Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Audio Podcast: Ukraine's Loyalist Russians

An ethnic Russian or Ukrainian?

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we take a closer look at Ukraine's loyalist ethnic Russians. Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Ukrainian and Russian history at Kyiv Mohyla University, and Natalya Churikova, senior editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and host of the program "European Connect." 

Enjoy...

Podcast: Ukraine's Loyalist Russians
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russia, Ukraine Crisis, Ukraine


Putin's Class Of 2014

Activists sit near graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summer camp of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi at Lake Seliger this past summer.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday.

It has focused on attracting urbane and educated young adults -- the exact demographic that made up the backbone of the antigovernment street protests that roiled the Kremlin in late 2011 and early 2012.

Grigory Tumanov, a journalist covering Kremlin youth policy for the daily "Kommersant," recently told "Foreign Policy" that Russia's twentysomethings don't "know about politics" and "just want to dress nicely and draw graffiti."

"Here, they've made it fashionable to work with the government," he said.

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

"The most interesting and exciting process unfolding today is in the lower and middle levels of the power vertical," historian and Kremlin-watcher Vladimir Pastukhov wrote in a recent article in Polit.ru.  "There is a massive and rapid rejuvenation of personnel." 

According to Pastukhov, this fledgling new nomenklatura is between 25 and 35 years old, hails mostly from the regions, and comes from relatively poor backgrounds. Their recruitment, he adds, has been connected "either directly or indirectly" to the security services.

"Not that they are all chekists," he wrote. "But the security services had a hand in their recruitment."

They were recruited and selected based on their loyalty to the regime and for being "psychologically closer to Putin" than their predecessors. They are also "people without deep roots" who are "ready for anything" that facilitates their advancement.

"So far, their political consciousness is a tabula rasa on which you can draw anything," Pastukhov wrote. "In these brains, you can download any ideological software. The main thing is that it does not interfere with a successful career."

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble, who flagged the Pastukhov article on his "Window on Eurasia" blog, wrote that the "new generation of officials...are more like the Soviet-era nomenklatura than like the people they are replacing."

The shift, Goble wrote, "one largely taking place without fanfare, will have far-reaching consequences for how Russia is ruled well into the future, even if few at the present time are talking about it."

The dual-pronged youth strategy seeks to address two problems that have been plaguing the regime since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012: an urban-hipster creative class that was in revolt and an underclass in the provinces among whom discontent could easily spread.

The Kremlin gave the former shiny new toys to play with and the latter the possibility of upward mobility.

Without overplaying the analogy, this stealthy, managed generational shift in the nomenklatura is somewhat reminiscent of Josef Stalin's vaunted "Class of 1938," the cadre of officials who were also brought to Moscow from the provinces in the wake of the purges -- and ruled the Soviet Union from the death of Stalin to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev.

But the analogy may be apt to a degree if Putin faces a revolt among the technocratic wing of the elite, which is becoming increasingly jittery about the economic impact of Russia's confrontation with -- and increased isolation from -- the West.

If the current elite balks at Russia's moves toward greater autarky, Putin may have "no choice but to wage an authoritarian and populist revolution from above," veteran journalist Ivan Sukhov wrote recently in "The Moscow Times."

In such a case, he added, "following Stalin's example looks increasingly attractive if Putin wants to stay in the game."

And in the event of such an elite purge, Putin's "Class of 2014," now filling the lower and middle ranks of the bureaucracy, will be poised to fill the void -- just as Stalin's "Class of 1938" did more than seven decades ago.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:Power Vertical blog, Russian politics, Vladimir Putin


Podcast: The Tatars Feel The Heat

Amid a Kremlin crackdown, Crimea's Tatars protest and bury their dead.

Petty harassment, raids on mosques, questionable prosecutions, extrajudicial abductions, torture -- and even killings.

Six months after Russia's forceful annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, the peninsula's 250,000 Tatars are feeling the heat.

Moscow initially tried to woo and co-opt Crimea's Tatar community. But when that effort fell flat, the Kremlin pivoted to its default setting -- the tried and true application of force and fear.

Does the campaign against the Crimean Tatars risk galvanizing -- and potentially radicalizing -- Russia's 5-million-strong Tatar community and turning the country's largest ethnic minority into opponents of the regime? 

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we take a look at the Kremlin's campaign against the Crimean Tatars and what it portends. Joining me are Rim Gilfanov, director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service; Merkhat Sharipzhan, a senior correspondent and analyst for RFE/RL's Central Newsroom; and 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, we discuss the Vladimir Putin personality cult, which was on full display for the Kremlin leader's 62nd birthday.

