Friday, October 31, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast -- Spy Vs. Spy: Russia's Espionage Games

This Soviet-era poster warns citizens to "beware of spies."
This Soviet-era poster warns citizens to "beware of spies."
An indictment in the United States this week of 11 alleged Russian agents on charges of illegally exporting sensitive microelectronics through a Texas-based company has refocused attention on the Kremlin's espionage activities, which some analysts say have risen to Cold War levels.
But this isn't your father's looking-glass war. In the age of the Internet and social media, international espionage has entered a whole new dimension.
In the latest edition of "The Power Vertical Podcast," I discuss the new spy games with my regular co-host, Kirill Kobrin, and special guest Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who is an expert on Russia's security services and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."
Also on the podcast, Kirill, Mark, and I talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin's upcoming birthday celebrations.

The Power Vertical -- Spy Vs. Spy: Russia's Espionage Games
The Power Vertical -- Spy Vs. Spy: Russia's Espionage Gamesi
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Listen to or download the podcast above, or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.

Tags: espionage,Vladimir Putin,Power Vertical podcast,Russian intelligence services

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 06, 2012 17:54
When was the last time a big ring of American spies was apprehended in Russia? Is the explanation that Americans are that much better at spying than Russia? Or is it that Americans are simply friendlier? Or do they consider Russia so pathetic it's not worth spying on? Any way you look at it, it's pretty humiliating for Russia. But not quite as humiliating as being caught stealing such pedestrian computer materials, and being exposed as being so unable to make them yourself. Putin's Russia is as backwards and pathetic as it has always been, stealing instead of inventing. That is the price of totalitarian society, and highlights the fact that Russia does not have one college in the world's top 200.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 06, 2012 22:23
Meanwhile, the USA has three colleges just in the top five alone. And still, one-fifth of Americans surveyed believes the sun revolves around the earth, and Gallup gives Americans high marks for general knowledge because most know the event celebrated on the nation's most popular holiday, the 4th of July.

Surprisingly, 62.9 % of Republicans still believe Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction when the USA invaded in 2003, and 55.6% of Republicans have always believed President Obama was born in a country other than the United States.

How many Americans got their smarts from top colleges, and how many got them from talk radio anchored by blinding ignorance? You tell me.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 07, 2012 16:04
Mark, who rates the colleges? The West, the East or … Russia?
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
October 07, 2012 22:31
Thanks Mark - let those facts speak for themselves. Not to mention that Russia is now the only world power with a space "shuttle" capability, and has the fastest military jet-fighter in the world. "'s not worth spying on", eh?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 08, 2012 04:37
The ratings list I used came from a multinational organization called QS. The Director is a Brit from Nottingham, but the others are from all over. QS is headquartered in London. Although the group reports they speak an impressive cross-section of languages among them, we have no way of knowing how well they speak them and you have to go down as far as #18 on the list before you hit a college in which you could expect the main language spoken to be other than English.

Categories used to compile the score that decides where you rate on the list are Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty-Student Ratio, International Faculty, International Students and Citations per Faculty.

One that's missing, and one in which Russia might do quite a bit better than many, would be "percentage of the total population which has a shot at a college education".

According to Wikipedia, over 50% of Americans claim to have had "some college", but it's difficult to say what good it did them because the percentage that obtained at least an Associate's Degree is less than 40%. That's still pretty good.

Over half of Russian adults, however, have completed university education, which is considerably higher than the USA and twice as high as the OECD average.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 08, 2012 22:00
"Not to mention that Russia is now the only world power with a space "shuttle" capability, and has the fastest military jet-fighter in the world. "'s not worth spying on", eh? "

Testify, William! If you check out the link below on the Shkval torpedo, there is some delicious irony for you near the bottom; in 2000, an American "businessman" named Edmond Pope was arrested by the FSB for stealing state secrets - specifically, information on the Shkval torpedo - and consigned to the slammer for 20 years. He was pardoned later that same year by that soulless black hole of merciless evil, Vladimir Putin, on humanitarian grounds because he had been diagnosed with bone cancer.

Although he was posing as a businessman, Pope was a former Navy Captain who spent most of his U.S. Navy career in intelligence, and was the head of a private security firm. Some might not call him a spy, but those people would have sand in their ears. But wait, that's not the delicious part!

