Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Power Vertical

Putin's Choice

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin can't seem to decide which of his two heroes he wants to be.

The tough guy KGB veteran in him clearly wants to follow the example of the late hard-line Soviet leader Yury Andropov. But another side of Putin yearns to emulate the reforming and modernizing tsarist-era Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin.

For the first six months of his third term in the Kremlin, Putin was all Andropov all the time. From new laws cracking down on dissent, to the imprisonment of anti-Kremlin demonstrators, the shocking abduction and alleged torture of Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, the vibe oozed repression and regression.

But the sacking earlier this month of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov over a defense-procurement scandal was widely interpreted by Moscow's chattering class as an important watershed and potential turning point for Putin's presidency.

"It seems that the third presidential term is going to be quite unlike a simple continuation of the previous two. Just like the situation in the country and in the world is quite unlike the one that existed in 2000-2008," political analyst Leonid Radzikhovskiy writes in "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

But a turning point toward what?

Some Kremlin-watchers, including many not favorably inclined toward Putin, view the Serdyukov sacking as a prelude to the president discovering his inner Stolypin and pivoting in a reformist direction in the coming months -- cracking down on corruption and restructuring the economy.

Others, however, see it as an ominous sign that Putin is gearing up to double down on repression and purge the elite of disloyal elements under the guise of an anticorruption campaign. The move would be reminiscent of Andropov's cleansing of the Soviet leadership during his brief 15-month rule, in which he fired 18 ministers and 37 regional party bosses.

Which interpretation is correct has broad implications for everything from the Kremlin's ongoing struggle with the opposition, to the intramural cold war within the ruling elite, to Russia's prospects for economic modernization.

Discovering His Inner Stolypin

With a long-awaited and badly needed restructuring of Russia's creaking social-welfare system stalled, foreign and domestic investment in the private sector drying up, and a budget crunch looming, any move toward reform, analysts say, would come more out of necessity than out of conviction.

But the repressive policies Putin has followed since May, some Kremlin-watchers say, now give him the political space to commence economic reforms in earnest.

"It is the best time to start a new round of economic liberalization, given the political freeze," Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center wrote in a recent article in

"For Putin, this is evidently his last chance to get on top of a situation which is objectively not going his way. And if he does not take advantage of the moment now, he will not have such an opportunity again. It is also important that the (excessively) repressive policies of recent months allow Putin to act as if from a position of strength, and not one of weakness."

Petrov notes that there are persistent rumors circulating in Moscow that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's government is about to be replaced. And many eyes, he writes, are on former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, "who seems to be continually waiting for something and is in no hurry to move into opposition to Putin."
Former Finance Minister Aleksei KudrinFormer Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin
Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin
Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin

In one sense, bringing in Kudrin and pushing through social and market reforms would be shrewd. Such a move would be cheered by the urban professional wing of the opposition, which reveres Kudrin and favors economic liberalization, but staunchly opposed by the Kremlin's opponents on the left.

Splitting the opposition in this way would give the Kremlin, which has been on the defensive most of the year, some breathing space.

I have long believed this was the real motivation behind the criminal probe against Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, who could prove dangerous in an environment of working-class and rural unrest.

But bringing back the widely respected Kudrin to save the Kremlin's economic bacon also has its risks. Kudrin has long argued that any successful economic liberalization must also be accompanied by political reform and increased pluralism -- something Putin clearly has no stomach for.

And even as his name is surfacing for the prime minister's job, Kudrin is clearly hedging his bets. As Kremlin-watcher Stanislav Belkovsky notes in "Moskovsky komsomolets," Kudrin is openly calling for early elections to the State Duma and has placed his ally, Dmitry Nekrasov, on the opposition's Coordinating Council.

Unleashing His Inner Andropov

One of the hallmarks of Putin's rule has been stability among the ruling elite. His people, his top ministers, members of his inner circle, were untouchable. The law, to quote a popular refrain from the opposition, was only for his enemies.

Serdyukov's sacking over a corruption scandal at Oboronservis, a military procurement company set up by the Defense Ministry, was seen as a sharp turn away from this "stability of cadres" approach.

"Now, nobody is untouchable," political analyst Leonid Radzikhovskiy writes in "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

"Suspicions of corruption are not being covered up and will not be covered up -- including at the highest level. The president knows the public's moods and takes them into account."

There have indeed been quite a few corruption scandals breaking out of late. In addition to the Oboronservis case that brought down Serdyukov and other top defense officials, there have been embezzlement cases involving the Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass), financial wrongdoing connected to preparations for the APEC Summit in Vladivostok, and a financial scandal at the Health Ministry in Chelyabinsk, just to name a few.

So are we witnessing a real crackdown on official corruption?

Not quite, writes Yevgeniya Albats in "Novoye vremya." On closer scrutiny, she suggests, the Serdyukov case looks more like a settling of scores.

"Strangely, few people have drawn attention to the fact that in the last two years of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, Serdyukov increasingly sought and found support specifically in the Kremlin rather than the White House, where Putin was installed at the time," Albats writes.

Most notably, Serdyukov relied on Medvedev's help -- over Putin's objections -- to increase the 2011 defense budget from 13 trillion rubles to 20 trillion rubles ($409 billion to $630 billion).

"It is clear why Medvedev needed an alliance with the minister of defense," Albats writes.

"While de jure he was the commander in chief, to whom all the siloviki are subordinated, de facto he controlled very few people: those same security policemen's loyalties lay exclusively in the prime minister's office. At that time Medvedev had started thinking seriously about a second term and had a vested interest in Serdyukov's support."

So now it's payback time.

"It appears obvious that Putin has started to be afraid of his own entourage.... Which means that that further high-profile cases and dismissals are in the offing," Albats writes.

If this is the case, Putin may be about to move to finally settle the intramural struggle about Russia's future that has been raging since the Medvedev presidency, and which has intensified since Putin returned to the Kremlin.

Which means that in addition to the ongoing crackdown against the opposition, we may be in for a comprehensive purge of the ruling elite under the guise of a war on corruption.

A False Choice?

So which will it be? A pivot to Stolypin-style reforms or a doubling down on Andropovism?

Politically speaking, the line between Putin's two role models is actually quite thin. Both sought to introduce measures explicitly designed to salvage an ailing autocratic system.

