Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Putin's Choice

What will he do? And what are the consequences?
What will he do? And what are the consequences?

After months of fierce fighting, frantic diplomacy, and bitter acrimony, Russia's nonlinear proxy war in eastern Ukraine crisis appears to be careening toward an endgame. And Vladimir Putin appears to be losing the initiative and running out of options.

Throughout Putin's 15 years in power, he has seemed to have an almost supernatural ability to, one way or the other, consistently come out on top. Has his luck finally run out? Or can he pull yet another rabbit out of the hat?

In the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss Putin's options and their consequences as the Ukraine crisis moves into a decisive juncture.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a longtime Kremlin watcher, an expert on Russian nationalism, and a professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, and Peter Pomerantsev, author of the forthcoming book "Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia."


Power Vertical Podcast -- August 15, 2014
Power Vertical Podcast -- August 15, 2014i
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Power Vertical podcast,Ukraine Crisis

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Comment Sorting
by: American Tolerast
August 15, 2014 16:08
Old Russian saying: Great Russian leader pull rabbit easier out of hat if hat lubricated with sufficient quantity of blood.
In Response

by: George
August 16, 2014 13:39
Industry and infrastructure of Eastern Ukraine is utterly destroyed. It will take excessive resources to rebuild it and it will take years to accomplish. Who wants that burden, Putin?
In Response

by: RecallCarlLevin from: USA
August 17, 2014 00:51
Novorossiyan Armed Forces are winning.
In Response

by: guest
August 18, 2014 10:34
There is no such saying, or you have to spell it in Russian

by: peter from: ottawa
August 16, 2014 13:54
The noose is tightening around Putin's throat. Can you feel the tension?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
August 16, 2014 15:38
May I remind you, guys, that it is 4 months already since the fascist Kiew junta started its punitive operation against the people of Donbass (April 15th 2014). And did it achieve its aims? Of course, not: Donetsk and Lugansk are just as much outside of control of the junta as they were four months ago. The junta forces have repeatedly failed to gain control over a lengthy section of the border with Russia - the section which is being used to transfer fighters and armaments from Russia to the self-defense forces of Donbass.
And most importantly: the coming Winter is only 2 moths away now. And this is going to be a cold one for Ukraine, which promises new internal unrest and further dsisintegration of this failed "state".

by: David Johnson from: Chincoteague
August 16, 2014 16:34
Could RFE/RL on occasion seek out people who don't already agree with you? That effort at a bit of recognition of the complexities of issues might be helpful to understanding.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
August 19, 2014 11:50
David, the criteria for selecting guests on this podcast are their level of expertise about Russia and their ability to articulate that expertise on air. Any thoughtful analyst of Russia, or of any other country for that matter, is going to look on it (hopefully) with a critical eye. To suggest we select guests because they agree with us is to completely -- and spectacularly -- miss the point of this program. We're trying to understand and explain the politics of a complicated and rapidly changing country. I'm not interested in having professional Kremlin apologists and professional Russia-bashers engaging in a Crossfire-like spectacle.

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
August 16, 2014 16:59
Enjoyed the podcast; very interesting guests. I wonder, however, whether the RFE crew may be suffering from its own propaganda-induced mania. Objectively, I see little evidence that Putin is “losing the initiative and running out of options.” Indeed, one could argue that he has never been more powerful.

What is the true face of modern Russia? The folks managing the Kremlin script may have realized that it is not reflected in the urban, creative class in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but rather in the brutish and hungover visage found in the provinces. The latter really do find comfort in the all-powerful tsar, ornate orthodoxy, military conquest, and flag-waving enthusiasm. They love Putin for these qualities.

Finally, to suggest that the Kremlin is running out of options when it comes to SE Ukraine and the Novorossiya project might be specious or shortsighted. Winter is not too far on the horizon and Ukraine remains a near-empty basket case. The West/US remains distracted, and believe it or not, has rarely demonstrated genuine altruism. History is long and I suspect that the Kremlin leadership still has other cards up its sleeve to prevent Ukraine from wandering too far west.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
August 19, 2014 11:52
Thanks Ray, I believe Peter, Andreas, and I addressed each of these issues you raised in the podcast.

by: James Stanhope from: Atlanta, GA, USA
August 16, 2014 18:33
Interesting podcast. But the commenters at Power Vertical keep talking about Putin as though he were a Western democratic politician. He's not. He's a KGB operative-turned-Russian-autocrat who is not accountable to the Russian public. If Russian hardliners become troublesome, he can simply lock them up. Putin is not yet vulnerable.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
August 19, 2014 11:54
I don't think anybody on the Power Vertical Podcast ever mistook Vladimir Putin for a "Western democratic politician." You must be confusing us with another podcast.
In Response

by: Mamuka
August 26, 2014 10:49
I think I see Mr Stanhope's point: while none of the panelists would consider Putin to be a western politician, sometimes your analysis seems to think he will REACT or MAKE DECISIONS as if he were a western politician, ie, responsive to voters opinions and world influence. While Putin has shown he is not completely immune from such forces, they are far from his primary concern. As a result, too often we get optimistic predictions of Vova retreating, which leaves me in the unfortunate situation of having to agree with Eugenio and Jack from Gde-Nibud that Vlad Vladych is not going away anytime soon.

by: David Johnson from: Chincoteague Virginia
August 17, 2014 19:19
You did not display my earlier comment drawing attention to the lack of balance in rferl material. Why?
In Response

by: Andy
August 18, 2014 06:40
Hi David,
Apologies for the delay. Our moderation was left unattended for much of the weekend, so your and other comments were left in limbo.
In Response

by: Bill
August 26, 2014 11:38
Your "moderation" appears censored. Hence, limited exchanges that are akin to the crony establishment culture out there that seeks to determine what are valid contrasting views.
In Response

by: Bill
August 26, 2014 11:44
BTW, how hypocritical for some to moan about not having their view heard.

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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



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)







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