Tuesday, November 25, 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.

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