Thursday, November 27, 2014


Podcast: Putin's Other War

Pavel Durov, Vladimir Putin, and Aleksei Navalny

New restrictions for online journalists. Stricter regulations for foreign Internet companies.

The demise of Russia's premier independent social network. And a rough week in court for Russia's most famous blogger.

All eyes may be focused on the unrest in Ukraine and the possibility of a Russian intervention there, but at home the Kremlin has been making life miserable for Russia's NetRoots. Is Vladimir Putin' Power Vertical striking a death blow against Russia's fledgling Power Horizontal?

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss Putin's war against the Internet in Russia.

Joining me are Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas," Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog," and Kevin Rothrock, project editor for RuNet Echo at Global Voices, author of the blog "A Good Treaty."

Enjoy...
Power Vertical Podcast -- April 25, 2014
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Tags:Vladimir Putin, Aleksei Navalny, Power Vertical podcast, VKontakte, Pavel Durov


Podcast: The Putin Show Goes Global

This year's Putin Show had global -- and ominous -- overtones.

Relaxed, confident, and full of pithy one-liners, Vladimir Putin was in his element in this week's call-in show with carefully screened ordinary citizens.

The event has been an annual ritual of his presidency. But this year, coming in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea and amid Moscow-backed turmoil in eastern Ukraine, it had more ominous -- and global -- overtones as Kremlin-watchers tuned in for clues to Putin's intentions.

So what did we learn? In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss the Putin show and what it shows about the Kremlin leader's thinking. 

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," and Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia blog."

Enjoy...
Power Vertical Podcast -- April 18, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- April 18, 2014i
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Tags:Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Power Vertical podcast


Podcast: Putin Then And Now

Putin then and now: From the Ozero Cooperative to the Kremlin

Before he built the vertical, he built a team of like-minded cronies. Before he saved Russia from the chaos of the wild '90s, he manipulated that very chaos to advance his power and influence. And before he became the "gatherer of the Russian lands," he gathered a fortune for himself and his inner circle.

Before the Kremlin, before the oil boom, before Russia Inc., before the Georgia war and the Crimea annexation, there was the Ozero Dacha Cooperative -- a group of influential St. Petersburg politicians and businessmen centered around the city's deputy mayor, Vladimir Putin.

And if you were doing business in St. Petersburg in the 1990s, there was one iron-clad rule: Putin was the man to know. But what does the Putin of two decades ago tell us about the man today?

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we look at Putin's St. Petersburg years. Joining me is Karen Dawisha, director of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at the University of Miami, Ohio, and author of a forthcoming book on that subject. 

Also joining me are co-hosts Mark Galeotti, a professor at NYU, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," and Kirill Kobrin,  editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas."

Enjoy...
 
Power Vertical Podcast -- April 11, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- April 11, 2014i
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Tags:Vladimir Putin, St. Petersburg, Ozero Dacha Cooperative, Tambovskaya Mafia, Karen Dawisha


The Kremlin, Crimea, And 'The Good Hitler'

An activist in Kyiv holds a poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin caricatured as Adolf Hitler.

We've been hearing a lot from Moscow about all the Nazis and fascists purportedly running around Kyiv lately. In fact, the only place you could probably hear more references to Nazis than on Russia's state-controlled media is on the History Channel.

But the fiercely pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia" seems to have crossed into entirely new territory with a piece by Andranik Migranyan on April 3 (a big h/t to Vladimir Kara-Murza for flagging this first). 

Migranyan heads the New York office of the "Institute for Democracy and Cooperation," an NGO set up under President Vladimir Putin in 2007 to monitor human rights in Western countries. His piece in "Izvestia" is basically a hit job on historian Andrei Zubov, who lost his job at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations after writing an article comparing Putin's annexation of Crimea to Adolf Hitler's seizure of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland in 1938.

Thing is, Migranyan doesn't really refute Zubov's claim. Instead he writes that we need to -- brace yourself -- distinguish between the "good Hitler" and the "bad Hitler."

