Friday, August 26, 2016

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Putin's Muddled Message

By Brian Whitmore

When a Russian leader speaks to a foreign media outlet, it is usually aimed at sending a clear and specific message.

But Vladimir Putin's lengthy, wide-ranging, and often contentious interview with the mass-circulation German tabloid Bild this week was a discombobulated mishmash of conciliatory, unyielding, and sometimes disturbingly over-the-top rhetoric.

Putin apparently wants to reengage the West, but he wants to do so without making any concessions -- or even a change in tone.

On the new Power Vertical Podcast, we unpack Putin's mixed and muddled message to the West and what it portends.

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov, president of the LEFF Group and a columnist for 


Podcast: Putin's Muddled Message
Podcast: Putin's Muddled Messagei
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.​

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Comment Sorting
by: Dana from: New Jersey
January 15, 2016 23:57
I'm tired of endless and naive attempts of our US media to denigrate the Russian president by any means. Our American leaders are such "angels," that the people are already on the brink of revolution... American politics: We the elites run two Mafia called DNC and GOP, and we've bought and paid almost all candidates on both sides, and those whom we can't buy, we'll make sure to censor or even ban them so our powerful mass deception will trick you the people into voting our puppets anyways, and we'll always ruin your lives together as long as we the elites are behind the game of thrones.
In Response

by: Jim Kovpak from: Moscow
January 19, 2016 08:15
Who said US leaders are "angels?" Also, please tell us who is censored or banned in America for saying things like that. In the US you have people like the Oathkeepers making videos on Youtube and nothing happens to them (except those members who deliberately engage in breaking the law). You've got Alex Jones all over the internet accusing the government of mass murder on a daily basis, and he's still raking in money from the suckers.

In Russia, on the other hand, people have gone to jail for retweeting things and sharing pictures on social media. Would you like to trade?
In Response

by: elmer
January 19, 2016 15:20
You are right, Jim Kovpak

many Russians have indeed traded - they've left Russia to go to Europe or the US.

And the oligarchs hide or park their money in Londongrad, Ireland and other offshores:
In Response

by: Mark from: US
January 19, 2016 17:37
Jim, if you are ignorant in regard to the American way of crime, just look into the statistics. The United States the first country in the number of prisoners - 25% of all prisoners in the world. Thousands and thousands of them are political dissidents. America the first on the number of victims of police brutality, too - in 2015 more than 1,200 people died from police bullets! Most of them are innocent US citizens. If the Russian police would kill one innocent person, the US would raise a big scandal, but when 1,200 innocent people die from police bullets in the US, - no one will talk about human rights violations. This is called "American democracy!"
In Response

by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
January 20, 2016 15:25
Mark, you clearly have never been to Russia... where police brutality is minimized by bribes which everybody pays to get around. The very fact that you can say the things you say about the police without any fear of being legally punished for that is a difference that you are probably not even aware of. I wonder what you'd feel like if you were equally critical of the Russian government but lived in Russia instead -- you'd probably not be there for very long.

Nobody is saying America is heaven. It's simply that Russia is worse...

(As for statistics, note that Russia has 1/2 of the population of the US, and is a larger country with many more empty areas. Compare instead the number of times the NYP broke up protest marches with the number of times the OMOH did the same in Moscow -- including 'marches' that were not at all about protest... Ask yourself how likely you would be to be jailed by going around with a Cuban flag in America -- and compare that to your chances of being jailed because of a Ukrainian flag in Russia.)

Etc. etc. etc., ad nauseam sempiternam...
In Response

by: elmer
January 19, 2016 15:26
Dana, one of the Founding Fathers of the US said a long time ago:

"if men were angels, there would be no need of government"

They recognized, in fact, that men are not angels.

Thus, the US Constitution provides for separation of powers, and elections for accountability to the people.

In the Russian Federation, on the other hand, there is only cult of personality and "angels," such as the newly minted Saint Sralin.

Russia Today ferociously makes Putler Khuylo and Saint Sralin "angels."

Supposedly, you are in New Jersey

Do you want to live in the Rasha? They have "angels".

Thus you could solve your problem of looking for angels.

by: Katerina from: Poland
January 16, 2016 00:04
Our Elder's prophecy is that NATO will back Turkey and Russia will win anyways. Then Russia starts having more and more influence, and America can't keep watching so America will decide to join the other side of the war. We draw a very clear line between Solomon's Temple and God's true Israel the Church. The war may also be regarded as a war between powerful Zionist regime and the Church. There are many interpretations. I encourage people to look them all up.
In Response

by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
January 20, 2016 15:27
Oh... OK. Your Elder. Ahn. All... right. Just keep calm and... ahn... consider what other Elders of other faiths may be saying. They, ahn... may not always agree. And then, ahn... which Elder is right, and how do we know? Complicated world, you know.

by: Albert
January 16, 2016 00:10
One problem is apathy. Most people don't believe this could happen to them, but it can and it will eventually. The other problem control over the media. Most of us are ill-informed by the media takeover and mass production of propaganda. Those numbers that are well informed, outside of mainstream media, are not large enough to make an impact. The US has more than 300 million residents. I'm guessing we need 200 million on board to make a real impact. No one has the courage until they come for our guns. Then, there will be a rebellion. Until that happens, all issues are dead in the water.

by: Oleh from: Ternopil
January 16, 2016 06:35
Putin's message indicates the personality cult of Putin (similar to Joseph Stalin).

by: elmer
January 16, 2016 17:50
I think Mr. Frolov hits the nail right on the head at about 8 minutes when he says that Putler is looking to say "scuzee - let's everyone just forget about everything and let's just shake hands."

