Sunday, November 23, 2014


The Power Vertical

Partying Like It's 1977

Leonid Brezhnev in July 1976
Leonid Brezhnev in July 1976
A Russian leader gives a four-hour speech filled with empty platitudes about imaginary accomplishments, promises of a bright future, and dire warnings about dangerous foreign influences. The speech was interrupted 53 times by applause.

Sound familiar?

Several months back, I blogged about the striking similarities between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Each replaced a reformist predecessor who was ultimately seen as bumbling, erratic, and ineffective -- Nikita Krushchev in Brezhnev's case, Boris Yeltsin in Putin's. Both ushered in an era of stability and relative prosperity thanks to high oil prices. And both perceived a "golden age" that lasted roughly a decade.

But by the late 1970s, the luster began to wear off Brezhnev's rule as the Soviet economy stagnated, life expectancy plummeted, and social problems like rampant alcoholism, worker absenteeism, and widespread cynicism became endemic.

Vladimir Putin has been in power in one form or another for roughly 12 years now. On the Brezhnev timeline, that places us roughly in 1976 -- just before things started to go south. It was also in that year when Brezhnev, who was then 70 years old, reportedly considered resigning.

Instead he stuck around, collected his third Hero of the Soviet Union medal, took the military rank of marshal, and passed a new constitution. Oh, and as living standards sank and the general social malaise increased, he gave a lot of long and meandering speeches.

In a commentary in "The Moscow Times" today (titled "Vladimir Ilyich Putin") former State Duma Deputy and current opposition figure Vladimir Ryzhkov wrote about how much the prime minister's speech to parliament last week reminded him of Brezhnev:

At an average of four hours each, Putin’s speeches before the State Duma and national television audiences have become just as amorphous and lacking substance. And like Brezhnev’s speeches, Putin’s address to the Duma on Wednesday was interrupted by applause 53 times. Like during Brezhnev’s time, Putin spoke before politicians who were members of his own party.

Ryzhkov noted that in Brezhnev's time "Russians were fed rosy promises of an imminent solution to the food deficits, guaranteed housing for everyone and sustained economic growth, even while it was clear to everyone that their standards of living were only deteriorating with each passing year."

He adds that "we are seeing the same Brezhnev-like stagnation today, including the official silence regarding the country's deep economic and political problems, the manipulation of statistics and rampant alcoholism and drug abuse."

And just like in the late 1970s, there are empty platitudes and outlandish promises:

Putin did not mention any of his failures during his first 10 years in office — a period in which he did not fulfill a single major promise. Remember the famous promise of reaching Portugal’s per capita GDP by 2015? Only four years away, there is clearly no way that Russia will close the gap.

What’s more, during his Duma speech he promised to miraculously double Russia’s per capita GDP to $35,000 by 2020 from its current $15,837 (based on the International Monetary Fund’s purchasing power parity ranking). He also said Russia is bound to become one of the world’s top five economies by 2020. We already heard this promise in 2007; instead, Russia has dropped down to the No. 10 spot.

Putin did not mention that he failed to diversify the Russian economy or to reduce its dependence on exports and imports. Neither did he take any responsibility for corruption having increased tenfold during his rule. And Putin conveniently avoided answering the question of why the Russian economy is in a deep crisis, while the economies of its main BRIC rivals — India, China and Brazil — have shown steady growth.

And just like in speeches past, Putin pledged to "increase life expectancy, modernize infrastructure, make the ruble a world reserve currency, turn Moscow into an international financial center."

Is Putin aware of the Brezhnev parallels? I suspect that he is.

As I have blogged before, Putin understands the lessons of the late 1970s all too well: a stagnant economy and moribund political system can sink a superpower. But he is also very well schooled in the lessons of the late 1980s and early 1990s: that unmanaged economic and political reform can quickly spin out of the Kremlin's control.

And the drama we will witness in the coming year will largely involve how he manages to square this circle.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Leonid Brezhnev,Vladimir Ryzhkov

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jack from: US
April 26, 2011 19:32
Not that I would disagree with author about Putin, but to keep the things straight.. Russian economy is not in a crisis, as author claims. It grew by 4.5% just in a first quarter of this year. Probably even China cannot beat that. Also, drawing parallels with US... who can truthfully say that standards of living in US now are better than they were in 1999, i.e. 12 years ago? Talk of stagnation and corruption in US political landscape.
In Response

by: Mike from: Los Angeles, USA
April 27, 2011 10:41
You hit the nail on the head Jack! The Russian economy is doing just fine and continues to improve. It is the American economy which is in serious trouble. It will be a terrible place to live within 3-4 years. The rich and poor!
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 28, 2011 00:48
@ Mike
Wrong again! Both economies are not fairing well, except the US isn't pretending to be a "developing country" like Russia is.

