Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Russia's 'Culture Wars'

Gay rights activists take part in a rally against laws restricting the rights of homosexuals in downtown Moscow on March 10.
Gay rights activists take part in a rally against laws restricting the rights of homosexuals in downtown Moscow on March 10.
A global pop star sued for spreading "gay propaganda" in St. Petersburg. A "zombies" march in Siberia banned after being condemned by the church. A call by a militialike group to deploy brigades of Christian vigilantes to patrol holy sites and defend them against enemies of the faith endorsed by a leading Orthodox Church official.

Russia's culture wars are heating up.

An emboldened Orthodox Church has become markedly more assertive in defending what it considers traditional values. Meanwhile, much of Russian society has become more cosmopolitan, more tolerant, and bolder in its own right.

In this week's edition of "The Power Vertical Podcast," I discussed the deepening schism in Russian society with my regular co-host, Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Also on the podcast, Kirill and I explore a much-discussed new report on the clans and personalities that make up the current Russian political elite.

The Power Vertical -- August 24, 2012
The Power Vertical -- August 24, 2012i
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Listen to or download the podcast above, or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.


Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russian Orthodox Church,Power Vertical podcast,Russia's creative class,culture wars

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Victoria
August 26, 2012 02:37
This blog should come with some kind of excitement attenuator, that readers could turn down so they don't get too wound up over the professed level of political turmoil. Revolution is always just waiting for that spark to ignite it - the people are always just about to stream into the streets and start hanging civil servants from the lampposts, as Navalny once promised.

None of that is actually happening, I'm afraid. Madonna is in hot water almost every place she goes on this tour, and the Pope's personal spokesman called for her to be excommunicated for her Italian visit, in which she descended on a large cross while wearing a crown of thorns. The group of 10 activists suing her are, to the best of my knowledge, not affiliated with the Orthodox Church. Discrimination against gays is worldwide - it was official government policy that they could not serve in the U.S. military for nearly 20 years. The rest of the world is in no position to be pointing the anti-gay finger.

The Zombie Parade was cancelled because it was unpopular with the public, and the church protested it on non-religious grounds based on complaints from parishioners. The Muslim community and territorial self-government committees also spoke out against it. It was not the Orthodox Church flexing its muscle.

There are between 3000 and 6000 people in a brigade. This is just silly.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
August 28, 2012 14:30
Indeed it is a blog of excitement, but because the potential in Russia for liberty, freedom and development is enormous, and it is being kept at bay by an undemocratic government and old-fashioned autocratic policies. One can be forgiven for wondering how high Russia could rise if it ever really decided to become a modern democratic country.

No, the people are not likely to start hanging civil servants from lamp posts. If things change, it will be -- as always in Russian history -- when some different-thinking figure seizes power, like Peter the Great, Lenin, or Gorbachëv. Which ultimately is indeed sad. When will the Russian people ever understand that Russia is theirs, and they should take responsibility for it?

Madonna is indeed in hot water wherever she goes -- she thrives on such attention --, but the hot water in Russia comes from the Orthodox church, and the reasons are political. Or do you seriously think she'd be worse off if she didn't talk about Pussy Riot, Khodorkovsky, or any other cause of shame for the Russian government? Do you think Rogozin would have sent that anti-Madonna tweet if she had just kept talking about sex? As for those 10 activists suing her, the jury is still out. Considering how things tend to happen in Russia, I would be surprised if they were doing that simply out of moral convictions, with no hidden agenda or support from third parties.

Unpopularity is not a good reason to cancel a parade. And I don't think it was the real motive. Again: if the Zombie parade had been pro-Putin, with the zombies mocking Western leaders -- do you think it would have been cancelled, no matter how religously revolting or physically disgusting zombies may happen to be?

"Brigade" as a metaphor and "brigade" as a military unit can diverge quite a lot. Figurative language does things like that. Silly is as silly does.

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 02, 2012 02:36
"Considering how things tend to happen in Russia, I would be surprised if they were doing that simply out of moral convictions, with no hidden agenda or support from third parties."

Yet you are perfectly prepared to believe Pussy riot are staging their "art happenings" simply out of moral convictions, with no hidden agenda or support from third parties.

Madonna absolutely is an attention-seeker. But western audiences seem prepared to believe she is speaking out in favour of Pussy riot out of some deep empathy with them, rather than as just another attention-getting gambit. I'm glad at least you and I are wise to her.

And evidently it does not matter what the church, the Muslim community and the territorial authority say - you can just blithely dismiss it with an airy, "I don't think it was the real motive". So there's no point in confusing the situation with facts. I wish I could claim such unshakeable moral conviction, but I have to rely on what the papers say.

"Brigade" as a metaphor is meaningless, and can be used to suggest anything from 20 to 20,000. The word is expressly meant to describe a military unit. All such a report would imply is, "I think it's a big number, but I want to make sure everyone understands it's a lot". Are there really thousands of ROC volunteers patrolling the streets and guarding churches? No. Are there any? Not that I've heard, brigades or otherwise.

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



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