Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Power Vertical

Putin's Winter Of Discontent (updated x2)

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends a training session of the "Ice hockey legends of the USSR" club in Moscow on November 18.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends a training session of the "Ice hockey legends of the USSR" club in Moscow on November 18.
It is not entirely clear whether the fans at Moscow's Olympic Stadium were booing Vladimir Putin when he stepped into the ring to address the crowd following a martial arts match on Saturday, or whether -- as the events organizers claim -- their ire was directed at the defeated American fighter.


But what is abundantly clear is that the incident has fed a narrative that has been building in Russia over the past couple months that Putin is wearing out his welcome.

As I blogged here recently, Putin's poll numbers, as well as those of President Dmitry Medvedev and the ruling United Russia party, have been in steady decline for months.

The trend seemed to accelerate with the Leonid Brezhnev comparisons that followed the United Russia congress in September, when Putin's plan to return to the Kremlin was announced.

But as "Kommersant" reported last week, a roundtable at Moscow State University's Department of Sociology and Psychology of Politics illustrates that the public's changing attitude toward the long-serving leader go even deeper.

On participant in the roundtable, Yelena Shestopal, noted that Putin is now facing a new generation that is less amenable to his political charms than their parents were:

The demand for stability typical of the 2000's is changing beyond recognition. We have in Russia the first post-Soviet generation of citizens who learned the official liberal lexicon... and is prepared to be active... It is the passiveness of the majority that is playing into the hands of the powers that be at this point. And yet, well-educated young Russians of the middle class are fairly critical with regard to the powers that be.

Another participant, Victor Titov, noted that the public is growing increasingly weary of Putin's macho PR stunts like driving a Lada through the Far East, scuba diving for buried treasure -- or making an impromptu appearance at a martial arts bout:

At first, emphasis was made on his assets - a real macho, dependable,  charismatic, strong-willed, and so on... But now twelve years after, Russians are no longer blind to his liabilities as well. It means promises that were never kept, absence of control over his subordinates, the deterioration of living standards.

Titov noted that Medvedev's image has also suffered since the United Russia congress in September, when Putin's return to the presidency was unveiled.

Russians had viewed Medvedev "as a nice person but not as a politician or leader. That's what attracted Russians," he said. "The castling move proclaimed at United Russia congress in late September, however, changed everything. Unconsciously, the Russians began perceiving Medvedev as first and foremost a weak politician."

Titov added that "Medvedev and Putin are seen as people who are in the position to accomplish something but who never even try."

Another participant in the symposium, Vladimir Lapkin of the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations, noted that the public was also souring on the staged Potemkin political theater that substitutes for real debate in Russia:

Society is becoming weary of what passes for political struggle in Russia or rather...of the political struggle in the form society is forced to accept. It means that mass conscience will start formulating a demand soon for a resolute energetic policy of competition for resources of development. In fact, it will create some serious risks for the next president.

In a recent commentary published in "Vedomosti," Mikhail Dmitriyev and Sergei Belanovsky of the Center for Strategic Research came to similar conclusions as the Moscow State University roundtable.

The authors called the creation of the Putin-Medvedev tandem a masterstroke that consolidated two opposing poles in Russian society:

From the social standpoint, formation of the tandem was an exceptionally successful move. It happened almost inadvertently just when society was splitting into two camps with polar and therefore incompatible ideological values and political expectations. The establishment of the tandem solved the problem of appealing to both camps.

Putin and Medvedev appealed to different social poles. Their individual brands complemented each other, camouflaging at the same time the accumulating conflict of interests of these very poles. Medvedev's brand appealed to the part of society longing for overdue modernization. Putin's in the meantime appealed to the traditionalists and conservatives within society.

But the decision to have the two switch jobs after the 2012 election essentially emasculated Medvedev as a politician and severely damaged Putin's image as well:

The forthcoming castling move exposed Medvedev as a political tagalong lacking the qualities and traits expected in a national leader playing the part of a consolidator. It is logical to assume therefore that Medvedev's personal brand is devalued as a political asset. Instead of being an asset for the regime as such, it is a liability.
The damage to the image of the tandem is irreparable because the support lost by Medvedev does not go over to Putin. It follows that the aggregate political basis of the tandem is weakened. It is particularly noticeable on the right flank of the political spectrum that has nobody in the upper echelons of the state power  to appeal to and regard as its potential leader.
The damage done to Putin's brand seems to be less serious but serious all the same. His brand is all alone now, face to face with the problems of its political ageing and inability to appeal to both social poles. The castling cannot help making changes within the upper echelons of state power less probable and weakening the chances of an adequate dialogue between the authorities and society.

