Open thread: the future of Russia

After the collapse of communism, many in the West assumed that democracy and free market capitalism would triumph in the former Soviet Union. Instead, it seems the chaos in the post-communist period permitted the emergence of economically powerful oligarchs, as well as massive growth in the wealth and power of organized crime groups. Now, former members of the security services, led by Vladamir Putin, are continuing to cement their own control.

There is much about Russia that is worrisome: the suppression of the free press and murder of journalists; continued appalling conduct in Chechnya; ongoing attempts to dominate neighbouring states, including through war; the exploitation of Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels; and more.

What do readers think might happen to Russia in the next 25 or 50 years? What are the most desirable and undesirable plausible outcomes, from the perspective of the Russian people, the world as a whole, central European states, the European Union, and the United States? What effect would different potential outcomes in Russia have on Canada?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

26 thoughts on “Open thread: the future of Russia”

  1. At the downtown VPL today I read several chapters from “Bear Hunting with the Politburo” by A. Craig Copetas. The book chronicles Russia in the late perestroika/glasnost period, and has interesting accounts of the rise and destruction of the co-ops, and the attempted military coup. What was most impressing about the book was its account of the impact of Stalinism on Russian consciousness – according to Copetas, Russians do not lie or tell the truth, but tell you what you want to hear; they are brought up taught how to avoid the knife.

    As far as I understand, Russia has never had a period where people were not afraid of the government or some other power in an immediate, visceral way.

    If we are serious about encouraging democracy, we need to recognize the ways that our actions compromise democratic growth in places like Russia. As I understand it, missile defence is an offensive weapon (because it reduces deterrence from making a first strike), and is rightly being considered as such by Russia. We should not challenge Russia militarily, since this will encourage support for militarism in the population.

    We should denounce the crimes being committed against people Chechnya, and encourage the redress of real grievances rather than responding to terror with terror.

    However, it doesn’t do much good criticizing Russian war crimes while America continues to support and commit them for its own purposes. People in America and Russia attempt to hold their leaders to the standard their leaders hold for their enemies.

    The consequences of Russia remaining autocratic for the next 20 to 50 years would be disastrous for the people of Russia, but not necessarily disastrous for the people of Canada or the US. If the executive in fact wields radical control over the aristocracy, it may be possible to impose the required restrictions on global warming emissions without democratizing the country.

  2. “IT IS still not clear why Anastasia Baburova was shot in the head. Was she a target—along with Stanislav Markelov, a human-rights lawyer who was shot seconds earlier? Was she an accidental victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or did she try to grab and disarm the killer after he shot her companion?

    She and her friends rightly identified fascism as the biggest and most pressing threat to her country. She swore to fight it. She sensed accurately the social kinship between Stalinism and fascism: the link between attempts to portray Stalin as a “successful manager”, and the current upsurge of nationalism. Unlike many young people in the generation before hers, she did not see a safe job as an ultimate measure of success.

    In Turgenev’s poem “The Threshold”, a young woman stands before a door. A voice asks whether she is prepared to endure cold, hunger, mockery, prison and death, all of which await her on the other side. She says “Yes” to everything, and steps over. “A fool,” cries a voice from behind her. “A saint,” suggests another.””

  3. “It was not a political move. The minister held no press conference in Sarov, made no public statements, and staged no heroic photo-ops. I am sure he traveled there to find out what was happening. For the disastrous Russian heat wave has exposed a key failing of Russian society: The flow of information has stopped. There is not a single newspaper that even strives to be national in its coverage. The television is not only controlled by the Kremlin; it is made by the Kremlin for the Kremlin, and it is entirely unsuited to gathering or conveying actual information. Even the Russian blogosphere is bizarrely fragmented: Researchers who “mapped” it discovered that, unlike any other blogosphere in the world, it consists of many non-overlapping circles. People in different walks of life, different professions, and different parts of the country simply do not talk to one another. The same is true of political institutions: Since the Russian government effectively abolished representative democracy, canceling direct elections, there is no reason—and no real mechanism—for Moscow politicians to know what is going on in the vast country. Nor do governors need concern themselves with the lives and the disasters in their regions—they, too, are no longer elected but are appointed by the Kremlin.”

  4. It is interesting , and disappointing , how oligarchs and corruption have stepped into the power vacuum of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia has also allowed its resources to fall into the hands of a few.

