Saturday, November 01, 2014


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
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Crimean Tatars


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
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Vladimir Putin, 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
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

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
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

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


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
Power Vertical Podcast -- March 7, 2014i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Tags:Crimean crisis, Russia-Ukraine relations, Vladimir Putin


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


Podcast: Russia's Two-Front War To Contain The Maidan

Russia's two fronts: Containing the contagion and reversing a stinging geopolitical setback

What do a court placing Aleksei Navalny under house arrest, the mounting unrest in Crimea, the roundup of opposition protesters in Moscow, and Russian military exercises near Ukraine's border all have in common? 

They are each part of the Kremlin's reaction to last week's Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine.

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we look at Russia's two-front war against the Maidan. The objectives: contain the contagion at home and reverse a stinging geoploitical setback abroad.

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 guest 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 -- February 28, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- February 28, 2014i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Euromaidan, Russian opposition, Aleksei Navalny, crimea


A Specter Is Haunting Russia

A protester holds a placard that reads "Maidan" outside a courthouse in Moscow on February 24.

A crowd chants "Maidan! Maidan!" before riot police move in, arresting scores of demonstrators. Three people stand behind a makeshift barricade of burning tires waving Ukrainian flags and banging sticks against metal shields.

A redux of violence in Kyiv? Not quite. Both of these scenes took place in Russia.

The first was in Moscow today, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside a courthouse where defendants in the so-called "Bolotnaya case" were being sentenced for their roles in anti-Kremlin protests that turned violent in May 2012.

In addition to the Maidan chants, the crowd also shouted in Ukrainian "Bandu het" (Out with the gang!) and hurled insults at riot police, calling them by their Ukrainian name, "Berkut."

Among those detained were opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny as well as Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

The second scene happened in St. Petersburg a day earlier, on February 23, and was the work of performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who earned international headlines in November for nailing his scrotum to Red Square to protest Russia's "police state."

A specter is haunting Russia -- the specter of Ukraine's Euromaidan.

The stunning and dizzying fall of Viktor Yanukovych's regime -- which the hapless Ukrainian ruler tried to model on Vladimir Putin's kleptocratic and authoritarian power vertical -- is inspiring Russia's opposition.

Pavel Durov, the iconoclastic founder of the popular social-networking site VKontakte, helped a pro-Maidan video called "Fear is not Real" to go viral by republishing it on his page (a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices for flagging this.)

WATCH IT HERE: ​
 
In a February 22 post on his Facebook page titled "Lessons of the Maidan," opposition figure Boris Nemtsov wrote that the conditions that led to Yanukovych's fall are all present in Russia. 

"The only difference is that Putin has more money and the Russian people are more patient. But their patience is not infinite," Nemtsov wrote.

"Will the Kremlin learn the lessons of the Maidan? Will they lie and steal less? Will they give citizens their freedom back? I doubt it very much. They will lie even more. They will seize and cling to power more. Place your bets on repression. Then comes the inevitable Russian Maidan."

Whether or not the inevitable Russian Maidan is on the way, Nemtsov is right to place his bets on repression, intimidation, and petty harassment in the near term.

Police detained more than 300 people on February 24, some outside Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky Court and some who were attempting to enter Manezh Square near the Kremlin for a rally in support of the Bolotnaya defendants (seven of whom received sentences ranging from 30 months to four years). 

And wearing the wrong colors, even by accident, can get you in trouble in Moscow.

Yegor Maksimov, a journalist with Dozhd TV, tweeted that he saw a man detained by the police for wearing a hat with the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. 

"Idiocy! A man in a blue-and-yellow hat, WHICH HAD NEW YORK INSCRIBED ON IT, has been detained," he wrote, adding that the police said to the man: "So you support Kyiv, do you? Come with us."

Tweets and social-network posts supportive of Ukraine's Euromaidan are also increasingly attracting the authorities' attention.

Yulia Archipova, a student at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, found this out the hard way. Russian TV and radio journalist Vladimir Solovyov used an entire program to deride her and other students for pro-Maidan posts.