The original unguided straight-running Shkval was introduced in 1977. More than 20 years later, the United States government apparently thought it was still a secret worth stealing.
In Response

by: General Patton from: from grave
October 07, 2012 16:25
LaRuss this is my first and last warning. Russians hate Americans, and Americans are friendly to Russia. You will be sold for nothing when the time is right. Americans help Russia all their free time against Muslims countries occupied by Russia. They are so nice to Russia they even helped Russia to assassinate pro-independence Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudaev, they put Chechen/North Caucasus pro-independence movement into the terrorist list, and offered millions of dollars for their leaders' heads. Even before that they provided Studebaker lorries for Russians to commit genocide against Muslim North Caucasians via the land lease in 1944.
I call Russia and USA: Twix the sweet couple.
Oh! Wait! Take my words back, in 1993 the head of the Chechen intelligence Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev said that Russia is the center of the world government. I guess the USA is her working bee.
In Response

by: Johnathan from: California
October 17, 2012 00:58
You people are idiots for comparing Russia and USA. These two superpowers has great people and you should show some respect for the people that work hard and try to do their best for a better world.

by: Konstantine from: Los Angeles
October 08, 2012 00:26
Thought it is a classic case of classic "movie" war,
Where legitimate secrets of some countries stolen,
It is a drop in a backet of barbarian Empires hore -
To plot torture, plagiarize, dissposses and kill all
That is not Cousins Emperors and their luers.

WW1 was not for national interests of nations,
But to murder at least 40 millions of the hated
By the Cousins scared by "Host of Revolution"
Innocent by standards men, as the moderated
Spy agencies and nations, conspire plagiarize.

It could be, wile sucking of me blood of Jesus,
The danceling on "Bundershaft" CIA and KGB
Relaxed a bit, and as a gift to Putin, the hoses
Of Russian sucking sent a gift as spying bees.
The gift before that was murder of my mother.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
October 08, 2012 01:07
Nice report and have to agree 100% on the folly and waste of most espionage work. The Russians aren’t alone in creating elaborate surveillance bureaucracies whose main function is to protect their turf and salaries (all under the guise of ‘protecting national security’). The Department of Homeland Security is a gross example of this government-sponsored scrutiny. From my pedestrian background in intelligence work, I would wager that 90% of all valuable information can be derived from open sources or merely making a couple of phone calls. The Russians suffer more from this mania, as many don’t appear to believe that access to open information helps to strengthen all fibers of society, and not just those wearing trench-coats and sunglasses.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 08, 2012 17:34
Well said, Ray, not to mention accurate. Astonishing things that would have made intelligence professionals drool as little as 20 years ago are now available in open source if you are patient and know how to search. The trick now is to sort the believable from the hedged or deliberately fabricated in open-source data, and that can often be achieved by comparing claimed performance figures with known capabilities, to use one example. However, there is the occasional breakthrough when a certain medium has hit a design wall and cannot be made to go further, or faster or smaller or whatever.

An example is the Shkval torpedo. When torpedo design had evolved about as far as was possible and improvements had become mainly those of incremental efficiency, it was Russian designers who thought of a torpedo driving through air rather than through water, and routed the exhaust so the Shkval drove through a continuous column of its own bubbles. This resulted in a torpedo of fearsome speeds, although it is a straight-runner and not guided. But you don't have an awful lot of time to get out of the way. All open-source information. This source

suggests there is a homing version, which would be bad news indeed, but it must slow to the characteristics of a conventional torpedo to do so.

Sudden leaps of unconventional thought are certainly not limited to Russian engineers, and western and Asian designers can offer many examples of conceptual visualization that stagger the mind. It's a pity, in all those cases, that people could not bend their minds more to aiding one another than destroying one another or seizing a momentary advantage. But therein lies the true beauty of open source information.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
October 09, 2012 14:59
Well, the Shkval is fast, but its range is limited to about 5 miles/11km maximum, so its utility is doubtful at best under modern combat conditions, considering the Mk48 ADCAP has a range of 30 Nautical Miles or about 55km, well you get the idea.

Its very much like taking a knife to a gunfight.

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 10, 2012 02:28
"... its utility is doubtful at best under modern combat conditions, considering the Mk48 ADCAP has a range of 30 Nautical Miles or about 55km, well you get the idea.

Its very much like taking a knife to a gunfight."

Is that so? Once a technology is established, evolving it is much easier, and the Shkval 2 is said to have a much longer range.

However, I question whether it needs it. Conventional torpedoes in the Russian inventory are quite capable, and the role of the Shkval is not employment as a conventional torpedo - it is a countermeasure that forces an enemy who has just launched a torpedo itself to maneuver violently and cut its guidance wires in an attempt to avoid. The ADCAP is just like any other torpedo once it begins pinging as it reaches its "enable" point.

