Thursday, October 30, 2014


The Power Vertical

Putin's China Syndrome

Unlike China's leaders, Vladimir Putin has opted to hang on to power indefinitely.
Unlike China's leaders, Vladimir Putin has opted to hang on to power indefinitely.
The Moscow punditocracy has had China on its mind lately. In fact, one leading commentator even confessed to suffering from "China envy."
 
When the Chinese Communist Party elected the country's new top leaders earlier this month, with Hu Jintao relinquishing power to Xi Jinping, many in Russia's chattering classes noted how favorably the system stacks up to their own.
 
"The Chinese have managed to do something the Russians can never pull off: to stop relying on great and irreplaceable individuals, and instead put in place a system of regular change of [its] top leaders," Mikhail Rostovsky wrote in "Moskovsky komsomolets."

Since 1992 -- when Deng Xiaoping turned power over to Jiang Zemin -- the rule has been two five-year terms and out.
 
The contrast with Russia, where the political system revolves around the indispensible Vladimir Putin, was noted everywhere from the opposition tabloid "Novaya gazeta" to the business-oriented "RBK Daily," to the official government broadsheet "Rossiiskaya gazeta" -- which, quite interestingly, called the Chinese model "an instructive model for other countries."
 
In the daily "Kommersant," Aleksandr Gabuyev wrote that the Chinese leader is "only the first among equals in a sort of 'board of directors' for the PRC, which avoids a situation in which the country is ruled for too long by a sickly and aging leader who has stayed too long atop the power vertical."

Putin, of course, had the chance to implement something akin to the Chinese model last year. All he had to do was bless Dmitry Medvedev's bid for a second term as president, as the technocratic wing of the elite was urging him to do, and maintain his decisive influence behind the scenes -- as Deng Xiaoping did in his day.
 
But that, of course, did not happen. And by opting to return to the presidency for six -- and possibly 12 -- more years, Putin is being compared not to Deng but to Leonid Brezhnev.
 
"Both looked young and attractive at the beginning of their rule and both looked sickly and comical toward the end. Both let the right historical moment for their departure slip by, ran out of steam, and survived in politics," political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky wrote in Slon.ru.

The Brezhnev comparisons, which began in earnest about a year ago and enjoyed a revival with recent rumors about the state of Putin's health, have become a bit overdone and old hat by now.
 
But one aspect is very relevant to Russia's future. It wasn't only Brezhnev who looked old and sickly by the end of his rule but the entire Soviet elite. This cadre, known as the Class of 1937, rose to power in the wake of Stalin's purges -- and remained there until their deaths.
 
And many observers are now wondering whether the same will happen with the entire Putin team. This would keep the rising generation, which came of political age after the fall of the Soviet Union, eternally frustrated and on the outside.
 
"Putin has demonstrated a willingness to keep management of the state in the hands of his trusted people, who will soon be of retirement age, until the end of the decade," analyst Viktor Averkov wrote in "RBK Daily." "In order to avoid a generational conflict, he needs to study the mechanisms of succession and the transfer of power."

There is little evidence that he is doing so. In fact, as columnist Sergei Shelin illustrated in a recent piece in Gazeta.ru, Putin's much vaunted mini-purge of the elite after a series of corruption scandals amounted to little more than shuffling around some familiar faces into new posts.

"The purges at the Defense and Regional Development ministries, as well as in other departments and regional structures, seemed to promise the desired posts to those who have grown tired waiting for them," Shelin wrote. "But the paradox of Putin's personnel purge is that the reshuffles of the establishment are in full swing without any hint of upward mobility."
 
Shelin adds that "the Kremlin is shuffling one and the same pack of cards" with "heavyweights" and their "entire close-knit clans moving from place to place."
 
There was a time when many observers, myself included, thought Putin's long-term goal was to build an enduring and stable (albeit authoritarian) system that would endure beyond his time in office.
 
What is becoming abundantly clear is that no such strategic goal exists. There are only tactical maneuvers aimed at survival -- which, paradoxically, makes for the most unstable system of all.
 
-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 27, 2012 21:19
Well well well.we all thought Eugenio and Jack were top of the pops for writing crap posts,but now mr.Whitmore has dumped them both.`Vladimir Vladimirovitch is a `great and irreplaceable individual` and not the usual run-of-the mill kgb Sharik homunculus??? Ha,bloody ha-we dont have to wait for another 988 years-this is the joke of the last Millenium.Molodets,Brian-did you inspire Monthy Python`s Life of Brian???