And who exactly was this "good Hitler" of whom Migranyan speaks?

"We should distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939, and separate chaff from grain," he writes.  

"The fact is that while Hitler was gathering German lands and he united Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland, and Memel without a single drop of blood. If Hitler stopped at that, he would be remembered in his country’s history as a politician of the highest order."

Blogging on the article at "World Affairs Journal," Kara-Murza appeared nothing short of flabbergasted.

"Just when you think Vladimir Putin’s propaganda cannot sink any lower, it invariably does," he writes

"Perhaps someone could remind Andranik Migranyan and his Kremlin overseers of the track record of this 'politician of the highest order' and 'gatherer of German lands' prior to 1939 -- including the establishment of concentration camps and the public burning of books; the purges of 'non-Aryans' and the creation of the Gestapo; the closure of newspapers and political parties and the establishment of a one-man dictatorship; the Nuremberg racial laws and Kristallnacht. But of course they already know that."

Migranyan's article comes as the State Duma is debating legislation that would impose stiff fines and prison sentences for publicly justifying Nazism. The bill recently cleared its first reading and is expected to be passed into law in time for the May 9 Victory Day holiday.

The irony was not lost on Gazeta.ru, which asked, "What kind of fascists is the Duma afraid of?" in an April 4 editorial suggesting that, in the Kremlin's eyes, not all Nazis are created equally bad.

"The bill...is directed against the so-called national-traitors who disagree with the course of the president -- those that propagandists today lightly call fascists," the online publication opined. "But any stick -- even a police baton -- has two ends. And the law could also be useful for those anxiously reading in Izvestia about the 'good Hitler' who only turned bad after 1939."

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:nazism, crimea, hitler, Power Vertical blog


Podcast: Russia's Looming Tatar Problem

Crimean Tatar demonstrations. Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev.

Russia's largest ethnic minority just got larger.

With Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, hundreds of thousands of Tatars have suddenly become reluctant Russian citizens. They aren't happy and they're getting feisty -- rejecting Russia's overtures and pushing for their own referendum on autonomy.

And Russia's looming Crimean Tatar problem comes at a time when Moscow's relations with its existing 5 million-strong Tatar minority are becoming increasingly tense.

The Kremlin is celebrating its annexation of Crimea as a patriotic victory and evidence of Russia's revival. But will it come at the cost of yet another ethnic conflict?

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss Russia's new Crimean Tatar problem and what it may portend. Joining me are guests Rim Gilfanov, director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, and Merkhat Sharipzhan, a senior correspondent and analyst for RFE/RL's Central Newsroom.

Also on the podcast, Rim, Merkhat, and I take a closer look at Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev.

Enjoy...
Power Vertical Podcast -- April 4, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- April 4, 2014i
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Tags:Crimean Tatars, Power Vertical podcast


Audio Podcast: Autocrat Man

Is the "collective Putin" becoming less collective?

It's been called a "sovereign democracy," a "managed democracy" and an oligarchy.

But with Vladimir Putin's decision to annex Crimea and the nationalistic fervor and hunt for traitors that followed, an increasing number of Kremlin-watchers now say Russia becoming something simpler and cruder: a good old-fashioned autocracy.

It has long been assumed that Putin was the front man and decider-in-chief for an informal collective leadership -- the "collecticve Putin," if you will.

But with Western sanctions poised to hit key members of Putin's inner sanctum hard, and reports that much of the elite was dismayed by the annexation of Crimea, it increasingly looks like Putin is turning into an autocratic ruler who is no longer restrained by his court.

Is the collective Putin becoming less collective? And if so, what are the implications?

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss this issue. Joining me are Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas," Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog," and RFE/RL correspondent Merkhat Sharipzhan.

Also on the podcast, Kirill, Sean, Merkhat and I discuss the new "pan-Russism" -- the Kremlin's efforts to use ethnic Russians abroad as a political weapon.

