Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast: The Cultural Cold War

A woman holds up a banner during a demonstration by the gay community during a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Netherlands, in Amsterdam.
A woman holds up a banner during a demonstration by the gay community during a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Netherlands, in Amsterdam.
Vladimir Putin is greeted by boisterous protests over discrimination against gays and lesbians during a recent visit to Europe. Mark Knopfler, founder and frontman of the legendary British band Dire Straits cancels concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg over the Kremlin's human rights record.

As the one year mark of Putin's third term approaches, the chasm between Russia and the West on basic cultural and humanitarian values is noticeably widening.

In the latest edition of the Power Vertical podcast, I discussed this emerging cultural cold war with co-host Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Will this cultural cold war lead to Russia's cultural isolation? And what are the political implications inside Russia?


Power Vertical Podcast: The Cultural Cold War
Power Vertical Podcast: The Cultural Cold Wari
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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,LGBT rights

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Comment Sorting
by: Ben
April 14, 2013 11:26
The main Russian problem is the ideological extremism and the lack of not only real "middle class" but of moderate liberal views.The fragile balance between extreeme left and right forces allowed the government to continue economic reforms in the interests of big business.Protests will make the authorities as always to lean on the conservative rights that will force the political devision and instability -the opposite result of the humans rights and other Western values support.

by: Russia Speaks from: Russia
April 15, 2013 05:04
It appears that you like to publish those comments which agree with your article, but not when in contrast to your article. I commented several days ago and it just does not appear. Guess your moderators (read censors) eliminated it. Just wondering if, as an American citizen, if my tax dollars are going at all toward your blog and podcast? The comment did not violate your rules, unless you are setting the rules of how behavior is described, meaning, someone must use your very terminology to describe something rather than other descriptive terminology?
In Response

by: Andy
April 15, 2013 08:33
Indeed, your comment was not published because it very clearly violated our guidelines on profanity. It's not "our terminology" but rather common decency that we demand of comments. So do us all a favor and make your points without obscenity.
In Response

by: Victor
April 15, 2013 20:42
Hello Andy and RFE/RL,

As a Ukrainian-born whose native language is Russian, who lived there for almost 20 years before moving to a better place, I ask you not to take seriously comments from individuals expressing their dislikes of civilized world from behind such bold nicknames as "Russia Speaks", because Russia is much more than a few hyper-active Kremlin beneficiaries in the comments section.

I just want to remind you there are many Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, who rarely if ever comment here, but admire this resource, and believe it's of a great value to them and their fellow citizens, so allow me to show my appreciation for your work, and apologize for anti-American, anti-human rights, anti-free press comments that some "Russians" are always eager to make.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 15, 2013 10:43
Hey, Russia Speaks, you must be new here. Look, this is a web-site dedicated to spreading cheap US propaganda primarily aimed at distracting readers' attention from real issues that matter by focusing their "coverage" on some ... that no one really cares about, such as the fate of belugas in the Black Sea or the upcoming Eurovision contest.
There were some people (Jack and myself primarily) who tried to contribute to somehow remind people about this specificity of their "coverage", after which the RFE/RL decided to restrict the "comments" section to a minimum (it happened about a month ago or so). Since then they censor A LOT MORE than they did before.
If you are a US citizen and a tax-payer, then - obviously - your money is being wasted whatever on you take: carrying out the wars lost by the US in advance (Iraq, Afghanistan, maybe Korea soon) or on such web-sites.
Cheers from Vienna!
In Response

by: Asehpe from: the Netherlands
April 16, 2013 00:26
Hey, Eugenio, you must be (spiritually) new here. This is a site that has a certain viewpoint, like pretty much any other site, and it defends it; but it has never really left comments aside for any reason other than obsenity -- your comments, when you refrain from obscenity, are always published, aren't they?

You like to attack anything this site says, and it's usually unimportant to you whether or not the discussion is justified or not. It's not that you like to "contribute", it's that you like to "attack". You are usually silent on topics on which you cannot disagree with the site, and quite vocal on those on which you can. That is usually quite clear evidence of bias.

If you're a citizen of Vienna, remember what the last famous guy who came from that place did to the world, including Russia.

