Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Kremlin Floats An Exit Strategy

A piece of the wreckage is seen at a crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Petropavlivka in eastern Ukraine
A piece of the wreckage is seen at a crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Petropavlivka in eastern Ukraine

Sometimes it's a good idea to pay attention to what Andrei Kolesnikov writes.

The "Kommersant" columnist is one of the Kremlin's anointed court scribes and is often described as President Vladimir Putin's favorite journalist.

Ben Judah, author of "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin," recently wrote that the Russian president "pays particular attention" to Kolesnikov's columns, which he enjoys "greatly and always reads right to the end." 

Kolesnikov regularly travels with Putin and is often a conduit for messages from the regime's inner sanctum to the broader elite. It was in an interview with Kolesnikov in the summer of 2010, on an epic road trip across the Russian Far East in a bright yellow Lada, that Putin strongly hinted that he intended to return to the presidency in 2012 and that pro-democracy protesters should be beaten. 

Both of these things, of course, happened.

So it didn't go unnoticed when Kolesnikov wrote on July 29 that Putin was prepared to wash his hands of the separatists in eastern Ukraine if they were indeed proven to be responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. 

"If at some point it becomes evident that the insurgents had some connection to this, that would radically change [Putin's] attitude toward them -- even if it was a fatal mistake," Kolesnikov wrote. "Children who died for nothing, as well as adults and elderly people, this is a red line he will not cross. He will not cover up for those who did this if he knows they did it. He will not have this sin on his soul."

Kolesnikov's argument should by no means be taken at face value. Who really believes that Putin is suddenly shocked that the separatists he has been sponsoring could have shot down a civilian airliner? And does anybody really believe civilian deaths are a red line he will never cross?

But Kolesnikov doesn't write anything by accident. And it's safe to assume he doesn't write anything that is not Kremlin-approved. So with his July 29 column, he is clearly either floating a trial balloon or delivering a message from Putin to the elite that a change of policy is imminent.

There are other signals that a change in the Kremlin line may be coming. In an interview with CNN on July 22, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggested reports that the rebels in eastern Ukraine thought they had shot down a military aircraft around the same time that MH17 crashed suggested they weren't really culpable.

"According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down a military jet, so if it was [that they thought they] shot down a military jet, there was confusion," Churkin said. "If there was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism."

Kolesnikov's column has also provoked a bit of hand wringing in the nationalist press. "Common people who read 'King Lear' think that court jesters exist to tell the monarch the truth with a smile on their face," Yegor Kholmogorov wrote in "Vzglyad."  "The truth is that they are used to tell lies in the monarch's name. Andrei Kolesnikov is one such person who is close to Putin who set off a storm among journalists who are accustomed to seeing signals every time he sneezes."

It's too early to tell whether this was a trial balloon, a signal of a policy shift, or a court jester telling noble lies for the king.

But the column's timing, on the day when the European Union and the United States announced tough new sanctions against Russia's financial and energy sectors, was certainly interesting.

It also comes at a time when Russia's erstwhile defenders in Europe appear to be distancing themselves from the Putin regime -- putting additional pressure on the Kremlin.

In a cover story last week titled "Stop Putin Now!" the Hamburg-based weekly "Der Spiegel" reported that "52 percent of Germans said they would favor tougher sanctions, even if they would lead to the loss of many jobs in Germany." 

According to the article, Germany's business community, which has close ties to Russia, "has also gotten the message. Although the initial sanctions had few direct consequences for them, many business leaders had warned against sanctions -- drawing the ire of the chancellor and other politicians. Now they are changing their position."

In a July 22 article, Yevgenia Albats, editor of the opposition magazine "Novoye vremya," or "The New Times," issued an emotional call to the Russian elite to persuade Putin to change course in Ukraine or be left "without a country."  

"Never before in its post-Soviet history has Russia been in such a horrific position as it is now. All possibilities -- from a major war to a junta in the Kremlin -- are possible," Albats wrote, adding that Putin's "Chekist entourage...has led him not just into a dead end," but also "into a nightmare in which he will go down in history as someone who has the blood of innocent children on his hands."

Maybe somebody in high places actually heard her call.

-- Brian Whitmore 

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Anonymous
July 30, 2014 21:24
now I ask you
which is the Exit Strategy of ukraine and its ally US ?
No one
they think only to kill and gain ground much more they can

no logic of dialogue
no attempt at a political solution

Kiev speak only with the force of arms against civilians

For this reason, however gonna end up with Donbass
here who lost is whole Ukraine
and will no longer be possible to speak about an united country
In Response

by: caaps2 from: Toronto
July 31, 2014 13:32
The "exit" in "exit strategy" when used in reference to Russia is "exit from Ukraine". That is: exit from Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. You are right, Ukrainians have no intention of exiting from their own country.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 02, 2014 20:08
you are wrong my dear UkroCanadian
ukraine has many problems
and a very big one problem
a problem that now you don't see

but when will be ended the war against its own people of eastern side
it will be immediately afloat

Ukraine is a country completely divided,
the people of eastern side never will forget
of the bombing on civilians operated by Kiev

The biggest mistake that is done by those who don't knows ukraine
is to believe that all this wasn't predictable
they don't knows that all was waiting for happen by years

The same Crimea has always been unstable
and with big secessionist forces

I don't think that there is only one Ukrainian
that don't know this

by: Anonymous
July 30, 2014 22:08
just another story that would camouflage and put gaze over our eyes while there is children, elderly, and women dying and being bombarded each day across the world so that only few can get very rich from all this non sense called war
In Response

by: Panas
July 31, 2014 12:11
This not an exit strategy but a change in strategy. Putin has many tricks up his sleeve.

by: Alski from: Location
July 30, 2014 22:35
Written by a person who knows little about Russia.

by: saucymugwump from:
July 31, 2014 00:07
Whitmore quasi-quoted Kolesnikov: "Putin was prepared to wash his hands of the separatists in eastern Ukraine if they were indeed proven to be responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17."

