Monday, November 24, 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.
This forum has been closed.
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

19:16 November 21, 2014


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


09:09 November 21, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:

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.

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 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 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


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


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


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


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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)



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.

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