Cheers from the Netherlands!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
April 16, 2013 07:45
RFE does it, but mostly it is done by Eugenio and Jack types
That bushing all, but not Russia, whether it's right or wrong.
If USA paid RFE support USA actions more than criticize,
It allows anyone post critics, even as spiteful as yours,
Even threaten and intimidate victims of genocides.

(Or me and my mother, you setup be killed.)
Asehpe is right, but Is Eugenio from Vienna?
His style act from behind and slashing veins
Or spoiling air is like old Austrian Empire bill,
But relentless like a genocidal Russia's gain.

"Culture" as perversion - versus despotize?
That is really something also, on both sides.
Since 1947 offer to USA and Brits plagiarize,
By Russia, coincide by a strange "Cold War".
Both plagio-spies warred against the blessed.

In the "process" millions of talents and brains
Were moved by Russia to US, not only Jews,
Not only Hungarians - for both Tyrants gains.
Both monopolizing stolen ideas, more for US,
Both aggress, more Russia - breed our lands.

Edgar Hoover's perverted style, as Visantine,
Organized mostly statutory rape youth slaves,
To add 20% of Americans - English speaking,
Less paid. The rest of America - spies-scared.
Russians loved it and used it to, spies-scaring.

Both Superpowers avoid important issues too
And using perverts-despots - show "kaka do",
As raped by West and Russia's agencies kids,
Used as human bombs, or snitches-Quislings,
Or just cheaper labor. Both cover dirty deeds.

Still, Eugenio and the Russia, matter at hand:
- Leave homes in desecrated by Russia land!

by: Russia Speaks from: Russia
April 15, 2013 16:32
OK, let me try to make this as inoffensive as possible, so as to not upset your sensitivities. In spite of the foolish direction that the US is now taking under Obama, it never ceases to amaze me that as the US economy is dismantled and destroyed and the Constitution shredded that the big issue that you, and by extension the government's outreach programs decide to judge other countries by are homosexuals and sex changed folks right to partake in the thousands of years old tradition of marriage. No, a civil union is not enough, gotta profane the very meaning of marriage instead. Then you have the gall to judge others as "civilized" or not based upon their acceptance or not of this outrage. I do find it extremely cowardly of you to not go after the very Muslim countryies in which two of my sons have spent a total of 5 years fighting in. As I mentioned, you are a coward and know that you would most likely be beheaded there for criticizing them about homosexuals or the way they treat women.
Russia has plenty of warts and plenty of problems, but as a Christian who was born in a once Christian nation, I won't criticize them for not being so accepting of Homosexuality and also their church holding traditional views concerning women.
OK, now I've reviewed this very carefully to make sure that it doesn't contain any profanity, but neither did my last letter.
I do refuse to partake in your way of changing the language to advance the cause.
In Response

by: Victor
April 15, 2013 23:55
Russia Speaks wrote:
" the [U.S.] government's outreach programs decide to judge other countries by are homosexuals and sex changed folks right to partake in the thousands of years old tradition of marriage"

Are you ready to provide at least a single source that would support your claim? When and how exactly did the U.S. government outreach program judge other countries based on their approval of same sex marriage? I beg your pardon but there is a big difference between judging homophobic regimes for denial of basic human rights to their LGBT communities (also to everyone else by the way), and judging the regimes of actually approving same sex marriage. As a matter of fact, same sex marriage is not legally recognized in the United States on the federal level, and only 9 states allow it. I guess you might want to research a little more on the topic before making statements of this magnitude.
In Response

by: Asehpe from: the Netherlands
April 16, 2013 00:37
OK, let me be equally non-offensive. It never ceases to amaze me that a human rights question is belittled just because there are others, even more important, questions. Maybe hunger in Africa is a much more important problem in human terms than the current situation of the American economy. Maybe global warming is. I don't know. But there is no reason to downplay people who select a topic because they find it interesting just because you think there are more important topics. People talk about what they want to talk about. This is a web site mostly concerned with Eastern Europe and Russia. They talk about Eastern European and Russian topics here. Maybe there are more important regions of the world to talk about -- China jumps to mind --, but that is not the topic here. If you don't like that, please go elsewhere.

"What is more important" is such a poor argument... Maybe it would be better if you were doing something else with your time rather than writing a comment here. Yet you did write a comment, in fact twice; as if you didn't have anything else to do. I'm not questioning your choice; obviously, I am here also writing a comment, so I think it's worthwhile. But I AM questioning your cheap belittling of other's interests just because you'd rather concentrate on "more important" topics.

