Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Pokazukha Liberalization

Televisions in a Moscow shop showing an interview with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in December 2009.
Televisions in a Moscow shop showing an interview with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in December 2009.
Is it real or is it pokazukha?

This is usually the first question on the minds of Kremlin-watchers when something happens to suggest high-level infighting among Russia's ruling elite. It comes up whenever there are signs of division in the ruling tandem of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev (and the order I listed them here was no accident). And it certainly should be question number one whenever there are rumblings in or near the corridors of power about liberalizing the system.

Look! Putin and Medvedev sent very different messages about modernization at a State Council meeting. Is a rift really opening up in the tandem over policy? Or is this just for show? Is it real, or is it pokazukha?

Holy cow! Federation Council Speaker and erstwhile Putin ally Sergei Mironov publicly criticized Russia's national leader and then got into a noisy public spat with the ruling Untied Russia party. Is the elite splitting apart at the seams? Or it this just a diversion? Is it real or is it pokazukha?
Check this out! On the same day, both Putin and Medvedev both indicated that they will seek the presidency in 2012. Is the tandem on the brink of collapse? Is it real or is it pokazukha?

In a recent article in "Newsweek," Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova make a very strong case that for all Medvedev's talk of reform and modernization, in the end it's all just pokazukha.

Here's the money quote, in which Matthews and Nemtsova cite Russian political analyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya (one of Moscow's leading experts on the Kremlin elite):

Far from being challenges to Putin, Medvedev's initiatives, according to Kryshtanovskaya, are all part of a clearly defined plan, called Russia 2020, that was cooked up by the Putin team as long ago as 2005. Phase one, carried out by Putin himself, was to make his hold on power unassailable by bringing all media and political parties under Kremlin control. Phase two, now underway, is to impose a highly controlled version of liberalization from above that will include more freedom of expression, a friendlier face toward the West, and inviting former liberal critics to act as Kremlin advisers.

This highly limited and tightly controlled flirtation with liberalization has been expedited and intensified, the authors argue, because the economic downturn has "forced the government to come up with a new liberal paradigm to dampen flickers of social discontent," with hopes that "allowing a degree of free speech and creating the appearance of responsive government will keep voters happy."

It is also necessary because the ruling elite needs better relations with the West in order to protect the estimated $200 billion to $300 billion that has been skimmed from the Russian economy over the past decade. Here are Matthews and Nemtsova, citing Yelena Panfilova of Transparency International Russia:

To keep these ill-gotten assets safe, Russia's kleptocrats need to ensure that future generations of leaders never try to bring them to justice and that foreigners don't pry too deeply. 'All the Kremlin's money is abroad, and [the siloviki] realize they should make friends with the Americans in order to provide themselves and their money some security,' says Panfilova. The best way to avoid scrutiny is to seem to lead, or at least endorse, the cause of reform—or so the thinking goes.

So I guess we can call what has been going on a "pokazukha liberalization."

It's a bit ironic that Putin and his team, who clearly favor a Yury Andropov-style authoritarian modernization, are now being forced -- albeit temporarily and reluctantly -- to pursue policies more reminiscent of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika. And we all remember how that exercise in controlled liberalization turned out.

Truth told, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what is going on here and haven't reached any definitive conclusions. In the past, I have written that Putin and his inner circle were seeking to establish "an enduring political system -- a centralized, authoritarian, vertically integrated and unitary executive that can manage a thorough and comprehensive modernization of Russia." Essentially Andropov's vision of modernization.

I still believe that was the plan. The recent pokazukha liberalization (if you can even call it that) was probably an adjustment brought on by the economic crisis. But I still believe that for the key members of Putin's inner circle -- and certainly for key siloviki like Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin -- the goals of the original plan remain intact.

In a recent interview with "Svobodnaya pressa," Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin makes a point that goes to the very heart of why this gang is not going to let its power be whittled away without a fight:

Putin has built a system of government in which a person standing at its top is above the law, parliament, and courts. Above everything, because everything is subordinated to him. Consequently, if you lose this place, a different person comes who is above the law and parliament. The one who has left the place at the pinnacle of the vertical system becomes absolutely defenseless and protected only by good will of the new leader. If this good will runs out, the former leader becomes vulnerable. What is even more dangerous, people from his team also become vulnerable: naked, weak, ones you can do whatever you want with.

