Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Power Vertical

Panic In The Kremlin

Past his sell-by date?
Past his sell-by date?
By Brian Whitmore

You know things are getting really bad when Sergei Lavrov blows his cool.

The Russian foreign minister is usually smooth as silk in public, shamelessly and effortlessly twisting, spinning, distorting, and lying on behalf of Vladimir Putin's regime.

But this week, Lavrov was caught on camera -- and on mic -- sputtering a string of expletives during a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. 

It's unclear what sparked Lavrov's odd outburst -- and it doesn't really matter. The fact that it happened is a sign of the times. 

The past couple weeks have witnessed a series of incidents that suggest that all is not well in the Kremlin elite. 

Russian customs and health officials have staged quasi-ritualistic burnings of European cheese and other foodstuffs, as well as of Dutch flowers. 

Its parliamentary speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, has penned an article in the official government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta accusing the United States of "zombifying" its European allies and plotting a major provocation against Moscow.

Naryshkin has also called for an international tribunal on the United States' use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. 

And Russia has submitted a formal claim to the North Pole at the United Nations.

Did I miss anything? Perhaps. The weird and wacky has been so fast and furious lately that it would be easy to do so.

"There is panic at the top of the Kremlin," political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky wrote in a recent article in Apostrof. "This is evident in Naryshkin’s article, in the burning of foodstuffs at the border, and in Lavrov’s behavior at the press conference with Saudi officials."

In recent years, it's been fashionable and tempting to view Vladimir Putin as the man with a plan, the master of the universe, the spinner of vast conspiracies.

While that may have once been the case, an increasing number of Kremlin watchers are coming to the conclusion that the wheels are coming off the Putin machine. 

Moscow-based commentator Igor Yakovenko wrote recently that the system is "running amok." 

And in an op-ed in The New York Times, political analyst Ivan Krastev noted, citing former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky, that Putin has been increasingly disengaged from day-to-day decision making. Krastev added that the policymaking process resembles "the music of a jazz group; its continuing improvisation is an attempt to survive the latest crisis." 

At the heart of the crisis gripping the elite is a paradox: They can't live with Putin. And they can't live without him. 

Increasing numbers of Russia's ruling class -- or at least its smarter members -- understand that the Putin system has reached the end of its usefulness. It's hit the point of diminishing returns. 

Putin has boxed himself into a corner in Ukraine. He has run the economy into the ground. And he has isolated Russia from the world. And there don't appear to be any more rabbits he can pull out of his hat.

If the status quo continues, Piontkovsky wrote, the elite "understands perfectly well that this will lead to their loss of billions of dollars" and could eventually cause "the fall of the regime." 

And this appears to be paralyzing Putin himself.

The Kremlin leader has been behaving oddly for awhile. Recall his strange -- and still unexplained -- disappearance from public view back in March following the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov; and his peculiar gestures and facial expressions during a press conference in Minsk last summer. 

A withdrawn Putin is a big problem because the system has no direction -- and tends to go haywire -- without his hand guiding it.

"Putin has successfully made any political alternative unthinkable, and his entire country is now trapped by his success," Krastev wrote. 

"In other words, Mr. Putin’s enormous popular support is a weakness, not a strength -- and Russia’s leaders know it."

Which, he added, leads to a sense of eschatology among his inner circle as they worry how they will live with Putin -- and if they can live without him.

"The Kremlin is populated not by mere survivors of the post-Soviet transition but by survivalists, people who think in terms of worst-case scenarios, who believe that the next disaster is just around the corner, who thrive on crises, who are addicted to extraordinary situations and no-rules politics," Krastev wrote.

"That complex and unpredictable context, rather than the vagaries of Mr. Putin’s mind alone, is the key to understanding contemporary Russian politics."

And this all makes the coming months a dangerous period indeed.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Robin Hood
August 14, 2015 06:43
With Iran coming back on stream for oil the oil price isn't going up again any time soon so the Russian economy will die a slow death over the next few years.
In Response

by: Les from: Australia
August 14, 2015 10:25
@ Robin Hood
Bullshine !
Do the math.
In Response

by: Baldur Dasche from: Bantustan
August 14, 2015 11:03
You don't think Iran would fit into the new 'Silk Road' Russian-Asian co-prosperity sphere? After all it's been out of the 'first world ' loop long enough to not miss anything except expensive jeans - which it gets from China anyway. .
In Response

by: Bob
August 14, 2015 12:06
Wishful thinking.

