Thursday, October 30, 2014


The Power Vertical

Defining Democracy Down

Medvedev offers up his own recipe for democracy at a forum in Yaroslavl on September 10.
Medvedev offers up his own recipe for democracy at a forum in Yaroslavl on September 10.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today unveiled his “five standards of democracy,” offering an interesting glimpse into the mind-set of the so-called liberal lawyer who has been hailed as a step away from Putinist authoritarianism.


Without further ado, the official definition of democracy from the liberal wing of the Kremlin is:

 

(1) The legal realization of humanitarian values and ideals, giving these values the practical force of law.

(2) The ability of the state to ensure and support a high standard of technological development.

(3) The ability of the state to defend its citizens from encroachment on the part of criminal societies.

(4) A high level of culture, education, means of communication and exchange of information in the country.

(5) The conviction of the citizenry that they live in a democratic state.


Speaking at a forum in Yaroslavl today, Medvedev also said: “I know the lapses in our system, but I categorically disagree with those who assert that Russia is not a democracy. Russia is a democracy. We are at the beginning of our path and there is something for us to work on, but we are free.”


The Putin-Medvedev chief ideologue, deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, offered his own almost Confucian elaboration of this vision: “Russia has a democracy of the quality that it has. One person has a good car and another has one that breaks down – but it is still a car. Under the constitution, we are a sovereign state. And that is sovereign democracy.”


Russia’s leaders have long insisted that the country must follow “its own path” to democracy. But now they seem to be trying to craft a new definition the democracy to which this path leads, one that conspicuously misses out on terms generally associated with democracy, such as fair elections, accountability, freedom of information.


(Some Putin-sympathetic bloggers out there have ventured forth the idea that Russia is a “plebiscitary regime,” and I hope they elaborate on this notion, since I find it unconvincing so far. I imagine they don’t have in mind the shorthand definition as a state in which a president is elected but then can do pretty much whatever he or she wants.)


But let’s look more closely at Medvedev’s standards. The first thing that strikes me is that two of the five standards begin with “the ability of the state.” The penchant of Russia’s ruling elite for state-oriented political thinking seems to be in evidence here.


The inclusion of “a high standard of technological development” here, I would argue, is both a red herring (primitive societies can be democratic and nothing about having an iPhone or a nuclear reactor ensures democratic governance) and a case of putting the cart before the horse. Medvedev himself seems a little confused on this point because elsewhere in his Yaroslavl speech (as of this posting, the transcript of his speech has not appeared on the Kremlin website -- here is a link to the transcripts page itself), he acknowledged that only free people can modernize (saying immediately following that political change in Russia must come slowly).


The point about protection from criminal societies begs the crucial question (especially crucial in the context of Russian/Soviet history) of what prevents the state itself from becoming a “criminal society,” in the total absence of transparency, accountability, oversight, and popular legitimacy.


Interestingly, Medvedev’s points 2, 3, and 4 could be perfectly well used to define the Soviet Union (with the caveat above about the state becoming the criminal society). In fact, a Soviet-sympathetic analyst could easily make the case that the Soviet Union fit all five of Medvedev’s standards and thus qualifies as an ideal “Russian” democracy. It would only take a little fudging on the first point and, concerning the last, a reliance on official opinion polls and attendance at May Day parades to gauge public opinion instead of listening to kitchen conversations or counting Brezhnev jokes.


Medevedev’s first point is highly problematic in Russia, since he himself has decried the country’s systemic legal nihilism, as has Putin. In the Russian context, in the context of the absence of checks and balances and accountability mechanisms (not that they are merely absent, but that they were actively rooted out over the decade of Putin’s rule), it simply does not matter what values are enshrined in the laws. Any values enshrined in laws that are ignored or are selectively applied are overshadowed by the values enshrined in ignoring or selectively applying them.


I wrote recently about Medvedev’s proposed police-law reform, making exactly this point. The problem is not the law, and it is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest to pretend that it is. For example, police brutality is rampant in Russia. The new bill has a provision against the unjustified use of force by police. But the current law on the police also has such a point. In fact, the notorious “pearl ensign” who was caught on tape “bashing a protester in the face with his baton” (to paraphrase Prime Minister Putin’s charming phrase) in St. Petersburg has been charged with exactly this crime. The point is that this law, seemingly, wasn’t in force in Petersburg last month. It has never been in force in Moscow, and who knows if it will be in force anywhere next month? (Since there are elections next month, my guess is that it won’t.)