Enjoy...
 
Power Vertical Podcast -- March 28, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- March 28, 2014i
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Tags:Vladimir Putin, Power Vertical podcast, pan-Slavism, Autoctracy, Collective Putin


Podcast: Tactical Victory. Strategic Defeat?

Has Vladimir Putin set events in motion he won't be able to control?

Russian state television called it historic and a pivotal event, and in many ways it was.

Russia's annexation of Crimea, which was formalized this week, was the first such territorial seizure in Europe since World War II. It also sent a signal that the Kremlin no longer intended to play by the rules that have governed international affairs for decades.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech may also turn out to be pivotal and historic in ways the Kremlin leader did not intend. In resetting Russia's domestic political agenda with a wave of anti-Western nationalism, he may have also unleashed forces he may not be able to control.

The past week will certainly go down in Russian history as a watershed. But the question looms, how?

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss the ongoing domestic fallout of the Crimean annexation in Russia.

Joining me are Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog," and Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at The New School and author of the recently published book "The Lost Khrushchev: A Family Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind."

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- March 21, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- March 21, 2014i
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The Pros And Cons Of Propaganda

Propaganda works. But only for awhile.

Propaganda works. Or at least it's working for the time being.

In concluding his speech to a joint session of parliament this week, Vladimir Putin claimed that 92 percent of Russians favored the annexation of Crimea.

The number was inflated, but not by much, according to Lev Gudkov, director of the independent Levada Center, Russia's most respected pollster. In a recent interview with Gazeta.ru, Gudkov said his data show that nearly 80 percent of Russians consider Crimea to be part of Russia.

In recent weeks, Westerners have looked on with derision at the over-the-top and clearly inaccurate way the Russian state-controlled media have depicted events in Ukraine: a coup by neo-Nazis that has unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism and reprisals against Russian-speakers, sparking a humanitarian crisis and a surge of refugees escaping the chaos.

Who would believe this stuff, right? I mean, the facts on the ground so obviously run counter to the distorted and outright false picture Kremlin spin masters have so carefully painted.

Well, apparently somebody does.

According to Gudkov, between November 2013, when mass demonstrations in Kyiv started, until late February, when President Viktor Yanukovych was deposed, a clear majority of Russians thought what was happening in Ukraine was an internal affair and Russia should not interfere.

Now, in addition to the 79 percent who view Crimea as part of Russia, some 58 percent favor the deployment of Russian troops

"The campaign that began in the last week of February -- which was unusual in its intensity and aggressive tone -- has drastically changed the public mood," Gudkov said. "The propaganda has stunned people. The public is now in an agitated state with all of their imperial complexes awakened."

So game over, right? Putin's got his mojo back and he's got his people behind him. It's 2007 all over again.

Well, not so fast. The propaganda may be working wonders for the Kremlin now. But according to Gudkov, it will likely prove ephemeral -- and eventually cause a backlash. "After a while, the effect will wear off and a pensive state will set in," he said.

And after the pensiveness, comes the backlash. And the reason for this, Gudkov said, can be found in the very nature of propaganda itself. "Propaganda's effectiveness is directly linked to the subject. It is very difficult to convince people that the authorities consist of competent and decent people.  But it is easy to convince them that Americans torture adopted Russian children because this cannot be verified," he said. 

"Basically, propaganda destroys alternative understanding. It may not quite convince people, but it imposes on them the cynical view that everyone is a bastard, politics is a squabble between interest groups, and nobody should be believed."

And it is here, he added, that the Kremlin may end up being a victim of its own success.

"The Kremlin spin doctors and manipulators do not understand that after a while this will turn against the Russian authorities themselves because imposing such a view of social processes in a country dominated by a paternalist state mind-set cannot but lead to increasingly negative attitudes toward the authorities themselves" he said. 

"This should end with clear analogies or the association of the current Russian authorities with the Yanukovych regime."