Will likely not get anywhere near as bad as the shining democratic example (sic) of Kiev regime controlled Ukraine.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 16, 2015 07:07
Well, ture, Ukraine has big struggles with economy, but at least the elections were free and peaople finally strated getting rid of corruption.
In Response

by: Bob
August 17, 2015 11:10
The Kiev regime elections weren't free and fair. Furthermore, corruption is still ramp-id there.
In Response

by: Victor from: Ukraine
August 15, 2015 19:16
HYSTERIA ..that's the sign of a day in Russia, just messaged consicely. ..Anxiety hysteria in the upper walks of life as silhouetted against the loss of war in Ukraine, and economic collapse at home. Alongside a complete and outer dispair down in the low ranks .. The little tin god in the Kremlin now tries to keep a stern face while murmurring something about 'economics' , like ".. now an average Russian citizen can get more roubles for a dollar.. it's good, .. it's real good" ...)))

by: Franco
August 14, 2015 09:39
Putin's regime is build on the cult of personality of it's leader, based on lies without contraditory andar those lies are Fellini apart.
In Response

by: Bob
August 17, 2015 11:11
Never mind the lies which your simplicity ignores.

by: Les from: Australia
August 14, 2015 10:22
W.hat a crock !
Absolute wishful thinking on the part of the author.
Taking a bunch of isolated incidents twisting them to suit his perverted reasoning and stitching them all up to give "meaning"
No doubt he either is, or soon will be a Hollywood script writer
In Response

by: bullone from: South Carolina, USA
August 15, 2015 10:33
You Australians know all about crocks! Also, lots of Russian FSB trolls pretending to be from somewhere else.

15% inflation and 13% interest rates, negative growth of 4%, acess to international capital quashed, price of oil headed south again (a heavy price on the average person with Ruble near 65 to the dollar). Gallup poll showing worldwide popularity of Russia/Putin hitting new lows. There is no wishful thinking or fiction here, just solid economic facts.

by: Emir
August 14, 2015 14:29
President Putin = King Midas

by: Lev Havryliv from: Sydney
August 14, 2015 20:34
Just as the Soviet-Afghanistan war preceded the collapse of the USSR, Putin's war against Ukraine will finish off the Putin regime.
In Response

by: Bob
August 17, 2015 11:12
Kiev regime controlled Ukraine is more likely to crash.

BTW, the USSR collapse wasn't primarily the result of what happened in Afghanistan.

by: Reddit
August 15, 2015 01:31
didnt they just ban Reddit too? That's a fearful move.

by: Robert J Molineaux, Sr. from: Redfield, New York, USA
August 15, 2015 03:57
This is a piece of pure garbage. RFE/RL is demonstrating its gross lack of talent along with lack of facts.
In Response

by: None
August 16, 2015 00:23
Comletely agree. Whoever wrote this needs some anger management to do.
In Response

by: Bob
August 17, 2015 11:13
Brian Whitmore is more the propagandist than Peter Lavelle.

by: Chris Pyak
August 15, 2015 10:19
3/4 of Russian middle class will loose their wealth, because of Putin's missmanagement, says #Russian analyst.

Middle class will shrink from 18-20% to only 5-6%. Here is the seed of a revolution.

My guess: At one points the oligarchs will overthrow Putin, blame him for all sins - and the west will pretent to believe that.

Because this way, there can be a fresh start between a reformed Russia and Europe.
In Response

by: francois from: france
August 15, 2015 19:30
let's just hope for that bro !!
it'd be a nice way to get out of this bloody dangerous tug o'war

by: Agamemnon
August 16, 2015 07:33
Any author with at least some self-esteem would camouflage the redactor sponsor's orders in, at least, a more palatable way. Where are your facts & figures? Where are your "sources familiar with the matter"? Nobody could care less about your "opinion", because any more or less educated individual, fluent in more than one language, can hear the sound of your paycheck. Shame. You fail in all your attempts... Sad. Is this what we, Europe, became?
In Response

by: Bob
August 17, 2015 11:14
Excellent summary.
In Response

by: jojnjo from: Dublin
August 18, 2015 01:16
And geese end up as "Fowl-play" because of Putin having "Goosebumps".!

Hey lads, will ye have turkey instead?

by: andreas drexler from: mattoon, IL
August 17, 2015 10:33
thanks for pointing up the truth about the desperate last days of putin. his end cannot come soon enough, and it WILL. cheap oil means starvation for his corrupt and evil regime.
Comments page of 2

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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