    An interesting question is whether the majority of Russians are better off today than under the Soviet Union.

    It also makes me appreciate the value of the slow development of democracy has had in Canada and other traditional democracies where democracy came in slowly and could evolve.

  5. European court fines Russia for banning gay parades

    The European Court of Human Rights has fined Russia for banning gay parades in Moscow, in an important victory for the country’s gay community.

    A leading activist, Nikolai Alexeyev, brought the case after the city authorities repeatedly rejected his requests to organise marches.

    The Moscow authorities had argued the parades would cause a violent reaction.

    But the court in Strasbourg said Russia had discriminated against Mr Alexeyev on grounds of sexual orientation.

    It said that by refusing to allow the parades, the authorities had “effectively approved of and supported groups who had called for (their) disruption”.

    “The mere risk of a demonstration creating a disturbance was not sufficient to justify its ban,” the court said.

    It ordered Russia to pay Mr Alexeyev 29,510 euros ($41,090) in damages and for legal fees.

  6. SOME words become history years after being spoken. Others carry historic weight as soon as they are uttered. The last words spoken today by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as his 18-month trial drew to a close, belong to the second category. The statement [PDF] he read out from his bullet-proof glass cage in a packed Moscow court will be cited in history textbooks, just as the case itself will be.

    Mr Khodorkovsky’s arrest in 2003 and the destruction of his Yukos oil company have changed Russian history, and continue to determine it. Today’s short speech was clinically accurate in its description of where, seven years later, Russia and he have ended up.

    As Mr Khodorkovsky said, the people who put him and Platon Lebedev, his business partner, in prison wanted to show that they are above the law and will always get their way. “So far, they have achieved the opposite: they turned, us, ordinary people, into symbols of a struggle against lawlessness. This is not our achievement. It is theirs.”

    As the second trial against Mr Khodorkovsky went on, its absurdity became more and more pronounced. In 2003, he was charged with underpaying taxes on a vast scale, and two years later was convicted and imprisoned. He was due for release in 2011. The second case tried to prove that the very object that Mr Khodorkovsky had been convicted of underpaying taxes on—the oil—was stolen in its entirety. Even some Russian officials who testified in the trial admitted that this was absurd. Yet the prosecution is demanding that Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev spend another six years in jail.

  7. Those who started this shameful case, – Biryukov, Karimov and others, – have contemptuously called us “entrepreneurs” [«kommersanty»], regarding us as low-lifes, capable of anything just to protect our prosperity and avoid prison.

    The years have passed. So who are the low-lifes now? Who is it that have lied, tortured, and taken hostages, all for the sake of money and out of cowardice before their bosses?
    And this they called “the sovereign’s business” [«gosudarevoye delo»]!

    Shameful. I am ashamed for my country.

    I think all of us understand perfectly well – the significance of our trial extends far beyond the scope of my fate and Platon’s, and even the fates of all those who have guiltlessly suffered in the course of the sweeping massacre of YUKOS, those I found myself unable to protect, but about whom I remember every day.

    Let us ask ourselves: what must be going through the head of the entrepreneur, the high-level organiser of production, or simply any ordinary educated, creative person, looking today at our trial and knowing that its result is absolutely predictable?

    The obvious conclusion a thinking person can make is chilling in its stark simplicity: the siloviki bureaucracy can do anything. There is no right of private property ownership. A person who collides with “the system” has no rights whatsoever.

    Even though they are enshrined in the law, rights are not protected by the courts. Because the courts are either also afraid, or are themselves a part of “the system”. Should it come as a surprise to anyone then that thinking people do not aspire to self-realisation here, in Russia?

  8. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and withdrew to the borders of old Muscovy, there were those who said that this was the end of the Russian empire. Nations and empires are living things until they die. While they live they grow to the limits set by other nations. They don’t grow like this because they are evil. They do this because they are composed of humans who always want to be more secure, more prosperous and more respected. It is inconceivable to me that Russia, alive and unrestrained, would not seek to return to what it once was. The frontiers of Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union had reasons for being where they were, and in my mind, Russia would inevitably seek to return to its borders. This has nothing to do with leaders or policies. There is no New World Order, only the old one replaying itself in infinitely varying detail, like a kaleidoscope.

