Friday, October 24, 2014


The Power Vertical

Requiem For A Power Broker?

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at a Forum of the Peoples in the southern Russian city of Kislovodsk on January 23.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at a Forum of the Peoples in the southern Russian city of Kislovodsk on January 23.
One of Vladimir Putin's keys to accumulating and hanging onto power has always been his status as the indispensable inside man -- the undisputed power broker among Russia's powerful Kremlin clans. But is this still the case?
 
Since his ascendancy over a decade ago, Putin designed and presided over a system of managed conflict within the elite in which various Kremlin clans and groups competed against each other -- sometimes fiercely -- for influence, access, and resources.
 
Putin kept control over the system by being a trusted arbiter who kept everything in rough balance. He was able to do this because while the clans tended to deeply distrust each other, they all trusted Putin. And the assumption was that without him, the various groupings would start fighting among themselves and bring the whole system crashing down.
 
That system worked fine when the conflicts were over little more than who gets what. 
 
Putin was easily able to manage the so-called "siloviki war" of 2007, a nasty conflict between two factions of security service veterans in his inner circle who were vying for power, influence, and access to state resources. Likewise, Putin was able to successfully mediate the battle over who would get control of oil giant Yukos' assets after Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in October 2003.
 
Conflicts over assets, property, and resources still exist today, and always will. But the fundamental fault line in the Russian elite today is about something much more fundamental: What kind of state will Russia be and how will it be governed?
 
Oligarch and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov made this crystal clear in a recent interview with Chrystia Freeland, global editor at large for Reuters. (An article based on the interview appeared in "The New York Times" last week.)
 
The Kremlin is not, like, one person or two people -- there are wings, liberal wings and conservative wings. It’s an ongoing fight between them. This is the nature of Russia right now, that even within the parties, within the government, in the Kremlin, we have these wings. So it is a fight between the liberal and conservative wings: What is the future of Russia?
 
The conservative wing -- which is dominated by the siloviki clan and its informal leader, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin -- is "very cynical" and "needs stability at any price," he said.

Prokhorov added that "they are ready to pay any price, even instead of future development. They are afraid of competition; they are afraid of development.”
 
The liberal wing, informally led by former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, believes that “the era of managed democracy is over," according to Prokhorov, who is himself an adjunct member of that faction. 
 
“I think that the liberal part of the elite is bigger and bigger from day to day, because I have a lot of calls from different levels, and they really express their support for my candidacy,” Prokhorov said. “We now have all the pieces in place to move very fast to being a real democratic country.”
 
Moreover, with the protest movement showing no sign of losing steam, there's now a new player in this game -- the Russian street. And key members of the technocratic faction (I am still not willing to call them "liberals") like Kudrin and Prokhorov have been actively courting their support.
 
Is Putin capable of being an honest and impartial broker in this dispute? Or are key members of the elite already hedging their bets and preparing for a post-Putin era? 
 
Also speaking to Reuters' Chrystia Freeland, chess champion and longtime opposition figure Garry Kasparov says he thinks they are: 
 
It is all about the balance of power within the ruling elite, because now they all understand, if Putin goes, maybe 10, 15, maybe 20 percent of those who are surrounding him and making this core of the elite, they will be facing trial; they can lose money. But most of them — 80 percent at least, maybe more — will be making deals with the new government. Maybe giving up some money, but securing their fortunes. If they go into oppressive mode, then the numbers will change and any revolutionary explosion will blow them up.
 
During our discussion for the most recent Power Vertical podcast, New York University professor Mark Galeotti, author of the highly recommended "In Moscow's Shadows" blog, made a similar point. Galeotti said much of the elite -- Prokhorov included -- are playing both sides at the moment.
 
Prokhorov, like so many actors within the current Russian elite, is at once telling the Kremlin that he is playing the Kremlin game while keeping one eye on potential endgames, potential other outcomes," Galeotti said. "Everyone is a political entrepreneur in their own right in the current situation because nobody knows what is going to happen."

Not exactly the best environment in which to be the ultimate inside man.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: protests,Vladimir Putin,Kremlin clans

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
January 23, 2012 20:18
RFE - RL IS JUST DREAMING :-)
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
January 24, 2012 22:33
...this is analysis run amok. "New Government..." -- what! Every poll, even those taken by organizations (like Levada) hostile to Putin, shows him way ahead of any rivals for March. This seems a sort of wish fulfillment kind of thing on the part fo the author...

Marko

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
January 24, 2012 02:15
Not sure exactly what you implied by the title. Power is a potent drug, but having been a serious user for more than the past decade, I’m pretty sure that VVP can handle another six years. Nor do I necessarily agree with your power-broker analogy. Given the vertical nature of the system and Russia’s tsarist traditions, VVP strikes me as being largely independent, capable of creating an entirely new set of court boyars should the situation call for it. While making predictions about Russia’s political future is sheer folly, I can see Putin sitting comfortably in the Kremlin until at least 2018.
In Response

by: Alex from: LA
January 24, 2012 08:17
You got everything right except "until at least 2018."

Knowing Russian tradition of politics and power, Putin will be ruling RF until he dies. No matter what title he will give himself, like President, VP, then President, then door man at Kremlin, then House Keeper of Kremlin... Whatever it is he will control all of it, just like he has been since he became the vice president. Politicians everywhere are professional posers. Like many Russians say: "There is no better choice than him, if we elect someone else he will be robbing the country too, at least Putin and his goons are feed and have enough money, so they won't steal as much as the new leader and his goons would."

Foreign governments want to weaken Russia so they can gain access to their natural resources and reduced their domestic prices of gas/oil, and rob Russian people in that way, at least RF is strong enough to keep the Western Wolves away from russian hunting grounds, so their own packs can feed on all the sheep in RF.

It's sad. It will so until future generation of Russian citizens wises up and creates good quality leaders that this will be the case in Russia, including in Western countries where the posers are even more poser-er than in Russia.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
January 24, 2012 09:43
"Foreign governments want to weaken Russia so they can gain access to their natural resources and reduced their domestic prices of gas/oil, and rob Russian people in that way, at least RF is strong enough to keep the Western Wolves away from russian hunting grounds, so their own packs can feed on all the sheep in RF"

This is utter nonsense! It is completely manufactured to distract attention from Russia's desire to control ALL of Europe's energy resources. Those Western Wolves you speak of don't include the world's largest energy company...G-A-Z-P-R-O-M, who wants to build gas/oil pipelines to the US through Alaska. Please don't forget that we Americans are gas-sufficient, and could be oil-sufficient if there were more political will in Washington. We don't need Russian energy resources!
In Response

by: Anonymous
January 24, 2012 21:58
Until
you suck oil from Arab
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
January 25, 2012 20:19
And you suck far worse things than oil! Check the stats, America gets most of its oil from itself and its neighbors (Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, etc.). China gets more oil from Arab world than USA does.

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17:49

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

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)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

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)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

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 KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

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)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

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

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26

SPY VS. SPY

08:29

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

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)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

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)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

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

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

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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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