Friday, November 28, 2014

The Power Vertical

Betraying The Motherland

At the behest of Vladimir Putin's government, Russian lawmakers are about to give the legal definitions of treason and espionage a little makeover. Just some minor cosmetic changes. Nothing to be alarmed about, really.

In the Russian Criminal Code, treason currently is defined as taking action aimed at damaging the country's external security. Espionage is defined as revealing state secrets to foreign governments, their organizations, or their representatives.

The government submitted a bill to the State Duma on December 12 widening treason to include endangering Russia's "constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial integrity." Likewise, the definition of espionage will be expanded to include revealing state secrets to foreign NGOs.

Not surprisingly, rights activists are duly distressed. The daily "Kommersant" quoted Lev Levinson of the Human Rights Institute as saying that that if the authorities are really going to interpret "any action directed against the constitutional regime" as treason, then its goal was apparently "to restore the Stalinist norm when anti-Soviet activity was a criminal offense."

Along the same lines, Boris Nadezhdin, head of the law department at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, said flatly that "anyone who has spoken to a foreigner could be declared a traitor."

To illustrate the point, Nadezhdin said that he had told the BBC about a letter he signed opposing constitutional amendments extending presidential terms to six years.

"Had the bill been effective then, I would have been arrested for treason, because I first signed an anti-constitutional letter and then discussed the issue with a foreign organization," Nadezhdin said.

And its not just touchy-feely human rights types that are raising red flags.

Yury Skuratov, who served as prosecutor-general under former President Boris Yeltsin told Interfax that the changes are "primarily a form of  political  and  legal  influence  on  the  activity  of various international foundations, which actively work in our country." He added that "the  regime  seems  to  fear that they can seriously influence the situation  in  Russia.  It is possible that the experience of orange revolutions, almost  all  of  which used these tools, was taken into consideration."

On the same day the government submitted the legislation, the State Duma also approved the third reading of changes to the criminal code that would eliminate the right to jury trials for a series of crimes, including: terrorism, hostage-taking, mass disturbances, rebellion, espionage, diversion, organizing unlawful armed formations, treason, and attempts to seize power by force.

So when all these changes inevitably become law, it will not only be easier to charge political opponents with treason and espionage, it will also be easier to secure a conviction.

That all this is happening now is, of course, no accident.

The economic crisis and falling oil prices are quickly eroding one of the key pillars of Vladimir Putin's rule (and yes, Russia is still under Vladimir Putin's rule) -- financial stability and relative prosperity. And as "Vedomosti" reports, recent public opinion polls show rising discontent among Russian citizens, with 39 percent saying they are dissatisfied with the government (the number jumps to 54 percent in industrial regions).

Putin and his inner circle appears to genuinely fear that some kind of unrest is on the horizon and are laying the legal groundwork to deal harshly and swiftly with any threats to their rule.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: justice,treason,criminal,espionage,Russia

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Krapotkin from: Houston,TX
December 17, 2008 00:36
I fail to see the difference between Russian new definitions and the actual US laws on the subject. <br />We dont have any foreign NGO to agitate against Bush and his gang, there must be a Law against it, but our Whistleblowers are hunted by the FBI on daily basis, as traitors so said Bush.<br />Read Newsweek about the interview of one of them.

by: joyce h Fletcher from: TEXAS
December 17, 2008 16:51
Putin is doing nothing that doesn't happen in Texas. The District 17 winner obviously broke the law by campainging and throwing a BBQ at the Tracy Gee Center while voting was going on. Her son advertised that his mother would make a good representative because she is a good mother. What she is for real was someone who wanted to win and didn't care about laws. Our government is manipulated for the good of those in power. A good example is the fact that the American people let the Supreme Court select a president, a president who seemingly has proved himself to be the worst ever.

by: Carl from: Dobrowolski
December 17, 2008 21:12
Those who comment that they do not see differences between our system and that which is now found in increasinlgly autocratic Russia, are either willingly blind, ignorant or willingly wish tostrike a false moral equivalency between the 2 powers similar to which was espoused during the Cold War. Simply put, our country is the freest society in the world but certainly not perfect. And where we experience are imperfections and legal irregularities, they are the exception not the rule. The inverse is true of Communist or neo-Communist societies such as Russia or China. And for references to &quot;Bush &amp; his gang&quot;, I wonder if this person would be able to say &quot;Putin &amp; his gang&quot; or &quot;Hu and his gang&quot; publicly in Russia or China and not be hauled in for interrogation. Cherish the freedom you have here, do not attack it but scurrilous comparisons. <br />

by: Anton from: Auckland
December 19, 2008 21:42
I do not think the current development would be correctly assessed in a series of collisions of opposite emotional perceptions of it. Whoever is &quot;freer&quot; in this world is up to the local residents to decide, not up to the outsiders. One may say in US a woman's basic right for abortion is compromised - add to this that women obtained the voting rights at least 50 years after Russia. This is not the case at all.<br /><br />The developing in Russia is just an alarming sign, that Russia prepares for another Cold War, and tries to restrict the information flows. I would put here a parallel with USA McCarthyism of 1950s, not with its Communist past. US positioned itself as an adversary - this is a reaction to this new reality, no more. <br /><br />Russia is a lawless society anyway - there is no need to introduce a new legislation to pin down the &quot;enemies&quot;, as they can be simply shot instead. The fact this has happened, on the contrary shows that Russia tries to establish a Law-obedient state! If a state says no citizen can pass a sensitive information to the outsiders - then the citizens must obey. If not - they are getting punished. Is this anything new in history???

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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

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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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