  9. The Intermarium countries remain infatuated with the European Union and NATO, but the infatuation is declining. The year 2008 and Germany’s indifference to these countries was not pleasant, and they are learning that NATO is history. The Poles must be the leader of the bloc and the Romanians the southern anchor. I think the Poles are thinking in these terms but the Romanians are far from this idea. I’m not sure. I want to find out. For me, a U.S.-backed Poland guarding the North European Plain, with Slovakia, Hungary and Romania guarding the Carpathian approaches, would prevent what the United States should fear the most: an alliance between Russia and Germany plus Western Europe. The key is the changing perception of the European Union in the Intermarium. I want to see how far this has come.

    Nothing, of course, could be further from Washington’s mind. Washington still thinks of Russia as the failed state of the 1990s. It simply doesn’t take it seriously. It thinks of the European Union as having gone over a speed bump from which it will recover. But mostly, Washington thinks about Afghanistan. For completely understandable reasons, Afghanistan sucks up the bandwidth of Washington, allowing the rest of the world to maneuver as it wishes.

  10. Media freedom in Russia
    Smashing the messengers
    Another brutal assault on a reporter shows the dangers to media freedom

    Nov 11th 2010 | MOSCOW | from PRINT EDITION

    LATE on November 5th Oleg Kashin, a journalist with Kommersant, a Russian daily, was almost bludgeoned to death in the courtyard of his house in central Moscow. The assault was both shocking and demonstrative in its brutality. As Mr Kashin’s peers related it, the attackers smashed his fingers so the journalist could not write, broke his jaw so he could not talk and broke a leg so he could not walk. Doctors had to put Mr Kashin into an induced coma to avoid a pain shock.

    Mr Kashin wrote about big issues in Russian society. A sharp publicist, he switched sides, made enemies and faced threats. Kremlin-sponsored youth thugs had called him a traitor and pledged to punish him. His writing also upset local officials in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow where a battle has unfolded over plans to build a road through a forest. (The Russian firm carrying out the construction has powerful political connections.) The Khimki battle has already claimed several victims. Only a day before the attack on Mr Kashin a local activist was beaten up.

    Two years ago Mikhail Beketov, a journalist from Khimki who wrote about local corruption and accused the mayor of “political terror”, was beaten up so severely that he had to have his leg and several fingers amputated. He is still in a wheelchair and cannot talk. This week he was brought into a courtroom with his doctors, where the mayor, flanked by bodyguards, sued him for libel. The court found against Mr Beketov and symbolically fined him.

  11. As the IMF’s senior representative in Russia, based in Moscow during the 1990s, Mr Gilman is well-placed to offer an unusually detailed account of what really went on as the IMF tried to work with the Russian authorities to help it move from post-Soviet chaos to a functioning market economy. Few observers fully appreciated just how dysfunctional the Russian state was at the time. The Russian establishment, or whichever faction had the upper hand in the endless internecine manoeuvrings he describes, grossly overestimated the extent to which it could effect changes in policy. And of course there was corruption. Mr Gilman’s view is that there was less outright pilferage than is commonly believed, though American food aid and bilateral trade credits were two areas where corruption was endemic. The biggest problems, he says, were poorly conceived projects and wasteful expenditure. The IMF repeatedly erred in believing the claims of Russian politicians about what they could achieve. In the end, the fund had only a marginal effect on the course of events, though Mr Gilman stops short of admitting it was out of its depth.

    The results were often farcical. In the mid-1990s, Russian targets for tax collection were repeatedly thwarted by a tendency first to overestimate the government’s capacity to raise revenues and then, when faced with chronic shortfalls, to resort to apparently attractive shortcuts that promised quick fixes to problems that required institutions to be built up slowly. But there is a particularly otherworldly feeling to the tale of the Russian government setting up an agency to galvanise tax collection, apparently without realising that its acronym, VChK, was identical to that of a much-hated early Bolshevik secret police force, making it an easy target for political opponents.

    Given just how heavily the cards appear to have been stacked against Russia in Mr Gilman’s account, it is not surprising that the wayward progress of its economic transformation in the 1990s culminated in its 1998 default. Mr Gilman cautions that Russia’s fundamental institutional problems, including the absence of much rule of law, still need to be properly addressed. Meanwhile, though, the economy is growing; inflation has been tamed; and the poverty rate was halved in the ten years to 2009, helped by an eightfold increase in the oil price. Mr Gilman disagrees with those who interpret this period as a “temporary aberration fuelled by high energy prices”, pointing out that Russia has, in the past decade, also made some good policy choices, including reforming its tax code and passing prudent budget laws.

