Russian President Vladimir Putin

Experts on Putin: 20 Years in Power

August 07, 2019
RM Staff

Twenty years ago this week, Vladimir Putin emerged from relative obscurity when Russia’s then president, Boris Yeltsin, appointed him prime minister. In his Aug. 9, 1999 announcement, Yeltsin described Putin as a leader “who can consolidate society” and “ensure [the] continuation of reforms” beyond the presidential elections, which at the time were scheduled to take place in June 2000. (Reportedly, Yeltsin first made the offer four days earlier—asking Putin, who was at the time director of the Federal Security Service and secretary of the Security Council, to also think about taking on the country’s top job.) Yeltsin then resigned from his post early, on Dec. 31, 1999, paving the way for early presidential elections in March 2000 and Putin’s victory in those elections. Putin’s meteoric rise from obscurity caught many by surprise, prompting some in the expert community to repeatedly ask “Who is Mr. Putin?” Below is our compilation of answers to this question from America’s leading Russia experts, along with a few highly regarded experts from other countries. While they don’t always agree, collectively they provide a valuable framework within which to consider Putin, a portrait of great breadth and depth, rich with well-informed analysis.  

Vladimir Putin with Boris Yeltsin, Dec. 1999.
Vladimir Putin with Boris Yeltsin, Dec. 1999.

The views here are organized by the topics that matter most for U.S.-Russia relations, much like Russia Matters news and analysis digests, but with three special “introductory” sections: on Putin’s objectives, strategy and vision; on the historical influences that shaped him; and on his personality. Within each section, views are arranged in chronological order of publication, with the most recent first. The initial mention of each “speaker” includes a hyperlink to their professional bio. Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed, in parentheses or otherwise marked is a direct quote.

I. Putin’s objectives/strategy/vision

  • Thomas Graham: [Putin’s] mission, when he rose to power 18 years ago, was to restore his country’s status as a great power—one of the few that determine the structure, substance and direction of world affairs—and to ensure that no global problem could be resolved without Moscow. He has made considerable progress. (Financial Times, 12.17.17)
  • Angela Stent: For President Putin, whose mission has been to restore Russia’s role on the world stage and negate what he sees as the disastrous legacy of the 1990s, the fundamental goal is to have the United States treat Russia as though it were the Soviet Union. That means recognizing it as a fully sovereign great power whose smaller neighbors enjoy only limited sovereignty, and America’s equal whose legitimate interests must be respected. The goal would be to create a new tripartite Yalta system, where the United States, Russia and China agree to divide the world into spheres of influence. (The National Interest, 08.17.17)
  • Henry Kissinger: [Putin’s view of international politics] is the heritage of the worldview identified with the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, as exemplified in his 1880 speech... Its passionate call for a new spirit of Russian greatness based on the spiritual qualities of the Russian character was taken up in the late 20th century by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Abandoning his exile in Vermont to return to Russia, Solzhenitsyn ... called for action to save the Russian people who had been “driven out” of Russia. In the same spirit, Putin has railed against what he has interpreted as a 300-year-old Western effort to contain Russia. (CapX, 08.02.17)
  • Timothy Colton: From day one, the declared priority of Russia’s second president—it is no exaggeration to call it a sacred priority for him—was to engineer political and social stability. His chosen course reflected the instinctive embrace of control for control’s sake of a career silovik, the Russian catchword for an associate or veteran of the security and military services. But Vladimir Putin also took a more philosophical view. Disorder was not only inherently undesirable, he affirmed in the “Millennium Manifesto” published in his name on the eve of his appointment as acting president on December 31, 1999, but was a stumbling block to normal life and development—and nowhere more than in Russia, given its tumultuous history. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • Dmitri Trenin: To Putin … religion is more than a personal matter. Christian Orthodoxy, in his view, is a spiritual and moral guide, the essence of Russia’s unique civilization, and without it the country’s history and its classical literature and the arts cannot be fully understood. To Putin, the “Byzantine symphony,” an alliance of the state and the established religious organizations, first among them the Russian Orthodox church, is the core of national unity. (The Guardian, 03.27.17)
  • Fiona Hill, in paraphrased, approved remarks: Putin is a former KGB operative and he continues to think like one, and he is proud of his skill set. He talks about being a specialist in human resources, and in the use of information, and extols the virtues of the techniques he mastered in the KGB, and their application to politics. In the very contentious U.S. political race I think he saw incredible opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities on all fronts. Putin and the people around him are strategists. We have always underestimated him, as if he is some rank opportunist. Well, you can’t take advantage of opportunities that come along unless you know what you want to do with them. For the whole of his time in office, Putin has prioritized “Russia’s interests first.” (Russia Matters, 02.08.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Putin has the same priorities today that he laid out at the beginning of his presidency in December 1999. His larger strategic goal is ensuring the defense of Russia’s interests—which are tightly fused with, and now largely inseparable from, his own and his system’s interests. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Another aspect of Putin’s strategic approach is to simplify and streamline his leadership at home and his interactions abroad. By creating a system in which he only has to deal with a small number of actors, Putin frees himself from having to deal with details and messy dynamics. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Putin has only a handful of contacts with U.S. and European insiders and thus a very incomplete grasp of what motivates or drives Western leaders. Finding himself too far outside their political perspectives and interactions, Putin falls back on his (and Russia’s) age-old threat perceptions. He looks for, and finds, plots and conspiracies. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Graham Allison: Everyone knows that Russia is a dangerous, difficult, often disappointing state with which to try to do business. Putin is a KGB man. His view of the world, and Russia’s place in it, was shaped by formative experiences as an intelligence operative. He carries with him deep scars from the collapse of the Soviet Union—which he believes was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century. A fierce patriot, he is determined to assert Russia’s role as a great power of which his fellow citizens can be proud. He is prepared to play rough and has built formidable military capabilities he is not reluctant to use. And Putin is especially sensitive to any signs of disrespect. Nonetheless, in pursuit of his goals, he has shown himself to be a strong, strategic, pragmatic leader who has played a weak hand more effectively than many who had more advantages. (The National Interest, 12.18.16)
  • Henry Kissinger: [Putin] is a man with a great sense of … inward connection to Russian history as he sees it, and he is a cold calculator of the Russian national interest as he conceives it and which he believes, probably correctly, has some very unique features. So for him, the question of Russian identity is very crucial because as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history and so that the question of “What is Russia?” looms very large in their mind and that’s a problem we have never had. (CBS’s “Face the Nation,” 12.18.16)
  • Henry Kissinger: When Putin resumed the presidency in 2012, the reset inevitably faltered. To understand Putin, one must read Dostoyevsky, not “Mein Kampf.” He knows that Russia is far weaker than it once was—indeed far weaker than the United States. He is the head of a state that for centuries defined itself by its imperial greatness, but then lost 300 years of imperial history upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is strategically threatened on each of its borders: by a demographic nightmare on its Chinese border; by an ideological nightmare in the form of radical Islam along its equally long southern border; and to the West, by Europe, which Moscow considers a historic challenge. Russia seeks recognition as a great power, as an equal, and not as a supplicant in an American-designed system. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Angela Stent: The experience of the past sixteen years suggests that Putin is a pragmatic leader willing to make deals if he believes they are in Russia’s interest. (Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.31.16)
  • Robert Legvold: What’s going to drive Putin’s next move? I think it’ll be events. I think it’s not within a context of any coherent design … but it’ll be event-driven, and therefore we ought to be thinking not about controlling preconceived Putin behavior, we ought to be thinking about the way in which we work on the events that will shape him. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 47:58)
  • Timothy Colton: From the outset, the tone of [Putin’s] third term was different: It was more restrictive, it was more control-oriented, and it was more nationalist and more anti-foreign—among which he was considerably more anti-American. (Speech at American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 06.06.16, 14:10)
  • Fiona Hill: In Putin’s mindset, the main threats to Russia right now lie inside Russia, where Trojan horses and Fifth Columnists have been deployed by the West to exacerbate and exploit Russia’s internal contradictions and divisions. In the Russian worldview, the sprawling multiethnic and multiconfessional states of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union were always strong in territory, but weak politically. The Soviet Union was vulnerable because of all the infighting among national elites, just as the Russian empire fell apart because of separatist and popular revolts when it was embroiled in war. In each case, in Putin’s view, the West—the Germans in World War I, the United States in the Cold War—exploited internal fissures to help bring the colossus to its knees. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • Graham Allison: The damage to an already-stagnant Russian economy suffering from low energy prices is actually reducing Putin’s foreign-policy flexibility. Russia’s president needs to show that his country’s suffering has been worth it. Retreat could severely damage Putin’s carefully cultivated image as a strong man—a style Russians have historically appreciated—and alienate his hypernationalist political base. They resent sanctions, which they see as hurting ordinary people much more than Putin’s entourage, and they want their leaders to resist, not capitulate. For many, Russia’s dignity is at stake. (The National Interest, 04.20.15)
  • Steven Pifer: Vladimir Putin lies. Blatantly. Publicly. And, apparently, without chagrin. … While Putin may play fast and loose with the truth, he appears to be a rational actor who calculates costs and benefits. The challenge for the West is to structure agreements so that it remains in his interest to observe them. (CNN, 03.20.15)
  • Timothy Colton: There’s a culturally ingrained view in Russia that in order for this country to stay together and stay afloat, it has to have an effective state. And this is Putin’s core belief—I think it drives everything else. ... And he has, to a considerable extent, delivered on his promise. (Interview with RT, 06.29.14, 25:55)
  • Dimitri Simes: Putin is a strong Russian patriot who sees the state as a key driver of society. He does not view democracy as an end, but rather as a means of government under appropriate circumstances. (Politico, 03.13.14)
  • Matthew Rojansky: Since his return to the presidency in 2012, Putin’s overwhelming concern has been to sustain the primacy of the Russian state, and with it his own personal power and security. (Politico, 03.13.14)
  • Andrew Kuchins: My read on Putin over his decade and a half in power is that he is a brutally cold, calculating pragmatist in foreign and security policy, combining pursuit of his perception of Russian national interests, which almost always correspond with Russian public opinion, along with his main goal of preserving his political power. (Politico, 03.13.14)
  • Fiona Hill: [Putin’s] aversion to forcible regime change is intense and unwavering. … Why has Putin offered such steadfast support to [Syrian leader Bashar] Assad? On the surface, Moscow seems to profit from exporting arms to Syria, and it depends on the regime’s good will to maintain Russian access to a naval facility at the Mediterranean port of Tartus. But these are marginal and symbolic interests. Putin is really motivated to support the Assad regime by his fear of state collapse—a fear he confronted most directly during the secession of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, which he brutally suppressed in a bloody civil war and counterinsurgency operation fought between 1999 and 2009. (Foreign Affairs, 03.25.13)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, regarding Putin’s former role as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg: Putin seems to have emerged from his St. Petersburg experience with the view that winners in the market system are those who are best able to exploit the vulnerabilities of others, not necessarily those who provide the best goods and services at the most favorable prices. This perspective set him up to exploit the vulnerabilities of others, including Russian businessmen, to manipulate them and ensure that they followed the directives of the Kremlin. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • Leon Aron: After his election as president in 2000, Putin added to this agenda an overarching goal: the recovery of economic, political and geostrategic assets lost by the Soviet state in 1991. Although he has never spelled it out formally, Putin has pursued this objective with such determination, coherence, and consistency that it merits being called the Putin Doctrine. (Foreign Affairs, 03.08.13)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: In Russia, individuals exist to serve the state and their rights are therefore secondary. From his earliest days in the Kremlin, Putin has pursued the goal of restoring and strengthening the state—by rediscovering and taking back Russia’s fundamental values, re-energizing its historical traditions and abandoning the practice of blindly copying abstract Western models. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Putin’s favorite quote these days is, “We do not need great upheavals. We need a great Russia,” a paraphrase of Stolypin’s famous rebuke to his fellow Duma deputies in 1907: “You, gentlemen, are in need of great upheavals; we are in need of a Great Russia.” (The National Interest, 01.01.12)
  • Graham Allison, regarding Vladimir Putin coming to power: I think as you look forward, at least for what you can see, from what he's said, if you read carefully the statements that he's made and watch his campaign, you find a person who's very realistic—indeed brutally realistic—who's very pragmatic, showing no evidence of ideology or principle in trying to achieve his objectives, and whose ambitions for Russia are essentially modern and moderate, namely that Russia not fall into collapse and not fall into the third rank of poor powers. And he feels that in order to do that, Russia's got to join the world and join the world economy. So if that's the philosophy that comes through in his administration, I think he will indeed prove a man with whom the West can do business. (NPR, 03.27.00)

