Sunday, November 23, 2014


The Power Vertical

Putin's Game And Kudrin’s Choice

Who is using whom?
Who is using whom?
If Russian President Vladimir Putin ever actually appoints Aleksei Kudrin as his prime minister, we’ll know that one of two things happened: Either Putin decided to radically change course or Kudrin shamelessly sold out.

In the weeks since Kudrin made a surprise appearance at Putin’s annual live call-in program with carefully vetted Russian citizens, when he harshly criticized the president’s economic policies, the media has been abuzz with speculation that the former finance minister would replace the hapless Dmitry Medvedev as premier. 

"The president has already given the go-ahead for this move in principle," the daily “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reported last week, citing an unidentified "informed source in the security services." But, the report continued, "a struggle around the issue is continuing within the regime and Kudrin has many opponents."

For his part, Kudrin claims he’s not interested -- at least not right now.

"I think I have a wealth of experience and abilities, but I do not agree with a number of decisions made by the political leadership," Kudrin said on May 19 at a seminar in Voronezh. "I’m not interested in being a technical prime minister who carries out policies that are alien to me. Maybe after some time the situation will change."

A day later, speaking at an event in the State Duma, Kudrin lashed out at the authorities, saying the country needed to modernize economically and politically or risk stagnation and decay.

"Stagnation is not a one-day story," he said. "Even if we roll our sleeves up now, we'll have to toil three or five years to attain new elements of effectiveness...The political system is lagging behind the challenges of the time, and does not ensure the mechanism for arranging the modernization of the country."

Kudrin added that there is no "internal stimulus" for economic reforms and that the regime needed to overhaul the electoral system and "take steps toward broader representation" in the government and legislature. He said legislation requiring NGOs receiving foreign funding to register as "foreign agents" was "by any measure an obvious restriction of civil society."

Kudrin, of course, was careful. He slammed Medvedev’s government. He took shots at the ruling United Russia party. But he did not criticize Putin personally or directly.

Part of this, no doubt, is explained by the two men's long and close friendship, which goes back to when both of them served in the St. Petersburg city government in the 1990s. But part of it, I think, is also because Kudrin is playing a very delicate game with Putin.

I believe Kudrin is trying in private to convince his old pal that by listening to his siloviki colleagues from the KGB, by cracking down on civil society, by stalling on economic reform, and by abandoning political reform, he is harming the country, destroying his legacy, and missing an opportunity. And he is, ever so carefully, applying pressure in public.

Kudrin is one of the few people in the elite that can dance this way with Putin and get away with it -- and he knows it.  Whether this has any chance of success, whether Putin is at all malleable at this stage of the game, is another question.

And Putin also appears to be using his old friend and the speculation surrounding his possible return to politics -- and it has nothing to do with being interested in the types of reform and institution building Kudrin is fond of lecturing about.

No, for Putin it is all about control, about keeping his subordinates in fear and on tenterhooks.

"Putin finds it boring to develop institutions. He prefers to send signals to his subordinates," political analyst Rustem Falyakhov wrote on his blog in Gazeta.ru. "This is why he brought Kudrin back, in the virtual sense. As a bogeyman for the government. If economic growth drops to the level of recession, the Kremlin has a premier ready to take over. Now the government must waste no time sleeping and must be afraid."

If that is indeed Putin’s strategy, it’s all well and good -- until the economic crisis many have been predicting finally comes and he actually needs to fire Medvedev’s government.

And then Putin will have a very important choice to make. And so will Kudrin.

-- Brian Whitmore

 

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Rebecca from: US
May 20, 2013 20:08
I feel like Kudrin is Putin's last choice as PM. In his Q&A he made it pretty clear that Kudrin lacks basic social and managerial skills. To Putin, Kudrin thinks only in numbers and forgets about human beings and emotions. He is also a pretty non-complacent person, and not a typical Russian politician. He has no problem standing up to Putin. I don't think Putin would like having to deal with such a trouble making PM on a regular basis. I feel like Kudrin really wants to be PM. I think he was more upset over the fact he wasn't selected as PM rather than seeing Putin come back to power. But I don't think he'll ever compromise with Putin for it. He's never backed down before so I can't imagine him starting now. If he does get the position it will most definitely be in his terms.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
May 20, 2013 21:43
How is it possible that such a discussion could still be going on? Didn't we learn ANYTHING from the Medvedev years? All these EXACT same things were said about Medvedev, and what happened? All had egg on their faces when Putin revealed Medvedev was a sham and retook formal power.

Are we REALLY going to go down that same road ALL OVER AGAIN, this time with Kudrin? REALLY?

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on ME!

by: peter from: queens ny
May 22, 2013 16:13
the lead clown surrounds himself with chimps and mongrels same circus act ,same results. Dont worry mr big 60 dollar oil is around the corner and russia capitulates like it has always done in the past. LOL.

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

19:16 November 21, 2014

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

RUSSIAN OLYMPIAN CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

 

16:55 November 19, 2014

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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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