Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Power Vertical

A Kremlin Sparring Match

Medvedev (R) and Dvorkovich at the presidential residence in Gorki
Medvedev (R) and Dvorkovich at the presidential residence in Gorki
A top advisor to President Dmitry Medvedev thinks Russia is in trouble.

Arkady Dvorkovich, the head of the Kremlin's experts directorate, told the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum on February 28 that the current elite is not equipped to handle the economic crisis. Here's the money quote, as reported by "Nezavisimaya gazeta":

The present elite, which is above all bureaucratic, must be replaced by a new elite which will be more open to society. This in itself could become a real factor in the growth of the Russian economy. The readiness of the regime, as well as of society, to live through a lengthy period of crisis is poor.

Dvorkovich is no lightweight. He has served in government in various capacities since 1994, including a stint as deputy economics minister.  In 2003, the U.S. magazine "Business Week" named him one of its "Stars of Europe" for his role in crafting the economic reforms Putin implemented in his first term.

Dvorkovich wasn't alone in his assessment of Russia's condition. The forum's host, Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Khloponin, also raised the alarm, saying: "Even Russia's strongest regions only have enough reserves to last a month - and unless some sort of concrete measures are taken, the situation will become critical."

Dvorkovich's remarks came just weeks after Igor Yurgens, director of the Institute of Contemporary Development and an advisor to Medvedev, called for expanded civil liberties as the crisis deepens:

The social contract consisted of limiting of civil rights in exchange for economic well-being. At the current moment, economic well-being is shrinking. Correspondingly, civil rights should expand. It’s just simple logic.

Days after Dvorkovich's remarks, Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the regimes unofficial ideologist who coined the term "sovereign democracy," fired back. Here are his comments from the strategy 2020 forum of the ruling Unified Russia party on March 2:

The system is working, it will cope with the crisis and get through it. If we had entered this zone of turbulence in a more-loosened condition, I assure you, the damage the state and society would have suffered would have been much greater...The crisis is still in its early stages in our country, but we are already prepared to say that we are prepared to revise our institutions and - I have read this myself! - rethink our values.

Surkov also ridiculed Yurgens' claim that Russia's social contract was breaking down:

The authorities have been handing out petrodollars, feeding everyone, while in return society has been waiving its rights and
freedoms. Now that petrodollars have dried up, it has suddenly come back to people's minds - 'give us our freedom'.

You can watch a video of Surkov's remarks (in Russian) here, here, or here (one of the links is bound to work).

This little verbal sparring match came as Medvedev is reportedly considering major personnel changes in the ruling elite, is presenting a softer public image, and is locking horns with Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and the "siloviki" clan of security service veterans.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Center for Elite Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology, told "RBK Daily" that the Dvorkovich-Surkov debate is a sign of emerging pluralism in the Kremlin:

Surkov's speech is evidence that there are two wings within the Kremlin administration - let's call them the pessimists and the conservatives. A debate is under way between them, and this is entirely normal.

This makes sense if one believes, as I do, that Russia is run by a collective leadership -- a sort of modernized Politburo that makes decisions by consensus. Kryshtanovskaya's characterization of "pessimists" and "conservatives" is also spot (rather than the often misused "liberal" tag that has too often been assigned to Medvedev's allies).

Unless this is all an elaborately organized show (which, incidentally is something Surkov excels at), there appears to be a genuine debate about some pretty fundamental issues going on in the corridors of power. The elite is trying to figure out a way to survive the gathering storm with its power and privilege intact.

But we still haven't heard from the most important voice of all, that of Vladimir Putin.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: surkov,arkady,dvorkovich,vladislav,dmitry,economic,crisis,medvedev

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum yet. Be the first to add one.

The Power Vertical Feed

LIVE 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

Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

From RFE/RL's News Desk:


The head of the European Commission says an EU-Ukraine trade deal can only be changed by Brussels and Kyiv – not Moscow.

Jose Manuel Barroso made the remarks in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin released on October 1.

Ukraine's parliament ratified its agreement with the EU last month. 

However, the implementation of the trade part of the deal has been delayed until January 2016 to appease Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.

Moscow has called for more three-way negotiations to amend the deal and threatened to curtail Ukraine's access to Russian markets if Kyiv implements it.

In his letter, Barroso warned Putin not to impose new trade measures, saying it would threaten the agreement with Russia to delay the EU-Ukraine pact.

(With reporting by Reuters)

And for anybody interested, here's the full text of Barroso's letter:

"Mr. President,

Following your letter of 17 September, I would like to welcome the constructive engagement from all sides in the trilateral ministerial meeting on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on 12 September.

The conclusions reached at that meeting were endorsed by all participants and set out in a joint ministerial statement.

On the EU side, we have informed our Member States of the outcome of the trilateral process, and we have now obtained their approval for the necessary legislative steps.

I should emphasize that the proposal to delay the provisional application of the DCFTA is linked to continuation of the CIS-FTA preferential regime, as agreed in the joint ministerial statement. In this context, we have strong concerns about the recent adoption of a decree by the Russian government proposing new trade barriers between Russia and Ukraine. We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement.

The joint ministerial statement also foresees further consultations on how to address concerns raised by Russia. We are ready to continue engaging on how to tackle the perceived negative impacts to the Russian economy resulting from the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

I take however this opportunity to underline that the Association Agreement remains a bilateral agreement and that, in line with international law, any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other, according to the mechanisms foreseen in the text and the respective internal procedures of the parties.

I wish to recall that the joint conclusions reached at the Ministerial meeting state clearly that all these steps are part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as its right to decide on its destiny.

Consequently, while all parties should implement the conclusions as laid down in the joint ministerial statement in good faith, the statement does not and cannot limit in any way the sovereign prerogatives of Ukraine.

The European Commission remains fully committed to contribute to a peaceful solution. In this respect we hope that the recent positive steps embodied in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September and the ensuing memorandum from 19 September will be fully implemented, including the monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and its verification by the OSCE, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the Ukrainian territory.

We also expect that rapid and decisive progress can be achieved in the trilateral gas talks towards a mutually acceptable interim solution for the upcoming winter period, on the basis of the compromise elements set out by the European Commission. It is key that the resumption of energy deliveries to the citizens of Ukraine is ensured and that the fulfilment of all contractual obligations with customers in the EU is secured.

Yours faithfully,

José Manuel BARROSO"


And just when you though it couldn't get any weirder, Valery Zorkin destroys your illusions.

That's Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court. Zorkin penned an article last week in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" (that's the official Russian government newspaper, by the way), calling for -- wait for it -- a return to serfdom. A big h/t to Elena Holodny at Business Insider for flagging this.

Here's the money quote:

"Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: 'We were yours, and you — ours.'"

Zorkin also took a shot at Pyotr Stolypin, the 19th century reformist prime minister (and a hero of Vladimir Putin's), and his judicial reforms.

"Stolypin's reform took away communal justice from the peasants in exchange for individual freedom, which almost none of them knew how to live and which was depriving their community guarantees of survival."

I wonder what that portends. Zorking also compared the abolotion of serfdom to the post-Soviet reforms of the 1990s.


Latest Podcasts

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