Monday, November 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Brezhnev's Children

Late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (center) with the president of the presidium of the U.S.S.R.'s Supreme Soviet Nikolai Podgorny and politburo member Andrei Kosygin during October Revolution anniversary celebrations in 1973.
Late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (center) with the president of the presidium of the U.S.S.R.'s Supreme Soviet Nikolai Podgorny and politburo member Andrei Kosygin during October Revolution anniversary celebrations in 1973.
In many ways, the current battle for Russia's future began 30 years ago this week.
On November 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died, sparking a generational change in the Soviet leadership and setting in motion an ongoing cycle of reform and reaction in Russia that remains incomplete and inconclusive to this day.
The players' names have changed as has the lexicon, but the fundamental issue remains essentially the same: how to carry out essential reforms when said reforms threaten the existing elite's continued dominance.
Brezhnev's death heralded the exit from the scene of the so-called "Class of 1937" -- the generation of Soviet leaders that quickly climbed the Communist Party's ranks following the Stalinist purges and ruled the country for decades thereafter.
By the end of Brezhnev's rule, the Soviet economy, perilously dependent on commodities exports, was stagnating and contracting as oil prices fell. The political system was ossified, corruption rampant, and public cynicism endemic. The consensus within key quarters of the rising generation of the elite was that reform was essential.
The two main constituencies pushing for change -- the KGB and technocratic "regime liberals" -- made for an unlikely alliance. But this odd coalition teamed up to pick two Soviet leaders: Yury Andropov (the KGB's candidate) and Mikhail Gorbachev (the technocrats' choice).
And it should come as no surprise that the two key meta-clans in Vladimir Putin's Kremlin are the "siloviki" and the technocrats. These bureaucratic descendants of the very same alliance that anointed Andropov and Gorbachev in the 1980s also put Putin in the Kremlin at the turn of the millennium.
In last week's edition of the Power Vertical podcast, Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," succinctly drew the parallel:
Andropov was able to bring together a coalition of people who realized that some kind of change was necessary. It was a very broad-based coalition that ranged -- in Soviet Communist Party terms -- from liberals all the way to hard-liners whose idea of reform was turning the screws and getting the workers to work harder. They all agreed on one basic notion, that the status quo was not sustainable. That was the thing that held together the Andropov coalition -- and it was the Andropov coalition that would lead to Gorbachev's rise. As soon as he [Gorbachev] tried to operationalize it, he had trouble. How can you hold that disparate coalition  together? Putin saw some of these pressures being played out...and it's already failed. The creative capacities have been used up.
Andropovism and Gorbachevism represent two paths for a stagnating authoritarian system to reform itself -- and both eventually lead to a dead end.
The Andropov model, which the sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya has called "authoritarian modernization," is similar to the path China has followed until now -- tightly managed economic reform that introduces market mechanisms, albeit without political reform.
Due to Andropov's death in 1984, it never got off the ground in the Soviet Union. But it was the model for Putin's rule, which exposed its limitations. In the short term it leads to growth and prosperity. But in the long run, said growth and prosperity lead to the creation of a middle class that eventually clamors for political rights. Denying these rights saps the system's "creative capacity" and leads to instability.
And if pushed to its logical conclusion, the Gorbachev model, which envisions more comprehensive economic and political reform, eventually unleashes forces that lead to a level of pluralism that brings down the authoritarian system.
Both models also inevitably split the coalition of siloviki and technocratic liberals that spawned it.
In the case of the Andropov model, the technocrats rebel and team up with the emerging middle class in pushing for greater pluralism, as exiled members of Putin's team, like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, are doing now.
And as the full implications of the Gorbachev model play out, the siloviki ultimately rebel -- as they did in August 1991.
If Putin followed Andropovism throughout his first stint in the Kremlin from 2000-04, Dmitry Medvedev's presidency had the feel of a Gorbachev redux.
And while September 2011, when Putin announced his return to the Kremlin, wasn't quite the coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, the impulse was the same: the siloviki feared losing power and made their move to stop any more change. They famously failed in August 1991, but were more successful last autumn.
So three decades after Brezhnev's death, we've come full circle. The system remains deadlocked with nothing in sight to break the logjam.
-- Brian Whitmore
NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical podcast on November 9 when I will discuss these issues with my co-host, Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Leonid Brezhnev,Dmitry Medvedev,Yury Andropov,Mikhail Gorbachev

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Timo from: Prague
November 09, 2012 01:27
Very interesting and illustrative comparison. I have a couple of remarks, though. 1) The Chinese model was based on a lot of economic freedom at the grass roots. Andropov was not planning anything like that. He was not the one to allow speculators act freely. 2) There is hardly any resemblance between Gorbachev and Medvedev. I don't think Medvedev even dreamed about really changing the political system. He was only pretending to be a liberal reformer at best.
In Response

by: Fred Eidlin from: Minsk, Belarus
November 11, 2012 07:35
Russia is not the Soviet union. The regime in Russia has little in common with the Soviet regime. To imply that the process of reforming Russia represents a continuation of attempts to reform the Soviet regime, as Whitmore does, distorts reality beyond recognition.

