Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

Russia's Silent Majority

Russian March, November 4, in Moscow
Russian March, November 4, in Moscow
For all the crude xenophobic placards and slogans at this week's Russian March, one stood out for its -- dare I say -- cleverness.

"The good half of the population already hates the regime. Soon you will get to know the bad half," read a sign carried by a marcher.

Not only was it clever, but it also rang true. In a recent editorial, wrote that "for the first time, nationalist marches are taking on an oppositionist character."

After years of successfully manipulating nationalists for their own purposes and cultivating xenophobia among the population, the Kremlin is now standing face-to-face with the monster it helped create.

"Those nationalists who did not join up with the authorities in time attached themselves to the protest movement -- you have to avoid your own marginalization somehow," political analyst Andrei Kolesnikov wrote in a recent commentary.

In addition to the predictable chants of "Russia for Russians," "Stop Feeding the Caucasus," and various anti-migrant diatribes at this year's Russian March, there were plenty of calls for the end of Vladimir Putin's "Chekist regime."

But to get a grip on what is really happening in Russia now, we need to look beyond the dramatic and violent manifestations of nationalism -- the race riots in Moscow's Biryulevo district, the attack on a Moscow-Dushanbe train, or marchers calling for "death to Caucasians" -- and look at the more latent, and widespread, variant.

And widespread it is according to a recent poll by the independent Levada Center.

According to the poll, nearly 73 percent of Russians -- and more than 80 percent of Muscovites -- favor the deportation of migrant workers. Some 66 percent of Russians agreed to some degree with the idea that "Russia is for Russians," while only 19 percent said such a sentiment was "fascist."

Commenting on the poll for RFE/RL's Russian Service, Levada Center director Lev Gudkov said it showed that "between 70 and 80 percent" of Russians harbor xenophobic sentiments.

Most of these people will never attend the Russian March. They won't ransack a vegetable warehouse searching for migrants. And they are unlikely to attack a train from Tajikistan.

But they are deeply disturbed by what they perceive as an influx of migrants and with the criminality they associate with it.  Many believe -- despite evidence to the contrary -- that non-Russian citizens of the Russian Federation are privileged and ethnic Russians are discriminated against. 

"To understand Russian nationalism, even racism, you need to realize that despite their political, cultural, and numerical dominance, many Russians see themselves a nation without a state," Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies wrote in "The Nation." 

It is this latent nationalism of the silent majority that is driving much of the political dynamic right now. These aren't black-clad skinheads. Many are respectable urban professionals, students, and entrepreneurs. In a 2012 report, the Public Chamber warned of a "sharp rise" in xenophobia among city dwellers and the highly educated.

And they're in play politically. "Nationalism has become a universal method of fighting for voters -- both for the authorities and for the opposition," Kolesnikov wrote in 

Gudkov says the rise in nationalist sentiments has been driven by a combination of anxiety about the economy that followed the 2008 financial crisis, anger about official corruption, and the Kremlin's general "crisis of legitimacy" since the 2011 protests.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's recent hedge regarding the Russian March, demonstrably not attending but encouraging his supporters to do so, makes some sense -- tactically at least -- given this environment. Numerous Russia-watchers have noted that he is trying to find that sweet spot that allows him to hold on to both his liberal and nationalist supporters.

But Navalny's nationalist-liberal dance may actually be less of a balancing act than it appears at first glance. Many of his liberal supporters are also latent nationalists.

"More and more, Russians from across the political spectrum are identifying with (and organizing around) a national identity tinged with racism," Ilan Berman, vice president of the Washington-based American Foreign Policy Council wrote recently in "The Atlantic."

In a recent Power Vertical Podcast, Sean Guillory noted that Navalny's conception of "democracy is really a Russian democracy and not one that seeks to incorporate all people of the Russian Federation. He's a democrat but he's a Russian democrat first and foremost." 

And he is playing to the silent majority. Much of this majority also hails from the post-Soviet generation that is now coming of age, a generation that, in addition to being more democratically oriented than their parents, is also somewhat more nationalistic.

Navalny has long argued that Russian nationalism needs to be brought into the mainstream and liberalized to keep it from being monopolized by retrograde elements. But what exactly is liberal nationalism in a multiethnic state? Ideally, it wouldn't be nationalistic at all, but rather an inclusive form of civic patriotism.