As a submariner I would want to know without a doubt that I was beyond range of the Shkval before I would ignore its release and concentrate on my own torpedo engagement. Could you be that cool, and that sure? The transmission of sound underwater is affected by a lot of anomalies, and the only way to be sure is to ping the target yourself (good luck from 30 miles) or have other antisubmarine assets establish its position for you by dropping active sonobuoys. If the submarine you are looking for is below the layer, again; good luck. All those techniques take time, and you have seconds to make up your mind - do you continue with the engagement, or cut your wire and maneuver to avoid?

And despite what the movies might have told you, submarine-on-submarine engagements that take place at 55 km separation are a dream which depends on an anomalous water environment that might come along once in a decade.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
October 11, 2012 11:32
Mark, it is easy to see you are FOS.
An increase in range from 11KM to 15KM is marginal.

Also the Shkval suffers from one little problem under the scenario envisaged. While the MK48 is bearing down on you from the close range you envisage, the captain of the Russian sub has to find range and bearing to the target, then turn and launch his super fast but short range "make the enemy evade" unguided torpedo. By which time he is probably dead, better to drop a countermeasure such as a noisemaker and take evading action.

And if there is a guided version that has to slow to the speed of a conventional torpedo that is a waste of time.

And BTW, I am not talking about submarine engagements from "movies" but those from exercises.

In addition, Russian submarines have been found time and again easy to sneak up on by western navies, hell even a Collins class (described by both the US & RN as hideously noisy) are able to manage it, so a LA class or the new RN Astute class should have no problems whatsoever sneaking up on them.

You do also realize that when torpedoes such as the Mk48 reach their enable point they are self guiding don't you? In fact they can be switched to active mode by cutting the cable, this means they are less resistant to countermeasures than when wire guided, but still deadly weapons.

As for sound underwater being affected by anomalies, of course, but the highly trained sonar operators not to mention the computer systems utilized in the sonar systems onboard modern submarines enable them to have a very very good idea of what is going on around the boat for some considerable distance around often to a greater distance than active sonar, also the fact that USN submarines operate as part of a C3 system involving a CBG air wing with Seahawks etc, so you will almost invariably have people dropping sonar buoys and trying to box in the target.

As for being beneath the layer, well you have been watching too many films good sir. The thermal layer causes a shadow zone at certain angles to the listening ship/submarine, but is most certainly not a blanket effect.

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 11, 2012 23:14
You should call up the USN, Andrew; I'm sure they'd be very interested in your revelations on the propagation of sound in water.

The Shkval does not need to be matched for range and bearing. It only needs to be fired in the approximate right direction. It will be identified immediately by its speed as what it is. It is not intended to actually hit the enemy submarine, merely to present the possibilty that it could. I don't know where you're getting your figures, but no new range was given for the Shkval 2 - just that it would be significantly increased.

The thermal layer does not of course cover the entire ocean like a blanket, and nobody suggested it does. It is also most assuredly much bigger than just submarine-sized - what the hell do you think dipping sonars and towed arrays are for? To get under the layer - why bother if it's only 300 square yards?

It may surprise you to know U.S. submarines on patrol do not typically betray their presence by traveling with a road show of Seahawks flinging sonobuoys everywhere. Who goes along with these helicopters to refuel them? They must have incredible endurance. When they are traveling with a Task Group or squadron underway, indeed antisubmarine warfare is a group effort, but that is the exception for U.S. submarines rather than the rule, and they customarily operate independently - even when traveling with a task group they are frequently far ahead.

I remember a few years ago when a Russian submarine, likely a Victor II, briefly lost depth control while directly underneath the U.S. Carrier KITTY HAWK when it was in the center of its task group. The carrier had to go back to Yokusuka for repairs because the Victor had accidentally left a prop blade sticking in the hull. It somehow managed to get right into the centre of the destroyer and frigate screen and directly under the carrier close enough to touch it. Quite an achievement for something that is so noisy you can hear it from the front row of an Eminem concert. Either that, or all the sonar rates were asleep. Because nobody knew it was there, or ever would have if not for the accident.

The fact remains that the USA was caught trying to steal information on the Shkval more than 20 years after it was operational. If it's like taking a knife to a gunfight, why bother?
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
October 08, 2012 21:37
Good points, Ray - both sides have a well developed "security industry" with both sides dependent on "double-agents" (dating back to the Oleg Penkovsky days). Much of the intelligence information is coming from the same sources.

by: Anonymous
October 11, 2012 03:29
This Soviet-era poster warns citizens to "beware of spies."
The guy on the right: "Vanya, look at my finger"
The guy on the left: "Misha, my love, I want to hug and kiss you"
The American spy in the back: "Darn it, I knew Russia has a 'happy' army".
But honestly, too much subliminal messages on the picture.

