Sunday, October 26, 2014


The Power Vertical

Russia's Indispensable Man

Summer camp for pro-Putin youth movements in the Tver region.
Summer camp for pro-Putin youth movements in the Tver region.
Vladimir Putin isn’t going anywhere.

All other analysis of where Russia is headed post-2012 must proceed from this basic assumption.

Putin may very well end up returning to the Kremlin, as much of the Moscow punditocracy seems to expect at this point, in which case Medvedev would become an interesting historical footnote.

Or, he could continue to rule as Russia’s informal national leader essentially extending the tandem's shelf life -- and Medvedev's presidency -- for another six years. In this case, the only question remaining would be which official post he occupies.

Regardless, at the end of the day, this is Putin’s show.

I recently spoke to Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center about the source of Putin's indispensability to the current system (sorry, no link since the interview is still unpublished):

Putin designed a system of managed conflict. There is no competition in public. But he created different clans and groups who are fighting against each other. This is the way Putin keeps control over the system.  He is a judge and arbiter who is keeping the balance among them. It is impossible for him to leave. It is impossible to imagine this system without him because all of the agreements are guaranteed by him. Without him, all of these clans would fight each other, like after Stalin's death.

Kremlin-watchers say this system of interlocking and competing clans that is managed by Putin comprises the core of Russia's ruling elite. The key players, the people with decision making power, number about thirty. The inner circle, most agree, comprises about twelve people.

Petrov describes them as "shareholders" and "managers":

There are something like a dozen of the most influential guys in the first circle and perhaps two dozen who are less influential in the second circle. These are not only managers but also shareholders who are not that visible or public...Not only do they manage Russia...but they also enrich themselves pretty actively. Russia is also personalistic in that although these guys play an important role, it is Putin who is the major arbiter and who can even replace them.

Some analysts, like Yevgeny Minchenko and Vladimir Pribylovsky, call the core ruling elite "Putin's Politburo." Others playfully refer to it as "the Collective Putin." In a recent report for Chatham House, Andrew Monaghan of the NATO Defense College called it "The Team."

I prefer to call it Russia's emerging "Deep State" (and am working on a longer feature-length piece on the subject, so if you're interested, stay tuned).

In addition to Putin and Medvedev, the core group, according to Minchenko and others, comprises Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin, Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff (and informal ideologist) Vladislav Surkov, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin,  and businessmen Yury Kovalchuk (widely seen as "Putin's personal banker"), Gennady Timchenko, Roman Abramovich, and Alisher Usmanov.

And since this Politburo, Collective Putin, or Deep State comprises "shareholders," they are above all concerned with preserving their status, power, and by extension, their wealth.

If they believe -- and ultimately decide -- that they can do that by loosening up the system by moving to a system of managed pluralism, that is what they will do. This is the option preferred by Kudrin and his allies in the technocratic wing of the elite.

If they conclude that the only way to maintain control is by maintaining, and perhaps even strengthening, the vertically integrated authoritarian state Putin established, then they will go down that road. This is the option favored by Sechin and many of his siloviki allies.

Both choices have implicit risks, as I have blogged in the past. As the late 1980s and early 1990s show, the managed pluralism route can easily spin out of control and lead to -- ghasp! - real pluralism (which many in the elite see as chaos). And as the Soviet 1970s show, failure to open up and modernize the system can result in ossification and stagnation.

Which negative set of lessons will prevail -- those of Mikhail Gorbachev and perestroika or those of Leonid Brezhnev and the period of "zastoi" -- is still up in the air.

And this is the main question to watch, rather than all the hand wringing and navel gazing over whether Putin or Medvedev will occupy the Kremlin post-2012.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,2012 elections,Dmitry Medvedev,Kremlin clans

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ivanushka the fool from: Mother Russia
August 16, 2011 22:26
Molodets Vlad. Dracula puu-teen is going nowhere,but unfortunately he is dragging the whole `country` with him on his private kgb journey to hell /and no back /.All this will end into another third world war conflict to end all conflicts.When we all go to hell the man will be waiting for us there.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
August 17, 2011 11:09
So let's see: (1) A proud KGB spy rules Russia (2) by means of a Politburo (3) to the tune of the national anthem of the USSR (4) shamelessly rigging elections and seizing opposition party newspapers (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/st-pete-police-confiscate-newspapers-criticizing-matviyenko/442167.html) and (5) rehabilitating Stalin. Seems like those who told us Russia could "never go back" to the Soviet days may have been mistaken?

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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