Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Power Vertical

Putin's Plan? Or Kremlin Chaos?

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after talks with Ukrainian President in Minsk on August 27.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after talks with Ukrainian President in Minsk on August 27.

It's tempting to assume that Vladimir Putin always has a master plan.

And why not? He's cunning and shrewd. He's steely and ruthless. He's cold and calculating. And his political life has been so charmed that many Russians, as well as many Kremlin-watchers, think he has an almost supernatural -- or at least preternatural -- ability to come out on top.

It's also long been conventional wisdom that important decisions in Russia are made by a so-called "collective Putin," a cabal of oligarchs and security-service veterans close to the Kremlin leader who make up the inner sanctum of Russia's deep state. It reached decisions by consensus with Putin acting as the ultimate decider and arbiter.

But recently, Kremlin policy appears erratic, inconsistent, and sometimes downright incoherent.

Over the past couple weeks it appeared that Putin was looking for a face-saving way to wind down the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

But even as the Kremlin leader was meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on August 26, he was escalating the conflict and sending in Russian troops.

Is that all just part of the plan? Or is Putin himself becoming erratic? And is the collective Putin coming unglued?

There have certainly been signs that this might be the case. There have been whispers in Moscow, for example, that Putin has become increasingly withdrawn and isolated. He's appearing live on television less frequently, and when he does it only adds to the speculation that something isn't quite right.

For example, Putin was scheduled to make a major address to the nation on August 7, only to have the speech cancelled without explanation.

Then, on August 14, the Russian president addressed a group of officials and lawmakers in Yalta, an event the Kremlin had been hyping for weeks. ITAR-TASS said that it would be a "major" speech and the meeting with lawmakers would be "profound and comprehensive." The state-run Rossia-1 television channel said it would be "the political event of the week."

But at the last minute, the Kremlin pulled the plug on a planned live broadcast of the event.

Writing on Facebook, opposition journalist Sergei Parkhomenko called it "Putin's second false start," adding, "I wonder what it is he cannot bring himself to do?"

Journalist and political analyst Yevgenia Albats suggested on Ekho Moskvy that the confusion illustrated a deep split in Putin's inner circle. "I have the impression that there is a struggle" between "very dark forces" seeking to "intimidate" the West and "more pragmatic comrades who realize that, after all, their money is there," she said on August 18.

If such a battle was going on -- and I suspect it was -- the hard-liners appear to have won a round with Russia's escalation in Donbas over the past week.

But when Putin appeared live on television in the early morning hours on August 27, as that escalation was getting under way in earnest, something was clearly amiss.

Throughout his remarks in Minsk after his two-hour meeting with Poroshenko -- remarks that were fairly unremarkable -- Putin swayed to-and-fro and made odd gestures. His facial expressions were off. It definitely wasn't the cocksure Putin we've come to expect.

"Something appears to be wrong with him. He twitches and grimaces at random," Yelena Rykovtseva of RFE/RL's Russian Service wrote on Facebook. "Maybe this is why they didn't show him in Crimea." 

And Putin's latest remarks on the conflict on August 29, in which he lauded pro-Russian separatists for "undermining Kiev's military operation" were not televised. Instead, they came were released on the Kremlin website in the early morning hours.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast on August 29 when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newark.


Tags: Vladimir Putin,Power Vertical blog,Ukraine Crisis

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Comment Sorting
by: J Clair from: New York
August 29, 2014 11:30
Is all that Botox finally catching up with old Vlad?

by: Sigurd Lydersen from: Oslo
August 29, 2014 12:50
The report reminds of Sorokin's analysis. Maybe birth is approaching?
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
August 30, 2014 07:32
Sorokin's Analysis is a diversion from truth, or at least coded truth, like "soroka-vorona navodit teni na pleteni".

"Collective Putin" is Varag-Prussian Moscow usurpers that took over USSR since 1946-47.
Old elite is a blend:
The same with ruling USSR Bolsheviks;
Covering WW2 betray old generals and government, mind controlled;
Imperial resurrect by Russian hate and usurped by them Strategic weapons, secret armies and security forces, including "Third Force"...