II. Putin and history

  • Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon: Putin is not an aberration among recent Russian rulers, as he is routinely depicted to be in the West… His policies toward the West are a logical evolution and, in important respects, a continuation of theirs, grounded in a similar understanding of Russia’s destiny. … Putin now finds himself at a crossroads. He has advanced the goals he set for himself 17 years ago: Russia is stronger militarily, has a higher international profile, and is a power to be reckoned with. But the path forward for sustaining Russia as a great power remains unclear and numerous economic and social problems lie ahead. (The Boston Review, 09.12.17)
  • Thomas Graham: Russia is neither as strong as it seems nor as weak as we think. That aphorism has been attributed to the great French diplomat of the early 19th century, Prince Talleyrand, and numerous other European statesmen thereafter who have dealt with the puzzle of Russia. It encapsulates the flawed assumptions behind America’s Russia policy since Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999. … Throughout history, Russian leaders have insisted that Russia is a great power. Yet they have been acutely aware of their country’s vulnerabilities—how to defend a vast, sparsely populated country with long borders with powerful or unstable neighbors located on a broad plain with few physical barriers to foreign invasion? … Today, Putin has tried to solve this dilemma by acting like a 19th-century great power, seizing territory and displaying military might. But his seeming successes have increased the risk of parlous overstretch. Eighteen months after the Syrian incursion, which Putin promised would be short, Russia remains deeply engaged with no exit in sight. Considerable forces are tied down along the border with Ukraine to deal with various contingencies arising from Russian actions in the Donbas. Provocative Russian behavior in Europe has revitalized NATO, which Russia has always seen as a threat. Meanwhile, the melting Arctic ice is compelling Russia to take defense of its northern border seriously for the first time in history. Troubles in Afghanistan threaten to exacerbate conditions in the poor, fragile states of Central Asia and in Russia itself. And, despite the talk of strategic partnership, Moscow casts a wary eye toward its newly assertive neighbor, China, with which it has a long history of uneasy relations. (Yale Global Online, 04.04.17)
  • Henry Kissinger: Geopolitically, Putin governs a country with 11 time zones. Few countries in history have started more wars or caused more turmoil than Russia in its eternal quest for security and status. It is also true, however, that at critical junctures Russia has saved the world’s equilibrium from forces that sought to overwhelm it: from the Mongols in the 16th century, from Sweden in the 18th century, from Napoleon in the 19th century and from Hitler in the 20th century. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Robert Legvold: Putin is a critic of Lenin, doesn’t like Lenin, doesn’t like Yeltsin, and doesn’t like Gorbachev, and sees himself as somebody that will save Russia in the way in which strong Russian leaders in the past [have]. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 23:58)
  • Graham Allison: When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia was on its knees, dependent on Western assistance and consumed by its own internal affairs. In that context, it was not surprising that Western leaders became accustomed to ignoring Russian perspectives. But since Vladimir Putin took over in 1999, he has led a recovery of Russia’s sense of itself as a great power. Fueled by rising oil production and prices that brought a doubling of Russia’s GDP during his 15-year reign, Russians increasingly bridled at such treatment. (The National Interest, 04.20.15)
  • Timothy Colton: Putin’s political persona is very much based on a skepticism about or a rejection of what happened to Russia in the 1990s. (Speech at Wellesley College, 03.04.15, 34:57)
  • Timothy Colton, on Putin allegedly wishing to restore the USSR’s borders: No, I don’t think he wants that, I don’t think that he believes that Russia is capable of doing that. (Interview with RT, 06.29.14, 11:15)
  • Henry Kissinger: Putin is a serious strategist—on the premises of Russian history. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: His family’s harrowing tale from World War II fits neatly into the national historical narrative—one in which Russia constantly battles for survival against a hostile outside world. The critical lesson from centuries of domestic turbulence, invasion and war is that the Russian state always survives in one form or another. Every calamity weathered reaffirms Russia’s resilience and its special status in history. This has been a rhetorical touchstone for Putin, as well as for many others from his generation. … Throughout his presidency, Putin has raised survivalism from the personal to the national level. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • Robert Legvold: From Ivan IV’s to Putin’s day, Russia has worn its great-power status on its sleeve, and, when it is called into question, its leaders and essayists sink into a narcissistic preoccupation with the country’s decline. (“Russian Foreign Policy,” 2007)
  • Timothy Colton and Michael McFaul: After a decade of chaos, Russians, it may be reasoned, yearned for a Kremlin strongman who would deliver order and stability. Putin's ruthless use of force against the Chechens made him a national hero and the easy winner of the 2000 presidential election. (Post-Soviet Affairs, 2002)
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski: Although Putin displays a picture of Peter the Great in his office, his reliance on a KGB entourage and his professed admiration for his KGB predecessor, Yuri Andropov, indicate that Putin is no Russian Atatürk. His geopolitical mindset reflects the thinking of the last Soviet generation and not of the first post-Soviet generation. … Putin’s new team is composed of individuals who, with no exception, could now be serving in the higher echelons of the Soviet government (particularly the KGB) if the Soviet Union still existed. Putin’s own political lineage is quite suggestive in that regard. He is a third-generation apparatchik: his father was a Party functionary, while his grandfather even served on Lenin’s and then Stalin’s personal security detail. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)