Gudkov is not alone in predicting that what looks like a stunning victory for Team Putin will soon turn into an albatross.

Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center says Putin has changed the game both in his relations with the elite and with society -- and dangers loom on both fronts.

"The president has to know that even in the ruling class many people are 'perplexed' by his Crimean action, and this is contributing to irritation with the leader," Malashenko writes.

He'll still be president for a very long time. But he’ll no longer have a iron-clad rear. As an ex-security service officer, he surely has to sense this. And keeping nationalist intensity at its height for any length of time is very difficult. People will soon be distracted by things like inflation and other issues from which their attention has been temporarily averted."

And how will Putin react when this happens?

In a recent interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," political analyst Nikolai Petrov had a chilling prognosis. "There will follow a surge in Putin’s popularity and a consolidation of the legitimacy of the regime. But this surge will be very brief," Petrov said.

"When the price is clarified, we will see that people are not prepared to pay it. Not prepared to take part in a war, not prepared to live under the stiff sanctions of the West, and so forth. And Putin’s task will be in this short time to organize repressive mechanisms. In order, when the public enthusiasm subsides, to preserve the system of control of the country.”

With the ongoing crackdown on independent media -- most recently the television channel Dozhd, which has already been pulled off cable networks, lost its lease -- those repressive mechanisms appear to be already moving into place.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to listen to the "Power Vertical Podcast" on March 21 when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with co-hosts Sean Guillory and Nina Khrushcheva.

Tags:propaganda, Vladimir Putin, Lev Gudkov


Audio Podcast: Springtime For Putin

A woman in Simferopol walks past a mural depicting Russian president Vladimir Putin giving a hand to Ukranians.

Vladimir Putin's inner circle is shrinking; the Kremlin's crackdown on dissent and independent media is intensifying; and Russia's economy is bracing for a shock with unpredictable consequences.

The ongoing crisis in Crimea is changing -- perhaps fundamentally -- Russia's domestic political arrangements. In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we look at how.

Joining me are Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows;" and Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas."

Enjoy...
Power Vertical Podcast -- March 14, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- March 14, 2014i
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Through The Crimean Prism: Five Things We've Learned About Russia

Changing the game. Vladimir Putin chairing a meeting with Russia's Security Council on March 13.

Every time Vladimir Putin opens his mouth, the goalposts seem to move.

After speaking with the Kremlin leader by telephone this week, Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev said Putin told him that Ukraine's 1991 independence referendum -- and therefore the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union -- was "not really legal." 

The Russian president's comment, which spread like wildfire on social media, could not be independently confirmed. But given that Putin has called the Soviet breakup the "greatest tragedy of the 20th century," it certainly seemed plausible.

And it served as as the latest reminder that with the Crimean crisis, we have entered into a new phase of the post-Soviet and post-Cold War period.

"Russia resorted to military force because it wanted to signal a game change," Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies wrote in "Foreign Affairs." 

The most immediate manifestation of this is in Russia's relations with the West and with its former-Soviet neighbors. But Putin has also initiated a clear game change at home, which is visible in how he makes decisions, the constituencies he appeals to, how he views the Russian economy, and how the Kremlin deals with dissent. 

The Incredible Shrinking 'Collective Putin'

It has gone by different names, from "the collective Putin" to "Putin's Politburo." But Kremlin-watchers have long argued that Russia is governed by an informal clique, a collective leadership of about a dozen key figures -- with Putin as the front man and decider-in-chief. 

Veterans of the security services have always had the strongest voice in this inner sanctum,but they did not monopolize it. They were countered by a group of technocrats seeking to integrate Russia into the global economy -- until now, that is.

The way the decision to intervene in Crimea was made seems to suggests that the "collective Putin" is getting smaller and smaller -- and is entirely made up of of KGB veterans.

Putin, it appears, has made his choice. The battle between the siloviki and the technocrats is over -- and the siloviki have won.

