Tuesday, September 30, 2014


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
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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
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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
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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
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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


Podcast: The Sochi Syndrome

Sochi 2014, a metaphor for Russia

They're finally here!

After years of anticipation, the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi are finally underway.

What do the the seven years of preparations for the Sochi Olympics illustrate about Russia? And how will things develop once Vladimir Putin's big party is over?

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss Sochi as a metaphor for Russia.

Joining me is 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.

Also on the podcast, Mark and I discuss recent efforts by the Kremlin to rein in social networks and new media -- including the recent moves against Dozhd TV.

Enjoy...
Power Vertical Podcast -- February 7, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- February 7, 2014i
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Sochi Olympics, Russian politics, Russia corruption


The Kremlin Plays Whac-A-Mole

A woman attends a protest in Russia against Internet censorship, with a sign over her mouth reading "censorship."

Russia's nationalists are going anarchist. Or at least some of them are, sort of.

Take the movement "Russia Will Liberate Itself" or RONS, for example. The group's website features some of the normal expected nationalist staples: support for Orthodox Christian values, opposition to multiculturalism, revival of Russian culture, etc.

But they also declare themselves to be "opponents of the current regime" and call for its overthrow. And their site offers a series of highly technical -- albeit surprisingly readable -- primers that would please the hearts of many self-respecting liberals, libertarians, and, yes, anarchists.

There's a helpful little manual on "how to access blocked Internet sites," for example. And there's a list of dos and don'ts in case anyone suspects the FSB is tapping their phone. 

RONS is yet another example of how the Kremlin has lost control of the nationalist groups they once manipulated and used so effectively. But it also illustrates something else: despite the Kremlin's best efforts, and all the tools at its disposal, it will be increasingly difficult for the regime to regain complete control of Russia's information space.

"The Russian authorities are putting ever more pressure on the Internet in the hopes of imposing Kremlin control on the last relatively free segment of the Russian media," Paul Goble wrote on his blog "Window on Eurasia," which flagged RONS efforts in a recent post. 

"But their efforts are being countered by those most affected who are offering what they describe as 'very easy' workarounds so that those who want to visit banned sites can.

From the de facto takeover of the popular VKontakte, to new legislation making it even easier for the authorities to block websites they find distasteful, to the recent assault on Dozhd TV, the Kremlin is clearly trying to rein in new media and reassert control over the narrative.

The apparently imminent removal of the iconoclastic Pavel Durov as CEO of VKontakte has been widely interpreted as the endgame of a long campaign to gain control of a popular social-networking site that has been frequently used to organize opposition protests. (When the authorities told Durov to block VKontakte pages operated by anti-Kremlin activists in late 2011, he responded by tweeting a photo of a dog sticking its tongue out.) 

Cable- and satellite-television providers' decision to drop Dozhd TV after it aired a controversial poll on the Leningrad blockade looks like an obvious attempt to effectively shut down a key alternative media outlet.

And legislation signed by President Vladimir Putin in December enables prosecutors to block websites advocating "extremism" -- without a court order. Putin also signed a law criminalizing online calls for separatism. And another proposal seeks to allow for sites that publish incorrect information about banks to be blocked without a court hearing. In an editorial, Gazeta.ru quipped that the word "devaluation" could soon be forbidden.

"The goal is to erect a huge media wall to protect the authorities and isolate Russia from the free world," Yulia Latynina wrote recently in "The Moscow Times." "They are building that wall slowly but steadily."  

They may be. But that wall is bound to have many cracks in it, tunnels under it, and backdoors around it.

Dozhd TV may be on the ropes. But the channel's success has proven that there is a growing market for independent media that will sooner or later be filled -- one way or another.

The Kremlin may finally have gotten rid of Durov and gotten VKontakte under control. But this should provide an excellent expansion opportunity for Facebook -- or a startup opportunity for Russia's next Internet guru. 

And as RONS illustrates, young tech-savvy Russians -- regardless of their ideological bent -- are adept at finding workarounds when the authorities seek to block troublesome websites.

The Kremlin is late to the new media party. The regime has long focused its attention on corralling and controlling traditional media while ignoring the growing communities and outlets springing up online. And now, with Internet penetration at 59 percent, they are forced to play Whac-A-Mole

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:Russian Internet, Dozhd TV, VKontakte


Audio Podcast: Two States. One Revolution?

Takin' it to the streets.

It's an uprising fueled by the young.

It features an odd alliance of nationalists and pro-Western liberals.

