Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

Preventative Measures

FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov is ready and waiting.
FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov is ready and waiting.

A few days ago, fellow Power Verticalist Brian Whitmore gave the rundown on a bill the government has submitted to the Duma that would give the Federal Security Service (FSB) the authority to take “preventative measures” against individuals and organizations whose activities they think might lead to the commission of a crime, particularly the promotion of “extremism.”

Today, former assistant to Boris Yeltsin and INDEM foundation head Georgy Satarov has an interesting analysis of what the government’s thinking might be in calling for such an, excuse the pun, extreme measure. Satarov’s analysis is particularly interesting because he has gotten a hold of the “explanatory note” that the government submitted together with the bill, in which it lays out its “reasoning.”(If you read Russian, it is worth going through the whole piece, because I’ll only hit a couple of highlights here. Also, you can read the text of the government's letter and the text of the bill itself on the Duma's website by following the links on this page.)

First, Satarov mentions that the bill is directed against “the actions of people that facilitate the appearance of reasons or the creation of circumstances for the commission of a crime.” Under the bill, Satarov speculates, the FSB could theoretically take “preventative measures” against the Duma for passing a law that creates opportunities for corruption. Or it could go after the president for signing such a law or the government for enforcing it…. By such logic, the FSB could act preemptively against minorities for creating the conditions under which some neo-Nazi skinheads might want to beat them up. Jews could be harassed for inciting anti-Semitism by being Jewish. Police officers could be arrested for provoking violent anarchists.

Even more interestingly, Satarov notes that the explanatory note for the law claims that “the activity of radical organizations is leading to the growth of social tension and a strengthening of negative processes in society, especially among youths.” Satarov adds that the theme of youths runs through the document “like a red thread,” perhaps giving a hint about the real purpose of the bill. His dissection of this bit of the FSB’s logic is worth quoting at length:


They are trying to persuade us that “the activization of the activity of radical organizations” is the cause of social instability and the strengthening of negative tendencies in society. Next they’ll be telling us that the wind is caused by the movement of tree branches. But the scariest thing is that they might really think this way themselves. When I was a presidential assistant, I systematically read the analyses of various agencies, and the most talentless and useless ones came from the FSB. It doesn’t seem to occur to them (and they definitely don’t want it to ever occur to us!) that social tension is rooted in the constantly increasing gap between rich and poor, in bureaucratic unaccountability from which there is no protection, and many other miracles produced by the practices of the authorities, of whom the author of the document is a member. We might also mention their efforts to inculcate xenophobia, chauvinism, and great-power arrogance. They are the ones who encourage the demonstrations of fascists and forbid the protests of democrats.

The government’s explanatory note also argues that the law is needed because “certain mass-media organs, both print and electronic, are openly facilitating the formation of negative processes in the spiritual sphere, reinforcing the cult of individualism and violence and doubt about the ability of the state to defend its citizens, de facto drawing youths into extremist activity.” That is, we can expect this conveniently vague measure to be used against mass media as the country approaches the next national elections (Duma deputies! Pass this law and save your seats!). As I noted in my last post here, this bill will work very nicely with another government initiative to bring blogs and other Internet publications under the umbrella of the mass-media law.

Next, Satarov takes note of the government’s admission in the explanatory document that “despite the organizational and legal measure that have been implemented in recent years…the number of crimes against lives and health committed on the basis of extremist-nationalistic convictions is not decreasing.”

Satarov then enumerates the “organizational and legal measures” the government has taken in recent years: cancelling gubernatorial elections; abolishing elections in general as an institution of honest political competition; the introduction of restrictive laws on the activity of public organizations; the expansion of the definition of extremism to include anything that the government doesn’t like; the restriction of the institution of jury trials; the unprecedented growth of corruption; and the unconvincing imitation of a war against corruption. And now, this new bill – or, to quote Monty Python, now for something completely different.

Satarov ends his analysis by noting that the FSB is one of the government agencies that is directly subordinate to the president. He therefore notes that it is more than passing strange that this bill to amend the law on the FSB came from the government and bears the prime minister’s signature. Hmmm.

-- Robert Coalson

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous from: USA
May 06, 2010 15:31
"cult of individualism" is an interesting phrase. As opposed to what? Reality of collectivism? Russia is looking more and more like the USSR with every passing year.

by: Jon from: Macao
May 10, 2010 03:38
Sounds like Tsar Putin preparing for his return. Also sounds remarkably like the kind of language used by the Chinese Communist Party.
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 11, 2010 06:17
For accuracy sake, you need to look at the situation in a more complete manner.

Russia Promises Poland to Declassify Katyn Documents

Russian President Slams “Totalitarian” USSR

In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 11, 2010 13:58
You also need to look at the situation, and ask more questions like: Why were the Katyn Documents classified in 2004 only to be declassified a few years later? Is there something the Russians didn't want the world to know about the Soviet role at Katyn? Also, why is there division in Russia regarding Stalin's role in history? Communist purges, famine in Ukraine, Katyn, Ribbentrop/Molotov pact (Pact of Steel, as it was known), post-war Jewish purges in USSR....Stalin was behind all of it! Putin and company have always lamented the collapse of Soviet power, not necessarily the USSR...I'm happy for the demise of both.
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 18, 2010 06:47

At last notice, I understand that the documents in question are in the process of getting declassified. A number of governments and institutions the world over aren't always so quick to release certain documents. For example, I understand that the Vatican hasn't fully come clean on documents pertaining to some of its manner during WW II and shortly thereafter.