As for Medvedev’s last point, it is also meaningless in the state-controlled information vacuum that hangs over virtually all of Russia. People who live in democracies know that they live in democracies and will say so. People who don’t live in democracies can be made (through state-controlled media, through tireless propaganda, through sophistic redefinitions of what democracy is) to think that they do. Or they can be intimidated or bribed into saying that they think they do, which is close enough. When Medvedev gives up his total control of national television (his NTV, for instance, has scheduled a much-hyped hatchet job on Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who is drifting out of favor) and allows open, democratic political competition, then we will be able to assess the convictions of the citizenry.


Everyone knows how public opinion is manipulated in Russia. I have no doubt that if the ruling elite suddenly decided to make former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov the next president, he would be the most popular (or second most popular) politician in Russia within a month. We already saw that happen when the unknown Viktor Zubkov was made prime minister in 2007. When he said in September 2007 that he might run for president in 2008, many people took that as a sign that he would be Putin’s successor and he instantly became the most popular politician in the country, after Putin himself. (In the 1996 presidential election, Boris Yeltsin in the space of a few months went from having a popularity rating of about 6 percent to being reelected.)


Russia does not have a democracy. And I think President Medvedev knows this. The fact that he pretends otherwise and contorts his thinking so much in order to resist the reform the country needs and deserves should, to my mind, be enough to convince anyone of the paucity of his so-called liberal credentials.


-- Robert Coalson

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John G from: T&T
September 10, 2010 17:53

It is interesting how RFERL which praises yeltsin as a democratic figure concedes how he manipulated elections in1996.In any case ,it is unfair to label russia as an undemocratic regime ;rather it is a hybrid regime of an authoritarian state with demnocratic features .Democracy is defined as the rule of the many and what the author seems to forget is that Putin and medvedev are very popular;it is true that TV is under state control but at the same time a substatial amount of the populace does have access to free information :the internet and radio.The author should also remember that people can criticize putin without getting arrested or killed .What the author should also remember is that western countries were not wholly democratic .In there was slavery and mistreatment of the indians,democracy is a process that takes place in each country and it is wrong for people like the authors to impose his version of democracy on Russia that is something that the citizens of that country should define for themselves.
In Response

by: Robert Coalson from: Prague
September 13, 2010 09:16
John G -- Thank you for your comment. This isn't the place to go into an assessment of Yeltsin, except to say that by the 1996 election, he was a very sick and badly manipulated person. Although he did much to improve democratic institutions in Russia (institutions that Putin spent a decade destroying), he did not build a democracy in Russia. Elections, however, were far more competitive in the 1990s and the pro-Kremlin parties that Yeltsin tried to establish never became neo-CPSUs like United Russia has become.

You say that "democracy is defined as the rule of the many," which may indeed be one of the definitions of democracy. It certainly sounds a lot closer to my understanding of democracy than any of the five standards that Medvedev cites, which is the topic of my blog post. This post is precisely about the definition of democracy and whether the current rulers of Russia can ever build a democracy if they insist on the definitions they are using.

I do not "forget" that Putin and Medvedev are popular. I deny that they are popular in any meaningful sense of the word. Politicians can only be genuinely "popular" or "unpopular" in an environment of political competition and openness. Polls showed that Stalin, Turkmenistan's Niyazov, Uzbekistan's Karimov, etc. were/are all "popular" in their countries. What does this really mean?