This is an option typical of South Korea, where powerful presidents, after they served their term in office, were brought to trial on corruption charges and convicted. This option absolutely does not suit the Putin team. This means that by definition, they cannot leave the vertical system. In the political jargon, it is called the absence of an exit strategy. Vertical models of government in principle provide no exit strategy. In this system, you cannot just go and engage in private affairs, as Bill Clinton did. It is either you command or you are commanded. Therefore, it is not so important whether Putin will run in elections or sends someone else to run for him. It is important that power should remain in the hands of this group.

This is all very true and almost certainly reflects the Kremlin elite's thinking. But the problem is what starts out as pokazukha doesn't always remain that way. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own. Discontent in society is very real. (Kaliningrad anyone?) The middle and lower rungs of the elite are getting very restless. (see Igor Yurgens and his allies) Can those at the higher level be too far behind?

And although oil prices have recovered much of their losses, living standards are not going to improve under the current system as fast as many Russians were led to believe during the heady days of Putin's second term.

Despite the Kremlin's best-laid plans, this all remains very unpredictable and highly unstable.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: liberalization,modernization,pokazuka,Vladimir Putin,medvedev

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 08, 2010 20:43
Good analysis, but I'm left wondering where the line is between pokazyka and reality. Consider our 'cradle of democracy'-Washington, DC. On the surface, sure looks like democracy. Dig a bit deeper, however, and see how the two parties are playing at politics, while working with their pals on Wall Street, to empty the bank accounts of most hard-working Americans. And with the role big money now plays in elections, does it even matter what the average American thinks? He/she will be fed a message to ensure that he never questions the status quo. You're right: Putin and crew are corrupt as sin, but increasingly it feels like the pot is calling the kettle black.

by: Sean from: Moscow, Russia
March 09, 2010 06:39
<i>It's a bit ironic that Putin and his team, who clearly favor a Yury Andropov-style authoritarian modernization, are now being forced -- albeit temporarily and reluctantly -- to pursue policies more reminiscent of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika.</i>

This pick-your-GenSek (Stalin, Brezhnev, and now Andropov) vs. Gorbachev metaphor is so tired if only because it is so inaccurate. This liberalization/modernization is more reminiscent of 1905-1914 Tsarist Russia. Putin et al. are conservative Russian liberals--not the liberals you want--but those in the Russian tradition. When you say Andropov, I think of Stolypin and Witte. If you really want to see what conservative liberals are reading, come to a intelligenty bookstore in Moscow and see all the new history books evaluating the post-1905 period. No one is seriously thinking about the 1970s and 1980s.

The people who occupy the Kremlin are more neo-Tsarist than neo-Soviet, but "Soviet" plays a much better political foil in the imagination of Western liberals.

by: God from: Heaven
March 09, 2010 06:39
To add to this article that in Russia there is probably fear in the Kremlin that any social unrest could not only end the power of the siloviki, but bring an end to Russia as a nation. Historically, Russia has always been an empire based on some form of occupation and expansion. Russia expanded eastward beyond the Urals first then moved into the Baltics, Finland, Caucasus, etc. Didn't Kaliningrad used to be called Konigsburg? Didn't Vladivostok used to be part of China (up until the Opium Wars). Even today the Chinese refer to Vladivostok by a different name. This all harks back to the old Russian idea that they are the decendants of Byzantium and the inheritors of the Christian World. The so-called "Third Rome" (Reminds one of "Third Reich"). The last thing the power verticle wants to hear about, is separatist movements in Siberia, Karelia, Caucasus, Kaliningrad, Tatarstan, etc. all going on at the same time. A splintering of an empire with no possible way to stop it. So they will use whatever methods necessary to clamp down on any social unrest. These methods will not succeed forever. The Czar were unable to keep a lid on social unrest and so it will be for the current power verticle. It's as if Putin and Co. are dumping wood on a campfire before an approaching thunderstorm, hoping that a hotter fire won't be washed away by the pouring rain.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 09, 2010 09:18

Thanks for the major belly laugh regarding Russians thinking out their new dictatorship by studying "the post-1905 period." What a hoot! Do you have more you could share? Winter doldrums, you know. Or were you simply drunk when you wrote that?

