Vladimir putin

Why Russia’s ‘king of the kickback’ was arrested

The universal corruption of the Russian elite suits Vladimir Putin. When everyone has a skeleton in their closet, power rests with whoever decides which closets get searched. The arrest on corruption charges of Timur Ivanov, deputy minister of defence, is noteworthy not because he was infamously corrupt, but because it raises the question: why him, why now? This could be the start of a ‘ditch Shoigu’ campaign by his enemies Ivanov was well known for his lavish lifestyle and his reputation as the ‘king of the kickback.’ Since 2016, he had been in charge of the Defence Ministry’s property portfolio, construction projects and medical services. To put it another way,

Russia will not attack Nato

There is a lot of war fever about. In January, Grant Shapps, Britain’s tiggerish defence secretary, said the UK was in a ‘pre-war’ period. The West’s adversaries in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are mobilising, he said. Not wanting to be outdone, Shapps’s Labour shadow John Healey wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘If Putin wins, he will not stop at Ukraine.’ Timescales for when this conflict will come vary. Shapps said it could come within the next five years, whereas the estimates of European politicians range from three to eight years. Nato’s top military official warned that Europeans must be ready for a conflict with Russia within two decades. An

The Ukrainian war can only end in a peace deal

Kyiv In Ukraine, the political mood has become sombre and fractious. As the front lines settle into stalemate, Russia ramps up for a new season of missile and drone attacks, and vital US support for Ukraine’s war effort crumbles under partisan attack in Congress, one existential question looms large. Should Volodymyr Zelensky continue to fight endlessly in pursuit of a comprehensive defeat of Russia which may be unattainable – or should he consider cutting his losses and reaching a compromise? At the war’s outset, the Ukrainian President had a clear answer. ‘I am sure there are people who won’t be satisfied with any kind of peace [with Russia] under any

Why the US will decide Ukraine’s fate

As Ukraine marked its 32nd national holiday since independence, news from the front lines and the wider world appeared better than perhaps in any week since the recapture of Kherson in November. In Zaporizhzhia, the hard-fought front lines moved a few miles forward. In Crimea, a missile strike took out a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft complex and a team of Ukrainian commandos briefly raised their yellow-and-blue flag on the peninsula for the first time since Russia’s 2014 annexation. A Russian Mi-8 helicopter pilot defected to Ukraine with a load of jet engine parts. Near-nightly waves of drone strikes deep inside Russia blew up two Tu-22M long-range bombers, four Il-78 transport aircraft

Russia’s long history of smears, sabotage and barefaced lies

Russian politicians often refer to something called the Dulles Plan. This document purports to capture the future CIA chief Allen Dulles explaining, in 1948, the US strategy to destroy the moral foundations of the USSR and bring about ‘the death of the most intractable people on Earth… the definitive, irreversible dying out of its self-consciousness’. If this sounds like a fictional villain’s expository monologue then that’s because it is. The text was taken from an antagonist’s speech in a 1971 novel, Eternal Call, which itself recalled a much earlier Russian forgery, the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The ‘plan’ was written and disseminated in 1993 in an attempt

The Ukrainian war is coming to Moscow

A few hours after Ukrainian kamikaze drones struck the proud towers of the Moscow City business centre, a Muscovite friend received a cold call from her insurance company. Would she like to upgrade her home insurance to include drone attacks, a chirpy salesman asked. Another couple of friends, out for a walk in the woods not far from Vladimir Putin’s country residence at Novo-Ogaryovo, were surprised to discover a pair of Pantsir-S1 mobile anti-aircraft batteries parked by the edge of a field, their warheads pointing warily towards Ukraine. A Muscovite journalist shares a new listing for bed space in an underground garage that he has converted into a bomb shelter.