Russia isn't completely monolithic. On M-R, why did PACE mention that without noting the earlier Western appeasement at Munich?

As a non-bigoted anti-Communist, I don't miss the USSR, while supporting a secure and strong Russia, which doesn't unnecessarily provoke, or get unnecessarily provoked.

In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 18, 2010 17:42
Russia is not coming clean, it is doing the opposite. The Katyn documents are an exception to what is otherwise harrassment of historians trying to document Stalin's crimes against humanity. When researchers suddenly get their computers confiscated by "the authorities", and then not returned afterward, it strongly suggests that the Russian FSB wants more control over historical information. The Vatican doesn't do that. When they release something, it stays released. As for Western appeasement before WWII, can anyone blame them for being that way less than 20 years after the "Great War of 1914-18". Most nations in the late '30's were more concerned with surviving the Great Depression, than starting yet another European war. I hope that Obama isn't taking an appeasing role with Russia in order to avoid another Cold War. If he is, it will probably backfire.
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 19, 2010 14:04

The proof is in the pudding. There're numerous examples to give which show how Russian government and non-government advocacy is becoming more open and critical on the discussed topic. The situation is by no means perfect, while appearing to be part of an ongoing process. I don't quite get one of your points concerning when a given document is released. Once it's made known, it can't suddenly be stricken from memory

The fact of the matter is that other governments as well as some institutions aren't so willing to quickly release certain documents.

On your last point, you explain the basis for the Munich appeasement. On M-R, the Soviets had a basis as well, which tends to get downplayed or distorted by some.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 19, 2010 17:16
"I don't quite get one of your points concerning when a given document is released. Once it's made known, it can't suddenly be stricken from memory"

Yes it can! After the US left Vietnam, those US collaberators left behind were sent to "re-education camps". It's called brainwashing my friend; it happened during the Soviet era and it continues today in Putin's Russia.

"On your last point, you explain the basis for the Munich appeasement. On M-R, the Soviets had a basis as well, which tends to get downplayed or distorted by some."

The Soviet basis didn't make any sense. It was nothing more than a land grab by Stalin. It wasn't as if the USSR allied itself to Poland like it was after the war. The Soviet Union SEIZED a large section of Poland as well as the Baltic countries and eliminated the sovereignty of those states. Saying it was justified because of Western appeasement of Hitler is just an excuse. Are you questioning the rights of those states to exist? If so, my response would be "YES!" they do have a right to exist!
In Response

by: BS Buster
May 20, 2010 10:22
Not at all. Just look at some of the Russian views in Russia getting regularly propped. They aren't being sent to re-education camps.

The Soviets did offer an alliance to defend Czech sovereignty. Instead, the West chose to keep the USSR out of Munich as the Nazis got their way.

The Soviets proceeded to make their own deal with the Nazis. Should the Soviets have let the Nazis take all of Poland, making the Nazi threat to the USSR a greater one?

FYI, the Poles and Hungarians took Czechoslovak territory along with the Nazis in 1938.

In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 20, 2010 15:56

"Not at all. Just look at some of the Russian views in Russia getting regularly propped. They aren't being sent to re-education camps."

Russian "re-education" is happening in their school system today with modified history books glorifying Stalin and minimizing his crimes against humanity. Russian television is also playing a role because it is controled by the Kremlin which modifies news content before broadcasting on a daily basis.

"The Soviets did offer an alliance to defend Czech sovereignty. Instead, the West chose to keep the USSR out of Munich as the Nazis got their way."

What's that got to do with the absorption of parts of Poland, Finland and the Baltic states into the USSR? If the Nazis do something, does that mean it is justified for the Soviets to do the same?

"The Soviets proceeded to make their own deal with the Nazis. Should the Soviets have let the Nazis take all of Poland, making the Nazi threat to the USSR a greater one?"

The Nazis took all of Poland anyway in 1941. From what I understand, the Nazis were not considered a threat by the USSR until the actual invasion started. If your neighbor and I decided to rob your home and split the loot, is only your neighbor a criminal, regardless of what events happen afterward? The Nazis double-crossed the Soviets, but before that, they both essentially divided East Europe amoungst themselves.

"FYI, the Poles and Hungarians took Czechoslovak territory along with the Nazis in 1938."

Once again, this has nothing to do with the Baltic states, or parts of Poland or Finland being absorbed into the USSR. Your argument has not basis, its just an excuse. It sounds like, "if Poland, Hungary, etc. does it, than the USSR should do it too."

In Response

by: BS Buster
May 20, 2010 21:34
Of late, Russian education, government and society at large are taking a more critical view of Stalin.

Reading back on the previous exchanges is the explaining away of Western appeasement without noting the Soviet desire at having their security interests better maintained.

Prior to M-R, the Soviets and Nazis were seen as being on a collision course. After Munich and before M-R, some in the West were hoping for a Nazi-Soviet war that would weaken the two while keeping others out of it.

Historically, the Baltics were used as a strategic asset of several powers near it. Hence, the USSR was by no means alone in having that attitude. This point doesn't excuse such manner, while providing a more complete overview.

FYI, the Finns were offered different land from the Soviets before the start of the Soviet-Finnish war. The Soviets wanted a land adjustment of the two countries borders on the premise that Finland favored the Nazis in a Nazi-Soviet war. It was well within Finland's right to refuse that offer. I make these points for providing a fuller view of the situation. I'm not into overly rhetorical propaganda.

by: F. Kazemzadeh from: Alta Loma, CA
May 12, 2010 22:12
Preventative? What does it prevenatate?

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

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