Friday, November 28, 2014

Podcast: A Year Of Living Dangerously

It began -- appropriately for our times -- with a post on a young man's Facebook page. It grew into a revolution that overthrew a president. And it was followed by an undeclared war that rages to this day.

One year ago, the Euromaidan began. And neither Ukraine nor Russia will ever be the same again.

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we look at how this landmark event has changed Ukraine and Russia -- and where each may be headed.

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 Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newark and author of numerous books and articles on post-Soviet affairs.


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Tags:Ukraine, Russia, Power Vertical podcast, Euromaidan, Ukraine Crisis

Podcast: The Kremlin's Mind Bombs

Is it real? Is it an illusion? Does it matter?

If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and denies it's a duck -- it's probably Vladimir Putin's duck.

For the past eight months, the world has been subjected to a blitzkrieg of disinformation, distortions, and outright lies from Kremlin officials and the Russian media.

It's been a wild ride. It's been a baffling reinvention of reality. And its been a mass hallucination. No sooner is one Kremlin myth, lie, or distortion debunked than a dozen more pop up in its place.

But there's a method to this madness. And it happens to be one of the strongest weapons in the Russian arsenal.

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss Russia's weaponization of information and its implications.

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." Mark and I are joined by two authors of a recent report on Russia's information warfare: Peter Pomarantsev, author of the book "Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible," and Michael Weiss, editor in chief of the online magazine "The Interpreter."


Power Vertical Podcast: The Kremlin's Mind Bombs
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Tags:Power Vertical podcast, russian propaganda, Information war

Don't Mention The Cold War

Mikhail Gorbachev says we're "on the brink" of one. Henry Kissinger thinks he knows how to avoid one. And Vladimir Putin seems to be trying to provoke one. 

Cold War talk is in the air and Cold War fears are on the rise. Over the past eight months, according to a report by the London-based European Leadership Network, close military encounters between Russia and the West have spiked to their highest levels in decades.

These include "violations of national air space, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs...harassment of reconnaissance planes, close overflights over warships, and Russian ‘mock bombing raid’ missions."

But despite the rhetoric and the posturing, the escalating conflict between Russia and the West is not a new Cold War.

For this to be a Cold War, Russia would need to be a superpower. It is not. Moscow would need to lead a bloc of nations that enjoys rough parity with the West. It doesn't. And it would need to be offering an alternative model to Western liberal democratic capitalism. It isn't.

"Russia is a mid-sized power that lacks the capacity to shape the international environment single-handedly. It is not in the top league with the U.S. and China," political analyst Vladimir Frolov wrote recently in "The Moscow Times." 

"Moscow suffers from superpower phantom pains, but its ambitions are not backed by economic power or technological prowess. Its sole claim to superpowerdom is its nuclear weapons, brandished too cavalierly."

Despite Moscow's best efforts, there is no Russian-led bloc of countries opposing the West. The much-touted BRICS is essentially a group of mid-level powers clinging to a rising China.

And for all its flaws -- and they were legion -- Soviet communism presented an alternative political and economic system to Western democratic capitalism and an alternative development model that enjoyed some traction, particularly in the Third World. What is Russia offering today? Homophobia and gay bashing masquerading as"traditional values"? A kleptocracy fueled by petrodollars? Fantasies of a revived Russian empire?

"Neither Russia nor even China (whose leaders long ago abandoned the communist vanguard for the pursuit of profit) offer universalist ideologies capable of competing with free market capitalism," Stewart M. Patrick, director of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations International Institutions and Global Governance Program, wrote recently on his blog

At best, Moscow is offering a scattershot critique aimed at appealing to all the foes of globalization, be they on the left or the right.

That the Kremlin is not presenting an alternative to the West is even evident in the nature of its propaganda, as Peter Pomerantsev noted in a recent piece in "The Atlantic." 

Putin's Russia, according to Pomerantsev, "reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action."

Unlike the propaganda promoting Soviet communism, which was based on a universalist and more-or-less internally consistent and logically coherent ideology, facts and proof are irrelevant.

"For the Soviets, the idea of truth was important -- even when they were lying. Soviet propaganda went to great lengths to 'prove' that the Kremlin’s theories or bits of disinformation were fact," he wrote.

"The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted -- to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative."

No, this isn't a Cold War. But guess what? It's even scarier and more dangerous.

During the Cold War the Kremlin had a stake in -- and was interested in maintaining -- the existing international system. Despite its ideology and rhetoric, the Soviet Union after Stalin wasn't revolutionary at all. It was a classic status-quo power.

But in the past 25 years, a new international order has taken shape to replace the bipolar superpower rivalry -- and Moscow doesn't like it. It wants the old 20th-century bipolar world back, or a 19th-century concert of great powers, each free to act in their own spheres of influence.

