Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

Ksenia And Vladimir

Ksenia Sobchak appears in a Moscow court on May 18.
Ksenia Sobchak appears in a Moscow court on May 18.
History often rhymes in very odd ways.
On June 12, 1999, Anatoly Sobchak returned home after 1 1/2 years in self-imposed exile in Paris.
The former St. Petersburg mayor, and principal author of the Russian Constitution, left the country in November 1997 in the midst of a corruption investigation that he and his allies insisted was -- and according to most impartial accounts appeared to be -- politically motivated.
Sobchak's return from exile coincided with the meteoric rise of his former deputy and close political ally, Vladimir Putin. A year earlier, Putin became director of the Federal Security Service (FSB). A few months before Sobchak's homecoming, his friend and former deputy was named secretary of the Security Council. Two months later, Putin would be named prime minister, serving for just several months before succeeding Boris Yeltsin as president.
The conventional wisdom at the time was that Sobchak, who died in February 2000, was able to safely return to Russia because he enjoyed the ascendant Putin's protection.
As a reporter in St. Petersburg at the time, I covered Sobchak's flamboyant and emotional arrival at the city's Pulkovo Airport. One of the enduring memories I have of that day was of Sobchak's 17-year-old daughter Ksenia impatiently pulling on his arm in a vain attempt to get her famously talkative father to stop engaging journalists and get in the car already.
Fast forward to June 12, 2012, exactly 13 years later.
That impatient 17-year-old girl is now a confident 30-year-old who has seamlessly transformed herself from a socialite reality-show star into one of Russia's most visible social activists. And she is being questioned by agents from the Investigative Committee over her opposition political activities.  A day earlier, her apartment was searched by Investigative Committee agents, who confiscated large sums of cash.
Due to her family's ties to Putin, it was always assumed that, unlike other opposition figures -- but like her father -- Ksenia Sobchak enjoyed a degree of protection. Now everybody is reassessing that assumption.
Writing in the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" last week, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky suggested it was Sobchak -- and not Aleksei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, or Sergei Udaltsov, whose flats were also searched -- who was the operation's real target:

The only person whom Putin truly punished, rather than hyped, on June 11 was Ksenia Sobchak. But it wasn't political. It was personal. In practice (and in theory) Putin doesn't really know the other protest leaders and therefore has no grounds for taking offense against them. But it appears that the president believes he has grounds for taking offense against Ksenia Sobchak.
And today, Putin upped the ante against his old friend's daughter (and make no mistake, none of this would be happening without Putin giving the green light).
A June 18 article in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia" quoted anonymous law enforcement sources as saying that Sobchak could be prosecuted for tax evasion over the estimated 1 million euros and $500,000 in cash agents seized from her apartment during last week's raid.

The report quoted unidentified Interior Ministry officials as saying that Sobchak's 2011 tax declaration reported 6.7 million rubles ($210,000) in income. Her 2010 declaration, according to the daily, reported 4.53 million rubles.
The authorities are clearly trying to drive a wedge between Sobchak and the rest of the opposition by stirring up resentment of her wealth. And there is some evidence it is working. On June 15, Ilya Ponomaryov, an opposition State Duma deputy from the center-left A Just Russia, asked her to distance herself from the protest movement.

Sobchak, however, is showing no signs of lowering her profile. Writing on her Twitter feed, Sobchak responded to the allegations. "For many years my tax returns have reported not less than $1 million in income," she wrote in one tweet, calling the report "lies and slander designed to provoke me."

In another, she wrote that after consulting her lawyer, Henry Reznik, she has decided to sue "Izvestia" over the article.
And in an article published later in the day on June 18 on "Komsomolskaya pravda's" website, she reiterated that she has paid taxes on all her income. She also noted that the smears against her were reminiscent of those against her father in the 1990s.

Sobchak also attacked the Kremlin's apparent strategy against her at its core:
The case about 'Sobchak's millions' is just another way of stirring up hatred in our country, which already has so much of it. Stories about big money always stir up jealousy and negativity. And stirring up class hatred in order to discredit a protester is irresponsible...After what happened in 1917, inciting class hatred is no joke in this country. It's like putting matches in the hands of a child. Please smear me in some other way. For the sake of peace in our country, I promise to give you a lot of other reasons.
Ksenia Sobchak has again passed into new territory. In the months after the disputed State Duma elections in December, she turned herself into a serious political player with the opposition -- albeit one who everybody assumed enjoyed protected status. Now she will need to play that role without a "krysha."

