Sunday, November 23, 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.

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