III. Putin’s personality

  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Vladimir Putin needs to be taken seriously. He will make good on every promise or threat—if Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it; and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Vladimir Putin is a fighter and he is a survivalist. He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Judo moved the street kid from anything-goes scraps into formalized matches. It gave him insight and techniques to figure out ways of pushing bigger, stronger opponents to the mat while protecting himself. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: In the domestic and foreign policy arenas, Putin constantly sizes up his opponents and probes for physical and psychological weaknesses. Putin’s adaptation of Nixon’s “Madman Theory” approach helps flush these weaknesses out—it helps gauge reactions: They think I’m dangerous, and unpredictable, how do they respond to this?  Have I got them unbalanced and on the back foot as a result? Then Putin tests his opponents to see if they mean what they say—will they also be prepared to fight, and fight to the end? If they are not, then he will exploit their empty threats to show them up, intimidate, deter, and defeat them. If they are prepared to fight, and he is outweighed or outgunned by his adversaries, then he will look for unconventional moves that get around their defenses so that he can outmaneuver them. In judo you can win on points over the course of a series of matches even if you are far smaller than your opponent and lose some of the individual rounds. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: [C]ontrary to the prevailing external assessment, Putin is a strategic planner. The notion that Putin is an opportunist, at best an improviser, but not a strategist, is a dangerous misread. Putin thinks, plans, and acts strategically. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin is, himself, a political performance artist. Putin’s appearances are carefully orchestrated to suit the mood of his audience. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Matthew Rojansky: If you’re Vladimir Putin, you're effectively Russia’s new czar. It’s an absolute system. It’s an authoritarian system. That means that any threat to the stability of that system is a threat to you personally. He has been a pretty dynamic leader. You can strongly disagree with the nature of where he is going with domestic and foreign policy, but the economy is beginning to recover. It has been shrinking the last couple of years, [but now] beginning to recover. Russia is in global headlines every single day; for Russians to feel like “we have a dynamic leader” is actually not that big a stretch. (CSPAN, 07.31.16)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin personally—as he underscores—finds it hard to trust anyone. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • Timothy Colton, on the second Chechen war, 1999-2001: Chechnya offered opportunity and menace in equal measure. Yeltsin entrusted Putin with a military counterpunch stronger than the 1994 operation... Chechnya was the backdrop for a brawny decision-making style that set Putin apart from the burned-out Yeltsin. (“Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know,” 2016)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: [M]any in the West underestimate Putin's willingness to fight for as long and as hard (and as dirty) as necessary to achieve his goals. (“Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” 2015)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Putin is best understood as a composite of multiple identities that stem from those experiences, and which help explain his improbable rise from KGB operative and deputy mayor of St. Petersburg to the pinnacle of Russian power. Of these multiple identities, six are most prominent: Statist, History Man, Survivalist, Outsider, Free Marketeer, and Case Officer. … Putin has made a virtue of this outsider status throughout his presidency, stressing his connections to “ordinary” Russians and distancing himself from Moscow’s resented elites. … As a case officer in the KGB, Putin had learned how to identify, recruit and run agents, and acquired the patience to cultivate sources. He also learned how to collect, synthesize and use information. These tools proved invaluable in bringing Russia’s oligarchs to heel. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • Anatol Lieven: The president’s personal abstemiousness and intense self-discipline are part of the Putin image, an essential aspect of what makes him the anti-Yeltsin—which makes him admired by a large majority of Russians. He gives no impression of playing an assumed role. (The Globalist, 12.03.07)
  • Timothy Colton: If I were forced to characterize what we have witnessed [in 2004], culminating a half-decade of his period of leadership, I would reduce it to one phrase—he [Putin] sees politics as a process of imposing one’s will on the other. I think for Putin power is not merely the means to an end. It seems that nine times out of ten, it is the main end itself. (Post-Soviet Affairs, 2005)

IV. Putin and priorities for U.S.-Russian relations

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • Timothy Colton: The nuclear saber-rattling associated with the Cold War has returned, although in different forms. In an interview in March 2015, Putin said that he considered putting Russia's nuclear forces on alert during the Crimea operation. In November 2015, Russia's state-owned Channel One displayed images of a general studying plans for a nuclear-armed torpedo, “Status-6,” a doomsday retaliation weapon that could irradiate the entire U.S. east coast. [Then] U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter … named Russia a top threat to the U.S. … There is a very real risk of returning to a time when miscalculations in Moscow or Washington can at any moment lead to the destruction of life on earth. (“Everyone Loses,” 2017)
  • Steven Pifer: The Russian president’s apparent infatuation with nuclear weapons could stem from several factors, some more troubling than others. First, Putin seeks to project the image of Russia as a superpower. But Russia is not the Soviet Union; [it] has a vulnerable, resource-dependent economy and offers little ideological appeal. Lots of nuclear weapons provide the only thing that makes Russian power “super.” Second, although Russia is modernizing its conventional forces, NATO maintains qualitative and quantitative edges, while China has greatly increased its conventional capabilities. Nuclear weapons offer an offset for conventional force disadvantages. Third, Putin may see benefits in making the world think he is a little crazy when it comes to nuclear arms. That intimidates others, which seems to be one of his preferred tactics. Fourth, and more alarmingly, the Russian president may see nuclear weapons not just as tools of deterrence, but as tools of coercion. That would be new and potentially dangerous. (Brookings Institution, 06.17.15)
  • Robert Legvold: Although this new Cold War will be fundamentally different from the original, it will still be immensely damaging. Unlike the original, the new one won't encompass the entire global system. The world is no longer bipolar, and significant regions and key players, such as China and India, will avoid being drawn in. In addition, the new conflict will not pit one "ism" against another, nor will it likely unfold under the permanent threat of nuclear Armageddon. Yet the new Cold War will affect nearly every important dimension of the international system, and Putin's emphasis on Russia's alienation from contemporary Western cultural values will add to the estrangement. Finally, were a security crisis in the center of Europe to escalate, the danger of nuclear war could quickly return. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)

NATO-Russia relations:

  • Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon, referring to growing cooperation between Russia and the U.S. and NATO in 2002: Symbolically at least Russia was recognized as a great power. As U.S.-Russian relations grew warmer, Putin toned down his objections to the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the NATO decision to expand to seven countries in Eastern Europe, including the three former Soviet Baltic states. But the optimism proved short-lived. (The Boston Review, 09.12.17)
  • Fiona Hill: Ultimately, in pursuing Russia’s goals, Putin is a pragmatist. He has to keep a watchful eye on the home front, and Russia does not have the military or economic resources for the mass-army, total-mobilization approach that it adopted during the Cold War to defend itself against the United States and NATO. Putin has to combine conventional, nuclear and non-conventional, non-military—so-called “hybrid”—means of defense. (Brookings, 03.03.16)
  • Fiona Hill: The preferred scenario for Russia in Europe, as Putin has repeatedly made clear, would be one without NATO and without any other strategic alliances that are embedded in the European Union’s security concepts. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Graham Allison: Two decades after the end of the Cold War, the twin trends of overdependence on U.S. power and underinvestment in military might have left European defenses at risk of becoming dangerously irrelevant. … The European Union's population is triple Russia's and its economy is eight times larger, yet it spends 60 percent less on defense than Russia does relative to GDP. Such miserly investment helps explain Europe's impotence in response to Putin. For Washington, this state of affairs is untenable. For Europe, it should be unacceptable. (Los Angeles Times, 06.13.14)

Missile defense:

  • Roger McDermott and Stephen Cimbala: Ironically Putin’s irredentism in Ukraine may result in a NATO re-reboot of its missile defense plans and a decision for placement of missile defense components in Poland after all. In turn, Russia’s response might be to fortify its Kaliningrad exclave with Iskander missiles, a high-precision tactical ballistic missile system very accurate for short distances and capable of being used with nuclear warheads. (The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 10.14.16)

Nuclear arms control:

  • Olga Oliker: Putin’s language on nuclear weapons is encouraging in that he speaks of improving, not increasing, the force. Putin’s question to Trump about a New START extension suggests an interest in keeping the agreement going at least until 2026—right around the time Russia’s all-modern force can be expected to come into being. (Arms Control Association, May 2017)

Counterterrorism:

  • Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon: Under the influence of counterterrorism cooperation, relations drew even closer in May 2002. At the U.S.–Russian summit held in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Putin and Bush issued a Joint Declaration proposing a strategic partnership in which the two countries would work together as equals on common interests. (The Boston Review, 09.12.17)
  • Fiona Hill: The religious wars in the Middle East are not a side show for Russia. Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to Syria from Russia, as well as from Central Asia and the South Caucasus, all attracted by the extreme messages of ISIS and other groups. (Brookings, 05.23.16)
  • Fiona Hill: A desire to contain extremism is a major reason why Putin offered help to the United States in battling the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. It is also why Russia maintains close relations with Shia Iran, which acts as a counterweight to Sunni powers. (Foreign Affairs, 03.25.13)
  • Robert Legvold: [Putin’s] aligning Russia with the United States in the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban was but an eye-catching manifestation of a more basic strategic decision to throw Russia’s lot in with the West. (The National Interest, Winter 2002-2003)
  • Timothy Colton and Michael McFaul: Putin, of course, has good reason to show solidarity with Washington—at least for now. Russia's president is keen to link America's new battle against terrorism with his own country's campaign against rebels in Chechnya. And indeed, the connection Putin draws is not without merit. Osama bin Laden has sponsored violence in both Russia and the United States. (Foreign Affairs, November/December 2001)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Graham Allison: Syria provides a further bloody reminder that where parties are not willing to kill and die for their objectives, others who are will prevail. After announcing a grand objective—“Assad must go”—Obama was unwilling to commit American military forces to achieve that goal, leaving a vacuum that Vladimir Putin stepped in to fill. (The National Interest, 12.18.16)
  • Robert Legvold: I think one of the successes in Putin’s mind about what’s going on in Syria is the fact that the United States and Russia are now the co-chairs of the diplomacy that has to make this work—Russia’s back, in a way that matters globally. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 10:26)
  • Hill: Putin sees Russia in for the long haul in Syria. (Brookings, 05.23.16)
  • Timothy Colton: Putin has been less than candid about the motivations behind the operation [in Syria]. Early on, he insisted that the central aim was to take on Russia jihadists in Syria, predominantly from the North Caucasus republics, and prevent them from returning home. This is debatable, since denial of readmission to the Russian Federation would assuredly be much easier than locating and destroying these roving warriors on foreign soil. The same applies to fighters from CIS countries in Central Asia, whose citizens can enter Russia visa-free but are subject to tracking. … It came to pass that the other “terrorists” in the sights of the Sukhoi fighters and bombers were any armed outfit opposed to the Syrian regime. (“Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know,” 2016)
  • Timothy Colton: Reading between the lines of presidential rhetoric, and taking Russian military actions as given, there is no question that the primary goal was to stave off the fall of the Assad government, fighting for its life through the most merciless of methods, and thereby to act out Putin’s declarative doctrine of multipolarity. … Another [objective] was to demonstrate Russia’s credibility as a power that stands by partners in need. And Putin wanted to flaunt the capabilities of his new-look armed forces, in front of geopolitical rivals and potential purchasers of Russian hardware. Russia has achieved no small measure of success in Syria. (“Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know,” 2016)
  • Thomas Graham: At the same time, with the demands of the Ukraine crisis on the Russian military, it will be stretched to sustain operations in Syria. Given the risks, the buildup is not likely a cynical play to whip up patriotic fervor and bolster Putin's domestic rating; it is rather an effort to defend Russian national interests. (The National Interest, 09.15.15)
  • Thomas Graham: Keeping U.S. military power at bay is central to Putin’s effort to reassert Russian influence, particularly in the Middle East. The leading Arab states may want Assad’s ouster, unlike Putin, but they do respect power, as do Iran and Israel. Putin’s decisiveness, coupled with Obama’s evident ambivalence about the use of force and deeper involvement in Middle East affairs, will lead all the regional powers to reassess their strategies in ways that focus more attention to Russia. (The Daily Star, 09.24.13)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin firmly opposes U.S. policy toward Syria and the threat of force against Iran. But his opposition stems neither from anti-Americanism nor a desire to back the Iranian mullahs or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in their struggles with the West. It is rooted in his obsession with stability. Helping Tehran secure a nuclear weapon and keeping Assad in Damascus are not Putin’s goals. But an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, and NATO or the United Nations intervening in Syria to forcibly remove Assad, would increase global volatility. (New York Times, 02.04.13)

Elections interference:

  • Leon Aron: The Russian president acts as if he imposed on himself a historical mission to rebalance the world's "correlation of forces," as the Soviets used to say in Brezhnev's time. Resentment and restoration looked like his twin mottos. While leaving the door open to cooperation with the U.S. on antiterrorism, arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, Mr. Putin came to view the rest of geopolitics as largely a zero-sum game: If the West wins, Russia loses—and vice versa. What happened during the 2016 presidential election, then, was not an anti-American one-off. It was part of a sustained policy, a tile in the giant geopolitical mosaic of Russian resurgence that Mr. Putin has set out to construct. (Wall Street Journal, 08.08.17)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin and the Kremlin recognized Americans’ anger with the political establishment, because they are always on the alert for it at home. … Putin and the Kremlin seemed to recognize that this election was really a referendum on America’s future. The November 8 ballot, as Trump also understood, was more like the June 23 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.  (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Fiona Hill: 3 reasons Russia’s Vladimir Putin might want to interfere in the U.S. presidential elections: Putin thinks the U.S. already did it to him first; Putin thinks and acts like a KGB operative; Putin wants a weakened U.S. presidency. (Brookings, 08.03.16)

Energy exports from the former Soviet Union:

  • Graham Allison: He has often expressed his deep conviction that the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" was the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He has reflected on the analysis by former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar that identifies the squeeze on Soviet finances caused by the sharp drop in oil prices in the mid-1980s as the primary proximate cause of that event. (National Interest, 11.11.14)