Failures of reform under the Soviet regime were mostly due to features of that regime which have disappeared: (1) the commando-administrative economic system, (2) the ideological monopoly of truth, including control of all information in public space; (3) the monopoly of power of the Communist Party. All attempts at reform under the Soviet system ran aground when they threatened these pillars of the regime, as all of them inevitably did. All of these regime pillars are gone for good.

Commando-administrative control is gone. Post-Soviet Russia has a market economy that is integrated into the world economy. The monopoly of power of the Communist Party no longer exists. And. while Communist ideology was an all-pervasive feature of the Soviet regime, post-Soviet Russia lacks any ideology at all.

Of course, much remains unchanged when regimes change. The people, their culture, traditions, and institutions change only to a limited extent. A substantial part of officialdom stays in place, as do many laws and much of the culture of government and administration. Although foreign relations may change substantially, many state interests remain unchanged. Furthermore, some habits of thinking undeniably carry over. All this was true of Iraq after Saddam and France after the 1789 Revolution, for example. But who would seriously draw parallels between approaches to reform of the old and new regimes in these cases?

To some extent Whitmore's parallels do hold. Andropovism and Gorbachevism, do represent alternative strategies. However, his statement that "three decades after Brezhnev's death, we've come full circle. The system remains deadlocked with nothing in sight to break the logjam" is nonsense. Whitmore fails to recognize the obvious. Andropov and Gorbachev failed because they were both attempting to reform an unreformable regime. The superficially similar strategies of Putin and Medvedev may also fail but, if they do, it will be due to entirely different reasons.

The most likely outcome of crystallization of such alternative approaches to governance and reform in Russia is precisely the opposite of what Whitmore suggests. There are Andropov-like approaches and Gorbachev-like approaches in all democratic countries, that is, hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives, hardliners and moderates. In a situation of competitive politics, such different approaches are incorporated into political programs that are debated and result in victories and defeats at the ballot box.

Perhaps, rather than deadlock, we will see the emergence of competitive politics in Russia.
In Response

by: rkka from: USA
November 18, 2012 03:01
"To imply that the process of reforming Russia represents a continuation of attempts to reform the Soviet regime, as Whitmore does, distorts reality beyond recognition. "

"The most likely outcome of crystallization of such alternative approaches to governance and reform in Russia is precisely the opposite of what Whitmore suggests."

Cut poor Whitmore some slack. If he didn't indulge Washington's wish-fulfillment fantasy by prophesying another Russian collapse, he's be out of a job in nothing flat.

"There are Andropov-like approaches and Gorbachev-like approaches in all democratic countries, that is, hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives, hardliners and moderates. In a situation of competitive politics, such different approaches are incorporated into political programs that are debated and result in victories and defeats at the ballot box. "

Oh, boy, now you've done it. You've implied that Russia isn't an authoritarian dictatorship where all dissent is violently crushed. Seriously, there's only so much truth and reality that this blog can take!!

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
November 12, 2012 04:57
200 years ago, a well-known public official and historian Karamzin, arrived on a visit to France.
When immigrants asked him, "What's going on in Russia?" He replied, "Just like always, life is going "well", people steal."He meant, of course, first of all, the theft from the treasury,
Perhaps that under Stalin important officials were afraid to steal knowing what's mean punitive sword of repression.
Recent corruption scandals show that nothing has changed in Russia.
In Russia all people have a tendency to steal, regardless of the historical period
This is the mentality of the Russian people.
In fact, many things in Russia are not changed,,, here the main idea of ​​the article's author is correct.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 13, 2012 15:55
Brezhnevs children-all of them Shariks-Eugenio from Vienna,Jack fom the SU and kaka vahtang dudu from moss cow!!!
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
November 15, 2012 08:37
We must also remember that during the Brezhnev era, the animals are not starved in zoos.
All camels could to get their daily ration and in case of illness antibiotics or neuroleptics.
Unfortunately today camels wandering around the world, their disease at advanced stage..
Only with the help of electric shock one can put to the place a very sick brains of camel

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


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014


09:09 November 21, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:

Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)


16:55 November 19, 2014


Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014


MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014


Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)


President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or