Saturday, October 25, 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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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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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