We have already proven that a missile was responsible for the murders, but proving who actually pushed the button will be rather difficult unless they defect to the West and spill the beans. And why would they do that, given that they would probably be charged with war crimes? Should we set our DVRs to capture the digital era's version of Stalin's show trials where the defendants confessed because they had been tortured?

Putin had his chance. If he would have immediately sent his army in and secured the site, he could have claimed that he had nothing to do with it. Putin is looking for a way out, to return to the status quo. And our pampered leaders will probably allow him to do it because Putin has what all capitalists, especially American ones, covet: oil and gas.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
July 31, 2014 02:38
Putin is not the Czar of Russia, even if he wanted to.
Russian Varag-Cossack brigants are plunder and kill.
Putin is "Ataman", limited if brigants express their will
To plunder, kill, expand - why rely on his mood to do?
Why obligate World to one man's will, live or be killed?

The interests of Russia, its legitimate part, is free trade
With Ukraine and all other nations, mutually beneficially,
Not intrigue, invasion, genocide, blackmail, or blockades
That Russia does - from East Europe busting perpetually
Through corrupting all Globe - addicting gas, inciting riots.

Only legitimate, or at least understandable interest Russia
has - negotiate free and mutually beneficial trade, projects
Some global Security, as equals, with independent Ukraine
And other countries around Russian borders, including new
EU members, starting with return of land, property and rest.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 02, 2014 20:13
Ataman is cosak not russian
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
August 03, 2014 21:27
It is Varag too, and all-Russian tyranny obsession with
"Brigant" mentality of "Sten'ka Razin".

by: sandy miller from: usa
July 31, 2014 03:35
Come on media stop this war now. Why allow anymore blood on your hands with propaganda? Tell Putin to let Ukraine go. Stop supporting the seperatists. Let Ukraine go their own way and try to rebuild themselves. Ukraine is no threat to Russia and neither is the USA. No one wants WW3.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 02, 2014 20:15
you don't know ukraine

ukraine is divided country

divided into russians and ukrainians

ukrainians hate russians
In Response

by: Konstantin! from: Los Angeles
August 05, 2014 00:24
Ukrainians hate nobody, but Russians call "hate" any dignity
of non-Russians - any resistance is killed.
Your pact of 1954-56 try divide Ukraine with Germans-Austrians!
Ask intermarried in Ukraine,
unless one of them is a "Stervyatnik"-Nazi.
Ukraine must be one of the best and stable country in Center of Europe, with mutually beneficial trade an projects West and East, including Russia.
You use old known paradox:
"Stervyatnik's" spies pose as haters of Russia.
"Plantagenot's" and Hitler's spies pose as haters of the West.
Stealing hat screams – “Lovite vora!”

by: Neil Omalley from: Austin Texas
July 31, 2014 05:55
Thanks for this insightful glance into one of the important cogs in the kremlin machine. This is one of the more "stand-out" articles I have read over the recent developments in eastern Ukraine and will certainly eye on this character. Kudos, Brian.

by: michael walters from: canada
July 31, 2014 16:28
80 children and babies bodies are still out there....thanks to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
In Response

by: Bill
August 01, 2014 06:49
More like thanks to Western governments that support a divisive regime in Kiev, whose armed activity created the circumstances for a civilian airliner shoot down - something not yet fully established.
In Response

by: Tom H
August 02, 2014 03:05
The Western governments weren't ones to send in trained and armed militia into a foreign country to start a war. That was Putin
In Response

by: Ukrainian from the USA from: Ukrainian from USA
August 27, 2014 06:51
The whole situation is the result of undeclared Cold War 2 on Russia that was started in 1990. Hence West has to share the burden of blame too. I blame Putin and government in Kiev. Yet real criminal liability lies with those who allowed that plane to fly over war zone.

by: moderateGuy from: Henderson, NV, US
July 31, 2014 17:56
"If at some point it becomes evident that the insurgents had some connection to this [downing of MH17]...[Putin would wash his hands of the terrorists]" - he meant 'if at some point the evidence of who did this cannot be hidden and obfuscated any longer', right?
I thought so.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 02, 2014 20:22
we are still waiting for the evidence of your U.S. Government

we are still waiting for the recordings
between Ukrainians air traffic controllers and pilots of 777

this after two weeks

and you still have the nerve to accuse without evidence

by: bob from: europe somewhere
July 31, 2014 18:58
All anyone needs to know about russia can be summed up by :

Holodomor 1932, Attack on winter war Finland 1939, treaty with Hitler to devour Poland 1939, budapest 1956, prague 1968 , KAL 007 airline shoot down 1980's . Case closed .
In Response

by: doublebo6 from: uzhorod
August 01, 2014 01:16
not quite. youre forgetting;
ignoring Kursk, killing russian citizens in theatre seige, bombing of moscow but blamed on chechens, litvinenko......100 maidan protesters...
In Response

by: John from: Nevada
August 04, 2014 23:14
.......and forgetting Beslan.....apartment bombings also blamed on Chechens.
Comments page of 2

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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

17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

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


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.


Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)



Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)


A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014


According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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