You say that people can "criticize Putin without getting arrested or killed." This is a low standard of governance, indeed, and one which Russia consistently fails to meet. Critics of Putin's government are regularly jailed and harassed and, yes, even killed. It doesn't happen on a Stalin-like level, to be sure. But it happens. A lot.
In Response

by: John G from: T&T
September 13, 2010 22:59
This is a place to discuss Yeltsin's legacy seeing that media outlets like RFERL criticize Putin for the supposed democratic rollback when this really started under yeltsin.It was Gorbachev not Yeltsin who bought democracy to Russia.Dont forget that he was the one who bombed his own parliament ripping up the constitution in the process ,he also wrote the authoritarian constitution that Putin and Medvedev use,introduced manipulated and rigged elections in which the state used the media and administrative resources as well as fraud to get yeltsin re-elected(in his memoirs he admits how he even considered postponing elections indefinitely and banning the Communist party).He also did much to discredit this wonderul thing in the eyes of the majority of his citizenship so any discussion of Russia's democratic rollback must start with Yeltsin.
Secondly ,a lot of russians use the internet and have access to radio so there is some level of openess .You also forget that the majority of liberal pro western parties are generally very unpopular. (explain how the Communists are a bit popular even though they do not possess the same advantages of Putin)In addition,you musgt remember that the leaders you mentioned terrorize their citizens which is something that putin does not do.In other words ,putin is genuinely popular amongst his citizens.Surely that counts as a modicum of democracy.Another thing you mention that putin's critics get killed but you do not have any proof of his involvement and you omit that under Yeltsin's rule a lot of journalists and critics were also killed .Have you ever heard of Dmitri Khokolov,Vladislav listeyev and Galina Starovoitova ?Why is it that we hear of the journalists and critics who got killed in the Putin era but never of those in the Yeltsin era? In conclusion, a modicum of democracy does exist in Russia but like Medvedev says it will take years decades and maybe even centuries before this becomes the real thing

by: meg stringer from: Washington D.C
September 10, 2010 22:12
Excellent commentary on an absurd situation. This story should be getting full court press coverage-- everywhere except Russia that is.

by: Mark
September 11, 2010 10:08
"... but we are free.” - meaning himself and Putin!




by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
September 11, 2010 17:04
Good article and thanks for the analysis of Russia’s latest Potemkin village. Could there be a lesson for the toiling masses in the U.S? Maybe Medvedev and Putin are ahead of the information power-curve, and have discovered that if you blanket your plugged-in population with images, assurances, and promises that life is getting better, that a good percentage will actually agree. Believe it or not, there are politicians and voters in this country who suffer from a similar form of schizophrenia. They repeat all the familiar democratic mantras, but are mostly concerned with their own welfare. Regardless of labels, the rich appear to be growing ever more powerful, while the poor expand in number, despair, and ignorance.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
September 11, 2010 21:57
Ray-
The promises that life is getting better was a tactic used by GWB. We all know today that Bush lied about the state of the economy just like he lied about WMD in Iraq. The rich will only get so wealthy, the wealthiest Americans are already getting nervous about their image in a country that is rapidly getting poorer. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet wanted to convince the USA's billionaires to give back more to society, but I remain highly sceptical. It is more likely the rich will use their money to escape to another part of the world while the rest of the country suffers.

by: jme0598
September 11, 2010 18:04
What I am curious about is exactly what the author regards as a "perfect" democracy? USA perhaps, where USA Government's standard policy of how they treat other countries which is one of oppressing their foreign neighbors and dictation on how those countries get to be in direct violation of the very basis for all law in USA, a statement as part of Declaration of Independence "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." If Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote "all men" had only meant "all men who are citizens of USA and screw the rest", he would have specified as such but he didn't because at the heart of what all US law, including Constitution is based on, is this statement which requires US not only treat its own citizens with decency in respect, it is required to do so for everyone else in the world, and in turn, the universe. So I am presuming to mean the author is stating that USA is much better at democracy than Russia, yes?

Medvedev himself admitted that Russia is far from perfect and that he envisions Russia becoming a model for democracy at some point in future, once changes have been made that need to be made to turn Russia into Russia's version of it. So as for author's criticisms of Russia's purported lack of democracy, what part of this don't we already know?
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
September 12, 2010 12:31
Good points. I actually listened to Medvedev’s remarks
http://russia.ru/video/diskurs_10953/
and suggest others watch to fill out Mr. Coalson’s analysis. Just a couple of comments. As jme0598 points out, Medvedev provides some important perspective, reminding his audience repeatedly that Russia is a novice at democracy, having suffered through more authoritarian forms of government for the past thousand years (they are celebrating the 1,000 year anniversary of Yaroslav). As a backdrop to describing some of Russia’s democratic weaknesses, Medvedev repeatedly (and rightly so) takes pot shots at the U.S. practice of democracy, particularly with its non-democratic neighbors. While he does not use as strong language (i.e. hungry wolf) as Putin did in 2007, he makes clear that the U.S. has often used its democratic credentials to clobber those (i.e. Iraq) who might interfere with the American way of life.
In Response

