Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Moscow Front

Aleksei Navalny presents his election platform on July 1. But will he make it onto the ballot?
Aleksei Navalny presents his election platform on July 1. But will he make it onto the ballot?
With Moscow's election months away and the result likely predetermined, the next big showdown in the Russian capital should come as early as next week.

In the last couple days, more than 6,000 people have already joined a special Facebook page calling on Russians to gather on Moscow's Manezh Square on July 18 to "discuss" the verdict in Aleksei Navalny's controversial trial -- which wraps up in a Kirov court that day.

City authorities, meanwhile, have warned the opposition against staging any unsanctioned rallies, adding that they would take "appropriate measures" to prevent them. Organizers of the Manezh event say Article 31 of the Russian Constitution guarantees their right to peacefully assemble and they don't need any official permission to do so.

The ensuing standoff should mark a fitting end to Navalny's highly politicized trial, which the anticorruption blogger has skillfully used to get his message out despite facing the prospect of a long prison sentence for charges widely seen as fabricated.

In his stirring closing statement last week, Navalny denounced what he called Vladimir Putin's "feudal regime," derided his trial as a bad "soap opera," and said "nobody has the right to neutrality" in Russia's ongoing political struggle. 


And his message appears to be resonating.

According to a recent poll by the Levada Center, a strong plurality of Russians, 44 percent, believe the case against Navalny is political and was initiated in retaliation for his exposés of official corruption. Just 23 percent believe the charges against him have merit. In Moscow, a healthy majority, 57 percent, view the trial as political revenge.

Navalny, meanwhile, cleared the final hurdle this week to register as a candidate for Moscow's September 8 mayoral elections. Given this, a conviction next week -- as likely as one is -- will appear even more politically motivated.

And although a conviction would disqualify him for running for office, Navalny has stubbornly insisted on carrying on with his campaign. On July 1, he unveiled his platform in a laid-back event that had the vibe of a U.S.-style roll out, using supporters in the room to illustrate various problems in the city's governance and how he would address them.


The contrast with incumbent Sergei Sobyanin's clumsy campaign kickoff is striking.

Shortly before announcing his decision to hold early elections, Sobyanin, a close Putin ally, decided to show voters how hip he was. He camped out in Moscow's Jean-Jacques Cafe, a favorite venue of the capital's "creative class," and gave an interview to the weekly "Moskovskie novosti."

The fact that Sobyanin thought such a move was necessary showed that authorities may be more worried about the September 8 elections than they are letting on. And the way it turned out showed why such concern might be well-placed.

To accommodate the mayor, the cafe had to be cleared out and closed, which didn't exactly go over well with its patrons -- the exact constituency he was trying to appeal to. And bloggers soon uncovered, and publicized, that a special throne-like chair was brought to the cafe from City Hall for a photo shoot accompanying the interview.

Sobyanin has also reportedly split his election staff into two teams. One will target working-class voters with traditional methods: showing Sobyanin solving urban problems and visiting construction sites. And another, as reported recently, will target cool and trendy voters by showcasing projects like bicycle paths and the reconstruction of Gorky Park.

Try as he might, Sobyanin just isn't going to appeal to Moscow's hipster set -- and he probably doesn't have to in order to win. And the fact that he feels the need to do this speaks volumes.

"The minimum task is to prevent the mobilization of the creative class against Sobyanin and to demonstrate that he is not a symbol of the ruling regime," political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov told

The capital is slipping -- slowly but surely -- from the Kremlin's grip. And in many ways, the Moscow front is a harbinger of the battle for Russia.

Navalny will probably be convicted on July 18 and could be imprisoned for six years. But a strong majority of Muscovites and a healthy plurality of Russians believe the charges to be trumped-up.

The authorities will easily break up any rally that ensues to support Navalny and denounce the verdict, but that could only serve to further alienate the emerging middle class that represents Russia's future.

And with the administrative resources and mobilization tools of City Hall at his disposal, Sobyanin will win election in September, whether Navalny is on the ballot or in prison. But he will do so with a growing critical mass in the capital hungry for change.

The authorities should win this round. But time is clearly not on their side.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 10, 2013 11:31
Aha, another beginning of the end of the bloody Putin's regime :-). Now that the Beavuses brought about the last days of Bashar and so skillfully made Hong Kong and Russia hand Edward Snowden to the US to "face the music", the final victory of Navalny and the sorry demise of Putin are very clearly the next items on the US agenda of never ending successes :-)).
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: kurdistan
July 11, 2013 20:43
You are absolutely right,dorogaya Evgenia,and now the only thing we need to make us perfectly happy is to hear Molodets Jack from the USA`s opinion on the subject.Keep up the Moss cow front,fellas,and dont forget to take yer pokhmelin/hangover cure/ pills!!!

by: La Russophobe from: USA
July 11, 2013 18:09
You're right that the outcome of the Moscow mayoral election is predetermined, because Levada polls clearly show the popular incumbent is overwhemingly favored for reelection. Navalny's support for mayor (or president) in Moscow is shockingly slight, and roughly the same as the Communist Party contender.

But you're wrong to praise Navalny's speech, it was as much a miscalculation as his Johnny-come-lately mayoral bid, launched only after the onset of his criminal proceedings. Navaly himself politicized his trial in his speech, when he should have been focusing on the evidence and explaining why the charges against him lack a firm foundation. He invited the Kremlin to accuse him of doing so because he could not defeat the charges themselves.

Your statement about a "strong plurality" is misleading. The poll in question

which I'm not sure why you didn't link to directly, states that THOSE WHO KNOW about the Navalny prosecution believe it is political. But a huge segment of the Russian population does NOT even know who Navalny is, much less are the reasonably well informed about his trial in Kirov. So this "plurality" is in fact only a tiny segment of the population. The poll clearly states that the vast majority of Russians know nothing or almost nothing about Navalny and a pathetic 3% follow him closely.

It's a mistake to think that there will be any widespread insurrection if Navalny is sent to jail for a long stretch. It's a mistake to think Navalny has ANY chance to win a fair contest for mayor. In the same way, it was a huge mistake to think Navalny could sustain the protest movement or force any kind of change upon the Kremlin. He is no Mandela, King or Gandhi. The opposition should be looking elsewhere for the kind of leader it needs.

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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

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.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014


09:09 November 21, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:

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.

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 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 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


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


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


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


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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)



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