Thursday, October 23, 2014


The Power Vertical

Russia's Pussy Riot Frenzy (Updated)

A scrawled message demanding freedom for jailed members of Pussy Riot in an apartment where two women were killed in Kazan.
A scrawled message demanding freedom for jailed members of Pussy Riot in an apartment where two women were killed in Kazan.
Earlier this week, Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Orthodox Church's social affairs department, issued a dire warning in response to vandals chopping down crosses in Arkhangelsk and in Chelyabinsk Oblast.
 
"People who are currently cutting down crosses in the future may turn to violence and murder," Chaplin said on August 26.

The vandalism took place shortly after three members of the feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Kremlin protest performance in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February.
 
Despite the lack of any real evidence suggesting a connection, the state-controlled media quickly linked the incidents to the group's supporters.

Then, four days after Chaplin's comments, on August 30, the Investigative Committee announced that two women were brutally stabbed to death in their apartment in Kazan. Investigators said  the inscription "Free Pussy Riot," written "presumably" in blood, was found in the apartment.
 
It didn't take the pro-Kremlin Russian media long to run with the meme.
 
A headline on the website of the state-run "Vesti" television news program began: "They've Started To Kill For Pussy Riot."

Kristina Potupchik, the former spokeswoman for the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, also wasted no time in drawing conclusions.
 
On her blog, she juxtaposed a photograph of the "Free Pussy Riot" inscription in Kazan with one from the 1969 murders committed by followers of Charles Manson in California, in which they wrote "Death To Pigs" on the walls of their victims' homes. Potupchik wrote that Pussy Riot's supporters "will not get away" with the crime.

And Dimitry Smirnov, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for Relations with the Police and Armed Forces, said that "blood is on the conscience" of those who supported Pussy Riot members during their trial. Smirnov also called on Paul McCartney, Amnesty International, and others to renounce the group.

It was a full-court press. But as the day progressed, holes began to appear in the initial version of events.
 
First, Andrei Sheptitsky, a Kazan-based spokesman for the Investigative Committee, said the evidence suggested the crime was committed by either a psychopath or a drug addict and that the inscription appeared to be an attempt to cover up the crime and mislead police.
 
Then, the online Dozhd TV noted that the initial reports of the crime in the Kazan media, which appeared in the evening on August 29 when the bodies were discovered, made no mention of the "Free Pussy Riot" inscription.

WATCH THE DOZHD TV REPORT HERE:
 

 
And Petr Verzilov, husband of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, later tweeted a link to a report on the killings in the daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" that said police worked on the crime scene "all night." The report also made no mention of the inscription.

The fact that reports of the inscription first appeared on LifeNews, a website with ties to the security services, also raised suspicions that the official story might not be entirely accurate.

Nikolai Polozov, an attorney for the three jailed members of the group, called the crime in Kazan "horrible," adding that either it was committed by a psychopath or was a "horrendous provocation."
 
In an interview with Dozhd TV,  Geidar Dzhemal, chairman of the Kazan-based Islamic Committee of Russia, said he had no doubt that the attempts to link the killings in Kazan -- and the vandalism against the crosses in Arkhangelsk and Chelyabinsk -- to Pussy Riot supporters was orchestrated by the authorities:
 
This is a blatant provocation by the cops. It's clear that it is anti-Pussy Riot, so it's security services that are behind it -- just as the cross-chopping epidemic (eds: recent cases of Orthodox wooden crosses chopped down in several Russian cities) was also ordered by security services. It seems someone tried too hard because it's not very convincing that it was done by Pussy Riot supporters. It's written in such big block letters, so it's clear it came from the cops.
 
This story is developing very quickly and I am reluctant to draw any firm conclusions just yet. But there is a lot here that raises serious questions. I'll leave it at that for now.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

UPDATE: Police in Kazan say they have detained a man who confessed to killing the two women. The man, identified as 38-year-old university professor Igro Danilevsky, knew one of the victims and denied any connection to Pussy Riot. Interfax reported that he also confessed to trying to "fake a ritual killing" and mislead police by writing "Free Pussy Riot" on the wall.

(A big thanks to my colleague Pavel Butorin of @RusPoliceWatch for help in compiling material for this post.)