As Kevin Rothrock wrote at Global Voices, Archipova, who holds a Russian passport, was "vilified (in absentia) for being a homosexual-loving Ukrainian citizen."

They used to say that when Moscow sneezes, Kyiv catches a cold. We'll soon see if this logic works in reverse. The Russian opposition seems emboldened by the Maidan and a spooked Kremlin is tightening the screws to prevent the revolutionary virus from spreading north.

As I've blogged in the past, the protest movements in Ukraine and Russia have been energized by the coming of age of a post-Soviet generation in both countries that yearns for a different kind of politics.

The difference is in Ukraine -- where the security services are less embedded in politics, the system is more pluralistic, and civil society is more developed -- people were willing to remain on the streets in large numbers even in the face of brutal police tactics and live ammunition. The more the authorities cracked down, the more emboldened and persistent the demonstrators became. The Ukrainian street simply wore the regime down.

The Russian street has not shown this kind of stamina and resolve. At least not yet.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:Russian opposition, Euromaidan, Bolotnaya case


Audio Podcast: When Russians Talk About Ukraine

A Tale of two cities? Kyiv in flames; Bolotnaya defendants in the dock

The Russian state-controlled media has described the unrest in various alarming ways: A coup attempt by extremists and neo-Nazis; a Western-backed insurrection; and a nefarious attempt to dismember Ukraine, just to name a few.

For its part, the Russian opposition, while disturbed by the violence in Kyiv, is raptly watching events in Ukraine with a mixture of envy and respect.

And as the Ukrainian crisis climaxed this week, many Russians' attention quickly shifted from the Winter Olympics in Sochi to the showdown on the streets of the Ukrainian capital.

So what are Russians talking about when they talk about Ukraine?

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss what lessons the authorities, society, and the opposition are absorbing from the Euromaidan uprising. Joining me are co-hosts Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas," and Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."

Also on the podcast, Kirill, Mark, and I discuss Russia's so-called Bolotnaya case, which wound up this week with guilty verdicts for eight anti-Kremlin protesters and the trial of Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, which has just commenced.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- February 21, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- February 21, 2014i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Euromaidan, Russian politics, Russian opposition, Bolotnaya case, Sergei Udaltsov


Audio Podcast: The Comeback Kid

Putin's Olympic kitsch

Suddenly, Vladimir Putin seems to be having the time of his life.

He is visibly relishing the Sochi Olympics, which -- at least in the eyes of the Russian public -- are coming off much better than expected. There has also been a noticeable, and predictable, backlash against foreign criticism in the run-up to the games.

And, oh, by the way, Putin's approval ratings are steadily and clearly rising.

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss the Putin "resurrection." Is it real? Is it an illusion? Is it a trend?  Or is it a blip?

Joining me are Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas"; Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School and author of the forthcoming book "The Lost Khrushchev: A Family Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind”; and Kevin Rothrock, project editor for RuNet Echo at Global Voices, author of the blog "A Good Treaty."

Also on the podcast, Kirill, Nina, Kevin, and I discuss the economic storm clouds appearing on Russia's horizon that have suddenly gotten Putin's attention.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- 14 February, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- February 14, 2014i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X


Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Vladimir Putin, Russian politics, Sochi Olympics

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

18:26 October 31, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

EUROPE PRAISES GAS DEAL, PRESSES RUSSIA ON REBEL VOTES

By RFE/RL

European leaders have welcomed a deal under which Russia is to restore natural-gas supplies to Ukraine but told Vladimir Putin that elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on November 2 will be illegitimate.

Russian President Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande spoke in a four-way telephone conversation overnight after Ukraine and Russia sealed a deal meant to guarantee Russian gas supplies to Ukraine through March 2015.

All four leaders welcomed the gas deal signed late on October 30 in Brussels, a German government spokesperson said, and a Kremlin statement called the agreement "an important step in the context of the future provision of uninterrupted transit of gas to Europe."

But a statement from Poroshenko's office said "Ukraine, Germany and France expressed (the) clear common position that they would not recognize the elections planned by separatists."

