Monday, November 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Judge Veklich's Rebellion

Opposition figure Garry Kasparov being detained by police on August 17.
Opposition figure Garry Kasparov being detained by police on August 17.
The authorities couldn't have scripted it better. The first high-profile test of a new law imposing stiff fines for unsanctioned public gatherings would involve none other than Garry Kasparov.
The former world chess champion turned opposition figure was detained outside a Moscow courthouse on August 17, the last day of the trial of three members of the feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot. Kasparov said he was just speaking to journalists. Police said he was chanting "Down with the police state," "Russia without Putin," and other antigovernment slogans.
So they caught a pretty big fish. And few doubted, given Russia's servile courts, that Kasparov would be given a show trial. And few doubted that the show trial would result in a fine of up to $1,000 in accordance with the new law.
Enter Judge Yekaterina Veklich.
In the August 24 Power Vertical podcast, my co-host Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian Service, said the following:
We can't say all Russian bureaucrats are corrupt, spoiled thieves. There are a lot of honest people who support the idea of a strong state and their attitude to all these tricks [is that] they are getting disgusted. Any honest bureaucrat, or a local police officer or judge, what do they think of this process? It's just shameful. Don't forget about the moral element in this.
Timely words indeed. Hours later, Veklich found Kasparov not guilty.
“The facts recorded in the police report do not correspond to reality,” she said in acquitting him.

Kasparov is now seeking to have the police who detained him brought up on criminal charges. 
In preparing his defense, Kasparov gathered photographic and video evidence of the run-up to his detention to prove he wasn't shouting antigovernment slogans as police had alleged. He also used time stamps on photographs of his arrest to show that it took place more than an hour before the time listed in the police report -- bolstering his case that the police report was fabricated.
Moreover, journalists interviewing Kasparov when he was detained (including RFE/RL's Danila Galperovich) testified in his defense.
But none of that would have mattered if Veklich had acted according to the expected script. If she had not decided to issue her ruling based on the facts, rather than the political needs of the Kremlin.
As I have blogged here and the Russian media has covered extensively, there has long been a deep division in the elite between those who want to govern like it's 2007 and those who see a need to move on -- albeit slowly -- towards a more pluralistic approach. Most of this -- conflicts between shareholders and managers and between siloviki and technocrats -- has focused on the upper echelons.
Just last week, had a piece on a schism inside the Kremlin administration over the crackdown that followed Vladimir Putin's return to power. "Not everyone likes the harsh suppression of opposition and crude propaganda," the author, Yekaterina Vinokurova, wrote.
And the longer this split at the top persists, the more likely it will be reflected throughout the bureaucracy, in the law-enforcement community, and yes, in the courts.
"Those in Russian state bodies have a choice," Kobrin said during the podcast.
I suspect we will be seeing more and more officials like Judge Veklich surprising us in the future.
-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Victoria
August 28, 2012 00:11
I don't mean to rain on your parade, but in what way is Garry Kasparov a "big fish"? If you meant a fish stood a better chance of getting elected in virtually any political contest in which Kasparov was a candidate, you're right. Otherwise, not so much. Kasparov has yet to break the electoral threshold, and usually withdraws, saying government obstruction prevents him getting a fair crack at winning.

Yes, Kasparov's victory in court was surprising, and will rightly cast doubt on police evidence in future, which is all to the good as the standard of proof will rise. If the preponderance of your Russia analysis is correct, Judge Veklich has maybe 48 hours to get out of the country before Putin's goons come and break down her door, jail her on trumped-up charges and eventually announce she died of an undiagnosed illness while in prison. Let's see if that happens, as it is bound to do considering Putin brooks no challenges to his authority, and he really wanted Garry Kasparov sent down the river for a long stretch. Or at least fined $1000.00.

Alternatively, Judge Veklich could lead a political revolt of all honest bureacrats, based on this "schism" you keep bringing up, and overthrow the government.

Somehow lost in the shuffle and the throwing of confetti is the fact that the justice system worked just as it is supposed to, and if it continues to do so a few police officers will be looking for new jobs by the end of the week. Which of course will be a victory against Putin, who didn't want that to happen.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
August 29, 2012 03:59
Kasparov is simply a famous person, since his chess years. This makes him automatically a big fish. If Pugacheva or Mikhalkov suddenly joined the anti-Putin opposition, they would also be 'big fish' by virtue of their fame.

