Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Putin Crosses The 'Lockerbie Line'

A protester holds up a photo of Vladimir Putin and Muammar Qaddafi in front of the White House on March 31, 2011.
A protester holds up a photo of Vladimir Putin and Muammar Qaddafi in front of the White House on March 31, 2011.

After getting pounded in the information war in the immediate aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Russia struck back this week -- albeit in a pretty unconvincing way.

The Kremlin released an odd video statement early on July 21 in which a visibly haggard Vladimir Putin blamed Kyiv for the disaster, called for negotiations to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and warned that "nobody has the right to use this tragedy to achieve selfish political ends." 

Later in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry dialed it up a bit. At a briefing in a slick high-tech conference room, generals spoke before flashing radar images on giant screens in a scene reminiscent of "Dr. Strangelove."

They claimed that an Su-25 Ukrainian fighter jet had tracked the Boeing 777 passenger jetliner prior to its crash and denied that Russia had provided separatists with antiaircraft systems -- or any other weapons. 

The generals overlooked the fact that an Su-25 can fly at a maximum altitude of 7,000 meters without a payload of weapons and at 5,000 meters when fully armed. MH17 was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters.

Nevertheless, the allegation managed to muddy the waters for a bit. But hijacking a news cycle here and there won't be enough to change the predominant narrative that is quickly hardening as the evidence accumulates that MH17 was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russia separatists.

"Although the Crimean and Ukrainian operations have shown how effective even seemingly crude information warfare can be in distracting, bamboozling, and blunting Western concern, it is hard to see how Moscow can spin this one away," Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia's security services at New York University and co-host of the Power Vertical Podcast, wrote in "Foreign Policy."

On last week's podcast, a recurring theme was that Putin had crossed something that Kirill Kobrin, co-editor of the Moscow-based history magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas," called "the Lockerbie line," in reference to the terrorist attack that downed Pan American Flight 103 in 1988.

That is, that, like Muammar Qaddafi then, the Russian president may have crossed the psychological point where it becomes very difficult -- if not impossible -- to even pretend that he is a respectable leader anymore.

"It is going to be very difficult not to regard Putin's Russia as essentially an aggressive, subversive, and destabilizing nation after this. This one plane becomes symbolic of so much more," Galeotti said on the podcast

"I do think that Russia's position in the world will have changed irrevocably. I do think people will be thinking of Putin and the Putin regime as a problem. And the inclination is going to be: What do we do about this problem?"

Others, like "Washington Post" columnist and author Anne Applebaum, have picked up on the Lockerbie metaphor.

"When the Libyan government brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, the West closed ranks and isolated the Libyan regime," Applebaum wrote in a recent column.

Even before the downing of Flight MH17, Kremlin watchers like Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University were arguing that Russia's proxy war in eastern Ukraine amounted to "state-sponsored terrorism" (by U.S. law's definition of the term) and should be treated as such. 

Meanwhile, Reuters reported, quoting Western diplomats and officials, that the Red Cross has made a confidential legal assessment that Ukraine is officially in a war and shared that assessment bilaterally. The move opens up the possibility for future war crimes prosecutions, including potentially for the downing of Flight MH17.

"Clearly it's an international conflict, and therefore this is most probably a war crime," an unidentified Western diplomat told Reuters.

And even if it never comes to that, Putin is already losing a degree of the soft power he had been accumulating -- particularly in Europe.

"If it turns out -- as appears to be the case -- that Russia supplied air defense systems to the separatists and sent crews to man them (since operating those systems requires extensive training), Russia could be held responsible for shooting down the plane," George Friedman wrote in  

"And this means Moscow's ability to divide the Europeans from the Americans would decline. Putin then moves from being an effective, sophisticated ruler who ruthlessly uses power to being a dangerous incompetent supporting a hopeless insurrection with wholly inappropriate weapons."