  • Robert Legvold: Russia, of course, impinges on the U.S. consciousness because of its vast oil and gas reserves and its critical role as an energy supplier to old and new allies in Europe. But for much of the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Russia's oil and gas industries were in semi-chaos, this dimension of the relationship remained largely confined to the visions animating U.S. oil majors. When Washington again focused on the issue in Boris Yeltsin's last years and over Putin's tenure as president, Russia's and the larger region's energy resources were not the basis for an energetic, cooperative U.S.-Russia agenda. Instead the confusing tension between competing pipelines contrasted with shared development projects simply stoked growing policy lethargy in the Clinton administration's last years. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • Angela Stent: Nowhere was the symbiotic relationship between the political and the commercial more evident than in Russia’s rise as an energy power—arguably the most significant aspect of Putin’s foreign policy, combining traditional geopolitics with instruments from the world of globalization to implement them. (Europe-Asia Studies, 07.18.08)
  • Robert Legvold: It is not easy to trace the precise connection between official foreign policy and Russia's giant energy company Gazprom or its national electricity combine, RAO UES. Yet there is little question that the less-than-gentle efforts of these and other Russian corporate interests to acquire large equity stakes in pipelines, refineries, power grids and other strategically significant economic entities accord well with Putin's desire to increase Russia's influence throughout the post-Soviet space. (Foreign Affairs, 09.01.2001)
  • See also “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with ‘far abroad’ countries” below.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Thomas Graham: The U.S. doesn’t just have a Putin problem. It has a Russia problem. … Global developments may have shifted the specifics of the rivalry, and technological advances may have increased its risks. But the areas of disagreement have stayed have constant: values, zones of influence, the principles of world order. (Politico, 08.12.17)
  • Graham Allison: I think the good news story is that the demonization of Putin has not made America safer. I think Putin is demonic and he’s a dangerous character. And I think his behavior is dangerous for us. That’s a reality. But just demonizing him and blaming him for things—I have to ask about our security: At the end of each round, are we better off, are we worse off? And the answer is, we’re worse off. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 07.31.17)
  • Dmitri Trenin: [Putin] understands the vast asymmetries between Russia and America. He knows that the arms race with the United States undermined the Soviet economy; a repeat of it would kill Russia’s. He likely realizes that self-imposed isolation, via sanctions on Western companies, would be much worse for Russia than any U.S.-driven attempt to isolate it from without. He should see that fanning xenophobia and anti-Americanism at home would hardly bring any benefits but instead would hurt relations with other countries, not just the United States, and retard Russia’s development still further. The Soviet Union tried to deal with the United States from a position of an equal, which it was not, and eventually quit the stage; the Russian Federation, starting from a position of weakness, has to be smarter. Putin, the judo fighter, certainly gets it. (Foreign Policy, 07.31.17)
  • Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon: If the United States remains rudderless, Putin will be unable to engage Trump on the issues with which he most needs his help. And Russiagate won’t prove to have been a masterful maneuver. (The Boston Review, 07.24.17)
  • Paul Saunders: Consider Russia’s policy toward the United States in the fall of 2001, immediately following the September 11 attacks. Russian President Vladimir Putin is widely known as the first foreign leader to contact President George W. Bush following the attacks. He appears to have made a strategic decision to assist the United States in order to pursue a closer relationship. If President Putin becomes convinced that he will never be able to build a functional relationship with Washington—no matter what he does or who is in power—American preferences will lose much of their remaining power in restraining Russia’s conduct. (Russia Matters, 03.17.17)
  • Thomas Graham: The demonization of Putin is a reflection of our declining confidence in our own capabilities. It's easier to blame Putin. He's pursuing Russian national interests, but he's not running world affairs. (NPR, 01.18.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: In the 1990s when Yeltsin did not take strong action on issues inimical to Russia’s interests, U.S. and European leaders routinely assumed that this was because Yeltsin had made a strategic decision not to do so. … Yeltsin, Western leaders concluded, had put his priority on good relations with the West no matter what. But Yeltsin and Russia were heavily indebted to the West. … In many respects, Yeltsin could not act in the 1990s because Russia was constrained. If Yeltsin made a threat it was empty. He did not have the resources, the capacity to back it up. Vladimir Putin has no such constraints. Sanctions hurt, but they do not deter him as they deterred Yeltsin. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Graham Allison: The objective of American policy is not to placate Russia or please Putin. Rather, it is to advance vital U.S. national interests. As seen during Obama’s second term, when treated primarily as a “foe,” Russia can undermine important American objectives. If it can be persuaded to act more as a partner, within the framework of a sustainable, if difficult, working relationship, Moscow can help advance U.S. foreign-policy objectives in a number of ways. (The National Interest, 12.18.16)
  • Henry Kissinger: Starting with American support for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, Putin has gradually convinced himself that the U.S. is structurally adversarial. By “structural,” I mean that he may very well believe that America defines its basic interest as weakening Russia, transforming us from a potential ally to another foreign country that he balances with China and others. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Matthew Rojansky: First, we need to stop obsessing over Putin. Our problem is with Russia. Putin stands in the mainstream of a centuries-old Russian foreign policy tradition and worldview and he enjoys broad elite support and popular consent for his policies. Any approach premised mainly on "being tough" with Putin (as Hillary Clinton promises) or on charming him into making a deal (as Trump does) misses the point entirely. (New York Times, 10.25.16)
  • Robert Legvold: That leadership, … those that he [Putin] has surrounded himself with, key advisors, were part of an organization that thought in terms of a fundamental hostility from the West. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 9:05)
  • Angela Stent: Putin is still recovering from belittling remarks [that Obama made when he described the country as a regional power]. … It's a way of reasserting Russia. (The Washington Post, 09.16.16)
  • Angela Stent: [Donald Trump] genuinely admires Putin as a strongman who gets things done. … Everybody pays attention to him [Putin]. (New York Times, 09.08.16)
  • Matthew Rojansky: We are now simply seeing what it looks like when a major power acts in furtherance of what it understands to be its interests, irrespective of U.S. interests. (Quartz, 08.19.16)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin was personally angered by events in Libya and the death of President Muammar Qaddafi at the hands of rebels as Qaddafi tried to flee Tripoli after NATO’s intervention in the civil war there. In Putin’s view (again expressed openly in his public addresses and in interviews), the United States was now responsible for a long sequence of revolutions close to Russia’s borders and in countries with close ties to Moscow. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Michael Kofman: Putin’s 15-year track record of achieving political ends through force does not look bad compared to the U.S. experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Indeed, the Kremlin understands quite well the interaction between violence and politics. It has to, because it does not have access to strong alternatives compared to countries like the United States. Russia’s economic, information and diplomatic powers are highly contextual and often geographically limited. (War on the Rocks, 09.07.15)
  • Henry Kissinger: “Putin should come to realize that, whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.” (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • Henry Kissinger: “For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • Dmitri Trenin: Putin wants partnership, but not in the sense that he works on the U.S. agenda and gets paid a commission for helping out. He understands the U.S. is much stronger than Russia, but he nevertheless demands a relationship of equals. (Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.13.13)
  • Olga Oliker: Russian leaders have often sought to remind (or convince) their constituents of their strength and authority by being visible and in control at military exercises. While Putin, recently returned to the office of president by popular vote, has no particular reason to fear for his continued power, he clearly thinks that it's never a bad idea to remind the public that he is also commander-in-chief. (The RAND blog,10.31.12)
  • Timothy Colton and Henry Hale: The message of his [Putin’s] campaigns might thus be characterized as follows: Russia's future lies in cooperation rather than conflict with the west, but the west is an unreliable partner that frequently harbors ill or disrespectful intentions regarding Russia and that therefore must constantly be kept in check at the same time that cooperation must still be pursued. (Slavic Review, 2009)
  • Robert Legvold: U.S.-Russian relations soured not only because of frictions between Washington and Moscow over issues such as NATO enlargement, the status of Kosovo and Washington's plans to place a ballistic missile defense system in central Europe. Russia's antipathy toward the general thrust of the Bush administration's foreign policy, particularly what Putin and his entourage came to see as Washington's excessive unilateralism and disposition to use force, also did more than its share of damage. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)
  • Graham Allison: In both countries, baiting the former Cold War adversary is politically productive. Especially in a society that felt humiliated and thus craves to be proud of their country, Putin's readiness to stand up to the world's sole superpower has given him the highest approval rating among his fellow citizens of any leader in the world today. Thus especially when cooperating, Putin is always at pains to describe this in his own term—not as concessions to the United States. (The Boston Globe, 07.05.07)
  • Robert Legvold: Because of the fundamental turn in Russian foreign policy, the basis for a radically different U.S.-Russian relationship now exists. In short, Putin's new agenda permits a new and positive U.S.-Russian agenda. … The notion that Putin has rushed to the U.S. side in order to secure a free hand in Chechnya or a free pass from Western criticism in repressing civil liberties both claims too much and does too little to explain the shift in Russian foreign policy. (The National Interest, Winter 2002-2003)

V. Putin and Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Andrew Weiss: Vladimir Putin has gone global in recent years, launching a Russian-style charm offensive in far-flung locales where the Kremlin’s influence had been all but written off. Russian voices, fingerprints and footsteps have been showing up over much of the Middle East and Europe, parts of Africa and even in Latin America. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 08.04.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Putin has no reliable interlocutors in the West from his perspective, only a handful of intermediaries. And he simply does not trust anyone. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski: I think the affinity for Putin [among European populists] is overblown, largely promoted by self-serving journalists. Certainly, some individual leaders of these movements profess admiration for his strongman approach to governance, but I see little evidence there is some kind of popular groundswell in any serious country. The populist movements in the European democracies are the result of confusion and liberation. … Some groups and political leaders may cast themselves as pro-Russian, yes, and the Russian intelligence agencies are stirring up trouble, trying to undercut European unity on Russian sanctions by encouraging sympathetic political forces. But that is all marginal compared to [the] underlying dynamic. (Huffington Post, 12.23.16)
  • Robert Legvold: The sanctions are indeed inflicting pain … but the other issue, the other criterion we ought to apply [is] “are they achieving our objective?”—which is an adjustment of his [Putin’s] behavior … And there’s no indication that they have. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 51:06)
  • Thomas Graham: The West acts as if it had a Vladimir Putin problem. In fact it has a Russia problem. The Russian president stands within a long tradition of Russian thinking. His departure would fix nothing. Any plausible successor would pursue a similar course, if perhaps with a little less machismo. (Financial Times, 05.31.15)
  • Dimitri Simes: Putin is not anti-Western, but unlike his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, he is unsentimental toward the West. The downside of Putin’s experience in international affairs is that there are few to whom he will turn to for advice; he likewise has no interest in moral guidance from Western leaders, whom he considers hypocritical in attempting to force Russia to play according to rules they don’t follow. (Politico, 03.13.14)
  • Angela Stent: The eternal question of whether Russia really belongs to Europe complicates the EU-Russia relationship. Putin has said "Russia is a natural member of the 'European family' in spirit, history and culture," though he has made it clear that Russia does not seek to join the EU. But Russians have become disillusioned with Europe's lecturing of them and remain divided over whether to join Europe or pursue a Eurasian path. Despite this mutual ambivalence, and though Russia is a challenging partner, the EU as a whole remains committed to encouraging the Kremlin to become more European. The alternative is a more obstructionist Russia isolated from the West. (The National Interest, 03.01.07)
  • Robert Legvold: By 2006 the picture [of Russian state weakness] had begun to change. Weakness no longer remained the sole unrelenting backdrop of policy. High energy prices filled the Russian treasury, providing Russia with the world’s third most sizable foreign reserves, freeing it from its debt burden to the West, and creating a sense of empowerment over those, including Europe, China and Japan, who needed Russia’s oil and gas. This, coupled with the impression that Putin had restored order after the chaos of the Yeltsin years, stirred a prickly new self-confidence. (“Russian Foreign Policy,” 2007)

Russia’s relations with China:

  • Graham Allison: The relationship between Xi [Jinping] and Putin is very thick, very tight. They are, I would say, best buddies, actually. (CSIS, 07.31.17)
  • Dimitri Simes: You should not be surprised if Russia would introduce a new element of global instability by signing a security agreement with Beijing, and there is a considerable interest in Beijing in strengthening security ties to Russia. So far, Putin has not wanted to pull in that direction, because he wants to have a Western option, because he wants to have an American connection. He also does not want to be Beijing’s junior partner. But if you deprive him of the European-American connection, we may alter the geopolitical balance by putting Russia closer to China. (New Republic, 03.03.14)
  • Paul Saunders: In short, while Putin is clearly eager to work with the United States, he is prepared to do so only on terms that do not damage what he views as Russian interests. Putin also has his eye on Russia's other options—China—and even the capacity to play a central role in alternative institutions outside the West. (The National Interest, 09.11.06)