I don't expect your mega-thug-scenario to come true, as Putin is already under pressure because of the Pussy Riot case. But keep your eyes open during the next few years. I would not be surprised if this judge met the fate of other Russian opposition members (despite the fact that this judge isn't one). Be honest: if she disappears or is jailed at some point in the next few years, will you be surprised?

Yes, the justice system in this case worked just as it was supposed to. If only that happened more frequently -- say, more than 1 in 10 -- when opposition activists are involved, there would be no need for confetti. It would simply be a normal state of affairs.

Who knows? Maybe this will happen in Russia's future. Weirder things have happened.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
August 29, 2012 20:59
I could see that, if Kasparov had been arrested for bungling the Sicilian Defense or some related chess crime, but his arrest was related to his activities as an oppsition political figure, to which his fame as a chess player has no more relevance than if he were William G. Wepfer - a famous person in his own circles, as the inventor of the gas barbecue.

In point of fact Kasparov was arrested for nothing, since he was found not guilty, but I'm sure you see what I mean - I object to the characterization of Kasparov as a "big fish" in politics just because he was a great chess player. That doesn't help him command a political audience, and I'll bet not even all the competition-level chess players in Russia would vote for him. Similarly, opposition figures always wail that they were cheated if they make a poor showing. They are either unable to acknowledge they are just not that popular, or genuinely don't see it. Boris Nemtsov is a great example, losing the election for mayor of his home town of Sochi, and claiming it was because he did not get equal access to airtime and advertising media to market his candidacy. As I mentioned, he is from Sochi, and he had recently finished up a stint as Deputy Prime Minister of the entire Russian Federation. It's hard to imagine there was anyone in Sochi who did not know him.

Similarly, Kasparov's complaint that he was unable to rent a hall to hold his nominating convention is a weak appeal for pity. What are we to make of somebody who can't surmount that kind of obstacle, yet who proposes to lead the nation? Is he never going to have to confront a problem more difficult that that? Use your head, man: rent the hall through a third party. Rent the convention facilities of a major hotel chain. Hold it in a barn, for God's sake - the law says you have to have a verified 500 delegates in support, it doesn't specify the type of building. If he couldn't reason his way through that one, how would he deal with a credit crisis? Runaway inflation? Border disputes? Do I have to think of everything?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
August 28, 2012 13:49
It's really sad to look at Kasparov: he was such a good chess player back in the 1980s. And now he needed to get into "politics" in order to make a clown of himself by biting (or not - after all, who cares?) some policemen on the street. He could have opened a chess academy instead and do something useful for the others (and for himself, of course).
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
August 29, 2012 04:08
He still is, as far as I know, as good a chess player as he was in the 1980s. As Thérèse said in her comment, if you think Kasparov makes himself a clown in politics while being denied the right to hold public meetings or protest marches and having no access to the media (who, under P's authority, mechanically place him in the worst light possible), then pretty much every great Russian in history, from Lenin on, started out as a clown.

I don't think Kasparov will become politically important. But this is not the only measure of "clown"ness. For the latter, look at Zhirinovsky, and what he says.

by: Thérèse Obrecht Hodler from: Berne
August 28, 2012 19:29
Appalling comments, sorry to say. How do you think Russia will ever change if citizens (like Kasparov) open a chess academy and just try to make loads of money instead of going into politics? He makes a clown of himself? This is the kind of statement Putin probably loves to make to his pals. Have you ever imagined what it is like to be a candidate without ever appearing on TV or without even being able to hold a meeting, be in Moscow or the provinces. He will never be elected president, good or him, but he might get shot some day by a lunatic for trying to make his country a decent place to live. Why did Magnitsky feel the need to uncover a big corruption scheme? Why does Navalny go on protesting with the risk of being put behind bars for years? Why did Politkovskaya write about Chechnya when nobody was interested to read that stuff (is what many Russians - and probably you too - said after her death). Thanks judge Veklich for being brave, but maybe your phone had broken down before the judgment, so no chance for the telefonnoe pravo.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
August 29, 2012 04:49
Well said Therese, you make good points.

Unfortunately Mark and Eugenio often make such appalling comments.

