposals for managing the global crisis are too ambiguous. The more spiteful critics would point out that a country that has been denied membership in the World Trade Organization for the last decade and that is not even a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development could hardly be taken seriously when its prime minister delivers a lecture on how the world’s economy should be structured.

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Ryzhkov on Belykh

Opposition leader and Echo of Moscow radio host Vladimir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:

On Jan. 15, Nikita Belykh was inaugurated as the governor of the Kirov region. The ceremony, which was held at Kirov’s main theater, had the trappings of a drab Soviet obkom meeting, although it also offered some new post-Soviet attributes, such as the blessing by two Russian Orthodox metropolitans. To add a little extra dazzle to the ceremony, a Cossack general from the Urals regiment presented Belykh with a traditional Cossack fur hat and saber.

This was the first time in years that an outspoken member of the opposition was installed as governor. Belykh emphasized the values of democracy and freedom in his inaugural address, quoting President Dmitry Medvedev’s phrase that “freedom is better than non-freedom.”

Will Belykh be able to create a Kirov-based “island of freedom” in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s sea of “power vertical”? Working to his advantage is his passion for change, as well as the cart blanche the Kremlin has apparently given him to form his own team. In another positive sign, Belykh was not required to join United Russia as a condition for his appointment.

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A Profile of America’s New Ambassador to Russia

John Beyrle, the new American ambassador to Russia,

John Beyrle, the new American ambassador to Russia

The New York Times reports (we are interested to hear reader thoughts about this fellow before we speak our own mind):

When John Beyrle, the new American ambassador to Russia, appeared on a Russian radio show shortly after Russia’s five-day war with Georgia, the questions he got were predictably in-your-face. Is it true that the United States is sneaking weapons into Georgia disguised as humanitarian aid? Can you prove that planned American missile defense sites are not aimed at Russia?

And then: Is it true that your father was a Soviet soldier?

The answer — which Mr. Beyrle (pronounced BY-er-ly) delivered on the air in flawless Russian — has to be one of the more amazing stories to come out of World War II. Yes, during the last desperate months of the war, a starving 21-year-old from Muskegon, Mich., crossed the eastern front by foot and offered his services to a Soviet tank battalion, using the three words of Russian he had learned as a German prisoner of war — Ya Amerikansky tovarishch, or “I am an American comrade!”

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Lipman on Russia’s Dark Horizon

Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Center, writing in the Washington Post:

Uncertainty is creeping up on Russia. For the first time since Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, Moscow confronts the prospect of real political instability. One of Russia’s savviest politicians, Anatoly Chubais, said last month that the likelihood of serious turmoil — economic, social and even political — is 50 percent.

The current crisis is global, and there is no sure way to forecast its length or depth. Such uncertainty would be disturbing in any country but is especially alarming here. For years, Putin steadily eliminated all political threats to his power, and by the end of his second term as president he enjoyed absolute authority. Now that authority is being challenged by forces beyond his control.

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EDITORIAL: Putin Declares War on Medvedev


Putin Declares War on Medvedev

Unless we are very much mistaken, the first shot in Vladimir Putin’s war against Dmitri Medvedev was fired on December 29th by Putin shill Vladimir Frolov in his Moscow Times column.

Headlined “Putin’s Remote Control puts Kremlin on Mute,” the article  states: “When Georgia invaded South Ossetia. Medvedev responded with a strong show of force and moved to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, a move denounced by all major powers.”

Note how Frolov blames the Georgia invasion directly on Medvedev personally, and even goes so far as to acknowledge worldwide denunciation of the move. This well illustrates how awfully handy it is to have an expendable “president” around to get the blame for mistakes.  In fact, if one were inclined to attribute genius to Putin, one might even suspect he knew the crisis was coming and stepped aside specifically to avoid it. How long will it be before some other Putin flack blames the economic crisis on Medvedev as well, pointing out how rosy things were before Putin left the Kremlin?

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Cracks in Putin’s Foundation

"Take demons alive."

An anti-Putin sign on a vehicle in Vladivostok reading: "Take demons alive."

The Moscow Times reports:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s reputation as a Teflon leader is showing scratches as some Russians start to see a growing disconnect between the realities of the financial crisis and Putin’s public posture as the nation’s savior.

Posters openly insulting Putin were among those waved at a rally of thousands of motorists against a hike in import duties for used cars in Vladivostok for the past two weekends. Earlier, only radical members from the banned National Bolshevik Party had dared to attack Putin in public.

For the first time since Putin stepped down as president in May, Duma deputies on Wednesday called for Putin to be summoned to explain why the country posted a sharp decline in industrial output in November. The motion by Communist deputies was axed by the Putin-led United Russia party.

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Editorial: Dead Soul

Masha Gessen puts Putin in his place

Masha Gessen puts Putin in his place


Dead Soul

For quite some time Masha Gessen was one of our favorite Russia pundits, and we often cited her work on this blog.  Then her blog and Moscow Times column went quiet as she took a job editing a Russian paper and dropped off the radar screen, but she came storming back recently with a major piece on Vladimir Putin in the October issue of Vanity Fair after publishing a horrifying  biography over the summer that explained the medical issues that caused her to disappear.

Her piece in Vanity Fair, which the magazine has bizarrely failed to make available online (only the unfortunately poor-quality PDF linked to above is available as yet),  is called “Dead Soul,” a reference to the Gogol novel about Russian corruption.  It is required reading.  Gessen says that Putin has “concentrated power to an extent even greater than in the Soviet Union” and the editors summarize the piece as follows:

Chosen as Russia’s next leader by Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle, in 1999 Vladimir Putin appeared to be a blank slate on which his supporters, his country and the world could write their desires.  Few saw him for what he really was, or the way he brutally erased his footprints on the climb to power.  Fewer still have survived to decode him.  As Russian forces bend Georgia to their will, Masha Gessen tells how one small faceless man, backed by the vast secret police machine that formed him, took control of the world’s largest country.