Enjoy...

Podcast: The Tatars Feel The Heat
Podcast: The Tatars Feel The Heati
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russia, Crimean Tatars, Vladimir Putin, Ukraine Crisis


Audio Podcast: The Kremlin's Strangest Policy Balloon

"Vengeance of Serfs," an 1845 engraving by Charles Michel Geoffroy

Serfdom is freedom. Liberation is slavery. These days, the signs of the times aren't exactly subtle.

Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin's recent article praising the institution of serfdom and critiquing its abolition in 1861 raised more than a few eyebrows.

Russia, of course, isn't going back to serfdom. And Zorkin, despite the claims of some critics, wasn't calling for this.

But in Russia, history is never just history. And articles like this don't appear in the government's official newspaper by accident. They are usually meant to send some kind of message to the elite. 

Moreover, in recent years, Zorkin has sometimes acted as a pamphleteer for the Kremlin who telegraphs an emerging policy line.

But if this was a policy balloon, it sure was a doozy.

So what was the real message of this strange and controversial article and what does it portend? On this week's "Power Vertical Podcast," we try to unpack Zorkin's message and take a closer look at Russia's increasingly conservative ideology and political climate.

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

Enjoy...

The Kremlin's Strangest Policy Balloon
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russian politics, Valery Zorkin, Serfdom


Podcast: Fear And Foreboding In The Kremlin Court

Fear and loathing in Moscow

Two dramatic arrests, 11 years apart. Two mighty oligarchs fall out with the Kremlin -- and take a steep fall. Two signals that an existing political era is coming to an end.

When Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the politically connected CEO of the Sistema conglomerate, was detained and charged with money laundering last week, it sent shock waves through the country's business community.

It also drew inevitable comparisons to the arrest in October 2003 of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Russia's richest man.

But if Khodorkovsky's fall more than a decade ago heralded the consolidation of the Russian political elite under President Vladimir Putin -- and ushered in the heady era of high Putinism -- Yevtushenkov's arrest on September 16 appears to indicate something else entirely.

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss how the Yevtushenkov case has spread fear and apprehension among the Russian elite. 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 Ben Judah, author of the book "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love With Vladimir Putin."

Enjoy...

Fear And Foreboding In The Kremlin Court
Fear And Foreboding In The Kremlin Courti
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Vladimir Yevtushenkov, Vladimir Putin, Russian politics


Audio Podcast: The New NATO

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels on August 29.

For decades, the West pretended Russia was a partner -- not an adversary -- and sought ways to accommodate Moscow. 

But, as NATO heads of state and government prepare to hold what promises to be a landmark summit in Wales, the mask has come off.

In a special edition of the Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss the upcoming NATO Summit and the emerging conflict between Russia and the West.

Joining me is co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on military and security issues, and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- September 2, 2014
The New Natoi
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russia, NATO, Ukraine Crisis


Audio Podcast: What Does Putin Want?

What does he really want?

It's alluring to assume that Vladimir Putin always has some diabolical master plan up his sleeve -- and often he does 

But there is also ample evidence as the crisis in Ukraine escalates that Kremlin policy is becoming incoherent, erratic, and chaotic.

So what does Putin really want in Ukraine? How cohesive is the Russian elite over the issue? And what happens next?

ALSO READ: Putin's Plan? Or Kremlin Chaos?
 

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss these issues. Joining me are Sean Guillory, social media coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of Sean's Russia Blog; and Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newary and author of numerous books on post-Soviet affairs.

Also on the podcast, we discuss how the war in Ukraine is coming home for Russians as casualties mount in the Donbas.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- August 29, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- August 29, 2014i
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russian politics, Vladimir Putin, Ukraine Crisis


Putin's Plan? Or Kremlin Chaos?

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after talks with Ukrainian President in Minsk on August 27.

It's tempting to assume that Vladimir Putin always has a master plan.

And why not? He's cunning and shrewd. He's steely and ruthless. He's cold and calculating. And his political life has been so charmed that many Russians, as well as many Kremlin-watchers, think he has an almost supernatural -- or at least preternatural -- ability to come out on top.

It's also long been conventional wisdom that important decisions in Russia are made by a so-called "collective Putin," a cabal of oligarchs and security-service veterans close to the Kremlin leader who make up the inner sanctum of Russia's deep state. It reached decisions by consensus with Putin acting as the ultimate decider and arbiter.