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 28, 2012 18:17
Could this, finally, be the tipping point? Is Putin on his way out? Is he leaving long fingernail grooves on the floor of his office as bureaucrats swooning with China-love drag him out, while black-clad Kremlin PR flacks flutter about like crows as they cook up an implausible explanation for his abrupt departure - perhaps his health, comrade?

Ha, ha; no, come on, I was just kidding. No, really, I was just trying to lighten the mood - seriously, look, Brian has characterized this supposed abdication of Russia's present government in favour of a smart new Chinese model - which will presumably not include Putin - in his Twitter feed as "another indication of Putin fatigue".

Is there really a cresting wave of anything that could be described as "Putin fatigue"? Really? Oh, I don't mean in the west and among the miniscule liberal opposition in Russia, because they've been nursing Putin-fatigue since...mmm, about 2001. I mean among the Russian electorate, which actually put him into office and may well do so again. No, I would have to say not; his popularity figures have remained relatively stable and they are often framed as figures any western leader would sell his mother into bondage for, although of course they indicate failure in Putin's bloody-fanged dictatorship. No cause for celebration there.

Well, wait; maybe the economy is crashing to the ground! No, sorry; manufacturing orders have risen for 13 straight months according to HSBC analysts, new hires are up for 3 straight months and the banking sector has shown strong growth in the first half of 2012, with retail leading the way. Things look headed in the opposite direction from collapse, actually.

Well, then, let's look at the Chinese government's relationship with Russia, and see if we can get the real story.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2012-09/06/c_131832674.htm

Oh, look. It's Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko, meeting with the Chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress. On the occasion of the sixth meeting of the China-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, not to put too fine a point on it. China-Russia government cooperation is not only not new at all, but is part of a formalized process. Although there is nothing to suggest Russia is about to implement a wholesale adoption of the Chinese government model, I daresay areas of innovation in each country are noted by the other and implemented so as to best serve each country.

I imagine you noted, even without looking at the referenced article, that Russia's delegate to the China-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee is a woman - not too many Russian men are named Valentina. But, just for fun, take a look at the photo on page 2 of that article. How many women do you see?

If you don't feel like looking, I'll save you the trouble. Two, one of which is Matvienko. I can tell you one group that is not anxious to see Russia adopt the progressive Chinese government model - Russian women. Women are sorely under-represented in the Chinese government, although they do quite well in business.

http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2012/03/china-still-a-mans-world/

By way of contrast, in Russia women make up more than 50% of federal administrative posts, range from 33% to 64% in all branches of power at the state level and are 11% of the General assembly.

http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/wom1812.doc.htm

I note that all the excited comments in the body of this post, which support the view of China's government as an instructive model for other countries, came from men.


by: Mark from: Victoria
November 28, 2012 18:27
Sorry; I went over the character limit and had to do a second comment to get my conclusion in.

Look; almost every government has its success stories, and there are doubtless valuable lessons to be learnt from China's government. But Russia is no more likely to adopt a Chinese government model owing to pressure from western governments or think-tanks than it is to adopt American-style government owing to pressure from western governments or think-tanks. Why not? Because both have the same short-term goal: get rid of Putin, pick someone else. And as long as the Russian economy continues to flourish under Putin after nearly sliding over the edge under the western-supported and western-encouraged Yeltsin, that is simply unlikely to happen. Despite the bi-weekly tipping point and regular injections of wistfully-hopeful doom for Putin, none of that is really happening.

On this blog, it's always the same time of day - sunset for Putin. The view is regularly advanced that he should have burnt out like a torch that consumes itself, at the height of his glory, like Jimi Hendrix, instead of a fat, peanut-butter-smeared travesty of his former self, like Elvis, who stayed far past his pinnacle. And that's a nice story.

Just as long as you don't confuse it with reality.
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 28, 2012 23:42
I actually don't disagree that Putin is unlikely to leave power till his mortal abode disintegrates into dust. That is indeed the most likely path for the future. What's more, I even think Brian above also thinks that.

I believe the main point you're missing is that it would be eventually better for Russia if Putin left, and someone more politically progressive took over. If, indeed, Russia could move towards becoming a democracy.

