Thursday, October 23, 2014


The Power Vertical

After Putin

Is Putin contemplating life after Putin?
Is Putin contemplating life after Putin?
Leonid Brezhnev did it. Boris Yeltsin did it. Is Vladimir Putin doing it, too?

Kremlin leaders tend to be obsessed with succession. They think about it. They worry about it. And they actively try to manage it.

In the latter Brezhnev years, the upper echelons of the Soviet elite, mindful of their own mortality, actively sought to promote a younger cadre from which the next generation of leaders would be drawn. It was a process that ultimately landed Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin.

And throughout his presidency, the aging Yeltsin toyed with a number of potential successors before -- fatefully -- settling on Putin.

The reasons for the fixation are obvious. In the absence of institutions, traditions, and a political culture to assure a smooth transition of power, Russia's rulers seek to control the process themselves.

So are Putin and his entourage thinking about life after Putin?

Political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, the onetime Kremlin spinmeister who was instrumental in strategizing and marketing the president's initial rise to power, thinks so.

"It is noticeable that Putin is considering the formation of a group from which he will be looking to choose the next president," Pavlovsky told the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" recently.

"The difficulty lies in the fact that he has not yet decided whether he wants to see a successor by 2018 or if he will need one in 2024. In the second case there will, of course, be difficulties. It is hard to imagine keeping a pool of successors for 12 years. This group will inevitably be updated repeatedly."

Audition Of The Heavyweights

So if Putin is, indeed, actively thinking about succession, who's likely to be on his short list?

Probably not Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, whose political capital has been severely diminished and who seems to grow more alienated from Putin by the day.

"Dmitry Medvedev is a worn-out figure whose weakness is seen by everyone," political analyst Pavel Svtatenkov wrote recently in the online "Osobaya bukva."

Medvedev's comments in January that he may seek the presidency again were widely ridiculed. He backtracked in an interview with Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, stressing that he would never run against Putin.

Shortly thereafter, he became the target of a series of attacks -- most notably a slickly produced video assailing his acquiescence to NATO's air campaign against Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.

"Medvedev began to position himself too aggressively as Putin's successor," political analyst Aleksei Mukhin told the daily "Noviye izvestia." "Some circles deemed this premature and they struck several very powerful blows at the prime minister's political image." 

Many Kremlin watchers don't even expect Medvedev to last the year as prime minister.

If and when Putin finally sacks Medvedev, whom he appoints as a replacement will be a major tell.

If Medvedev is replaced with a "technical" prime minister with no political profile -- somebody like Mikhail Fradkov or Viktor Zubkov, for example -- it will be a surefire sign that Putin is probably not pondering succession yet.

But if he appoints a real heavyweight, that person will inevitably be looked at like a president-in-waiting.

"By making a heavyweight prime minister, you know that you are giving someone not just power but the power to make more power for themselves," NYU professor Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," said on the latest "Power Vertical Podcast."

"You are making an active move...[and] one that you know that not only will everyone else interpret as having succession implications, but one that will make the heavyweight even heavier."
 
Moscow Mayor Sergei SobyaninMoscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
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Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
Two such heavyweights have been getting a fair bit of attention lately in the Russian media: Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
 
Since taking over as Moscow mayor following the sacking of Yury Luzhkov in September 2010, Sobyanin has enjoyed high popularity in the capital and good relations with the Kremlin. Putin reportedly sees him as loyal, but he has also seemed to go out of his way not to alienate the opposition.
 
"I think Putin is counting on him and has included him in his own plans for the future," Pavlovsky said. "I think that Sobyanin is on Putin's personal short list today. Medvedev is not."
 
Sergei ShoiguSergei Shoigu
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Sergei Shoigu
Sergei Shoigu
Shoigu's star has also been rising dramatically.
 
For more than a decade as emergencies minister he was Russia's action man, appearing at nearly every disaster, either natural or man-made.

And since taking over the scandal-plagued Defense Ministry in December he has become, by far, the most popular minister in the government.

"Sooner or later, the Kremlin will be faced with a dilemma: whether to use Shoigu's reputation or remove him from the scene," Svtatenkov writes.

Likewise, former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a political heavyweight who remains close to Putin despite his flirtations with the opposition, has been touted as a replacement for Medvedev.

A Lame Duck?

Of course, today's potential successor could be tomorrow's footnote. Just ask would-be presidents Sergei Shakhrai, Vladimir Shumeiko, or Boris Nemtsov -- all of whom were at one time or another touted as successors to Yeltsin.

And all the succession chatter, of course, may be coming not because Putin himself thinks it's time to consider the issue but rather because others in the ruling elite do.

"It is hard to think of Putin yet actively thinking: 'It's time I went and who is going to be my chosen heir?'" Galeotti noted in last week's podcast.

"It's actually that others within the deep state are either beginning the auditions or allowing conversations about succession to percolate as a way of signaling to Putin that he really ought to be thinking in these terms -- and if he doesn't, then others will begin thinking about it for him."

