Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Power Vertical

A 'Kompromat' War Of All Against All

President Vladimir Putin (left) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meet in the Kremlin in May.
President Vladimir Putin (left) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meet in the Kremlin in May.
Is it an anti-graft campaign? A purge of the elite? Or the start of a clan war?
When police raided and searched the home of Rostelekom CEO Aleksandr Provotorov last week, it marked yet another chapter in what the Russian media has been describing as a Kremlin-backed war on corruption.

The search was part of a probe into Marshall Capital, where Provotorov was a partner before becoming head of the state-run telecommunications giant in July 2010.
Investigators are looking into whether Russagroprom, a now bankrupt subsidiary of Marshall Capital, fraudulently received -- and then defaulted on -- a $225 million loan from the investment bank VTB Capital in 2007.
The home of Konstantin Malofeyev, current head of Marshall Capital, was also searched. For the time being, prosecutors are describing Provotorov and Malofeyev as "witnesses" in the case.
With all the other corruption probes out there -- from the procurement scandal that brought down former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to the probes into financial malfeasance in the Regional Development Ministry and the Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass) -- what makes the Rostelekom case so noteworthy?
Well, for one thing, Provotorov is considered a close Putin ally. He served as his protocol chief, he was made head of Rostelekom with Putin's support, and in July the Kremlin leader awarded him a Medal of Honor.
"This is in fact an attempt to replace the manager of one of Russia's largest companies, who is under the Kremlin's political patronage," Tatyana Stanovaya, head of the analytical department for the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies wrote in
Moreover, Russian media has reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has been trying to remove Provotorov at Rostelekom and replace him with Vadim Semyonov, the head of state telecoms holding company Svyazinvest and an old law-school classmate of the premier's.
"The conflict is reaching the very top, splitting the vertical. The battle line is passing between the government and the Kremlin," Stanovaya wrote.
Additionally, the assault on Provotorov comes on the heels of the dismissal of Serdyukov, which some commentators interpreted, at least in part, as retribution against the former defense minister for cozying up to Medvedev late in his presidency.
"In the last two years of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, Serdyukov increasingly sought and found support specifically in the Kremlin rather than the White House, where Putin was installed at the time," Yevgenia Albats recently wrote in "Novoye vremya."

Most notably, Albats wrote, Serdyukov used Medvedev's backing -- over Putin's objections -- to increase spending on armaments from 2011-20 from 13 trillion rubles to 20 trillion rubles ($409 billion to $630 billion).
So is it that neat and clean? Simple tit-for-tat?
I'd be very cautious of interpreting the Rostelekom case as Medvedev's answer to Serdyukov's dismissal.
First of all, with his political obituary being written almost daily in the Russian press Medvedev is politically very weak right now and I doubt he would be able to launch such a frontal assault on a close Putin ally.
Moreover, although Serdyukov did in fact use Medvedev to get his defense budget hike back in 2011, it would be a bit of a stretch to call him an ally of the prime minister. He simply played one side of the tandem against the other to get what he wanted -- and probably paid the price for it with the famously vindictive Putin. He also had many enemies within the military. (It also probably didn't help Serdyukov that he lost an important political patron when his marriage to the daughter of Putin crony and Gazprom Chairman Viktor Zubkov broke up.)

Moreover, the battle for control of Rostelekom is a complex game with numerous powerful players and many moving parts -- and not a straightforward battle between "Putin's people" and "Medvedev's people."
What the case does indicate, however, is that the campaign against corruption -- which Putin may have intended to be a public relations trick, a purge of the ruling elite of disloyal elements, or both -- is perilously close to spinning out of control with unpredictable consequences.
"What happened largely indicates the beginning of ferment within Russia's ruling class, an escalation of the fight for resources and of uncontrollable conflicts that the Kremlin is unable to regulate without damaging its own reputation," Stanovaya wrote in
"Wars of all against all are being waged and their causes have absolutely nothing to do with the Kremlin's intentions and are most likely developing in spite of the regime's priorities."
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical podcast on Friday November 30, when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with co-hosts Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL's Russian Service and NYU professor Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."


Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russia corruption,Dmitry Medvedev,Rostelekom,Aleksandr Provotorov,Russian clan warfare

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Russian Defense Policy from: USA
November 29, 2012 20:15
Some food for thought...don't know about the Albats argument re Putin getting back at Serdyukov. The 13 trillion which turned into 20 (22 actually, 19 for MOD and 3 for other power ministries) was for the State Armaments Program (GPV) 2011-2020, not for the defense budget. The 13 trillion was what Kudrin wanted. Otherwise, the White House and Kremlin seemed happy to have it higher. About this time, Putin became a real champion of domestic arms makers (over foreign suppliers), and of the GPV. Awaiting his return to the Kremlin, Putin played this hand very hard. Now, ensconced there again, perhaps he's tacking back against an expensive weapons procurement effort. Fighting corruption is popular. Russia might save money. Serdyukov takes the blame. Serdyukov and Medvedev can also take the blame for military reform (that Putin himself recognized was necessary when he appointed Anatoliy Eduardovich in February 2007 to come to grips with the MOD's "financial flows" -- he and his team did that, didn't they!). You are right, the game is definitely complex and anything but straightforward. Thanks for what you write, keep at it.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
November 30, 2012 11:08
Thanks for the input. That is all indeed good food for thought, and possibly fodder for a future post (especially the bit about Putin and the GVP). Serdyukov clearly got sacked for a variety of reasons. The officer corps hated him b/c of defense reform;,he annoyed Putin by playing politics with the Tandem; and he lost Zubkov as a 'krysha' when his marriage to his daughter broke up. Should be an interesting discussion on all this in today's podcast.