It's taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers and has baffled the regime with its mastery of social media.

It's goals are to replace a corrupt authoritarian regime with a more pluralistic and inclusive political system.

Wait. Are we talking about Russia or Ukraine?

Or are we talking about both?

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast we ask whether Bolotnaya and the Euromaidan are two parts of the same incomplete post-Soviet revolution. Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and an expert on Russia's security services and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," and guest Sean Guillory, a fellow at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog."

Also on the podcast, Mark, Sean, and I discuss Aleksei Navalny's return to the headlines this week and what awaits him in the coming political season.

Enjoy...
Power Vertical Podcast -- January 31, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- January 31, 2014i
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Euromaidan, Russian opposition


The Russomaidan

A tale of two cities. Which is Moscow and which is Kyiv?

Aleksei Navalny has Ukraine on his mind.

The anticorruption blogger and opposition leader has been plugging the Euromaidan protests on his blog and promoting them relentlessly on his Twitter feed

Over the weekend, he approvingly retweeted an image posted by a Ukrainian activist -- a mock-up of a video-game screen. "If you were born in Ukraine or Russia, then you have chosen the most difficult level of play. But Russians are still at the first stage, while we are already wiping out the last big boss," the screen read.

"Ha ha! Excellent!" Navalny wrote.

Navalny's interest in the events in Ukraine and his support for the Euromaidan is hardly surprising.  His ongoing battle with the Kremlin and the intensifying upheaval in Ukraine are, in many ways, part and parcel of the same process.

"What is happening in Kyiv is not even strictly a Ukrainian revolution, nor is it simply a continuation of the events of 2004.  It is a continuation of the events of the late 1980s, a still ongoing perestroika," political commentator Aleksei Kolesnikov wrote recently in Gazeta.ru. 

"The empire is still disintegrating -- it is a long, multistep, multistage process."

It's also a slow process, a tortoise revolution, if you will.  

"The process has not ended," Kolesnikov wrote. "It was not exhausted by the 1990s or by the events of 2011-12, and may not be completed by the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution" in 2017.

And one of the things driving the process at this stage is the coming of age of a generation, in both Russia and Ukraine, which was born after the Soviet collapse. The Ukrainian activists use of a video-game metaphor on Twitter and Navalny's positive reaction to it are apropos; this is very much a revolution of the young.

In both Russia and Ukraine, the post-Soviet generation that is fueling the respective protest movements appears more liberal than that of their parents, aspiring to a more pluralistic, less corrupt, and less authoritarian political system. But, at the same time, they appear, by and large, to be simultaneously more nationalistic as well.

This is evident in the antimigrant sentiment prevalent in Russia, particularly among the young and well-educated and in Navalny's attempts to carve out a political niche as a "liberal nationalist." 

In Ukraine, it is evident in the prominent role nationalist youth groups from the country's west have played in the protests.

This politically active youth has no memories of -- and certainly no nostalgia for -- the multiethnic Soviet Union. In Russia, this manifests itself in the antimigrant slogan "Russia for Russians" as well as in opposition to what nationalists call Vladimir Putin's "Chekist regime." In Ukraine, it manifests itself in a yearning to be free of Moscow's influence and meddling -- which all too often veers into overt Russophobia.

The marriage of liberalism and nationalism has a historical precedent in 19th century Europe, when national liberation from empires went hand in hand with calls for political liberalization.

But, in a multiethnic Russian Federation and in a Ukraine with a large Russophone population, nationalism and liberalism inevitably come into conflict -- unless, that is, ethnic nationalism evolves into an inclusive form of civic patriotism.

"To ignore the alienation of Russophone Ukraine is to fundamentally misunderstand the prospects of the current protests," Leonid Ragozin wrote in a particularly thoughtful piece this week in "The New Republic." 

"Russophone Ukraine has a decisive say when it comes to the country’s future. Ukraine is not and will never be a classic monocultural eastern European nation state."

But if the Euromaidan movement successfully reached out to the Russophone population, he adds, they could become valuable allies.

"There is no reason why Ukraine's Russophone inhabitants should not support the protests. Euromaidan protesters want their country to join the European Union, and the EU has many qualities that should make it attractive to the Russophones," Ragozin writes, noting Brussels' protection of regional languages and minorities and its social welfare guarantees.

The Twitter image of the mock video-game screen that got Navalny's attention also pointed to another truth about the respective Ukrainian and Russian protest movements: the process is much farther along in Ukraine than in Russia.