Tags: Pussy Riot

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mark from: Victoria
August 31, 2012 01:39
Let me help you - the police fabricated the inscription in order to implicate Pussy Riot supporters, or at a minimum to negatively influence their chances of being freed on appeal. That's where you're going, isn't it? Oh, wait, I know - first Putin killed the women, then called the police and directed them to paint the phony inscription!! Now we know he at least knows the lyrics to "Blueberry Hill" and "Free Pussy Riot" in English.

Here's a crazy idea - what if the pulled-out drawers and the overturned furniture were the deception, meant to point police in the direction of a robbery? There seems to be a concerted effort to push opinion in the direction that the "Free Pussy Riot" phrase was the red herring. Maybe it's not.

Quite possibly the reason early reports of the murder did not mention the phrase was because reporters were not given free run of the crime scene, and were told only that two victims had been murdered.

Or perhaps Andrey Sheptitsky is the murderer. He certainly seems to know a lot about the killer considering the investigation has only started, certain already that it was a psychotic or drug addict who is trying to avoid suspicion by pinning the crime on Pussy Riot supporters. Alternatively, he may have suggested these were possibilities, whereupon sites like this one quickly gave his speculation the weight of a conclusion. If the evidence suggested such clear deductions only hours after the crime was committed, Russians must be a great deal faster at processing crime scenes than their western counterparts.

But then, they already know Putin did it.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 01, 2012 23:34
No, let ME help you. The police didn't fabricate it -- the killer took advantage of the situation to throw attention away from him. The police may have swallowed it (till the culprit was arrested), but maybe they didn't; they didn't say. Now, the media and the Orthodox Church.... they did swallow it, bait, hook and line. And on they went, saying that, of course, Pussy Riot supporters are willing to kill anyone, anywhere, just to get attention.

True?

See, here's the point I think you're missing -- whatever the situation in the crime scene, both the media and the Orthodox Church ran away with claims that this is what they are now going to do. No 'let's wait and see', as you're asking for here: just a quick "yes, that's what it is".

Putin probably didn't do it. But I'm willing to bet he smiled when he heard of it. Or do you think he cried for the victim?...
In Response

by: Gregory from: UK
September 07, 2012 19:19
Amnesty UK on their Facebook were alleging fabrication (by Putin) of the VOINA sex orgy museum video and cat throwing film! Sadly, that background stuff is only too authentic. VOINA are not nice people, and they inspire other people who are not very safe.

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
August 31, 2012 02:02
Will this perhaps simply remain as one of those events in Russian political history -- like the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities -- that will remain unconclusively investigated, and will be cited by both sides as evidence that their opponents are evil?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
August 31, 2012 15:58
By now we all know the murderer has been found and confessed: a Kazan professor who had been an associate of the younger woman, and who ransacked the place in order to remove any evidence of the connection. He also confessed that he injected the "Free Pussy Riot" phrase in order to misdirect the police. Hopefully everyone can now have a good laugh at Geidar Dzehmal for his asinine suggestion that it obviously was "the authorities" who put the phrase there in order to discredit Pussy Riot, and his even-more-asinine suggestion that it had to have been the cops who did it because they printed in large block letters. My, yes, that's a giveaway, isn't it? Much like fool columnist Lucas Harding's assertion in his cliffhanger stories that you can always spot the FSB - it's comically easy, really - because they wear leather jackets.

What will be spun from this, I wonder? That "the cops" simply put the arm on some poor mentally-deficient citizen and forced him to confess? Otherwise we would have to face the acknowledgement that it was pretty fast police work - maybe some benefit was derived from working on the crime scene "all night" when they were implied to have been faking the Pussy Riot slogan which would have taken less than 5 minutes to write.

It's hard to stay out in front of cases like this one, since comments remain in moderation for something like 10-12 hours and I never see mine until next day after they were posted. I have no way of knowing how quickly others are put up.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 01, 2012 23:39
Yes -- and let's all also have a laugh for the speed with which the media and the Orthodox Church came to the conclusion that the criminal -- who turned out to be this Kazan professor -- had been Pussy Riot's knight in shining armor since early childhood.