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russian opposition,Ksenia Sobchak,Anatoly Sobchak

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 18, 2012 21:58
How many battalions of OMON forces does this socialite command? Exactly. The writing is on the wall; pack your bags while you still can. I suspect that most Russians would applaud if she were sent to prison.

by: Frank
June 19, 2012 00:27
Boola, boola.

The Russian government is screwed up for making bratty and politically insignificant individuals appear more important than they actually are.

by: George from: USA
June 19, 2012 08:25
So typical of Russian "Justice/Law", from the time of the Czars, the Soviet, right on into the regime of Putin.
Russia is synonymous with Corruption.
What rule of law? Those in power make it up as they go, use it as a tool for their power and gain of wealth, nothing has changed in 200+ years.
In Response

by: Frank
June 19, 2012 13:17
She really appears persecuted George.

Plenty of "corruption" elsewhere, inclusive of the prevailing RFE/RL spin.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 19, 2012 11:00
In other news on VLADIMIR: while Ksenia is filing suits, Vladimir seems to have put together a support group that will help him overcome this most serious challenge to date to his power. Here is the picture of Vladimir and his support team:

by: nirvichara from: Irving, TX
June 19, 2012 12:54
Kesenia Sobchak belongs to this type of loud, ignorant, arrogant and repulsive people who irritates everyone with their outrageous aggressive stupidity. My guess that if he jailed for a while nobody in Russia would miss her, but aggressive but weak and whiny anti-putin opposition will try to use it against Putin , of course. Don't think it will work, though

by: Mark from: Victoria
June 19, 2012 14:06
Hopefully while all this lawsuit talk is flying around, somebody will think to sue Belkovsky, who in a moment of high comedy, is elevated here to the status of "political analyst". When was the last time he was right about anything? I notice The Economist was forced to print a retraction after being threatened with a lawsuit by Gunvor for repeating Belkovsky's nonsense that Vladimir Putin is a "ghost majority shareholder" in the company, and you can be sure that if they had any proof, they would have brought it forward. They obviously have not.

I invite anyone who seriously believes a committed modernist and plugged-in socialite like Sobchak keeps her savings in her flat because she does not trust Russian banks to give their head a good shake. In these days of online money transfers and internet financial management, Sobchak could keep the bulk of her funds in Israel or Barbados or Switzerland; anywhere she chose. It certainly bodes well for Russia's future that one of its hippest opposition icons believes the solution to Russian banking uncertainty is to keep your money in your mattress. How progressive! I can imagine what the federal tax plan is going to look like in an opposition government.

by: Jack from: US
June 19, 2012 14:32
who is Sobchak, what is Sobchak? Why is that person worth even usually less than worthless RFE/RL commentary? It seems the real objective of US propaganda is to denigrade the great leader Putin to the level of some sobchak
In Response

by: Matvei from: USA
June 20, 2012 09:44
Great Leader Putin??? Did you use that language back in the days of Brezhnev, too, Jack, you Putin shill?

by: john from: canada
June 19, 2012 21:06
Russian income taxes are so low, why would anybody even bother trying to avoid paying them?

However, pro-Putin media had great fun showing her closets, clothes, and money-piles. And noting of course that she shares the apartment with fellow activist and journalist Ilya Yashin - so he does have some stake in Sobchak's issues.

Smear job of course, but similar to rather mild Putinist harassment of US ambassador Michael McFaul, and not as bad (yet) as the incarceration of Pussy Riot mothers, the extreme harassment of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, nor the homicide of Sergei Magnitsky.

But if Putin really doesn't like you...Ksenia might be an exile abroad if she can escape his clutches...

by: La Russophobe from: USA
June 21, 2012 09:54
This report is rather bizarre in failing to even mention the main issue regarding the obscene pile of cash in Sobchak's apartment, which is not whether she paid taxes on it but what the hell it was doing there. Her claim that she "doesn't trust banks" simply does not pass the smell test. If this were a Kremlin figure, the "opposition" would now be screaming about payoffs of supporters, but for some reason this issue is to be ignored where Sobchak is concerned? Normal people don't keep over one million dollars in cash in their apartment (leaving aside the stupidity of doing so in a one of the most corrupt nations on the planet), and nobody has confronted Sobchak with the hard questions about this. It's simply ludicrous to suggest that she could be viewed as being a serious leadership figure, and let's not forget that her father was the mentor of Putin and one of the most corrupt figures in Russian history. Sobchak is analagous to Paris Hilton -- that is, if Hilton's father were Bernie Madoff.

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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

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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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