After 9,000 lives lost and counting in Eastern Ukraine, after lives lost in Georgia, after millions of refugees displaced, after vicious bombing in Syria, after territory grabbed illegally, after creating wastelands and Crimea and Donbas, Putler expects everyone just to forget about it, so Putler and his Kremlinoids can continue to enjoy their palaces.

Putler is delusional. Mark Galeotti may think that Putler has sincerely held beliefs, but when one is just a Kremlinoid thug, those beliefs are basically the beliefs of a mass murderer.

Galeotti is also forgetting about the old sovok adage:

"think one thing, say another, do a third"

And the Rasha is a county where there is no truth - the Kremlinoids define whatever truth they want.

Low oil prices and sanctions are squeezing Putler Khuylo and his Kremlinoids by the nuts, and they don't know what to do about it.

Putler Khuylo and his thugs are responsible for massive loss of lives, and creating massive wastelands, while carrying on his tender bromance over exercise and tea with Medvedev in his palace.

This is a guy that rational people are supposed to deal with?

Better that he should suffer the fate of Litvinenko, or the same fate as those people that he has killed.

The wonder of it is that Russians put up with this malignant failed abortion.

by: elmer
January 16, 2016 18:22
I would like to (very strongly) commend this analysis by Vitaly Portnikov, who is an excellent analyst - he knows whereof he speaks.

He starts out by noting that if the Kremlinoids felt secure, they would not be sending Gryzlov anywhere.

And he also notes that in order to get rid of sanctions, потрібно контактувати з європейцями і американцями. З американцями – насамперед. Саме тому Путін проводить телефонну розмову з Обамою, Лавров збирається зустрічатися із Керрі, а Сурков спілкується з Нуланд.

- it necessary to contact the Europeans and the Americans. First and above all - the Americans. Which is exactly why Putler conducts telephone talks with Obama, Lavrov is getting ready to meet with Kerry, and Surkov is meeting with Nuland.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 17, 2016 22:32
This is a Google translation of part of Vitaly Portnikov article.
In this situation Surkov can certainly offer Nuland script that Gryzlov presented in Kyiv - Donbass integration scenario simulation provided there textured saving pro gangs Zakharchenko and carpenter. But Surkov understands that such a scenario Nuland not swallow. So he had every right to offer her some scenarios - pure simulation, simulation with elements of reality and realistic.

Simulation - this "election" under the control of gangs and preservation "of the NPT." Elements reality - elections under international supervision, with the participation of Russian mercenaries and in the preservation of their power, but under the formal Ukrainian jurisdiction.

Reality - a departure from the Donbas and preparing for evacuation from the Crimea. These are the options - and you can hear that Americans are able to offer in the case of each of them. It is with such responses Nuland Surkov and returned to Putin.

First of all the U.S. should avoid Putin's idea of great powers deciding the fate of smaller nations and let Russia be a small nation who needs to work harder to be a good neighbor in Ukraine. That Obama talks with Putin about Ukraine should be geared toward that end.

Secondly, the U.S. has nothing for which it would reasonably trade for anything Russia may want in Ukraine. What would the U.S. gain by supporting sham elections to maintain gang control in the Russian held area of Ukraine? Apparently the idea is that the U.S. wants Russian forces out of Ukraine bad enough to submit to some of Putin's demands. But those forces are not against the U.S. or NATO but against Ukraine, and the U.S. needs to stand with Ukraine who is against making that kind of bargain. Plus, the threatening nature to Europe of Russian forces in Ukraine works to the U.S. hand, for those preferring realpolitik.

Thirdly, the possibility of Russia leaving Crimea is close to non-existent unless there is a general Russian melt-down.
In Response

by: elmer
January 18, 2016 18:18
"Six Hours with Shuler: what Nuland and Surkov May Have Been Able to Agree on with regard to Ukraine"

Surkov may have had the chance to discuss the removal of Putin from power and the implementation of relations of Ukraine with the West.

As for me, one needs to understand only one simple thing. If the Russian leadership felt itself confident, there would be no meetings in Kyiv or Pionersky. Why would it be necessary for a perpetual member of the Security Council, Boris Gryzlov, to fly to Kyiv and wait into the late evening for President Poroshenko to return from Ternopil, if Moscow felt itself confident with respect to its position in Minsk negotiations? Why would it be necessary for Vladislav Surkov to acquiesce to Victoria Nuland being in Lithuania, or to specially fly to Kaliningrad and conduct multi-day consultations, if Moscow is not interested in this?