Igor Girkin’s arrest was a long time coming

With the reported arrest on Friday of Igor Girkin (aka ‘Strelkov’ or ‘Igor the Terrible’) the career of one of the Russia-Ukraine war’s most infamous, larger-than-life characters may finally have hit a dead end. Girkin, the career-killer with the sensitive face and soulful eyes, has played numerous parts in his time: activist, blogger, FSB colonel, executioner, convicted war criminal and eternal thorn in the side of the Russian Ministry of Defence. A self-professed nationalist, and founder member of the ‘Club of Angry Patriots’, he has consistently lambasted Putin’s ‘special military operation’ for its failures and perceived half-measures, calling repeatedly for martial law and mass-mobilisation to avert a likely defeat.  

How does the Russian public view the invasion of Ukraine?

‘It’s too soon,’ said an anti-war Russian friend about the crop of books which have been emerging since late last year on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Perhaps he is right. Yet, mindful of Lenin’s maxim that ‘there are weeks when decades happen’, many may feel the period since February last year to have been one of the longest of their lives. Amid the fog of war – an endless news cycle in which events pile up, too enigmatic or episodic for the big picture to emerge – one is grateful to any writer who sets out to give the wider narrative. ‘To look at Russia now, as someone who loves

Putin is copying the propaganda playbook of Serbian war criminals

A year ago, Ukrainian soldiers discovered evidence of the Bucha massacre in which Russian forces slaughtered hundreds of Ukrainians in cold blood. Far from owning up to its crimes, Russia has spent the past 12 months trying to spin the massacre as a Western-inspired conspiracy.  The Kremlin said the allegations are a ‘monstrous forgery’ aimed at denigrating the Russian army. This attempt to whitewash the truth has disturbing parallels with the cover up of atrocities that occurred in my home country, Bosnia, during the 1990s. There are chilling links between today’s war crimes denialism by Russia and the genocide denialism that continues in Bosnia to this day, over the murder of  more than

After his trip to Moscow, Xi Jinping still holds all the cards

After his arrival in Moscow on Monday, President Xi Jinping said that China is ready, along with Russia, ‘to stand guard over the world order based on international law’. This statement came closer than ever before to articulating his view that a normative struggle is going on between a western-dominated order, and one more suited to Beijing’s interests. As he departed yesterday, he went further: ‘Right now there are changes, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together.’ Having positioned himself as a potential peacemaker, Xi clearly believes the war in Ukraine presents him with a win-win situation ­­­–

What Beijing wants out of the Russian invasion

52 min listen

As Xi Jinping visits Vladimir Putin in Russia this week, this episode of Chinese Whispers is returning to one of the missions of this podcast series – to look at things as the Chinese see them.  My guest today is Zhou Bo, a retired Senior Colonel of the People’s Liberation Army whose military service started in 1979. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University. He’s an eloquent and informed advocate of Beijing’s perspective. On the podcast, we discuss why China hasn’t criticised Russia more, despite its purported support for sovereignty, to what extent it really means its peace plan, and

Russia’s military disaster could lead to famine in the Caucasus

Two years ago, 13-year-old singer Maléna was rehearsing for Eurovision Junior when war broke out. While her rivals battled in Warsaw on stage, she stayed home in Armenia. Young men picked up AK-47s to fight against their Azerbaijani neighbours in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 4,000 never returned. A year later, Maléna re-entered Eurovision Junior and won, giving her country the right to host Eurovision Junior in December 2022. Armenian authorities staged celebrations in the capital, Yerevan. Crowds huddled around outdoor televisions in the central square to watch the show. A group of young musicians from Nagorno-Karabakh joined the party in Yerevan, coming into the capital on the

The year the Russian empire really collapsed

In a quiet suburb of Moscow, a twenty-minute metro ride from the Kremlin, is the Soviet Union’s answer to Disneyland. Between a budget supermarket and a teacher training college is the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, known to locals by its Russian-language acronym, VDNKh. The ‘Kh’ is said like you are clearing your throat. Every year, tens of thousands of visitors pass under the triumphal arch that stands at the entrance to the VDNKh. It looks like London’s Marble Arch and is topped with two gold-plated proletarians holding up a bundle of wheat. Past it, there’s stalls selling hot dogs, an imposing statue of Lenin, and a water fountain

Xi’s nuclear warnings are a coup for Scholz

Checks and balances on Vladimir Putin don’t come from inside Russia. The people around him supported forced mobilisation, pushed his plans to annex eastern Ukraine, and wanted more nuclear posturing. Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, of China and India, can do a much better job at constraining Putin. They’re the only two leaders of major powers that haven’t completely ostracised the Russian leader. He needs them to keep his struggling economy afloat. The pair are putting pressure on the Putin to avoid nuclear conflict. This morning, Xi warned Putin off using nukes for the first time, after saying in February that China and Russia’s friendship had ‘no limits’. In a joint

Is Putin preparing a nuclear strike?

