Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Unraveling: The Tandem's Slow Death

President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meet in the ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana in March.
President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meet in the ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana in March.
Gleb Pavlovsky is talking.
He talked to the British daily "The Guardian" last month, for example. And he talked to Yevgenia Albats at "New Times" just last week. 
Talking out of school has gotten Pavlovsky into trouble in the past and actually appears to have gotten him fired from his Kremlin job last year. Nonetheless, when it comes to Russian politics, he usually knows what he is talking about.
So what exactly is Pavlovsky talking about? In fact, he's talking rather candidly about the question that has been on a lot of Kremlin-watchers' minds for the past six months: what led to the decision, announced at the United Russia congress on September 24, 2011, that Vladimir Putin would return to the Kremlin?
(I took a stab at this with a post back in October, but I am not -- to say the least -- anywhere near as informed or plugged in as Pavlovsky.)

Almost from the get-go, according to the Kremlin's former uber-spinmeister, there was a lack of clarity among the elite about what the tandem arrangement between Putin and Medvedev was supposed to ultimately mean.
For some, including Pavlovsky himself, former deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, and much of the elite's technocratic wing, it was a clever way to transition out of the authoritarian system Putin built into a more pluralistic model. 
But for people like Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and the siloviki wing of the elite, it was nothing more than a chess move to keep Putin in power without violating the letter of the constitution. And if you can believe what Medvedev and Putin themselves say about how their castling move was agreed to back in 2008, this was also how the tandem itself viewed the arrangement -- at least in the beginning.
"The whole problem was that four years ago it seemed to us that the tandem was a good form of transit but it turned out that this was simply the old Russian form of a private deal built into the constitutional system and destroying it, naturally," Pavlovsky said in his "New Times" interview.
Political scientist Gleb PavlovskyPolitical scientist Gleb Pavlovsky
Political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky
Political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky
Speaking to "The Guardian," Pavlovsky stressed that Surkov -- who was dismissed from his Kremlin post in December -- understood more than anyone the danger of Putin attempting a return to the presidency.
"Surkov saw Medvedev staying as the preferable option. I never had the impression that Surkov wanted Putin to experiment with his return. He felt the limits of the system," Pavlovsky said.

"He was the last person in the Kremlin who understood what the system could withstand and what it couldn't. And now there is no one left to feel that."
As the tandem arrangement took hold in practice, part of the elite began to gravitate over to the new president -- a trend that apparently gave Medvedev ideas and made Putin nervous. By the end of 2010, as Medvedev's term neared its mid-point, "there was a great deal of tension," Pavlovsky told "The Guardian."
By the spring of 2011, the tension was approaching critical mass, something that was visible in the surprisingly public sniping between the two leaders over Western intervention in Libya. 
And as Pavlovsky notes in his interview with "New Times," it appeared to climax around the time of Medvedev's much-hyped press conference in May 2011, when it was widely expected that he would make an announcement about whether he would seek a second term -- but ultimately punted.
Pavlovsky said that unidentified members of the prime minister's team "frightened Putin with the myth that Medvedev was preparing to remove him. And [they frightened] Medvedev [with the rumor] that Putin would more or less move regiments to Moscow if that happened."

It is also notable that around this time, in April 2011, Pavlovsky lost his Kremlin job.
By the summer of 2011, according to Pavlovsky, both men were "in a psychologically unstable state" which lasted until they huddled in Sochi in August to hash things out.
Pavlovsky suggested to "New Times" that Putin was open to the idea of Medvedev staying (as long as he remained the person who was effectively in charge, of course). But he was convinced otherwise by his inner circle -- the so-called "collective Putin" -- who felt threatened by a second term for Medvedev:
I think that it was a few cohorts -- who owed their position and wealth to Putin -- who pushed him into it. They asked themselves a simple question: if it were not Putin, would their capital be guaranteed or not? That is why I, like a maniac, since I was close to the presidential staff then, said all the time that Medvedev must find a way to give guarantees to the "collective Putin." But Medvedev thought that the president was above these trivialities.
Pavlovsky's account sounds credible to me for several reasons. First, because he is in a position to know what went down. Second, he doesn't appear to having anything to gain from spilling this now. And finally, because it all fits with the partial signals we were all seeing throughout 2010 and 2011. 
Careful readers of this blog will recall that I argued back then that I thought Plan A was for Medvedev to stay on as president and for Putin to remain in charge. I thought this partially because influential players like Pavlovsky and Surkov appeared to be indicating that this was the case. 
But I also thought it because it appeared to be a logical and elegant way for Putin to have it both ways: to oversee, control, and direct the modernization of Russia's economy and political system as the national leader -- the chairman of the "Deep State" -- without the burdens of day-to-day governance.
As it turns out, Plan A was for Putin to stay while Pavlovsky, Surkov, and others -- correctly sensing that this would lead to social discontent -- tried to get him to consider the other option.
Putin, of course, didn't go for that. And everything that is happening in Russia now -- from the protests to the divided elite, to Putin's diminished majority -- are consequences of that decision.
-- Brian Whitmore


Tags: Vladimir Putin,Gleb Pavlovsky,Putin-Medvedev tandem,Vladislav Surkov,Dmitry Medvedev

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 03, 2012 22:01
Apparently losing a job in Kremlin is the best recepy to start receiving attention in the West: about 3 months ago this very same Pavlosky was here in Vienna giving lectures to a "happy few" willing to listen to him and promising a "catastrophy" in the case if Putin presented his candidacy for the presidency. When is the promised "catastrophy" going to happen, Mr. Pavlosky :-)?

by: Ben
April 04, 2012 16:19
Seeing Medvedev in his childish suits,sticking out his breast and smiling broadly one could hardly suppose the existance of his secret plans against Putin`s presidency.

by: Reggie from: US
April 08, 2012 03:38
<Putin to ... oversee, control, and direct the modernization of Russia's economy and political system>
Really? So you think he has been doing it all along right? You must be kidding me...go and study more what exactly Putin has done so far before you write that BS. He's done everything to not let Russia modernize, in many ways he is standing in her way, untill this Vertical is there, nothing will move Russia towards modernization, either economical, political or technological

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