Thursday, October 02, 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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LIVE 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

Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

From RFE/RL's News Desk:


The head of the European Commission says an EU-Ukraine trade deal can only be changed by Brussels and Kyiv – not Moscow.

Jose Manuel Barroso made the remarks in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin released on October 1.

Ukraine's parliament ratified its agreement with the EU last month. 

However, the implementation of the trade part of the deal has been delayed until January 2016 to appease Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.

Moscow has called for more three-way negotiations to amend the deal and threatened to curtail Ukraine's access to Russian markets if Kyiv implements it.

In his letter, Barroso warned Putin not to impose new trade measures, saying it would threaten the agreement with Russia to delay the EU-Ukraine pact.

(With reporting by Reuters)

And for anybody interested, here's the full text of Barroso's letter:

"Mr. President,

Following your letter of 17 September, I would like to welcome the constructive engagement from all sides in the trilateral ministerial meeting on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on 12 September.

The conclusions reached at that meeting were endorsed by all participants and set out in a joint ministerial statement.

On the EU side, we have informed our Member States of the outcome of the trilateral process, and we have now obtained their approval for the necessary legislative steps.

I should emphasize that the proposal to delay the provisional application of the DCFTA is linked to continuation of the CIS-FTA preferential regime, as agreed in the joint ministerial statement. In this context, we have strong concerns about the recent adoption of a decree by the Russian government proposing new trade barriers between Russia and Ukraine. We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement.

The joint ministerial statement also foresees further consultations on how to address concerns raised by Russia. We are ready to continue engaging on how to tackle the perceived negative impacts to the Russian economy resulting from the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

I take however this opportunity to underline that the Association Agreement remains a bilateral agreement and that, in line with international law, any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other, according to the mechanisms foreseen in the text and the respective internal procedures of the parties.

I wish to recall that the joint conclusions reached at the Ministerial meeting state clearly that all these steps are part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as its right to decide on its destiny.

Consequently, while all parties should implement the conclusions as laid down in the joint ministerial statement in good faith, the statement does not and cannot limit in any way the sovereign prerogatives of Ukraine.

The European Commission remains fully committed to contribute to a peaceful solution. In this respect we hope that the recent positive steps embodied in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September and the ensuing memorandum from 19 September will be fully implemented, including the monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and its verification by the OSCE, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the Ukrainian territory.

We also expect that rapid and decisive progress can be achieved in the trilateral gas talks towards a mutually acceptable interim solution for the upcoming winter period, on the basis of the compromise elements set out by the European Commission. It is key that the resumption of energy deliveries to the citizens of Ukraine is ensured and that the fulfilment of all contractual obligations with customers in the EU is secured.

Yours faithfully,

José Manuel BARROSO"


And just when you though it couldn't get any weirder, Valery Zorkin destroys your illusions.

That's Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court. Zorkin penned an article last week in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" (that's the official Russian government newspaper, by the way), calling for -- wait for it -- a return to serfdom. A big h/t to Elena Holodny at Business Insider for flagging this.

Here's the money quote:

"Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: 'We were yours, and you — ours.'"

Zorkin also took a shot at Pyotr Stolypin, the 19th century reformist prime minister (and a hero of Vladimir Putin's), and his judicial reforms.

"Stolypin's reform took away communal justice from the peasants in exchange for individual freedom, which almost none of them knew how to live and which was depriving their community guarantees of survival."

I wonder what that portends. Zorking also compared the abolotion of serfdom to the post-Soviet reforms of the 1990s.


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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