Serving as premier in the tumultuous period following the Russo-Japanese War, Stolypin initiated historic land reforms, expanded the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and facilitated the development of Siberia.

But his zeal for reform only went so far. Appointed by Tsar Nicholas II in the politically charged atmosphere following the revolution of 1905, Stolypin was obsessed with preventing further political upheaval. He was so ruthless in dealing with real and potential revolutionaries that the hangman's noose became known as a "Stolypin necktie."

And Andropov, when he became Soviet leader in November 1982 after Leonid Brezhnev's death, sought to introduce more effective management, stricter discipline, and very limited market mechanisms to make the stagnant Soviet economy more competitive. But his short-lived authoritarian modernization left little room for any inkling of pluralism. Instead, he kept the political system tightly controlled and the economy wedded to the state -- with the KGB taking a leading role.

So Putin may not need to choose at all. If he can achieve firm Andropov-style control over the political system and tame rebellious elements in the elite, he may feel sufficiently confident to pursue modernizing reforms a la Stolypin.

The Paradox

If Putin is indeed planning to pivot to a season of reform, Kudrin will most likely be a key figure.

When Kudrin resigned in September 2011, his stated reason was that he opposed the hike in defense spending Serdyukov had secured with Medvedev's assistance -- and over Putin's objections. Kudrin argued that the funds allocated for defense were needed to modernize the education, health-care, and social-welfare systems.

Was Serdyukov's removal the first step in a plan to dismiss Medvedev and make Kudrin prime minister?

Perhaps. But this begs a larger, more fundamental, question: Would Kudrin go along with an economic reform program without the political reforms he has repeatedly said must accompany it?

I have long argued that any true economic reform in Russia, any true diversification and decentralization of the economy, would in the long run lead to political decentralization and ultimately greater pluralism.

And this may be Kudrin's calculation -- compromising on political reform in the short run knowing full well that it will be unavoidable in the long term.

It's all speculation at this point. But the picture is bound to become clearer when Putin gives his annual address to parliament, which the Kremlin says should come by the end of the year.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Aleksei Kudrin,Yury Andropov,Pyotr Stolypin,Anatoly Serdyukov

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 16, 2012 15:34
Aaah,dear bros and sis-forget about Andropov and Stolypin-the real choice is between Eugenio and Jack and the winner seems to be Vakhtang from Mos cow!!! However on a more serious note I must quote the proverb once again-`If you live like Putins do, that will be the end of you`,so the future is uncertain but the end is always clear!!!
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 17, 2012 20:06
"If you live like Putins do, that will be the end of you`,so the future is uncertain but the end is always clear!!!"

Could you be so kind as to cite the source of that proverb? I'm curious, because (a) it doesn't show up in any search strings, (b) the first part appears to have been extracted from a place you usually sit upon, and (c) the last part - except for your having substituted the word "clear" for "near" is actually part of The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues". Jim Morrison was not noted for drawing many of his lyrics from proverbs, to say the least.

Naturally, Putin is inclined toward reform - after all, why wouldn't he be? He receives so much western encouragement.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 17, 2012 21:13
The original comes from James Thurber`s `Fables of our time` and it is:If you live like humans do,that will be the end of you-now you can substitute humans for almost anything and it still will ring true-in this case its substituted with a super human-Vladimir Vladimirovich .And the Vlad Vlad Dracula of post soviet Russia doesnt give a damn about western encouragement-his reforms are caused by concern for the preservation and well being of his ilk.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 21, 2012 06:09
It simce that Anush has at least an intuition, indeed,
"Andropov" and "Stolypin" choice in article on their deeds
Is not relevent at all - as little as Eugenio-Jack "makushkas",
When "Kukushka hvalit petuha, za to chto hvalit on kukushku",
Has little do with Putin and Medvedev - just "neskladuha" feed.

It's Russian ruling classes game of words, sale to the West:
"Reformer" Stolypin-karatel', "Spy hero", Andropov-karatel'
That sold slaves-merchendise to USA, the Hungary best,
"Bad Stalin offered CIS", instead of Lenin-rasstrelyatel',
Misterious Russian soul "ne ponyat' umom". It's waist.

The article is deliberate "zamorochka", to fill our heads
With a rap-list of wordings - with benevolance of "reds"
And "whites", as "good and interesting" Russia's might,
While Russia cleansing, annexing, influx Russian lads,
Resurrects feudal empire - kill best and suck the bright.

By the way, make an observation, Medvedev and Putin
Regarding military. Is Medvedev reinforcing his position
To compete with Putin - or he is ":Medvedev's" hatings?
Is Putin traditional "sysknoy" of imperial Russia sadition,
With grivencies of spy against the army brass polishing?

In any case - they part of expanding Varagas-Prussakas
Into neighboring countries and restoring Russian serfery,
Blind, leading crowd of blind to blick future of "masakas",
Subverting World economy, encourage breed plebeyery,
To feed them by miricles, stolen from me, plagio-braking.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 17, 2012 09:19
The article says: "Some Kremlin-watchers... view the Serdyukov sacking as a prelude to the president... pivoting in a reformist direction in the coming months -- cracking down on corruption and restructuring the economy." Really??? "Some analysts" see it that way???
Well, I don't know, but about a week ago I read an article in an Austrian newspaper that was (convincingly, I would say) arguing that the sacking of Serdyukov was nothing other than a major victory of the Russian military-industrial complex (imbodied by the Rosoboronexport).
The Austrian article reminded the readership of the fact that Serduykov was actually the one who was spearheading the acquisitions (for the first time since 1945!) by the Russian Army of some FOREIGN-MADE military equipment (the best known case is the purchase of the French Mistrals - arguably useless for the Russian Army, given the specificities of the strategic position of Russia).
So, the ones who felt threated by this policy were exactly the Rosoboronexport which then lobbied for the removal of the Minister. And - given that Putin promising multi-billion investment in the Russian military and military industry during the presidential campaign about a year ago - doing the Rosoboronexport this favour and removing Serdyukov was the most logical thing for him to do.
Here you may find the text of the Austrian article by Josef Kirchengast in question:
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 17, 2012 20:45
That might well have been a factor, but the MISTRALs were not purchased for the Russian Army - not specifically, anyway - but for projection of military power to regional hotspots as landing ships. Rolling up Georgia was not much of a chore given the relative size of the two forces involved, but imagine how much easier it would have been if Russia had been able to put almost 1000 troops, along with their associated helicopters and 60 or so light tanks, (it would take 2 ships to do this) ashore at Poti or Batumi. Even if they never reached the battle, their placement could not have been ignored and significant Georgian forces would have had to be diverted to meet them. The MISTRAL's mission is amphibious assault, a role in which Russia's capability has deteriorated over the last decade.