But recently, Kremlin policy appears erratic, inconsistent, and sometimes downright incoherent.

Over the past couple weeks it appeared that Putin was looking for a face-saving way to wind down the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

But even as the Kremlin leader was meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on August 26, he was escalating the conflict and sending in Russian troops.

Is that all just part of the plan? Or is Putin himself becoming erratic? And is the collective Putin coming unglued?

There have certainly been signs that this might be the case. There have been whispers in Moscow, for example, that Putin has become increasingly withdrawn and isolated. He's appearing live on television less frequently, and when he does it only adds to the speculation that something isn't quite right.

For example, Putin was scheduled to make a major address to the nation on August 7, only to have the speech cancelled without explanation.

Then, on August 14, the Russian president addressed a group of officials and lawmakers in Yalta, an event the Kremlin had been hyping for weeks. ITAR-TASS said that it would be a "major" speech and the meeting with lawmakers would be "profound and comprehensive." The state-run Rossia-1 television channel said it would be "the political event of the week."

But at the last minute, the Kremlin pulled the plug on a planned live broadcast of the event.

Writing on Facebook, opposition journalist Sergei Parkhomenko called it "Putin's second false start," adding, "I wonder what it is he cannot bring himself to do?"

Journalist and political analyst Yevgenia Albats suggested on Ekho Moskvy that the confusion illustrated a deep split in Putin's inner circle. "I have the impression that there is a struggle" between "very dark forces" seeking to "intimidate" the West and "more pragmatic comrades who realize that, after all, their money is there," she said on August 18.

If such a battle was going on -- and I suspect it was -- the hard-liners appear to have won a round with Russia's escalation in Donbas over the past week.

But when Putin appeared live on television in the early morning hours on August 27, as that escalation was getting under way in earnest, something was clearly amiss.

Throughout his remarks in Minsk after his two-hour meeting with Poroshenko -- remarks that were fairly unremarkable -- Putin swayed to-and-fro and made odd gestures. His facial expressions were off. It definitely wasn't the cocksure Putin we've come to expect.

"Something appears to be wrong with him. He twitches and grimaces at random," Yelena Rykovtseva of RFE/RL's Russian Service wrote on Facebook. "Maybe this is why they didn't show him in Crimea." 

And Putin's latest remarks on the conflict on August 29, in which he lauded pro-Russian separatists for "undermining Kiev's military operation" were not televised. Instead, they came were released on the Kremlin website in the early morning hours.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast on August 29 when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newark.

 

Tags:Power Vertical blog, Ukraine Crisis, Vladimir Putin


Freezing The Donbas

Smoke rises during fighting in Makiyivka, about 20 kilometers from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

We've been here before. Most of the world just wasn't paying attention.

When Russian-backed separatists seized control of Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in the early 1990s, it didn't make international headlines. Likewise, when separatist fighters in Moldova's Transdniester region took control of that strip of territory with Moscow's implicit blessing, it was largely met with a collective yawn in the international community.

The script and the playbook have been the same as has the result: exploiting a local ethnic conflict, the Kremlin has repeatedly used local proxies, and then its own troops to seize de facto control of a breakaway region in a former Soviet state. And all the while Moscow has maintained a semblance of plausible deniability that it was the conflicts' principal instigator. 

The result was a series of "frozen conflicts" that Moscow has been able to use to influence and pressure its neighbors. 

And with Russian troops now clearly moving into Ukraine -- opening a new front, assisting separatists in seizing control of the strategic town of Novoazovsk, and halting gains by the Ukrainian Army in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts -- an increasing number of analysts say Vladimir Putin's endgame is to seize as much territory as possible and then freeze the conflict in the Donbas.

"Putin would appear to win, securing Crimea, a frozen conflict in Donbas, which he will assume will cripple the Ukrainian economy and the prospects of a Maidan administration ever succeeding," Timothy Ash, a senior analyst of emerging markets for Standard Bank in London, wrote in the "Kyiv Post." 

Likewise, Arkady Moshes of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs wrote recently in "The Moscow Times" that such an outcome in eastern Ukraine would "become a source of destabilization for Ukraine's adjacent regions" and open "the way for a real Bosnianization of Ukraine." 

And in a report from Transdniester's de facto capital, Tiraspol, the Russian journalist Sergei Podosenov noted that "to a certain extent, Transdniester could represent the favorable scenario for self-proclaimed Novorossia in the event of its secession from Ukraine." 

Tiraspol, he added, "does not look like the capital of a tiny state recognized by no one and located in unfriendly surroundings, but like an everyday, quiet, southern Russian city with little houses covered in ivy."