I actually like the fact that there is a long wait before the comments are published. This makes it harder to have those long, aggressive threads with commenters yelling at each other that are so sadly frequent in the interwebs these days. Maybe the waiting period will make people more rational about their arguments and ideas, and less prone to emotionality.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
August 31, 2012 12:56
I listened to some of Viktor Shenderovich’s commentary on Echo Moscow yesterday, and he suggested that this murder was analogous to the Nazi’s Kristallnacht. According to VS, the Kremlin authorities were frightened this past winter and devised the plan to use/abuse the ROC to divide the protest movement. He might be correct. The Pussy Riot story has certainly deflected the anger and frustration that many Russians felt after the questionable Duma election results and Putin’s swap with Medvedev. I suspect that some Kremlin officials will be willing to spill more blood and sprinkle more holy water to protect the status quo.

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 02, 2012 16:51
"Yes -- and let's all also have a laugh for the speed with which the media and the Orthodox Church came to the conclusion that the criminal -- who turned out to be this Kazan professor -- had been Pussy Riot's knight in shining armor since early childhood."

I think we have to consider that this was precisely the murderer's intent, and that he deliberately adjusted the evidence to point to that conclusion. However, you are right that they did rush to the incorrect judgment.

Of course you are deliberately exaggerating with that "Pussy Riot's knight in shining armor since early childhood" stuff, and it's good - I like it. If English is your second language, your command of it is remarkable. But Pussy Riot is demonstrably a new phenomenon: why, it wasn't that long ago they were staging "art happenings" like the one featuring a make-believe Tajik with a noose around his neck and signs suggesting "the blacks" from the Caucasus should go home where they belonged.

http://www.austereinsomniac.info/blog/2012/8/31/the-hanging-of-a-tajik.html

Yes, that's today's "it girl", Nadya Tolokonnikova, in the photo. Since she's only, what, 21? , this couldn't have been too long ago.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 16, 2012 12:21
Indeed, English is my second (actually, third) language; I was born in Brazil, and my native language is Portuguese. But I use English every day for my work (the international language of science, etc.), so I really needed a good command of it.

One of the curious things about Russia is how things are confused there, and how people outside shouldn't think those who fight Putin are thereby in agreement with all the current "good" liberal opinions. Not only do I find it possible that Ms Tolokonnikova defended opininos I disagree with -- I find it inevitable. (I will bet that many a supporter of Putin, or perhaps even Putin himself, was happy to see that painting; they would certainly agree with its spirit.)

Just as Lincoln's opinions on Blacks would today strike us as quite racist, so would the opinions of many a Russian anti-Putin protester (you only have to look at Udaltsov's record...). This doesn't change the fact that Lincoln represented a step forward in racial equality in the US. Nor does this photo change the fact that Ms Tolokonnikova et al. were right in condemning and protesting against Putin. And their condemnation was politically, not religiously, motivated. That's the point here.

Solzhenitsyn was a great dissident--but he wrote wrong things on the topic of Ukraine. Gorbachov is a good guy, as far as I can tell--but he made a number of bad decisions during the fall of the Soviet Union. Mikhalkov is a great, talented director--but he decided to support Putin.

Such is life.

by: Don Ake from: United States - Canton,OH
September 03, 2012 13:04
Men everywhere should fear this movement - http://akespains.blogspot.com/2012/08/preventing-female-riots-and-sex-strikes.html

by: Gregory from: UK
September 07, 2012 19:14
The blood on the wall incident was predicted in advance. The entire VOINA thing was already being compared to the Spahn Movie Ranch. There is a perfectly valid legal connection between the killings and P*ssy Riot. It is perverse to suggest there is not. If the name was on the wall, then that is enough of a connection, to establish that Article 19 UDHR should not be allowed to subordinate Article 18 UDHR. The law prohibits X (Cathedral protests) to protect the moral order and to deter Spahn Movie Ranch style happenings. The blood on the wall, that is good enough to go to the ECHR as direct evidence of 'the harm' of the original protest. The writing didn't say 'Adolf Hitler' it said something else.

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

11:11

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."

11:01

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

MOSCOW AIRPORT MANAGERS RESIGNED, MORE SUSPECTS DETAINED OVER CRASH

Top managers at a Moscow airport have resigned and four more airport workers have been detained over a plane crash that killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when a corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee said on October 23 that prosecutors had detained an air-traffic controller intern, her supervisor, the head of air-traffic controllers, and the chief of runway cleaning.

Meanwhile, the airport announced the resigntion of its director-general, Andrei Dyakov, and his deputy, Sergei Solntsev.

And a Moscow court ordered that the snowplough driver remain in custody until December 21.