by: Robert Coalson from: Prague
September 13, 2010 09:07
Thanks for writing, Ray. Please read my response to jme0598. I don't think that it is relevant to spend much time discussing that fact that Medvedev "admits" Russia has an "imperfect democracy," since my argument is that Russia is not a democracy at all and, if the ruling elite is building a "democracy" based on the five standards Medvedev outlines, it will never be a democracy, because those five standards have nothing to do with democracy. As the title of my piece states, it is about the definition of democracy. I think you'd agree that if Russia's leaders say they are building a democracy, we need to take a close look at what they think a democracy is. My argument is that their definition of democracy is not democracy at all. It may be good or it may be bad, but what is the point of calling it a democracy?

As for comparisons to the U.S., I don't make any. The Power Vertical is a blog about Russia and I study Russia. I'm sure there are many people out there writing actively about the shortcomings of democracy in the U.S. and I'm glad of that.
In Response

by: Robert Coalson from: Prague
September 13, 2010 09:01
jme0598 -- Thanks for your comments. You seem to miss the point of the piece, however. I don't write anything about democracy in the United States. The Power Vertical is a blog about Russia. If you want to read about the U.S. and, particularly about U.S. foreign policy, I'd recommend this blog: http://www.chris-floyd.com/

What this piece is about is how Russia's leadership defines the word "democracy," and whether that definition is valid. Ironically, if you look at Medvedev's five standards of democracy, you'd have to agree that the United States *is* a model democracy, since Medvedev says nothing about points that you raise such as how a country treats its neighbors or the rest of the world.

My argument is that Russia does not have a democracy by any standard definition, which is why the country's leaders spend so much effort coming up with new definitions. My argument further is that even if Medvedev succeeds in building a state that perfectly matches all five of his standards of democracy, the country would not have a democracy. I acknowledge that Russia has made progress in all but the first of Medvedev's five standards (the first one is far, far from being realized) -- but these facts do not make Russia a democracy or more democratic.

I'm simply calling on Medvedev to be honest and to say that the structure that he envisions for Russia is not a democracy at all and to admit that Russia, for all of its strengths and weaknesses, is not a democracy.
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
September 13, 2010 11:52
Mr. Coalson, Yes. You are correct about the nature of democracy in Russia today. It is a sham, lacking the essence of genuine electoral competition. Putin has mostly dismantled any of the imperfect structures created in the 1990s, and there is simply no legitimate forum where opposing voices can be heard. That being said, what would you do if you were in Pres. Medvedev's shoes? "Dear guests, thank you for coming to our Yaroslavl conference. Yes, we are a criminal regime, holding power not by the consent of the governed, but by fear, intimidation and wealth. This system will help to not only guarantee a certain amount of stability in this country (especially compared to the 'democratic' projects in Iraq and Afghanistan), but will also deliver a healthy return on your investments." Would the U.S. and other representatives gasp in horror and depart? Would such honesty help or hinder Russia's path toward normalcy? And while I know that this is a blog about Russia's form of governance, it does feel just a tad hypocritical that it is funded by the U.S paragon of democracy. Anyway, keep up the good work.

by: rb from: usa
September 13, 2010 04:18
Interesting article.

I use to believe in Governments that I thought were democracies, but, after seeing what has happened in the USA, (what was the last free country), under Obama democracy has no meaning.

As long as there is power to be had, money to be taken, there are truly no free people, true freedom belongs to those in Government as well as their friends and special interest groups, the rest of us live in an illusion of freedom.

In some ways Russia is less restrictive than the USA now. Russia biggest problem is corruption. Not Democracy.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: T&T
September 27, 2010 01:29
Russia's best problem is not corruption by itself, Russia's problem is its corrupt government. A government which Poutine, Abramovich, Czhechin and other international criminals like them champions.