Speaking on July 22, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite criticized European leaders for sacrificing their values and their security for the sake of doing business with Putin, who she said operates according to the principle of "buy and rule."

"We see the Mistralization of European policy," Grybauskaite said, in reference to France's $1.6 billion deal to supply Russia with two Mistral warships.

Hours later, French President French President Francois Hollande said he was prepared to back out of part of that deal.

Hollande said he was ready to cancel the sale of the second Mistral -- which is not yet paid for and is due to be delivered in 2016 -- if the European Union decides to expand its sanctions against Moscow, Bloomberg reported.

"I don't think there is any way that Putin can phoenix-like emerge from these flames as some kind of reinvented and reborn friend of the West and ally," Galeotti said on last week's Power Vertical Podcast.

"No politician is going to be saying they peered into his eyes and looked into his soul and thought he was a wonderful chap."

But if Putin has truly become that toxic, what effect will that have on Kremlin policy? Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky is not optimistic.

"If he feels the pressure increase on him, he may boost help for the separatists, stoke up the confrontation with the West, thereby raising the stakes of the game," Belkovsky wrote in "Snob."

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Ukraine,Vladimir Putin,Russia,Ukraine Crisis,Muammar Qaddafi,Flight MH17

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: George from Georgia from: USA
July 22, 2014 19:15
... except Qaddafi did not have several thousand nuclear warheads and basically held "only" 5 or 6 million Libyans hostage, while Putins hostages are, at the very lest, several hundred million people of Russia and neighboring countries, but probably the entire world :(
I think the only way out is to make Russians suffer, so that they (eventually) overthrow him and move Russia toward democracy
In Response

by: Pat Saison from: CT
July 22, 2014 22:12
Hey, Putin is a good leader, and not as much a devil and US makes him out to be. He's got more gumption than Obama. It is a difficult situation, no one wanted to down a civilian plane, and he certainly cannot be condemned or held responsible for it.

Situation is more cloudy than when US shot down Iranian civilian airliner--that was even less excusable--trained personnel making error in judgment.
In Response

by: Samuel from: Russia
July 23, 2014 23:51
I think we should sanction the USA for Iraq, Afganistan, Libiya, Yugoslavia..... The list will continue..... There seems to be one rule for the USA and another for Russia. The whole world knows that the USA simply does what it wants.Who gave it the right to be God? why do the USA decide who is right and what should be done?
In Response

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
July 23, 2014 15:21
It is not in the interest of the USA or anyone else to try and destabilize Russia in any way, nor is it our place to meddle in their politics. The restraint Russia has shown so far would not continue if we do not respond in kind.
In Response

by: Pat Saison from: CT
July 24, 2014 18:54
USA assumes it is first among equals, and it is superior to others, and need not obey rules--and cites rules that should apply to others, and yet violates or does not adhere to them. Do as I say but not as I do.

This is the definition of a bully, and what a bully never wants is a challenger, or potential challenger. That is why it is always against Russia, and trying to contain China. A bully always justifies its actions, and whatever it does is noble and benign, whereas others are malignant and evil.

Bully likes its little cronies to toe the line and suck up. Europe used to, now not listening. In Asia, Japan, Philippines and Australia are model cronies--suck up and listen, particularly Philippines and Japan. Japan is wagging its tail mightily, getting concessions from its master.

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
July 23, 2014 02:35
Another Putin-watershed? I have doubts. It’s July and warm now, but the political leadership in many European countries understand that they will be booted out of office if their electorate freezes this winter.

While it does nothing to console the grieving, the pro-Russian separatists (if they were indeed responsible for downing MH-17) were not likely aware that they had targeted a civilian airliner on their radar screen. Therefore, the comparison with Qaddafi and the Lockerbie terrorist attack are not altogether accurate/appropriate. Even in an international court, there’s a difference between intentional homicide and manslaughter.

