Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

Medvedev's Gaffe And The Elite's Jitters

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (left) being interviewed by Russian TV channels
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (left) being interviewed by Russian TV channels
When Dmitry Medvedev was caught by a live microphone last week referring to Investigative Committee agents as "kozly," a deeply offensive insult in Russian, it sparked a minor scandal, embarrassed the prime minister, and infuriated many in the law-enforcement community.
Medvedev's gaffe cast a light on the turbulence that President Vladimir Putin's monthslong crackdown on dissent and more recent anticorruption drive has unleashed among the elite. Both campaigns are being spearheaded by the Investigative Committee and its controversial chief Aleksandr Bastrykin, who has emerged as Putin's attack dog of choice.
In casual banter with journalists following an interview with five television stations on December 7, Medvedev let slip what he really thought about an incident in which Investigative Committee agents raided the house of film director Pavel Kostomarov.
"They were kozly to turn up at 8 in the morning, but that, in fact, is their habit," Medvedev said in comments picked up by a live mic and later circulated on the Internet.

(Kozly is the plural of kozyol, which literally means "goat" in Russian. Its origin as an insult dates back to prison slang in the 1960s, when it was used to describe inmates who collaborated with the authorities. When used commonly as a slur, it is considered particularly disrespectful and can often result in a fight.)

Medvedev's remarks drew a fast and sharp rebuke from the Investigative Committee.
"It was strange to hear comments that not only denigrate Investigative Committee investigators but also undermine the authority of all of the country's law-enforcement agencies," spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement posted on the committee's website.
Markin's comments was eventually removed from the committee's site after repeated complaints from Medvedev's staff. But in an interview with the daily "Izvestia," the spokesman refused to retract his remarks.

"I was defending the honor of the investigators, the Investigative Committee, and all law-enforcement agency personnel. At the same time, I did not insult anybody and did not say anything offensive. So I do not consider it necessary to retract my comments," Markin said.
Medvedev's live-mic scandal attracted headlines for days and illustrated something Kremlin watchers have long known: Much of the elite is deeply uncomfortable with Putin's crackdown on dissent and the methods Bastrykin and the Investigative Committee have used in spearheading that effort.
But something else the premier said -- and said openly in the on-the-record portion of the same television interview -- appears to be the real reason for his conflict with the Investigative Committee.
During the interview, Medvedev spoke out forcefully in support of former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who was recently fired over a defense procurement scandal.
"Regardless of what anybody says, there haven't been any charges [against Serdyukov]," Medvedev said in remarks later reprinted in the official government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta." "The investigation is ongoing, but that is only one side. There are accusations and there is also the defense. The investigation needs to continue and a court will decide."

Medvedev went on to praise Serdyukov's work, saying he was a "high-quality defense minister" who "worked effectively" during a period of transition in the armed forces.
Citing unidentified officials, "Izvestia" reported that it was this -- and not Medvedev's live-mic insult -- that really angered the Investigative Committee brass.

"The prime minister's comment that Serdyukov worked 'extremely effectively' at a time when his subordinates are already under arrest perplexed the Investigative Committee, to say the least," one official told the daily. "How is it possible before the case is complete to make excuses for a person who could end up in the dock?"
As I have blogged here, Medvedev appeared to be courting Serdyukov's support late in his presidency when he was hoping to run for a second term. For his part, Serdyukov was also using Medvedev for his own purposes -- to win a higher budget for armament purchases.
While it would be a stretch to call the two allies, Medvedev was clearly not pleased with Serdyukov's sacking. And his willingness to publicly express support for the former defense minister is yet another sign of how much Putin's anticorruption campaign -- no matter how cosmetic -- is causing discord among the elite.
The unwritten rules are changing for the elite in unclear ways -- and with unpredictable results.
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on December 14, where I will discuss this week's developments in Russian politics with co-hosts Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL's Russian Service and NYU professor and longtime Kremlin watcher Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."

