Ian Williams

Putin and Xi’s anti-West alliance is strengthening

The visit by Russian president Vladimir Putin to the north-eastern Chinese city of Harbin today was no doubt designed as a symbol of the tightening economic relationship between the two countries. Harbin is a gateway for their burgeoning trade; the Russian leader was there to open a China-Russia expo. In the minds of many Chinese nationalists, though, Harbin has far darker symbolism. ‘Little Moscow’, as the city is sometimes called, was established by Russian settlers at the end of the nineteenth century and was the administrative centre of the Russian-built Chinese Eastern Railway. This was an imperialist project to give Russia a shortcut to Vladivostok and the Russian Far East,

Russia and China have never been equal partners

Barely a week after inaugurating himself as president once again, Vladimir Putin has gone to China – his first foreign trip of his new term. He is accompanied by a rarely seen entourage of all the principal ministers of state, the head of the Russian central bank, leading industrialists and top managers of state-controlled companies.  Along with all the pomp and grandeur laid on by the Chinese, this cast list provides a handy illustration of the deepening friendship and cooperation between the two superpowers. Moscow and Beijing have a history of ‘eternal friendship’. But Russia and China have never truly been equal partners in their friendship with benefits. Putin and

Is Andrei Belousov Russia’s Albert Speer?

President Vladimir Putin’s appointment of the civilian economist Andrei Belousov as Russia’s defence minister in the third year of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine is bad news for Kyiv and its allies. Replacing the unpopular Sergei Shoigu with Belousov marks a clear shift in Putin’s strategy: he views the war as a battle of economic attrition.  There is hardly anyone better suited for the job than Belousov. A Soviet-trained economist, he cut his teeth in academia before joining the government just months before Putin became prime minister in 1999. Since then, he has climbed through the ranks to become Putin’s economic advisor and, from 2020, the First Deputy Prime Minister, overseeing

Lisa Haseldine

Sergei Shoigu out as Russia’s defence minister

It’s reshuffle time in Moscow and it seems that Sergei Shoigu, who has served as Vladimir Putin’s defence minister for the last 12 years, is out. He’s being replaced with Andrei Belousov, an academic economist who has been advising Putin for 20 years and spent the last four as deputy prime minister. It’s a surprise appointment given Belousov’s lack of military experience. Sergei Lavrov, 74, stays as foreign minister, as does Valery Gerasimov, 68, head of the army. Rumours had been swirling about the demotion of Shoigu, 68, for some time, especially after one of his deputies and close allies, Timur Ivanov, was last month thrown in jail pending trial for

Cindy Yu

Slavoj Zizek, Angus Colwell, Svitlana Morenets, Cindy Yu, and Philip Hensher

32 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud: Philosopher Slavoj Zizek takes us through his diary including his Britney Spears Theory of Action (1:08); Angus Colwell reports from the front line of the pro-Palestinian student protests (8:09); Svitlana Morenets provides an update on what’s going on in Georgia, where tensions between pro-EU and pro-Russian factions are heading to a crunch point (13:51); Cindy Yu analyses President Xi’s visit to Europe and asks whether the Chinese leader can keep his few European allies on side (20:52); and, Philip Hensher proposes banning fun runs as a potential vote winner (26:01).  Produced by Patrick Gibbons and Oscar Edmondson.

Why is Russia’s economy booming despite sanctions?

Over two years on from the invasion of Ukraine, Russia is the most sanctioned nation in the world. And yet the country’s economy is set to grow faster than any G7 democracy this year. How is this possible? Back in 2022, Boris Johnson vowed to ‘squeeze Russia from the global economy piece by piece, day by day and week by week’. President Joe Biden promised that sanctions would ‘impose a severe cost on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time’. Russians are spending more on restaurants, white goods, and even property – they have never had it so good Yet these dire warnings never materialised: Russia’s economy has proved resilient in the

Lisa Haseldine

In Putin’s Russia, Victory Day is no longer about 1945

Stepping out onto Red Square for today’s Victory Day parade in Moscow, it was clear to see that Vladimir Putin was in a good mood. Arms swinging with almost comic vigour as he walked, he sat down in the stands above Lenin’s mausoleum with a smug smile on his face. The pathetic fallacy of the flurries of snow on this uncharacteristically cold day were not going to interfere with his glee. The Russian president has reason to be cheerful: two days ago, he indulged in his fifth inauguration ceremony in the Kremlin, handing himself another six years in power. The war in Ukraine is currently working in his favour; Ukraine

Lisa Haseldine

Putin’s next six years in power spell more repression for Russia

Amidst the golden splendour of the Kremlin’s Hall of the Order of St Andrew, Vladimir Putin was once again inaugurated as president of Russia this morning. But while today’s event was in many ways a carbon copy of the ceremony that has taken place five times now since 2000, it marks a significant watershed in the history of Putin’s rule: for the first time since assuming power 24 years ago, his leadership can no longer be considered constitutionally legal. Technicalities such as this, though, matter little to Putin. Taking to the podium in the hall that once served as the throne room to the Tsars of Russia, Putin placed his hand on a specially-bound

What’s the truth about Ramzan Kadyrov’s ‘terminal illness’?