Russia is peddling implausible tales of Ukrainian ‘dirty bombs’. Kyiv and the West are embarked on a campaign to counter this propaganda, and again the talk is of the risk of Moscow using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine. And that’s the point. First of all, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu broke months of relative silence – with the West, at least – and called his British, American, French and Turkish counterparts. His main message was to assert, with no evidence in support of his claims, that Kyiv was preparing to use a dirty bomb. This is a conventional munition, around which is packed radioactive materials, which is dispersed when

What does Russia really want?

The question of ‘why’ Russia invaded Ukraine has been forgotten amid war’s fog. Greed and malice partially explains it. History, geopolitics and culture reveals more. A country which has more land than anyone else on Earth is not grabbing territory for territory’s sake. Logically, Russia should be giving away land to anyone who might manage it better. But that’s not how Putin thinks. He is pursuing a dogged policy of annexations – first in Georgia, then in the Crimea, and now of four further Ukrainian districts. Logically, Russia’s neighbours have more to fear than Russia has. But that’s not how Putin feels Equally, a country which owns the world’s biggest stockpile of

Tsar Vladimir brings in martial law

Martial law can arrive with a bang: tanks on the streets, Swan Lake on the TV. It can also creep up on a country in the guise of a presidential edict with the title ‘The Decree On Measures taken in the Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation in Connection with the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of October 19, 2022 No. 756’. Either way, Vladimir Putin has just moved Russia one step closer to totalitarianism. What is interesting is just how long and half-hearted a process this has been. When Putin invaded Ukraine in February, the sharpest-beaked hawks in his entourage were urging total war, and with

Putin at 70: How The Spectator has covered his life

Vladimir Putin turns 70 today. Since he became Prime Minister of Russia in 1999, some of The Spectator’s greatest contributors have asked the perennial questions: who is Putin, and what does he want? We’ve compiled the following pieces from our fully-digitised archive.  ‘Joking with a nine-year-old boy at a televised awards ceremony by the Russian Geographical Society, President Vladimir Putin said: ‘The Russian borders don’t end anywhere.’’ Portrait of the Week, 1 December 2016 Appointment as Prime Minister  ‘Not surprisingly, given his background, Putin has a lugubrious and somewhat sinister manner. Perhaps more importantly he has never stood for election to anything and his one dabble in democracy, managing the re-election

Did Russia sabotage its own pipelines?

It almost seems worthy of the opening scene in a Bond film. Vital Russian gas pipelines running beneath the Baltic Sea close to Denmark and Sweden are the victims of sabotage. The two countries have warned of leaks from both Nord Stream 1 and 2 after seismologists suggested there had been underwater explosions. No one wants to claim credit for the deed – yet. Who is the Blofeld behind this dastardly scheme? Former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, no fan of Russia, sardonically declared on Twitter, ‘Thank you, USA’. That set the conspiracy theorists off. As has a video resurfacing of Joe Biden in February promising America would put an end to

Was Nato expansion worth the risk?

This is an important and topical book. Mary Sarotte traces the difficult course of Russia’s relations with Europe and the United States during the decade which followed the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, a period which saw Russia’s brief dalliance with democracy and Nato’s advance to the frontiers of the old Soviet Union. The story has been told before, but never so fully or so well. In a remarkable historical coup, Sarotte has persuaded the German foreign ministry to open its archives to her, and the Americans to declassify thousands of documents previously closed to researchers. When Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was moved to denounce so much