It said the elections on rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions would contradict an agreement reached in Minsk on September 5 and aimed to end the conflict between Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels, which has killed more than 3,700 people since April and poisoned East-West ties.

It said Poroshenko, Merkel, and Hollande "urged Russia not to recognize those elections as well."

Merkel's spokesman, Georg Streiter, said that "Merkel and Hollande underlined that there can only be a ballot in line with Ukrainian law."

He said the votes would violate the Minsk agreement and further complicate efforts to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

"The German government will not recognize these illegitimate elections," Streiter told a news conference, adding that European leaders were united on this issue and had agreed on this at a summit last week in Brussels.

Moscow has made no formal recognition of the "people's republics" the separatists have proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Kremlin denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence that Russia has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to help the separatists.

But in comments published on October 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would "of course recognize the results" of the separatists' elections.

The Kremlin statement about the telephone conversation made no mention of the elections.

It also said the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation the September 5 agreement, and underscored the need to observe the cease-fire that was central to the Minsk deal.

The Kremlin said Russia believes the "the establishment of a steady dialogue" between Kyiv and the separatists would "undoubtedly" help stabilize the situation.

Kremlin critics say Russia supported the September 5 agreement because it followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Donetsk and Luhansk, potentially giving Moscow a lever of influence on Ukraine for years to come.

The November 2 balloting in the rebel-held regions comes a week after those areas stayed out of voting in in Ukraine's parliamentary election on October 26, in which pro-Western parties won a sweeping victory.

Poroshenko proposed on October 31 that Arseniy Yatsenyuk stay on as prime minister.

"I have proposed that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of prime minister," Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.

Yatsenyuk's People's Front party narrowly beat out the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in voting by party in the October 26 election, according to a nearly complete count.

But Poroshenko's bloc fared better in first-past-the-post voting and was positioned to take more parliament seats than the People's Front, according to election commission data.

Yatsenyuk is a vocal critic of Russia and is popular among Western governments for his support for economic reforms.

He is a target of criticism from Russian officials who say the  government that came to power in Ukraine after former president Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of protests seized control in an illegal coup d'etat supported by the West.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, adding to tension that increased still further when the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted the following month.

The hard-fought gas deal provided what European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger called "perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia had raised the price it was asking Kyiv pay for gas after Yanukovych's ouster and then stopped supplying gas to Ukraine in June, citing what it said was $5.3 billion in debt and demanding advance payment for any future supplies.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.

Yatsenyuk, in figures later confirmed by Moscow, said Ukraine would pay $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of 2014 and $365 in the first quarter of 2015.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger.

He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

Ukraine normally relies on Russia for about the half the gas it uses, and the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the gas consumed in the European Union, with about half of that pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009, when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine amid price disputes, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two cold winters.

News of the agreement appeared to bring relief in Europe, with British wholesale gas prices for November and December falling to their lowest ever levels on October 31.

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

RUSSIA EXTENDS DETENTION OF ESTONIAN POLICE OFFICER

A Moscow court has extended by two months the detention of an Estonian police officer charged with espionage.

Lefortovo Court spokesperson Yulia Sotnikova said on October 31 that a judge had "granted a request from investigators to prolong the period of detention until January 5" of Eston Kohver.

Kohver was detained on September 5 on espionage charges.

Moscow claims Kohver was seized inside Russia, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border.

The case has strained relations between Russia and Estonia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

EU FILES WTO TRADE COMPLAINT AGAINST RUSSIA

The European Union has launched a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Russian import duties on some European agricultural and manufactured goods.

The Geneva-based international arbitration body said on October 31 that the EU accuses Russia of levying tariffs on several types of goods that are above the legally binding tariff ceilings that Moscow has agreed to within the WTO mechanism.

Those goods include paper and paperboard, palm oil, and refrigerators.

Under WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to work out a mutually agreed solution. After that, the EU could ask the WTO to adjudicate.

The dispute is the fifth involving Russia and the EU at the WTO.