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:



European leaders have welcomed a deal under which Russia is to restore natural-gas supplies to Ukraine but told Vladimir Putin that elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on November 2 will be illegitimate.

Russian President Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande spoke in a four-way telephone conversation overnight after Ukraine and Russia sealed a deal meant to guarantee Russian gas supplies to Ukraine through March 2015.

All four leaders welcomed the gas deal signed late on October 30 in Brussels, a German government spokesperson said, and a Kremlin statement called the agreement "an important step in the context of the future provision of uninterrupted transit of gas to Europe."

But a statement from Poroshenko's office said "Ukraine, Germany and France expressed (the) clear common position that they would not recognize the elections planned by separatists."

It said the elections on rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions would contradict an agreement reached in Minsk on September 5 and aimed to end the conflict between Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels, which has killed more than 3,700 people since April and poisoned East-West ties.

It said Poroshenko, Merkel, and Hollande "urged Russia not to recognize those elections as well."

Merkel's spokesman, Georg Streiter, said that "Merkel and Hollande underlined that there can only be a ballot in line with Ukrainian law."

He said the votes would violate the Minsk agreement and further complicate efforts to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

"The German government will not recognize these illegitimate elections," Streiter told a news conference, adding that European leaders were united on this issue and had agreed on this at a summit last week in Brussels.

Moscow has made no formal recognition of the "people's republics" the separatists have proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Kremlin denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence that Russia has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to help the separatists.

But in comments published on October 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would "of course recognize the results" of the separatists' elections.

The Kremlin statement about the telephone conversation made no mention of the elections.

It also said the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation the September 5 agreement, and underscored the need to observe the cease-fire that was central to the Minsk deal.

The Kremlin said Russia believes the "the establishment of a steady dialogue" between Kyiv and the separatists would "undoubtedly" help stabilize the situation.

Kremlin critics say Russia supported the September 5 agreement because it followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Donetsk and Luhansk, potentially giving Moscow a lever of influence on Ukraine for years to come.

The November 2 balloting in the rebel-held regions comes a week after those areas stayed out of voting in in Ukraine's parliamentary election on October 26, in which pro-Western parties won a sweeping victory.

Poroshenko proposed on October 31 that Arseniy Yatsenyuk stay on as prime minister.

"I have proposed that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of prime minister," Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.

Yatsenyuk's People's Front party narrowly beat out the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in voting by party in the October 26 election, according to a nearly complete count.

But Poroshenko's bloc fared better in first-past-the-post voting and was positioned to take more parliament seats than the People's Front, according to election commission data.

Yatsenyuk is a vocal critic of Russia and is popular among Western governments for his support for economic reforms.

He is a target of criticism from Russian officials who say the  government that came to power in Ukraine after former president Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of protests seized control in an illegal coup d'etat supported by the West.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, adding to tension that increased still further when the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted the following month.

The hard-fought gas deal provided what European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger called "perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia had raised the price it was asking Kyiv pay for gas after Yanukovych's ouster and then stopped supplying gas to Ukraine in June, citing what it said was $5.3 billion in debt and demanding advance payment for any future supplies.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.

Yatsenyuk, in figures later confirmed by Moscow, said Ukraine would pay $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of 2014 and $365 in the first quarter of 2015.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger.

He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

Ukraine normally relies on Russia for about the half the gas it uses, and the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the gas consumed in the European Union, with about half of that pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009, when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine amid price disputes, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two cold winters.

News of the agreement appeared to bring relief in Europe, with British wholesale gas prices for November and December falling to their lowest ever levels on October 31.

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)


A Moscow court has extended by two months the detention of an Estonian police officer charged with espionage.

Lefortovo Court spokesperson Yulia Sotnikova said on October 31 that a judge had "granted a request from investigators to prolong the period of detention until January 5" of Eston Kohver.

Kohver was detained on September 5 on espionage charges.

Moscow claims Kohver was seized inside Russia, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border.

The case has strained relations between Russia and Estonia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


The European Union has launched a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Russian import duties on some European agricultural and manufactured goods.

The Geneva-based international arbitration body said on October 31 that the EU accuses Russia of levying tariffs on several types of goods that are above the legally binding tariff ceilings that Moscow has agreed to within the WTO mechanism.

Those goods include paper and paperboard, palm oil, and refrigerators.