The driver says that he has lost his bearings before the collision.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and TASS)

And these items from Reuters:

COURT POSTPONES RULING ON BASHNEFT SHARES

By Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A Russian court decided on Thursday to postpone to next week a hearing on a move to wrest control of an oil company from oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, a case that has deepened investors' fears the Kremlin wants to reclaim prized assets.

Russian prosecutors filed the suit last month to regain state ownership of Bashneft, saying there had been alleged violations in the privatisation and subsequent sale of the oil producer to Russian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Sistema in 2009.

On Thursday, the judge at the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled in favour of the prosecutors who had requested more time to prepare their case and said the next hearing would take place on Oct. 30.

Sistema's shares, which lost 70 percent after it reached a peak this year in July, traded down nearly 5 percent in early trading in Moscow. Bashneft's shares were down 1.3 percent on the day.

In September, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of Sistema's majority stake in Bashneft a day after a judge refused to release Yevtushenkov, who is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition.

The case centres on the privatisation of oil production and refining assets in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan in the Ural mountains in the early 2000s and Bashneft's subsequent sale to Sistema.

The Russian investigators say the privatisation and the sale was illegal.

Sistema, which directly owns almost 72 percent of Bashneft's voting rights and has a stake of 86.7 percent, including 12.6 percent which it owns through its subsidiary Sistema-Invest, has denied the allegations.

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

Some analysts have said that state-controlled Rosneft , Russia's biggest oil producer run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, was interested in buying Bashneft.

The company, Russia's sixth largest crude oil producer, extracted more than 16 million tonnes (320,000 barrels per day) of crude oil last year, increasing output by more than 4 percent - the best results among domestic majors after launching production at new deposits in the Arctic.

Its oil refining capacity stands at 24.1 million tonnes a year. (Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; writing by Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Elizabeth Piper and William Hardy)

NATO, SWEDISH FIGHTERS SCRAMBLE TO INTERCEPT RUSSIAN PLANE

BRUSSELS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - NATO and Swedish fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian intelligence-gathering plane that briefly entered Estonian airspace on Tuesday, the alliance said on Wednesday.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry called the Russian ambassador to the ministry and gave him a protest note over the incursion, the Estonian defence forces said.

Fighters from Denmark as well as Portuguese F-16s from NATO's air policing mission in the Baltics took off after radar detected an unidentified aircraft flying close to NATO airspace in the Baltic Sea, NATO said.

The plane was identified as a Russian IL-20 intelligence-gathering aircraft that had taken off from Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, heading towards Denmark.

The Russian aircraft was first intercepted by Danish F-16s and later, as it headed further north, by fighters from Sweden, which is not a NATO member.

The Russian aircraft turned south again, entering Estonian airspace for less than one minute, a NATO statement said.

Portuguese F-16s, which had been scrambled from their base in Lithuania, escorted the Russian plane away from NATO airspace.

Interceptions of Russian military aircraft by NATO planes over the Baltic region have increased since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March, but usually Russian planes only approach NATO airspace and do not enter it, a NATO source said.

At a time when tension between Russia and the West is running high over Ukraine, Swedish forces have been scouring the sea off Stockholm following reports of activity by foreign submarines or divers using an underwater vehicle. (Reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and David Mardiste in Tallinn; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

11:12 October 22, 2014

THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF RUSSIA'S 'GAS WEAPON'

In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.

 

08:27 October 22, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-UKRAINE GAS DEAL REPORTEDLY CLOSER

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

Oettinger said as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia before the end of this year.

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and Interfax)

PROSECUTORS TARGET EKHO MOSKVY

The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)

PUTIN, POROSHENKO DISCUSS CEASEFIRE AND GAS SUPPLIES

The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and kremlin.ru)

RUSSIAN INVESTIGATORS SAY 'CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE' BEHIND TOTAL AIR CRASH

Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)

 

16:08 October 17, 2014

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.

AND A NEW POWER VERTICAL PODCAST COMING SOON

We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.

 

13:25 October 17, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-WEST RIFT PERSIST AFTER DIFFICULT UKRAINE CRISIS TALKS

By RFE/RL

Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

GEORGIAN PM SAYS NO PROGRESS NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

(Based on reporting by Interfax, AFP, and TASS)

RUSSIA DETAINS TWO JOURNALISTS OVER WORKSHOP

Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

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