  12. Frost at the core

    Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are presiding over a system that can no longer change

    ON DECEMBER 15th, in a small courtroom in central Moscow, Viktor Danilkin, a softly spoken judge, is due to start delivering a verdict. Its symbolism will go far beyond the fate of the two defendants, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, former principal shareholders in the Yukos oil company. Both men have been in jail since 2003 on charges of tax evasion. Their sentences expire next year. In order to keep them in prison, the government has absurdly charged them with stealing all the company’s oil.

    Neither the first nor the second trial had much to do with the rule of law. But there the similarity ends. In 2003 Mr Khodorkovsky personified the injustice and inequality of the 1990s, when tycoons wielded enormous power over a state that could not even pay pensions and salaries on time. Seven years on, Mr Khodorkovsky is a symbol of the injustices perpetrated by corrupt bureaucrats and members of the security services, who epitomise the nexus between power and wealth. As Mr Khodorkovsky said in his final statement, “They turned, us, ordinary people, into symbols of a struggle against lawlessness. This is not our achievement. It is theirs.”

    The chances that Mr Khodorkovsky will be found not guilty are slim. If he were, it would be a sign that the system of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s former president and current prime minister, was beginning to come apart. That system, which tolerates corruption and violence, has just received the endorsement of FIFA, which has awarded Russia the prize of hosting the 2018 football World Cup. But its evolution had much to do with Mr Khodorkovsky’s story.

    In the 1990s, when businessmen bribed the courts, both parties knew they were in the wrong. After Mr Khodorkovsky’s case, a judge taking instructions from a bureaucrat felt he was in the right. The Russian state not only flagrantly flouted the law for its own interests, but also sent a powerful signal to its bureaucracy that this practice was now okay.

    According to Alexander Oslon, a sociologist who heads the Public Opinion Foundation in Moscow, Mr Putin’s rule ushered in a breed of “bureaucrat-entrepreneurs”. They are not as sharp, competitive or successful as the oligarchs of the 1990s, but they are just as possessed by “the spirit of money” in Mr Olson’s phrase, the ideology that has ruled Russia ever since communism collapsed. By the end of the 1990s the commanding heights of the economy had been largely privatised by the oligarchs, so the bureaucrat-entrepreneurs began to privatise an asset which was under-capitalised and weak: the Russian state.

  13. In 1999 the oil price started to climb and petrodollars gushed into Russia, changing the mindset of the political class. Mr Oslon points out that the most frequently used word in Mr Putin’s state-of-the-nation address in 2002 was “reform” and its variants. A few years later the most frequently used word was “billion”. Divvying up those billions has become the main business in Russia. Corruption no longer meant breaking the rules of the game; it was the game.

  14. The discontent does not register in Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev’s joint popularity ratings, which remain at 70%. But growing numbers of the elite feel that the present political and economic model has been exhausted and the country is fast approaching a dead end. “The problem is not that this regime is authoritarian, the problem is that it is unfair, corrupt and ineffective,” says one leading businessman. “Corruption will erode and bring down this system.” The paradox is that few Russian government officials disagree with this.

  15. Frozen out

    Russia marks a new low with the arrest of an opposition leader on flimsy charges

    THE verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky was “shameful” and boded ill for Russia said Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal opposition. He pointed out that the decision to sentence the former oil tycoon to the maximum 14-year term on December 30th “had nothing to do with the rule of law” and predicted it would “have very negative consequences”.

    Mr Nemtsov did not have to wait long to be proved right. The next day, after speaking in a rally supporting freedom of assembly, he was arrested (see picture) and sent to jail for the maximum 15-day sentence. Several other opposition activists were nabbed too, but he was the main target.

    Mr Nemtsov served as a deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin and (unlike both Mr Khodorkovsky and some of those now in the Kremlin) he emerged from the troubled 1990s with his reputation intact. The mistreatment of him seems pointlessly malevolent. He poses no threat to the government. The rally was authorised and he was on his way home when the police stopped him. He was charged with disobeying the police and swearing, despite video-footage that showed him asking the police to “calm down”. A judge would not admit this as evidence. The court disregarded witness statements supporting him and would not let him appeal against his conviction.