The European Commission's spokesman for trade issues, Wojtek Talko, said the case was not a complaint against the recent ban on Russian food imports from Europe.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa)

RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK RAISES INTEREST RATES

The Russian central bank said it would raise interest rates from 8 percent to 9.5 percent as Western sanctions and falling oil prices have sent the Russian ruble plummeting.

The Bank of Russia's board of directors made the decision to raise interest rates at an October 31 meeting.

The central bank had increased the rate to 8 percent in late July, following increased to 5.5 percent in March and 7.5 percent in April.

The United States, European Union and other nations have imposed successive rounds of sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, and Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of aiding pro-Russian separatists with troops and arms during a conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 3,700 people in eastern Ukraine since April.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

U.S AMBASSADOR TO KYRGYZSTAN WARNS OF RUSSIAN INFLUENCE

By RFE/RL

The U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan says that the Central Asian nation's "growing partnership with Russia" presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

In an article published on the website of the Council of American Ambassadors, Pamela Spratlen (eds: a woman) said the "strong partnership" that Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has forged with Russian President Vladimir Putin "has had its impact on our efforts."

"It remains an unanswered question how Kyrgyzstan can maintain its democratic trajectory while pursuing this partnership," she said.

Spratlen also said that many in Kyrgyzstan get their news from Russian media, and that in the case of the Ukraine crisis "the strident anti-American tone taken by Russian propaganda has crystallized local public opinion around Moscow's narrative of events there."

Kyrgyzstan has seemed to follow Moscow's lead on several issues recently, including drafting laws that legitimize discrimination against homosexuals and would require foreign-based organizations to register as "foreign agents."

(Based on Spratlen article: https://www.americanambassadors.org/publications/ambassadors-review/fall-2014/democracy-in-central-asia-supporting-kyrgyzstan-s-island-of-democracy)

RUSSIAN ACTOR FIRES MACHINE GUN IN DONETSK

Ukrainian authorities have filed charges and Russia's Union of Journalists is demanding an apology after a prominent Russian actor was filmed firing a machine gun near the Donetsk airport while wearing patches that identified him as a member of the press.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry on October 31 filed criminal charges against Mikhail Porechenkov for the pictures taken with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page, "Mikhail Porechenkov, present in Donetsk, personally took part in firing on units of Ukraine's armed forces using an automatic weapon."

Pavel Gutiontov of Russia's Union of Journalists called the incident "irresponsible behavior on the part of the actor" and demanded an apology.

Porechenkov said that it was a staged scene, that he was firing blanks, and that the only bullet-resistant vest and helmet he could find were labelled "press."

(Based on reporting by UNIAN, TASS, and Interfax)

09:54 October 31, 2014

50 RUBLES TO THE DOLLAR?!?

Writing in Slon, Yakov Mirkin, chairman of the Department of International Capital Markets at the Russian Academy of Sciences Insititute of World Economy and International Relations, argued that the ruble could easily sink to 50 to the dollar.

The reasons? 

1) The ruble is overvalued anyway;

2) The dollar is rising against major currencies and this upward cycle is likely to continue;

3) Oil prices are falling;

4) A combination of Western sanctions and diversification of energy supplies

5) Capital flight from Russia continues apace.

And in light of Mirkin's argument, it is worth noting that he has consistently been arguing that the ruble is overvalued. Here he is speaking back in August 2013:

09:41 October 31, 2014

UKRAINIAN HOSPITALITY

Russian journalist Ivan Sukhov writing in "The Moscow Times" on working in Ukraine:

"Russian journalists encounter no personal aggression while working in Ukraine. Only the rare local politician refuses to speak to Russian reporters.

And in place of perfectly understandable aggression, Russian journalists encounter only gentle Ukrainian hospitality along with a sizable share of condescending sympathy.

It is as if they want to tell us, 'We will stay here, where we have taken the responsibility for our future into our own hands, whereas you will fly home to Russia's stifling political atmosphere, to a country that futilely reconsiders the outcome of the Cold War and the people are caught up in a mass euphoria over the bloodshed in the Donbass.'"

Read it all here.