BTW Mark, if you think the Russian justice system "worked just as it is supposed to", a better example is the imprisonment of the wife of an activist for 8 years for "drug possession" despite eye witnesses (who had passed lie detector tests) stating they had seen the police planting the drugs (a not uncommon occurrence in Russia). THAT is the system working the way it was intended by Putin.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
August 29, 2012 05:00
Thérèse, who told you that "Russia needs to change"? When one looks at a number of European states going bankrupt, while Russia is growing at the rate of more than 4 % per year, one gets the impression that a number of EU member states need to change and not anyone else.
You are saying: "trying to make his country a decent place to live". This is a comment that some ignorant "individual" from the US would make: sitting in his/her bankrupt Detroit, having no idea abour the world and thinking that s/he needs to tell others how to live. Did you, Thérèse, by any chance graduate from the Condoleezza Rice School of Politics?
All your "retorical" questions starting with "why" are very easy to answer: Magnitsky, Navalny, Politkovskaya and Pussy Riot do what they do for one sole reason - they are (were) paid by the US Embassy in Moscow and related structures to try to somehow destabilize Russia. But you know, people there are not as stupid as you would wish them to be: they know that the nation of Beavuses and Buttheads and their lakeys are the major enemy of the humankind.
And they also know that the US and EU are going bankrupt and this is the major reason why they so desperately try to somehow destabilize others. But - the example of Syria is vividly showing every day - the US/EU/NATO losers are that inept that they can not even get rid of Bashar, let alone presenting any kind of serious challenge to Putin.
Cheers from Vienna, Thérèse!
In Response

by: Alex from: USA
August 30, 2012 17:03
I usually try to ignore comments by Mark and Eugenio since they are such reliably anti-Western trolls on this site, but Eugenio's latest claim that the Russian opposition is paid by the US Embassy is just beyond the pale in its stupidity and falseness. The Russian opposition does what it does because they love Russia and hate what Putin is doing to their country, and I could not agree with them more.

Eugenio, you are a pathetic far-left extremist, apparently jobless since you leave your poison pen comments every day - either that or YOU are paid by the Russian Embassy in Vienna to troll for them.

You and your ideology are on the ash heap of history, you've lost and America won, and if you can't accept that, that's not our problem. Stop your disgusting and pointless America-hatred and go learn some English, your comments are full of basic grammar errors and misspellings... not surprising, considering the basic errors in your ideology and worldview.

Keep rocking, Brian, don't let leftist idiots like E. get you down.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
August 30, 2012 00:39
All of this suggests that Mr.Whitmore. does not understand Russian judicial system.

The situation today is... that in such cases the judge did not make their own decisions this was a direct order of the Moscow City Court, more precisely the order of Egorova-Chairman of the Moscow City Court,more precisely Putin's order...

Those who say that Kasparov "small fish" and Putin too busy with "great deeds", to spend time on such trifles are agents of the KGB or lie.
Putin is vindictive and mean-spirited man who does not miss a single detail вut at the same time, he wants everyone to believe in the opposite and that the courts that he controls not only suppress but can acquit...court decision on Kasparov - part of the game of Putin that such as Mr.Whitmore wrote naive articles about "objective" russian judges-)))..

So Mr.Whitmore!!.. when you see that in the room a woman enters in a gown.. you need to know-Yegorovа called her on the order of Putin-make the "right" decision...

by: Mark from: Victoria
August 31, 2012 17:29
"The Russian opposition does what it does because they love Russia and hate what Putin is doing to their country, and I could not agree with them more."

Is that a fact? Well, how Russian is Kasparov, really? He's a U.S. citizen, born in Azerbaijan to an Armenian mother and a Russian father, who died when he was only 7 years old. He is the recipient of the "Keeper of the Flame" award from the United States think tank Center for Security Policy (CSP), for his contributions to " the defence of the United States and American values around the world". In 2006 he and fellow dissident Mikhail Kasyanov lobbied to have Russia excluded from the G8 Summit, which was held in St Petersburg. Mmmmm....awkward. When he announced his intention to run for the Russian presidency in 2007, he traveled straightaway to the United States to appear on a variety of American talk-show platforms. Who was he trying to convince? Russians? All of his posturing is directed at a foreign audience.

Tell me that would fly, if the circumstances were reversed, in a country where a good quarter of the electorate is still suspicious that their own president is a closet Muslim who was born in Kenya. Uh huh. Imagine Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala - who probably polls about as much of the vote, proportionally speaking, in the USA as Kasparov does in Russia and who has been arrested many more times than Kasparov for civil disobedience - spent significant amounts of her adult life in Russia, had received the Order of the Red Banner from a Russian policy group for her service in the promotion of Russian security, and had lobbied to have the United States excluded from an international summit which was to take place in New York. Imagine she traveled to Russia to promote herself - in Russian - as a U.S. presidential candidate. Further imagine yourself trying to sell the view in the USA that she just loved America and was only trying to make it a better place, because the U.S. government was doing terrible things to it.

And expecting people to take you seriously.

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