Your haughty, condescending arrogance bespeaks someone of great achievements or a totally pathetic loser. Perhaps you could clarify which one you are?

The people who occupy the Kremlin are more neo-Soviet than neo-Tsarist, but "Tsarist" plays a much better political foil in the imagination of bitter Marxist extremists.

Maybe you haven't noticed, but (a) the ruler of Russia is a proud KGB spy and (b) the music of the national anthem of Russia is same as that of the USSR and (c) the government of Russia is actively rehabilitating Stalin and the Cold War and shooting journalists and sending rival candidates to Siberia.

Now granted, there was some continuity between the institution of the Tsar and the institution of the Politburo, continuity that many Marxist rabble would like to sweep under the carpet. And granted, Putin makes more use of the church than did the Politburo. But that's what NEO-Soviet means, you see. NEW and improved, or so they think.

PS: Your evidence in support of your point is really devastating. Did it take you many years to acquire research skills like those?

by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 09, 2010 09:21
For those interested in reading about the rehabilitation of Stalin in neo-Soviet Russia, from the pages of the Kremlin's own propaganda network no less:

by: Vakhtang
March 09, 2010 12:05
показуха ж. разг. неодобр.
это сплошная показуха — it's all put on; just for show

by: James from: Washington DC
March 09, 2010 13:12
I think that we can often make the mistake of projecting an assumption of overly complex strategic planning in the formation of Russia's current political system, and the gestures toward liberalization being made.

I don't believe that Putin and his inner circle hold "values" of authoritarianism, but rather found it to be the most convenient system of control, patronage, and rent-seeking. If social circumstances provide the opportunity for the expansion of presidential powers, many if not most leaders are bound to take the opportunity (it's also an American tradition from FDR to Bush).

If pursuing a law-abiding, open democratic model were as secure and profitable to Kremlin elites, that's likely the political model we would see. The liberalization effort is similarly an effort to preserve legitimacy of what they have already stolen.

by: Knockout Puncher
March 09, 2010 14:11
Re: Below Comments

Another round of stupidity from a usual source.

Actually, elements within United Russia have shown opposition to portraying Stalin in a more positive light.

Contrary to the often stated mantra, much of contemporary Russia's fareast was never part of China. Russia and China recently signed an agreement ending any formal disagreement over borders. Historically speaking, one can debate whether modern China is such a great successor to the Mongol Empire.

The Russian expansionism point is typical of the hypocritical bunk out there. Imagine if there was land between Hawaii and Califiornia. Meantime, land currently outside Russia seeks to become a part of it, whereas no land in Russia presently seeks to leave that country.

It's great that post-Soviet Russia is taking a more positive view of its pre-Soviet past. It's a good idea to merge the positive attributes of the past in a progressive contemporary mode.


by: God from: Heaven
March 10, 2010 03:47
Wow, my comment seemed to have frayed some Russophile nerves on this site.
Knockout Puncher:
Russia and other European powers were known in the 19th century to slice off parts of China for themselves. The British had Hong Kong, Portugal had Macau, Russia had Port Arthur, etc. China was forced to hand over Vladivostok to Czarist Russia in the 19th century. Any signed agreements recently have no effect on historical fact. Also, Hitler proved that signed agreements are just pieces of paper, that can be shredded easily. You seemed to confuse China with Mongolia. China is no successor to the Mongolian empire any more Russia is a successor to the Ottoman empire. There are regions seeking to leave Russia. In fact, one did before being re-invaded, its called.....CHECHNYA. Yes, Russians still have 19th century mindset. The de-facto annexation of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia is proof of that. There are Russian nationalists today that actually believe Alaska should be part of "the Fatherland", but the Americans would violently defend one of their 50 States with nuclear force.

by: Knockout Puncher
March 10, 2010 16:46
For whatever reason my last set of comments got knocked downstairs instead of in the order it should be in - in accordance with how some of the other comments typically get posted.

I didn't confuse the Mongol Empire with China. Rather, I suggested how someone else seemingly did at this thread.