Now, you do the same thing again when you claim that rather than protesting against the maltreatment of gays in Russia and Eastern Europe, the site should be concerned with human right violations in the Muslim world. Sure -- what the Saudi Arabs do to women is much worse, and much more despicable. But again -- if people here prefer to talk about one topic - Russia - rather than another - Saudi Arabia -, well, it's their choice, isn't it?

Again: this site is mostly concerned with Russia and Eastern Europe. You do live in this world, right? You do realize that there is such a thing as "specialization", and that people, websites, journals, books, etc. CHOOSE a topic they find INTERSTING, not because they think it's the most important.

If everybody only talked about "The Most Important Topic" and nothing else, discussions would always be about the same thing, and conversations would end up being quite dull and repetitive, don't you think?

If they call the Russians "uncivilized" because of the way they treat the gays, that is their opinion. In what way does that affect your sons who fought 5 years in Muslim countries? If I talk about human right violations in my country (Brazil) during the Paraguyan war in the 19th century, am I also "offending" your boys who fought for 5 years in the Muslim world?

Calm down. Breathe a few times.

And then go contribute to the discussions that YOU find important, go speak your mind about the issues that YOU find important, and please let those who care about Russia and possible human rights violations in Russia in peace. We're not claiming to be "more important" than YOUR issues. We're just interested in something other than what you're interested in.

Go in peace, and may you find happiness.
In Response

by: Victor
April 16, 2013 00:48
Russia Speaks wrote:
" No, a civil union is not enough, gotta profane the very meaning of marriage instead."

LGBTs in Russia endure violence and discrimination on a regular basis coming not only from ordinary folk but from politicians, law "enforcement". religious leaders, and mainstream media alike. When you walk down the street as part of a peaceful rally in hopes to cease this ignorance, and all you get is a punch or two in the face from hateful bystanders, then police detention as a follow up without any legal protection, you just know that a long developmental process needs to take place in the country before even the discussion of same sex civil unions would be able to take place there, let alone acceptance of such unions. I'm yet to see a single case of a persecution in Russia, of those responsible for hateful crimes against aforementioned minorities.
In Response

by: Victor
April 16, 2013 01:08
Russia Speaks wrote:
"I do find it extremely cowardly of you to not go after the very Muslim countryies in which two of my sons have spent a total of 5 years fighting in. As I mentioned, you are a coward and know that you would most likely be beheaded there for criticizing them about homosexuals or the way they treat women."

The U.S. always stand against human rights violations regardless of where the violations take place. Ambassador Susan Rice regularly makes statements at the U.N. regarding this matter. Annual reports are made available by Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. You can look up a country of interest with human rights violations at this location:
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
April 17, 2013 11:19
In another article, with Putin and Merkel - a joker.
Putin standing face to face with an undressed female.
How close would she come if bodyguards of both leaders
And police wouldn't be part of a setup? Even she fooled males,
Hiding back with "Idi na ... Putin", they knew their job riddle.

Their brass foreheads should think that she was a threat,
Maybe machineguns in her boobs, or a big "fauspatron",
In other arsenals of her beauty - they should of guess.
German cops did kill at the Berlin wall for much less.
Such immoral show contrast shine modern thrones:

They might dress as democracy, but in USSR times
They had whole armies of comrades-comfort-dames
To please important fioreigners - even homosexuals.
Why not unleash few of them, as west-like lesbians?

by: Ben
April 16, 2013 18:55
The post`s content is not interesting as usual and I watch the fierce fights of Russian patriotisms as they say : the revolt senseless and merciless.That`s the problem.

by: Da Russophile from: Mordor
April 17, 2013 02:12
"Will this cultural cold war lead to Russia's cultural isolation? And what are the political implications inside Russia?"

No, it will not, because outside Western Europe and the blue American states, the entire world shares Russia's position on LGBT matters.
In Response

by: Victor
April 17, 2013 20:53
Da Russophile wrote:
"No, it will not, because outside Western Europe and the blue American states, the entire world shares Russia's position on LGBT matters."

In reality, Russia has been long culturally isolated (still is).

No, none of the states that are part of the U.S. shares Russia's position on LGBT matters, nice try however.

