Saturday, November 22, 2014


The Power Vertical

An Abduction, A Scandal, And A Tipping Point

Leonid Razvozzhayev at a protest rally in Moscow in September 2009.
Leonid Razvozzhayev at a protest rally in Moscow in September 2009.
Remember Aleksandr Bastrykin's "forest scandal"?
 
In light of the horrors Leonid Razvozzhayev says he endured, merely hauling a journalist out into the woods and threatening his life looks positively quaint.
 
Bastrykin has managed to survive -- and indeed thrive -- amid not just the forest incident, but also the revelations about his unreported properties and business dealings in Europe. And his sharp bureaucratic elbows have made him plenty of enemies inside the elite.
 
Will the mushrooming scandal around Razvozzhayev's abduction and alleged torture finally be the one that brings him down? I wouldn't count on it.
 
He enjoys President Vladimir Putin's favor and the Kremlin leader isn't one to throw his people under the bus.
 
Moreover, the case that led to Razvozzhayev's abduction -- allegations that he, Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, and Konstantin Lebedev conspired with Georgian officials to provoke mass unrest in Russia -- was clearly green-lighted at the highest level.

But more pertinent than how the scandal will affect Bastrykin is another question: Is this one of those tipping point cases that turns a critical mass of the public against the regime?
 
We'll see in the coming weeks. But even by the standards of today's Russia, what appears to have happened to Razvozzhayev is pretty shocking.
 
According to the account he gave to human rights activists who visited him in detention, he was abducted in Kyiv outside the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was helping him apply for political asylum. He had been directed there by the UN High Commission for Refugees.
 
Razvozzhayev says he was bundled into a van, basically hogtied (he was handcuffed and his legs were chained to his hands), had a balaclava put over his head, and driven for five hours across the Russian border. His abductors then turned him over to men who held him in a basement and kept him for three days in chains.
 
He was told he and his family would be killed if he didn't sign a confession implicating himself, Udaltsov, and Lebedev. He wasn't allowed to use the toilet. And he believes he was drugged.
 
After he finally relented and wrote the confession, he was driven to Moscow and taken to the Investigative Committee.
 
The case against Razzovzhayev, Udaltsov, and Lebedev -- which was initiated by the latest installment of NTV's "documentary" film series "Anatomy of Protest" --  looked shaky at best from the start.

But the authorities appear intent on pursuing it regardless of the circumstances. Why they so relentlessly went after Razzovzhayev -- who, until now, was a bit player in the case -- also remains a mystery.
 
Was his "confession" necessary to build a case against Udaltsov, the obvious main target of this whole drama? Were they trying to expand the case and target opposition State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov, for whom Razvozzhayev works as an aide? Who knows?
 
But what is clear is that the scandal is changing Russia's national conversation in a way that could be devastating for the authorities.
 
“Clearly now everybody will be talking about torture. This is a poison pill for Putin,” Gleb Pavlovsky, editor of the Russ.ru website and a former Kremlin adviser, told "The Moscow Times."

And this comes at a time when the ruling elite's standing with the public is at its Putin-era nadir.
 
A report released October 24 by the Committee of Civic Initiatives, a think tank associated with former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, said Putin is supported by just 44 percent of the population.
 
But even that number -- an all-time low for the president -- paled in comparison to the way survey respondents characterized their government. Asked to compare their rulers to an animal, 88 percent named some sort of predator -- either a wolf, lion, or wild boar.
 
And Razvozzhayev's ordeal will only serve to harden those attitudes.
 
-- Brian Whitmore
 
NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune into the Power Vertical podcast on October 26 when I'll discuss the Razvozzhayev scandal and its implications with New York University's Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia's security services and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."

Tags: Leonid Razvozzhayev

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by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
October 25, 2012 21:03
Nice report and thanks for helping to sort this out. I’m sure, however, that there are many aspects of this story which have yet to be fully revealed (and likely, never will be).

Have to question your ‘tipping-point’ metaphor. Seems like you have suggested such watersheds in the past, yet has anything changed? While I’m aware of the dangers of comparison, I recall some of my liberal friends confidently announcing that the Bush presidency was sure to suffer after the revelations of no WMDs in Iraq, Abu Ghraib or charges of waterboarding. He happily served out his two terms and is now enjoying a comfortable retirement.

It’s amazing how most people can turn and look the other way when the injustice does not touch them personally. I would wager that the majority of Russians have never heard of R., and if he got roughed up by the police, well, he must have deserved it. And having been brought up with the notion that the world is a very dangerous place, most Russians support likely support the idea of a strong (predatory) leader.