I tend to agree with Belkovsky that there might be a greater danger in cornering Putin into a political corner. Not only does Putin have the support of the Russian people behind him if he were to choose force to secure pro-Russian regions in SE Ukraine, but isolating him internationally may help to transform Putin into an actual pariah where he feels that further aggression is the only option. Seems like a sure recipe for a wider conflict.

I fear that the conduct of the current government in Kiev is not winning the hearts and minds of the locals in the Donbass region. Until they do, I’m afraid that Putin is going to remain popular (at least among many Russians) and this conflict will continue to boil.
In Response

by: Regular Joe from: USA
July 23, 2014 18:32
I generally agree with your comments on the validity of comparing the shooting down of MH-17 w/ Lockerbie, but why the legalistic disclaimer about if the separatists were "indeed responsible"? The data already released shows pretty clearly the plane was shot down by a powerful, advanced SAM located in the separatist-occupied region. The only way the separatists aren't responsible is if the SAM system was manned by actual Russian military personnel, in which case Putin's guilt would be unquestionable. The separatists accidentally (drunkenly and incompetently) shooting down the jetliner is the most likely and at this point, least condemnable, possibility.

As for the Ukrainian government's legitimacy, from what I've read elsewhere, Ukrainian public opinion is coalescing against Russia, with the exception of areas under separatist control, even in the east. Even most of the "separatists" aren't from the Donbass, but rather mercenaries and adventure seekers from all over the former Soviet Union.

If this incident doesn't severely damage Putin's reputation (and eventually, power) at home, it says nothing good about the Russian people.
In Response

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
July 23, 2014 20:53
Thanks for your comment. My doubts likely stem from what I consume. I spend most of my working hours monitoring Russian state media, and the difference between the Western/US narrative and that of the Kremlin-approved media regarding this tragedy is black and white. As a number of sources have pointed out, legions of Kremlin spin-meisters have created a powerful counter-narrative which places the blame for this disaster on leaders in Washington and Kiev. Given the info-diet of the average Russian, where the Kremlin leadership is portrayed as defending the country against western jackals, this disaster will likely only further popular support for Putin.

You have to give the Russians some credit. They have been working overtime to counteract the first incriminating evidence which pointed to the pro-Russian separatists in E. Ukraine as the culprits to this unintentional crime (whom I tend to believe as the responsible party).

For those who know Russian, Yulia Latynina dedicated her weekly radio program ‘Access Code’ on Echo Moscow this past Saturday (19 July) to sorting out the early intel. Her indictment is damning. She maintains that the Bukh AD system was moved in from Russia just prior to the shoot down and returned early the following morning (18 July). She believes that the weapon system was likely manned by regular Russian soldiers/officers, familiar with the complexity of this system, and they were attempting to shoot down another Ukrainian transport plane (based on leaked intel from the Ukr Gen Staff). I have monitored her broadcasts for the past couple of years and most of her observations have withstood scrutiny. I suspect she has access to some good Russian sources. She provides a number of other important details and context for this disaster. (link below)
In Response

by: zinck from: europe
July 23, 2014 22:09
Putins "army" are not nice people - a bunch of trigger-happy psychopaths. These type of conflicts tend to attract the worst elements, on both sides. Our social norms forbid killing people, but in this case, it is perfectly accepted and encouraged, you get even paid for the killing. So much for that.

Putin is playing with fire... as a good sport he is enjoying the game. However, the conflict in East Ukraine will probably spill over into Russia. Shooting from Russian soil on Ukrainian forces have been reported several times. Also the Russian side has received some stray artillery shells from Ukrainian side. The border is not very well defined, which makes the whole thing even more explosive.

