Saturday, October 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

Andropov's Ghost

In June 1999, Vladimir Putin laid a bouquet of flowers on Yury Andropov's grave to mark the 85th anniversary of the late Soviet leader and longtime KGB chief's birth.

Shortly after he became Russia's president in 2000, Putin saw to it that a plaque honoring Andropov was placed on the Moscow building where he once lived.

And to mark the 90th anniversary of Andropov's birth in June 2004, Putin arranged for a 10-foot statue of him erected in the suburb of Petrozavodsk, north of St. Petersburg.

Andropov died 25 years ago today, on February 9, 1984,  after ruling the Soviet Union for just 15 months. His spirit, however, is very much alive in the current Russian elite. In fact, few former Kremlin leaders are more relevant to understanding today's Russia.

Before his brief tenure in the Kremlin, Andropov was the longest serving KGB chief in Soviet history, running the spy agency for 15 years from 1967-82.

In the mid-1970s, when Andropov was at the height of his power in Lubyanka, a group of eager young KGB recruits from Leningrad fell under his influence. Among these fresh-faced rookies were Putin and key members of his current inner circle: National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, military procurement chief Viktor Cherkesov, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, and Federal Antinarcotics Service head Viktor Ivanov.

As KGB chief, Andropov understood that the Soviet economy was falling dangerously behind the West and needed to be reformed if the country was to remain a superpower. What he had in mind, however, was not a repeat of Nikita Krushchev's thaw. And he certainly wasn't interested in the wholesale political reforms that Mikhail Gorbachev would eventually pursue.

Andropov wanted to introduce limited market mechanisms to make the Soviet economy more competitive with the West. But his plans for an authoritarian modernization left little room for any inkling of democracy or pluralism. Instead, the political system would remain tightly controlled, with the KGB taking a leading role.

This is how Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for Elite Studies described Andropov's vision in a 2007 interview:

Andropov thought that the Communist Party had to keep power in its hands and to conduct an economic liberalization. This was the path China followed. For people in the security services, China is the ideal model. They see this as the correct course. They think that [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin went along the wrong path, as did Gorbachev.

Kryshtanovskaya added that Putin and his protégés thought Andropov "was simply a genius, that he was a very strong person who, if he had lived, would have made the correct reforms."

Putin and Co. eventually got their chance to implement their hero's vision, of course. And for awhile things seemed to be going along just swimmingly as pundits swooned about Russia Inc. and the Putin economic miracle.

The party only lasted until world oil prices tanked late last year and exposed the weakness at the heart of the system -- that the Russian economy is dangerously dependent on energy and commodities prices, just as the Soviet economy was in Andropov's time.

And the reason for this today is the same as it was 25 years ago: diversifying and decentralizing the Russian economy would create an independent business class, which in turn would lead to a more pluralistic and decentralized political system.

Russia's economics is a hostage to its politics. Anybody who thinks that the Kremlin is prepared to tolerate a truly independent entrepreneurial class should have a chat with Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

When Russia was struggling through the 1990s, Andropov's vision was often cited as the road not taken, the path that would have led to a more orderly economic modernization.

Well now the road has been taken, and it has led Russia to the same dead end.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: andropov,Vladimir Putin,Russia

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by: Tom
February 11, 2009 23:38
Very astute obserations about the Russian economic model, only problem I have is the potrayal of Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a victim. He was a man who was selling out his own country to certain London based banking oligarchs for personal profit, thats called a traitor in any mans language.Sadly we have way to many of those same globalist internationalist quislings in our own country, Henry Kissinger, John McCain, George Bush and Barrack Hussien Obama. Traitors all.

by: Anonymous
February 12, 2009 20:37
I Thinking the description of the Chinese economy is wrong here. It is right... Moscow would copy with pleasure China in many points, and, the "free" competition in China "too".There is free competition at smaller and middle level in China and You do not feel corruption at all...thats the way Moscow want to go but supercorruption in the country is the main problem for creating Money in smaller and middle level.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 13, 2009 20:54
&quot;And the reason for this today is the same as it was 25 years ago: diversifying and decentralizing the Russian economy would create an independent business class, which in turn would lead to a more pluralistic and decentralized political system.&quot;<br /><br />That is the fundmanental truth about Russia today, and the world will not get the Kremlin right until it understands tha truth.<br /><br />Equally, it's not in the Kremlin's interests to have a healthy or long-lived population. A sick and worried group of people is much easier to bully, especiallyh when you control all media outlets.<br /><br />In other words, the interest of the Kremlin and of the people of Russia and Russia itself are diametically opposed. Until the people of Russia realize that, they will continue on their pathway to destruction.

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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