Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Power Vertical

Meet Russia's Political Entrepreneurs

Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin
Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin
What is Mikhail Prokhorov up to? In an interview with on January 31, the billionaire Kremlin-connected oligarch insisted again that his presidential campaign is the real deal, not some ploy to divide the opposition vote and ease Vladimir Putin's re-reelection. The opposition is, quite naturally, more than a little suspicious.
During our conversation for the last Power Vertical podcast, I put this question to NYU professor and longtime Russia-watcher Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows." Mark's thoughtful answer is worth reproducing here in full:
I would suspect that Prokhorov, like so many actors within the current Russian elite is at once telling the Kremlin that he is playing the Kremlin game while keeping one eye on potential endgames, potential other outcomes, ways of actually maximizing and leveraging his own power. 
I don't think that he has rolled in -- as he himself has proclaimed -- as an anti-Kremlin candidate with no connections to the Putin circle. There is some degree of connectivity there. But on the other hand, simply to write Prokhorov off as a complete Kremlin stooge would be a mistake.
The point is that everyone is a political entrepreneur in their own right in the current situation because nobody knows what is going to happen.
I think this is pretty much dead-on accurate -- and, as Mark suggests, not just in the case of Prokhorov. The same thing can be said about former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and former Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. Depending on how things develop, more high-profile names could be added to this list quite soon.
A particularly interesting new species that has appeared on Russia's landscape in the wake of the disputed December 4 parliamentary elections is the political entrepreneur. These longtime insiders are now hedging their bets and hoping to secure a safe landing regardless of how the current political crisis is resolved.
There is a bit of cynicism at work here, to be sure (we are, of course, talking about bureaucrats and politicians). But as is the case whenever there is the potential for rapid political change, there are also some principles at stake -- and for some, perhaps a political epiphany or two.
Prokhorov's first attempt to enter politics was -- when he agreed to head up the Right Cause party as a Kremlin-loyal pseudo-opposition force -- purely an insider game that ultimately fell apart amid noisy public acrimony in September.
He now says he is aligned with what he calls the liberal wing of the elite, which favors political reform and an end to Putin's system of "managed democracy."
“I think that the liberal part of the elite is bigger and bigger from day to day, because I have a lot of calls from different levels, and they really express their support for my candidacy," Prokhorov told Chrystia Freeland, global editor at large at Reuters, in a recent interview.
Meanwhile Mironov, who is also running in the March 4 presidential election, appears to be making some headway with the opposition and the emerging Russian Street.
The former Federation Council speaker is a longtime Putin loyalist going back to his time in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly in the 1990s. His center-left A Just Russia party -- which until recently was staunchly loyal to the regime -- was a Kremlin-backed project to siphon votes from the Communists. 
But Mironov was nevertheless forced out of his speaker's post following a bitter dispute with the ruling United Russia party. He also backed Dmitry Medvedev for a second term in the Kremlin and drew fire for saying that his party would not support Putin's return to the presidency in 2012 if he were nominated by United Russia.
Running as an opposition party, A Just Russia won 64 mandates in the 450-seat State Duma in December, a marked improvement over the 38 it won as a pro-Kremlin party in 2007.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service today, veteran opposition figure Boris Nemtsov gave his seal of approval to Mironov's presidential bid, calling him the best of the registered candidates.
"For people taking to the streets, Mironov is preferable because he did not only heed our demands, but he included them in his program," Nemtsov said.
The political entrepreneur who has the most capital to work with, however, is Kudrin. The former finance minister is a good bet to end up being Russia's prime minister regardless of how the current crisis is resolved.
Kudrin is personally very close to Putin but has nevertheless been vocal about the need for political reform. He has said that December's parliamentary elections were a fraud and called for their results to be annulled. He has offered to act as a mediator between the opposition and the Kremlin. And he spoke at the massive street demonstrations in Moscow on December 24.
Despite this, Putin has repeatedly said that Kudrin is a valued member of his team and is widely believed to be planning on making him his premier should he win in March. 
Prokhorov has likewise said that he would name Kudrin as his prime minister should he win the presidency.
Kudrin's ability to maneuver owes a lot to his friendship with Putin. But it also stems from the fact that as finance minister he was very good at his job -- stabilizing Russia's public finances and paying off its debt despite a breathtakingly corrupt environment ("Euromoney" magazine named him Finance Minister of the Year in 2010).
These new entrepreneurs don't by any means want to burn their bridges with Team Putin -- at least not yet. But they also want to be on the right side of the barricades. Their dance will continue at least until March 4 -- and perhaps longer.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Mikhail Prokhorov,Sergei Mironov,2012 presidential election,Aleksei Kudrin

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
January 31, 2012 22:59
"nobody knows what is going to happen" -- HA!!

Maybe you and Mark don't know, Brian, but I do. And so does Prokhorov. Putin will easily sweep back into power and then crush his opposition. But before crushing, he will bribe. And those with the most chips, like someone who shows he can be an electoral force, will cash in most. Prokhorov is simply building up chips he can use to benefit himself, the same as Zhirinovsky is doing. Likely Zyuganov is doing the same, but the only serious question about someone being interested in presidential power is about Zhyuganov, the only person in the race who might actually want to win. And, who knows, with Navalny's help he might make quite a decent showing.

by: Nina Ivanovna
February 01, 2012 00:58
It was interesting to see how the "liberal" elites at Davos were at once trying to distance themselves from the government, and praising it at the same time.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
February 01, 2012 06:11
Everyone knows that Volodya believes in political technology аnd it should be noted that they often work.
Direct anger of the people in the right direction-- against the enemies of Volodya by various promises, of political plays, rumors and speculation.

A massive preparations for the elections started:
Military and various special forces seriously increased wages...with that kind of money it is clear that they will protect Volodya.
Organized clowning with Prokhorov and Kudrin- playing the role of political prostitutes as a true long ago remarked Lenin.
And what they're thinking about something inside their heads
as they say --secondary thing.

You, too, my "dea"r Mr.Whitmorе often say one thing, doing another, agree to do something, but just in case are considering escape route..
To lie, hide, dodge-a part of behavior in society for better adaptation and career...
Scoundrels and cynics are powerful people in the modern world while kind-hearted despised and destroyed...have any objections ?

by: Ben
February 04, 2012 10:57
Both figures embody the Putin`s economic policy of the mineral empire that brought the income growth of Russians,who are most hated for it. Russians who demand the resources industry nationalization and state-sponsored modernization doesn`t understand that they whish to return to USSR in the deminished size.

The Power Vertical Feed

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.


Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

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