Under WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to work out a mutually agreed solution. After that, the EU could ask the WTO to adjudicate.

The dispute is the fifth involving Russia and the EU at the WTO.

The European Commission's spokesman for trade issues, Wojtek Talko, said the case was not a complaint against the recent ban on Russian food imports from Europe.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa)


The Russian central bank said it would raise interest rates from 8 percent to 9.5 percent as Western sanctions and falling oil prices have sent the Russian ruble plummeting.

The Bank of Russia's board of directors made the decision to raise interest rates at an October 31 meeting.

The central bank had increased the rate to 8 percent in late July, following increased to 5.5 percent in March and 7.5 percent in April.

The United States, European Union and other nations have imposed successive rounds of sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, and Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of aiding pro-Russian separatists with troops and arms during a conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 3,700 people in eastern Ukraine since April.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, and AFP)



The U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan says that the Central Asian nation's "growing partnership with Russia" presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

In an article published on the website of the Council of American Ambassadors, Pamela Spratlen (eds: a woman) said the "strong partnership" that Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has forged with Russian President Vladimir Putin "has had its impact on our efforts."

"It remains an unanswered question how Kyrgyzstan can maintain its democratic trajectory while pursuing this partnership," she said.

Spratlen also said that many in Kyrgyzstan get their news from Russian media, and that in the case of the Ukraine crisis "the strident anti-American tone taken by Russian propaganda has crystallized local public opinion around Moscow's narrative of events there."

Kyrgyzstan has seemed to follow Moscow's lead on several issues recently, including drafting laws that legitimize discrimination against homosexuals and would require foreign-based organizations to register as "foreign agents."

(Based on Spratlen article:


Ukrainian authorities have filed charges and Russia's Union of Journalists is demanding an apology after a prominent Russian actor was filmed firing a machine gun near the Donetsk airport while wearing patches that identified him as a member of the press.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry on October 31 filed criminal charges against Mikhail Porechenkov for the pictures taken with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page, "Mikhail Porechenkov, present in Donetsk, personally took part in firing on units of Ukraine's armed forces using an automatic weapon."

Pavel Gutiontov of Russia's Union of Journalists called the incident "irresponsible behavior on the part of the actor" and demanded an apology.

Porechenkov said that it was a staged scene, that he was firing blanks, and that the only bullet-resistant vest and helmet he could find were labelled "press."

(Based on reporting by UNIAN, TASS, and Interfax)



Writing in Slon, Yakov Mirkin, chairman of the Department of International Capital Markets at the Russian Academy of Sciences Insititute of World Economy and International Relations, argued that the ruble could easily sink to 50 to the dollar.

The reasons? 

1) The ruble is overvalued anyway;

2) The dollar is rising against major currencies and this upward cycle is likely to continue;

3) Oil prices are falling;

4) A combination of Western sanctions and diversification of energy supplies

5) Capital flight from Russia continues apace.

And in light of Mirkin's argument, it is worth noting that he has consistently been arguing that the ruble is overvalued. Here he is speaking back in August 2013:



Russian journalist Ivan Sukhov writing in "The Moscow Times" on working in Ukraine:

"Russian journalists encounter no personal aggression while working in Ukraine. Only the rare local politician refuses to speak to Russian reporters.

And in place of perfectly understandable aggression, Russian journalists encounter only gentle Ukrainian hospitality along with a sizable share of condescending sympathy.

It is as if they want to tell us, 'We will stay here, where we have taken the responsibility for our future into our own hands, whereas you will fly home to Russia's stifling political atmosphere, to a country that futilely reconsiders the outcome of the Cold War and the people are caught up in a mass euphoria over the bloodshed in the Donbass.'"

Read it all here.



From RFE/RL's News Desk:



Moscow and Kyiv have signed a landmark agreement that will guarantee Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine throughout the winter despite tense relations over the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The EU-brokered deal, which extends until March 2015, was signed at a ceremony in Brussels by the energy ministers of the two countries, Aleksandr Novak and Yuriy Prodan, and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Outgoing EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who oversaw the signing, hailed the agreement, saying, "There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter."

The hard-fought deal followed months-long EU-mediated negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv amid a long and bitter dispute over payments.

The agreement was reached after two days of marathon talks that had stalled before dawn on October 30 when Russia demanded that the EU first agree with Ukraine how to pay Kyiv's outstanding bills and finance gas deliveries through to March.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars to around $385 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger. He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay off its debts to Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

He added that the deal "is perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine's Prodan said the "decisions taken today will provide energy security for Ukraine and the EU."