So are we about to add Donbas to the list of Kremlin-orchestrated frozen conflicts? Perhaps, with some important caveats.

The wars in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transdniester that led to those territories becoming de facto Russian protectorates all took place in the early 1990s, in the chaos following the break-up of the Soviet Union. 

"The majority of the current unrecognized states in the former Soviet space emerged atop the wave of the 'parade of sovereignties,' when this was a sort of political trend," journalist Vladimir Dergachev wrote on gazeta.ru recently. 

And as a result, the uprisings there appeared to much of the world at the time to be genuine local rebellions, and therefore not so different from the former Soviet republics' independence struggles. In this environment, Russia was able to plausibly claim to be a mediator -- and ultimately to play the role of "peacekeeper" -- in conflicts that it had itself stoked.

And they were able to do so with the West's implicit blessing, or at least tacit consent.

This time, the mask would be off and Moscow wouldn't be able to pursue its goals by stealth. Setting up a frozen conflict in Donbas would intensify Russia's conflict with the West, lead to even more crippling sanctions, and Moscow's deeper isolation. 

"Moscow retained for itself the status of a relatively neutral intermediary in Abkhazia and South Ossetia until 2008, and in Transdniester and Nagorno-Karabakh to this day. In this instance it will no longer be possible," Dergachev wrote.

And knowing the threat that a frozen Donbas conflict would be for Ukraine's statehood, Kyiv would likely prefer to keep the conflict hot. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said he would not allow a Transdniester scenario in eastern Ukraine.

Moreover, until Russia and its proxies can carve out clearly defined continuous territory, it will be difficult to freeze the conflict. "Strictly speaking, to this day no republics -- even self-proclaimed ones -- exist in the political sense. What we have is an uprising or insurgency," Dergachev wrote.

A more apt analogy than Transdniester, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, he added, would be Srpska Krajina, the Serbian-backed enclave in Croatia that existed from 1991 until it was retaken by Zagreb.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:Power Vertical blog, Ukraine Crisis, Frozen Conflicts, Donbas


Podcast: Russia's Elusive New Normal

Since the annexation of Crimea in March, and throughout the conflict in the Donbas region, much of the Russian elite and public have been living in something of a collective hallucination. Fantasies about imperial glory and "Novorossia" were in the air. St. George ribbons were ubiquitous. And Putin's popularity surged past 80 percent.

It was a dizzying mirage that reset Russia's domestic politics.

But eventually reality intrudes on every hallucination -- and that reality is often accompanied by a nasty hangover.

So if the Ukraine crisis is really winding down, if the hallucination is really over, what will the new normal look like?

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss this issue. Joining me are Peter Pomerantsev, author or the forthcoming book "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia," and Ben Judah, author of the book "Fragile Empire: How Russians Fell Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin."

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- August 22, 2014
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russian politics, Ukraine Crisis, Vladimir Putin


Podcast: Putin's Choice

What will he do? And what are the consequences?

After months of fierce fighting, frantic diplomacy, and bitter acrimony, Russia's nonlinear proxy war in eastern Ukraine crisis appears to be careening toward an endgame. And Vladimir Putin appears to be losing the initiative and running out of options.

Throughout Putin's 15 years in power, he has seemed to have an almost supernatural ability to, one way or the other, consistently come out on top. Has his luck finally run out? Or can he pull yet another rabbit out of the hat?

In the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss Putin's options and their consequences as the Ukraine crisis moves into a decisive juncture.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a longtime Kremlin watcher, an expert on Russian nationalism, and a professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, and Peter Pomerantsev, author of the forthcoming book "Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia."

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- August 15, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- August 15, 2014i
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Ukraine Crisis, Vladimir Putin

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

11:12

THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF RUSSIA'S 'GAS WEAPON'

In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.

 

08:27

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-UKRAINE GAS DEAL REPORTEDLY CLOSER

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

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

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

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

PROSECUTORS TARGET EKHO MOSKVY

The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)

PUTIN, POROSHENKO DISCUSS CEASEFIRE AND GAS SUPPLIES

The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and kremlin.ru)

RUSSIAN INVESTIGATORS SAY 'CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE' BEHIND TOTAL AIR CRASH

Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

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

 

16:08 October 17, 2014

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.

AND A NEW POWER VERTICAL PODCAST COMING SOON

We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.