Russia’s relations with Ukraine:

  • Robert Blackwill and Dimitri Simes: Taken in isolation, Russia’s conduct in Ukraine presents geopolitical and moral challenges but does not threaten the vital U.S. national interests described above. There are no grounds for a European domino theory or fear that a compromise with Moscow would be a new Munich. Vladimir Putin is no Adolf Hitler and Russia is no Nazi Germany. A united NATO stands in sharp contrast to the divided Europe that Hitler exploited in 1938. And Putin, with his background as a ruthless but cautious intelligence operative, can hardly be compared to the German racist demagogue. (The National Interest, 11.16.17)
  • Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon: In Moscow’s reading, the United States had masterminded the revolution [in Ukraine] to install a pro-Western figure as president over the candidate endorsed by Putin. Putin soon came to view the revolution in Ukraine as a dress rehearsal for regime change in Russia itself. Putin believed it was part of the United States’ larger effort to construct a unipolar world based on its values and interests, a world that it could dominate with little regard for other major powers. In response Putin began working to fortify Russia against Western influence and interference. (The Boston Review, 09.12.17)
  • Steven Pifer: Putin sees Russians & Ukrainians as one people. Said so in Kyiv in 2013. Does not understand he thereby denies Ukrainian history, culture. (Twitter, 05.26.17)
  • Timothy Colton: The imposition of American and European Union sanctions over Russian behavior in Ukraine gave Putin a chance to hold forth against an internal “fifth column” of sympathizers with the West. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • Roger McDermott and Stephen Cimbala: Putin’s actions in Crimea were not entirely sui generis: They were preceded by a context of demands upon Russia from its post-Cold War military and geostrategic setting, compared to that of the Soviet Union. Putin’s policy is not the result of psychodrama. It is the product of his having lived in strategic history and his (and our) understanding of that history. (The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 10.14.16)
  • Anatol Lieven: Russia’s restraint in Ukraine shows that there is no serious reason to fear that Mr. Putin is ready to create a new, worse international crisis by attacking the Baltic states or Poland. (New York Times, 03.18.16)
  • Timothy Colton: Putin used to speak glowingly about a Greater Europe, or Union of Europe, promoting economic cooperation from the Atlantic to the Urals—without convergence on values. ... Ukraine then put Russia and the EU wildly out of sync. (“Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know,” 2016)
  • Michael Kofman: No surprise that Vladimir Putin, who does not believe in rule of law, has a poor appreciation for the legal consequences of Russia’s actions [in Ukraine] and the financial costs it could bear later on. (War on the Rocks, 09.07.15)
  • Henry Kissinger: One has to analyze how the Ukraine crisis occurred. It is not conceivable that Putin spends 60 billion euros on turning a summer resort into a winter Olympic village in order to start a military crisis the week after a concluding ceremony that depicted Russia as a part of Western civilization… I saw Putin at the end of November 2013. He raised a lot of issues; Ukraine he listed at the end as an economic problem that Russia would handle via tariffs and oil prices. The first mistake was the inadvertent conduct of the European Union. They did not understand the implications of some of their own conditions. Ukrainian domestic politics made it look impossible for Yanukovych to accept the EU terms and be reelected or for Russia to view them as purely economic. So the Ukrainian president rejected the EU terms. The Europeans panicked, and Putin became overconfident. He perceived the deadlock as a great opportunity to implement immediately what had heretofore been his long-range goal. He offered $15 billion to draw Ukraine into his Eurasian Union. In all of this, America was passive. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • Henry Kissinger: There was no significant political discussion with Russia or the EU of what was in the making. Each side acted sort of rationally based on its misconception of the other, while Ukraine slid into the Maidan uprising right in the middle of what Putin had spent 10 years building as a recognition of Russia’s status. No doubt in Moscow this looked as if the West was exploiting what had been conceived as a Russian festival to move Ukraine out of the Russian orbit. Then Putin started acting like a Russian czar—like Nicholas I over a century ago. I am not excusing the tactics, only setting them in context. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski: What we are seeing in Ukraine … [is] a symptom of a more basic problem: namely, the gradual but steady emergence in Russia over the last six or seven years of a quasi-mystical chauvinism. Putin has taken the lead in this and its content is significant for the totality of Russia's relations with the world, and the West in particular. (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • Steven Pifer: A weak Ukrainian government incapable of meeting the challenges before it ensures that the Maidan model will have little attraction for the Russian populace. This consideration could mean that Mr. Putin wants a failed Ukrainian state. (Testimony before U.S. Senate, 03.04.15)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: The logic of sending weapons to Ukraine seems straightforward and is the same as the logic for economic sanctions: to change Vladimir Putin’s “calculus.” … We strongly disagree [with calls on the West to provide military support to Ukraine]. The evidence points in a different direction. If we follow the recommendations of this report, the Ukrainians won’t be the only ones caught in an escalating military conflict with Russia. (The Washington Post, 02.05.15)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Our problem is that we do not fully understand Putin’s calculus, just as he does not understand ours. In Putin’s view, the United States, the European Union and NATO have launched an economic and proxy war in Ukraine to weaken Russia and push it into a corner. As Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, has underscored, this is a hybrid, 21st-century conflict, in which financial sanctions, support for oppositional political movements and propaganda have all been transformed from diplomatic tools to instruments of war. Putin likely believes that any concession or compromise he makes will encourage the West to push further. (The Washington Post, 02.05.15)
  • Dmitri Trenin: The emphasis Moscow placed on the issues of language and ethnicity in Ukraine marked a dramatic change from its previous agenda of backing the territorial and political status quo and dealing exclusively with sitting governments toward a proactive policy of rearranging parts of the post-Soviet space where sizeable Russian minorities live. It appeared that Putin began to implement the ideas of the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had proposed in 1990, before the fall of the Soviet Union, the creation of a Russian state on the territory of the then Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the mainly Slav-populated northern part of Kazakhstan. (Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.22.14)
  • Matthew Rojansky: Yet if by violently deposing their president, Ukrainians managed to bring change that would improve their standard of living while shifting their country’s geopolitical orientation toward the West, the implicit message to Russians would be deeply dangerous for Putin and his own “power vertical.” In fact, Putin was already convinced since at least 2011 that the West—mainly the U.S.—was behind “color revolutions” in Georgia (2002), Ukraine (2004) and Kyrgyzstan (2005), and that Russia was next on the list. (Perspectives on Peace & Security, August 2014)
  • Graham Allison: Most of the territory that is now Ukraine was part of Russia for most of the past millennium, and will remain so in the mind of Putin and his associates for the remainder of their lives. (The National Interest, 06.06.14)
  • Graham Allison: Ukraine is free to choose between claiming all the rights and privileges of a normal modern state and ending up with half its current territory, or meeting enough of a Russian bully’s demands to have a chance to survive with its current borders and, if it succeeds, to put Putin to shame. (The National Interest, 05.07.14)
  • Steven Pifer: Several factors motivate the Russian president. First, rebuilding a Soviet-era sphere of influence is a key element of his vision of Moscow as a great power. A Ukraine tied to the European Union punches a big hole in that vision. Second, pulling Ukraine (or, at least, Crimea) back toward Russia plays very well with Putin’s conservative political base. Third, Putin may actually buy into some of the Russian narrative on Ukraine—i.e., that a U.S.-directed and funded cabal of neo-fascists overthrew the Yanukovych government and is now bent on terrorizing ethnic Russians—just as he saw the 2004 Orange Revolution as orchestrated from abroad. (Politico, 03.13.14)
  • Olga Oliker: We think what’s good for Russia is stability in the neighborhood, economic growth. But Russia, or at least Vladimir Putin, thinks what’s most important is that Russia is taken seriously, and that a strong Russia is one that sticks to its guns and gets what it wants. … We’re going to have to demarche strongly and suck it up. Putin wouldn’t have done this if he wasn’t willing to pay. (McClatchy, 03.01.14)