In 1946 they started kill non-Russian children, starting with talented children and children of the non-Russian nomenclature;
In Spring of 1947 they put Stalin under house arrest, reversed intended by 1936 Constitution restoration of CIS and offer to
Brits and USA Age of Antichrist - plagiarize even children;

Influx in E. Europe and USSR republics ethnic Russians and
provoking Cold War by overturning E. Europe governments;
Killing Stalin in 1953;
Secret oral pact in 1954-56 with Brits, "Bechtel" and Germany-Austria, offered by Russian Prussians-Varagas, resurrect colonial empires and divide Europe and the World, with given
to Ethnic Russia personal arsenals of small A-bombs - to bomb non-Russian republics;

150,000, mostly Georgian, killed by Russian usurpers and they started burn books and rewrite history, pinning their crimes on Stalin and non-Russian nations;
Russians take total control, invade Hungary, Georgia, E. Europe and USSR with larger force;
First time USSR army, usurped by Russia, turned arms against people and nations;

1954 pact evolved into "Termidors":
British make conditions - Russia must restore Czarist colonial Empire, or USA type capitalist Empire, or both, plunder and suck Eastern World and transfer to Brits half of the loot;
Russians picked second, flexed to the third versus, but with returning serfs and genocides - leaving open options, calling it "Termidors", for gradual distraction of non-Russian nations
and enslaving Russians - playing Bolsheviks - Monarchists - Capitalists football backward and forward;

Not "Putin's Masterplan" - contingencies of "Termidors" given to Putin to implement:
Blockades - to plunder non-Russian nations;
Aggressions - to destroy nations that resist plunder.


LONDON, VIENNA AND BONN - for instance Serbs not to offer CIS to Yugoslavian nations, Arabs to seek empire of Muslims, international brigades unite into armies of distraction of free nations as Caliphate or war against Americans, EU and so on - like in Abkhazia, of Ukraine...


"Collective Putin" usurpers didn't expect any resistance from
E. Europe, Georgia or Ukraine - now they under-cut the very
foundation of themselves - nations that created and save them, along with the rest of the World, turn against evil Russia...

Usurpers still believe they paralyzed enough EU by gas-pipes in their guts.
That USA controlled enough by lying propaganda, terrorists, Russians, British and Germans-Austrians, like Cohen, Litvak, Shvarzenegger and so on... - to beat USA not to interfere with imperial resurrect and at the end be repossessed itself...

Usurpers still believe that non-Russian nations, under pressure and internal subversion of Quislings, like Yanukovich, will fall and new Russian Feudal-Bolshevik empire will repossess-repopulate Euro-Asia...

In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
August 31, 2014 10:25
It is you, "collective Putin", surrounding Ukrainian Cities with GRU-Spetcnaz Prussia-Varag "Stervyatnik" fashists!
It is you using Ukrainian and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine as human hostages and destroying their homes and Ukraine - as hate of your race of bloodsuckers to make Ukraine your property and Ukrainians impoverished slaves! You are fashists!
When Kiev fall to Russian treachery and Nazi armies, Stalin was crying.
When you invaded Ukrainian Cities, with treasonous
"Stervyatniki s lentochkami", even angels cried in Heaven...
Dividing Ukraine and E. Europe with Germany-Austria?
Pushing for "Arma-Ge-Don"?

by: Sigurd Lydersen from: Oslo
August 29, 2014 12:51

by: Ray Fnch from: Lawrence, KS
August 29, 2014 13:11
I watched Putin’s 2-hour performance and Q/A at today’s Seliger love-fest ( and frankly, your assessment did not align with his performance. He was full of the same confidence, lexical command, and rhetorical flourish that he has polished over the past decade. There were no indications of being erratic or incoherent, but rather great sincerity and indications that he actually believes in the Kremlin perspective regarding this conflict (for a sample, watch from 02:00-12:00). For those who understand Russian, it was a vintage Putin recital.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
August 29, 2014 13:50
I wasn't referring to his comments at Seliger. I was referring to his comments in Minsk, as clearly indicated in the post.