And if it doesn't get it, it is going to do its best to disrupt the existing order.

"Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, however disingenuously denied and creatively concealed, constitutes a frontal assault on the liberal international order that the United States and its Western allies have done so much to promote and build," Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote. 

Russia's behavior, he added, represents "the resurgence of a more primitive form of power politics" in which established norms like "the principle of sovereignty, the sanctity of borders, the illegitimacy of spheres of influence, and the supremacy of citizenship over ethnicity" are under assault.

The Cold War was a stable and predictable arrangement. The world we are now entering is anything but.

Russia is playing the role of a spoiler. And spoilers bent on challenging the international order -- especially nuclear-armed ones -- are dangerous.

And we've seen this movie before. Napoleonic France tried to disrupt the British-dominated European order in the early 19th century, as did Germany -- twice -- in the early 20th century.

"We are not in a 'revolutionary' period of world politics, in Kissinger’s terms, in which a radical power -- think revolutionary France, Leninist Russia, or Maoist China -- pursues (at least for a while) dreams of world revolution," Patrick wrote.

Not yet. But we could be soon.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:Ukraine Crisis, Cold War

Podcast: The World According To Putin

Putin says the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact wasn't such a bad thing after all.

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past. It's a lesson Vladimir Putin understands well. And one he is putting into practice as we speak.

This week, Putin met in the Kremlin with leading Russian historians to offer some friendly guidance on how Russia's past should be represented.

Putin has taken quite an interest in history of late. And this interest has ominous overtones for Russia's present -- and its future.

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we look at Putin's revision of history and its implications.

Joining me are Rim Gilfanov, a historian who is also director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service; Nina Khrushcheva, a professor at the New School and author of the book "The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind"; and Ola Cichowlas, a journalist covering Russia whose work has appeared in "The New Republic," "Foreign Policy," and "Politico."


Podcast: The World According To Putin
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes. 

Tags:Vladimir Putin, Russian politics, Power Vertical podcast, Russian history

Putin Forever

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill visit an exhibition on the Rurik Dynasty in Moscow on November 4.

As one of his activities marking the Unity Day holiday, Vladimir Putin joined Patriarch Kirill to view an exhibition commemorating the Rurik Dynasty, which established tsarism in Russia and ruled for seven centuries.

What kind of message was he trying to send? If you look hard enough, and even if you don't, it is pretty easy to find signs that Putin intends to stick around for a long, long time.

There was, of course, Vyacheslav Volodin's oft-cited remark that "as long as there is Putin, there is Russia. Without Putin, there is no Russia."  

There was also Putin's "Class of 2014," the large cadre of people in their 20s and 30s who are being recruited from poor families in Russia's far-flung provinces, vetted for loyalty to Putin, and brought to Moscow to fill low- to midlevel posts in the bureaucracy. 

And there was the most recent report by Kremlin-watcher Yevgeny Minchenko, who tracks the balance of power within the elite. Minchenko concluded that due to the "sharp rise of Putin's rating after the reunification with the Crimea, the subject of succession within the president's circle has been removed." 

We've long passed the point where it's feasible to expect Putin to leave the Kremlin and enjoy a peaceful retirement.

That could have happened back in 2008. Remember those rumors that he was going to head up the International Olympic Committee? It could have happened in 2011-12. Had Putin chosen to allow Dmitry Medvedev to serve a second term, he could have continued to rule from the sidelines like China's Deng Xiaoping -- enjoying de facto power without responsibility or accountability.

But at this point, there isn't a safe exit route from the Kremlin.

Putin isn't going to leave willingly. He certainly isn't going to be removed through the sham events Russia calls "elections." A popular revolution is unlikely to say the least -- a Russian ruler hasn't been overthrown in one of those since 1917. Which leaves a palace coup, which was always the most plausible scenario -- but one that looks increasingly remote.

But as remote as it is, Putin is clearly not taking any chances.

And this, I believe, is the context in which we need to view the rumors that surfaced last week that Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev was about to be sacked and replaced by longtime Putin loyalist Viktor Zolotov. 

Writing on his blog "In Moscow's Shadows," New York University professor and Russian security expert Mark Galeotti described Kolokoltsev as "a proper professional copper, rather than a yes-man transplant from the security agencies" like his predecessors, Boris Gryzlov and Rashid Nurgaliev. He also has support among the rank and file. 

"None of that necessarily counts, though, and it is perhaps more important that Kolokoltsev is a professional, not a courtier, with no traction in Putin’s inner circle," Galeotti wrote.

"In other words, he is just a 'manager' there to do his job, and can be discarded freely -- as far as the Kremlin is concerned -- when he becomes inconvenient or simply someone more convenient comes along."