I’ll be very surprised if this incident sparks larger protests/civic involvement.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 25, 2012 23:17
Putin is the new Stalin, and Bastrykin is the new Dzerzhinsky. The USSR anthem plays at the Olympics, a clan of KGB spies governs. Welcome back to the USSR!

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 26, 2012 02:05
"And he believes he was drugged".

Those must have been some good drugs.

Razzovzhayev says he was kidnapped on the 19th, as he came out of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; other sources have reported he was just popping out for lunch when he was snatched off the street like...oh, like by the CIA, or something. If we assume he was captured somewhere around noon, then was driven for 5 hours with a balaclava over his face and then chained in a basement for three days, it makes it somewhat awkward to explain why he would have logged into his vKontakte page at 6:50 PM on the day he was supposedly kidnapped.

http://vk.com/wall7006326_5810

Nice of his kidnappers to allow him an internet break, during which he appeared lucid, if not particularly imaginative: "If in the near future I should be detained, or something bad happens to me, do not believe the bad things they will say about me." Hardly "The Turn of the Screw", but you have to remember he wrote it in chains with a bag over his head, while he was high as a kite, and being constantly threatened with horrible things.

Oh, I suppose they could have tortured his login and password out of him, and then logged in as him and written a long, self-serving bunch of twaddle in his name. But I'll be damned if I can figure out why anyone would do that. I guess such motives are too deep for me.

Curious, too, is what might have motivated his wife, Yulia, to tell journalists that Leonid had spent Friday - the day of the dramatic kidnapping - "at home with the kids". Does he perhaps get kidnapped so often that she can't keep her dates straight? Messing up what already seems like an uncommonly weird story is the contention by the Ukrainian Police that Leonid Razvozzhayev left Ukraine on Friday, using his own passport.

http://www.dni.ru/polit/2012/10/24/242545.html#

You'd think that when they asked for it, somebody would have noticed he had a balaclava over his head and his hands chained to his feet. Unless he looked that way in his passport photo.

There's more here than meets the eye, and I daresay we will learn some of it in the days to come.

In Response

by: Amanda
November 06, 2012 05:05
I found you comment very interesting and decided to look into it further.

Granted your argument could be true, there is no real way of knowing seeing that I am halfway across the world, but I do want to bring some points to your attention.

First off, the website that you reference, claiming that Razvozzhayev posted to his website after he claimed to have been kidnapped. According to this article, another I read from this website, and the second link you gave, he claimed he was kidnapped while grabbing lunch. The timestamp on the post you are referencing is 6:50 AM, not pm. Therefore, it is very possible he posted that before heading to the NGO and before he got kidnapped.

Here is the link again if you want it: http://vk.com/wall7006326_5810

Now to your second link. I found that article extremely intriguing and it presented a lot of counter points, so thanks for posting it.

But one big flaw I saw, after further research, is that it is controlled by the Russian government. (See my link, its the first website listed on the 13th page) So obviously the article is biased and is going to try to break down an opposition's argument and story with some truths and some lies. I definitely think that is something to consider when citing it as absolute fact.

http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/osc/russian-media.pdf

I do find the points that the second article brings up very plausible (such as the messing up the dates, and the wife's story) but then again, if you are tortured and obviously don't have access to a watch, clock, or any time/day keeping device, you might loose track of what day it is. He could have had a watch on, but we don't know. Also, he fled Russia, therefore, his wife wouldn't have told journalists, policemen, or any other Russians his true wear-abouts if she knew it.

Again, this is all my speculation or my envisioning of a counter to your counter argument.

I definitely agree with your statement: "There's more here than meets the eye...".

Personally I really want to see the outcome, whether the state was right or the opposition.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
October 26, 2012 08:45
Torture, threats, blackmail is the daily work of the FSB, which is the successor of the KGB..
Hitler's Gestapo adopted the experience of torture and abuse in Russia,in the Stalinist NKVD
Everything comes from Ivan the Terrible, Malyuta Skuratov, Menshikov, Peter Romanov..
Maniacs -misanthropes have launched a Russian policeman lifestyle-"tortured people, raped people, kill people..."a good motto for the Olympics in Sochi, by the way...
In Putin's torture chambers butchers kills dissidents and dissents

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

19:16 November 21, 2014

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

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

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
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.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
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 CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
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: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
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

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

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

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

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

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

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

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

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)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

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)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

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