Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Power Vertical

Putin's Politics Police

Aleksandr Bastrykin: His apparent victory could come with a caveat.
Aleksandr Bastrykin: His apparent victory could come with a caveat.
It's been a pretty rough year for Aleksandr Bastrykin.

From his humiliating public apology for the infamous “forest incident,” in which he reportedly threatening a journalist's life, to the "Foreign Agent Bastrykin" hashtags that followed the exposure of his business dealings in Europe, the Investigative Committee chief has become the butt of jokes and the subject of numerous Internet memes.

He's reviled by the opposition for spearheading President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on dissent. And his sharp bureaucratic elbows and aggressive style have earned him plenty of enemies in the ruling elite.

But despite all this, Bastrykin appears on the verge of a major victory: achieving his long-held dream of expanding the Investigative Committee and turning it into a super-duper souped-up agency that would police the police and swallow up many of the responsibilities of other law-enforcement bodies.

A Kremlin-authored bill is on its way to the State Duma that would merge the investigative arms of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Antinarcotics Service into the Investigative Committee. Interior is slated to move 37,000 investigators over and the Antinarcotics Service will send 2,000.

The move, which Bastrykin has long lobbied for, illustrates Putin's desire to shore up his base of support in the bureaucracy amid protests in society and schisms in his ruling elite.

"The clan struggle is intensifying with the wave of protest, attacks on the regime, and the crisis of its legitimacy. The cracks in society, which existed before, are deepening," Moscow-based sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, who studies the Russian elite, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" recently.

"The president is faced with the task of strengthening his position. Putin has many different mainstays within the bureaucracy, but he will single out certain fragments of it. These are the so-called firm nuclei -- people and departments that are totally loyal to him."

Bastrykin's Investigative Committee certainly falls into that category. Since Putin's return to the Kremlin, it has been the president's own personal politics police.

It has conducted intimidating early morning apartment searches of troublesome figures like socialite-turned-social activist Ksenia Sobchak and others. It has spearheaded cases against opposition figures like Aleksei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov. And in has investigated and harassed regime defectors like former State Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov.

With the opposition resurgent and the elite splitting, Putin needs someone reliable to keep the street in check and potentially wayward officials in line.

And while Bastrykin appears eager to play that role, his apparent victory could come with a caveat.

According to a recent report in "Kommersant," the impending expansion of the Investigative Committee is accompanied by a renewed push to put it back under the control of the Prosecutor-General's Office.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak makes sense for a number of reasons.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak makes sense for a number of reasons.
When the Investigative Committee was established in 2007, it was formally under the control of the Prosecutor-General’s Office. Bastrykin, however, treated Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika with disdain and eventually managed to formally change the arrangement so he reports directly to the president.

The recent reports that the Investigative Committee may be placed back under the Prosecutor-General’s Office have been accompanied by persistent rumors that Chaika is on the way out. A bureaucratic lightweight who is considered an ally of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Chaika has been largely seen as a lame duck since Putin returned to the Kremlin.

Medvedev would like his old law-school classmate Aleksandr Konovalov in the post, but that seems unlikely. The name mentioned most has been Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, a longtime associate of Putin’s dating back to when both served in the St. Petersburg government in the 1990s.

Kozak makes sense for a number of reasons. His reputation as a skilled administrator has made him Putin’s Mr. Fix-It, the go-to guy the Kremlin leader turns to to address intractable problems. Putin also sees Kozak as absolutely loyal and reliable. And he is widely rumored to have long coveted the prosecutor-general’s post.

And for Putin, Kozak appears the perfect choice to keep an eye on a newly empowered Bastrykin -- who, while loyal, has been a bit of a loose cannon and an embarrassment for the Kremlin. Moreover, unchecked, a revved-up Investigative Committee could at some point turn into a threat to Putin.

So while Bastrykin seems on the verge of getting his long-standing wish, he may also be getting an unwelcome chaperone.

“The Kremlin gives with one hand and takes away with the other” because “kingmakers can easily become king breakers,” New York University professor Mark Galeotti, author of the blog “In Moscow’s Shadows,” said on the latest "Power Vertical Podcast."

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 12, 2012 03:38
It's easy use "ratenforband" or "pusy" and urkas.
Brian Whitmore did good job to show us Bastrykin,
And hocky looking at us Kozak, possibly half Caucasian,
And number of other "Who is Who" among Russian "churkas"
For unrelated reason, protests against legitimacy of ruling clan.

That in itself is somewhat artificial, most of Russia-Chauvinist
Supports expansion into neighbour countries with vulgarity,
For wich the "punky" critics of Putin pay for illegality,
For wich non-punky critics of Putin end up dead.
For which Georgia inserted by "Ivanity" twist.

by: Koos Nolst Trenite from: Europe
October 21, 2012 16:01
Could you not understand the nature and intentions of Goebbels and Himmler?

How THESE wanted to (and did) get in charge of any and all activity of any police force, and how they forced them all - ALL police forces - into doing Evil and destroying their OWN country?

What is so difficult about it, to understand and USE that understanding?

Koos Nolst Trenite
human rights philosopher and poet

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

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