Sunday, October 26, 2014


The Power Vertical

Free Elections Are Coming To Russia! No, Really!

Anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny will be running for a seat on the opposition's Coordinating Council.
Anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny will be running for a seat on the opposition's Coordinating Council.
Russia will have free and fair elections in October.
 
There will be real choice with multiple, viable candidates. There will be vigorous televised debates. The vote will be open and transparent, with clear rules of the game.
 
No, I'm not delusional. And no, I am not talking about the local elections scheduled for 73 Russian regions on October 14. Those, I expect, will be as fraudulent as ever.
 
What I'm talking about are the online primary elections the Russian opposition movement is holding a week later, on October 21-22, to choose a 45-member Coordinating Council.
 
The council will decide things like which candidates the opposition will back in future elections and when, where, and why to hold protests. In a nod to the diversity of the opposition movement, it will have five seats each reserved for liberals, nationalists, and leftists -- while 30 will go to at-large candidates.
 
An opposition Electoral Commission is already in place to register candidates and monitor the vote. The online television station Dozhd TV is hosting live debates among any candidates who want to participate. 
 
Some predictable names -- Boris Nemtsov, Garry Kasparov, and Dmitry Gudkov -- are running for seats on the council. So are some relatively fresher opposition figures like anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny, socialite-turned-activist Ksenia Sobchak, writers Dmitry Bykov and Lyudmila Ulitskaya, journalist Filipp Dzyadko, comedians Mikhail Shatz and Tatyana Lazareva, and the popular blogger Rustem Agadamov.
 
So why do we care about elections to a council that will be essentially powerless?
 
I think the opposition primaries are important, and merit attention, for a number of reasons.
 
Opposition figures themselves say they will be a dress rehearsal for free and fair elections in a post-Putin Russia. Along those lines, they are also setting an example by creating an alternative civil society where decisions are arrived at democratically.

The primaries are also important because the opposition clearly needs to move on from its street-protests stage.
 
The early demonstrations after December's disputed State Duma elections were widely interpreted as a show of strength by the rejuvenated opposition -- proof that true dissent was real and blossoming in Russian society and that the Kremlin's foes could consistently put people on the streets in large numbers.
 
But after the latest rally earlier this month -- which had a bit of a pro forma feel to it -- many in the media, including outlets sympathetic to the opposition, began to question the utility of street protests as a vehicle for change.
 
Successfully holding primaries to elect its leaders will be a powerful sign that the opposition is serious and maturing.
 
In a video recently posted on his blog, Navalny said the elections will be important in establishing the legitimacy of the opposition.

"The problem of the opposition's legitimacy needs to be decided through elections, [especially] if we are going to accuse the authorities of lacking legitimacy," he said.
 
But the new Coordinating Council will also present an important test for the opposition. Can figures as diverse as Navalny, Nemtsov, and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, as well as their supporters, agree to abide by common rules of the game, even when they don't like the results? Will liberals support a nationalist or leftist candidate the Coordinating Council decides to back in some future election, or vice versa?
 
If the answer to these questions is yes, then next month's primaries will send an important message and represent something of a milestone for Russia's famously fractured opposition.  

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Tune in to the next edition of "The Power Vertical Podcast" on September 28, when my co-host Kirill Kobrin and I will discuss the issues raised in this blog post.

Tags: Russian opposition,primaries

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jack from: US
September 27, 2012 19:11
apparently RFE/RL makes an implicit claim there are free elections in US. There are fewer and fewer people in US who actually believe the official myths, especially what concerns the "elections" here. US elections are nothing else but staged sham shows where ruling mafia "elects" each other, or rather "selects" yet another bafoon president
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
September 28, 2012 00:06
US citizens have the right to vote for the Republ-ocrat duopoly again, Jack. Anything outside of that would be unthinkable.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 28, 2012 19:29
Oh, another conspiracy theorist. OK.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
September 28, 2012 09:21
The Huffington Post published a slide-show of PHOTOS of the street battle that took place in Moscow on September 25th. Here you will find the full photo-account of the event: http://www.huffingtonpost.es/2012/09/28/la-jueza-libera-a-34-de-l_n_1921931.html?utm_hp_ref=spain#slide=1569072
In Response

by: Jack from: US
September 29, 2012 13:46
good point Eugenio. The photos of a NATO minion Spain beating their own people to blood punch is not something US propaganda outlets like RFE/RL would like to promote. After all a NATO minion ought to be "democratic"
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 01, 2012 16:31
Exactly, Jack, and the most appolling of all is that this Radio "Free Europe" - i.e. the one that claims to promote freedom on this continent - did not find it necessary TO EVEN MENTION in some of their short news stories the fact that hundreds of thousands of Spaniards went to the streets on Sept. 25th to protest against the economic genocide imposed on them by Frau Merkel and the Germans and that the Spanish riot police WAS SHOOTING AT PEOPLE with rubber bullets in the Madrid Subway - something that did not happen there since the 1970s when the country was governed by the great friend of the US, the fascist General Francisco Franco. So much to the RFE/RL's committment to "free Europe".
VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ8yNywAOEk&feature=relmfu
In Response

