Saturday, October 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

Putin Presses The Reset Button

The old unwritten contract under which officials were allowed to line their pockets to their heart's content and bend the rules with abandon in exchange for unswerving loyalty to Vladimir Putin is being renegotiated.
The old unwritten contract under which officials were allowed to line their pockets to their heart's content and bend the rules with abandon in exchange for unswerving loyalty to Vladimir Putin is being renegotiated.
Vladimir Pekhtin did not go down easily. He needed a little push.
 
Amid the scandal that erupted when bloggers exposed Pekhtin's undeclared real estate holdings in Miami, he huddled late into the night with top Kremlin officials. The next morning, Pekhtin announced his resignation from the State Duma, where he had chaired the Ethics Committee.

Pekhtin's departure from the lower house on February 20 was quickly followed by the resignations of two more lawmakers with undeclared property issues, Anatoly Lomakin and Vasily Tolstopyatov.

 And last week's resignations, it seems, were just the beginning.
 
At least six more legislators could also be on their way out soon, according to Russian media reports. And Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko told reporters this week that the resignation virus could soon infect the upper house as well.

 It's tempting to dismiss all this as mere window dressing, a lame attempt by the Kremlin to pretend to care about corruption amid rising public discontent. And while that is certainly part of what is happening, something deeper than just a Potemkin purge also appears to be going on.
 
"This is, in fact, part of the development of a new strategy and a complete reset," Olga Kryshtanovskaya, an expert on the Russian elite, told Gazeta.ru recently.
 
"A certain section of the elite is in a state of obvious confusion. People do not understand what is happening. They doubt whether they can exist within this system. Some are leaving. Some are being dismissed," she said.
 
Speculation is rife in the Russian media that something big is indeed afoot, with the possibilities ranging from a general purging of the ruling United Russia party's ranks to the dismissal of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's government to early Duma elections and a wholesale overhaul of the current party system.
 
"The formation of a new political reality has begun," political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote in Politcom.ru.

The Kremlin appears to have concluded that given the current climate in the country, with animosity toward the elite rising, the prevailing political status quo is no longer sustainable and needs to be shaken up.
 
The old unwritten contract under which officials were allowed to line their pockets to their heart's content and bend the rules with abandon in exchange for unswerving loyalty to Vladimir Putin is being renegotiated.
 
The protests in the winter of 2011-12, she added, spooked Putin's inner circle and exposed them to "new political risks" that needed to be neutralized.
 
"In the second half of last year, the Kremlin started to realize that in the new political reality the reputational risks emanating from unscrupulous officials could lead to destabilization and become a threat to the 'national leader' and the institutions he relies upon," Stanovaya wrote.
 
So we had the anticorruption drive late last year that cost Anatoly Serdyukov his job as defense minister; the new legislation forbidding certain classes of officials from holding foreign assets; the drive to strip Duma deputies of their immunity from prosecution; and, of course, the latest wave of resignations from parliament.
 
The move to compel the elite to repatriate their assets also has a national security component as Moscow takes an increasingly anti-Western line.
 
As political analyst Kirill Rogov wrote in "Novaya gazeta" this week, the fact that so many Russian officials hold foreign assets gave the West "a degree of influence" over the elite that Putin would prefer to eliminate.

The current noise about foreign assets and the high-profile resignations, however, appear to be just a warm-up for bigger moves in the coming months that could move beyond parliament.
 
Political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko, whose think tank's "Politburo 2.0" reports on the Russian elite have become must-reads for Kremlin watchers, is predicting a revamp of Russia's ruling coalition in the near future.
 
According to Minchenko Consulting's latest report, Putin is choosing from a number of options as he attempts to revitalize and restore balance to the ruling elite.
 
The softest option would involve a government reshuffle that keeps Medvedev as prime minister, but with strong and staunch Putin loyalists being installed as his deputies -- thereby further emasculating an already weak premier.

More radical options include firing Medvedev's government wholesale and replacing him with either a weak functionary or a strong figure -- like Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin or Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu -- who would be seen as an eventual successor to Putin.
 
A strong possibility, according to the report, would be to hold early Duma elections and follow that up with a government shake-up. And the authors do not rule out the possibility that Putin would allow United Russia to either lose the elections or have a weaker-than-expected showing. He could also use that as a pretext to fire Medvedev.
 
The situation is fluid and there are a lot of balls in the air at the moment, so it is difficult to handicap how this will all shake out in the end. But it does appear that the current status quo is about to be overhauled.
 
-- Brian Whitmore
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Robert from: Prague
February 28, 2013 08:16
What would be the point of early Duma elections? Wouldn't another wave of falsified elections just invigorate the currently tired protest movement?
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
February 28, 2013 15:17
No. The logic is that United Russia would 'lose' the elections, siphoning off social discontent while the Kremlin maintains its working majority in Duma through the smaller pseudo-opposition (but really pro-Kremlin) parties that Volodin has already established. Also gives VVP an excuse to sack DAM. Read the Minchenko Report: http://www.minchenko.ru/netcat_files/File/Politburo_full.pdf
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 28, 2013 17:53
A strong argument has been made that it just doesn't matter, this is much ado about nothing, an attempt to lure suckers into taking their eyes off the ball. Here is that argument:

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/the-question-isnt-who-will-lead-russia/476150.html

Executive summary: Who cares, when Putin will rule by some means until the end of his life, just like Brezhnev.

by: Ben
February 28, 2013 09:38
"The situation is fluid" - hold on to hand-rails!

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 28, 2013 14:11
Of course, a big change is coming to Russia - the same way it does at least once a week over the last ten years, if one believes RFE/RL publications. Sen. McCain can already start packing up his suitcases and start preparing his opening speach for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics :-))

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17:49 October 24, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

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)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

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)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

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 KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

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)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

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

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26 October 24, 2014

SPY VS. SPY

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

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

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)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

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)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

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

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

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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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