Sunday, October 26, 2014


The Power Vertical

In Moscow Election, The Fix Is In -- Or Is It?

Vladimir Putin (left) and Sergei Sobyanin
Vladimir Putin (left) and Sergei Sobyanin
It's pretty obvious why Sergei Sobyanin announced today that he will resign as Moscow mayor and run in a snap election in September. What isn’t so clear is whether the gambit will pay off.

Appointed in 2010 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev and rubber-stamped by the Moscow City Duma, Sobyanin could have remained in office until 2015. Likewise, the Kremlin could have easily rolled back its plans to reintroduce direct popular mayoral elections in the capital and reappointed him. 

But the Kremlin has clearly decided that, given the volatile political situation, Sobyanin needed a degree of popular legitimacy. Moreover, Sobyanin is popular among Muscovites and President Vladimir Putin trusts him to remain loyal.

"Political control of the situation in the capital is a priority for the Kremlin. And in terms of efficiency, it is logical for the presidential administration to support empowering the mayor," political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote in Slon.ru

And holding elections in September rather than in two years gives potentially strong opponents like billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny -- both of whom have expressed interest in running -- little time to prepare.

Moreover, Prokhorov, who has extensive foreign assets, would be hard pressed to repatriate them in time to be in compliance with new legislation restricting officials from such holdings. And as Stanovaya notes, "experience has shown that Prokhorov is not interested in a serious confrontation with the authorities" and would probably choose not to run anything but a symbolic "face-saving" campaign.

And Navalny remains tied up fighting fraud charges, widely viewed as politically motivated, in Kirov Oblast.

So at first glance, a Sobyanin "resignation" (and it’s not really a resignation because he will probably remain in office as "acting mayor") looks like a clever move. But then again, at the time so did the so-called "castling" of September 2011 when Putin and Medvedev pulled their job switcheroo -- inflaming public opinion and giving birth to the protest movement.

Similarly, the Kremlin's current strategy also carries serious risks.

The election in the capital will most likely be scheduled for September 8, the same day voters in the surrounding Moscow Oblast will go to the polls to choose a governor.

Former State Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov, who says he plans to run for governor, said the Opposition Coordinating Council could nominate Navalny as its candidate for mayor. Such a unified opposition "ticket" could galvanize disaffected voters and prove to be a major headache for the authorities.

Moreover, it would make a guilty verdict in Navalny’s trial, or any additional legal action against Gudkov, look brazenly political.

And it's not as if the authorities can just rely on traditional "administrative methods" to get the result they want.

"In the new Russia, after December 2011, there is a new criteria for evaluating elections -- their honesty. The Kremlin will need to pay attention to this social demand that there be honesty and transparency of the campaign and in the vote count," Stanovaya wrote.  

This is especially true in Moscow, which has the highest concentration of opposition-minded voters and who have become increasingly vigilant and creative in policing electoral abuses.

Of course there will be shenanigans, there always are. But the old tricks won’t work the way they once did.

And finally there are the parallels with the "castling" -- the sense that the authorities are playing loose and fancy with the rules, transparently moving the goalposts, and playing the voters for fools.

This has long been the default setting for the Kremlin. But Muscovites in particular are growing tired of this kind of virtual politics -- and their frustration could become manifest again in September.

Of course the Kremlin can pull this all off, and probably will. They can convict Navalny, which would bar him from the race. They can send a message to Prokhorov to stand down. They can get Sobyanin his popular mandate in the opposition-infested capital.

But like with the castling, it could also come at great cost.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: La Russophobe from: USA
June 04, 2013 21:24
There I was thinking that Putin's "castling" (is that what we are calling it now?) was a breathtaking success, allowing to rule Russia longer than Brezhnev and maybe Stalin while cloaking himself in democracy. I had thought that the always-pathetic "opposition" to this move had faded into absolute, laughable obscurity. And now I learn that this "switcheroo" was some kind of disaster because it "gave birth" to a protest movement that promptly perished. Moreover, the history I'd read indicated that the protest movement was born out of opposition to rigged Duma elections that came well before the "switcheroo."

I suppose that right around the time Navalny is sent to the big house I'll be learning that he's really won a monumental victory and, despite appearances, is now the true ruler of Russia.

Gosh, what an exciting country! Truly a riddle wrapped in a mystery surrounded by an enigma!

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

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."

Latest Podcasts

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