That is what fuels the, let's call it wishful thinking, that you detect in the blog: the idea that things would be better for Russia if Putin left, but that this is unlikely to happen. He'll probably stick around, Brezhnev style, for as long as he can. But if he did... what a big country like Russia could then become, with its resources and human capital, is mind-boggling.

Judging by the size of your comment, and the general tone, you disagree with this main point: that Putin is not good for Russia in the long run. Do you really think Russia is better off as an autocracy in the old South American style than it would be as a real democracy? Do you think Putin's way is really the way to go for this country whose history is so full of people who were convinced their personal views were the only solution to today's problems?
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
November 29, 2012 12:12
Politically progressive-- like Boris Yeltsin? How did that work out (not for the West mind you [for which Russia in the 1990s was a perfect result]) but Russia? There you have your answer as to what Western-style liberalism (aka progressivism) under Western management in Russia looks like-- that picture is far less pretty than the generally successful , albeit flawed, Putin era. Mark from Victoria masks some excellent points on that subject. Anonymous might have something of a point if there was a "patriotic liberal" option available in Russia today politically, but it is one of the paradoxes of Russian history that there never is such an option for governance there.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 29, 2012 21:23
A lot of people seem to be under the impression that, because Vladimir Putin remains leader of Russia, Russia is not a democracy. I beg to differ. While he unquestionably desires the office, and likely will serve another term following the present one if he is elected, it is not up to him whether he stays or goes. It is up to the electorate, which is - by definition - democratic in that all eligible citizens share an equal right to self-determination. Is it your contention that, had Putin failed in the presidential vote, he would have mustered the guard and imposed his rule on Russia by force of arms? I highly doubt it. I imagine that had it shaken out like that he would likely have retired; at the very most he would have remained an influential member of his party and active in national politics. That possibility is not a serious consideration, as he was most decidedly elected by a majority of the people; a fact which was undisputed by democratic leaders, although many were clearly unhappy about it.

There's not enough space here to get into the prevalence of voter suppression in democratic countries, but suffice it to say that all incumbent governments use every trick at their command in order to remain in power. Moreover, many established references correctly point out that the "purity" of democracy is now blurred, as nearly all contemporary governments contain mixed elements of the oligarchic, monarchistic and democratic models. It hardly needs saying that all refer to themselves as democracies.

If the main point of the post was that Putin is not good for Russia in the long run, the author did a good job hiding it, although he clearly would like to see Putin removed by whatever means and a liberal reformer even more liberal than Medvedev installed in his place. I interpreted the post to mean that Russian bureaucrats are eyeing the Chinese model of government with a view to adopting it. I might as well say here that this is ridiculous, because China remains Communist while Russia would not go back to Communism even if the Communists were elected - they would have to run it as something of a democracy and it probably would not look much differently from what it does today, although the state would resume control over some things that have passed into the private sector. But there is much about the Chinese model that remains unatractive to Russia, while they have likely already adopted such elements as appealed to them; the two countries enjoy very close ties.

Nonetheless, yes; I do dispute it. Putin has been good for Russia thus far, continues to be good for Russia and will likely be removed by the electorate as soon as he convincingly is not. Never mind the red herring about whether I consider Russia to be better off as an old South-American autocracy, because it isn't.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
November 29, 2012 00:00
On the whole well put. Putin, however, tends only to ameliorate problems instead of truly solve them and Russia isn't in the same global weight class as China these days. That said, the contrast between Russia in the Putin era and the Western-guided Yeltsin era could not be greater. This was I think, in large part because Putin's goal-- often fairly effectively pursued-- was to revive Russia. The goal of the preceding liberal era was to dismantle the country (like a bankrupt business) and divide up its assets; failure of Russia was the goal and its peole were treated like a nuisance.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
November 29, 2012 05:52
Mr. Whitmore decided to play a cunning game...Turning to the Russian press, and to a discussions of Russian journalists Mr.Whitmore on the subject prefers to remain silent.
He does not want to say that progrеss in China is primarily connected with the policy of the Communist Party with brutal repression and mass executions...

just imagine:

Luzhniki Stadium
100,000 spectators- the Russian workers and peasants (all drunk as usual)...in the middle of the pitch-Serdyukov, Vasilieva, Skrynnik and Smetanina on their knees..Bastrykin behind with a Mauser..with words:"For the Motherland! For Putin!"shoots in the heads of embezzlers and perverts..I am sure that after this, the number of brothels in the ministries will be reduced immediately.
All such acts, it is the norm for China, that is why there is progress.
Unfortunately Putin takes out his anger on the defenseless women...Mass executions of officials,torture by fire and water of officials,will lead to an economic breakthrough of Russia...
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 29, 2012 12:44
Quite agree with the Vakhtang team of BS BW experts,however,we dont need mass executions-just one will do-that of the greatest georgian patriot who ran as far away from his motherland to the land of those he castigates daily-and that is his stepmother Russia.`Torture by fire and water says Vakhtangovitch`-too costly say I - just force them to drink a cuppa georgian wine - the results would be far more devastating-for just a fraction of the price.Then we may think of resettling all persons of Caucasian origin in Georgia,and if you want to punish them russians -well then you must resettle all St.Georgians there!!!

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18:33 October 29, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KREMLIN MOVES TO QUASH PUTIN HEALTH RUMORS

Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on October 29 that the Russian president is in good health, seeking to quash rumors of an illness.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that "everything is okay" with Putin's health, Russian news agencies Interfax and TASS reported.

"They will wait in vain. May their tongues wither," Peskov said of those who claim Putin is ill.

Peskov spoke after a spate of Russian media reports referring to an October 24 column in the tabloid "New York Post" whose author, Richard Johnson, cited unidentified sources as saying Putin had pancreatic cancer.

Putin and the Kremlin have strongly discouraged reporting about the 62-year-old president's private life.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

ROSNEFT THREATENS TO SUE NEWSPAPER OVER SANCTIONS REPORT

Russia's largest oil company, Rosneft, is threatening to sue the Russian daily "Kommersant" for a report alleging Rosneft sent President Vladimir Putin proposals for countersanctions against Western companies and individuals.

"Kommersant" reported on October 29 that state-run Rosneft's proposals include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied there were any Rosneft proposals for sanctions, but presidential aide Andrei Belousov and Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev seemed to contradict this.

State-run TASS reported Peskov said reports Rosneft had sent such proposals were untrue.

Peskov said decisions on imposing sanctions were made "in line with the relevant departments, and taken on the level of the government and president."

A different TASS report quoted Belousov as saying, "We are closely studying Rosneft's proposals."

Belousov went on to say, "I would say the radicalism of the proposals for now exceeds the current level of tensions."

The Interfax news agency quoted Ulyukayev as saying the proposals were a "very complex document" and adding, "I don’t think it is grounds for making any decisions."

The "Kommersant" report said "Russian government officials" had provided information about the alleged proposals.

A statement from Rosneft said the company was "deeply shocked" by the "Kommersant" article and might sue the newspaper.

Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions target key Russian industries and individuals close to Putin, including Rosneft and its head, Igor Sechin, who is a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff.

The sanctions have hurt Rosneft, which has already requested additional funding from the Russian government to make up for losses incurred due to sanctions.

British oil company BP reported on October 28 that its income from its operations with Rosneft dropped from $808 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $110 million in the same period this year.

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

WHITE HOUSE DETECTS SUSPICIOUS CYBER ACTIVITY, REPORT BLAMES RUSSIA

The White House says it has taken measures to counter suspicious activity detected on its unclassified computer network.

A White House official would not say who might have been responsible for the activity on what was described as an unclassified computer network used by employees of the Executive Office of the President.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had taken "immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity."

In a report on October 28, the "Washington Post" cited sources as saying hackers believed to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified computer network in recent weeks.

The White House has declined to comment on the "Washington Post" report.

A U.S. administration official said there were no indications that classified networks had been affected.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa)

VICTIMS OF STALIN TERROR REMEMBERED IN MOSCOW CEREMONY

By RFE/RL

Activists are gathering near the former KGB headquarters to honor the memory of thousands of men and women executed by Soviet authorities during Josef Stalin's "Great Terror."

Speakers at the daylong ceremony at the Solovetsky Stone memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square read out aloud the names, ages, occupations, and dates of executions of some 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities in 1937-1938.

Muscovites and others brought flowers, pictures of victims and candles to the site of the "Returning the Names" commemoration, which began at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time) and was to end at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time).

The annual ceremony is organized by Memorial, Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organization, which is under pressure from the government.

On October 10, Russia's Justice Ministry appealed to the Supreme Court to close Memorial.

Memorial has held the ceremony every year since 2006 at the site near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor.