Another source of pressure was likely the military itself, which hated Serdyukov - who was not, except for his mandatory service to the state in the Army for a single year, 1984-1985, a military man. His priorities might have made sense from a bureaucratic standpoint, but the senior officers loathed him. It is noteworthy also that he was appointed to clean up corruption and became embroiled in a corruption scandal himself, involving Oboronservis and its alleged blowing of $100 Million of the taxpayers' money.

And that's not all. Serdyukov was caught in an extramarital affair with a neighbour - to whom he had apparently bestowed a lot of expensive gifts - and his wife's father is Viktor Zubkov, chairman of GAZPROM. Serdyukov made a lot of enemies.

The suggestion that pressure from the defense industry to sack Serdyukov because he refused to buy crappy Russian equipment resulted in his dismissal is a popular one with those who never have anything good to say about Russia, such as Alexander Golts. This makes Serdyukov look like another hero dismissed by a corrupt government that couldn't stand the heat, so they ordered him out. There might have been such misgivings from the defense industry, but if they existed they would be far from the only reason to sack him, as they were legion.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 18, 2012 08:28
Well, Mark, you are making a few interesting points, let me just say a couple of words on each one:
(a) You are saying: "He refused to buy crappy Russian equipment". Well, Mark, had Russian military equipment been that "crappy", I reckon Russia would have never become the SECOND biggest ARMS EXPORTER globally, providing for about 1/4 of the entire global arms exports.
(b) You are saying: "Serdyukov was caught in an extramarital affair" :-)))). Well, Mark, very frankly, I can not imagine that could have been one of the REASONS for his sacking - a PRETEXT, maybe, but not a reason. The fact that "his wife's father is Viktor Zubkov" would just be another reason to hush the whole thing up: as long as the affair became public, Zubkov himself now looks like a fool who can can not manage his family business without making too much noise. So, I really can not imagine that this one was among of the reasons :-)).
(c) You are saying: "Another source of pressure was likely the military itself". This one I COMPLETELY agree with you on, and I guess that the Austrian article I referred to did not mention this (very important) factor due to the lack of space only.
(d) And finally, you are saying: "MISTRALs <are needed> for projection of military power to regional hotspots as landing ships". Well, see, this argument - I would say - sounds very questionable to me.
Look, Mistral is a French ship and it makes a lot of sense for FRANCE to have such ships given that most of the conflicts that their military has been involved in the 20th century in were taking place in three geographic areas: (a) Africa, (b) Indochina (Vietnam), (c) Middle East (Lebanon, Syria). So, it definitely makes sense for the French forces to have such ships in order to trasfer "almost 1000 troops, along with their associated helicopters and 60 or so light tanks" to war theaters GEOGRAPHICALLY REMOTE from the French national territory, be it Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, the DRC or anthing else.
As far as RUSSIA is concerned, throughout the 20th century it has been involved in military conflicts EXCLUSIVELY in areas NEIGHBOURING ON IT - be it Germany in WWI and WWII, Poland in 1920 and 1944, the PRC in the late 1960s, Afghanistan in the 1980s, Chechnya in the 1990s or Georgia in 2008. To ANY of those war theaters Russia could have (and has) been able to send ANY AMOUNT of troops BY LAND. So, why would they need to send any additional troops in the future - be it to Georgia, to Estonia, to Romania or to Poland - BY SEA? It's just NOT NECESSARY, given that all of those countries can potentially be (and have been in the past) reached by the Russian infantery BY LAND routes (and the Georgian campaign, I think, demonstrated this point very vividly).
So, given the above, I would say that purchasing Mistrals by Russia looked more like a personal favour to Nicolas Sarkozy for having helped Medvedev and Putin to legalistically wrap up the annexation of Abkhazia and Ossetia in 2008, rather than anything else.
Cheers from Vienna, Mark, and do stay in touch!
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa
November 19, 2012 14:59
russia is an army of conscripts and everybody knows that an army of conscripts is a lousy army, the russian army collapsed in 1914, the soviet army collapsed in 1941 and the present army is in a stalemate in southern russia which is fast becoming one big mosque and theres nothing russia or the little dictator can do about it. you can kill a muslim but you cant kill islam. Allah is coming to a neighborhood near you.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 20, 2012 16:35
Peter, you are surprising me. First, you are saying: "Everybody knows that an army of conscripts is a lousy army". May I just remind you, Peter, that ALL armies that fought in WWII, for example, were armies of conscripts. And some of them actually did pretty well - for example, the Red Army even went all the way to Berlin, you know :-)).
And, for example, the army of the United States is a "professional" army - which did not help it avoid suffering humiliating defeats in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. So, I am afraid I can not really say that I agree with your "analysis" here :-).
And then you say: "the present army is in a stalemate in southern russia which is fast becoming one big mosque and theres nothing russia or the little dictator can do about it".
Peter, why should Russia or the "little dictator" do something about people who go to mosques to pray in a peaceful manner? Let people just exercises their religious practices normally - just ask Mr. Kadyrov, he will tell you how it's done :-)).
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 21, 2012 08:12
Eugenio is at his usual defence of offence of Russian expansion.
"Mistrals" was purchased exactly, as Mark said, for Sea invasion.
As is return of outdated "flying ships" against neighboring nations.
Russia capable invade by land, but UN and international reaction,
Since Abkhazia war and 2008 Russian attack made them craizy.

The Varanga-Prussaka always used a srtrangulating quietly rope
On necks of betrayed nations, next time they like to make it fast,
Invading from the Sea and land, subverting from inside like dop
The condamned, including Azerbaijan, slide among oil pumps
To Baku harbor and Georgian ports, advancing Russia-pups..

French sold it under presuure by Russia, to ballance trade
And help it gave Georgians. Starategic position, Eugenio?
Is it strategy of your Russia - to betray, than repopulate
All nations, breed Russ, invading land of their creators
That stopped nazis, when Russia-muteny betrayed?