Moscow cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt and demanding that Ukraine settle its outstanding bills and pay up front for any future deliveries.

The dispute occurred amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in March and its subseqent military and political support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With Ukraine relying on Russia for around 50 percent of its gas, the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the European Union's gas, about half of which is pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009 when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two very cold winters.

But Russia's Novak said after the signing that Moscow will remain a "reliable supplier" of energy to Europe and the deal struck with Ukraine will ensure stable gas deliveries over the winter.

In reaction to the deal, the French and German leaders said in a joint statement that the EU will "fully play its role" to implement the gas deal.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel said they had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko earlier October 30, and all four "have welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the delivery of Russian gas to Ukraine, achieved thanks to the mediation of the European Union."

(Based on live broadcast, with additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)


By RFE/RL’s Armenian Service

YEREVAN -- Air Armenia, a passengar and cargo airline based in Yerevan, has suspended all passenger flights until at least December 20 over financial difficulties that the firm is blaming on Russia.

Air Armenia says it is unable continue regular passenger services because of a “panic” among investors and customers over a statement by Russia's federal air navigation service.

Russia's Rosaeronavigatsia announced on September 11 that it would ban Air Armenia from operating flights to Russian cities unless the company paid its outstanding debts by September 21.

Air Armenia said ihe statement damaged its business reputation and that, as a result, its fleet was reduced to one aircraft.

Other than Russian cities, the airline had been flying to Paris, Frankfurt, and Athens.

Air Armenia was founded as a cargo airline in 2003 and began operating commercial passenger flights in 2013 after the bankruptcy of Armavia.


A Moscow court has ordered the nationalization of a stake in an oil company owned by a detained tycoon.

The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled on October 30 the stake in Bashneft held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov's holding company Sistema would be returned to the state.

Prosecutors claimed the stake was illegally privatized by officials in Russia's Bashkortostan region.

The court said new claims could be filed after the worth of Sistema's stake in Bashneft was ascertained.

Yevtushenkov was arrested last month on charges of money laundering related to the acquisition of Bashneft.

His arrested sparked speculation that Russia's largest oil company, state-run Rosneft, would acquire Sistema's Bashneft shares.

Yevtushenkov is one of Russia's richest businessmen, with assets estimated to be worth some $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by AFP,, and Interfax)


By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

An online Russian news portal based in Latvia has been blocked in Kazakhstan over an article described by Astana as "inflicting ethnic discord."

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Investments and Development said on October 30 that the website published an article "propagating ethnic discord and threatening the territorial integrity" of Kazakhstan.

The article about ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan's eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk (aka Oskemen) is titled: "Ust-Kamenogorsk People's Republic. Are Locals Ready For Polite Green Men?"

‘Green Men’ refers to the deployment in foreign countries of Russian military forces wearing unmarked green uniforms – as Russia has done in the past in regions of Georgia and Ukraine.

The ministry also has filed a lawsuit against in connection with the article.

It says the website will remain blocked in Kazakhstan until a local court rules in the case.

(With reporting by Interfax)


By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Ministry says that as of January 1, 2015, Kyrgyz citizens will no longer be able to enter the Russian Federation using their national identification documents.

Since 2007, Kyrgyz labor migrants have been travelling between the two countries with internal identification documents. Now they will have to obtain travel passports.

The regulation, announced on October 29, will affect hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz labor migrants who work in Russia and periodically travel between the two countries.

Moscow announced earlier this year that it wants to tighten by 2015 the regulations for entering Russia by nationals of former Soviet republics that are not members of the Russia-led Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union.

In May, Kyrgyzstan signed a road map under which it is to join the Customs Union, which currently comprises Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, by the end of 2014.  


NATO said on October 29 that it tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes “conducting significant military manoeuvers” in international airspace close to the borders of the European Union during the previous 24 hours.

NATO’s SHAPE military headquarters in Mons, Belgium said: “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

It said the planes included strategic bombers, fighters, and tanker aircraft.

They were detected over the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea on October 28 and 29.

Russian bombers flew south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.

Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish, and Turkish fighters were scrambled to intercept and identify the Russian planes.

Planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden also responded.

Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, tensions between NATO and Russia have risen to the highest level since the Cold War.

(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

18:33 October 29, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on October 29 that the Russian president is in good health, seeking to quash rumors of an illness.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that "everything is okay" with Putin's health, Russian news agencies Interfax and TASS reported.

"They will wait in vain. May their tongues wither," Peskov said of those who claim Putin is ill.

Peskov spoke after a spate of Russian media reports referring to an October 24 column in the tabloid "New York Post" whose author, Richard Johnson, cited unidentified sources as saying Putin had pancreatic cancer.