The Power Vertical Feed

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

18:33 October 29, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KREMLIN MOVES TO QUASH PUTIN HEALTH RUMORS

Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on October 29 that the Russian president is in good health, seeking to quash rumors of an illness.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that "everything is okay" with Putin's health, Russian news agencies Interfax and TASS reported.

"They will wait in vain. May their tongues wither," Peskov said of those who claim Putin is ill.

Peskov spoke after a spate of Russian media reports referring to an October 24 column in the tabloid "New York Post" whose author, Richard Johnson, cited unidentified sources as saying Putin had pancreatic cancer.

Putin and the Kremlin have strongly discouraged reporting about the 62-year-old president's private life.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

ROSNEFT THREATENS TO SUE NEWSPAPER OVER SANCTIONS REPORT

Russia's largest oil company, Rosneft, is threatening to sue the Russian daily "Kommersant" for a report alleging Rosneft sent President Vladimir Putin proposals for countersanctions against Western companies and individuals.

"Kommersant" reported on October 29 that state-run Rosneft's proposals include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied there were any Rosneft proposals for sanctions, but presidential aide Andrei Belousov and Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev seemed to contradict this.

State-run TASS reported Peskov said reports Rosneft had sent such proposals were untrue.

Peskov said decisions on imposing sanctions were made "in line with the relevant departments, and taken on the level of the government and president."

A different TASS report quoted Belousov as saying, "We are closely studying Rosneft's proposals."

Belousov went on to say, "I would say the radicalism of the proposals for now exceeds the current level of tensions."

The Interfax news agency quoted Ulyukayev as saying the proposals were a "very complex document" and adding, "I don’t think it is grounds for making any decisions."

The "Kommersant" report said "Russian government officials" had provided information about the alleged proposals.

A statement from Rosneft said the company was "deeply shocked" by the "Kommersant" article and might sue the newspaper.

Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions target key Russian industries and individuals close to Putin, including Rosneft and its head, Igor Sechin, who is a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff.

The sanctions have hurt Rosneft, which has already requested additional funding from the Russian government to make up for losses incurred due to sanctions.

British oil company BP reported on October 28 that its income from its operations with Rosneft dropped from $808 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $110 million in the same period this year.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, Reuters, and Kommersant)

WHITE HOUSE DETECTS SUSPICIOUS CYBER ACTIVITY, REPORT BLAMES RUSSIA

The White House says it has taken measures to counter suspicious activity detected on its unclassified computer network.

A White House official would not say who might have been responsible for the activity on what was described as an unclassified computer network used by employees of the Executive Office of the President.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had taken "immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity."

In a report on October 28, the "Washington Post" cited sources as saying hackers believed to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified computer network in recent weeks.

The White House has declined to comment on the "Washington Post" report.

A U.S. administration official said there were no indications that classified networks had been affected.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa)

VICTIMS OF STALIN TERROR REMEMBERED IN MOSCOW CEREMONY

By RFE/RL

Activists are gathering near the former KGB headquarters to honor the memory of thousands of men and women executed by Soviet authorities during Josef Stalin's "Great Terror."

Speakers at the daylong ceremony at the Solovetsky Stone memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square read out aloud the names, ages, occupations, and dates of executions of some 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities in 1937-1938.

Muscovites and others brought flowers, pictures of victims and candles to the site of the "Returning the Names" commemoration, which began at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time) and was to end at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time).

The annual ceremony is organized by Memorial, Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organization, which is under pressure from the government.

On October 10, Russia's Justice Ministry appealed to the Supreme Court to close Memorial.

Memorial has held the ceremony every year since 2006 at the site near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor.

Ceremonies were also being held in other Russian cities.

(Based on live broadcast by october29.ru)

SEPARATISTS SHELL UKRAINIAN TROOPS

Pro-Russian separatists reportedly shelled the position of Ukrainian government troops in southeastern Ukraine on October 29, despite an almost two-month-old cease-fire agreement.

Authorities in the port city of Mariupol say military positions located near the village of Talakovka were targeted on October 29 by conventional artillery and Grad rockets that were fired from from the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk.

Casualties were reported among troops.

