Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Essence Of A Decision

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a ceremonial meeting on the Day of Agricultural Worker on October 14 in Moscow.
President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a ceremonial meeting on the Day of Agricultural Worker on October 14 in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin insists it was all decided back in 2007.

In a joint interview Monday with Russia's three national television networks, the prime minister said he and President Dmitry Medvedev had agreed to their 2012 job switch four years ago when he tapped his longtime protégé to replace him in the Kremlin.

Medvedev made a similar claim at the United Russia congress last month. But in a speech on Saturday, he offered a somewhat different account.

Speaking at a town hall meeting at the former Red October chocolate factory that has been converted to host digital startups, Medvedev said he and Putin reached their decision to switch jobs after a “sufficiently long analysis" and that it was not arrived at lightly.

"You know, people say they met somewhere in the woods, on a fishing trip, and changed everything, worked out this configuration and then came out with it at the convention -- it’s not that way at all," Medvedev said.

Maybe this "long analysis" happened back in 2007, but somehow I doubt it.

Since the United Russia congress on September 24, I've been trolling through the Russian media looking for clues about how and why the tandem reached their decision.  Was Putin's return always the plan? Was Medvedev serving a second term ever a serious consideration? Who was involved in the final decision and what was their reasoning?

And although I am nowhere near being able to draw up a reconstruction, some clues are emerging.

"The simplest thing that can be assumed is that the influence groups that I was talking about turned out to be stronger than those who displayed open or hidden support of President Medvedev," Igor Yurgnes, head of the Institute of Contemporary Development told in a recent interview.

That much seems obvious enough? As I blogged recently, there clearly was a battle within the ruling elite and one side won and the other lost. But what tipped the scales?

In a piece in, Tatyana Stanovaya, director of the Center for Political Technology suggests some plausible answers:

They are trying to convince us that the return of Putin to the post of president was planned in advance, as far back as in 2007. However, there are few grounds for believing this, just as there are many grounds for thinking that all the decisions were adopted with a high degree of spontaneity and in a state of high emotion. Only now is it possible to understand precisely what was happening throughout the past year, and how the current decision was made. It is obvious that Putin began to think seriously about his return approximately two years after Medvedev's election, seeing the inordinate activity, and even the pressure of Medvedev, who was seeking to change the established rules of the game.

That would mean the trouble started back in early 2010, according to Stanovaya.

This was a time when Medvedev became increasingly assertive.

It was, for example, when his campaign to purge long-serving regional governors began to gather steam. (This process would climax with Medvedev firing Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov in September of that year -- a move made despite Putin's deep reservations according to some reports.)

There were also stirrings of dissent in the elite at this time. Yurgens' Kremlin-connected Institute for Contemporary Development released a much-discussed report in February 2010 calling for political reform and democratization.

Also in February, Sergei Mironov, then speaker of the Federation Council, publicly criticized Putin's budget, drawing a fierce response from United Russia. Mironov and his A Just Russia party, originally established as a Kremlin-friendly "pocket opposition" force, became increasingly feisty in the months ahead, culminating in his removal from the Federation Council (and by extension the speakership) in May of this year.

And on March 14, 2010, United Russia suffered embarrassing losses in regional elections, which spooked Putin and much of the elite.  

Rumblings of discontent in society also became more visible in 2010, beginning with mass protests in Kaliningrad in January that led to the sacking of Governor Georgy Boos in August.

By late summer of 2010, it appeared that change could be in the air as the authorities badly mishandled raging forest fires, civic groups protested issues like police abuse and the authorities' plans to build a highway through the Khimki Forest outside Moscow.

Meanwhile , musicians like Yury Shevchuk and Noize MC and actors like Aleksei Devotchenko began openly criticizing the authorities.

Medvedev seemed ascendant at this time and Putin, uncharacteristically, appeared defensive and out of touch with the emerging mood.

As 2010 turned into 2011, the trend appeared to accelerate and Medvedev became more confident in pushing his agenda, Stanovaya argued in her article:

Medvedev had begun to push through 'his' vision too quickly, too robustly, and at times too aggressively and irritably. There are some grounds for believing that Putin and his former policies began to literally irritate Medvedev, who was virtually convinced of the correctness of his own second term and the logical nature of such a step. Half of the Russian elite thought likewise.
At the beginning of this year, Medvedev began to behave too energetically, which frightened both Putin and his inner circle. It is possible that Medvedev (and his inner circle likewise) had become so convinced of a second term that he was literally rushing to announce this. Putin was evidently not simply waiting; by now he had began to have strong doubts, not hurrying to take apart the entire game of his successor, who in a state of high emotion could prove to be highly destructive, as can now be seen.