  16. The tasks undone

    Eastern Europe is back from the economic brink. But some political trends are gloomy

    DOOM-MONGERS are eating their hats. Despite their worst predictions, not one of the ex-communist countries of eastern Europe has so far defaulted or even devalued. Indeed, most are seeing a recovery from the financial crisis that a year ago seemed likely to herald not just economic collapse but political turmoil too. Some of the success stories are remarkable: Poland’s continuing economic growth, Latvia’s climb back from a deep recession and Estonia’s qualification to adopt the euro (on January 1st). The latter is a huge achievement for a country that was under Soviet occupation only two decades ago.

    Look more deeply though, and worries abound. Much of the recovery is thanks to swingeing spending cuts and tax hikes, often imposed at the behest of outsiders such as the IMF, and sometimes with scant regard for legality or democratic niceties. East European politicians, perhaps because of their history, are used to obeying tough instructions from outside, and imposing them brusquely. Their voters do not object much. Whereas West Europeans riot when squeezed, their eastern counterparts just glumly emigrate.

  17. Corruption in eastern Europe
    From Bolshevism to backhanders
    Corruption has replaced communism as the scourge of eastern Europe

    Apr 14th 2011 | PRAGUE AND RIGA | from the print edition

    JUTA STRIKE won’t say where she has spent the past few weeks. But the fact that Latvia’s best-known anti-corruption official (pictured above) had to leave the country for her own safety, amid political attempts to nobble her agency, is evidence of a rising tide of sleaze in ex-communist Europe, and of the troubles, and even dangers, facing those who try to tackle it.

    A corruption scandal that links a political party to a private security agency is rocking the Czech government. In Bulgaria brazen attempts to rig a nuclear-power tender seem to have left politicians helpless. In Romania and Slovakia attempts to reform the judiciary have stalled. Even starry-eyed outsiders who win elections on anti-corruption tickets seem to be captured by the system within months.

    Corruption is hard to measure and varies widely. Estonia is cleaner than some west European countries; few easterners have a reputation worse than Greece. But it is striking that even hardened warriors in the war against sleaze are so gloomy. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a Romanian campaigner and academic, likens the corrosive effects of rent-seeking from corrupt governments to the curse of easy money from oil and gas in Russia. Anti-corruption efforts have failed to engage the wider public, she says, so activists soon become dispirited.

  18. IT WAS hardly a surprise when Vladimir Putin told his United Russia party conference on September 24th that he would run for the presidency next March. After all, he had put Dmitry Medvedev, the incumbent, into the job in 2008 only because the constitution sets a limit of two consecutive terms. Mr Putin likes to cite the precedent of Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected American president four times. After the Medvedev interregnum, he could have two further terms, staying in power until 2024 (see article). That would make him his country’s longest-lasting leader since Stalin.

    There is no doubt that Mr Putin will win the election. Russia’s “managed democracy” keeps television under tight control and suppresses genuine opposition, allowing only sham candidates to run. Besides, Mr Putin’s popularity rating remains high, thanks to the stability and growth he claims to have delivered and his tough-guy defence of national interests. The only surprising part of his announcement was the plan to make the ineffectual Mr Medvedev his prime minister—news that led to the grumpy resignation of Russia’s veteran finance minister (and fiscal hawk), Alexei Kudrin, which upset the financial markets (see article).

  19. Strolling in only two-and-a-half hours late, Mr Putin appeared fit, confident and relaxed. But he offered little by way of new ideas, vision or plans for his next term. Challenged with the view that Russia and its exhausted political system were heading towards stagnation, he disarmingly said, “I have nothing to object to in what you are saying”, adding later that “our system is not perfect.” But he then argued once again for all the advantages brought by his rule. “There was a civil war in this country in the early and mid-1990s…the economy and the social sphere were in an utter collapse.”

    In fact the first Chechen war was over by 1996 and the economy was recovering before Mr Putin came to power. But contrasting himself with the 1990s remains essential to his political appeal. After a decade with the unruly Boris Yeltsin, Russia longed for the stability that Mr Putin promised. He was different from Mr Yeltsin in age and temperament. Boosted by strong growth on the back of rising oil prices, he was able to eliminate rival sources of power while retaining broad popularity.