"The decision to invade Crimea, the officials and analysts said, was made not by the national security council but in secret among a smaller and shrinking circle of Mr. Putin’s closest and most trusted aides," according to a recent report in "The New York Times."

"The group excluded senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the cadre of comparatively liberal advisers who might have foreseen the economic impact and potential consequences of American and European sanctions."

According to the report, the group included Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov -- all of whom served with Putin in the KGB in the 1970s and 1980s. Other reports suggested that Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin, a close Putin confidant widely rumored to have KGB ties, was also present.

The Best Laid Plans

In all likelihood, Putin has been preparing for something like the Crimea intervention for some time.

Less than a year after he returned to the Kremlin in May 2012, he initiated a campaign to force officials who hold assets abroad to repatriate them. The campaign to "nationalize" the elite was presented as an effort to make Russia less vulnerable to Western pressure. 

The respected political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko said at the time that Putin was seeking to make sure officials were "completely independent of foreign countries and fully accountable to the president." 

And with the threat of economic sanctions now looming, those that didn't heed Putin's warnings are probably having regrets.

In a recent post on Facebook, Valery Solovei, a professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, said based on conversations he's had with insiders, the handful of officials with Putin when he made the decision to intervene in Crimea don't hold foreign assets.

Fortress Russia

Taken together, all of this suggests that Putin is on the verge of sacrificing the economic gains of the past decade on the altar of imperial expansion.

The sidelining of the technocrats and the fact that the Kremlin felt it necessary to compel the political elite to repatriate its assets suggests that Russia is retrenching on its longstanding policy of integrating into the global economy.

Citing unidentified officials, Bloomberg reports that Moscow is "bracing for sanctions resembling those applied to Iran after what they see as the inevitable annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region." One official said a sanction war with the West "could wipe out 10 years of achievements in financial and monetary policy." Another said it "could erase as much as a third of the ruble’s value." 

Bloomberg also cited Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying Putin met senior officials in Sochi on March 12 to discuss Russia's options in a "difficult global environment."

Russia's main stock market, the MICEX, has had its worst week since 2011 and on March 13 closed 24 percent below its January 2013 high. Likewise, the ruble has lost nearly 10 percent of its value this year.

Putin, Krastev wrote in "Foreign Affairs," is apparently ready to abandon all thoughts of Russia being a European nation in good standing -- far better for it to be a civilization of its own -- and has proved willing to sacrifice his country’s economic interests to achieve his goals."

Tightening The Screws

And as Russia stops to even pretend that it cares what the West thinks -- or does -- it appears that the opposition is in for a rough ride.

From the closure of independent websites like Grani.ru, Kasparov.ru, and "Yezhednevny zhurnal" to the firing of Galina Timchenko as editor of Lenta.ru, it is clear that the crackdown that began when Putin returned to the Kremlin is intensifying. And it is intensifying concomitant with the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.

"As Vladimir Putin sends troops into Crimea and hints at following up on this cruel gambit with further moves into eastern Ukraine, he is, step by step, turning back the clock on information," David Remnick wrote in "The New Yorker" magazine. "It is a move of self-protection."

This week's rollback of independent media was preceded by a series of moves earlier in the year that now appear part of clear pattern.

On January 24, the popular social networking site VKontakte came under Kremlin control when Pavel Durov, its founder and CEO, was pressured into selling his remaining shares to Ivan Tavrin, a partner of pro-Putin oligarch Alisher Usmanov. 

Late January, the opposition-leaning television Dozhd TV came under fire for posting a controversial poll about the Leningrad blockade during World War II. In early February, Dozhd's main satellite and cable providers announced -- one after another -- that they would stop carrying the channel, effectively barring it from the airwaves. 

And on February 28, a Moscow court placed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny under house arrest, barring him from speaking to the media and using the Internet.

Nationalist Love

Suddenly, the nationalists love Putin again.

When the Kremlin leader lost the support of Russia's urban middle class in 2011-12, he began appealing to the the working and urban classes with populist appeals.