Tags: Russia corruption,Dmitry Medvedev,Russian Investigative Committee,Anatoly Serdyukov

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 13, 2012 19:14
You're missing two important points about "kozyol" -- first, the sexual (and more particularly homosexual) aspect of the insult and second the point that the really appalling thing is not that Medvedev would be so stupid as to trash his own people under a hot mic but that he would even consider using language this powerful in front of journalists. It makes it appear that Russia is ruled by beasts (and this man is supposed to be one of the very most civilized!).
In Response

by: Tony from: Ottawa
December 15, 2012 16:19
Yes your comment is so very true but astounding facts are now the norm in Russia and seem to have rendered the average Russian immune to shock and dismay.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 15, 2012 17:43
To Tony: "astounding facts" :-))?? I mean, Tony, if you are looking for some REALLY astounding facts, you just need to travel a few hours to the South from Ottawa - in order to find yourself in one of those extremely violent societies where it is a part of the daily life for all sorts of individuals to get a gun and then go to a school and kill 20 children there. The country where this sort of massacres happen ON A REGULAR BASIS is really astounding.
Whereas thre is absolutely nothing "astounding" about the fact that someone called someone a "Kozöl" or anything else. It's just something happens just so often in just so many parts of the world. Just check the dictionary on the true meaning of the word "astounding".
In Response

by: Alex from: LA
December 17, 2012 17:50
Kozel means goat, there is no sexual or homosexual connotation to it, so before you talk about something about another language please do your research not from your stance but of that culture which you judge. In US, we had many instance when Bush (the stooge) used the F word many times in his 8 years. Kozlik and Kozel is not as bad as calling someone a sheep, Goats are very proud animals, they are the leaders of those kind of domestic animals, always in the front leading sheep and many cases even fight of wolves. So Kozel is not as bad as other words in the Russian insults.

by: Jorjo from: Florida
December 15, 2012 16:27
Since when "kozly" (male goats) have become "deeply offensive" in the Russian language? It is a lightly insulting word frequently used even among friends to describe someone who did something stupid, not necessarily deplorable. Someone is trying to make a storm in a teapot about something so minor, really.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 15, 2012 17:45
Aha, "Kozöl" in Russian is like "maricón" in Spanish - it all depends on what intonation you put into it.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
December 15, 2012 20:10
the etymology of the word "koziol" is a valuable add to RFE/RL forums, to spice up otherwise boring US government propaganda. Did you hear the traffic to RFE/RL site fell by 50% just in two recent months because people did not see anything here except US government propaganda vilifying Syrian "regime" and promoting exceptional brightness of Hillary Clinton?

by: Mamuka
December 16, 2012 12:34
I saw a Bruce Willis movie dubbed into Russian, where he unleashed a string of foul epithets at the villain. The Russian translation was simply, "Eh, kozyol!"

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
December 17, 2012 06:25
If Mr. Medvedev visited often Radio Liberty, he would have realized that apart of goat there is also camel.
It is clear that to label some people as a camels, this is much more offensive than to label some persons as a goats..

Everything flows, everything word camel often considered particularly disrespectful and can often result in a fight, especially by those who had the privilege to read the "masterpieces" of this cave type...
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Free Abkhazia
December 17, 2012 11:13
Aaah,seems the Moss cow cold has taken its tall on its georgians,freezing under the Mosscow river bridges in their log cabins.Once upon a time Vakhtang stole a tiger`s skin to inspire Shota Rustaveli for his `A knight in tiger`s skin`,but as the oldest georgian custom goes another georgian stole the skin from Vahe,leaving him in his original donkey one.And now we must find a herd of mules to kick poor half-frozen Vahe back unto consciousness again,because the 21th of December is coming soon and we must be ready to celebrate the birth date of Vahe`s spiritual mother,father and Uncle,too-and that is Uncle Joe Koba!!!

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17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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)



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 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)


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


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)



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)


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


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."

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