Saturday, October 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

Administrative (Resource) Breakdown

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin covers his face during a conference of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in Moscow on February 9.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin covers his face during a conference of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in Moscow on February 9.
A funny thing happened when Vladimir Putin's election campaign applied for permission from Moscow authorities to hold a mass rally on the capital's main downtown thoroughfare. The mayor's office balked.
 
With a planned attendance of 200,000, City Hall officials said the planned February 23 demonstration is too large and the route of the march --  from Tverskaya Street to Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin -- is too disruptive.
 
"We will try to convince the organizers to abandon the rally, as it will paralyze traffic," Deputy Mayor Aleksandr Gorbenko said in remarks reported by Gazeta.ru. "We propose to reduce the number of participants to 100,000 people, in which case a meeting can be held on Poklonnaya Hill or in the Luzhniki Stadium."
 
Moscow authorities rejected a similar route for the opposition demonstration on February 4, but that was hardly surprising. But since when has Moscow City Hall been in the habit of refusing to give Putin's team anything they want?
 
The two sides will no doubt resolve the issue in the coming days and the pro-Putin rally will go ahead in some form or another. But the fact that it was even an issue is a sign of the times. And in the contest of similar recent breakdowns in Russia's administrative hierarchy, it is an ominous sign for Team Putin.
 
Managed democracies like Putin's Russia need several things to operate effectively. They need to be able to convincingly rig elections -- and not get caught doing so. They need to be able to orchestrate believable popular demonstrations of support for the regime, like mass street rallies -- without it being demonstrably obvious that people were being paid to attend. And they need local officials to be obedient and servile.
 
Such administrative resources make up the glue that holds authoritarian structures like Putin's power vertical together. And there have been plenty of signs recently that this glue is weakening.
 
As I blogged last week, election commission officials like Irina Kolpakova in Samara and Tatyana Ivanova in St. Petersburg have blown the whistle on how they were pressured to inflate the ruling United Russia party's vote totals in the December 4 parliamentary elections.  
 
Days after a pro-regime rally in Moscow that the authorities say drew nearly 140,000 people, many attendees went public with stories about how they were promised money to attend -- and then were not paid. 
 
Like Moscow City Hall's rebuke of the Putin campaign, these things would have been practically unthinkable just a few years ago.
 
There are other signs out there that the vertical is weakening. Andrei Kostin, the head of the Kremlin-connected bank VTB has suggested, for example, that in the likely event that Putin wins the March 4 presidential election, he should only serve one term
 
"For an open society in the 21st century, [12 years] is a huge amount of time. No leaders of democratic countries have been in power for so long," Kostin wrote in the daily "Kommersant" on February 13.
 
The reason for this administrative breakdown is fairly obvious -- it stems from the political uncertainty that the Russian elite has suddenly found itself in. As New York University professor and Kremlin-watcher Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," told me recently, "everyone is a political entrepreneur in their own right in the current situation because nobody knows what is going to happen."
 
Mark made a similar point in a recent blog post explaining why Putin may not be able to count on the security services to crack down on dissent should it come to that:
 
In any case, my sense is that many of the people who would have to do the leg breaking, the water cannoning, the blackmail, and the intimidation are now thinking the unthinkable, of a post-Putin endgame which might include lustration sessions, human rights tribunals, and audits.
 
Putin has been working hard to regain his mojo in recent weeks. He has made some moves to shore up the power vertical and regain control of Russia's media narrative. 
 
Gazprom-Media's moves to dissolve the radio station Ekho Moskvy's board of directors this week certainly falls into this category (I will have more to say on this subject in a later post) as do reports that he intends to dissolve, rebuild, and rebrand the deeply unpopular United Russia party after the elections.
 
Whether he is successful or whether the vertical continues to weaken will be one of the key variables determining Russia's future direction.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED TO CLEAN UP A TRANSLATION. THANKS TO 'JOHN FROM MOSCOW' IN COMMENTS SECTION.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John from: Moscow, Russia
February 15, 2012 16:38
"We will try to convince the organizers to abandon the rally, as it paralyzes the movement" was "Будем пытаться убедить организаторов отказаться от митинга, так как это парализует движение" in the original, which can also be translated "We will try to convince the organizers to abandon the rally, as it will paralyze traffic," which makes a little more sense than "the movement" (which movement?), but is also kind of funny. It's almost a non-reason, since the authorities stop traffic all the time, but one that will resonate with the public, who hate the constant traffic jams.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
February 16, 2012 00:03
Nice catch John. Thanks. Sloppy translating on my part. Will fix in update. b

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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