Putin and the Kremlin have strongly discouraged reporting about the 62-year-old president's private life.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)


Russia's largest oil company, Rosneft, is threatening to sue the Russian daily "Kommersant" for a report alleging Rosneft sent President Vladimir Putin proposals for countersanctions against Western companies and individuals.

"Kommersant" reported on October 29 that state-run Rosneft's proposals include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied there were any Rosneft proposals for sanctions, but presidential aide Andrei Belousov and Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev seemed to contradict this.

State-run TASS reported Peskov said reports Rosneft had sent such proposals were untrue.

Peskov said decisions on imposing sanctions were made "in line with the relevant departments, and taken on the level of the government and president."

A different TASS report quoted Belousov as saying, "We are closely studying Rosneft's proposals."

Belousov went on to say, "I would say the radicalism of the proposals for now exceeds the current level of tensions."

The Interfax news agency quoted Ulyukayev as saying the proposals were a "very complex document" and adding, "I don’t think it is grounds for making any decisions."

The "Kommersant" report said "Russian government officials" had provided information about the alleged proposals.

A statement from Rosneft said the company was "deeply shocked" by the "Kommersant" article and might sue the newspaper.

Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions target key Russian industries and individuals close to Putin, including Rosneft and its head, Igor Sechin, who is a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff.

The sanctions have hurt Rosneft, which has already requested additional funding from the Russian government to make up for losses incurred due to sanctions.

British oil company BP reported on October 28 that its income from its operations with Rosneft dropped from $808 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $110 million in the same period this year.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, Reuters, and Kommersant)


The White House says it has taken measures to counter suspicious activity detected on its unclassified computer network.

A White House official would not say who might have been responsible for the activity on what was described as an unclassified computer network used by employees of the Executive Office of the President.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had taken "immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity."

In a report on October 28, the "Washington Post" cited sources as saying hackers believed to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified computer network in recent weeks.

The White House has declined to comment on the "Washington Post" report.

A U.S. administration official said there were no indications that classified networks had been affected.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa)



Activists are gathering near the former KGB headquarters to honor the memory of thousands of men and women executed by Soviet authorities during Josef Stalin's "Great Terror."

Speakers at the daylong ceremony at the Solovetsky Stone memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square read out aloud the names, ages, occupations, and dates of executions of some 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities in 1937-1938.

Muscovites and others brought flowers, pictures of victims and candles to the site of the "Returning the Names" commemoration, which began at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time) and was to end at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time).

The annual ceremony is organized by Memorial, Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organization, which is under pressure from the government.

On October 10, Russia's Justice Ministry appealed to the Supreme Court to close Memorial.

Memorial has held the ceremony every year since 2006 at the site near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor.

Ceremonies were also being held in other Russian cities.

(Based on live broadcast by


Pro-Russian separatists reportedly shelled the position of Ukrainian government troops in southeastern Ukraine on October 29, despite an almost two-month-old cease-fire agreement.

Authorities in the port city of Mariupol say military positions located near the village of Talakovka were targeted on October 29 by conventional artillery and Grad rockets that were fired from from the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk.

Casualties were reported among troops.

The cease-fire agreement signed in early September ended most fighting between the two sides -- although battles at the Donetsk airport, in Mariupol, and in villages near the city of Luhansk continue on an almost daily basis.

The UN says more than 3,700 people have been killed in six months of fighting between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)


By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

The Grozny Air civil aviation company, based in the Russia's Chechnya region, is pressing ahead with plans to launch regular flights from Yerevan to Crimea, despite protests from Kyiv.

Timur Shimayev, an executive officer for Grozny Air, told RFE/RL on October 29 that the firm's inaugural flight to Crimea is scheduled for November 17.

But Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Kukhta, told reporters in Yerevan on October 29 that any commercial flights between Yerevan and Crimea must first be approved by Kyiv.

Kukhta's statement came five days after a spokesman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, Ruben Grdzelian, said that a Russian regional airline had not been allowed to launch flights between Armenia and Crimea since the Ukrainian penninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea has been condemned as illegal by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly.


12:55 October 29, 2014


The Russian daily "Kommersant" reports that the state-run oil giant Rosneft is calling on President Vladimir Putin to impose new sanctions on the West. The new moves reportedly include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

12:41 October 29, 2014


Just a few things I've noticed this morning:

Russian-German Trade Down

German exports to Russia have dropped by more than a quarter, "The Moscow Times" reports. In August, exports from Germany to Russia were 2.3 billion euros, a 26.3 percent decrease from a year ago. Moreover, German exports to Russia fell by 16.6 percent from January-August 2014.

