Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

Siloviki TV

Russian opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov (right) gestures as he is escorted from his apartment after being detained in Moscow on October 17.
Russian opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov (right) gestures as he is escorted from his apartment after being detained in Moscow on October 17.
If you happen to find yourself featured in an NTV documentary, then you'd best watch your back.

On October 5, the state-controlled television station broadcast the second installment of its "Anatomy of a Protest" series, in which it accused Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov of plotting with senior Georgian officials to stage a coup in Russia.

Five days later, on October 10, Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko instructed the upper chamber of parliament's Defense and Security Committee to investigate the allegations.

And on the morning of October 17, agents from the Investigative Committee -- which has gleefully taken on the role of Russia's "politics police" -- raided the apartments of Udaltsov and two associates, took them in for questioning, and announced they had opened a criminal case based on the NTV documentary.

If you end up being the subject of discussion on an NTV talk show, trouble could be on the way.

On October 13, the host and guests on the program "Metla" spent a good portion of their time smearing the upcoming primary elections to the opposition's Coordinating Council. Among the allegations were that opposition leaders like anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny intended to falsify the online vote, scheduled for October 20-21. The program also suggested that organizers had committed financial improprieties involving candidate-registration fees.

Four days later, prosecutors announced that they were launching a criminal investigation into potential fraud and embezzlement by the organizers of the primaries.

NTV, which is owned by the state-run natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, appears to have become the stalking horse of Russia's security services.

It has long been derisively dubbed "Mentovskoye televideniye," or Cop TV, due to its tendency to air police shows and true-crime dramas. But it is increasingly looking more like Siloviki TV, the place where opposition leaders are smeared with material "leaked" by the security services in slickly produced programs -- complete with dramatic lighting and ominous background music.

The effort has two obvious goals: to discredit key opposition figures in the eyes of the public and to lay the groundwork for potential prosecutions.

And the two most recent targets -- Udaltsov and the primaries for the Coordinating Council -- are particularly telling about what threats the authorities see on the horizon.

A protester holds a banner calling for a boycott of NTV at a rally in support of jailed opposition activists and civil society members in Moscow in March.A protester holds a banner calling for a boycott of NTV at a rally in support of jailed opposition activists and civil society members in Moscow in March.
A protester holds a banner calling for a boycott of NTV at a rally in support of jailed opposition activists and civil society members in Moscow in March.
A protester holds a banner calling for a boycott of NTV at a rally in support of jailed opposition activists and civil society members in Moscow in March.
Udaltsov is a threat because as the authorities implement what promise to be painful reforms of the social-welfare sector, he will increasingly become a key -- if not the key -- player in the protest movement.

"He is an atypical leftwing politician who could potentially put together competition for the Communists and create a leftist opposition," Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies told "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

"We are now approaching a period of strong social protest that is inevitable in light of the impending crisis and the reforms that the regime is being forced to implement."

And if the opposition manages to elect a Coordinating Council with real democratic legitimacy -- admittedly a big "if" given the splits in its ranks -- it could become, at least in moral terms, a shadow parliament that represents what I have come to call "The Other Russia."

"The key to [President Vladimir] Putin's black PR campaign is to portray the opposition as radicals, anarchists, or ultranationalists who lack both a cogent political program and leadership experience," opposition figure Vladimir Ryzhkov wrote in a recent op-ed in "The Moscow Times."

"They are portrayed by the Kremlin's propaganda machine as self-serving puppets of Western powers who hang out by foreign embassies in Moscow begging for financial support. The other message Putin is trying to send is that opposition leaders based in Moscow are out of touch with the common people in the regions and don't understand their problems and needs."

But the smears could also backfire and lead to greater solidarity among the opposition's ideologically diverse ranks.

Soon after the smear against Udaltsov was launched, much of the opposition -- from social democrats like Gennady Gudkov to rightists like Navalny to socialite-turned-activist Ksenia Sobchak -- rushed to offer moral support.

"The little nips at the opposition by the regime are consolidating this community and this entire subculture because they feel they are in a besieged fortress and they're sticking by one another. They are forgetting about their political differences," Bunin told "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: ntv,Sergei Udaltsov

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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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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