Compared to its southern neighbor, Russia's political system is more tightly controlled, its economic elite is more obedient and housebroken, and the security services have much more political clout, as Julia Ioffe pointed out in a recent article

It will take time and not a small amount of skill to turn Bolotnaya into a Maidan

But success for Ukraine's Euromaidan protesters could deal a significant -- if not mortal -- blow to the corrupt political and economic model Putin has fine-tuned in Russia and is working to export to the rest of the former Soviet space. 

"The Putin epoch has been called a stage of post-revolutionary stabilization, but it hasn't turned out that way," Kolesnikov wrote in Gazeta.ru. 

"It is merely a period of the ongoing perestroika revolution and the half-dissolution of the Soviet imperial essence."

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast on January 31 when I will discuss and debate the issues raised in this post with co-host Mark Galeotti and guest Sean Guillory.

Audio The Yukos Endgame

Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev

He was always the other guy in the case. Mikhail Khodorkovsky's silver-haired business partner was charged with the same crimes and received the same sentences as his more famous associate.

But when Khodorkovsky walked free in December after being pardoned by President Vladimir Putin, Platon Lebedev remained behind bars.

Until now, that is.

In the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss the machinations surrounding Lebedev's release.

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at NYU and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," and guest Sean Guillory, a fellow at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog."

Also on the podcast, Mark, Sean, and I discuss the reemergence of Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin. And just for fun, we chatted about an odd photo from Sochi that went viral this week.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- January 24, 2014
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Tags:Mikhail Khodorkovsky


Audio Podcast: The Political Games

Sports seems to be the last thing to come up in discussions about the Sochi Olympics.

In less than a month, the most expensive Olympic Games in history will start. But in the run-up to Sochi, there has been little discussion about sports.

Instead, the focus has been on politics, human rights, and the ever-present threat of terrorism.

What will LGBT activists -- and athletes -- do at the Games? How will the Russian authorities respond? Will Chechen militant Doku Umarov pull off a terrorist attack as he has pledged to do? And how will the Sochi Olympics, which have been shrouded in controversy almost from the outset, make Russia look to the world?

Such questions are overshadowing ones about who will take home the most Olympic gold.

In the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss the upcoming Sochi Olympics and what they might portend politically. Joining me were 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."

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- January 10, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- January 10, 2014i
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The Power Vertical Feed

LIVE Russia in real time. More

Mikhail Zygar, editor in Chief of Dozhd TV, wins International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists

Some reactions to Russia ending the FLEX high school exchange program:

Stanford University Professor Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Ukrainian Social Researcher Irene Fedets

Fulbright Scholar Sergeu Kostyaev

Lena Osipova, OPhD Student at School of International Service, American University

From the always insightful Sean Guillory

"Novorossyia is just a cinematic project to rile up the population anyway. The “heroes” have always been actors in a larger drama, and when this series jumps the shark, its production set will be folded up and the stage will be prepared for a new theatrical work to dazzle the spectator. The cinematography deployed to turn Russia into “war state” is all just the tactics. We shouldn’t so quickly substitute smoke and mirrors for reality. Putin’s real strategy is to hobble Ukraine and humble the West, and on that he’s doing pretty damn well."

As usual, Paul Goble already a lot of great content up at his Window on Eurasia blog. Does that man ever sleep? As I've said before, Window on Eurasia is one of the best resources available in the English language for Russia watchers. The volume of material -- not to mention the quality -- is amazing. Does this guy ever sleep? 

A couple things that immediately caught my eye today:

A post about how Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka is "quietly purging" a "pro-Moscow 'Fifth Column'" in his regime. 

"Concerned that Moscow might engineer a regime change in Belarus as a follow on to its actions in Ukraine, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been purging pro-Russian officials from his regime – but in a very quiet way lest he provoke Moscow as a result."

The piece cited reports in "Nasha Niva" and "Obozrevatel

There's also a piece, citing the web portal "Novy Kaliningrad" that looks at whether Kaliningrad's Muslim community might rebel against Moscow. 

"The 100,000-strong Muslim community of Kaliningrad is running out of options in the Russian legal system to secure land for the construction of a mosque in that Russian exclave and consequently will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, according to their lawyer Dagir Khasavov.

But meanwhile, continuing opposition by regional officials to a mosque, Irshat Khisamov, head of the Muslim community in the oblast, says, is having “an extremely negative” impact on the members of his community. And many of them believe the governor there wants 'a Maidan like the one in Ukraine.'"

 

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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