Developed nations (which guarantee protection of human rights) are not constrained by just the U.S. and Western Europe. Human development index can be looked up in Google, to see that countries with the highest values occupy at least one quarter of the world. Besides, even if only one country were to treat LGBT community with respect, that wouldn't have made its attitude towards them wrong in any way.

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



In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.




Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:


European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

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

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

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


The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)


The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and


Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

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


16:08 October 17, 2014


I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.


We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.


13:25 October 17, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:



Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)


Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

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


Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

18:00 October 16, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's Newes Desk:


President Vladimir Putin has warned that Europe faces "major transit risks" to natural gas supplies from Russia this winter.

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies."

Putin made the remarks ahead of talks in Milan on October 16 and 17 with EU leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia Preident Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

The price standoff is the third between Moscow and Kyiv since 2006.

Russia is the EU's biggest gas supplier, providing about a third of the gas consumed there.

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



The U.S. Helsinki Commission says Russia’s attempt to liquidate Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, is “an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience.”

“It is very troubling that an organization founded by [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression,” the commission’s chairman, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, said in an October 16 statement.

Russia's Justice Ministry on October 10 appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to close Memorial, which comprises more than 50 bodies nationwide. The reasons for the request were not made public.

Created in the 1980s by Soviet-era dissidents, Memorial has served as a tireless rights watchdog and important source of Soviet-era records for a quarter century.


Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continued support for Serbia on the divisive issue of Kosovo during a state visit that mixed meetings with officials with attendance at a military parade.

Putin is the guest of honor at Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by partisans and Soviet Army troops in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

The visit highlights Serbia's delicate balance between the European Union, which it is seeking to join, and relations with Russia that are rooted in history and religion but encompass economic and geopolitical interests.

Russia angrily criticized the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and has backed Belgrade's opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, defying the United States and preventing Kosovo from getting a seat at the United Nations.

Putin promised Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that Russia would stand firm over Kosovo, saying the Kremlin's stance was "a position of principle that is not to be subjected to any adjustments."

"We supported Serbia in the past and we intend to continue supporting it in the future. In Russia friendship is not an object of trade-offs," Putin said.

Nikolic said Serbia "sees in Russia a great ally and a partner and Serbia won't compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine in an interview on the eve of his visit, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and attempts to do so would hurt Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin used the visit to promote South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project that that the EU has suspended in member states.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream.

Putin told "Politika" the pipeline project would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

Putin's warm Serbian welcome may contrast with greeting he faces hours later at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan, where he will meet Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

NATO says Russian has sent troops and weapons to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people in eastern Ukraine since April, including 298 passengers and crew abroad a Malaysian jet shot down there in July.

Putin said the importance of the liberation anniversary events could not be overestimated.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," he said in the interview.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin said he hopes for peace in Ukraine but suggested Ukrainians whose protests toppled a president sympathetic to Moscow in February presented a Nazi-like threat.

"Unfortunately the vaccine against the Nazi virus ... is losing its potency in some European states.," he told "Politika," adding: "particular concern on this score is prompted by the situation in Ukraine, where there was an anticonstitutional coup d'etat in February whose driving forces were nationalists and other radical groups."

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

However, he told reporters last week that Serbia's "strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of Putin's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

"Nothing better could happen to us," Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, said of Putin's visit. "Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax)


By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Krutko, has protested the new "Putin Pub" restaurant in Bishkek.

Krutko said late October 15 that naming "a dubious drinking site" after "our president" is "unethical" and therefore he asked Bishkek authorities to remove the commercial banners and billboards advertising the pub.

Krutko added that he would do everything possible "either to shut down the place or to make it change its name."

Last month, Bishkek authorities removed all billboards and banners in the city that advertised the "Putin Pub."  

The billboards carried a black screen with white and black silhouetted portrait of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a circle with the name of the restaurant -- "Putin Pub," below.  

(With reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek")

17:35 October 16, 2014



Ukraine's Security Service has urged Ukrainians not to use Russian social networks.

Markiian Lubkovsky, an adviser to the Interior Minister told the television channel "112 Ukraine" that the site "VKontakte" is an "element of pressure and influence." 

"We urge all Ukrainians, all of our citizens to be careful not to use these networks, because they are now part of the information war against Ukraine," he said.

Read it all here. And a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock for flagging.


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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