Sunday, October 26, 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

17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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)



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 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)


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


17:26 October 24, 2014


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


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)



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)


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


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