08:56 October 31, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA, UKRAINE SIGN EU-BROKERED GAS DEAL

By RFE/RL

Moscow and Kyiv have signed a landmark agreement that will guarantee Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine throughout the winter despite tense relations over the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The EU-brokered deal, which extends until March 2015, was signed at a ceremony in Brussels by the energy ministers of the two countries, Aleksandr Novak and Yuriy Prodan, and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Outgoing EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who oversaw the signing, hailed the agreement, saying, "There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter."

The hard-fought deal followed months-long EU-mediated negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv amid a long and bitter dispute over payments.

The agreement was reached after two days of marathon talks that had stalled before dawn on October 30 when Russia demanded that the EU first agree with Ukraine how to pay Kyiv's outstanding bills and finance gas deliveries through to March.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars to around $385 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger. He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay off its debts to Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

He added that the deal "is perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine's Prodan said the "decisions taken today will provide energy security for Ukraine and the EU."

Moscow cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt and demanding that Ukraine settle its outstanding bills and pay up front for any future deliveries.

The dispute occurred amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in March and its subseqent military and political support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With Ukraine relying on Russia for around 50 percent of its gas, the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the European Union's gas, about half of which is pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009 when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two very cold winters.

But Russia's Novak said after the signing that Moscow will remain a "reliable supplier" of energy to Europe and the deal struck with Ukraine will ensure stable gas deliveries over the winter.

In reaction to the deal, the French and German leaders said in a joint statement that the EU will "fully play its role" to implement the gas deal.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel said they had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko earlier October 30, and all four "have welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the delivery of Russian gas to Ukraine, achieved thanks to the mediation of the European Union."

(Based on live broadcast, with additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

AIR ARMENIA BLAMES RUSSIA FOR FLIGHT SUSPENSIONS

By RFE/RL’s Armenian Service

YEREVAN -- Air Armenia, a passengar and cargo airline based in Yerevan, has suspended all passenger flights until at least December 20 over financial difficulties that the firm is blaming on Russia.

Air Armenia says it is unable continue regular passenger services because of a “panic” among investors and customers over a statement by Russia's federal air navigation service.

Russia's Rosaeronavigatsia announced on September 11 that it would ban Air Armenia from operating flights to Russian cities unless the company paid its outstanding debts by September 21.

Air Armenia said ihe statement damaged its business reputation and that, as a result, its fleet was reduced to one aircraft.

Other than Russian cities, the airline had been flying to Paris, Frankfurt, and Athens.

Air Armenia was founded as a cargo airline in 2003 and began operating commercial passenger flights in 2013 after the bankruptcy of Armavia.

COURT ORDERS NATIONALIZATION OF OLIGARCH'S BASHNEFT SHARES

A Moscow court has ordered the nationalization of a stake in an oil company owned by a detained tycoon.

The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled on October 30 the stake in Bashneft held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov's holding company Sistema would be returned to the state.

Prosecutors claimed the stake was illegally privatized by officials in Russia's Bashkortostan region.

The court said new claims could be filed after the worth of Sistema's stake in Bashneft was ascertained.

Yevtushenkov was arrested last month on charges of money laundering related to the acquisition of Bashneft.

His arrested sparked speculation that Russia's largest oil company, state-run Rosneft, would acquire Sistema's Bashneft shares.

Yevtushenkov is one of Russia's richest businessmen, with assets estimated to be worth some $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by AFP, rapsinews.ru, and Interfax)

LATVIA-BASED RUSSIAN NEWS PORTAL BLOCKED IN KAZAKHSTAN

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

An online Russian news portal based in Latvia has been blocked in Kazakhstan over an article described by Astana as "inflicting ethnic discord."

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Investments and Development said on October 30 that the Meduza.io website published an article "propagating ethnic discord and threatening the territorial integrity" of Kazakhstan.

The article about ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan's eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk (aka Oskemen) is titled: "Ust-Kamenogorsk People's Republic. Are Locals Ready For Polite Green Men?"

‘Green Men’ refers to the deployment in foreign countries of Russian military forces wearing unmarked green uniforms – as Russia has done in the past in regions of Georgia and Ukraine.