    But 12 years on stability has soured into stagnation—and Mr Putin’s brand has gone out of fashion. Stunts such as posing half-naked on a horse, riding a Harley Davidson or shooting tigers have become the subject of ridicule and irritation. A symbol of hope for a return to normality has mutated into a symbol of hopelessness, much exacerbated by his proposed job swap with Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president. Mr Medvedev may never have been a real alternative to Mr Putin, but he held out the faint possibility of a transition of power. This has now been shut off. The thought of Mr Putin and his system carrying on for another 12 years depresses the many Russians who want change.

    The two main concerns of ordinary Russians today are corruption and nationalism. But Mr Putin can exploit neither. He might initiate an anti-corruption show case, but he cannot fight the corruption that glues his system together. Nor can he play on popular anti-Caucasian sentiment, if only for fear of driving off his ally, Ramzan Kadyrov, who keeps Chechnya under control.

  20. Putin’s Russia
    Call back yesterday
    Twelve years after his first election, Vladimir Putin is becoming president of Russia again. The country is a lot harder to control now

    HE GAVE it all he had. He quoted from Martin Luther King—“I have a dream” —before moving on to Lermontov’s poem Borodino—“By Moscow then we die/As have our brethren died before!”—and then seamlessly into Vyacheslav Molotov—“The fight continues. The victory will be ours.” He worked the crowd hard: his voice roared, his face twitched. 100,000 people brought in from all over Russia cheered.

    Public campaigning does not come naturally to Vladimir Putin, former KGB man, former Russian president and current Russian prime minister; preferring to wield power behind closed doors, a staged photo opportunity is more his mark. When, last September, he announced in the same Moscow arena that he would swap jobs with Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, and return to the Kremlin after the March 4th election, he was distinctly low key.

    Since the outcome was predetermined, there was at first not much by way of a campaign. But after a wave of protests against his job swap, and the subsequent rigging of December’s parliamentary elections, Mr Putin has been forced into a much more combative mode; Russia is under threat, he says, calling on his supporters to mobilise for a final battle against enemies foreign and domestic.

    The threat to Russia is imaginary; the threat to Mr Putin and his system is real. It can be seen in the way he has become the subject of jokes. Stunts such as diving for (planted) ancient amphoras have been met with ridicule. State television’s decision to report a foiled assassination plot against him in the week of the election provoked cynical laughter. The colourful, almost festive protest marches against him have attracted celebrities (openly) and the wives of government officials (secretly).

  21. When Putin’s Thugs Came for Me

    I was dragged away Friday by a group of police—in fact carried away with one on each arm and leg

    By Garry Kasparov

    The only surprise to come out of Friday’s guilty verdict in the trial here of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot was how many people acted surprised. Three young women were sentenced to two years in prison for the prank of singing an anti-Putin “prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Their jailing was the next logical step for Vladimir Putin’s steady crackdown on “acts against the social order,” the Kremlin’s expansive term for any public display of resistance.

  22. This is the core of the $600-million-a-year business that grew out of Kaspersky’s virus hobby. It’s really not all that different from the way US security companies like Symantec or McAfee operate globally. Except for the fact that in Russia, high tech firms like Kaspersky Lab have to cooperate with the siloviki, the network of military, security, law enforcement, and KGB veterans at the core of the Putin regime.

    The FSB, a successor to the KGB, is now in charge of Russia’s information security, among many other things. It is the country’s top fighter of cybercrime and also operates the government’s massive electronic surveillance network. According to federal law number 40-FZ (.pdf), the FSB can not only compel any telecommunications business to install “extra hardware and software” to assist it in its operations, the agency can assign its own officers to work at a business. “Rule number one of successful companies here is good relations with the siloviki,” says one prominent member of Russia’s technology sector.

    Kaspersky says the FSB has never made a request to tamper with his software, nor has it tried to install its agents in his company. But that doesn’t mean Kaspersky and the security agency operate at arm’s length. Quite the opposite: “A substantial part of his company is intimately involved with the FSB,” the tech insider says. While the Russian government has used currency restrictions to cripple a firm’s international business in the past, Kaspersky faces no such interference. “They give him carte blanche for his overseas operations, because he’s among the so-called good companies.”

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