If this is indeed the case it means that some in the elite are already looking at Putin as a lame duck. Which would explain much of the turbulence and public intrigue that has gripped the political class recently.

"This is a sign of people realizing that Putin is no longer Putin. He's lost his touch," Galeotti said. "And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more people talk about a succession, the weaker Putin becomes."

But there is one funny thing about managed successions in Russia: They often don't turn out how their orchestrators intend. The Brezhnev elites' efforts to groom a young cadre of leaders led to the rise of two men -- Gorbachev and Yeltsin -- who would be instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Union.

And Yeltsin's inner circle, the so-called Family, settled on Putin because they believed he would protect their interests after their patron left the Kremlin. Just ask Boris Berezovsky how that worked out.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: succession,Vladimir Putin,Sergei Sobyanin,Sergei Shoigu

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Spencer from: Iowa
February 12, 2013 20:14
I enjoyed this article a lot. I'm also a recent convert to the podcast. Thanks for putting it together. If we are looking for potential Putin replacement candidates, where are the most likely areas to see them? Are we going to see them at the head of Gazprom (a la Medvedev), defense (Shoigu) or put in charge of a state-wide anti-corruption task force? Just curious as to where I should fix my gaze in the coming years.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
February 12, 2013 23:43
Thanx to the russian way of doing things in 20 years`time the rashkas will be a minority in their own country with the majority coming from the mooselem -stan countries.so we can expect a tatar to rule the land thats till the chinese take over,but in the short term Dear Spence you can look no further than these pages for Jack from your country and his bedfellow-Eugenio from Vienna who are sure to enrich these pages with the perrenial wisdom of their comments!!!

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
February 12, 2013 22:28
Now that the seat in the Vatican is clear, Putin may be thinking about a transfer. Just kidding!

I see no evidence that VVP is thinking about stepping down. As long as oil prices remain high, he will be able continue to ‘work like a galley slave’ to strengthen Mother Rus. He definitely wants to be in charge of the Kremlin during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. As painful as it may sound to some, I can see him leading the country for another decade.

My succession tea leaves are as dark as the rest, and although I know he’s a longshot, I’m putting my bets on D. Rogozin as the next Russian prez. He’s cunning and has proven to be sufficiently malleable to satisfy the various Kremlin clans.

In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
February 13, 2013 07:15
Nowhere does this post suggest that VVP is thinking of stepping down. It suggests that either he or his inner circle (or both) are beginning to consider who they would want to succeed him, either in 2018 or 2024.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 15, 2013 10:43
Brian you seem to be contradicting yourself. You are saying it is believed Putin will step down "either in 2018 or 2024" as opposed to ruling as long as he lives, in the manner of Brezhnev. If he were not going to to step down, you'd be talking about who succeeds him after his funeral.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
February 13, 2013 13:50
No kidding Ray,no kidding!!! The head of the third Rome takes over the first Moscow-thats Rome of course and we may think of reviving the Roman,Byzantine and Soviet empires all three-in-one for once and for all time and Vladimir Vladimirovitch should be its emperor for life and after that,too!!!

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 13, 2013 09:00
I don't agree that Medvedev was ever considered by Putin to be a possible successor, and don't believe there is any evidence to support this fantasy. Medvedev was chosen to become president specifically because Putin knew he could not rule Russia by himself, and has no desire to do so. Medvedev's noises have nothing to do with any actual desire for power, they have to do with his golden parachute. I also don't agree that Putin is giving any thought to a successor. The analogy to Brezhnev is apt, but it calls for the opposite conclusion, that there was no thought to successorship. That's why confusion and bedlam followed Brezhnev, because he held onto power in a greedy and reckless manner even when he wast totally unfit to wield it. Lenin did exactly that same thing, and that's why Stalin was able to grab power amid chaos. Putin is a classic Russian dictator who believes he'll live forever and the country cannot get along without him. You are projecting rationality and patriotism onto Putin as if he was like you, but you are not a career KGB spy and so such projection can only lead you astray.

by: peter from: ottawa
February 13, 2013 18:12
To all you poor naive slugs out there, there is no after Putin, Mr big has installed himself dictator for life , he still has another 12 years in power and will circumvent the system to his advantage as for Medvedev he s mr big s lap dog , hes all lick and no bite, as for the all others they are either in jail, in exile, or dead. End of story.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
February 14, 2013 04:14
I told you already that Putin will be sit in his place until he dies.
Нere in another danger-
Person does not want to die alone and he is always angry, why he had to die and others do not.
So, before his death Putin will press the special button and thousands of nuclear bombs explode.
Have you written a will, Mr.Whitmore?
I am sure that the cave in Kurdistan, where lives camel, also will not save.Putin is has foreseen all the options.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 27, 2013 22:09
This guy says you are being suckered by the Kremlin in asking such questions.

