Saturday, October 25, 2014


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."

Enjoy...

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


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
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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
The Kremlin's Strangest Policy Ballooni
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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
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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

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

17:49 October 24, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

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

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.

THREE ALLEGED MILITANTS KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26 October 24, 2014

SPY VS. SPY

17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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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