Ceremonies were also being held in other Russian cities.

(Based on live broadcast by october29.ru)

SEPARATISTS SHELL UKRAINIAN TROOPS

Pro-Russian separatists reportedly shelled the position of Ukrainian government troops in southeastern Ukraine on October 29, despite an almost two-month-old cease-fire agreement.

Authorities in the port city of Mariupol say military positions located near the village of Talakovka were targeted on October 29 by conventional artillery and Grad rockets that were fired from from the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk.

Casualties were reported among troops.

The cease-fire agreement signed in early September ended most fighting between the two sides -- although battles at the Donetsk airport, in Mariupol, and in villages near the city of Luhansk continue on an almost daily basis.

The UN says more than 3,700 people have been killed in six months of fighting between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)

RUSSIAN AIRLINE PLANS YEREVAN-CRIMEA FLIGHTS OVER kYIV'S OBJECTIONS

By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

The Grozny Air civil aviation company, based in the Russia's Chechnya region, is pressing ahead with plans to launch regular flights from Yerevan to Crimea, despite protests from Kyiv.

Timur Shimayev, an executive officer for Grozny Air, told RFE/RL on October 29 that the firm's inaugural flight to Crimea is scheduled for November 17.

But Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Kukhta, told reporters in Yerevan on October 29 that any commercial flights between Yerevan and Crimea must first be approved by Kyiv.

Kukhta's statement came five days after a spokesman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, Ruben Grdzelian, said that a Russian regional airline had not been allowed to launch flights between Armenia and Crimea since the Ukrainian penninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea has been condemned as illegal by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly.

 

12:55 October 29, 2014

SANCTION THIS!

The Russian daily "Kommersant" reports that the state-run oil giant Rosneft is calling on President Vladimir Putin to impose new sanctions on the West. The new moves reportedly include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

12:41 October 29, 2014

AND IN THE FALLOUT DEPARTMENT...

Just a few things I've noticed this morning:

Russian-German Trade Down

German exports to Russia have dropped by more than a quarter, "The Moscow Times" reports. In August, exports from Germany to Russia were 2.3 billion euros, a 26.3 percent decrease from a year ago. Moreover, German exports to Russia fell by 16.6 percent from January-August 2014.

Russian Elite More Cohesive -- For Now

According to a report by Reuters, sanctions have had the "opposite effect to the one intended" among the elite. "Far from dividing those closest to President Vladimir Putin, they have forced the main players in the energy sector to rally behind him. This circle has by necessity become more focused, Western and Russian businessmen, diplomats and politicians said," according to the report.

Sweden Is Warming Up To NATO

Foreign Directors Bail On Russian Firms

Since the start of the year, 14 percent of foreigners serving on the boards of Russian firms have left their posts, "The Moscow Times" reports. "Western sanctions have forced some foreign directors to step down or curb their activities on the boards of publicly traded Russian companies, leaving a critical gap that few domestic candidates are equipped to fill," according to the report.

09:17 October 29, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE TO RESUME GAS TALKS

Russia and Ukraine are set to resume talks over a gas dispute on October 29 in Brussels.

The new round of negotiations comes after inconclusive talks October 21, when European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced some progress, but said a final deal has yet to be agreed.

Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt.

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

Russia on October 21 said the it would sell gas to Ukraine for $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

Moscow said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- but only if Ukraine pays in advance.

(Based on reporting by AFP and AP)

KYIV CONDEMNS MOSCOW'S SUPPORT FOR SEPARATIST ELECTIONS

Ukraine on October 28 condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s support for elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while the United States said a vote by separatists in eastern Ukraine would be unlawful.

The November 2 vote was scheduled by rebels in defiance of Ukrainian national elections on October 26, which were won by pro-Western parties.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 28 described the vote planned by rebels as "pseudo-elections," saying they "grossly contradict the spirit and letter" of international agreements reached in Minsk in September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow plans to recognize the elections that are being organized by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the the vote "will be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements."

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

GAZPROM NEFT CHALLENGES EU SANCTIONS IN EUROPEAN COURT

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, said on October 28 that it has challenged European Union sanctions against the firm in the EU’s Court of Justice.

The sanctions against Gazprom Neft were imposed as part of wider restrictions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU sanctions restrict the ability of Gazprom Neft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer by output, to raise funds on European markets.