We here on this blog, of course, were among the “few,” and we are still waiting for the world to fully catch up.  Even many Russians, however, at last are doing so. Writing on Georgian Daily, for instance, Paul Goble points out that even the Russian press is finally getting the message.

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EDITORIAL: Offering Battle to Mr. Putin


Offering Battle to Mr. Putin

“Mr. Putin, can you categorically rule out a return to the presidency in the next 12 months?”

“It’s always the foreign media that are interested in this question. I have a very effective relationship with President Medvedev. I like the way we work together today.  The next elections will be in 2012, let’s wait and see. ”

— Russian “Prime Minister” Vladmir Putin, responding to a question last week from the BBC

You will notice, attentive reader that you are, that Putin didn’t say “no.”  Nor did he say that Medvedev would not resign and hand Putin the presidency, just as Boris Yeltsin did in 1999.  He didn’t say Medvedev was a good leader except in that he does what Putin wants him to do.

Can you imagine, do you dare, dear reader, how “President” Vladimir Putin would have reacted a few years ago if his then prime minister had answered a question about whether he would take over the presidency in the next 12 months, with three years still to go on Putin’s term in office, using the same words Putin did when asked that last week?

No, dear reader, you can’t.  Because the consequences would be too bloody and godawful to imagine. But Putin is free to say so, just as he is free to be the one answering the questions and not the actual leader of the country, Dima Medvedev, who thus faced a double and truly bruthal humiliation.  Even if Putin remains as prime minister, he’s still the ruler of the nation.

And even if Putin’s answer means there won’t be new “elections” until 2012, Medvedev can resign whenever he likes, just as Yeltsin did, and Putin as “prime minister” would return to serve ou the remaider of Medvedev’s term, just as he served out Yeltsin’s, followed by 12 more “elected” years, giving him 23 or more years as “president.”  His answer certainly doesn’t rule that out, and clearly stated that he intends to return in 2012.

And Putin’s ambition does not stop at a mere return as “president” for life.  That is only the tip of the iceberg.

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Mother Putin?

Is this Georgian woman Vladimir Putin's real mother?

Is this Georgian woman Vladimir Putin's real mother?

She says she is.

Goble on Putin and his Alter Ego, Leonid Brezhnev

Putin is the new Brezhnev

Putin is the new Brezhnev

Writing on Georgian Daily, scholar Paul Goble notes that Russian analysts are finding many parallels between Putin’s Russia and Brezhnev’s USSR:

Russia increasingly resembles Brezhnev’s USSR with its “imitation of power, imitation of obedience, imitation of unanimity of belief and imitation of trust,” according to a leading Russian commentator, an implicit warning that those who are comfortable with that should remember what happened after the Soviet leader passed away.

In an article in the current issue of Moscow’s “New Times,” Valery Panyushkin says that the gap between image and reality became glaring at the time of the Georgian war, with Russian forces on the ground not doing what the Russian president said he had ordered them to do. In the hearing of all, he continues, Dmitry Medvedev said that “the war is over and the army is stopping and leaving Georgia.” But “the army did not stop and it did not leave.” Either the army was acting in an insubordinate way or at a minimum “sabotaging the public order of the supreme commander.” And this situation only became worse when, as the international financial crisis began to affect Russia sending the stock market, exchange rates, and employment down, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went around the country denying the obvious, saying that there was no crisis and that anyone who said otherwise was sowing panic.

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EDITORIAL: The End of Political Parties in Putin’s Russia


The End of Political Parties in Putin’s Russia

Russia lost not one but three political parties last week.  With none to spare, it was not a loss civil society in Russia could afford to incur. We view it as yet another sign of the apocalypse, and when combined with the Kremlin’s growing threat to bring back KGB spy Vladimir Putin as “president” for life, a truly terrifying one.  We urge the leaders of the Western democracies to realize that the political situtation in Russia today has reached a tipping point, and to take immediate and drastic action before they see a fully-realized neo-Soviet monstrosity materialize once again before their gaping eyes.

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The Disastrous Miscalculation of Vladimir Putin

The blog Cicero’s Songs gives us chapter and verse exposing “The Disastrous Miscalculation of Vladimir Putin.”

As I have warned over the past few months, Russia is being particularly badly hit by the global financial crisis. Partly this is a function of the severity of the collapse of commodity prices, especially oil and gas, which has had an exceptionally serious impact on a country where 85% of GDP relies on the extraction of raw materials. However the scale of the crisis in Russia has been hugely increased by a number of massive miscalculations by the Silovik state. Now the speed and scale of the Russian meltdown could conceivably become a threat to the stability of the Silovik regime itself.

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Putin is Responsible, Part IV: How he did it

Russia expert Leon Aron of the American Enteprise Institue, writing on The American website, explains how Vladimir Putin had acquired the necessary amount of arbitrary power to enable him to commit all the gross policy errors we have document in todays multi-part issue from the Russian press.

On May 7, 2008, Russia inaugurated a new president, Dmitry Medvedev, the third president the country has seen since the fall of communism. A new era in Russian history had begun.

Or had it? The very next day, Russia confirmed a new—er, old—prime minister, former president Vladimir Putin. And in so doing, Russia marked not the beginning of a new era, but the continuation of an earlier, worrisome one.

Putin is by far the strongest former leader in Russian history. He maintains heavy influence over the inner circles of power and in the minds of the public—in a national survey, 60 percent of respondents agreed that “despite Medvedev’s election, the power will remain in the hands of Putin and his entourage.”

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