There was just one problem with this strategy. The country's nationalist electorate, a key part of this demographic, had turned against him. Indeed, angered by an influx of migrant workers, many had become enamored of Putin's nemesis, Navalny. 

In addition to the predictable chants of "Russia for Russians," "Stop feeding the Caucasus" and various antimigrant diatribes at this year's Russian March, there were plenty of calls for the end of Putin's "Chekist regime."

But with Putin flexing Russia's imperial muscles with his incursion into Crimea, all seems to be forgiven.

"The most radical members of the nationalist subculture are rushing before our eyes to become ardent 'Putinists' and are eager to swear allegiance to the current government, which only recently they opposed because of the 'import of Tajiks,'" commentator Aleksei Roshchin wrote in Politcom.ru

This week, for example, Aleksandr Prokhanov, editor in chief of the nationalist newspaper "Zavtra," penned a commentary singing Putin's praises in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia." 

"Western pressure on Russia will be enormous," Prokhanov wrote. "But the response will be society's spiritual mobilization and consolidation around their leader -- Putin. He has qualities unsurpassed in world politics. In the image of a spiritual leader, Putin has said 'Russia --  this is your fate.' And now we see how the fates of Russia and its president have merged."

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to listen to the Power Vertical Podcast on March 14, when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with co-hosts Mark Galeotti and Kirill Kobrin.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:crimea, Vladimir Putin, Russian politics, Power Vertical blog


Audio Podcast: The Crimean Game Changer

Three cities. One crisis.

We've been here before.

In the conflicts in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- as well as in Moldova's separatist Transdniester region -- in the early 1990s. We were here dramatically, in Russia's August 2008 war with Georgia.

And here we are again today in Crimea. And soon, we may find ourselves in the same place yet again -- in Ukraine's Russophone East.

In the past, these conflicts resulted in Moscow's de facto control of another state's territory.

The stakes are higher this time. But do we have any reason to believe the outcome will be any different?

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we look at the effects of the ongoing crisis in Crimea, both domestically in Russia and internationally.

Joining me is Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows"; and Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas." 

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- March 7, 2014
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Tags:Vladimir Putin, Russia-Ukraine relations, Crimean crisis


The Crimean War Redux

An armed man in military uniform, believed to be Russian, stands outside Ukraine's naval headquarters in Sevastopol. Inside, Ukrainian troops guard the base.

The last time Russia and the West clashed over Crimea, one of Vladimir Putin's heroes, Tsar Nicholas I, was in power. And it didn't end well.

If past is prologue, Putin should be more than a little nervous about the adventure he is now launching.

The 1853-56 Crimean War, which Russia ostensibly launched to protect the rights of Orthodox Christians on the Black Sea peninsula (sound familiar?), ended with its military soundly routed by an alliance of Great Britain, France, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire.

In the aftermath, Russia was temporarily barred from having warships on the Black Sea. It lost the territories of Moldavia and Wallachia. And it was in so much debt that it was forced to sell Alaska -- to the United States -- for a song.

Losing the Crimean War, while humiliating, also led Russia to launch a wave of reforms under Nicholas I's successor, Tsar Aleksandr II, including the abolition of serfdom, judicial reform, and a new system of local self-government.

History, of course, doesn't repeat itself. It doesn't even always rhyme. And a direct military conflict with the West is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely. (And a new wave of reform, even more so.)

But with the ruble tumbling to record lows and Russian shares falling, Putin's decision to flex Moscow's military muscle on the Black Sea peninsula, and implicitly threaten to invade the rest of Ukraine, has already proven costly. The MICEX fell by 11.3 percent, wiping nearly $60 billion off the value of Russian companies in a day and the Russian Central Bank spent $10 billion of its reserves to prop up the currency.