In Response

by: peter from: ottawa
November 21, 2012 14:40
please Eugenio put down your comic books and face facts, yes the us suffered defeat in vietnam with an army of conscripts, hundreds of draft dodgers made their way to Canada during the Vietnam war , in irak the us pummeled saddams army in less than a week with a professional army as for afghanistan the Taleban are hiding in their caves to avoid those drone strikes,. The gulag army won ww2.for russia, behind them were NKVD troops ready to shoot them in the back if they did not advance., your conscript russian army could nt finish the job in 2008, the little dictator got cold feet 30 km from Tbilisi at a little town called Igoeti. The little dictator s second 12 year term is not starting off too well, all with his mysterious ailment, a state secret were told,just like the old days, Back to the USSR.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 22, 2012 05:17
What a load of uninformed twaddle. If you were thinking the fleeing Georgian forces - incidentally, a conscript army - stopped "the little dictator" from going all the way, maybe your shirt collar is too tight. The withdrawing Russian forces took with them almost 2000 firearms - many of them new M4's dropped by Georgian soldiers running for their lives - and of the 35 Georgian tanks lost, 24 were captured intact. Do you know what that means, Peter? It means that their crews bailed out and ran like rabbits. Does that sound like the kind of determined resistance that stopped the Russian advance? I hope not. In fact, the Russian army withdrew because of a crescendo of international squealing that Georgia was being invaded, by many of the same people who tacitly egged Saakashvili on to attack in the first place. There wasn't much in the way of international intervention when it still looked like he was winning, which was before he had to face a force bigger than a handful of peacekeepers and a few soldiers home on leave in Tshkinvali.

I don't blame the Georgians - why get killed for nothing? The Russian Air Force established control of the airspace in no time flat, and from then on anything moving ahead of the advancing Russian forces was a target. There's a great YouTube clip of President Saakashvili - let's call him "The Big Dictator", what do you say? He starts running in panic in the middle of an interview because he thinks he hears a Russian jet overhead, and at one point some of his people push him down and cover him with their briefcases. Maybe they were his general staff, they certainly seemed to be so clueless that they thought a few briefcases would stop 30mm rounds. Here; enjoy.

Israel has a conscript military. It got its ass handed to it by Hezbollah, and the Israeli Chief of Staff resigned in disgrace. Interestingly, in contrast to the Georgian war, Israel's effort to roll up Lebanon failed because of an over-reliance on air power. Yet the IDF is customarily thought of as a formidable force that can whip its weight in wildcats.

In reality, conscript armies are no less professional than volunteer armies, and results achieved have much more to do with training, motivation, goal-setting and overall force of arms. The USA nearly doubled the weight of Vietnam with all the iron they rained upon it, and still lost - because they had no clearly-defined goal, no metrics for measuring success and no plan except for escalation. Yet the USA's top general in Afghanistan - before he was sacked, that is - was quite openly supportive of conscription as a way for the U.S. to win wars. He might have gotten fired, but I daresay he knows more about the military than you do.

In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 22, 2012 10:07
Hello Peter from Ottawa. Well, may I just remind you that the US introduced conscription only AFTER IT BECAME CLEAR TO KENNEDY that his "professional" US army was "too small" to defeat the Communists in VIETNAM. Which then led him to itroduce the draft - which constituted an open and obvious admission on his part of the obvious fact that a small army of "professional" soliders would just not be up to the task of defeating a whole nation armed with ideas of the Marxist theory.
Well, of course, you are right in that the idea of Kennedy to introduce draft was a stupid one as well (I mean, what idea coming from the land of Beavuses and Buttheads was not :-)?). The US army of conscripts was just as lousy as the US "professional" army would have been - what can you expect from individuals who start taking drugs the very moment they stop drinking their mother's milk :-)? But at any rate, WHETHER "professional" OR drafted - the US NEVER stood a chance of winning against the heroic people of Vietnam!
So, Peter from Ottawa, I am afraid to disappoint you, but the reason for which the US suffered a humiliating defeat in Vietnam is not due to conscription :-)).
Well, as far as IRAQ is concerned, the major enemy of the US there was NOT the "saddams army" which was "pummeled... in less than a week": it was the Iraqi population at large, which - as you might remember - has been combatting the US occupation troops all until the month of December 2011 when the last Beavus was kicked out of the country. Today, Iraq is governed by a Shia govt which is close to the US enemy Iran and is one of the few Arab govts that openly support the anti-US Syrian govt of Bashar al-Assad. So, once again - where did you see here the sign of a "professional" army accomplishing "successfully" any kind of tasks and doing it "BETTER" than the army of conscripts would have? Are you maybe saying that - had the US had a draft system 10 years ago - the US military would have suffered more looses on the battle-field in Iraq? Or are you saying that they would have been able to achieve their "goals" (what were those, by the way?) slower than a US "professional" army allegedly "has"?
And what you are saying about AFGHANISTAN is probably the example that illustrates the absurdity of your claim that the army of "professionals" is better than the army of conscripts most vividly. I mean, you are saying yourself that "the Taleban are hiding in their caves" or, to put it differently, they are using their better knowledge of the combat terraine and the tactics of attrition against the NATO occupation forces. So, following the logic of your initial argument, would you then say that the "professional" US army is better able to get orientation on this hostile for them terraine than a US army of conscripts would have? Of course, not! The US "professional" army is getting defeated, because they have no clue about the country and its people and can by no means distiguish their allegedly existing "friends" from enemies, and a US army of conscripts would have lost here the same way for the very same reason.
IN OTHER WORDS, Peter from Ottawa, your initial argument based on some supposed "superiority" of a "professional" army in comparison to an army of conscripts does not hold any water. So, just stop talking silly and go back to work, unless you want to be fired :-))).

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 18, 2012 21:31
Good Morning, Eugenio;

We are agreed that Russian military equipment is not crappy by nature, and I merely pointed out that this is the narrative that is being used to get the most mileage out of Serdyukov. Since he's gone anyway, they might as well reverse themselves and spin him as a man of principles, who spurned the rubbish made by his doltish countrymen in favour of the beautifully-engineered designs of the west.

