Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

Leonid Ilyich And Vladimir Vladimirovich

A man looks at a cartoon depicting Premier Vladimir Putin (left) and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in a magazine in Moscow.
A man looks at a cartoon depicting Premier Vladimir Putin (left) and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in a magazine in Moscow.
A lot has already been written about the interview Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov gave to the independent television network "Dozhd," in which he praised Leonid Brezhnev's rule.

In Moscow, within the Garden Ring, you can hear words about Putin’s Brezhnevization. People who say this usually do not know anything about the Brezhnev’s period. You know, Brezhnev is not a minus for our country’s history. He is a huge plus. He set up the base for our economy, agriculture, and so on.


Peskov is correct, but only to a point. By Soviet standards, as I have blogged here and here, the early part of Brezhnev's rule was seen as a success. His "stability of cadres" policy gave the elite job security (and personal security) that they lacked in during the Stalin and Khrushchev periods. He brought the Soviet Union to rough military parity with the United States. Living standards, again by Soviet standards, rose -- mostly thanks to rising oil prices.

And then came the late 1970s and early 1980s. Stability of cadres kept an ossified and moribund elite in power. Oil prices dropped, crippling the Soviet economy leading to shortages of consumer goods. Militarily, the Soviet Union began to fall behind the West.

On the Brezhnev timeline, Putin (who has been in power for 12 years) is now in the late 1970s -- 1976 to be exact, just before things started to fall apart.

Interestingly enough, 1976-77 was also when Brezhnev was widely rumored to be considering resigning. Accounts vary, with some claiming that Brezhnev decided against this himself and others suggesting that he was talked out of it by the Soviet leadership.

The 2008 Russian documentary film, "Leonid Brezhnev: Burnt By Power," cites members of the ruling elite as saying that Brezhnev wanted to resign in 1976 but was urged to stay by his inner circle because nobody else was capable of balancing the interests of the various clans in the ruling elite. Sound familiar?

One thing that jumps out at you about the documentary is that in the early part of his rule, Brezhnev looks healthy, athletic, and positively Putin-esque -- before degenerating into the doddering stumbling Brezhnev we all remember.


Putin was also widely rumored to be looking for a way to step down back in 2007 and, according to some reports, was not thrilled about the prospect of returning to the presidency in 2012.

But like Brezhnev, he is the only one seen as capable of balancing the interests of the competing clans in his ruling circle.

The more things change...

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Leonid Brezhnev

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Comment Sorting
by: SeansRussiaBlog from: Pittsburgh, PA
October 07, 2011 18:22
I'm always a bit wary of simple historical comparisons, though I am tend to make them myself. Basically, it's too soon to tell if Putin will be another Brezhnev. I think its important to remember that Russia has a long history of rulers in power for decades, and it always didn't end in degradation.

That said, I think one issue you bring up is worth thinking about in regard to Putin as Brezhnev: "Like Brezhnev, [Putin] is the only one seen as capable of balancing the interests of the competing clans in his ruling circle." If this is true, and I suspect it is, then this should cause us to reconsider how we view Russia. Namely, that a) Putin is a prisoner of the system he created 2) my own touted notion of the "contradiction of centralization" (see my Putin comment:; 3) Russia's ruling class and state is weaker than its given credit; 4) Russia's future might be more dire than a Brezhnev. If Putin keeps the elites together then Putin as Lenin might be a more apt comparison just for the infighting that might erupt when he finally leaves.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 07, 2011 19:14
"it's too soon to tell if Putin will be another Brezhnev"

But surely, Sean, you don't advocate that we wait until we know for sure that Putin is another Brezhnev before we oppose him, right? Surely, we don't have to wait until we see people marching into a new GULAG archipelago (as if we don't already see that), right?

Surely, you admit that those who told us Putin would not return, and who therefore advocated doing nothing to oppose his return, badly misled us, and that we should be extremely careful about repeating that awful, costly, paintful mistake again. Right?

After all, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!

We at LR find it highly inadvisable to take any kind of advice about how to address current events from historians. With their heads buried in the sands of the past, their comments can't but be useless at best, dangerous at worst.
In Response

by: GaryD from: Washington DC
October 10, 2011 11:20
There are plenty of reason not to like Putin - being a new Brezhnev seems to be the least of it. The only way he could be considered another Brezhnev is to define "being Brezhnev" so loosely as to make it meaningless. I mean, the social and economic conditions are totally different, his power over the country is much less, he hasn't had a stroke or whatever it was, isn't an alcoholic, and on and on.

"We at LR find it highly inadvisable to take any kind of advice about how to address current events from historians. With their heads buried in the sands of the past, their comments can't but be useless at best, dangerous at worst."

I hope you intended a large helping of hyperbole here! Historians have a lot to say that's valuable; you just have to know how to use what they say. For example, trying to understand Russia without knowing how power was exercised in the Soviet days is madness.
In Response

by: Mark from: Canada
October 10, 2011 23:11
Your final paragraph contains a typo, and should read;

"We at LR find it highly inadvisable to take any kind of advice from anyone who actually knows anything, opting instead to rely upon whatever noxious trash Novaya Gazeta makes up, because what we like to hear will always triumph over what is real".

As evidence of your general unreliability, I offer the reality that Russia has been a country - or a federation - for longer than the USA has been a union of states, and has still not collapsed. On average you have predicted its immediate collapse, or actually argued that such a collapse is already in progress, every two months for the past four years. You have yet to forecast the collapse of the United States. Yet Russia has the third-largest cash reserves in the world and the lowest debt in the G20, while the USA is the world's biggest debtor in terms of external debt owed to foreign creditors. I'd be hard-pressed to name a current historian with that kind of dismal record.

In case you go to your veterinarian for financial advice, or some random person who tells you what you like to hear, I feel ethically bound to tell you that having a lot of external debt is a very bad position, while having large cash reserves is a very good position. While forecasting the USA's collapse based on this would be foolish, it could be argued that under present conditions the USA is considerably closer to collapse than Russia is.
In Response

by: Maria from: Ritterdam
October 11, 2011 21:12
And who are you to give any kind of advice or analysis on Russia?

by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 08, 2011 12:54
"Putin was also widely rumored to be looking for a way to step down back in 2007 and, according to some reports, was not thrilled about the prospect of returning to the presidency in 2012."

-- Maybe that was propaganda, designed to get us to drop our guard and lower resistance to his return?

"But like Brezhnev, he is the only one seen as capable of balancing the interests of the competing clans in his ruling circle."

-- If that is true, Russia is only putting off the day of its collapse, because Putin will not live forever. Soon after Brezhnev disappeared, so did the USSR. Will Russia disappear with out Putin? If so, it is a country in name only.

by: GaryD from: Washington, DC
October 09, 2011 16:24
'Clans' is a convenient short-cut, but is that really accurate? I think of them more as retainers, people who owe their power to Putin personally and are allowed to steal as much as they can so long as they don't get carried away, and they respond when Putin calls. They have their own retainers, but loyalty is barely skin deep, and the retainers won't hesitate to replace their bosses if given the opportunity.

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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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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