The United States also has imposed sanctions against Gazprom Neft in response to Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis.

The West says Moscow is supplying arms and troops to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine battle Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow denies that, despite increasing evidence to support the charges.

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

18:54 October 27, 2014

THE BIG CHILL

Sam Greene, Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and author of "Moscow in Movement: Power & Opposition in Putin’s Russia," has a depressing (and must-read) blog post up about his recent trip to Moscow titled: "Russia's Tomorrow, Today."

It opens like this:

The news and the invitation were waiting for me, both, when I got off the plane from London to Moscow. I saw the invitation first—from a long-time colleague, to attend a workshop on the future of Russian politics later this month at Memorial, the venerable Russian historical society and human rights organization. I saw the news two hours later: 17 days after that workshop, Russia’s High Court will hold a hearing on the government’s demand that Memorial be liquidated.

That is the condition of life in Russia these days: two hours in which an invitation takes on a funerary pallor, 17 days in which the world becomes immeasurably smaller. Rarely has the distance between today and tomorrow been so great and so fraught as it is now.

And it concludes like this:

The tomorrow whose arrival now seems inevitable is one in which the archives of Memorial and the Sakharov Center disappear, to be replaced with a single national history textbook and a single national literature textbook, so that the past may have no bearing on the future. It is one in which policy analysis disappears from the public space, along with honest reporting, so that the present may also have no bearing on the future. Tomorrow, when it arrives, will bring one sole purpose: to preserve and protect the status quo. It is a tomorrow after which there are meant to be, politically speaking, no more tomorrows at all..

What the designers of this new tomorrow may not realize, however, is that, once freed from the paralysis of a pointless today, the despair of disaffection becomes the desperation of dissent. Dissidents, pitted against a regime that can never fall, take risks that are unnecessary in a more fluid system. They speak at all costs to demonstrate that they have no voice, and they go to jail to demonstrate that they are not free. Once today becomes tomorrow, and there are no more tomorrows for which to wait, the imperative of immediate action reemerges. 

Is the Kremlin ready for an opposition that, because everything is already lost, has nothing left to lose?

Read it all here.

And a h/t to Ben Judah for flagging.

 

15:42 October 27, 2014

FROM THE YOU-CAN'T-MAKE-THIS-STUFF-UP DEPARTMENT

The Russian health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has issued a dire warning: SEFIES CAUSE HEAD LICE!

No, really. I'm serious! It is actually on their official website:

"One reason for the spread of lice among teenagers, in the opinion of experts, is because selfie photographs have become more common. In these group photos, lice are transfered due to the touching of heads."

And it is causing a lot of laughs on the Twitter:

15:24 October 27, 2014

UKRAINIAN ECHOES: RUSSIA AND THE NEIGHBORS

The Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta" has launched a new video series on its YouTube channel called Украинское эхо, or The Ukrainian Echo, that looks at Moscow's relations with former-Soviet states in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis.

The first installment, which was out on October 20, focused on Georgia:

And the latest, which went online today, looks at Kazakhstan:

15:04 October 27, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

AS EU PRAISES UKRAINE ELECTIONS, RUSSIA CRITICIZES 'DIRTY CAMPAIGN'

The European Union has hailed the parliamentary election in Ukraine as a victory for democracy and pro-European reforms in the ex-Soviet republic.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a tweet on October 27: "Congratulations to the people of #Ukraine! Victory of democracy and European reforms' agenda."

Pro-Europe parties won a sweeping victory in a parliamentary election that Ukrainians hope will strengthen the country after a year of political turmoil and months of warfare against Russian-supported separatists in the east.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said it was clear the election was valid "in spite of the rather harsh and dirty campaign," Interfax news agency reported.

He said the new Rada would have to "start an inclusive dialogue with entire society."

(Based on reporting by AFP and Interfax)

AEROFLOT RESUMES FLIGHTS TO GEORGIA

State-controlled Russian airline Aeroflot has resumed flights between Moscow and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, after a six-year hiatus caused by the war between the two former Soviet republics.

An Aeroflot Airbus 320 carried about 100 passengers from Moscow to Tbilisi on October 27.

It was the Russian flag-carrier's first direct flight since a five-day war in August 2008 over breakaway South Ossetia.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and another Moscow-backed separatist province, Abkhazia, as independent states after the war, and it has troops stationed in both regions.

Diplomatic ties were severed over the war.

