Sunday, April 19, 2015


Audio Podcast: Putin's Rite Of Spring

Putin talks dogs, clones, pensions, and Ukraine -- for four hours.

It happens every spring.

The sun shines, the birds sing, the trees bloom, and Vladimir Putin holds his annual phone-in program in which carefully vetted ordinary Russian citizens can ask the Kremlin leader any pre-approved question their heart desires.

It's a highly scripted and choreographed affair and it's hyped up as if it were the World Cup or the Super Bowl.

And it's closely watched by Kremlinologists for clues about Putin's thinking.

So what exactly was he telling us this year?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we unpack the Putin Show. Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, and expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and RFE/RL's Social Media Editor Glenn Kates.

Also on the podcast, Mark, Glenn, and I take a look at the latest developments in the Boris Nemtsov assassination.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast: Putin's Rite Of Spring
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.​

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Vladimir Putin, Russian politics, Boris Nemtsov


Video The Daily Vertical: The Wily Lukashenka

The Daily Vertical: The Wily Lukashenkai
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April 17, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

 


Video The Daily Vertical: The Wrong Wars?

The Daily Vertical: The Wrong Wars?i
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April 16, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: Keep An Eye On Karelia

The Daily Vertical: Keep An Eye On Kareliai
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April 15, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: Not Quiet On The Western Front

The Daily Vertical: Not Quiet On The Western Fronti
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April 14, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: Putin's Corruption Machine

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Corruption Machinei
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April 13, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
The Daily Vertical: Putin's Corruption Machine

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Audio Podcast: Putin Flexes His Missiles

Is Putin learning to love the bomb?

Vladimir Putin has decided its time to flex his missiles.

Last month,Russia's ambassador to Copenhagen threatened to target Denmark's warships with nuclear weapons if that country joins NATO's defense shield.

Russian generals also told U.S. officials during a meeting in Germany in March that Moscow would utilize a "spectrum of responses from nuclear to nonmilitary" if NATO moved more forces into the Baltic states.

And, in a recent documentary aired on Russian state television, Putin himself said he was prepared to put the country's nuclear forces on alert during the annexation of Crimea a year ago.

Is it all bluster? The geopolitical equivalent of Putin's fondness for being photographed shirtless? Or does it point to something darker?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast I address these questions with 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.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast: Putin Flexes His Missiles
Power Vertical Podcast: Putin Flexes His Missilesi
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.​

 


Video The Daily Vertical: The Kremlin's Maidanphobia

The Daily Vertical: The Kremlin's Maidanphobiai
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April 10, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: Bessarabia -- Another Mythological Territory

The Daily Vertical: Bessarabia -- Another Mythological Territoryi
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April 09, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: Putin's Partition Fixation

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Partition Fixationi
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April 08, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


The Daily Vertical: The Nemtsov Whitewash

The Daily Vertical: Why No Memorial Concert For Nemtsov?i
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April 07, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Podcast: The State, The Mob, And The Asssassins

Vladimir Putin, Vladimir Barsukov (aka Kumarin), and a memorial for Galina Starovoitova

Russia solved a contract killing this week.

It was an assassination that gripped the nation, shook the elite, and led to a massive outpouring of grief. The victim was a leading democrat with close ties to former President Boris Yeltsin. The mastermind was a politically powerful man with a violent streak.

No, it's not the Boris Nemtsov assassination. The case Russian investigators are wrapping up is 16 years and four months old: the November 20, 1998, killing of State Duma Deputy and human rights campaigner Galina Starovoitova in St. Petersburg.

And the man the authorities appear ready to finger for the hit is the exact person who many suspected from the very start: Vladimir Barsukov, aka, Vladimir Kumarin.

That name may not mean a lot now. But in the 1990s, Barsukov was one of the most feared gangsters in the country and one of the most powerful men in Russia's second city.

And how he went from being untouchable to expendable tells us a lot about how Russia works.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we take a look at the changing relationship between organized crime and the state in Russia. 

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at NYU, an expert on Russian organized crime and its security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Karen Dawisha, director of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at the University of Miami, Ohio, and author of the recently published book Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?

Also on the podcast, Mark, Karen, and I discuss the crime-riddled shooting gallery that was St. Petersburg in the 1990s -- the political environment where Vladimir Putin cut his teeth.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast: The State, The Mob, And The Asssassins
Power Vertical Podcast: The State, The Mob, And The Asssassinsi
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.​

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russian organized crime, Galina Starovoitova, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Barsukov, Vladimir Kumarin, Tambov Gang, St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin


Video The Daily Vertical: Russia's Not Thrilled

The Daily Vertical: Russia's Not Thrilledi
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April 03, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

 


Video The Daily Vertical: Lukashenka, The New Ceausescu?

The Daily Vertical: Lukashenka, The New Ceausescu?i
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April 02, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can submit suggested topics to address on Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


The Untouchables And The Expendables

Untouchable no more. Vladimir Barsukov in court in March 2012.

Sixteen years ago, Vladimir Barsukov was untouchable.

He lorded over a massive criminal and commercial empire. He had top politicians in his pocket. He had top politicians whacked. And he was widely considered to be one of the most powerful men in Russia's second-largest city.

Today he is expendable.

That's how it goes with Russian gangsters and criminal justice. And it's why contract killings take so long to solve. You always have to wait for the politics to change -- for the untouchables to become the expendables.