Russian military equipment reflects an entirely different design philosophy from that of the west. It is generally less sophisticated, not because Russian engineers are incapable of sophistication, but because it is designed to be used by conscripts who do not have the time to go to school for a year so they can learn how to fire a missile. It is generally rugged and often replaces elegance of engineering with raw power to achieve the same objective, as in the MiG-25 Foxbat, which was the fastest combat aircraft in the world although it used a riveted fuselage and wings like a World War II fighter. This causes a lot of unnecessary drag and welds would have been better, but you could produce 10 riveted MiGs in the time it took to produce 1 welded model, and if it could go faster than anything else even with rivets, who cares? Russian small arms are made so they will suffer any amount of abuse and still work, and while they are generally not as accurate as precision weapons, there isn't one soldier in ten in any army who can hit a head-sized target under combat conditions like he can on a firing range - most just use "spray and pray", and volume of fire is far more important on the infantry battlefield than precision fire. It is significant that large numbers of Georgian soldiers in 2008 threw away the American M4's on which they had just trained extensively in favour of the AK-47 they trusted.

The MISTRAL is an Assault Carrier by type, and while its employment by Russia will not likely be exactly the same as that of France, that is the role it is built to fulfill. Russia has an assault capability and has never discounted the need for it, but has let its capabilities in that field degrade considerably; only the ROPUCHA II class could be called close to modern. You are correct that the modern Russian navy does not require a long-range amphibious capability, but the ROPUCHAs were used in the 2008 war to land assault troops at Poti and the MISTRALs would have been much better, especially as the ROPUCHAs have no helicopter capability.

Medevedev once announced the MISTRALs would be based in the Kuriles, to deter Japanese ambitions toward establishing ownership. There is currently no base in the Kuriles that could support such ships.

As to Sedyukov and his affair, his lover was also the woman he had arranged a management position for in Oboronservis, the company in whose malfeasance he became embroiled. I think you downplay the amount of clout Zubkov wields as chairman of GAZPROM and attribute a desire to cover up the affair - thus protecting Serdyukov - that is not present: why would he, considering it has already been splashed messily all over the papers? But it's possible you're right.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 19, 2012 11:12
Hello, Mark, great to hear from you!
First of all, thank you for some interesting details on the Russian vs. Western arms production. Very frankly, if would be just great if the RFE/RL asked YOU to write articles on the Russian military for this web-site from time to time: this way the level of reporting and analysis here would go up tremendously!
As far as the MISTRALs are concenred: one could read all sorts of stories on where exactly the Russian military "would like" to have them stationed. I remember reading somewhere a couple of years ago that the Russian Foreign Min. Iwanow said to Sarkozy once that "Russia had 5 "seas"" (i.e. access to the Baltic, the Black, the Caspian Seas, the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans), thus allegedly implying that there was an "urgent need" in buying 5 MISTRALs from France. Very frankly, once I read this back then, the whole story of how "necessary" such ships for the Russian military were seemed so bogus to me: why would anyone want to station a MISTRAL somewhere in Murmansk or Archangelsk? Where should Russian troops be sent to from those ports??? At any rate, if one was to send them anywhere from those two ports, the MISTRALs would have to go accompanied by an ice-breaker :-).
Now you are mentioning stationing one of those on the Kuril Islands - and my next question is: what would be the use of it there? Russia obviously has NO ambition of invading the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido - so, no need to trasfer any Russian troops from the Kurils in this direction. And if the Japanese were - some day - to turn as crazy as to send their own "Self-Defense" Force units to retake the Southern Kurils, I can not imagine that having a MISTRAL stationed there would help the Russian forces too much: the Japanese (in the HYPOTHETICAL AND HIGHLY UNLIKELY case of sending their troops to the Kurils) would obviously at once send dozens of thousands. So, (a) the only outcome for the MISTRAL in question I can imagine would be being seized by the Japanese and trasferred to Hokkaido, and (b) very frankly, I think that the NUCLEAR DETERRENT of the Russian strategic nuclear forces is the best antidote against any future adventures of the Japanese military on this front :-)).
And then, you know, Sarkozy himself was going all over France in 2009-2010 talking to workers of the French shipyard in Saint-Nazaire (and elsewhere) and reminding them every moment that the contract for the construction of the MISTRALs for Russia will "guarantee thousands of jobs for the French naval construction industry workers" for years to come. When I heard him talk this way, I could not get rid of the impression that the whole Russian MISTRAL "deal" was put together exclusively to give the guy the pleasure of being able to present himself at home as a "savior of the French naval industry" - in exchange for his good job on the diplomatic front in August 2008 :-).
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 19, 2012 18:30
Good Morning, Eugenio;

Actually, France is building only the first two MISTRAL hulls, and the remaining two will be built in Russia. France will have a hand in building those last two hulls as well, but 80% of the labor will be Russian. As you probably noticed, Sarkozy had a habit of saying a lot of things that were not true.

That said, the MISTRALs are a big project and they probably will get a few years of work out of it.

Japan blows hot and cold on the issue of the Kuriles, but there seems little doubt legally that they are Russian. Some western agencies like to back Japan's claim, not only because it is against Russia and they will back anything against Russia, but because succeeding Japanese administrations have had trouble justifying the foreign (American ) military presence there, and because of the possibility America might one day be asked to leave Japan. If that were the case, the Kuriles might be an option. At the close of the Second World War, as can be seen here (commencing with Memorandum 363,

it was not only clearly agreed the Kuriles were to belong to the Soviet Union, but that the USA desired a permanent air base on one of the islands. A base established there now could interdict the Russian Navy's passage from the Sea of Okhotsk to the open ocean.

A MISTRAL or two stationed in the Kuriles would admittedly not stop or even slow a massive assault, but such an assault would be unlikely, would be difficult to assemble without giving advance notice, and if conducted against military units would be a clear act of war.

An amphibious assault ship merely gives the Navy - with the support and participation of the Army - the capability to set up a small military base anywhere within its effective range. Amphibious assault is a capability all major Navies retain to some degree, especially those who also maintain a large standing Army. The Russian Navy is in this respect no different.