by: Bernard Eastman from: Ontario, Canada
August 29, 2014 15:08
Insightful and significant. Assessing credibility involves, in part, looking closely at facial manner and movement. Putlin has sometimes recently shown the face of a bad little boy caught out doing things he is not supposed to do.
Also, why the constant denial of the Russian involvement in the Ukraine. I recently saw a poll that said only 5% of Russians support an attack on the Ukraine. Mothers, and wives are even now parading in protest. Putin knows that folks in Russia do not support Russian invasion of the Ukraine. They believe it is illegal, and immoral to be in effect killing their "slav brother". That is why there has been an almost insane effort to disguise the fact of the invasion by Russian troops and their deaths and burials.
There is a huge contradiction in full view indicating, as Mr. Whitmore suggests, a significant internal antagonism.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
August 30, 2014 02:58
Ukrainians are non Slavs. Ukrainians are descendants of Turks who occupied the territory of present Ukraine for almost 400 years before Duke Potemkin expelled them. It is imperialist Russian propaganda who is trying to portray Ukrainians as "fellow slavs".
In Response

by: Bernard Eastman from: Ontario, Canada
August 30, 2014 15:45
I certainly agree that Ukrainians are not "slavs" except in the minds of Russians. Although I also agree with you that there has been a genetic influence from the Ottoman empire, you are overlooking the fact of the Refugia settlements in the Odessa region at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (genetic birth of the blue eyed blonds) and also the Scandza migrations around the beginning of the Current Era and then the further large influx of the Rus Vikings (Russia's name) in about 800 C.E whose presence even down into and around the Black Sea area was dominant until about 1200 C.E. when there was a genetic wave from the east. Genetically, Ukrainians have some east mix but mostly it has been north - south migrations...
In Response

by: GromT from: US
August 30, 2014 16:23
You must be joking. You need to read some history books. Or, since it is obvious you don't google Kievan Rus- the birthplace of Russia
In Response

by: JLNancy
September 01, 2014 12:44
Politely butting in.

You do know that at the time when Kyivan-Rus was in existence, there was NO Russia, whatsoever.

- Condensing my *bookmarked* notes > Dr. Ivan Ovechko, from University of Northern Colorado, and, Dr. Roman V. Kuchar, from Fort Hayes Kansas State University >… the *Russian* (originally *Muscovite*) nation is the product of intermixtures of small number of Slavic colonists with various groupings of non-Indo-European inhabitants of the forested, and sparsely populated territories north and northeast of Ukraine – groupings predominately composed of Finno-Ugric and Altaic elements. Mongolian influences on the formation of the *Russian* nation also have been copiously documented by many Russian historians and authors.

--Thus, the principal racial sub-stratum of the Muscovite-*Russian* nationality evolved through interbreeding among a number of vanquished Finnish tribes (the Mordvians, Mer’ians, and Murom’ians), who resided during the assimilatory processes on the territories of present-day *Russia*, and their Muscovite-Suzdal’ian conquerors, who drove the inassimilable bulk of the Finnish population permanently to the north. Since the XIII century – and for several centuries thereafter -- an additional process of infusion of dominant Mongolian blood into this Muscovite-*Russian* substratum was also prevalent. These specific ethnic/racial assimilatory process underlie the predominant Finno-Mongolian anthropological type of the representative *Russian* person.

--(Prior to the XII century, NO *Russian* nation existed. Muscovy started calling itself Rus’ only after its conquest and enslavement of the true Rus’-Ukraine (created centuries earlier) in the XVII century – taking arrogantly to itself Ukraine’s name and subsequently altering it from Rus’ to *Russia*.)...