At some point, there will be an accident with many victims on Russian side, similar to MH17, like a shell hitting a Russian school. Then Putin will be drawn directly into the conflict, to his personal regret and to the joy of the separatists (they have been trying to drag Russia into the fighting for 3 months). A real war will start, not a war game with some sociopaths, which are expendable. Sanctions and cold war will move to a completely new level of bellicosity.

by: Anonymous
July 23, 2014 03:25
no shame on your faces
realy false as giuda .
You don't shows any evidance after 6 days
and still you ape here doing your job of layer .
Mercenaries of information !

by: Stupid Lying Yanks from: US of Ass
July 23, 2014 12:03
More pathetic US propaganda.

Despicable war warmongering scum!

In Response

by: Dan from: Czech Republic
July 23, 2014 14:25
Tell us how you really feel!
In Response

by: jojnjo from: Dublin, Ireland
July 23, 2014 15:14
Keep it up...Radio Free Europe & Power Vertical, seemingly the Russian & Separatists trolls don't like seeing or hearing the truth.

Oh as regards Putin, I told you at the beginning of his charade into Crimea...that he would bring the world lots of "Misery" & he has!

In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 23, 2014 15:32
Ah, just let them talk. Can't you see they are bluffing? They will lose the war in Ukraine the same way the lost the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or will screw up the same way they did in Venezuela.
The Ukrainian military is running out of everything: they raised the upper conscription age up to 60 (!!!) years yesterday, imagine! The next step of Ukraine will be making 13 year old boys join the national guard and send them to "fight" in Donetsk. I remember one guy from Germany tried to do something like that back in 1945, but it did not really help him...

by: American Tolerast
July 23, 2014 16:44
We should all try to stay positive. At least the planes bringing remains back home to the Netherlands won't have extra weight from jewelry, purses, or wallets. Likewise, the liquor stores and brothels of the Donetsk People's Republic, roughly 70% of its GDP, will run a brisk business for at least the next week.

by: Gregory Allen Leeds from: Lewes,DE. USA
July 23, 2014 20:39
The news reports about the re-opening of the listening post at Lourdes, Cuba was countermanded by Putin hinself and has to be looked at as a possible cause for the act. Putin was put in the same position by his onetime ally Hugo Chavez, who had him on a podium when Chavez started ranting into a TV camera on a mirophone demanding the Qeeen of England give back the Falkland Islands to Argentina. The implication of Russia siding with Argentina could not have been lost on the Royal Navy, who the Former Soviet Union would not tangle with when they did have the ships under Gorshkov.

by: arslonga vitabrevis from: usa
July 24, 2014 06:54
What worries me is that Putin, Girkin and Demon will pull this again and it will only escalate. There is nothing that has proven to really call them to task.
I feel there could have been survivors at the site that, if rescuer’s were allowed on site, may have saved. After reading about how the terrorists captured and beat a local man going on site to help any survivor, I wondered if the terrorists had murdered any survivors.
So I did some research. There could have been survivors. Furthermore I found something alarming - a historical scenario much like this that shows this could be repeated and Putin and the rebels could shoot down another airliner if they are as inhuman and bent on destruction as ZIPRA was.
In researching all other plane shoot downs that did indeed have survivors, as I feel the rebels are guilty of murder in denying access to the area thereby denying rescue; they did not have all bodies accounted for and therefore could not know if they missed anyone that was perhaps still alive…but in researching I found that there have been other instances where there have been survivors. Not only this but the terrorists who found the plane shot the survivors. Not only this but after they did this the first time, they did it a second time, 5 months later. It was also a regular carrier, Air Rhodesia, carrying civilians. The situation was The Rhodesian Bush War where first flight 825 was shot down and then 5 months later 827 was shot down by ZIPRA guerillas in 1978 and 1979; look it up on Wikipedia.
This is alarming. I think the Rebels and Putin are insane. I would not trust them to not pull this again after researching on the likelihood of survivors and seeing this is not the first time something this horrible has happened. These people have no souls.

by: just think from: australia
July 27, 2014 02:05
Who thinks that Putin is so stupid to shoot down a passanger liner and damage his position in that way. Its quite possible that the separatists have the weapons system in question from before the civil war. But even then its unclear what they would want them gor since they are quite successful in bringing down low-flying attack planes.