What is also important at this point is that Kolokoltsev is the only official in the so-called "power bloc" who is not a Putin uberloyalist. FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov are all considered politically reliable.

So, probably, is Kolokoltsev. But certainly less so than Zolotov, who is currently Kolokoltsev's first deputy and commander of the Interior Ministry's 170,000-strong paramilitary forces.

Dozhd TV's Anton Zhelov cited unidentified defense ministry sources as saying the "probable reason" for Kolokoltsev's vulnerability is that "he is not part of the president's inner circle, and that in the current environment, this is particularly important. Zolotov is the ideal candidate."

Zolotov and Putin go back. They met in the 1990s when both worked for St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak -- Putin as deputy mayor and Zolotov as chief of security. Zolotov followed Putin to Moscow and his career has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

"A former head of Putin’s personal security (and indeed, one of the president’s judo sparring partners), Zolotov has a reputation as a tough loyalist, a 'maximalist' in the words of one Russian cop, whose interests are in protecting his patron rather than necessarily upholding the law," Galeotti wrote.

Indeed, according to Sergei Tretyakov, a Russian security official who defected to the United States in 2000 and died under mysterious circumstances in 2010, Zolotov once made "a list of politicians and other influential Muscovites whom they would need to assassinate to give Putin unchecked power."

Tretyakov's account has never been corroborated

Dozhd TV reports that if Kolokoltsev is removed and replaced by Zolotov, it would likely only be after the November 10 Police Day holiday.  

"If this does happen, it’ll be a clear sign that the Kremlin is manning the barricades and preparing for trouble ahead," Galeotti wrote.

Which brings us back to the Rurik dynasty. Its long reign ended in 1598 with the political chaos, civil uprisings, usurpers, foreign occupation, and famine of the Time of Troubles.

Putin has long suggested that, should he leave the scene, this would be the result. But by monopolizing power, eliminating all alternatives, destroying Russia's institutions, and suppressing its civil society, he is making the ground fertile for political upheaval when he does finally go.

And like all mortals, he will eventually go -- and that will be his legacy.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:Vladimir Putin, Power Vertical blog, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Viktor Zolotov

Audio Podcast: Putin And The Nationalists

Will they be marching for Putin -- or against him?

It's always been a strained and troubled bond. It's always been more of an alliance of convenience than one of conviction.

Putin's Kremlin and Russia's nationalists have long used each other. And they've long eyed each other with suspicion and apprehension.

The Ukraine crisis appeared to unite Putin and Russia's nationalists as never before. But on the eve of the seminal event on the nationalist calander, the annual Russian March, the old cracks in this dysfunctional partnership are again becoming manifest -- with unpredictable consequences.

On this week's "Power Vertical Podcast," I discuss Putin's complex relations with Russia's nationalist movements.

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 guests Kevin Rothrock, editor of RuNet Echo at Global Voices and Alina Polyakova, a senior research fellow at the University of Bern and expert on the far right in Europe.


Power Vertical Podcast - Oct. 31, 2014
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Podcast: The New Putinism

A new and darker Putinism

Fears of sackings, arrests, and purges abound. Talk of fifth columns is pervasive on state media. Rumors swirl that the Soviet-era institution of exit visas may make a comeback. And wary of surveillance, officials are ditching their smartphones for older, less fashionable -- and less traceable -- models.

Meet the new Putinism. It's different from the old Putinism.

We don't really know if Vladimir Putin's imperial adventure in Ukraine was driven by domestic politics, geopolitical concerns, fears about what example a democratic revolution in Ukraine might set in Russia -- or by a perfect storm encompassing all of the above.

We don't know if the Ukraine campaign was planned long ago or was launched ad hoc when the opportunity presented itself. And we don't know what Putin's true intentions are in Ukraine -- or beyond.

But what we do know is that the Ukraine crisis has fundamentally -- and probably decisively -- changed the way Russia is ruled. And in the brave new world Russia is entering, the soft authoritarianism of the old Putinism looks positively quaint -- and almost benignly liberal -- by comparison.

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," I discuss the new Putinism and what it portends.

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at NYU, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows"; Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog"; and journalist and Kremlin-watcher Ben Judah, author of the book "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love With Vladimir Putin."


Podcast: The New Putinism
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Tags:Vladimir Putin, Russian politics, Power Vertical podcast, Putinism

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." 


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

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  "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:Vladimir Putin, Russian politics, Power Vertical blog

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.


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

Tags:Vladimir Putin, Russia, Crimean Tatars, Power Vertical podcast, 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." 


The Kremlin's Strangest Policy Balloon
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags:Russian politics, Power Vertical podcast, Valery Zorkin, Serfdom

The Power Vertical Feed

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

15:34 November 26, 2014


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

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

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

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

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

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

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


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


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


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

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

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

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

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

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

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


19:16 November 21, 2014


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

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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