The cease-fire agreement signed in early September ended most fighting between the two sides -- although battles at the Donetsk airport, in Mariupol, and in villages near the city of Luhansk continue on an almost daily basis.

The UN says more than 3,700 people have been killed in six months of fighting between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)

RUSSIAN AIRLINE PLANS YEREVAN-CRIMEA FLIGHTS OVER kYIV'S OBJECTIONS

By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

The Grozny Air civil aviation company, based in the Russia's Chechnya region, is pressing ahead with plans to launch regular flights from Yerevan to Crimea, despite protests from Kyiv.

Timur Shimayev, an executive officer for Grozny Air, told RFE/RL on October 29 that the firm's inaugural flight to Crimea is scheduled for November 17.

But Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Kukhta, told reporters in Yerevan on October 29 that any commercial flights between Yerevan and Crimea must first be approved by Kyiv.

Kukhta's statement came five days after a spokesman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, Ruben Grdzelian, said that a Russian regional airline had not been allowed to launch flights between Armenia and Crimea since the Ukrainian penninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea has been condemned as illegal by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly.

 

12:55 October 29, 2014

SANCTION THIS!

The Russian daily "Kommersant" reports that the state-run oil giant Rosneft is calling on President Vladimir Putin to impose new sanctions on the West. The new moves reportedly include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

12:41 October 29, 2014

AND IN THE FALLOUT DEPARTMENT...

Just a few things I've noticed this morning:

Russian-German Trade Down

German exports to Russia have dropped by more than a quarter, "The Moscow Times" reports. In August, exports from Germany to Russia were 2.3 billion euros, a 26.3 percent decrease from a year ago. Moreover, German exports to Russia fell by 16.6 percent from January-August 2014.

Russian Elite More Cohesive -- For Now

According to a report by Reuters, sanctions have had the "opposite effect to the one intended" among the elite. "Far from dividing those closest to President Vladimir Putin, they have forced the main players in the energy sector to rally behind him. This circle has by necessity become more focused, Western and Russian businessmen, diplomats and politicians said," according to the report.

Sweden Is Warming Up To NATO

Foreign Directors Bail On Russian Firms

Since the start of the year, 14 percent of foreigners serving on the boards of Russian firms have left their posts, "The Moscow Times" reports. "Western sanctions have forced some foreign directors to step down or curb their activities on the boards of publicly traded Russian companies, leaving a critical gap that few domestic candidates are equipped to fill," according to the report.

09:17 October 29, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE TO RESUME GAS TALKS

Russia and Ukraine are set to resume talks over a gas dispute on October 29 in Brussels.

The new round of negotiations comes after inconclusive talks October 21, when European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced some progress, but said a final deal has yet to be agreed.

Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt.

Oettinger said that, as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of Russian gas before the end of this year.

Russia on October 21 said the it would sell gas to Ukraine for $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

Moscow said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- but only if Ukraine pays in advance.

(Based on reporting by AFP and AP)

KYIV CONDEMNS MOSCOW'S SUPPORT FOR SEPARATIST ELECTIONS

Ukraine on October 28 condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s support for elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while the United States said a vote by separatists in eastern Ukraine would be unlawful.

The November 2 vote was scheduled by rebels in defiance of Ukrainian national elections on October 26, which were won by pro-Western parties.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 28 described the vote planned by rebels as "pseudo-elections," saying they "grossly contradict the spirit and letter" of international agreements reached in Minsk in September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow plans to recognize the elections that are being organized by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the the vote "will be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements."

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and TASS)

GAZPROM NEFT CHALLENGES EU SANCTIONS IN EUROPEAN COURT

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, said on October 28 that it has challenged European Union sanctions against the firm in the EU’s Court of Justice.

The sanctions against Gazprom Neft were imposed as part of wider restrictions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU sanctions restrict the ability of Gazprom Neft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer by output, to raise funds on European markets.

The United States also has imposed sanctions against Gazprom Neft in response to Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis.

The West says Moscow is supplying arms and troops to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine battle Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow denies that, despite increasing evidence to support the charges.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS)

18:54 October 27, 2014

THE BIG CHILL

Sam Greene, Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and author of "Moscow in Movement: Power & Opposition in Putin’s Russia," has a depressing (and must-read) blog post up about his recent trip to Moscow titled: "Russia's Tomorrow, Today."

