Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

Another Dinosaur’s Farewell

Rakhimov's smile is fading away....
Rakhimov's smile is fading away....

Although the details aren’t clear, the bottom line is that longtime Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov – he has headed the republic since 1993 – will not seek another term.

Some media are reporting that he will step down immediately and that the legislature of the oil-rich republic is being hastily convened tomorrow to hear his resignation speech and/or to pass a package of immunity guarantees and retirement benefits that are reportedly part of the deal to push the dinosaur aside. Other media say Rakhimov will serve out his current term, which ends in October 2011, while still others say his departure will come before then, but in a seemly fashion that could take weeks or months.

But, as I said, the bottom line is that Rakhimov will be gone, like other Yeltsin-era governors before him, including Oryol Oblast's Yegor Stroyev, Murmansk's Yury Yevdokimov, Volgograd Oblast's Nikolai Maksyuta, Sverdlovsk Oblast’s Eduard Rossel, Khanty-Mansiisk’s Aleksandr Filipenko, Tatarstan’s Mintimer Shaimiyev, and Karelia’s Sergei Katanandov. The general take on the replacements has been that the Kremlin is strengthening its control over the regions (via the ruling United Russia party) by eliminating regional leaders with their own local bases of support.

Some analysts also note that Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 only after some fairly fierce competition from the Fatherland-All Russia bloc that was built around some of the country’s most powerful regional leaders – Shaimiyev, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and then St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev (haven’t heard that name lately…. He seems to have disappeared). Putin is known to take his politics personally.

Of course, with Rakhimov’s ouster, Moscow’s Luzhkov looks even more lonesome and vulnerable.

Although replacing regional leaders who have their own local bases of support (and we are talking about nepotism, cronyism, and corruption-based relationships within the local elites, not popular support) clearly strengthens the power vertical (and further erodes the federation’s sham federalism), the process shows some of the overall system’s weaknesses.

For instance, although it technically would have been possible to simply remove Rakhimov or Putin might not have reappointed him in 2006, in the real world doing so precipitously would have set off a good old-fashioned redistribution of property in the republic. The rule of law in Russia is so weak that such transitions have to be very carefully managed.

Also, analysts usually note that it is not possible to remove a major governor too soon before a national election cycle begins (Duma elections will be held in December 2011, and the next presidential election will come in March 2012). The Kremlin, after all, relies on regional administrations to manufacture the election results it seeks (and the illusion of consent).

Likewise, it would be unseemly to remove a governor too soon after an election cycle if he did, indeed, cough up the results Moscow ordered.

What does this mean for Luzhkov? His current term expires in July 2011, but that is too close to the elections for the Kremlin to make its move. But, despite the constant rumors that Luzkov is on the cutting board, there don't seem to have been any real moves against him yet. Replacing him while also preventing a clan-scramble meltdown in the capital is a tricky task, maybe one that is too risky to attempt even at this nadir between election cycles. If he can hold on for the next couple of months, he'll almost certainly get reconfirmed next July and will likely serve until after the next presidential inauguration in May 2012.

The story of Rakhimov's removal also reveals another aspect of the Russian diarchic system. Technically speaking, it is the president and the presidential envoys to the regions who should be handling such questions. But Rakhimov cut his deal on Monday in a three-hour meeting with Putin's Medvedev's chief of staff, Sergei Naryshkin. But according to some reports, Rakhimov wanted to talk to Putin directly, but the prime minister refused to see him. We can see where the buck stops.

-- Robert Coalson

NOTE: This post originally stated erroneously that Sergei Naryshkin is Vladimir Putin's chief of staff. It has been corrected to reflect that he is President Dmitry Medvedev's chief of staff.

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Comment Sorting
by: Jesse from: Washington, D.C.
July 14, 2010 18:41
should embed this for dramatic effect:

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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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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