Wednesday, October 01, 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

LIVE 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

Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

From RFE/RL's News Desk:


The head of the European Commission says an EU-Ukraine trade deal can only be changed by Brussels and Kyiv – not Moscow.

Jose Manuel Barroso made the remarks in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin released on October 1.

Ukraine's parliament ratified its agreement with the EU last month. 

However, the implementation of the trade part of the deal has been delayed until January 2016 to appease Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.

Moscow has called for more three-way negotiations to amend the deal and threatened to curtail Ukraine's access to Russian markets if Kyiv implements it.

In his letter, Barroso warned Putin not to impose new trade measures, saying it would threaten the agreement with Russia to delay the EU-Ukraine pact.

(With reporting by Reuters)

And for anybody interested, here's the full text of Barroso's letter:

"Mr. President,

Following your letter of 17 September, I would like to welcome the constructive engagement from all sides in the trilateral ministerial meeting on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on 12 September.

The conclusions reached at that meeting were endorsed by all participants and set out in a joint ministerial statement.

On the EU side, we have informed our Member States of the outcome of the trilateral process, and we have now obtained their approval for the necessary legislative steps.

I should emphasize that the proposal to delay the provisional application of the DCFTA is linked to continuation of the CIS-FTA preferential regime, as agreed in the joint ministerial statement. In this context, we have strong concerns about the recent adoption of a decree by the Russian government proposing new trade barriers between Russia and Ukraine. We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement.

The joint ministerial statement also foresees further consultations on how to address concerns raised by Russia. We are ready to continue engaging on how to tackle the perceived negative impacts to the Russian economy resulting from the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

I take however this opportunity to underline that the Association Agreement remains a bilateral agreement and that, in line with international law, any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other, according to the mechanisms foreseen in the text and the respective internal procedures of the parties.

I wish to recall that the joint conclusions reached at the Ministerial meeting state clearly that all these steps are part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as its right to decide on its destiny.

Consequently, while all parties should implement the conclusions as laid down in the joint ministerial statement in good faith, the statement does not and cannot limit in any way the sovereign prerogatives of Ukraine.

The European Commission remains fully committed to contribute to a peaceful solution. In this respect we hope that the recent positive steps embodied in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September and the ensuing memorandum from 19 September will be fully implemented, including the monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and its verification by the OSCE, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the Ukrainian territory.

We also expect that rapid and decisive progress can be achieved in the trilateral gas talks towards a mutually acceptable interim solution for the upcoming winter period, on the basis of the compromise elements set out by the European Commission. It is key that the resumption of energy deliveries to the citizens of Ukraine is ensured and that the fulfilment of all contractual obligations with customers in the EU is secured.

Yours faithfully,

José Manuel BARROSO"


And just when you though it couldn't get any weirder, Valery Zorkin destroys your illusions.

That's Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court. Zorkin penned an article last week in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" (that's the official Russian government newspaper, by the way), calling for -- wait for it -- a return to serfdom. A big h/t to Elena Holodny at Business Insider for flagging this.

Here's the money quote:

"Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: 'We were yours, and you — ours.'"

Zorkin also took a shot at Pyotr Stolypin, the 19th century reformist prime minister (and a hero of Vladimir Putin's), and his judicial reforms.

"Stolypin's reform took away communal justice from the peasants in exchange for individual freedom, which almost none of them knew how to live and which was depriving their community guarantees of survival."

I wonder what that portends. Zorking also compared the abolotion of serfdom to the post-Soviet reforms of the 1990s.


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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