It opens like this:

The news and the invitation were waiting for me, both, when I got off the plane from London to Moscow. I saw the invitation first—from a long-time colleague, to attend a workshop on the future of Russian politics later this month at Memorial, the venerable Russian historical society and human rights organization. I saw the news two hours later: 17 days after that workshop, Russia’s High Court will hold a hearing on the government’s demand that Memorial be liquidated.

That is the condition of life in Russia these days: two hours in which an invitation takes on a funerary pallor, 17 days in which the world becomes immeasurably smaller. Rarely has the distance between today and tomorrow been so great and so fraught as it is now.

And it concludes like this:

The tomorrow whose arrival now seems inevitable is one in which the archives of Memorial and the Sakharov Center disappear, to be replaced with a single national history textbook and a single national literature textbook, so that the past may have no bearing on the future. It is one in which policy analysis disappears from the public space, along with honest reporting, so that the present may also have no bearing on the future. Tomorrow, when it arrives, will bring one sole purpose: to preserve and protect the status quo. It is a tomorrow after which there are meant to be, politically speaking, no more tomorrows at all..

What the designers of this new tomorrow may not realize, however, is that, once freed from the paralysis of a pointless today, the despair of disaffection becomes the desperation of dissent. Dissidents, pitted against a regime that can never fall, take risks that are unnecessary in a more fluid system. They speak at all costs to demonstrate that they have no voice, and they go to jail to demonstrate that they are not free. Once today becomes tomorrow, and there are no more tomorrows for which to wait, the imperative of immediate action reemerges. 

Is the Kremlin ready for an opposition that, because everything is already lost, has nothing left to lose?

Read it all here.

And a h/t to Ben Judah for flagging.

 

15:42 October 27, 2014

FROM THE YOU-CAN'T-MAKE-THIS-STUFF-UP DEPARTMENT

The Russian health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has issued a dire warning: SEFIES CAUSE HEAD LICE!

No, really. I'm serious! It is actually on their official website:

"One reason for the spread of lice among teenagers, in the opinion of experts, is because selfie photographs have become more common. In these group photos, lice are transfered due to the touching of heads."

And it is causing a lot of laughs on the Twitter:

15:24 October 27, 2014

UKRAINIAN ECHOES: RUSSIA AND THE NEIGHBORS

The Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta" has launched a new video series on its YouTube channel called Украинское эхо, or The Ukrainian Echo, that looks at Moscow's relations with former-Soviet states in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis.

The first installment, which was out on October 20, focused on Georgia:

And the latest, which went online today, looks at Kazakhstan:

15:04 October 27, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

AS EU PRAISES UKRAINE ELECTIONS, RUSSIA CRITICIZES 'DIRTY CAMPAIGN'

The European Union has hailed the parliamentary election in Ukraine as a victory for democracy and pro-European reforms in the ex-Soviet republic.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a tweet on October 27: "Congratulations to the people of #Ukraine! Victory of democracy and European reforms' agenda."

Pro-Europe parties won a sweeping victory in a parliamentary election that Ukrainians hope will strengthen the country after a year of political turmoil and months of warfare against Russian-supported separatists in the east.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said it was clear the election was valid "in spite of the rather harsh and dirty campaign," Interfax news agency reported.

He said the new Rada would have to "start an inclusive dialogue with entire society."

(Based on reporting by AFP and Interfax)

AEROFLOT RESUMES FLIGHTS TO GEORGIA

State-controlled Russian airline Aeroflot has resumed flights between Moscow and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, after a six-year hiatus caused by the war between the two former Soviet republics.

An Aeroflot Airbus 320 carried about 100 passengers from Moscow to Tbilisi on October 27.

It was the Russian flag-carrier's first direct flight since a five-day war in August 2008 over breakaway South Ossetia.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and another Moscow-backed separatist province, Abkhazia, as independent states after the war, and it has troops stationed in both regions.

Diplomatic ties were severed over the war.

Direct flights between Russia and Georgia - operated by Russia's S7 and Ural Airlines as well as Georgian Airways - have been available in charter form only since August 2010.