Direct flights between Russia and Georgia - operated by Russia's S7 and Ural Airlines as well as Georgian Airways - have been available in charter form only since August 2010.

(Based on reporting by apsny.ge and Interfax)

And via Reuters:

CZECH SECRET SERVICE SEES 'EXTREMELY HIGH' NUMBER OF RUSSIAN SPIES

PRAGUE, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Russia deployed an "extremely high" number of intelligence officers at its Czech embassy last year, the NATO member country's secret service said in an annual report released on Monday.

The reported increase in spying comes as relations between Russia and the West have worsened, culminating in the Ukraine crisis that began a year ago with street demonstrations against pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Czech spy-watchers have long warned about Russian intelligence services activities in the central European country, a member of the European Union, which is popular with Russians who often travel to and buy property in the country.

The Security Information Service (BIS) said Russian and Chinese spies in the Czech Republic work mostly to use politicians or journalists to extend their influence and secure their countries' economic interests.

"Both the Russian and the Chinese embassy employ intelligence officers serving under diplomatic cover. In 2013, the number of such officers at the Russian embassy was extremely high," the BIS report said.

Other intelligence officers travelled to the Czech Republic individually as tourists, experts, academics or businessmen.

"Russian intelligence services attempted to make use of both open and covert political, media and societal influence to promote Russian economic interests in the Czech Republic," the report said.

Russian intelligence activity previously jumped in 2007, when the Czech Republic and the United States held negotiations on building a missile defence radar in the country. The plan was eventually cancelled by President Barack Obama's administration after also running into opposition in the Czech parliament.

The current centre-left Czech government has taken a cautious approach as relations between Western countries and Russia have deteriorated this year over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.

A number of Czech officials have spoken against sanctions imposed by Brussels -- for which Russia has retaliated by banning food imports from Europe -- although the government has backed the EU's actions.

Yanukovich's overthrow in February prompted Moscow to annexe the Crimea peninsula and back separatist rebellions in eastern Ukraine in which more than 3,700 people have died.

The BIS has in the past warned of Russian intelligence officers building networks in the country using Czech citizens as well as the local Russian community.

The Polish government said on Saturday it had withdrawn accreditation from a Russian journalist after arresting two Poles, including a military officer, earlier this month on suspicion of spying for Russia.

The BIS said rejecting Czech visas or accreditation for Russians with ties to the intelligence services had led to cases of retaliation against Czech career diplomats.

RUSSIAN FM SAYS UKRAINE VOTE MAY LEAD TO PEACE, WARNS OF NATIONALISTS

MOSCOW, Oct 27 (Reuters) - A parliamentary election in Ukraine offers a chance for peace in the country's east, a deputy Russian foreign minister said on Monday but warned that "nationalists" in the chamber could undermine the process, RIA news agency reported.

An initial vote count showed pro-European parties had secured a clear victory in the Ukrainian poll, the first to be held since street protests ousted the country's pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovich, earlier this year.

"Parties supporting a peaceful resolution of the internal Ukrainian crisis won a majority. This gives them a new chance to return to the agreements made, first and foremost, in Minsk," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said, referring to agreements made by Kiev, Moscow and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko hailed the election result as a show of popular support for his plan to end a pro-Russian rebellion in the east and pursue reforms.

Kiev and the West blame Moscow for destabilising Ukraine by supporting and arming the rebels as well as reinforcing them with Russian troops. Moscow denies taking part in the armed conflict.

"The fact that openly nationalistic and chauvinistic forces won considerable support and will be represented in the Rada (parliament) creates an additional threat that again calls will sound ... for the use of force, for bloodshed," Karasin added.

"That is extremely dangerous."

14:36 October 27, 2014

PREPARING FOR A WAR AGAINST ALL

Just now catching up with defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer's disturbing analysis of Russia's military thinking: "Preparing for War Against the US on All Fronts—A Net Assessment of Russia’s Defense and Foreign Policy Since the Start of 2014."

"During all of 2014, Russia’s rulers and most of the population seem to have been living together in a daydream. Consequently, Russian defense and foreign policy plans as well as the country’s decision making apparatus have, for months, been based on little more than strange fantasies and outlandish assumptions. Yet, these fantasies are backed up by a formidable military machine, billions of petrodollars and a nuclear superpower arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And this is a truly dangerous mix."

Read it all here.

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)

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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