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 30, 2012 06:42
When you have to cite Yevgenia Albats as a source for your conclusions, you're on shaky ground indeed.

In fact, Serdyukov was appointed by Putin. I would have said he, also, was a close Putin ally. This makes it sound as if he was Medvedev's man, and Putin took advantage of an opportunity to sack him, just to spite Medvedev. Do you think that's what happened, really?

In fact, there were a host of reasons for firing Serdyukov, not least of them being that the military hated him. But Putin not only installed him as Defense Minister, he said nothing when Serdyukov sacked a third of the military leadership in the Central Military Administration. I'd have thought that suggested not only that Putin trusted Serdyukov's judgment, but that Serdyukov felt free to do as he thought best without being second-guessed by the boss.

But by all means go ahead constructing yet another scenario which forecasts a dramatic split in the tandem. I'm just a little worried about the long-term effects of repeated disappointment; but if you're not, press on.

What time is it? Let's all say it together - Sunset for Putin!!
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
November 30, 2012 10:06
Probably a good idea to read the piece before commenting. Like this paragraph, for example:

"Moreover, although Serdyukov did in fact use Medvedev to get his defense budget hike back in 2011, it would be a bit of a stretch to call him an ally of the prime minister. He simply played one side of the tandem against the other to get what he wanted -- and probably paid the price for it with the famously vindictive Putin."
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 30, 2012 17:54
Probably be a good idea to read what you wrote before rebutting. Like that paragraph, for example.

"...although Serdyukov did in fact use Medvedev to get his defense budget hike back in 2011, it would be a bit of a stretch to call him an ally of the prime minister." Oh, I'm sorry - was Medvedev Prime Minister in 2011? I thought that was Putin. Are you talking about the Prime Minister then, or the Prime Minster now? I didn't say anything about Serdyukov being an ally of Medvedev, I said he was an ally of Putin, since he more or less owes his political career to Putin.

You don't think that "He simply played one side of the tandem against the other to get what he wanted" implies yet another split in the tandem?

Are you talking about the famously vindictive Putin who made time to offer to get Masha Gessen, one of his mouthiest critics, her job back although he really had nothing to do with her getting fired from it, she was fired for disobeying a directive to cover a story featuring Putin, and refused because she despises him? That Putin? Yes, he certainly does sound a vindictive bastard, I must say.
In Response

by: Sergio Meira from: the Netherlands
December 02, 2012 13:24
Mark, there you go again with your anti-sunset style. Sigh.

If political pundits and socio-political forecasts were really a science, we wouldn't have such a poor success rate in this area. It's not simply Brian here: it's a systemic problem. Nobody knows the future; we all have opinoins and wishes.

You have a problem with Brian's, clearly, since you spend so much time here doing something that will never, ever influence anything: trying to tell someone that the world may indeed evolve differently than s/he thinks.

But we all know that already. There are no news in that.

Brian likes sunset for Putin, and you don't. You think you're giving a better account of the situation than Brian, but frankly I'm willing to bet that your own personal success rate has not been any better than the typical average for the whole class of political analysts, be they professional ones, like Brian, or archair ones, like you.

So here's my advice: don't keep repeating the same message. We get it already: the world will maybe evolve differently than Brian thinks. That's on the record. Now why don't you start your own blog? You can leave a link here if you want. I'm sure Brian wouldn't mind.

by: Mark from: Victoria
December 03, 2012 01:49
Okay, Sergio. Sorry for boring you. You're probably right; I spend too much time here. See you around.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
December 04, 2012 07:11
Good riddance if you are leaving Mark. Nobody needs your one eyed defence of an authoritarian, repressive KGB thug who crushes dissent at home eg. killing 45% of the separatist population of a north Caucasus nation, while supporting separatists in neighboring former soviet republics, and conducting ethnic cleansing.
Not to mention his pardon of rapists and murderers from said wars, and his awarding them with medals for their "valor"
His so called economic success was built squarely on the economic reforms, painful as they were, of Yeltsins government, and on the increase in oild prices.
Aside from oil, the Russian economy and industry are a farce.
But hey, if you think his government is so great, why are you living in Victoria? Go to Russia, worship Putin, enjoy the great Russian life!!!
Or are you a hypocrite or useful idiot?

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

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.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014


09:09 November 21, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:

Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)


16:55 November 19, 2014


Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014


MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014


Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)


President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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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