For a country where politics has long been monopolized by the state, Russia has seen a lot of news in the past few weeks, notes analyst Masha Gessen. It has been the sort of news that autocracies produce: resignations and appointments, the reshuffling of opaque men and often obscure names. High-level officials have been removed, some have been accused of embezzling and jailed, and last week Vladimir Putin changed his chief of staff, replacing an old K.G.B. colleague, Sergei Ivanov, with Anton Vayno, a younger, little-known bureaucrat who has been serving as deputy chief of staff, she writes for The New Yorker:
What does all this mean? The possibilities are endless, and Russian journalists and analysts have been sifting through them in scores of articles and blog posts in the past few days. Putin might be tired of the old guard. Putin might want to replace his old friends with men who owe their entire careers to him (a fine distinction). Putin might be planning to crack down in advance of the parliamentary election (of sorts) scheduled for September, or the 2018 Presidential election.
The war in Ukraine was a diversion, launched to distract the Russian people from the lessons of the Maidan revolt in Ukraine, specifically that it is possible for a people to organize spontaneously and overthrow a kleptocratic regime, writes David Satter,
For Putin, Ukraine and Syria are in some respects part of the same theater, writes Anna Borshchevskaya, a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:
Putin has consistently dangled the prospect of Syria cooperation to entice Western leaders to lift the sanctions, never mind that the Russian military has not actually targeted the Islamic State with any consistency and may actually have strengthened it by bombing its rivals in the opposition. … To lift sanctions might enable Russia to upgrade its forces not only in Syria, but also those pitted against vulnerable NATO allies in Eastern Europe. It’s time to recognize that Putin cares more about dividing and defeating the West than cooperating with it.