In March 2011, Medvedev ordered government officials to resign their seats on the boards of state corporations, a move widely interpreted as an attack on Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

That same month, Putin and Medvedev openly disagreed over the West's military campaign in Libya. Medvedev even publicly rebuked his mentor for comparing the NATO bombing campaign to a "medieval crusade."

In the end, according to Stanovaya, Putin and his inner circle just considered it too much of a risk to keep Medvedev in the Kremlin for another six years:

Putin, all the signs suggest, was literally unable to make up his mind to risk one more term, trusting the presidency to Medvedev, with whom his relations had begun to deteriorate rapidly and his understanding to disappear. It is possible also to assert with a high degree of confidence that the Medvedev of the 2008 model would have been supported for reelection to a second term: After all, the tandem of the first half of the successor's presidential term was highly effective.

Is Stanovaya correct? She is a solid political analyst, I imagine she has good sources, and her account appears to make sense. The one thing that surprised me was the extent that she sees personal conflict between Putin and Medvedev (rather than just between their respective teams, which I always assumed was the case).

Moreover, the reaction of the elite after September 24 suggests a fair amount of discontent, suggesting there was a fierce argument over the 2012 question.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Putin-Medvedev tandem

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 18, 2011 19:12
So the question is: Is Putin merely lying (i.e., when he said a few months ago that the decision had not been made) or is he lying about lying (i.e., when he says he made the decision years ago)? And more importantly, how long can a country surivive with a liar this braznen and shameless ruling over it?

by: Jesse from: Washington, D.C.
October 18, 2011 20:20
I agree with you that the personal conflict between the two may be overplayed in her analysis, but the narrative is otherwise highly convincing. It seems the main preoccupation with the tandem has always been, above all else, promoting stability. Apparently the thinking was that delaying the announcement on 2012 would promote stability, and this is where they went wrong. In the event of instability, even if it's just in the minds of elites, it was likely understood that Putin would return. Perhaps this is what Putin means by this all being decided back in 2007.

by: NinaIvanovna
October 18, 2011 22:59
I see it as a bit of both.

Frankly, the show seemed to be an exercise in humiliating Medvedev. Now, was the intention to humiliate Medvedev personally for straying too far off script, or was the humiliation directed at a bigger audience (namely, Yurgens, Timakova, etc)? Maybe both?

Whichever it was, Putin obviously felt threatened personally, and politically. The way that the decision was announced suggested that Putin felt the need to show his authority in as public a manner as possible.

by: Cynik from: London
October 19, 2011 11:00
So... Medvedev gets assassinated by Georgian terrorists and Russia invades Georgia.

by: Pavel
October 19, 2011 20:12
It is becoming more apparent that this decision was reached somewhere in the middle of Medvedev's term, and in fact, may not have been made fully with Medvedev's consent at all. After listening to his interview and then Putin's yesterday, it is clear that Putin is holding Medvedev accountable for United Russia's result in the Duma elections. If they lose their majority, Medvedev might not be the prime minister.

Aside from Putin's inability to tell the truth, this indicates another Putin trait... changing the rules of the game after agreements have been reached. He did a similar thing with Prokhorov's candidacy with Right Cause. As soon as Prokhorov began to propose ideas that were off the script, a scenario was created and a mutiny staged. What this means for the west is that you should be careful when investing money in Russia. The rules of the deal may change just as quickly as the rules of the game.

by: marta
October 19, 2011 22:18

It’s a very interesting analysis. But whether they decided that a long time or pair months ago, it’s anyway a reason for dissatisfaction of the nation and a field for many questions as well.
During two recent weeks, tandem used television interviews to justify their decision to carve up power between them. The key word here is “justify”. Or convince in other words. They persuade people now that the nation makes a right choice and uses the special meaning of an idea of democracy. In the meaning “it wil be democracy after elections”.
Nether in the first variant of scenario (a decision was made a long ago), nor in the second (the decision was spontaneous) there is not a hint of democracy.

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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