The ministry also has filed a lawsuit against Meduza.io in connection with the article.

It says the website will remain blocked in Kazakhstan until a local court rules in the case.

(With reporting by Interfax)

KYRGYZ WILL NEED PASSPORTS TO ENTER RUSSIA

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Ministry says that as of January 1, 2015, Kyrgyz citizens will no longer be able to enter the Russian Federation using their national identification documents.

Since 2007, Kyrgyz labor migrants have been travelling between the two countries with internal identification documents. Now they will have to obtain travel passports.

The regulation, announced on October 29, will affect hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz labor migrants who work in Russia and periodically travel between the two countries.

Moscow announced earlier this year that it wants to tighten by 2015 the regulations for entering Russia by nationals of former Soviet republics that are not members of the Russia-led Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union.

In May, Kyrgyzstan signed a road map under which it is to join the Customs Union, which currently comprises Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, by the end of 2014.  

NATO REPORTS UNUSUAL RUSSIAN WARPLANE ACTIVITY AROUND EUROPE

NATO said on October 29 that it tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes “conducting significant military manoeuvers” in international airspace close to the borders of the European Union during the previous 24 hours.

NATO’s SHAPE military headquarters in Mons, Belgium said: “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

It said the planes included strategic bombers, fighters, and tanker aircraft.

They were detected over the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea on October 28 and 29.

Russian bombers flew south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.

Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish, and Turkish fighters were scrambled to intercept and identify the Russian planes.

Planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden also responded.

Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, tensions between NATO and Russia have risen to the highest level since the Cold War.

(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

18:33 October 29, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KREMLIN MOVES TO QUASH PUTIN HEALTH RUMORS

Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on October 29 that the Russian president is in good health, seeking to quash rumors of an illness.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that "everything is okay" with Putin's health, Russian news agencies Interfax and TASS reported.

"They will wait in vain. May their tongues wither," Peskov said of those who claim Putin is ill.

Peskov spoke after a spate of Russian media reports referring to an October 24 column in the tabloid "New York Post" whose author, Richard Johnson, cited unidentified sources as saying Putin had pancreatic cancer.

Putin and the Kremlin have strongly discouraged reporting about the 62-year-old president's private life.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

ROSNEFT THREATENS TO SUE NEWSPAPER OVER SANCTIONS REPORT

Russia's largest oil company, Rosneft, is threatening to sue the Russian daily "Kommersant" for a report alleging Rosneft sent President Vladimir Putin proposals for countersanctions against Western companies and individuals.

"Kommersant" reported on October 29 that state-run Rosneft's proposals include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied there were any Rosneft proposals for sanctions, but presidential aide Andrei Belousov and Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev seemed to contradict this.

State-run TASS reported Peskov said reports Rosneft had sent such proposals were untrue.

Peskov said decisions on imposing sanctions were made "in line with the relevant departments, and taken on the level of the government and president."

A different TASS report quoted Belousov as saying, "We are closely studying Rosneft's proposals."

Belousov went on to say, "I would say the radicalism of the proposals for now exceeds the current level of tensions."

The Interfax news agency quoted Ulyukayev as saying the proposals were a "very complex document" and adding, "I don’t think it is grounds for making any decisions."

The "Kommersant" report said "Russian government officials" had provided information about the alleged proposals.

A statement from Rosneft said the company was "deeply shocked" by the "Kommersant" article and might sue the newspaper.

Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions target key Russian industries and individuals close to Putin, including Rosneft and its head, Igor Sechin, who is a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff.

The sanctions have hurt Rosneft, which has already requested additional funding from the Russian government to make up for losses incurred due to sanctions.

British oil company BP reported on October 28 that its income from its operations with Rosneft dropped from $808 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $110 million in the same period this year.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, Reuters, and Kommersant)

WHITE HOUSE DETECTS SUSPICIOUS CYBER ACTIVITY, REPORT BLAMES RUSSIA

The White House says it has taken measures to counter suspicious activity detected on its unclassified computer network.