Russian Elite More Cohesive -- For Now

According to a report by Reuters, sanctions have had the "opposite effect to the one intended" among the elite. "Far from dividing those closest to President Vladimir Putin, they have forced the main players in the energy sector to rally behind him. This circle has by necessity become more focused, Western and Russian businessmen, diplomats and politicians said," according to the report.

Sweden Is Warming Up To NATO

Foreign Directors Bail On Russian Firms

Since the start of the year, 14 percent of foreigners serving on the boards of Russian firms have left their posts, "The Moscow Times" reports. "Western sanctions have forced some foreign directors to step down or curb their activities on the boards of publicly traded Russian companies, leaving a critical gap that few domestic candidates are equipped to fill," according to the report.

09:17 October 29, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russia and Ukraine are set to resume talks over a gas dispute on October 29 in Brussels.

The new round of negotiations comes after inconclusive talks October 21, when European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced some progress, but said a final deal has yet to be agreed.

Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt.

Oettinger said that, as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of Russian gas before the end of this year.

Russia on October 21 said the it would sell gas to Ukraine for $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

Moscow said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- but only if Ukraine pays in advance.

(Based on reporting by AFP and AP)


Ukraine on October 28 condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s support for elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while the United States said a vote by separatists in eastern Ukraine would be unlawful.

The November 2 vote was scheduled by rebels in defiance of Ukrainian national elections on October 26, which were won by pro-Western parties.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 28 described the vote planned by rebels as "pseudo-elections," saying they "grossly contradict the spirit and letter" of international agreements reached in Minsk in September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow plans to recognize the elections that are being organized by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the the vote "will be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements."

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and TASS)


Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, said on October 28 that it has challenged European Union sanctions against the firm in the EU’s Court of Justice.

The sanctions against Gazprom Neft were imposed as part of wider restrictions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU sanctions restrict the ability of Gazprom Neft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer by output, to raise funds on European markets.

The United States also has imposed sanctions against Gazprom Neft in response to Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis.

The West says Moscow is supplying arms and troops to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine battle Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow denies that, despite increasing evidence to support the charges.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS)

18:54 October 27, 2014


Sam Greene, Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and author of "Moscow in Movement: Power & Opposition in Putin’s Russia," has a depressing (and must-read) blog post up about his recent trip to Moscow titled: "Russia's Tomorrow, Today."

It opens like this:

The news and the invitation were waiting for me, both, when I got off the plane from London to Moscow. I saw the invitation first—from a long-time colleague, to attend a workshop on the future of Russian politics later this month at Memorial, the venerable Russian historical society and human rights organization. I saw the news two hours later: 17 days after that workshop, Russia’s High Court will hold a hearing on the government’s demand that Memorial be liquidated.

That is the condition of life in Russia these days: two hours in which an invitation takes on a funerary pallor, 17 days in which the world becomes immeasurably smaller. Rarely has the distance between today and tomorrow been so great and so fraught as it is now.

And it concludes like this:

The tomorrow whose arrival now seems inevitable is one in which the archives of Memorial and the Sakharov Center disappear, to be replaced with a single national history textbook and a single national literature textbook, so that the past may have no bearing on the future. It is one in which policy analysis disappears from the public space, along with honest reporting, so that the present may also have no bearing on the future. Tomorrow, when it arrives, will bring one sole purpose: to preserve and protect the status quo. It is a tomorrow after which there are meant to be, politically speaking, no more tomorrows at all..

What the designers of this new tomorrow may not realize, however, is that, once freed from the paralysis of a pointless today, the despair of disaffection becomes the desperation of dissent. Dissidents, pitted against a regime that can never fall, take risks that are unnecessary in a more fluid system. They speak at all costs to demonstrate that they have no voice, and they go to jail to demonstrate that they are not free. Once today becomes tomorrow, and there are no more tomorrows for which to wait, the imperative of immediate action reemerges. 

Is the Kremlin ready for an opposition that, because everything is already lost, has nothing left to lose?

Read it all here.

And a h/t to Ben Judah for flagging.


15:42 October 27, 2014


The Russian health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has issued a dire warning: SEFIES CAUSE HEAD LICE!

No, really. I'm serious! It is actually on their official website:

"One reason for the spread of lice among teenagers, in the opinion of experts, is because selfie photographs have become more common. In these group photos, lice are transfered due to the touching of heads."

And it is causing a lot of laughs on the Twitter:

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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