Russia's relations with other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Angela Stent: Trump said in his inaugural speech that we will not get involved in other countries’ domestic affairs, suggesting that we are backing off from regime change and democracy promotion. That is music to Putin’s ears. … The hints … suggest that Trump acknowledges Russia’s “sphere of privileged interests” in the post-Soviet space, as Putin likes to call it, and that the U.S. won’t interfere there. (Financial Times, 02.09.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Putin seeks a “New Yalta” with the West in political and security terms. As he defines Moscow’s sphere of influence in this new arrangement, that sphere extends to all the space in Europe and Eurasia that once fell within the boundaries of the Russian Empire and the USSR. Within these vast contours, Putin and Russia have interests that need to be taken into account, interests that override those of all others. For Putin, Russia is the only sovereign state in this neighborhood. None of the other states, in his view, have truly independent standing—they all have contingent sovereignty. The only question for Putin is which of the real sovereign powers (Russia or the United States) prevails in deciding where the borders of the New Yalta finally end up after 2014. … In the meantime, until a “new Yalta” is thrashed out, Russia and the West will remain at war. … This game of chicken will be a long one. Putin’s goal is security for Russia and his system. The means to achieve that goal is deterrence. … [T]here is no definitive endgame. He will keep on playing as long as he perceives the threat to last. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: In Georgia in 2008, for example, Putin called the West’s bluff about standing by its friends—which is what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that the West would do during a visit to Tbilisi shortly before the August war. From Putin’s perspective, given all the emphasis the Bush administration put on Georgia in its foreign policy, he thought this meant that the United States was prepared to fight militarily, not just rhetorically, for Georgia. Moscow was steeled for a possible fight with NATO. … When the United States and NATO did not come to Georgia’s aid militarily, and the European Union, with then French President Nicholas Sarkozy out in front, rushed to broker a ceasefire, there was a sigh of relief in Moscow. NATO was still a formidable conventional fighting force, of course, but it did not have the political will to fight for partners outside the alliance, and the frame of Article 5—even if (as in the case of Georgia) those partners were fighting alongside NATO forces in coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Putin understood that the United States’ security priorities were focused elsewhere. The West wanted to contain Russia on the cheap in Europe and Eurasia. The United States, NATO and the EU would do everything they could to head off another major military confrontation, a “World War III,” in Europe. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Timothy Colton, on the Eurasian Economic Union: [Putin] envisioned two separate blocs in Europe that would cut deals with one another but remain distinct. Under these circumstances, bandwagoning with Russia would be the only sensible option for CIS countries. The unspoken message to the In-Betweens was clear: Moscow wants to determine the extent and pace of their integration with the EU. (“Everyone Loses,” 2017)
  • Henry Hale: In recent years, it has become fashionable among Russia-watchers to blame that country’s democratic woes on its strongman president, Vladimir Putin. But this fails to explain why so many other post-Soviet countries have similar or greater levels of authoritarian rule. Some see Russia as exporting autocracy to its neighbors, but the post-Soviet political systems that most resemble Russia’s today actually appeared far earlier, years before anyone outside of St. Petersburg had heard of a midlevel city official and former KGB lieutenant-colonel named Putin. (The Journal of Democracy, July 2016)
  • Timothy Colton: Putin’s Russia has employed external military force three times. It is no fluke that two times out of three it has been in Eurasia, where, as Dmitri Medvedev said in 2008, the Russian Federation claims “privileged interests.” (“Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know,” 2016)
  • Steven Pifer: Putin’s concept of Russia as a great power includes a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space. He does not seek to recreate the Soviet Union; the Russian economy does not wish to subsidize those of other states. But Moscow does want its neighbors to take account of and defer to its concerns, particularly as regards relationships with Western institutions such as NATO and the European Union. (Testimony before U.S. Senate, 03.04.15)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin is a practitioner of realpolitik in its starkest form. In his interactions with regional leaders, Putin has laid out his view that all the states that emerged from the USSR are appendages of Russia. They should pay fealty to Moscow. (The National Interest, 02.24.15)
  • Michael Kofman: After 14 years in power, Vladimir Putin has demonstrated one thing for certain—he can learn, and it seems he has the West all figured out. After a decade of war, the United States has come to realize that all of its military might translates poorly into the ability to achieve political ends in another country. Vladimir Putin learned the opposite from his experience in pacifying Chechnya and crushing Georgia. Even at its worst, his military can achieve political ends on the Russian periphery. (The National Interest, 04.25.14)
  • Steven Pifer and Fiona Hill: Putin does not want to re-create the Soviet Union. He wants deference from neighboring states. He knows that EU association agreements would pull states from Moscow's economic and geopolitical orbit. Keeping them in requires leverage. In past disputes with neighbors, Russia has used natural gas price increases and cutoffs, embargoed key imports and stoked inter-ethnic tension as a means of pressure or simply as payback. (Brookings Institution, 02.07.14)
  • Angela Stent: The Putin legacy in the Commonwealth of Independent States is mixed; with gains in Central Asia and losses in the Western newly independent states and the South Caucasus. (Europe-Asia Studies, 07.18.08)
  • See also “Energy exports from the former Soviet Union” above.