A White House official would not say who might have been responsible for the activity on what was described as an unclassified computer network used by employees of the Executive Office of the President.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had taken "immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity."

In a report on October 28, the "Washington Post" cited sources as saying hackers believed to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified computer network in recent weeks.

The White House has declined to comment on the "Washington Post" report.

A U.S. administration official said there were no indications that classified networks had been affected.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa)

VICTIMS OF STALIN TERROR REMEMBERED IN MOSCOW CEREMONY

By RFE/RL

Activists are gathering near the former KGB headquarters to honor the memory of thousands of men and women executed by Soviet authorities during Josef Stalin's "Great Terror."

Speakers at the daylong ceremony at the Solovetsky Stone memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square read out aloud the names, ages, occupations, and dates of executions of some 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities in 1937-1938.

Muscovites and others brought flowers, pictures of victims and candles to the site of the "Returning the Names" commemoration, which began at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time) and was to end at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time).

The annual ceremony is organized by Memorial, Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organization, which is under pressure from the government.

On October 10, Russia's Justice Ministry appealed to the Supreme Court to close Memorial.

Memorial has held the ceremony every year since 2006 at the site near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor.

Ceremonies were also being held in other Russian cities.

(Based on live broadcast by october29.ru)

SEPARATISTS SHELL UKRAINIAN TROOPS

Pro-Russian separatists reportedly shelled the position of Ukrainian government troops in southeastern Ukraine on October 29, despite an almost two-month-old cease-fire agreement.

Authorities in the port city of Mariupol say military positions located near the village of Talakovka were targeted on October 29 by conventional artillery and Grad rockets that were fired from from the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk.

Casualties were reported among troops.

The cease-fire agreement signed in early September ended most fighting between the two sides -- although battles at the Donetsk airport, in Mariupol, and in villages near the city of Luhansk continue on an almost daily basis.

The UN says more than 3,700 people have been killed in six months of fighting between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)

RUSSIAN AIRLINE PLANS YEREVAN-CRIMEA FLIGHTS OVER kYIV'S OBJECTIONS

By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

The Grozny Air civil aviation company, based in the Russia's Chechnya region, is pressing ahead with plans to launch regular flights from Yerevan to Crimea, despite protests from Kyiv.

Timur Shimayev, an executive officer for Grozny Air, told RFE/RL on October 29 that the firm's inaugural flight to Crimea is scheduled for November 17.

But Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Kukhta, told reporters in Yerevan on October 29 that any commercial flights between Yerevan and Crimea must first be approved by Kyiv.

Kukhta's statement came five days after a spokesman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, Ruben Grdzelian, said that a Russian regional airline had not been allowed to launch flights between Armenia and Crimea since the Ukrainian penninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea has been condemned as illegal by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly.

 

12:55 October 29, 2014

SANCTION THIS!

The Russian daily "Kommersant" reports that the state-run oil giant Rosneft is calling on President Vladimir Putin to impose new sanctions on the West. The new moves reportedly include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

12:41 October 29, 2014

AND IN THE FALLOUT DEPARTMENT...

Just a few things I've noticed this morning:

Russian-German Trade Down

German exports to Russia have dropped by more than a quarter, "The Moscow Times" reports. In August, exports from Germany to Russia were 2.3 billion euros, a 26.3 percent decrease from a year ago. Moreover, German exports to Russia fell by 16.6 percent from January-August 2014.

Russian Elite More Cohesive -- For Now

According to a report by Reuters, sanctions have had the "opposite effect to the one intended" among the elite. "Far from dividing those closest to President Vladimir Putin, they have forced the main players in the energy sector to rally behind him. This circle has by necessity become more focused, Western and Russian businessmen, diplomats and politicians said," according to the report.

Sweden Is Warming Up To NATO

Foreign Directors Bail On Russian Firms

Since the start of the year, 14 percent of foreigners serving on the boards of Russian firms have left their posts, "The Moscow Times" reports. "Western sanctions have forced some foreign directors to step down or curb their activities on the boards of publicly traded Russian companies, leaving a critical gap that few domestic candidates are equipped to fill," according to the report.

