Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Power Vertical

Not Quite Unanimous

Yabloko's Mitrokhin "blocking access" to the Duma today
Yabloko's Mitrokhin "blocking access" to the Duma today

The Duma today by an overwhelming margin passed in their first reading amendments to the constitution that would extend the president's term of office to six years and the term of Duma deputies to five years.


Despite the importance of the changes, the bill is sailing through the legislature with virtually no discussion, either by lawmakers or the public. The Communists, the only "opposition" faction in the legislature, put up token resistance to the initiatives. First, they were shot down with a proposal to postpone the voting; then they declared they favor extending their own terms while opposing amending the president's.


"If we take the scope of power of the current president, he has more power than the general secretary [of the Soviet Union], the czar and the pharaoh altogether," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told deputies, according to AP. "He has enough power to solve any issues. And there is not a single element of control over this authority."


In the end, the Communists voted against the bill, which passed 388-58.


Perhaps because of the appalling lack of justification for the changes on the part of President Dmitry Medvedev, a few people are speaking against the changes, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The liberal Yabloko party arranged a rotating one-person picket (one-person demonstrations do not require the permission of the authorities; here's a history of how Russians lost their right to demonstrate) outside the Duma, with activists taking turns holding a sign that said, "Deputies should be ashamed to extend terms." Security guards ended the demonstration, saying the lone picketer "blocked access" to the building.


Our service also quoted several leading cultural figures as opposing the changes, which would be the first amendments to the constitution since it was adopted in 1993. Writer Valentin Oskotsky called the measure "the canonization of presidential power."


"Imagine that Barack Obama, upon entering the White House, with his first law decided to begin by changing the constitution to extend the president's term of office -- and, what is more, insisted it had to be done immediately," actress Liya Akhedzhakova said. "We'd all think he was up to no good."


Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin told RFE/RL that "Russia is becoming more and more like some Asian countries, such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where presidential powers are granted for life."


-- Robert Coalson

Tags: terms,duma,protest,Russia

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"Novorossyia is just a cinematic project to rile up the population anyway. The “heroes” have always been actors in a larger drama, and when this series jumps the shark, its production set will be folded up and the stage will be prepared for a new theatrical work to dazzle the spectator. The cinematography deployed to turn Russia into “war state” is all just the tactics. We shouldn’t so quickly substitute smoke and mirrors for reality. Putin’s real strategy is to hobble Ukraine and humble the West, and on that he’s doing pretty damn well."

As usual, Paul Goble already a lot of great content up at his Window on Eurasia blog. Does that man ever sleep? As I've said before, Window on Eurasia is one of the best resources available in the English language for Russia watchers. The volume of material -- not to mention the quality -- is amazing. Does this guy ever sleep? 

A couple things that immediately caught my eye today:

A post about how Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka is "quietly purging" a "pro-Moscow 'Fifth Column'" in his regime. 

"Concerned that Moscow might engineer a regime change in Belarus as a follow on to its actions in Ukraine, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been purging pro-Russian officials from his regime – but in a very quiet way lest he provoke Moscow as a result."

The piece cited reports in "Nasha Niva" and "Obozrevatel

There's also a piece, citing the web portal "Novy Kaliningrad" that looks at whether Kaliningrad's Muslim community might rebel against Moscow. 

"The 100,000-strong Muslim community of Kaliningrad is running out of options in the Russian legal system to secure land for the construction of a mosque in that Russian exclave and consequently will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, according to their lawyer Dagir Khasavov.

But meanwhile, continuing opposition by regional officials to a mosque, Irshat Khisamov, head of the Muslim community in the oblast, says, is having “an extremely negative” impact on the members of his community. And many of them believe the governor there wants 'a Maidan like the one in Ukraine.'"


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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