Friday, November 28, 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

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

15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


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.

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About This Blog

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