In Response

by: paul from: east africa - Tanzania
August 30, 2014 04:59
What's is exactly Putin demand to Ukraine to the extent that bears all those costs in disguise...why would Russian folks beg to differ with such stand
In Response

by: Bernard Eastman from: Ontario, Canada
August 30, 2014 15:50
Sorry Paul, I do not understand what the point is that you are trying to make.

by: Gphill from: Us
August 30, 2014 15:02
This would not be so bad if Putin would not be feeding Isis . Age old tale!

by: B K from: Ukraine
August 31, 2014 14:54
You guys are either too far from the forest to see the trees or too close to the trees to see the forest. Putin has clearly stated what he wants. Take a look at the analysis posted at

by: theo from: peristeri
August 31, 2014 21:52
He blinked in March. Too busy to play celebrity during the winter olympiics, too detatched from the imminent reality. After Crimea, he should have rolled in deep, as deep as Odessa, taking ALL ethnic Russian land. THEN face sanctions and negotiate peace. He would have the upper hand. He would be the one calling the shots, he would have saved the thousants of innocent lives, dutch and ausies inclusive. The man blinked, meanang a lot.

by: sftommy from: California
September 01, 2014 01:01
Putin has no grand plan. He's been behind one step all along. A reactionary to events, he has reacted to a Russian populists notion of how he should. Politically that has given him even greater power at home in Russia, although it has perhaps diminished Russian power in the world and diminished hopes for greater power in the future. He has finessed a weak hand brilliantly even so.

by: JLNancy
September 01, 2014 12:51
ETA > By Contrast

The Ukrainian nation has no Finno-Mongolian components within it, but constitutes a rather typical sub-grouping of the Caucasian-Dinarian race, with some independent Slavic-Nordic strains. According to some scholars, they became the immediate predecessors, and, most likely, the direct progenitors of the Ukrainian nation. The Ukrainians’ first formal emergence into nationhood (within the empire of the Antes) was in the IV century A.D.

On the basis of the work by Sir Leonard Wooley, who in 1963, under commission of UNESCO, published the Origins of Human Civilization., it appears that all of the major sub strains of the Indo-European race emerged at various times in the pre-historic past out of the geographical area which today is called Ukraine. Many scholars have concluded, after, also, analyzing the migration movements of the Indo-European race out of the area (today called Ukraine), that his work has definitively helped establishthe Sumerian-Trypillian origins of the Ukrainian nation/pre-historic Rus’..

From the earliest times, up until the II century BC, the territories of present day Ukraine were settled by various peoples of Cimmerian –Scythian stock. (Even Soviet scholars, on the irrefutable basis of excavated Scythian barrows, are forced to acknowledge that the Scythians were once the prevalent inhabitants of Ukraine, however they limit the duration of Scythian life in Ukraine to between VIII and III centuries B.C. although some Scythian barrows in Ukraine are more than 5000 years old. (The Scythians once ran a gigantic empire extending from China to the Atlantic Ocean, and in the opinion of some researchers, ostensibly, its center was the territory of present day Ukraine)

Throughout the period of the great tribal/racial migrations which started with the V century A.D., Greek and Roman historians and geographers of that time recognized several distinct groups among the Slavs – the Vanadians in the western, the Slovenes, in the northern and northwestern and the Antes in the eastern regions of Europe. The Antes, settling between the Carpathian Mountains and the regions along the Dnipro River, emerge, therefore as close relatives of the Southeastern Slavs of Ukrainian ethnographic composition. During that period, the Antes developed a mighty empire north of the Black Sea -- between the Dniester and Dnipro River regions -- which lasted for approximately 300 years between the IV and VII century A.D. After the downfall of the Antean Empire, Ukrainians regained their independence within their newly-created state of Rus’ (X to XII centuries). There was NO Russia. (Travelers such as Slovenes from Novohorod), Polots’ks from Byelorussia and Suzdal’s from the first Muscovite settlements would say they were going *na Rus’* i.e. to Rus’)

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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