Friday, November 28, 2014

The Power Vertical

Russia's Top Judge Defends Authoritarian Rule

Valery Zorkin, chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court
Valery Zorkin, chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court
It appears that Valery Zorkin got the memo.

In a speech in St. Petersburg on April 7, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court argued that due to the economic crisis, Russia could descend into anarchy and then turn to totalitarianism. To prevent this, he said, the Kremlin has the right to employ authoritarian methods to save the country from disaster.

Zorkin invoked the fate of Weimar Germany, which he described as "one of the most democratic republics in world history" until the Nazis came to power, to argue that Russia needed to find what he described as a "golden mean" between freedom and order.

He also took more than a bit of liberty with the facts, claiming that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was "not afraid of accusations of applying authoritarian measures."

Zorkin's comments are the latest in a series by Russian officials that appear to be making the same argument: If you think we're bad, look out! The regime that follows us will be even worse.

Deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, the regime's informal ideologist, has been arguing that the authoritarian system of "sovereign democracy" he devised is working fine and does not need to be loosened up.

Pro-Kremlin political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky claims that a cabal exists in the Russian elite that is seeking to exploit the economic crisis and topple the current regime.

And Dmitry Orlov, director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, recently wrote that whenever Russia's social contract collapses, it has historically resulted in chaos and disaster.

As I have noted here, this parade of comments comes in response to mounting calls for a liberalization from leading public intellectuals, who argue that the crisis has exposed the bankruptcy of the current arrangement.

Among those appealing for change are Igor Yurgens, director of the Institute of Contemporary Development and an aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Arkady Dvorkovich, the head of the Kremlin's experts directorate, and Yevgeny Gontmakher, director of the Center for Social Policy at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The calls for preserving the current system also come amid a wave of demonstrations calling on President Dmitry Medvedev to fire Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Russia's elite is clearly splitting into factions that have drawn radically different lessons from the economic crisis. Many in the pro-reform camp are placing their hopes in Medvedev and the Russian media has seen its fair share of stories claiming that the president is waiting for the opportune time to make his move.

Much has been made of Medvedev's "Golden 1,000," the group of new leaders the president has recruited to form Russia's new nomenklatura.

If this is indeed Medvedev's intention -- and that is a very big if -- it seems far fetched that he could really mount a serious challenge to the 'siloviki' clan of security service veterans that dominates Putin's inner circle. The likes of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, for example, are not going to go quietly into the night.

And Zorkin's comments this week are a warning to any liberalizers out there that the forces invested in preserving the current system are ready for a fight.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: elite,valery,zorkin,splits,opposition,crisis,Russia

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
April 11, 2009 03:21
Brian, I really do think it's time for even serious journalists like you to begin considering the use of quotation marks where certain terms are used in reference to Russia -- for instance &quot;judge&quot; and &quot;president&quot; and &quot;prime minister&quot; and &quot;elections&quot; and &quot;law.&quot; Otherwise, you are misleading lay readers who might think these words are somehow related in Russia to their meaning in the West.<br /><br />This man is not a judge, he's a &quot;judge.&quot; He was educated in the USSR, and he's a barbaric ape, just the sort who facilitated the Stalinization of the USSR, and hence its destruction.<br /><br />Time to call a spade a spade.

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In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

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About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or