Chechnya had a referendum whose result showed support for staying within Russia. The appeal of Chechen separatism has noticeably decreased, due to what happened in two different instances during the last decade, when that republic twice had considerable autonomy. Specifically, mayhem from within Chechnya. What other parts of Russia are seeking to separate from it?

South Ossetia and Abkhazia haven't been "annexed," contrary to the misguided claim to the contrary. Put it this way, has Kosovo been annexed to NATO?

The number of Russians believing that Alaska should be given back to Russia is very small.
Comments page of 2

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From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)



Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)


A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014


According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

11:01 October 23, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Top managers at a Moscow airport have resigned and four more airport workers have been detained over a plane crash that killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when a corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee said on October 23 that prosecutors had detained an air-traffic controller intern, her supervisor, the head of air-traffic controllers, and the chief of runway cleaning.

Meanwhile, the airport announced the resigntion of its director-general, Andrei Dyakov, and his deputy, Sergei Solntsev.

And a Moscow court ordered that the snowplough driver remain in custody until December 21.

The driver says that he has lost his bearings before the collision.

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

And these items from Reuters:


By Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A Russian court decided on Thursday to postpone to next week a hearing on a move to wrest control of an oil company from oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, a case that has deepened investors' fears the Kremlin wants to reclaim prized assets.

Russian prosecutors filed the suit last month to regain state ownership of Bashneft, saying there had been alleged violations in the privatisation and subsequent sale of the oil producer to Russian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Sistema in 2009.

On Thursday, the judge at the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled in favour of the prosecutors who had requested more time to prepare their case and said the next hearing would take place on Oct. 30.

Sistema's shares, which lost 70 percent after it reached a peak this year in July, traded down nearly 5 percent in early trading in Moscow. Bashneft's shares were down 1.3 percent on the day.

In September, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of Sistema's majority stake in Bashneft a day after a judge refused to release Yevtushenkov, who is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition.

The case centres on the privatisation of oil production and refining assets in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan in the Ural mountains in the early 2000s and Bashneft's subsequent sale to Sistema.

The Russian investigators say the privatisation and the sale was illegal.

Sistema, which directly owns almost 72 percent of Bashneft's voting rights and has a stake of 86.7 percent, including 12.6 percent which it owns through its subsidiary Sistema-Invest, has denied the allegations.

Yevtushenkov is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

Some analysts have said that state-controlled Rosneft , Russia's biggest oil producer run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, was interested in buying Bashneft.

The company, Russia's sixth largest crude oil producer, extracted more than 16 million tonnes (320,000 barrels per day) of crude oil last year, increasing output by more than 4 percent - the best results among domestic majors after launching production at new deposits in the Arctic.

Its oil refining capacity stands at 24.1 million tonnes a year. (Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; writing by Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Elizabeth Piper and William Hardy)


BRUSSELS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - NATO and Swedish fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian intelligence-gathering plane that briefly entered Estonian airspace on Tuesday, the alliance said on Wednesday.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry called the Russian ambassador to the ministry and gave him a protest note over the incursion, the Estonian defence forces said.

Fighters from Denmark as well as Portuguese F-16s from NATO's air policing mission in the Baltics took off after radar detected an unidentified aircraft flying close to NATO airspace in the Baltic Sea, NATO said.

The plane was identified as a Russian IL-20 intelligence-gathering aircraft that had taken off from Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, heading towards Denmark.

The Russian aircraft was first intercepted by Danish F-16s and later, as it headed further north, by fighters from Sweden, which is not a NATO member.

The Russian aircraft turned south again, entering Estonian airspace for less than one minute, a NATO statement said.

Portuguese F-16s, which had been scrambled from their base in Lithuania, escorted the Russian plane away from NATO airspace.

Interceptions of Russian military aircraft by NATO planes over the Baltic region have increased since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March, but usually Russian planes only approach NATO airspace and do not enter it, a NATO source said.

At a time when tension between Russia and the West is running high over Ukraine, Swedish forces have been scouring the sea off Stockholm following reports of activity by foreign submarines or divers using an underwater vehicle. (Reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and David Mardiste in Tallinn; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

11:12 October 22, 2014


In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.


08:27 October 22, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:


European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

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

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

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


The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)


The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and


Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)


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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