Saturday, October 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

A Requiem For Managed Pluralism?

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov gestures during a news conference in Moscow on September14.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov gestures during a news conference in Moscow on September14.
It is hard to look at Right Cause's public meltdown last week as anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the Kremlin's political managers.

Not only has a high-profile project to create a regime-friendly pro-business party to draw the votes of the disgruntled liberal intelligentsia and professional classes spectacularly fallen apart just months before parliamentary elections -- but it has done so in a way that airs the ruling elite's dirty laundry for all to see.

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy following Mikhail Prokhorov's September 15 resignation from Right Cause, political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin declared that the "era of simulated democracy in Russia is over." Oreshkin added that the episode illustrates that "within the elite, real conflicts are maturing and coming to a head that will, one way or another, spill out into public view.”

Prokhorov himself suggested as much, assailing First Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the regime's informal ideologist, as "a puppet master who long ago privatized the political system."

In a blog post on September 16, Prokhorov softened his criticism of Surkov, writing: "There was no personal conflict with anyone. … In the end it was a conflict of ideologies. At this stage the conservatives won. I wanted change, but the system was not ready."

Ideology certainly explains some of what just happened. The ruling elite is currently divided among those who want to open up the political system, albeit in a tightly managed way, and those who want to maintain the vertically integrated authoritarian state Vladimir Putin built over the past decade. Both sides seek to maintain the dominance of the current ruling circle, but differ on the means.

But as Joera Mulders at Russia Watchers points out in a well researched post (h/t to James Kimer at Robertamsterdam.com for flagging this) personal ambition and turf defense by United Russia also played a big role in undermining the Right Cause project:

Within the elites there is a certain level of understanding that the political spectrum needs more plurality to reflect the expectations of the growing middle class and to channel feelings of dissent. This is the essence of ‘managed democracy’, or to do more justice to the direction of the vector: managed democratization. We’re not talking big changes here. A mere 10 percent less Duma seats for the United Russia party, meaning a small majority in the next parliament and the emergence of a few new voices would already be a strong signal, reflecting a trend of social and political development towards more plurality.
Opinions within the elite, however, differ on the urgency. Short terms incentives for personal fortunes and careers often take the upper hand over the long term incentives for elite survival. As a behemoth of unbridled ambition and greed the United Russia party is extremely hard to control, if not impossible to stop.

Mulders adds that Surkov's team in the Kremlin, which oversees domestic politics and political parties, failed to rein in these parochial interests:

While the president talks liberalization of politics, these guys do the dirty work of maintaining ‘stability’, most often on a need to know basis...
More importantly, this ‘management of democracy’ implies an exclusive influence over appointments for political office. Hence the strong ties between Surkov’s men in the Kremlin and the United Russia party. It is this system of political appointments, favors and personal grudges that will divert almost every man from the common goal of moderate political liberalization. While the presidential aim may be to deflate United Russia for a mere 10 percent, their ties with the federal apparatus of the party, its governors and mayors ensure that they’re working for the individual interests of the ruling elite and not the president. The president himself is much too busy with foreign politics and promoting his modernization agenda to know what his subordinates are up to. Most communications likely go through Surkov.

In other words, Surkov and his team were so captured by the ruling party they were supposed to be managing that they apparently lost sight of the bigger picture.

This dance between Surkov and United Russia is nothing new. Back in June 2009, the Kremlin ideologist said the ruling party needed to "be flexible" and "learn to enter into coalitions." The proposal was firmly rejected by State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who was just fine with United Russia's two-thirds constitutional majority. (You can read my post on the Surkov-Gryzlov exchange here)

It is unclear what happens next. Is the whole managed pluralism project dead? If so, Mulders notes that this could have negative consequences for the ruling elite:

The elite needs that plurality to channel discontent when after the elections unpopular social reforms need [to] commence...Now the Kremlin and the country may stand empty handed with United Russia, the communists and good old Zhirinovsky. For another 5 years! An increase of discontent and social protests are hereby guaranteed. Furthermore, in the coming years United Russia will function as the lightning rod for all that discontent.

In a recent editorial, "Kommersant" noted that the collapse of the Right Cause project comes on the heels of the failure of another pocket opposition project, the ostensibly center-left A Just Russia -- and calls into question the competence of the Kremlin's political operation:

Prokhorov's rebellion, together with the evolution of Just Russia, demonstrates the degradation of the Kremlin's managers. In order to simplify their job and to increase the convertibility of their own bureaucratic powers, toward the middle of the last decade they abolished politics, emasculating it of real content. The examples of Prokhorov and [A Just Russia leader Sergei] Mironov...showed that that lack of practice is leading to an inability to control even their own projects. The political managers are at a loss and are making stupid mistakes. It is hard to imagine to what failures this will lead when, given the slightest reduction in financial flows from the export of raw materials, stern economic reality returns real politics to Russia.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Mikhail Prokhorov,2011 State Duma elections,Right Cause,Vladislav Surkov

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Comments
     
by: BeatTheDrum
September 23, 2011 17:28
This is a very truthful view of the current political climate in Russia. From an objective view outside Russia, it is more clear than ever that the current leadership is beginning to show weaknesses in how it is seen both to Russians and especially to the outside world. The more their strong-arm tactics fail, the more they will be discovered for who they really are...a small group of power hungry politicians who will let Russia fall off the world stage so that they can remain in power. Sound familiar? It is exactly what happened throughout Russian history. The only person with any new ideas is Prokhorov, and he has the respect of the world political and business leaders to bring new investment in Russia. This will help his vision for social and economic reform become reality, which is what the Russian people truly want, need, and deserve.

by: Olga from: Germany
September 24, 2011 20:44
Great article! great analyse!
"The examples of Prokhorov and [A Just Russia leader Sergei] Mironov...showed that that lack of practice is leading to an inability to control even their own projects." - that schows only they're unwillingness to play somebody else's game. Actually, this game from Surkov, the memebr of team in the Kremlin. Some Prochorov's ideas are not so cute, but at least he suppose unconventional direct measures, instead of water from Kreml (free media, democracy, stabolisation bla bla bla), and malicious attacks from the side os marginal opposition, which is just ridiculous. Russia needs Prochorov. Only country leaders and grey eminence don't

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17:49 October 24, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

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

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.

THREE ALLEGED MILITANTS KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26 October 24, 2014

SPY VS. SPY

17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

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)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

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)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

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

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

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."

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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