09:17 October 29, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE TO RESUME GAS TALKS

Russia and Ukraine are set to resume talks over a gas dispute on October 29 in Brussels.

The new round of negotiations comes after inconclusive talks October 21, when European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced some progress, but said a final deal has yet to be agreed.

Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt.

Oettinger said that, as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of Russian gas before the end of this year.

Russia on October 21 said the it would sell gas to Ukraine for $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

Moscow said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- but only if Ukraine pays in advance.

(Based on reporting by AFP and AP)

KYIV CONDEMNS MOSCOW'S SUPPORT FOR SEPARATIST ELECTIONS

Ukraine on October 28 condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s support for elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while the United States said a vote by separatists in eastern Ukraine would be unlawful.

The November 2 vote was scheduled by rebels in defiance of Ukrainian national elections on October 26, which were won by pro-Western parties.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 28 described the vote planned by rebels as "pseudo-elections," saying they "grossly contradict the spirit and letter" of international agreements reached in Minsk in September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow plans to recognize the elections that are being organized by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the the vote "will be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements."

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and TASS)

GAZPROM NEFT CHALLENGES EU SANCTIONS IN EUROPEAN COURT

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, said on October 28 that it has challenged European Union sanctions against the firm in the EU’s Court of Justice.

The sanctions against Gazprom Neft were imposed as part of wider restrictions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU sanctions restrict the ability of Gazprom Neft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer by output, to raise funds on European markets.

The United States also has imposed sanctions against Gazprom Neft in response to Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis.

The West says Moscow is supplying arms and troops to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine battle Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow denies that, despite increasing evidence to support the charges.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS)

18:54 October 27, 2014

THE BIG CHILL

Sam Greene, Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and author of "Moscow in Movement: Power & Opposition in Putin’s Russia," has a depressing (and must-read) blog post up about his recent trip to Moscow titled: "Russia's Tomorrow, Today."

It opens like this:

The news and the invitation were waiting for me, both, when I got off the plane from London to Moscow. I saw the invitation first—from a long-time colleague, to attend a workshop on the future of Russian politics later this month at Memorial, the venerable Russian historical society and human rights organization. I saw the news two hours later: 17 days after that workshop, Russia’s High Court will hold a hearing on the government’s demand that Memorial be liquidated.

That is the condition of life in Russia these days: two hours in which an invitation takes on a funerary pallor, 17 days in which the world becomes immeasurably smaller. Rarely has the distance between today and tomorrow been so great and so fraught as it is now.

And it concludes like this:

The tomorrow whose arrival now seems inevitable is one in which the archives of Memorial and the Sakharov Center disappear, to be replaced with a single national history textbook and a single national literature textbook, so that the past may have no bearing on the future. It is one in which policy analysis disappears from the public space, along with honest reporting, so that the present may also have no bearing on the future. Tomorrow, when it arrives, will bring one sole purpose: to preserve and protect the status quo. It is a tomorrow after which there are meant to be, politically speaking, no more tomorrows at all..

What the designers of this new tomorrow may not realize, however, is that, once freed from the paralysis of a pointless today, the despair of disaffection becomes the desperation of dissent. Dissidents, pitted against a regime that can never fall, take risks that are unnecessary in a more fluid system. They speak at all costs to demonstrate that they have no voice, and they go to jail to demonstrate that they are not free. Once today becomes tomorrow, and there are no more tomorrows for which to wait, the imperative of immediate action reemerges. 

Is the Kremlin ready for an opposition that, because everything is already lost, has nothing left to lose?

Read it all here.

And a h/t to Ben Judah for flagging.

 

15:42 October 27, 2014

FROM THE YOU-CAN'T-MAKE-THIS-STUFF-UP DEPARTMENT

The Russian health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has issued a dire warning: SEFIES CAUSE HEAD LICE!

No, really. I'm serious! It is actually on their official website:

"One reason for the spread of lice among teenagers, in the opinion of experts, is because selfie photographs have become more common. In these group photos, lice are transfered due to the touching of heads."

And it is causing a lot of laughs on the Twitter:

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