Sunday, November 23, 2014


The Power Vertical

Ksenia Sobchak Strikes Again

Ksenia Sobchak and TV celebrity Andrei Malakhov take part in the opening ceremony of the Millionaire Fair in Moscow in 2008.
Ksenia Sobchak and TV celebrity Andrei Malakhov take part in the opening ceremony of the Millionaire Fair in Moscow in 2008.
Ksenia Sobchak's timing was impeccable.
 
As more than 100,000 gathered in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium to pay homage to Vladimir Putin, the 30-year-old socialite-turned-social commentator posted a darkly satirical video on YouTube parodying the spate of faux -- and often forced -- demonstrations of fealty toward the once-and-future Russian president. 
 
Sobchak's video, which has attracted nearly 200,000 views (and counting), doesn't mention Putin by name. But it is an unmistakable parody of the series of celebrity "I'm Voting For Putin" clips the Kremlin spin doctors have been producing recently.
 
WATCH IT HERE:
 
In the video, Sobchak -- normally exquisitely groomed and hyperconfident -- appears pale, ragged, and frightened. Her eyes dart about and avoid the camera as she reads her script.
 
I have decided to vote for this candidate because the economy and standard of living in our country have become much better," she says. "He has always been responsive to any request. He has helped us all. And especially now, with the threat of an Orange Revolution like in Syria or Libya, we can't rock the boat. We must rally around one leader. This is why I made this difficult decision.
 
The camera then pans out to reveal Sobchak tied to a chair as a tough-looking guy in a leather jacket enters the frame. "Nice job," he says to Sobchak as he pats her on the head and tapes her mouth shut, muffling her desperate screams. Two masked police officers then carry her off.
 
"So was everything OK with the camera? Was the sound alright?" the man asks the film crew. "OK then, let's bring in Venediktov," he adds, referring to Ekho Moskvy's editor in chief, Aleksei Venediktov.
 
The slickly produced video is undeniably clever and funny. But it also has a dark and ominous subtext. It comes just weeks after the popular actress Chulpan Khamatova, who runs a charity for cancer-stricken children, was reportedly pressured into making a pro-Putin video.
 
WATCH IT HERE:
 
 
In a report in OpenSpace.ru, the journalist Svetlana Reiter quoted Khamatova's colleagues as saying the actress'  "arm was twisted" and she was threatened with having aid to her charity cut off and "her reputation destroyed" if she refused. One colleague said Khamatova wept about having to make the video.
 
Sobchak's satirical clip also comes amid widespread reports of public-sector workers being ordered to attend pro-Putin rallies like today's or risk being fired.
 
The video marks the latest episode in Sobchak's evolution from being a child of privilege, reality-show hostess, and socialite into her current incarnation as a major player in Russia's new media ecosystem who demands to be -- and deserves to be -- taken seriously.
 
As the daughter of the late Anatoly Sobchak -- the Perestroika-era democratic leader who served as St. Petersburg's mayor from 1991-96 and gave Putin his first job in government as his deputy -- she has always enjoyed a certain degree of immunity.
 
But unlike in her days as the youthful hostess of the steamy reality show "Dom-2," a more mature Sobchak is now using her protected status for more than just self-promotion. She has spoken out forcefully at opposition rallies and has a large following on Twitter, where she regularly opines about Russia's political situation.
 
And on her new show on Dozhd TV she has shown herself to be an exceptionally skilled interviewer with an uncanny ability to draw out her subjects' true personalities. (If you don't believe me, watch her own A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov here, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov here, and far-right leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky here. The latter is particularly impressive. I have never seen any journalist make the normally cocksure Zhirinovsky squirm like she did.)
 
She is not completely immune. Prior to signing on with Dozhd, her political talk show "GosDep" on Russian MTV was abruptly canceled, reportedly over her plan to have anticorruption blogger and Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny on as a guest.
 
In many ways, Sobchak is emblematic of Russia's rising generation. Like Dozhd TV's 31-year-old editor in chief, Mikhail Zygar, and the 26-year-old rapper Noize MC, she is smart, socially conscious, tech-savvy, poised, and supremely confident.
 
If people like this represent Russia's future, the country should end up in fine shape.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,2012 presidential election,Ksenia Sobchak

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 25, 2012 13:29
"If people like this represent Russia's future, the country should end up in fine shape." I can't help but wonder how Americans would react if you made a statement like that about Paris Hilton, who is a perfect analogue for Sobchak except that Hilton's family made their money honorably whlie Sobchak's stole theirs. Her father fled the country to avoid prosecution. This is not a serious person, it's a socialite, and what she is doing is neither accessible to nor resonating with the vast majority of the Russian population. Levada has just reported that Putin will win in a first-round landslide, yet you don't see fit to even mention that. Navalny has totally failed to achieve either his promise of larger and larger protests or his promise of new Duma elections, and in fact has failed miserably as to both. There still is no agreement among opposition "leaders" as to creation of a party, agenda or candidates. If the best Russia has to do battle with Putin is Sobchak, it is surely doomed.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 26, 2012 09:29
You are absolutely right: yesterday Navalni and a couple of friends staged a rally in St. Petersburg and all they managed to bring together were 5000 participants.
In Response

by: Frank
February 27, 2012 10:59
"Clever and funny" as used in the above blog post is put mildly quite open to debate.

RFE/RL caters to a certain slant that isn't particularly fair towards mainstream Russian and Serb views. To one degree or another, the same can be said of other outlets including The WaPo and Foreignpolicy.com.

Where're the journos appearing in these outlets to discuss such matter in a supportive way? They aren't evident because of the unoffical understanding of what is and isn't deemed acceptable for employment.

Russia at large isn't obligated to enthusiastically embarce views which from a Russian perspective aren't fair to that country.

Sobchak's antics appear to be that of a coddled brat. Russia benefits from having reasonable pro-Russian advocacy at the highest level of media, government and PR.

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

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

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

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
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.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
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 CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
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: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
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

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

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

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

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

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

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

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

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)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

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)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

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