There is probably something also to the suggestion that Russia wishes to acquire sensitive foreign military technology, but to do so they could hardly have chosen a worse partner than France. France is already a relatively shameless arms merchant to the world, and technology which is exclusively French is not difficult to acquire without buying a whole ship to do it. Technology which belongs to a third power - say, the USA - is protected by end-user agreements and cannot be transferred without permission from the builder.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 20, 2012 17:06
Hello, Mark,
I agree with what you say about the legal status of the Kuril islands. Just to add to what you said, Germany - which together with Japan was an agressor in the WWII - lost about 40 % of its 1913 national territory during the 20th century. And they ended up recognizing their new borders and, frankly speaking, it's just better for them this way. The sooner the Japanese realize this simple fact and follow the suit of the Germans - the better for them, but on the current stage, when "advanced" "industrial" societies - such as Japan - are stuck in a never-endning economic crisis, distracting own population from economic problems by focusing its attention on a foreign "enemy" is becoming a tool of "macro-economic management" that the govt of Japan will - unfortunately - be tempted to resort to in the years to come again and again.
And then, you say that "<a Japanese military assault against the Russian Kurils> if conducted against military units <represented by the MISTRALs in question> would be a clear act of war". Ok, I see, so, you are basically saying that a MISTRAL stationed on the Kurils would perform the same role that the Russian peace-keepers who were stationed in S. Ossetia in August 2008 performed back then: (a) given their low numbers, they could by no means stop a massive attack by the Georgian army, BUT (b) given that - in order to advance - the Georgian army had to (and did) kill some Russian servicemen, the Georgian leadership had to understand that the only response they could expect from the Russian side was a massive counter-attack (which under normal conditions should have prevented any Georgian attack back then in the first place).
And thus - provided the Japanese leadership in question was acting logically - stationing a MISTRAL on the South of the Kurils would have prevented any attack by the Japanese against the Russian forces in the first place. Ok, I see, and of course, I agree with this point - even though stationing a couple of medium- to long-range ballistic missiles equiped with nuclear war-heads on the S. Kurils might have just give the Japanese leadership some extra sense of realism :-)).
And finally, when you talk about the weaknesses of the French military equipment: Exactly! And this is one more reason to think that signing the MISTRAL deal specifically with Sarkozy was nothing other than a personal favour to him! By the way, did you see the guy running to Putin about a week ago to "say hello"? Looks like Nicolas is about to join the ever more sizeable group of former European leaders (Schröder, Berlusconi, Lipponen) who like flocking around Putin, hoping to get a position that he might have for individuals with their qualifications :-)).
Cheers from Vienna, Mark, stay in touch!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 21, 2012 19:22
Mark missed that "Russian weapons" inherrited from USSR,
Wich purpose was to make it simple and not expencive,
But good to fight much better than Russian Czars.
In 1947 Stalin under house arrest, perspective
Was changing to a Varaga-Prussaka "navar"
And mentality of ragget murderous erection.

West, specially USA, deliberatly "polishing",
To charge more money from the taxpayers
For elit and corporations - often redunding.
Part of old Soviet raggetness is logicly fear,
Part of it hate, ethnic Russia intimmidating.

By the way, it isn't Russia engineers, Mark.
As in USSR - intelligent are not Russians.
They are remnant of enslaved God's bark,
That built it during Stalin - working to dark
For apes-masters, the Varaga-Prussians.

As they steal from me, reading my mind,
Even in Los Angeles, betraying saddists
Stole last time my joke to make 2 to one
Sniper rifle - they built it, the spying bists,
Used in 2008, covardly shoot Georgians.

Once again, Eugenio - invade from Sea
Is new Russian consept, to silence fast.
They wouldn't allow anymore UN pleas,
Like in 2008, preparing all kind of arms.
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa
November 23, 2012 13:54
the Mistral is one big fat sitting duck with one well placed drone missile and it sinks like a tub. You can have the best hardware but if that 18 year draftee pushes the wrong button because his thinking of his mothers home cooking , your billion dollar hardware tub is useless and sinks fast.. The first so called troops into Georgia were Abkhazs thugs and Ossetians criminals , they were expendables, Russia did not accomplish the job in 2008 , and is losing the north caucasus to peaceful sunni wahabists. By the way Novgorod is getting itd first mosqe , with empty churches everywhere because of 70 years of atheism, Allah is settling near the Kremlin , your bullets are shooting blanks. Above the russian barracks it reads. Beatings will continue until morale improves.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 23, 2012 15:05
Hello, Peter! Great to hear from you and thanks again for your insigthful comments :-)!
Well, first, you are saying: "Novgorod is getting its first mosqe, with empty churches everywhere because of 70 years of atheism". That's fine, Peter, let people go to the Novgorod mosque and pray their, where is the problem :-)? And then: 70 years of Atheism are ok! I mean, Peter, go and try to find here in Vienna any normal person under 60 years of age who will seriously admit to be a practicing Christian :-). Peter, dude, wake up: it is 2012 - not 1512 :-)).
And then you say: "Allah is settling near the Kremlin". Well, Peter, isn't the fact that Allah has chosen exactly Russia as his place of residence indicative of the fact that it is just a chosen country! Inchallah :-)))!!!
Cheers from Vienna, Peter :-))!
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 25, 2012 01:20
"the Mistral is one big fat sitting duck with one well placed drone missile and it sinks like a tub."

Is that so? How many have been sunk so far, Peter?

Although considerable progress has been made with UAV's (often called "drones"), there as yet are none which can carry an antiship missile. They're pretty big, and drones mostly are used for surveillance. The "attack drones" the USA uses carry the Hellfire missile, which weighs about 100 pounds. The Exocet, which is fairly small as antiship missiles go, weighs about 1,500 pounds. You would probably have to hit a target the size of MISTRAL with about 5 of them to be confident of sinking it.

A carrier is just a big fat sitting duck, too. That's why it doesn't travel anywhere without an escort stiff with AAW pickets in an area where hostilities are even possible.

As for the rest, it's just nonsense hyperbole. Your loathing for Russia is plain, but so is your ignorance, and an insult from a fool is a compliment.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 25, 2012 09:08
To MARK: So, see, Mark, now you are admitting that "you would probably have to hit a target the size of MISTRAL with about 5 <anti-ship missiles> to be confident of sinking it". Isn't it a strong argument AGAINST deploying such ships when faced with the necessity of trasporting infantery troops to SHORT distances (which is, as we earlier agreed, what Russia might need to do in any future war)?
I mean, why does one need to send troop to, let's say for the sake of the argument, Poland from, for example, Kronstadt/St. Pet. by ship - running the risk of having this ship hit with 5 Polish anti-ship missiles - if you just can trasfer MANY MORE TROOPS to this very same Poland BY LAND (a) from Russia via Belarus and (b) from the Kaliningrad enclave?
Really, I am still very sceptical as far as the usefullness of such military hardware specifically for the Russian military is concerned. For the French - yes, they are useful, but for the Russians...?