It's something to bear in mind while following the twists, turns, contradictions, and obfuscations of the investigation into Boris Nemtsov's assassination.

According to Russian media reports, Barsukov is about to be fingered as the contractor of one of the most shocking assassinations of the 1990s: the November 20, 1998, slaying of State Duma Deputy and human rights campaigner Galina Starovoitova. 

LIke the Nemtsov hit, Starovoitova's assassination gripped the nation, shook the elite, and was supposed to change everything.

And never mind that it took these investigative geniuses 16 years and four months to figure out what every serious journalist in St. Petersburg intuitively suspected from the very start. Hey, better late than never.

In fairness, it would have been nearly impossible to take Barsukov down in the late 1990s. He was much too powerful.

Known as Vladimir Kumarin before he changed his name, Barsukov led St. Petersburg's most feared, ruthless, and politically connected crime syndicate -- the Tambovskaya Gruppirovka, or Tambov Gang. 

But he was much more than just a gangster and Tambov was much more than just a gang. Barsukov was known as the "Night Governor" and the Tambovskaya Gruppirovka was something of a shadow government.

Every serious politician in Russia's second city -- including one Vladimir Putin -- had to deal with him one way or another.

Barsukov was vice president of the St. Petersburg Fuel Company. The Tambov Gang held stakes in much of the St. Petersburg's petroleum, real estate, and banking sectors. They also controlled much of the commercial traffic from Russia's ports in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Arkhangelsk, and Murmansk.

And Barsukov had his people strategically placed throughout the St. Petersburg political elite.

He had much of the city's police brass in his pocket. He was close to Viktor Cherkesov, then head of the St. Petersburg branch of the FSB. And the governor at the time of Starovoitova's assassination, Vladimir Yakovlev, was widely believed to be Barsukov's man.

Starovoitova was assassinated in the stairwell of her St. Petersburg apartment building at a time when she was locked in a bitter political battle with Yakovlev -- one that threatened Barsukov's interests.

For nearly a decade, the investigation went nowhere. In 2005, a court in St. Petersburg convicted eight suspects for taking part in the assassination, but the mastermind and the contractor were never identified.

Until last week.

According to reports in Russian media, Mikhail Glushchenko, a former lawmaker who is serving a prison sentence for extortion, signed a plea bargain on March 26 in which he agreed to admit organizing the assassination and to finger Barsukov as the person who ordered the hit.

Unlike in 1998, taking down Barsukov now is easy.

He's no longer a player. He's no longer powerful. He long ago ceased to be useful to the authorities. In fact, he's no longer even a free man. In 2009 he was sentenced to 14 years in prison on a variety of charges.

He's expendable.

And he became expendable because he's a remnant of a bygone era -- one in which the state was Balkanized and was just one mafia competing with various others. Today, Russia is still a mafia state -- but the state is the only mafia that matters. The functions Barsukov and the Tambov Gang fulfilled in the 1990s have been reclaimed by the authorities.

Likewise, perhaps sometime down the road -- it may take 16 years; it may take less; it may take more -- the truth about who ordered Nemtsov's assassination will finally come out. It will come out if and when the politics change and the contractor, be it Ramzan Kadyrov or somebody else, becomes expendable.

By then, of course, the Nemtsov assassination will have largely faded from memory-- like the Starovoitova assassination has today. Its shock and significance will be largely forgotten.

And of course, there will be new shocking contract killings ordered by the new untouchables. And they too will get away with murder -- until they become expendable too. And on and on it will go.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags:Galina Starovoitova, Nemtsov assassination, Russian organized crime


Video The Daily Vertical: The Great Disconnect

The Daily Vertical: The Great Disconnecti
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April 01, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: A Godfather Fingered

The Daily Vertical: A Godfather Fingeredi
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March 31, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: The Kolomoyskiy Point

The Daily Vertical: The Kolomoyskiy Pointi
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March 30, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Audio Podcast: Can Ukraine's Oligarchs Be Housebroken?

Poroshenko (center) and the oligarchs: Rinat Akhmetiv (top left), Dmytro Firtash (top right), Viktor Pinchuk (bottom left), Ihor Kolomoyskiy (bottom right)

They got obscenely rich in the post-Soviet chaos. They leveraged their political contacts into wealth. And they leveraged their wealth into more political power.

The most powerful among them are Russian-speakers. But when the Russia-Ukraine conflict erupted, many sided with Kyiv. And they expected to be rewarded.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's decision this week to sack Ihor Kolomoyskiy as governor of Dnipropetrovsk marks a new chapter in the Ukrainian authorities' relationship with the country's oligarchs.

It also heralds the start of a tricky, dangerous, and perilous stage in Ukraine's post-Euromaidan efforts to build a law-based state.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we look at Ukraine's struggle to rein in its oligarchs against the backdrop of its conflict with Russia.

Joining me are Rostyslav Khotyn of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Taras Kuzio, a senior research associate for the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta.

Enjoy...

The Power Vertical Podcast: Can Ukraine's Oligarchs Be Housebroken?
Power Vertical Podcast: Can Ukraine's Oligarchs Be Housebroken?i
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.​

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Ukraine, oligarchs, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, Petro Poroshenko, Russia-Ukraine conflict


Video The Daily Vertical: Putin's Cyberwar At Home

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Cyberwar At Homei
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March 27, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

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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