http://windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2011/04/window-on-eurasia-despite-rising-oil.html
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 27, 2011 13:32
@ Jack
It is true that the USA also stagnated in the 1970's...remember stagflation? High inflation, high oil prices, a stagnant economy, etc. (Some would argue that Obama's policies resemble Jimmy Carter's) We didn't disappear then, and we won't disappear now. A combination of austerity measures and innovation got us out of stagflation and similar steps will be needed today. Russia has difficulty with both austerity (unpopular) and innovation (impossible without more political freedom and the freedom of dissent). The Russian economy will only boom when the price of oil is high. Diversification is like the Soviet space shuttle...it is reactionary and won't amount to much except for a few museum pieces.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
April 28, 2011 07:11
Jack, it's really a shame you can't be more honest. In Soviet times Russians also tried to cover up failure with lies and misdirection, and look what happened to the USSR.

Here's a few facts you might want to consider.

In the last 15 months, Russia has seen $50 billion in capital flight. What do Russian businessmen know about the Russian economy that Jack doesn't know?

FDI in Putin's Russia is today half what it was four years ago. What do foreign businessmen know about Putin's Russia that Jack doesn't know?

The average wage in Putin's Russia is less than $4/hour.

Russia doesn't rank in the top 130 countries on the planet for life expectancy. It ranks in the top 25 for political and business corruption.

Jack, please stop lying about Russia. With "friends" like you, the Russians don't need any enemies.

by: Richard Turnbull from: USA
April 26, 2011 20:37
And when one compares this with the information set forth in "The Sword and the
Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB," it is cause to
wonder if Putin longs for the "good old days" before Glasnost made dealing with
those pesky citizens hoping for some basic human rights and prosperity so much more onerous!

by: Mike from: Los Angeles, USA
April 26, 2011 22:25
Brian, I completely disagree with you about the stagnation that would follow such as that of Brezhnev, if Putin were to return as President in 2012. I do see the strong similarities with both leaders, but in terms of their leadership ability and strong love for their country. Especially against the Bullies in the US government who will manipulate and control Medvedev who is percieved as weak. I think Putin will push Russia forward into the future for many years to come. He is feared in the west because he wants what is best for his country and not whats best for America. He's a true leader who puts his country first. He is liked and admired by many despite the propaganda from the west. I do appreciate your articles despite the disagreement. Keep up the good work.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 27, 2011 13:17
@ Mike
You couldn't be more wrong! Putin wants what's best for HIMSELF not what's best for Russia. That's why he has a huge mansion on the Black Sea. He's a cult of personality plain and simple. He pretends to dislike people naming streets after him, but really wants to worshipped just as you appear to be doing. Ask anyone who has studied charismatic leaders, they will place Putin in the same catagory as Qadaffi, Chavez, Castro, Mugabe, etc. Also, what is with this crap about American bully? So Obama is a bully, is that it? I might have agreed if GWB was still our President...but he is not! The U.S. has the right to act in its own interests and do what is best for itself. If Russians don't like it, too bad! Your comments imply self-hatred and misinformation. As I've told other self-haters who comment on this site, you are welcome to leave and go live in Russia, USA will carry on without you.
In Response

by: Ank from: uk
April 28, 2011 03:02
What is wrong with Qadaffi, Chavez, Castro, Mugabe, nothing I say. Before the unrest in Libya everyone in the West loved Qaddafi, as soon as he started to enforce law and order in the his country, he becaome baddy. What a doublstandard and hypocracy. Have you forgeting how Britiah PM Tony Blair cadled and kissed Qaddafi in Libya in 2005.
In Response

by: Slava
April 28, 2011 07:01
Selective mermory patterns, pretty much in line with what the likes of RFE/RL generally prefer to hype.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 28, 2011 17:08
@ Ank
The West NEVER loved Qadaffi. He made himself such a pariah in the world that he began to see that it was against Libyan interests. He then began to reach out to Western leaders in order to spur economic activity in his country. Abandoning state-sponsored terrorism was one of the sacrifices he was willing to make. It is the same with Cuba, brother Raul is making some economic reforms because the Cuban state is so bankrupt it can't support its people anymore. Let's not forget that Qadaffi and Castro were not elected. They seized power in 1959 and 1969 and continue to rule today! I feel sorry for you if you think there is nothing wrong military dictatorships.

The Power Vertical Feed

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

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

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

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
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.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
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 CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
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: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
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

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

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

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

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

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

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

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

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)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

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)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

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