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
November 19, 2012 05:11
Mr. Stolypin was the representative of the noble family who despised commoners and slaves...class, from which came Putin.
Mr. Fleckenstein (Andropov) was mortally ill and hated all of this perhaps is the similarity between him and Putin (.the last and only.)
We know that man is formed as a person to 14-15 years whether it is Putin from the village of Leningrad region or camel from the cave of Kurdistan,that chews straw and thorns.
Thus, Putin is Putin-he is redneck who hates everything.

Your whole article is worth nothing because you pulled by the ears incomparable things:
tyrant and scumbag - Stolypin.
schizophrenic patient and embittered -Fleckenstein.
and impostor with the perverted mentality -Putin.
In Response

by: Frank
November 19, 2012 15:29
Stolypin was a great man who tragically didn't get to fullfill his plans for improving the situation in Russia.

So much for the misfits who mischaracterize him.
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
November 19, 2012 17:35
"Stolypin was a great man .."

Do not tell my slippers, mr. Frank...
What exactly did. Stolypin and how it has affected today's Russia?
Stolypin did nothing.
Jews Rosenbergs gave to Russian American atomic bomb.
Wernher von Braun invented the rocket, on which Gagarin was launched into space.
Hugo Schmeisser started production for the Russian, Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Stolypin is something like a camel from the cave of Kurdistan....they both windbags and charlatans...
The only difference is that one was born in Germany and the other in a cave of Kurdistan.

In Response

by: Frank
November 20, 2012 02:58
Vakhtang, he was a great reformer, especially when considering the time period in question.

In contrast, you're a trolling bigot and a not so bright one at that.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 21, 2012 14:47
Yeah Frank, a great "reformer" after whom the gallows were nicknamed "Stolypins Necktie" and who gerrymandered the electoral system.

He also severely repressed ethnic minorities in the Russian Empire in favor of Slavs

Of course, this is well known to be typical behavior for Russian and Serb leaders, so I guess you think it was great.....
In Response

by: Frank
November 24, 2012 01:53
Leave it to Russia and Serbia hater Andrew to post bogus LIES that are quite distant from reality.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 19, 2012 16:03
`a man is formed as a person to 14-15 years`,yeah,thats right,grammar and all,and how long will it take for a vahtang to be formed as a man ,now that we know for sure `he` is a woman??? Dear RFE/RLers,shame on you ,your articles are worth nothing ,how can you pull by the ears such incomparable things-you should have pulled St.vakhtanganaika by his/her donkey ears-thats what they are for!!!
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
November 19, 2012 17:59
You forget that you're on Radio Liberty and not in the caves of is there you can tell other camels, what to write and what not,unless of course the camels are able to do this..
You write about this subject and stop whining....

by: Garen Mailyan from: Glendale, California
November 20, 2012 07:00
Vakhtang and Camel, you made me laugh very hard. Hey, guys that is enough. Perhaps an Armenian can make peace between a Kurd and a Georgian. There is an underlying context to your conflict. That is a conflict between a pro-Russian Kurd, and a pro-Western Georgian. With all honesty, and with all pragmatism, based on historical analysis, any nation that wants half a chance at development, can not do it without West - period.
A nation, any nation needs 3 basics to develop.
#1. Financing and investment. This is a power that historically and exclusively resides in West - in form of credit banking - the Anglo-Dutch banking, primarily of Jewish origin and under Jewish control.
#2. A nation can not develop without technology. That, too resides in West. Japans and Chinas of the world did take or steal Western technology, but in practical economic application of it, they are far behind West.
#3. A nation can not develop without market-oriented practical education system. That, too resides in West.
All non-Western nations that have developed, or are developing - such as China, Japan, India, other Asian nations, Turkey and so forth, have done so exclusively with Western help. Those nations that refused to open up to West are still poor- North Korea, Burma, so on.
I want to further say that no nation can develop unless it has SECURITY CLEARANCE to do so by WEST. Armenia is the prime example of that. Diaspora Armenians prosper wildly, yet Armenia is a poor country, poorer than under Soviet rule. For one reason and one reason alone - West has not given Armenia the SECURITY CLEARANCE to develop, because Armenia still chooses to subjugate itself to Russia. Russia can not help Armenia with development, since Russia itself is a basic 3rd World country outside of few major cities. Many look at the outer-picture Turkish-Azeri blockade of Armenia, but forget one thing - Turkey is a NATO member, and it could never use blockade, which is a form of warfare against a nation-Armenia-that is part of another military alliance - Russian-led CSTO. Russia gives Armenia security, but no development. Security without development is no security at all, since it promotes constant immigration of Armenians from country. Anyways, I wish Georgia all the best with NATO and EU membership-bent policies. If they succeed, that will create hope for Armenia to follow, but if Russia succeeds in crushing Georgia, both Georgia and Armenia will go back to being Russia's provinces a la Czarist and Soviet rule, under Putin's renewed Soviet Union - Euro-Asian Union.
Camel, with all due respect, as an Armenian, as a son of a nation, that has been suffered greatly because of Russian treachery, I brotherly warn you not to tie Kurdish destiny to that of Russia. You will be left in the same messed up historical state as Armenia.
Turks defeated Greeks in 1071, in the battle of Manazkert, and ruled Western Armenia since then. Up until 1830, Armenians enjoyed great peace and prosperity under Ottomans. Armenians had become the business engine of Ottoman empire by that time. Turkish sultans had made great concessions to Armenians in Holy places in Jerusalem, but since Russia's entrance to Caucasus in early 1800's Turkish-Armenian relations started going sour for one reason. Armenians fell for Russia's imperial propaganda of religious solidarity. Seeing Armenian reorientation towards Russia, Turks responded with massacres of Armenians, to which Russia did absolutely nothing to stop.

