Friday, November 28, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Palace Intrigue Escalates

Aleksei Kudrin (left) and Vladislav Surkov
Aleksei Kudrin (left) and Vladislav Surkov
They’re as different as night and day. One’s a cerebral economist with a talent for balancing budgets even amid mind-bending corruption. The other is a suave, flamboyant political operator whose hand was behind much of the political intrigue over the past decade.

Both were key inside players during Vladimir Putin’s first stint in the Kremlin and each played a major role in making it look successful. Both had strained relations with Putin's siloviki allies. Both, in their own way, went off the reservation.

And both Aleksei Kudrin and Vladislav Surkov were back in the news this week.

Amid mounting speculation in the Russian media that Putin was going to name him prime minister, Kudrin gave two speeches slamming the government's economic policies and calling for more pluralism in the political system.

And a week after his resignation from the government, Surkov popped up in a rather odd way: Photos on the Internet showed him fishing with the powerful Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov -- who went on to praise Surkov. Those photos surfaced days before press reports claimed Surkov was in the Investigative Committee's crosshairs and suspected of funneling state funds to the opposition.

As different as they are, Surkov and Kudrin are on one side in the struggle that has been raging in the Russian elite -- pitting technocrat managers like themselves who want the system to change and security service veterans fighting hard to maintain the status quo.

And their appearance in the news this week is the latest evidence that this battle is heating up.

In the latest edition of the Power Vertical podcast, I discussed these issues with co-hosts Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Mark Galeotti of New York University, and Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies.


Power Vertical Podcast: Kremlin 'Cold War' Heats Up -- May 24, 2013
Power Vertical Podcast: Kremlin 'Cold War' Heats Up, May 24, 2013i
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

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Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
May 25, 2013 14:18
It's kind of silly to talk about a personal attack on Medvedev, no such thing is occurring because Medvedev personally does not matter and has never mattered. All that is occurring is that Putin is liquidating the authority of the prime minister, which he previously built up when he held that position, and Medvedev just happens to be the current occupant of that office. And what the fact that criminal charges against Surkov can be discussed shows is only that many people vastly overstated the important of Surkov as well. Surkov was never anything more than a cog in a dictatorship machine driven by Putin, just one more person to be scapegoated and liquidated at the whim of a dictator. Looking for rationality in the actions of a dictator like Putin or Stalin is a folly, and distracts from the simple reality that we are looking at and dealing with evil.

by: Graham from: Moscow
May 28, 2013 21:28
Just a quick note to say thanks for the blog - just found it and been hooked for a couple of hours now. Always good to find witty intelligent analysis - cheers!

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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.

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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