VI.  Putin and Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Timothy Colton: Putin has had no shortage of the chances, time in position and power levers at his fingertips to assemble an outright dictatorship in the Russian Federation. Working from his platform within the state machine, given his rapport with his products of the security and military services (the siloviki), and the fruits of pre-2014 growth being there for the plucking, Putin, in my view, could have become the Francisco Franco or Omar al-Bashir of Russia. He has chosen not to do so. (Comparative Politics, April 2018)
  • Matthew Rojansky: For Putin, dysfunction is useful since it reinforces the longstanding narrative that Washington aims to contain Russia geopolitically and degrade it economically, with the ultimate objective of regime change. This narrative yields one inescapable conclusion for the majority of Russian voters: Only Vladimir Putin is capable of guaranteeing their safety and wellbeing. (The National Interest, 07.07.17)
  • Timothy Colton: The [Putin] regime, for all its backsliding, has never transited to unambiguous dictatorship and to complete reliance on blunt repression. Individual liberties have been largely untouched by the authoritarian trend. (Daedalus, 03.27.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Millions of people, not just Putin’s closest associates, are either directly vested in the current political system or see their livelihoods as dependent on it. Although Russian polling indicates considerable dissatisfaction with the performance of the Russian government and concern about the future trajectory of the country, there is no evident demand for a different system, or, as yet, a different president. (Daedalus, 03.27.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy: Putin may still have decades of natural life ahead of him; he will need his own “brilliant move” to ensure continued influence in Russian politics and a safe retirement. Given the number of examples of party-based power and succession mechanisms, including past Soviet and Russian precedents, shifting to a party rather than a personalized presidency for system management could be one move. (Daedalus, 03.27.17)
  • Dmitri Trenin: In much of what he was doing, Putin responded to the paternalistic demand of the bulk of the Russian people who had not particularly succeeded in the post-Communist era. Not only did he genuinely win elections, which under his rule became a means of confirming people in power, not replacing them. He also cracked the code of staying in power in a country that had rejected both his predecessors, the once widely popular Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. When faced with the choice, early on, to go with the elites—including the intelligentsia—or with the ordinary people, he chose the latter. (The Guardian, 03.27.17)
  • Fiona Hill: The Soviet Union was an early victim of globalization in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was hopelessly uncompetitive outside the energy and arms sectors in global markets. … During Putin’s first two terms, a fortunate, sustained rise in oil and gas prices improved circumstances considerably. The state had revenues to redistribute. Moribund industries were revitalized. Wages rose. Pensions were paid. Putin’s economics team conducted a careful, even exemplary, fiscal policy. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin still draws his support from the regions outside Moscow, and the Kremlin remains obsessed with shoring up that support. Putin and his team are in permanent campaign mode. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Angela Stent, on Putin and Russia's 2018 presidential election: You'd think “why is he worried,” but there's clearly concern on some level … and this [pushing back against the West] shores up his popularity. (CNN, 10.18.16)
  • Angela Stent: [W]e need to understand the domestic motivations for Russia’s actions. Recent shakeups in top leadership—most notably the firing of Vladimir Putin’s longtime aide Sergei Ivanov and the creation of Putin’s own Praetorian Guard to protect him both from a “color” revolution and a palace coup—suggest that the president remains focused on ensuring that the September elections to the Russian Duma and his own re-election in 2018 are carefully managed to prevent a repetition of 2011, when tens of thousands of Muscovites took to the streets to protest what people believed were falsified elections results. Putin blamed Hillary Clinton for the demonstrations. (The Washington Post, 08.18.16)
  • Timothy Colton: Russians have now thought so well of Putin for so long that you kind of are to the point that you think that they’re never really going to change their opinion about him. But beneath the surface, I think that problems are there and have been there to a greater extent than perhaps we on the outside realize. (Speech at American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 06.06.16, 15:32)
  • Timothy Colton: [Putin’s] advantage was an economic boom, an economic boom that was facilitated by the bull market for Russia’s principal economic asset, which is oil. And so the petro-dollars flowed in, the new government actually managed the economy—I think its macroeconomic policy was actually quite prudent on the whole and enlightened—and so he got if not a free ride exactly, then at least the wind was certainly in his sails. (Speech at American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 06.06.16, 12:48)
  • Fiona Hill: Putin’s Russia is a one-man show. … [T]here is no oligarchy or separate set of economic, business, or political interests that compete with Putin. In the end, he makes the decisions. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • Fiona Hill: As Russian president, he has no larger institutional arrangements or political party beneath or behind him like Soviet-era leaders did with the politburo and the Communist Party. Putin has availed himself of the centrality of the Russian presidency in the Russian constitution to concentrate power around himself. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Timothy Colton: Putin’s administration also shelters a forceful mercantilist and protectionist group keyed to the public sector and defense industry. (“Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know,” 2016)
  • Dmitri Trenin: Russia’s political system is clearly czarist, and Putin is the leader closest to a present-day absolute monarch. But the Russian president is not as detached from reality as he is often portrayed in Europe. Rather, it is the current European leadership that operates in an environment with no parallel elsewhere. While Putin’s liberal critics long ago lost patience with him, and some Russian elites may feel increasingly uneasy amid his drive to “nationalize” them, the president manages to stay in touch with ordinary Russian people. This fact, rather than government propaganda or various forms of manipulation, is the secret to Vladimir Putin staying in power—with the consent of the governed. (Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.22.14)
  • Andrew Kuchins: It may have been Putin's bellicose rhetoric and shirtless photo opportunities that grabbed headlines overseas, but the fact is, his popularity was fundamentally based on the perception of growing prosperity for Russian citizens. The problem for Putin now is that the remarkably felicitous combination of economic factors that fueled his popularity for so long seems to be crumbling around him. (CNN, 12.07.14)
  • Andrew Kuchins: Putin resonates with many Russians because … of the humiliation, status deprivation and grievances that the country has purportedly suffered. Putin's task is to take back what a certain streak of Russian nationalism views as—not only rightfully but sacredly—what should be Russian. Obama may satisfy some supporters and even some critics by taunting Putin and Russia as a "regional power" of no great consequence acting out of "weakness." This will only bait the bear to lash out to demonstrate who is really weak and who is strong. It is a game that Obama is not psychologically equipped to understand, let alone win. (CNN, 03.30.14)
  • Timothy Colton: Yeltsin actually had experience in the state itself, in government, and Navalny has not. This is a consequence of what Putin did, in closing the political arena in 2000—it bred this stagnation within the official structures, and so you don’t really have a set of alternative leaders who have experience in government. (Interview with Russia Direct, 10.23.13)
  • Angela Stent: Anti-Americanism became a central theme of Putin’s campaign in reaction to the rise of an unexpected opposition protest movement after the contested December 2011 Duma election… It [the Putin team] blamed the United States for financing the protests, an accusation that found resonance with Putin’s provincial working-class base. (Survival, 11.30.12)
  • Anatol Lieven: To judge by the elections and every opinion poll in this area, the overwhelming mass of the Russian establishment and Russian people approve of Putin’s foreign-policy record. If Western governments want to pursue reasonably good relations with Russia, this is the reality with which they will have to work. For the foreseeable future, like it or not, what we see is what we will get. … Consider, for a moment, if Putin were to fail. There is no Thomas Jefferson waiting in the wings. Instead, he would almost certainly be replaced by a figure and a movement that are just as authoritarian but more nationalist, more anti-Western, more populist and less committed to market reform. (The National Interest, 04.03.12)
  • Brian Taylor: Putin's claim to rule, subscribed to by many both in Russia and the West, is that he rebuilt a strong Russian state after the "Time of Troubles" associated with the Soviet collapse under Mikhail Gorbachev and the "wild nineties" of Boris Yeltsin. This tale, although not entirely without merit, obscures a more fundamental truth: In many important ways, the Russian state remains very weak. Moreover, this is true not in spite of Putin's efforts, but because of them. … Putin showed little interest in improving the quality of the state—the degree to which the state and its officials serve the interests of the population in a fair manner that promotes the general welfare. (The Montreal Review, January 2012)
  • Timothy Colton, on Russia’s handling of the 2008-2009 financial crisis: I would give them a pretty good grade… You see here the effects of some rather smart things that the Putin people did: saving this money, putting it away in a fund that could be used to get over hard times… I think you have to give them pretty good marks for managing the crisis. But what the crisis has done, it seems to me, is revealed at a deeper level the underlying structural problems. (Interview with Russia Today, 09.16.10, 6:03)
  • Rawi Abdelal: Over the past 10 years, during which time Putin has led the country as president or premier, he has strengthened Russia’s nascent capitalist economy and institutions. However, in the process, he has stoked the Kremlin’s apparently infinite appetite for power. That, I believe, represents a growing threat, not only to Russia’s development but also to companies that wish to do business there. When Putin won the presidential contest in March 2000, the previous decade of anguish had left him in no doubt that Russia’s problems stemmed from the state’s weakness. In his eight years as president, Putin did everything he could to reinforce the Kremlin’s power. He filled the administration with people he trusted from his days in the KGB and Saint Petersburg’s city government, and he instituted policies that increased the power of the center at the expense of the provinces. Putin recast the state’s relationship with the oligarchs, forcing some, such as Boris Berezovsky, into self-imposed exile and sending others, notably Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to prison. Other oligarchs quickly learned to play by Putin’s three rules: Do not get involved in politics; do not buy politicians; and pay your taxes. (Harvard Business Review, February 2010)
  • Timothy Colton and Henry Hale: More Russians than not hoped that sooner or later it would be Medvedev rather than Putin at the helm of Russia’s ship of state, although they did not generally expect this to occur. (Problems of Post-Communism, 2010)
  • Timothy Colton and Henry Hale: Putin and Medvedev have benefited heavily from association with a core set of principles, including a strong orientation toward markets rather than socialism and—in what is likely a surprise to many -- a relatively pro-western foreign policy orientation, even in 2008. … The economy has been a strong source of Putin's electoral success, but that effect is partly indirect and not primarily about personal experiences of economic gain perceived by the population. (Slavic Review, 2009)
  • Anatol Lieven: In the case of Russia, anyone professing to respect the views of ordinary Russians must also recognize that a majority has supported Putin and his authoritarian program because their experience of pseudo-democracy in the 1990s was so terrible. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 01.14.05)
  • Timothy Colton, Henry Hale and Michael McFaul: We find the strongest explanation for Putin’s enduring popularity, despite declining support for a number of his policies, to lie in the Russian government’s control over the mass media. ... Such control, however, will be effective only in a limited and contingent set of circumstances. In particular, there has to be something for the media to portray that people find appealing in the first place, and in the Russia of 2003-2004 this meant the personality of Putin, high world oil prices and the associated economic improvement that a significant minority of the Russian population experienced during the president’s first term. Putin has also benefited from a certain intimidation effect. (Post-Soviet Affairs, 2004)
  • Timothy Colton, Henry Hale and Michael McFaul: Putin has been remarkably successful in securing the implementation of key reforms. Whereas Yeltsin resembled Latin America’s presidents in that he failed actually to implement many key tenets of his shock therapy initiatives, Putin managed during his first term to carry out a series of economic reforms that one Western observer called “far more liberal than anything that could have been cooked up at the most radical think tank in Washington.” (Post-Soviet Affairs, 2004)
  • Graham Allison, following the 2003 arrest of Platon Lebedev, a Yukos oil company official: Whatever the merit of the charges, no one doubts the prosecution is politically motivated. Most observers agree that the real target of the attacks is Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky. … The ensuing drama has revealed the fragility of the Russian economy and of Mr. Putin's effort to ground economic reforms in an internationally recognizable rule of law. (The Wall Street Journal, 09.01.03)
  • Anatol Lieven: There is a strong chance that Putin will try to take Russia in a more authoritarian direction, but his capacity to change the country is limited. There is certainly no possibility of a restoration of totalitarianism. (CNN, 03.23.2000)
  • Thomas Graham: [Vladimir Putin’s] phenomenal rise is a direct consequence of the brutal military operation in Chechnya, which remains widely popular with the Russian public. With the election behind him, Mr. Putin now appears ready to step up the final assault on Grozny, the capital of the breakaway republic. He has won solid support from the military brass and the security services, both of which have been promised additional resources, though neither has undertaken any serious reform. And he has pushed for greater investment in the military-industrial complex, which he sees as a pillar of economic recovery. (New York Times, 12.21.99)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Brian Taylor: Putin relied on the police, the secret police and prosecutors to weaken the political influence of some powerful forces that had bedeviled Yeltsin. Russia's regional governors, who had acquired disproportionate influence not only in their own regions but in national politics, were transformed into cogs in Putin's system of vertical power with the help of law enforcement agencies, who under Yeltsin had often been "captured" by the governors. Similarly, major oligarchs who controlled important media outlets or refused to play by the Kremlin's rules found themselves exiled or jailed. Opposition politicians, political parties and human rights groups were harassed by police and prosecutors. (The Montreal Review, January 2012)
  • Henry Hale: On August 9, 1999 … the vast majority of observers saw Putin as a sure loser, especially after he received the apparent “kiss of political death” in the form of an endorsement by the unpopular Yeltsin. During his tenure in presidential structures and then the government (as FSB chief), Putin cultivated a reputation as a fair, competent administrator. When Putin invoked modern gangland slang to aver that he would “whack” Chechen terrorists “in the john” if he found them there, much of the public took comfort in someone they saw as finally taking action to restore security and order. (Demokratizatsiya, April 2004)

Thomas Schaffner contributed to research for this compilation.

Photos by Kremlin.ru.

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