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



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."

11:01 October 23, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Top managers at a Moscow airport have resigned and four more airport workers have been detained over a plane crash that killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when a corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee said on October 23 that prosecutors had detained an air-traffic controller intern, her supervisor, the head of air-traffic controllers, and the chief of runway cleaning.

Meanwhile, the airport announced the resigntion of its director-general, Andrei Dyakov, and his deputy, Sergei Solntsev.

And a Moscow court ordered that the snowplough driver remain in custody until December 21.

The driver says that he has lost his bearings before the collision.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and TASS)

And these items from Reuters:


By Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A Russian court decided on Thursday to postpone to next week a hearing on a move to wrest control of an oil company from oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, a case that has deepened investors' fears the Kremlin wants to reclaim prized assets.

Russian prosecutors filed the suit last month to regain state ownership of Bashneft, saying there had been alleged violations in the privatisation and subsequent sale of the oil producer to Russian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Sistema in 2009.

On Thursday, the judge at the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled in favour of the prosecutors who had requested more time to prepare their case and said the next hearing would take place on Oct. 30.

Sistema's shares, which lost 70 percent after it reached a peak this year in July, traded down nearly 5 percent in early trading in Moscow. Bashneft's shares were down 1.3 percent on the day.

In September, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of Sistema's majority stake in Bashneft a day after a judge refused to release Yevtushenkov, who is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition.

The case centres on the privatisation of oil production and refining assets in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan in the Ural mountains in the early 2000s and Bashneft's subsequent sale to Sistema.

The Russian investigators say the privatisation and the sale was illegal.

Sistema, which directly owns almost 72 percent of Bashneft's voting rights and has a stake of 86.7 percent, including 12.6 percent which it owns through its subsidiary Sistema-Invest, has denied the allegations.

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

Some analysts have said that state-controlled Rosneft , Russia's biggest oil producer run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, was interested in buying Bashneft.

The company, Russia's sixth largest crude oil producer, extracted more than 16 million tonnes (320,000 barrels per day) of crude oil last year, increasing output by more than 4 percent - the best results among domestic majors after launching production at new deposits in the Arctic.

Its oil refining capacity stands at 24.1 million tonnes a year. (Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; writing by Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Elizabeth Piper and William Hardy)


BRUSSELS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - NATO and Swedish fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian intelligence-gathering plane that briefly entered Estonian airspace on Tuesday, the alliance said on Wednesday.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry called the Russian ambassador to the ministry and gave him a protest note over the incursion, the Estonian defence forces said.

Fighters from Denmark as well as Portuguese F-16s from NATO's air policing mission in the Baltics took off after radar detected an unidentified aircraft flying close to NATO airspace in the Baltic Sea, NATO said.

The plane was identified as a Russian IL-20 intelligence-gathering aircraft that had taken off from Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, heading towards Denmark.

The Russian aircraft was first intercepted by Danish F-16s and later, as it headed further north, by fighters from Sweden, which is not a NATO member.

The Russian aircraft turned south again, entering Estonian airspace for less than one minute, a NATO statement said.

Portuguese F-16s, which had been scrambled from their base in Lithuania, escorted the Russian plane away from NATO airspace.

Interceptions of Russian military aircraft by NATO planes over the Baltic region have increased since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March, but usually Russian planes only approach NATO airspace and do not enter it, a NATO source said.

At a time when tension between Russia and the West is running high over Ukraine, Swedish forces have been scouring the sea off Stockholm following reports of activity by foreign submarines or divers using an underwater vehicle. (Reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and David Mardiste in Tallinn; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

11:12 October 22, 2014


In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.


08:27 October 22, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:


European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

Oettinger said as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia before the end of this year.

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

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


The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)


The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and


Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)


16:08 October 17, 2014


I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.


We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.


Latest Podcasts

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