Is Ramzan Kadyrov dying? The independent Russian-language publication Novaya Gazeta recently published an investigation in which it claimed Kadyrov was terminally ill, suffering from pancreatic necrosis. Putin’s ally, it claimed, may not have long to live and it cited a long list of evidence to back up its claim.  Throughout his rule, Kadyrov and his cronies have committed many crimes to shore up their power, and have enjoyed the Kremlin’s protection throughout. But even Putin’s patronage cannot protect Kadyrov from his own mortality. Kadyrov appears to be doing his best to ensure that his family is well placed after his death The Chechen ruler’s health, judging just from his appearance, is clearly failing. Recent videos published

Mark Galeotti

Why is Russia jamming plane signals across Europe?

The ‘Baltic Beast’ is at it again. Mysterious – or not so mysterious – GPS signal disruption has become a growing problem for civilian air traffic, not just in the Baltic but also the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. It is clear that Russia is behind it, but why? Airplanes have, while in flight, encountered signals designed to interfere with their GPS and other systems, whether by jamming them or spoofing, making them think they are somewhere else from their actual location. Last year, there were some 50 suspected attacks every week, but there were a full 350 in March and this month looks set to see a similar

The US war aid might be too little, too late for Ukraine

At the last possible moment, after months of prevarication and with Russian troops on the brink of a major breakthrough in Ukraine, the US Congress last night voted to approve more than $61 billion (£50 billion) worth of military assistance for Kyiv. In a vote that a vocal minority of Republicans had desperately attempted to stop through procedural objections and threats to remove speaker Mike Johnson, 210 Democrats and 101 Republicans finally joined to support Ukraine. A majority of Republicans – 112 Congress members – voted against. The money comes at a critical moment in Ukraine’s war effort. With US aid stalled in Congress since last October and European allies

Lisa Haseldine

Time is ticking to save Vladimir Kara-Murza

A year ago today, the Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza was jailed for 25 years – the longest sentence handed down to a political prisoner in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union over 30 years ago. For the last year, Kara-Murza has been held in a prison in Siberia, often in solitary confinement, with only occasional visits from his lawyer, a couple of books and hostile prison guards watching over him. Kara-Murza was arrested in April 2022 and held for over a year in pre-trial detention after being accused of treason and spreading ‘fake information’ about the Russian army. The most alarming aspect of the charges levelled against him

Gavin Mortimer

Macron vs Putin: this summer’s Olympic battle

Dixmont, Yonne Last summer, Emmanuel Macron lashed out at France’s constitution because it prevents him from running for a third consecutive term in office. It is, he told his entourage, a ‘disastrous stupidity’. The majority of the French people would disagree. Macron’s approval ratings are dire, and a poll at the start of this month revealed that the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic has the support of only 7 per cent of the under-35s. Should anyone be surprised? Immigration is out of control, farmers have marched on Paris and teachers are at the end of their tether because of classroom intimidation. Anti-Semitic acts have surged since

Lisa Haseldine

Why is Putin still blaming Ukraine for the Moscow terror attack?

In the fortnight since four Isis gunmen stormed Crocus City Hall in the Moscow suburbs, Vladimir Putin has done his best to dodge as much of the blame as possible. Speaking at a trade convention in Moscow on Thursday, Russia’s president once again reiterated the implication that Ukraine, and not the Islamist terror group, was responsible for the atrocity. But there are growing questions not only about what Putin knew in advance of the attack, but also the Russian president’s willingness to face up to who was responsible. ‘We have every reason to believe that the main goal of those who ordered the bloody terrorist attack in Moscow was to

Was Russia right to torture the Moscow attackers?

The court appearance of the four men accused by Russia of carrying out the Moscow massacre of 137 innocent concert goers at the Crocus City Hall venue told its own grim story. All the suspects bore marks of torture: one was wearing a bandage on his ear, following reports that it may have been at least partially severed and forcibly fed to him during his interrogation; another was semi-conscious and appeared to be missing an eye. Meanwhile, a video did the rounds seemingly showing one of the men’s genitals hooked up to an electricity generator.  The footage of the battered men was shocking to tender western eyes, but hardly surprising:

The Moscow terror attack is Putin’s 9/11

The Crocus City Hall attack blindsided Putin’s vast security state. Employing nearly a million policemen, 340,000 national guards and over 100,000 spies, that apparatus has proved ruthlessly efficient at terrorising babushkas bringing flowers to Aleksei Navalny’s grave, tracking down lone bloggers and persecuting homosexuals. But as the Crocus attack demonstrated, the Kremlin’s securocrats are utterly incompetent at doing their actual job, which is to protect the lives of Russian citizens. Rather than keep a relentless watch for emerging threats from all over the region, Putin’s security chiefs have instead focused on only two tasks – repressing internal dissent, and stealing money.  Putin is locked into his own lies about Ukraine

Why Islamic State is fixated with Russia

Islamic State (IS) has released a graphic video showing gunmen storming the Crocus concert hall near Moscow in an attack that killed at least 137 people. The footage corroborates the terrorist organisation’s claim of responsibility. The most likely culprit is the organisation’s offshoot based in Afghanistan. For years, IS-Khorasan Province (IS-K) – a branch of IS based in Afghanistan – has been fixated with Russia. It holds Moscow responsible for destroying its power base in Syria by backing president Assad, and accuses the Kremlin of having Muslim blood on its hands. President Putin is a regular target in its propaganda. President Putin is a regular target in IS’s propaganda IS said

Gavin Mortimer

Putin is as deluded about the Islamist threat as the West

From the outset it was obvious to seasoned observers who massacred more than 130 Russians at a concert hall Moscow on Friday evening. It wasn’t, as some in the Kremlin claimed, Ukraine. What would they stand to gain from such indiscriminate slaughter? The people who opened fire in the Crocus City Hall cleaved to the same ideology as those who have this century murdered thousands of innocent men, women and children in New York, Bali, Madrid, London, Brussels, Paris, Manchester and Nice. According to reports, the group that carried out the Moscow attack is known as Islamic State Khorasan (Isis-K) and it has a reputation for ‘extreme brutality’. Despite the fact that

Lisa Haseldine

Who will Putin blame for the terror attack?

A branch of the Islamic State terror group, Isis-K, has claimed responsibility for last night’s stadium terror attack in Moscow. US officials, who had warned of such an attack two weeks ago have said this sounded credible. But the Kremlin has not accepted the Isis-K claim and says it’s looking at all explanations – even (as some Russian journalists are advocating) that the attack was organised by the Ukrainians. Putin himself has hinted at this, saying the FSB had apprehended men on their way to the Ukrainian border. As I reported last night, western intelligence warned the Kremlin of a likely terrorist attack on Russian soil earlier this month. The

How Putin used doublethink to manipulate the Russian election

In many ways, the recent presidential shenanigans in Russia, officially dignified with the word ‘elections’, have become a strange ritual. They’re both utterly predictable in terms of their result and, at the same time a source of anxiety for all concerned. Putin has been in power now for 25 years, and no elections under his rule have corresponded even minimally to internationally recognised standards. Their main violation has been the extensive use of public sector workers, both to run the elections and vote the way the Kremlin tells them to. Thus the electoral machine is technically always ready to provide any result required of it. Yet this was also the

The genius of the ‘Noon against Putin’ protest

On Sunday, the final day of voting in Russia’s presidential election, Russians came out in an unorthodox protest against the Kremlin. At midday, they showed up at polling stations within the country and at embassies across the globe to take part in the ‘Noon Against Putin’ movement.  The strategy, assembled piece by piece by the motley Russian opposition, was simple. Come to your local polling station at noon local time on 17 May. Vote against Putin, for any other candidate you like, or simply spoil your ballot paper.  The trajectory the Kremlin is plotting suggests that dark things lie ahead for Russia: more war, more repression Some opposition figures spent

An ex-German diplomat’s withering verdict on Berlin’s ‘flawed’ Russia policy

Arndt Freiherr Freytag von Loringhoven couldn’t have had a worse start as Germany’s ambassador to Poland. Germany’s fraught historical legacy with the country – six million Poles killed in the Second World War and Prussia’s role in wiping Poland off the map from 1795 to 1918 – inspired Freytag von Loringhoven in his final posting to push hard to improve ties with Warsaw. But the Polish government saw things differently. His approval as ambassador – a role he finally took up in 2020 – was delayed by members of Poland’s then ruling PiS party, who campaigned against him using Nazi slurs. They targeted him because his father, Bernd, was a

What the rise of Islam means for Putin’s Russia

The term ‘Russians’, which the world likes to use for the 144 million citizens of my country, is often a misleading one. Granted, in the 2020 census, 71 per cent of those surveyed identified themselves with this label, with only three ethnic groups coming in above one per cent: Tatars (3.2 per cent), Chechens (1.14 per cent and Bashkirs (1.07 per cent). This all suggests a near mono-ethnic state with only minor influences from other nationalities and cultures. But nothing could be further from the truth. Many non-Russians, provided they master the language well enough, simply prefer to identify themselves with the ‘title nation’. Sticking with the majority and even mimicking it