This will all probably not mean much for the 2011-12 election cycle. The Kremlin's command of administrative resources is more than sufficient to achieve the results they want.

But where it will matter -- and matter big time -- will be when the elections are over and Putin needs to preside over what are certain to be very unpopular reforms in Russia's creaking social service infrastructure without the reservoir of support he has historically enjoyed.

UPDATE (November 23, 2011): The video of the booing incident has now gone viral, with 1,599,107 views on YouTube as I am writing this -- making it today's most viewed video. The video also boasts 13,437 "likes" and just 926 "dislikes."

Moreover, the Facebook page of Jeff "Snowman" Monson, the defeated American fighter the Kremlin claims the fans were booing, is now filled with supportive comments from Russians who assured him they were booing Putin and not him.

Here are just a few examples (click the link above for the whole shebang):

"Jeff, get well soon! Best regards and respect from Siberia, Russia. You fought honestly. Sorry for our government and corrupted mass media," wrote Ekaterina Shipilova.

"You're a great fighter. Fight vs. Putin. Fight vs. politicians," wrote Aleksey Dolya.

"Russians occupied this area, mwuahhaha! Jeff, don't be surprised by this much attention from us, it caused by the lie in Russian media that we were booing at you after the fight with Fedor, and we just want to clear it out that the target actually was Putin. We love such humble and sincere persons like you here in Russia. Good luck for you, Jeff, you're the man," wrote Alexei Novikov.

This must be very disturbing for the Kremlin. Those who attend martial arts fights like the one in Moscow's Olympic Stadium Saturday should constitute a key part of Putin's base -- and once did. If he is losing them, that is an ominous sign indeed.

UPDATE 2 (November 23, 2011): This video, shot from another angle, shows many in the crowd clearly booing Putin. Also audible are shouts of "ykhodi!" (go away!).


The original video, meanwhile, now has over 2 million views on YouTube.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,2011 State Duma elections,Dmitry Medvedev

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Nate
November 22, 2011 22:14
Another piece of wishful thinking. Brian is in fact paid to do this, i.e. american taxpay's money at work. Wish they kept their $$ to themselves, as they appear head over heels in debt.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
November 23, 2011 03:27
Maybe this site will shut down when the Kremlin shuts RT news and stops violating the Russian Constitution that guarantees ordinary people human rights.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
November 23, 2011 11:06
Wishful thinking? Vladimir Putin is also paid to say the things he does, are you aware of that fact, Nate?

The video speaks for itself, you idiot, it is a fact not a wish. Russians were booing loudly in large numbers while Putin was in the ring speaking. At the very least, they were totally disrespecting him, at the most expressing outright hatred and condemnation for him. Why suddenly start booing when Putin entered the ring? Why not stop when he did so? A country that really respected its president would not act this way. And it is just rational behavior: Under Putin Russians work for $3/hour and rank outside the top 100 countries of the world for life expectancy. They have no allies among the major nations of the world and don't produce any major manufactured products in the world stream of commerce. They win hardly any Nobel prizes, receive hardly any foreign tourists, and are hated throughout former Soviet space. A nation that didn't boo such a leader would be a nation deserving of scorn.

Seems like it's YOU, Nate, who's guilty of wishful thinking.
In Response

by: Nate
November 23, 2011 18:17
Is Russia an ideal state right now? No. Is US? No. Is US further along? Yes. Has Russia been any better in however many years back? No. Has it got better since Putin. Yes. Is Russia on the right path? Yes.

You can't measure actions on an absolute scale or in light of realities of ANOTHER country. You have to look at action of Putin in light of RUSSIAN realities. Stop looking at Russia through the pink glasses of US liberalism. US has traveled a long ways, both economically and socially, to get to where it is now. Russia is the 1930's version of US. It faces different realties. It faces a road, which it must complete to move forward, well, to stay alive. And Putin absolutely is the right man for this. You can't hope a badly ill patient to heal on his own. You need firm directions of a qualified doctor. Will patient be comfortable and allowed to do whatever he wants while being treated? No. Putin is the right "doctor" and strong majority (!) approves his actions. When people don't approve -- nothing can stop them --- countless revolutions has shown. And no need for US to tell Russia what to do - we all know its hypocritical pursuits.

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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)

17:27 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)



Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)


A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014


According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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