Of course Moscow is interested. We'll add to this one new operative manifestation - the contest between Gryzlov and Surkov for the curatorship of the "Ukrainian direction." Gryzlov can take advantage of his status as a perpetual member of the Security Council and personal relations with Putin and Patrushev for talks with leaders in Ukraine - beginning with Poroshenko. Surkov, in principle, also could meet with Poroshenko, whom he has knows very well for a long time. But Surkov can conduct multi-day consultations with the Americans - as to which Gryzlov in principle is not able. Gryzlov - is an exclusively internal-politics player, whose capabilities are exhausted (limited to) Russia and Ukraine. But in order to carry out the directives of Vladimir Putin and cancel the sanctions against Russia, it's necessary to contact the Europeans and the Americans. The Americans - first of all. Which is exactly why Putin has telephone talks with Obama, Lavrov is getting ready to meet with Kerry, and Surkov is meeting with Nuland. And this visit with Nuland - is yet another indication of the operative necessity of Surkov.

Next question - what can Nuland propose to his conversational counterpart? Well, Nuland doesn't need much from him - only for Russia to carry out the Minsk accords, or more simply - to get out of Donbas.

But for Russia - no matter what fairy tales are told by Putin and other Russian government officials about their adherence to the Minsk accords - Russia's carrying out of the accords beginning with the very first point is a synonym for removal from occupied territory. Russians - are not idiots. They understand very well, that the very next day after the disappearance from Donbas of the Russian occupying contingent, all talks about the special status of the region will appear to be absolute nonsense, because the only thing which distinguishes Donetsk or Luhansk from Mariupol, Odesa, Kharkiv or Uzhhorod is - the appearance in the region of occupying armies and their mercenaries. The elimination of the military force factor - is the end of the "DNR" project. And for now Putin wants to preserve this project.

In Response

by: elmer
January 18, 2016 18:26
finishing the translation ----

In this scenario, Surkov can propose, quite naturally, a scenario which Gryzlov presented in Kyiv - a scenario of an imitation integration of Donbas under a preservation of the bands of Zakharchenko and Plotnytsky. But Surkov understands very well that Nuland will not swallow such a scenario. That's why he had every authority to suggest several scenarios to her - pseudo imitative, imitative with elements of reality, and realistic. Imitative - would be "elections" under the control of the bands and preservation of the "DNR." Elements of realistic - elections under international control with the participation of Russian hirelings and with the preservation of their power, but under formal Ukrainian jurisdiction. Realistic - would be departure from Donbas and preparation for evacuation from Crimea. With such options - one can listen to what the American response would be in each case. It is exactly with such responses from Nuland that Surkov reported to Putin.

If, during their meeting in Pionerksy, Surkov and Nuland had the opportunity to talk in fresh air with the confidence that their conversation was not being bugged, Surkov had the chance to about the scenario most optimal for the Russian elite and the government, which includes the removal of Vladimir Putin from power, and the implementation of relations between Ukraine and the West. But until oil prices fall to $20 a barrel and the beginning for the disintegration of the Russian scenario this scenario is unlikely.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 19, 2016 18:15
Thank you for your much clearer translation. I was beginning to think that oil at $30 was creating enough havoc outside of Russia that perhaps $30 was good enough. But if $20 is what Russia needs, let's do it.

by: C. Henry from: Virginia
January 17, 2016 11:41
I prefer to read an article so I can go at my pace. Please provide a text.

by: Mamuka
January 17, 2016 15:36
I listened to the podcast and did not quite know what to make of it. Then just now I read a story about Surkov meeting with an American official in Konigsberg (oh... sorry... Kaliningrad) to discuss Ukraina (where Russia has no troops, so why is the US talking to them?). Then it occured to me that Putin can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, because as along as Western diplomats are willing to engage in pointless process with lower level functionaries, it takes the spotlight off of any improper statements Putin might make. We see the same dynamic in Iran where the relatively westernized Zarif makes promising blandishments while those with the real power say "Death to America" and "Down with the Zionist regime!" Which one gets the lion's share of press coverage, and is it not overwhelmingly favorable?

by: Nick R. from: USA
January 19, 2016 17:41
If you missed it, it was great to see that in the US a presidential candidate like Bernie Sanders finally acknowledged the well-known fact, saying:
“Let me tell you something that no other candidate for president will tell you, and that is, no matter who is elected to be president, that person will not be able to address the enormous problems facing the working families of our country. They will not be able to succeed because the power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of campaign donors is so great that no president alone can stand up to them. That is the truth. People may be uncomfortable about hearing it, but that is the reality.”

by: James E Macdonald from: USA
January 23, 2016 07:18
I don't think Dana is from New Jersey

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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