In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 20, 2012 17:15
Garen Mailyan, you are saying: "massacres of Armenians, to which Russia did absolutely nothing to stop". I mean, Garen, just curious: what would you expect the Russian imperial army to do in the Caucasus in 1915 in order to "stop the Turks"?
In 1915 the GERMAN army under Hindenburg and Ludendorf stricktly speaking ALMOST MADE THE RUSSIAN FRONT on the territories of today's Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, W. Ukraine and W. Belarus COLLAPSE. In 1915 the German and Austrian troops advanced several hundred km in a few months only retaking from the Russian imperial army such cities as Warsaw, Lublin, Premysl, Lemberg, Kowel, Wilna, a number of other ones and were close to taking RIGA, which was one of the major industrials centers of the Russian Empire before WWI.
So, what are you saying, the Russians should have just dropped everything on the Western Front - letting the Germans further advance towards St. Pet. and Moscow - and should have concentrated on the Caucasus instead? I mean, just wonderning :-)).
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 20, 2012 18:19
Sirely Karen djan-All armenian problems comes from the stupid and naive beliefs of the natives that the west is going to support a christian nation,contrary to its ego maniacal interests.The west is west and east is east-the twain shall never meet!!! Armenian fate was sealed by the interests the bloody British empire and the even bloodier soviet russia,which gave away to the turks most of its lands-American congress did nothing to help christian Armenia despite the wishes of pres.Wilson.You say armenians prosper wildly in the west-thats right,however where does it say -in written-that you are an armenian-on your ID,drivers licence,IRS taxform- tell me where -you are ameicans -you have sworn allegiance to the USA.and millions of the taxes you pay have gone to help the cold turkeys and the yahoodies-the arch enemies of Armenia.So much for your well being -its paid by the suffering of the rest of humanity.Otherwise your facts are right,but the world is not a glendale with its haidarag eshu zavagner!!! And Eugenia,if it wasnt for the zionist financed october `revolution`,there woul have been no turkey today and you would have remained the serf-peasant that you are-with or without the soviets.Prosit!!!
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 21, 2012 02:40
"With all honesty, and with all pragmatism, based on historical analysis, any nation that wants half a chance at development, can not do it without West - period."

Oh; I DO love an economics lesson!

That's actually true, although not in the way I imagine you are thinking. Although China continued to tell the west to get stuffed every time it began blathering about human rights, and to point out that a nation which had cheerfully endorsed torture - even going so far as getting its top lawyers to rewrite legal opinions for the President that made it sound no worse than a good spanking - at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay has no business strumming the human-rights chord over and over, the west just shrugged and went back to pouring money into China. When Japan's economy tipped over into a power dive and they could no longer keep fronting the USA the money to attempt wrestling Iraq to the ground, China stepped up, and now the USA owes China so much money that its human-rights complaints are all but stilled. The USA poured its children's futures into Iraq, but somebody guessed wrong because it did not come out at all like it was supposed to, and billions changed hands in a long-running transaction in which the USA ceded its position as the world's largest economy, after having paid cash for the privilege. That what you were thinking of?

I imagine not. In fact, far from lacking in "practical economic application" of technology, China is poised to overtake the USA as the world's largest economy, at the IMF's furthest estimate, in 2016. Some say it has happened already.

China is also poised to overtake the west as the world's largest smartphone market - more of their lagging behind the west in technology, no doubt -

and in the production of scientific papers.

You could argue that China has achieved all that with the west's support, guidance and supervision, as it patiently instructed China in how to run profitable enterprises, exploit trade advantages and boost market share. But you'd be wrong. In fact, China has succeeded by taking advantage of the west's weaknesses, laziness and mistakes. Rather than surging to the lead with the west's patronage, it has done so in spite of it, and now dares to confront and oppose the NATO powers on the foreign policy stage.

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 25, 2012 19:30
"So, see, Mark, now you are admitting that "you would probably have to hit a target the size of MISTRAL with about 5 <anti-ship missiles> to be confident of sinking it". Isn't it a strong argument AGAINST deploying such ships when faced with the necessity of trasporting infantery troops to SHORT distances (which is, as we earlier agreed, what Russia might need to do in any future war)?"

I don't see that as an "admission" so much as a simple statement of fact. Of course MISTRAL is not unsinkable, nor is any other ship. Large troop and aircraft carriers typically do not carry a great deal of self-defense hardkill weaponry because they do not expect to operate independently during hostilities. They expect an escort of ships with good air defense capabilities, and that indeed is the typical organization of aircraft carrier and amphibious task groups. In each the carrier (or assault carrier) is the high-value target, without which the mission is unlikely to succeed.

As to whether amphibious assault remains a credible combat requirement, it depends entirely on the threat. If the threat is the USA and UK, of course MISTRAL is not going to be expected to sail all the way to either country to land a relatively insignificant number of troops on their shores. If the threat is contingent republics, amphibious assault remains one of the best ways to introduce a proportionately powerful land force together with its armored vehicles and helicopters where it is least welcome. In order to guard against it, all its possible landing points have to be guarded and under surveillance, which thins and separates opposing forces, while an amphibious assault is almost always part of a coordinated strike using other forces.

The alternative is to have land forces march to trouble spots - which I think you will agree is impractical - or insert them by air. I hope an argument is not going to follow that aircraft carrying troops are not vulnerable - "sitting ducks", if you prefer - for antiaircraft weaponry. Even if the area is the focus of vicious air-defense suppression by Russian forces which control the air, cargo aircraft could land mostly only infantry, while heavy vehicles in large numbers could be handled only by the biggest.

In short, I would stipulate that modern amphibious assault is impractical for long-range combat missions. However it is not for such a role the MISTRALs were purchased, and there are plenty of regional points where they could be used for power projection, as well as to reinforce areas that are themselves under attack.

by: Mandy Smith from: Georgia
November 29, 2012 03:13
Putin is reshuffling. what end? He loves Sergei and Kudrin. But the others...that is the mystery. A LOT of "corruption" charges lately. This satisfies the populace demand that corruption must end, but not outside observers, like me. For me, there is one too many corrupt officials getting the ax for it to be anything other than Putin in defense mode. Why? That is the question. Look for Ivanov to be angry with these changes....he in an increasing "sore in the side" for Putin.

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

18:33 October 29, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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)


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)



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


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)


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


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


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


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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, 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


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


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


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


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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 and Interfax)

And via Reuters:


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.


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


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


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)

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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