Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast: The Left's Autumn Of Opportunity

Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks at an antigovernment protest in Moscow on June 12.
Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks at an antigovernment protest in Moscow on June 12.
A new season of protests kicks off on September 15 with mass rallies planned for Moscow and other cities.

But in addition to the opposition's longstanding demands for early elections and a more competitive and pluralistic political system, a new element will be added to the protest mix in what promises to be a very hot autumn -- social issues.

In the coming months, the Russian authorities are due to implement a series of reforms of the country's creaking social welfare infrastructure, including its pension and health-care system. Utilities prices are expected to rise.

Additionally, Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization earlier this summer has sparked increasing anxiety among labor unions and rank-and-file workers.

The prevailing protest mood and the addition of social issues to the equation appears to present an opportunity for Russia's left wing political forces -- if they can seize it.

In this week's edition of the Power Vertical podcast, I discuss the state of the Russian left with my regular co-host Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian Service.


Power Vertical Podcast - 14 September, 2012
Power Vertical Podcast - 14 September, 2012i
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Listen to or download the podcast above, or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.

Tags: Russian opposition,Power Vertical podcast,Russian left,Sergei Udaltsov

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Victoria
September 17, 2012 00:09
That's a pretty good shot of Udaltsov; he still looks fairly energized and engaged. He began to look a little drawn later, when he was still bizarrely talking up there while nobody remained except the cleaners sweeping the area. Eventually the police took pity on him and arrested him, which was of course what he wanted all along, even if it did cost him a solo monologue that blew anything ever seen on Saturday Night Live into the weeds.

Then again, talking to himself probably is not a new experience for Udaltsov. I sincerely hope the liberals have something better than this to nurture Russia's "gathering political storm".
In Response

by: Sergio Meira from: The Netherlands
September 18, 2012 21:49
I also don't think that Udaltsov et alii have any hope of actually starting a national dialogue in Russia. And that is a pity. If there is a country in the world that surely needs an honest look at its past and present, it's Russia.

But indeed -- Udaltsov is not going to get this to happen (and I'm not even sure he wants it).

But it seems to me that you feel happy about that -- as if you thought Udaltsov's failure to become meaningful is good, rather than bad, for Russia. Do you think so? If so, why? Do you think the path Russia is currently following is OK?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 19, 2012 19:24
By "an honest look at its past and present", you seem to be suggesting "a look at its past and present which will result in Russian conclusions which reflect the current western narrative", which would be that Yeltsin was the last hope for reform, the last chance for Russia to pull out of its power dive, which it has resumed under Putin. And we are in agreement that that is not going to happen. I also agree its unlikely Udaltsov wants that - he is much closer to Pussy Riot than to Prokhorov; an anarchist with anarchistic views as well as an intolerant nationalist. Although Navalny is neither, I suspect he and Udaltsov would agree Russia should stop subsidizing the Caucasus, and cut them loose. Whereupon they would become the next Syria in terms of outside-inspired revolution and riot.

Udaltsov's failure to become meaningful is pathos only for him. Whether or not it is good for Russia is moot, as Udaltsov broadcasting Udaltsov's current message - civil disobedience will gain you what you want, somehow, magically, if only you refuse to obey - would not resonate in any modern society.

Yes, I do think the path Russia is currently following is OK. It's not perfect, of course, and there are many areas which could use improvement, but on the whole the nation has recovered very well from nearly sliding off the edge under Yeltsin The Great Reformer. The western press loves to sneer that all Putin has done is restore momentum to the economy, and that he would never have achieved even that without high oil prices. Be that as it may, Europe currently finds itself in a desperate situation in which every pressing social concern has been subordinated to the economy, and if massive reserves of oil were discovered in any of those countries they would weep with happiness, rather than gasp that oil is a curse that only fools rely on to grow their economies, and please take it away. As well, Russian industry is a great deal more diversified than western news lets on.

If you have time, here's a link to a panel conference held at Columbia University recently, featuring Stephen Cohen. If you are not familiar with Stephen Cohen (and pardon me if you are), he is of Lithuanian descent and has been the Professor of Russian Studies at New York University since 1998.

This is a fairly long clip, more than an hour, but if you have the time to watch it, it is extremely enlightening. You will see two diametrically opposed views between Stephen Cohen and Sasha Gesin, writer and columnist for Novaya Gazeta. The latter holds that Novaya Gazeta is "the most important newspaper in Russia" although it has a circulation of only about 130,000 copies, because it espouses liberal views and as far as Mr. Gesin is concerned, these are the only views that matter. He likewise is of the opinion that the views of foreigners are of paramount importance to Russians, that they are "the heart of the Russian soul", which is about as misinformed a worldview as it is possible to have although it largely reflects what the western media likes to hear.

Professor Cohen's portion of the discussion consists of the - in his view - deplorable state of western journalism on the subject of Russia. He blames the Clinton administration, which aired the view (of Yeltsin), this is the guy who represents the direction we want Russia to go.

by: Ben
September 17, 2012 16:28
Russia is leaning left as always as the anti-West force and culture.
Democratic opposition hides it`s pro-capitalist views as the unpopular.The main oligarch Chodorcovsky sympathizes the Lefts!
RFE with it`s Aspen`s Marxist roots do the same.But Russian leftism has the distinct Stalinist extreme right features.Future tears of the repentance?

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014


09:09 November 21, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:

Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)


16:55 November 19, 2014


Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014


MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014


Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)


President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or