Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

Stability Delayed As Russia's Elite Remains Jittery

Matryoshka dolls depicting Russian and Soviet leaders
Matryoshka dolls depicting Russian and Soviet leaders
One thing United Russia's congress on September 24 was supposed to do was to provide the elite with some measure of certainty about the country's future. With the question of the tandem settled and Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin a virtual certainty, everybody can finally just settle down and stop the intrigue and infighting, right?

Well, not so fast according to a story by politics editor Aleksandra Samarina in today's "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

Aleksei Kudrin's resignation as finance minister and an ongoing low-intensity clan war between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee illustrate that the ruling elite is as jittery as ever.

Here's Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center as cited by "Nezavisimaya gazeta":

That Medvedev's positions weakened after the United Russia convention is undeniable. This is one of the factors that cannot help having an effect on the situation in general. The bureaucratic machinery is seeing some politicians' and senior state functionaries' ratings go down and influence dwindle. It allays their fears so that some state functionaries believe that it is safe to do now what they would not have done before....

Everyone expected the United Russia convention to shed some light on the future and bring in certainty with regard to it. The convention did so, but only in connection with the very pinnacle of political power. Everyone knows who will be the president and who, the premier, but that is all. Whatever is to happen to anyone else is not known. On the contrary, the convention bred uncertainty. Not one of the major political players at this point can be sure of his or her future. Aleksei Kudrin's resignation is quite symptomatic from this standpoint... No wonder the survival instinct kicks in. People understand after all that it is only through the weakening of their adversaries that they can better their own chances.

Boris Makarenko of the Institute of Contemporary Development has a similar take:

The conflict between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee has never been settled. These turf wars will continue as long as we have bureaucratic jealousy fomented by existence of different factions within the upper echelons of security structures, factions with different patrons and supporters upstairs.

A weakened lame-duck president, a dispirited technocratic faction in the elite that opposed Putin's return, and fears that the pro-Putin siloviki clan will be eager to move on its bureaucratic enemies are also no doubt fraying nerves.

This could be temporary as the 2012 decision was announced barely three weeks ago. Moreover, some degree of factionalism and clan struggles are, after all, regular features of Russian politics. But if Putin (and to an extent Medvedev) can't find a way to calm down and unify the ruling elite, then out-of-control factionalism could also turn into a big problem.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Putin-Medvedev tandem,2012 presidential election

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: DimitriT from: New York
October 16, 2011 18:18
This out-of-control factionalism is already a problem among the Russia elite, although it has not reached all the way to the elite of United Russia. If you look at other powerful figures, it is easy to see that they are unhappy with United Russia's policies, and in fact, are displeased enough to seek other parties to support. Of course, these players are then silenced, so that they cannot provide any competition to United Russia in the election.

But this level of dissatisfaction has been common among ordinary Russians for very long. They may not have the money and power of the elite leaders, but they speak in numbers that are far larger. It could soon become a big problem, if this growing young faction is not given a voice in their own future.

by: Samanta Jones from: Germany
October 17, 2011 12:35
The Kremlin has established a political monopoly that goes beyond the domination of United Russia, which loses its positions and popularity. The system, which was built up a dozen years ago, collapses slowly.
But, as it was mentioned by The Moscow Times “Russia is run by a political regime that has eliminated the constitutionally guaranteed right to political competition, freedom to participate in politics and freedom of speech. Today’s regime has managed to create a cynical imitation of a multiparty system and elections.” When the ruling party has no support of elites, business – and middleclass, intellectuals, young generation, as well as by working class, this is a signal of collapse of a system of “managed democracy” and a very beginning of changes in the direction of democratization of the society.

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

15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


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.

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