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/the-question-isnt-who-will-lead-russia/476150.html

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

11:12 October 22, 2014

THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF RUSSIA'S 'GAS WEAPON'

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

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-UKRAINE GAS DEAL REPORTEDLY CLOSER

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)

PROSECUTORS TARGET EKHO MOSKVY

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)

PUTIN, POROSHENKO DISCUSS CEASEFIRE AND GAS SUPPLIES

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 kremlin.ru)

RUSSIAN INVESTIGATORS SAY 'CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE' BEHIND TOTAL AIR CRASH

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)

 

16:08 October 17, 2014

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.

AND A NEW POWER VERTICAL PODCAST COMING SOON

We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.

 

13:25 October 17, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-WEST RIFT PERSIST AFTER DIFFICULT UKRAINE CRISIS TALKS

By RFE/RL

Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

GEORGIAN PM SAYS NO PROGRESS NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

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

RUSSIA DETAINS TWO JOURNALISTS OVER WORKSHOP

Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

18:00 October 16, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's Newes Desk:

PUTIN WARNS EUROPE OF GAS CRISIS THIS WINTER

President Vladimir Putin has warned that Europe faces "major transit risks" to natural gas supplies from Russia this winter.

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies."

Putin made the remarks ahead of talks in Milan on October 16 and 17 with EU leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

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

The price standoff is the third between Moscow and Kyiv since 2006.

Russia is the EU's biggest gas supplier, providing about a third of the gas consumed there.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

U.S. HELSINKI COMMITTEE DECRIES RUSSIAN ATTEMPT TO CLOSE MEMORIAL RIGHTS GROUP

By RFE/RL

The U.S. Helsinki Commission says Russia’s attempt to liquidate Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, is “an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience.”

“It is very troubling that an organization founded by [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression,” the commission’s chairman, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, said in an October 16 statement.

Russia's Justice Ministry on October 10 appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to close Memorial, which comprises more than 50 bodies nationwide. The reasons for the request were not made public.

Created in the 1980s by Soviet-era dissidents, Memorial has served as a tireless rights watchdog and important source of Soviet-era records for a quarter century.

PUTIN VOWS TO SUPPORT SERBS ON KOSOVO

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continued support for Serbia on the divisive issue of Kosovo during a state visit that mixed meetings with officials with attendance at a military parade.

Putin is the guest of honor at Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by partisans and Soviet Army troops in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

The visit highlights Serbia's delicate balance between the European Union, which it is seeking to join, and relations with Russia that are rooted in history and religion but encompass economic and geopolitical interests.

Russia angrily criticized the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and has backed Belgrade's opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, defying the United States and preventing Kosovo from getting a seat at the United Nations.

Putin promised Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that Russia would stand firm over Kosovo, saying the Kremlin's stance was "a position of principle that is not to be subjected to any adjustments."

"We supported Serbia in the past and we intend to continue supporting it in the future. In Russia friendship is not an object of trade-offs," Putin said.

Nikolic said Serbia "sees in Russia a great ally and a partner and Serbia won't compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine in an interview on the eve of his visit, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and attempts to do so would hurt Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin used the visit to promote South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project that that the EU has suspended in member states.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream.

Putin told "Politika" the pipeline project would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

Putin's warm Serbian welcome may contrast with greeting he faces hours later at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan, where he will meet Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

NATO says Russian has sent troops and weapons to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people in eastern Ukraine since April, including 298 passengers and crew abroad a Malaysian jet shot down there in July.

Putin said the importance of the liberation anniversary events could not be overestimated.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," he said in the interview.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin said he hopes for peace in Ukraine but suggested Ukrainians whose protests toppled a president sympathetic to Moscow in February presented a Nazi-like threat.

"Unfortunately the vaccine against the Nazi virus ... is losing its potency in some European states.," he told "Politika," adding: "particular concern on this score is prompted by the situation in Ukraine, where there was an anticonstitutional coup d'etat in February whose driving forces were nationalists and other radical groups."

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

However, he told reporters last week that Serbia's "strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of Putin's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

"Nothing better could happen to us," Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, said of Putin's visit. "Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax)

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR AGAINST 'PUTIN PUB' IN BISHKEK

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Krutko, has protested the new "Putin Pub" restaurant in Bishkek.

Krutko said late October 15 that naming "a dubious drinking site" after "our president" is "unethical" and therefore he asked Bishkek authorities to remove the commercial banners and billboards advertising the pub.

Krutko added that he would do everything possible "either to shut down the place or to make it change its name."

Last month, Bishkek authorities removed all billboards and banners in the city that advertised the "Putin Pub."  

The billboards carried a black screen with white and black silhouetted portrait of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a circle with the name of the restaurant -- "Putin Pub," below.  

(With reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek")

17:35 October 16, 2014

UKRAINE CALLS ON ITS CITIZENS TO DITCH VKONTAKTE

VIa slon.ru:

Ukraine's Security Service has urged Ukrainians not to use Russian social networks.

Markiian Lubkovsky, an adviser to the Interior Minister told the television channel "112 Ukraine" that the site "VKontakte" is an "element of pressure and influence." 

"We urge all Ukrainians, all of our citizens to be careful not to use these networks, because they are now part of the information war against Ukraine," he said.

Read it all here. And a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock for flagging.

 

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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