And it will get costlier still. In Prague two government ministers said this week, for example, that Russia's Atomstroieksport should not be allowed to bid for a $10 billion contract to expand the Czech Republic's main nuclear power plant. And although the Czech prime minister later walked back the comments, the issue of Russia's participation in the tender will become increasingly contentious.

We should expect more of this kind of thing, which will disrupt Moscow's carefully orchestrated business strategy in Eastern Europe, as the crisis drags on.

Putin appears to be counting on a scenario similar to its August 2008 war with Georgia, which caused Western protests and hand wringing -- but little resistance and no real consequences for Russia -- and ended with Moscow firmly in control of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Yet a war in Ukraine would be potentially catastrophic for Russia and Putin, in a way that invading Georgia could never have been," Bloomberg's Marc Champion wrote in a commentary on March 1.

"If Putin decides on a real military intervention in Ukraine, he will be gambling everything he has."

Champion notes that "in terms of Western response, Putin cannot be as sanguine as he was in 2008" adding that "NATO member Poland cares deeply about its neighbor Ukraine, and even Germany would find a Russian onslaught in Ukraine too close for comfort."

Additionally, he adds, Russia today does not enjoy the advantages it had in 2008, when oil prices were climbing and the Russian economy was growing.

And while snatching Crimea from Ukraine will prove costly for Russia in ways that securing Abkhazia and South Ossetia was not, a full-fledged invasion of the rest of Ukraine could prove to be a catastrophic and bloody quagmire.

"If Russian troops really delve into the Ukraine, I think Putin will not remain in power for more than one year," political commentator Mikhail Yampolsky wrote in Colta.ru

"It is difficult to imagine that Ukrainians will simply lay down their arms and bow humbly under the boots of Russian 'peacekeepers,' especially if Russian troops try to penetrate beyond the Crimea," Yampolsky wrote.

"Recently we witnessed the Berkut troops trying to clear the Maidan. The center of Kyiv was like hell and this was a battle between civil society activists and police loyal to the president. Now, imagine in place of the Berkut are Russian paratroopers -- occupiers -- and fighting alongside the locals, Ukrainian soldiers with guns."

In a post on his Facebook page, Valery Solovei, a professor at the prestigious Moscow State Institution for International Relations, wrote that he had spoken to well-informed insiders and concluded that the situation was "very serious and even tragic." 

Solovei wrote that Putin made the decision to intervene in Crimea with the support of a small group of five or six senior officials who have no assets in the West; that the Kremlin is counting on a weak Western response; and that if this turns out to be correct, Russia will move to annex eastern Ukraine in the coming weeks.

He adds that there is opposition to the decision within the elite, but officials are afraid to speak out. "These officials don't dare to oppose Putin. They almost superstitiously believe in his good fortune," he wrote.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service,  suggested that Putin has simply taken leave of his senses. 

"The poor guy's brain isn't working," political commentator Stanislav Belkovsky told RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"It is a typical case of schizophrenia, what is happening now. It is a medical case, and when this happens, it is impossible to say what a person will do five minutes from now. It is simply unpredictable. It would be irresponsible to try. Such a person needs a strong sedative and isolation from society."

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: This post has been updated.

Tags:crimea, Vladimir Putin, Power Vertical blog, Crimean War

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

15:34 November 26, 2014

SIBERIAN AVIATION FOLLIES

So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014

MIKHAIL ZYGAR OF DOZHD-TV HONORED

12:33 November 26, 2014

NO MISTRAL, NO FRENCH WINE!

Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.

MEANWHILE, IN UKRAINE...

12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014

BAD NEWS AT SBERBANK

12:18 November 26, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST ESCAPES RUSSIA, SEEKS ASYLUM IN U.S.

By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of Amurburg.ru, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.

MERKEL SAYS RUSSIA TRAMPLING ON INTERNATIONAL LAW

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)

UKRAINE SAYS MORE RUSSIAN MILITARY IN EAST

Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

RUSSIA SAYS IT WON'T ANNEX ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA

By RFE/RL

Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.

 

19:16 November 21, 2014

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or