(Based on reporting by apsny.ge and Interfax)

And via Reuters:

CZECH SECRET SERVICE SEES 'EXTREMELY HIGH' NUMBER OF RUSSIAN SPIES

PRAGUE, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Russia deployed an "extremely high" number of intelligence officers at its Czech embassy last year, the NATO member country's secret service said in an annual report released on Monday.

The reported increase in spying comes as relations between Russia and the West have worsened, culminating in the Ukraine crisis that began a year ago with street demonstrations against pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Czech spy-watchers have long warned about Russian intelligence services activities in the central European country, a member of the European Union, which is popular with Russians who often travel to and buy property in the country.

The Security Information Service (BIS) said Russian and Chinese spies in the Czech Republic work mostly to use politicians or journalists to extend their influence and secure their countries' economic interests.

"Both the Russian and the Chinese embassy employ intelligence officers serving under diplomatic cover. In 2013, the number of such officers at the Russian embassy was extremely high," the BIS report said.

Other intelligence officers travelled to the Czech Republic individually as tourists, experts, academics or businessmen.

"Russian intelligence services attempted to make use of both open and covert political, media and societal influence to promote Russian economic interests in the Czech Republic," the report said.

Russian intelligence activity previously jumped in 2007, when the Czech Republic and the United States held negotiations on building a missile defence radar in the country. The plan was eventually cancelled by President Barack Obama's administration after also running into opposition in the Czech parliament.

The current centre-left Czech government has taken a cautious approach as relations between Western countries and Russia have deteriorated this year over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.

A number of Czech officials have spoken against sanctions imposed by Brussels -- for which Russia has retaliated by banning food imports from Europe -- although the government has backed the EU's actions.

Yanukovich's overthrow in February prompted Moscow to annexe the Crimea peninsula and back separatist rebellions in eastern Ukraine in which more than 3,700 people have died.

The BIS has in the past warned of Russian intelligence officers building networks in the country using Czech citizens as well as the local Russian community.

The Polish government said on Saturday it had withdrawn accreditation from a Russian journalist after arresting two Poles, including a military officer, earlier this month on suspicion of spying for Russia.

The BIS said rejecting Czech visas or accreditation for Russians with ties to the intelligence services had led to cases of retaliation against Czech career diplomats.

RUSSIAN FM SAYS UKRAINE VOTE MAY LEAD TO PEACE, WARNS OF NATIONALISTS

MOSCOW, Oct 27 (Reuters) - A parliamentary election in Ukraine offers a chance for peace in the country's east, a deputy Russian foreign minister said on Monday but warned that "nationalists" in the chamber could undermine the process, RIA news agency reported.

An initial vote count showed pro-European parties had secured a clear victory in the Ukrainian poll, the first to be held since street protests ousted the country's pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovich, earlier this year.

"Parties supporting a peaceful resolution of the internal Ukrainian crisis won a majority. This gives them a new chance to return to the agreements made, first and foremost, in Minsk," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said, referring to agreements made by Kiev, Moscow and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko hailed the election result as a show of popular support for his plan to end a pro-Russian rebellion in the east and pursue reforms.

Kiev and the West blame Moscow for destabilising Ukraine by supporting and arming the rebels as well as reinforcing them with Russian troops. Moscow denies taking part in the armed conflict.

"The fact that openly nationalistic and chauvinistic forces won considerable support and will be represented in the Rada (parliament) creates an additional threat that again calls will sound ... for the use of force, for bloodshed," Karasin added.

"That is extremely dangerous."

14:36 October 27, 2014

PREPARING FOR A WAR AGAINST ALL

Just now catching up with defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer's disturbing analysis of Russia's military thinking: "Preparing for War Against the US on All Fronts—A Net Assessment of Russia’s Defense and Foreign Policy Since the Start of 2014."

"During all of 2014, Russia’s rulers and most of the population seem to have been living together in a daydream. Consequently, Russian defense and foreign policy plans as well as the country’s decision making apparatus have, for months, been based on little more than strange fantasies and outlandish assumptions. Yet, these fantasies are backed up by a formidable military machine, billions of petrodollars and a nuclear superpower arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And this is a truly dangerous mix."

Read it all here.

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)

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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