 

13:25 October 17, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-WEST RIFT PERSIST AFTER DIFFICULT UKRAINE CRISIS TALKS

By RFE/RL

Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

GEORGIAN PM SAYS NO PROGRESS NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

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

RUSSIA DETAINS TWO JOURNALISTS OVER WORKSHOP

Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

18:00 October 16, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's Newes Desk:

PUTIN WARNS EUROPE OF GAS CRISIS THIS WINTER

President Vladimir Putin has warned that Europe faces "major transit risks" to natural gas supplies from Russia this winter.

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies."

Putin made the remarks ahead of talks in Milan on October 16 and 17 with EU leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia Preident Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

The price standoff is the third between Moscow and Kyiv since 2006.

Russia is the EU's biggest gas supplier, providing about a third of the gas consumed there.

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

U.S. HELSINKI COMMITTEE DECRIES RUSSIAN ATTEMPT TO CLOSE MEMORIAL RIGHTS GROUP

By RFE/RL

The U.S. Helsinki Commission says Russia’s attempt to liquidate Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, is “an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience.”

“It is very troubling that an organization founded by [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression,” the commission’s chairman, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, said in an October 16 statement.

Russia's Justice Ministry on October 10 appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to close Memorial, which comprises more than 50 bodies nationwide. The reasons for the request were not made public.

Created in the 1980s by Soviet-era dissidents, Memorial has served as a tireless rights watchdog and important source of Soviet-era records for a quarter century.

PUTIN VOWS TO SUPPORT SERBS ON KOSOVO

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continued support for Serbia on the divisive issue of Kosovo during a state visit that mixed meetings with officials with attendance at a military parade.

Putin is the guest of honor at Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by partisans and Soviet Army troops in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

The visit highlights Serbia's delicate balance between the European Union, which it is seeking to join, and relations with Russia that are rooted in history and religion but encompass economic and geopolitical interests.

Russia angrily criticized the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and has backed Belgrade's opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, defying the United States and preventing Kosovo from getting a seat at the United Nations.

Putin promised Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that Russia would stand firm over Kosovo, saying the Kremlin's stance was "a position of principle that is not to be subjected to any adjustments."

"We supported Serbia in the past and we intend to continue supporting it in the future. In Russia friendship is not an object of trade-offs," Putin said.

Nikolic said Serbia "sees in Russia a great ally and a partner and Serbia won't compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine in an interview on the eve of his visit, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and attempts to do so would hurt Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin used the visit to promote South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project that that the EU has suspended in member states.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream.

Putin told "Politika" the pipeline project would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

Putin's warm Serbian welcome may contrast with greeting he faces hours later at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan, where he will meet Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

NATO says Russian has sent troops and weapons to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people in eastern Ukraine since April, including 298 passengers and crew abroad a Malaysian jet shot down there in July.

Putin said the importance of the liberation anniversary events could not be overestimated.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," he said in the interview.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin said he hopes for peace in Ukraine but suggested Ukrainians whose protests toppled a president sympathetic to Moscow in February presented a Nazi-like threat.

"Unfortunately the vaccine against the Nazi virus ... is losing its potency in some European states.," he told "Politika," adding: "particular concern on this score is prompted by the situation in Ukraine, where there was an anticonstitutional coup d'etat in February whose driving forces were nationalists and other radical groups."

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

However, he told reporters last week that Serbia's "strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of Putin's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

"Nothing better could happen to us," Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, said of Putin's visit. "Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax)

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR AGAINST 'PUTIN PUB' IN BISHKEK

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Krutko, has protested the new "Putin Pub" restaurant in Bishkek.

Krutko said late October 15 that naming "a dubious drinking site" after "our president" is "unethical" and therefore he asked Bishkek authorities to remove the commercial banners and billboards advertising the pub.

Krutko added that he would do everything possible "either to shut down the place or to make it change its name."

Last month, Bishkek authorities removed all billboards and banners in the city that advertised the "Putin Pub."  

The billboards carried a black screen with white and black silhouetted portrait of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a circle with the name of the restaurant -- "Putin Pub," below.  

(With reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek")

17:35 October 16, 2014

UKRAINE CALLS ON ITS CITIZENS TO DITCH VKONTAKTE

VIa slon.ru:

Ukraine's Security Service has urged Ukrainians not to use Russian social networks.

Markiian Lubkovsky, an adviser to the Interior Minister told the television channel "112 Ukraine" that the site "VKontakte" is an "element of pressure and influence." 

"We urge all Ukrainians, all of our citizens to be careful not to use these networks, because they are now part of the information war against Ukraine," he said.

Read it all here. And a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock for flagging.

 

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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