Friday, November 28, 2014

The Power Vertical

Head Of (The Deep) State

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party congress in Volgograd on May 6, 2011
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party congress in Volgograd on May 6, 2011
There has been a lot of ink spilled lately about what Vladimir Putin's decision to form the All-Russian Popular Front means for the country's political future.

Speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" earlier this week, Igor Bunin, the president of the Center for Political Technologies, argues that it is a sure-fire sign that Putin intends to return to the presidency:

The prime minister first has to acquire the controlling 'block of stock' [in the People's Front].  In this way, he will dispel any doubts about the person who makes the decisions, particularly the decision regarding the presidential nominee at the United Russia congress in December.  This is his primary goal.  His next goal is to return to the president's office, and with Medvedev's consent.

According to Bunin, if United Russia manages in December to win the same two-thirds "constitutional" majority it won in the 2007 State Duma elections, Putin's return to the Kremlin is all but a sure thing:

Then Putin will be able to say that he is still the national leader and that United Russia and the People's Front want him to return to the president's office.  In fact, if the results are high enough, he will simply have to return to the president's office!  If the results are more modest - i.e., far below 50 percent - he can reach an agreement with Medvedev on keeping the tandem alive in one form or another.  These are the only options.

I agree with Bunin that the results of this December's elections will be a key indicator about who will occupy the Kremlin after 2012. But I draw the opposite conclusion.

If Putin controls the Popular Front (and is there any doubt that he will?) and is crowned "national leader" (again!) and United Russia maintains a "constitutional majority" in the Duma, then this makes it all the more likely that Putin will feel comfortable allowing Medvedev to stay in the Kremlin.

In a two consecutive columns in "The Moscow Times," political analyst Vladimir Frolov, president of the LEFF Group, makes the case.

In a May 10 column, Frolov argues that a supermajority in the Duma is one of the keys to Putin maintaining control of the country while surrendering the presidency:

With his Duma super-majority secured, Putin would nominate Medvedev for a second presidential term as United Russia’s candidate. He would then put forward someone else as Medvedev’s next prime minister. This is part of Putin’s conception of a gradual, not rapid, modernization.
Putin would maintain control, while Medvedev gets his second term without much authority. But would he want it?
In reality, yes. This is Russia’s change you can believe in.

Another key, Frolov wrote in a May 23 column, is to find a post that Putin can occupy that affords him sufficient prestige -- and control:

Medvedev knows that Putin lacks a viable rationale to return to the Kremlin and is visibly weary of his prime ministerial role. The trick is to devise an arrangement for Putin to remain the ultimate decider while not spending too much time making tough decisions.
Perhaps such an arrangement could be found in Medvedev’s inconspicuous decree last week that granted unprecedented powers to the secretary of the Security Council that almost rival the authority of the president and prime minister. After all, [China's] Deng Xiaoping’s title for many years has been chairman of the Communist Party’s Military Commission.

Secretary of the Security Council could conceivably be the perch from which Putin continues to run the country, especially since Medvedev's decree giving it control over the military and security services. This would formalize the informal control Putin already exercises over these bodies.

As I have blogged before, it actually doesn't matter that much which post Putin occupies -- Prime Minister, speaker of the Duma, general secretary of United Russia (or the Popular Front). The point is, as long as Putin controls Russia's "deep state" -- ie, the key figures in the military, law enforcement, and security services -- he will have more power and influence than Medvedev  or whoever is the formal head of state.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: mlp from: Washington, DC
May 26, 2011 18:25
Perhaps they can make Putin a constitutional monarch?
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 28, 2011 02:45
Why not? Some have already made him a Saint!

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15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


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.

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About This Blog

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