by: Jack from: US
October 01, 2012 18:58
that's right Eugenio! RFE/RL only spreads US government propaganda. It is against US government to show NATO minions shoot at their own people

by: Sean from: Pittsburgh, PA
September 28, 2012 14:05
You're far more optimistic, even a bid too uncritical of this effort than I am. True, it should be applauded because at least the "opposition" is trying to create something of an organizational body, and doing it through a democratic process. That said, as the chatter on the Runet suggests there is a great fear that this committee will simply be a "parade of stars" rather than anything of real political substance, let alone organizing force. Also, the committee is carved into ideological blocks. Granted, many of the big names have eschewed running under an ideological block and instead opting for the general civil category (which is the majority). This does two things it seems to me. First, the ideological blocks while on the surface maintains representation for the disparate ideological groups, but it also kicks the problem down the road rather than it be solved democratically through the election. Second, sure this is a sign of maturation, but I think that movements real maturity will come after the committee meets and begins to hammer strategy and positions. Lastly, indeed this has the potential to establish the legitimacy of the opposition. But to whom? A low voter turnout can also reveal that it remains after 10 months to still be talking to itself. So yes by all means praise the form, but display reticence toward the content.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
October 01, 2012 09:32
What do I see here? An on-topic, thoughtful, and intelligent (not to mention intelligible) comment! Thanks Sean! Your points are well taken and I plan to follow up on this post and the subsequent podcast on the topic with a fresh post today. I see Oct. 21-22 as both a test and an opportunity for "the Other Russia." In essence, not just the "opposition," but a whole segment of society, is choosing its leaders.

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 28, 2012 22:00
In the Russia after Putin, Boris Nemtsov will be 64 years old. Garry Kasparov will be 61. Gennady Zyuganov will still be leading the Communists, although he will have died 4 years previously without anyone noticing. And if Putin is sclerotic and "not the dynamic man he once was" - as you keep saying - at 60, what will Nemtsov and Kasparov be like at 64 and 61 after more than a decade of futile complaining and constantly reinventing political parties that poll less than 5% of the vote?

Alexei Navalny's star has reached and passed its zenith, and he is struggling to stay relevant against a growing wave of skepticism among the hamsters; you have only to read the comments on his blog to see that. These are realities, not candy-cloud dreams of opposition glory.

An energized opposition which has its own plans for the country and openly disagrees with the government without being disloyal to national objectives is just part of a healthy democratic model. Russia doesn't have it, and the state owns disproportionate power, largely because the western media swoons over every newcomer as if he or she were a savior while maintaining a stable of aging pet dissidents who are supposed to mentor the "new firebrands". It never works, but the west keeps trying it, and I'm pretty sure there is already established wisdom on the principle of trying the same technique over and over and expecting different results.

And it's only going to get harder as NGO's are regulated or kicked out.
In Response

by: Frank
October 01, 2012 13:09
What do I see here? An on-topic, thoughtful, and intelligent (not to mention intelligible) comment! Thanks Mark! Your points are well taken, much unlike the kind of slant exhibited by the overall selection/non-selection of "Russia watchers" listed at the top right of this RFE/RL blog.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
October 02, 2012 03:02
I understand, mister Whitmore, you can not write the truth, there are certain frames..
Step aside, and Mr.Whitmore will get a headache-))))
-------------------------------------
Who is Mr.Putin? Mr.Putin is appointee ..He was appointed by drunk Yeltsin and corrupt gang around him..
Since then, he is in power in Russia thanks to polit.technologys and falsifications.
You list the members of the opposition...there is not one honest man or woman-))))
All of them were involved in illegal activities:
tax evasion
raud
bribes
blackmail
extortion and much more-))))
without this gentleman's set you can not live in Russia a normal life..
Putin and opposition-this is a gangs of rogues who are fighting for power and privileges from the point of view of an honest man-whom to power in Russia will never allow and who will be killed...
No free elections in Russia, Mr.Whitmore but gang wars for their machinations and crimes
and of course your job, Mr.Whitmore strain your brain and come up with the correct names of political thugs and other criminal mischiefs...this is the fate of the journalist who wants to eat..

by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 06, 2012 17:48
Oh Brian! Tsk, tsk, tsk. Shame on you! I'm as tough a critic of Putin as there is, but I'm offended by your decision that elections which haven't happened yet will be free and fair. Isn't such prejudgment totally inconsistent with advocacy of the principle? Let's not forget that whatever else Navalny, Nemtsov and Kasparov are, they are Russians. They come from a country that is the most corrupt of any major nation on the planet. The notion that they are as pure as the driven snow and that these elections will be pristine is not just naive, its farcical. Did you do ANY investigative reporting to determine what measures are being taken to secure the ballot by the opposition organizations? What's more, There's no basis for believing that as much as 0.1% of the Russian population will participate in these elections. Even if they were pure, they just wouldn't matter. The opposition has totally failed to galvanize even a noteworthy minority to support them, and the vast majority of Russians continue to support evil and oppression, just as they did in Soviet times.

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17:49 October 24, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.

THREE ALLEGED MILITANTS KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26 October 24, 2014

SPY VS. SPY

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

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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