Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Power Vertical

A Comeback For The Gray Cardinal?

President Dmitry Medvedev (right) with Vladislav Surkov in October, two months before Surkov's resignation as first deputy Kremlin chief of staff.
President Dmitry Medvedev (right) with Vladislav Surkov in October, two months before Surkov's resignation as first deputy Kremlin chief of staff.
Since falling out with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last year and getting pushed out of his job as deputy Kremlin chief of staff in December, Vladislav Surkov has been languishing in political purgatory. Is he now on his way back?

Once the maestro of Russia's managed democracy and the regime's unofficial ideologist, Surkov was reviled by the opposition for his alleged role in falsifying the December 4 State Duma election results -- and derided by Team Putin for not fixing the vote effectively enough.
And this made him the perfect scapegoat. When mass demonstrations against the regime broke out, Surkov was unceremoniously thrown under the bus and replaced in the Kremlin by his archrival, Vyacheslav Volodin.
Surkov has since been relegated to a low-profile and unglamorous deputy prime minister's post, ostensibly in charge of innovation, education, and culture. But according to a report in on March 15, President Dmitry Medvedev wants to make him his chief of staff when he assumes the premiership after Putin returns to the Kremlin in May.
According to an unidentified Kremlin official cited by, Surkov "laid low for about a month and a half after his resignation from the Kremlin, but has since begun to recruit people and make plans."
The official adds, however, that Putin is not exactly onboard with the idea:
Medvedev personally lobbied for the appointment of Surkov as his chief of staff. He wants a real government and he needs Surkov in this post. Putin, by contrast, wants to leave [current government chief of staff Anton] Vaino in place, keep the chief of staff post as purely technical, and not have it merged with a deputy prime minister's portfolio. Putin does not want to let anybody in the new government, including the prime minister, gain too much political influence.
The disagreement over Surkov's future is part of a larger struggle over whether Medvedev's future government will be little more than a weak appendage of Putin's Kremlin or a force for modernization and reform. And that battle is closely connected to the broader -- and perennial -- conflict between the technocratic and "siloviki" wings of the elite over Russia's direction.

As I blogged earlier in the week, the technocrats are angling to have Medvedev's modernization agenda actually implemented, while the siloviki want to preserve state capitalism, prevent the privatization of the energy industry, and turn the clock back to 2007.
Despite being the architect of Putin's authoritarian system of managed democracy, Surkov showed signs of aligning himself with the technocrats in the latter part of his tenure in the Kremlin. He reportedly favored Medvedev serving a second term as president and was pushing plans to (carefully and tentatively) open up the political system.
Surkov also has a vested interest in the success of the modernization agenda, according to some analysts.

"Surkov is credited with the idea of making innovation one of the main themes of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency," journalist Andrei Veselov wrote in the weekly 'Ekspert" in January. "Now he needs to prove in practice that it was not just a PR trick but something with real substance."
Surkov's future is one barometer of where things may be going, but not the only one.
Medvedev is trying to get a number of his closest allies into top government posts, including two of his key economic advisers, Arkady Dvorkovich and Igor Yurgens. He has also long been seeking to get his old law-school classmate, current Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov, appointed prosecutor-general to replace Yury Chaika -- an unlikely development that would mark a major victory for the lame-duck president.

Another indicator will be whether current Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the informal leader of the siloviki clan and Medvedev's main nemesis, remains in the government or follows Putin to the Kremlin.

The smart money, of course, is on Putin winning most -- if not all -- of these battles. Medvedev is a diminished figure and he never had the bureaucratic muscle to truly push his own agenda (and it is not entirely clear that he ever really wanted to).
But this is also about much more than Putin and Medvedev. A good chunk of the elite, and about half of society, wants political and economic reform. And influential figures outside of government -- like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov -- plan to push hard for it.
(In this sense, Kudrin's eventual role could prove crucial, and will be the subject of a post in the near future. A close personal friend of Putin's, he could influence the president-elect. His personal animosity toward Medvedev, however, will make it difficult, if not impossible, to work with the future premier.)

With society divided and the elite fractured, it will nevertheless be very difficult for Putin to govern in 2012 as if it were still 2007, regardless of how the battle over the staffing of the government turns out.
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: This post has been updated with minor tweaks throughout

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Vladislav Surkov,Dmitry Medvedev

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Jack from: US
March 16, 2012 21:30
Brian writes intriguing articles. However the things which seem like James Bond's plot, are in reality a banality. Most of conspiracy-type developments are well explained by incompetence and stupidity combined with corruption or personal and tribal agendas. As I pointed out on multiple occasions, Russian political machine is trying hard to reproduce the US-style one-party system where the populace is presented with carefully per-selected list of "candidates", where "elections" are staged sham shows, and most people are fed and entertained well enough to believe that they have a "democracy". In reality US has just one party - US government, a ruling mafia which stages "elections", picks and chooses who will be the next Obama-style talking head as president. This is a dream setup for Russian political elite. The problem for them is, Russia did not degrade yet all the way into Orwellian society. Russian people can express themselves freely without being afraid of being labeled racist, anti-Semite, or similar. And Russian people do not need to lower their voice when speaking about politics and their government, like "free" Americans do.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 17, 2012 01:25
Ah, the truth comes out! So Jack, you harbor views that MOST other rational people would consider racist, anti-Semite, bigoted, etc. but you don't like being labelled such is that correct? So naturally, you consider Russians more "free" than Americans because they can be racist or anti-Semite without any repercussions or accountability. Interesting, and yet you still consider yourself an American? Jack, when was the last time you read the US Constitution? The rights of Jews, Muslims, Catholics or any other religion are enshrined in its meaning. On the other hand, your last sentence is entirely wrong. Russians have always had to lower their voices when speaking about politics to the point that many will not even do it. Over the years, Russians have developed "dual personalities" where they express themselves differently in public than they really feel just to avoid some sort of persecution by authorities. "Kitchen talk" is where people fearing persecution express their true feelings--inside the privacy of their own homes. BTW, freedom of speech is also enshrined in the US Constitution and whatever views you express are protected. Not the case in Russia...

by: John from: Australia
March 17, 2012 03:03
Thanks for the humourous article! It helps keep the mystique around Russia when we see these stories of fiction. It's funny how western writers with no knowledge of Russian society can produce such articles.
It is actually possible to travel to Russia and to read in English the work of Surkov. Nothing really mysterious about any of it at all. I like the bit about a split society. Sure the silent majority, mostly content with their lot and what the masses call the mink coat minority!! How do I know this? I have family in Russia who we communicate with most days.

by: Catherine Fitzpatrick from: New York
March 18, 2012 01:32
We tried to tell you that Surkov wasn't going anywhere -- you wouldn't listen. PS he was put in charge of *religion* as well -- think of the damage he can do.

So no surprise here, and Pavlovsky will be back before you know it, too.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 18, 2012 13:00
This article reminds one of how utterly wrong the breathless reporting about "change in Russia" really was. When Surkov departed, we were hip-deep in frothing predictions of Putin's imminent demise and the waking of a whole new political class in Russia. Now, we have watched the protest movement go from 100,000 at a demonstration to 10,000 to just 500 and we have seen that the only person who matters in Putin's Russia is Putin.

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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