Perhaps it will evolve to this at some point. But neither Navalny, nor Russia's silent majority, appear to be anywhere near there yet.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to The Power Vertical Podcast on November 8 when I'll discuss these issues with co-hosts Mark Galeotti of New York University and Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies.
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Comment Sorting
by: John Aandersen from: Minneapolis
November 07, 2013 21:10
Snowden , is America's greatest enemy and should be hunted and brought to trail for treason against America. Aleksei Navalny is Russia's greatest enemy and should be put on trial for treason and , if , Navalny is lucky , he will only to be sent to "The Gulag " in Siberia. Putin should release the girls in Pussy Riot , but turn against the Fascist elements of so-called Liberals ( Navalny's supporters ) in Russia. Putin has to save Russia from itself !!!
In Response

by: Stop hogging it Americans from: Dizzy Land
November 08, 2013 23:17
Interesting article, it is also interesting to see how the Russian people handle these issues they face. But Americans on here THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

I had to respond every time there is an article about another country Americans have to come in and start talking about their country. Can you please lay off that? Thanks Fred Eidlin from Estonia on your comment I found what you had to say interesting but the rest of the comments are Americans going on about America when this is not about America.

Stick to the subject Americans, stop coming in and talking about Hilary and what ever else. Also to the person who said Americans are too stupid well how about you stop acting stupid and stay on topic? There are plenty of places that report about our country where you can post. What are you trying to hog all of the attention?

by: Fred Eidlin from: Tallinn, Estonia
November 07, 2013 21:21
There is nothing surprising about the emergence of this kind of nationalism. To say that the Kremlin helped create this monster is nonsense. While it is true that the Kremlin has, to some extent, attempted to win support from nationalist elements in the population, it is quite a stretch to claim that it has created them. If anything is surprising it is that such nationalism has has take so long to emerge as a as a political force. If at least some of Russia's leadership and mainstream political parties fail to touch these people in their spiritual desperation, and to integrate significant proportions of them into the political mainstream, they will likely pose a growing threat to political stability.

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
November 07, 2013 22:37
It's difficult not to sympathize with the nationalistic tendencies of Russia while they are being flooded with the overpopulation that is fleeing poverty and overpopulation all around them. Europe and the US are suffering the same fate. The world must get population under control before we are all overwhelmed.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
November 07, 2013 22:41
"'The good half of the population already hates the regime. Soon you will get to know the bad half,' read a sign carried by a marcher. Not only was it clever, but it also rang true."

Umm, no. It's just plain ludicrous to suggest that half of Russia hates Putin on democratic grounds or is somehow otherwise "good." Were that true Putin would not be in power now. Maybe 10% does so. Maybe. But probably less. The nationalists VASTLY outnumber the democrats, and it is wishful thinking to claim otherwise. Then there is the big chunk of the population that sits on the sidelines and ratifies with their silence.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
November 07, 2013 22:46
It's rather sad that you can't find it within yourself to condemn Navalny's shameless -- indeed, proud -- racism, as many Russian commentators have done. Instead you seem to be rationalizing and enabling it.

by: dzasha from: usa
November 08, 2013 05:36
To bad americans are too stupid to know this is what we need here.
In Response

by: marko from: USA
November 08, 2013 12:43
Given the flood of immigrants amid overall slower economic growth rates, into Russian cities, this isn't terribly surprising. In fact, it is part of an overall global phenomenon. My guess is that Putin & company can manage it (albeit with a few rough spots). They have got unemployment and inflation increasingly under control, and that will buy them time to reorient Russia's economy toward Asia, which is what they need to do. That is where the growth is... Navalny's "nationalist' credentials have always been a pose. He was trained and is funded and promoted (including some heavy promotion through this website) by the United States. He has zero following outside of Moscow and couldn't even beat Putin's guy Sobyanin there. Most Russians realize that if Navalny would ever occupy any political office, at whatever level, his policies would merely be an extension of American policy and interests. There is neither Russian "nationalism" or interest in that (see the 1990s for an example)... Hence, despite this site's relentless promotion of him-- I don't think that he will ever hold elective office in Russia.

by: Jack from: US
November 08, 2013 17:25
Hillary Clinton is rejoicing over victories by her Al Qaeda and Taliban friends - they killed so many Americans that she is tired of congratulating herself. Hillary and John McCain are paid by Saudis for every American serviceman killed by peaceful Sunni Muslims - which is why Hillary and McCain voted to send thousands Americans to die in Iraq and Afghanistan
In Response

by: Hugh Chatfield from: New York, NY, USA
November 09, 2013 22:30
"-killed by peaceful Sunnis?" such writing speaks for itself.

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

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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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