Wednesday, October 01, 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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This forum has been closed.
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!

The Power Vertical Feed

LIVE 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

Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

From RFE/RL's News Desk:


The head of the European Commission says an EU-Ukraine trade deal can only be changed by Brussels and Kyiv – not Moscow.

Jose Manuel Barroso made the remarks in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin released on October 1.

Ukraine's parliament ratified its agreement with the EU last month. 

However, the implementation of the trade part of the deal has been delayed until January 2016 to appease Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.

Moscow has called for more three-way negotiations to amend the deal and threatened to curtail Ukraine's access to Russian markets if Kyiv implements it.

In his letter, Barroso warned Putin not to impose new trade measures, saying it would threaten the agreement with Russia to delay the EU-Ukraine pact.

(With reporting by Reuters)

And for anybody interested, here's the full text of Barroso's letter:

"Mr. President,

Following your letter of 17 September, I would like to welcome the constructive engagement from all sides in the trilateral ministerial meeting on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on 12 September.

The conclusions reached at that meeting were endorsed by all participants and set out in a joint ministerial statement.

On the EU side, we have informed our Member States of the outcome of the trilateral process, and we have now obtained their approval for the necessary legislative steps.

I should emphasize that the proposal to delay the provisional application of the DCFTA is linked to continuation of the CIS-FTA preferential regime, as agreed in the joint ministerial statement. In this context, we have strong concerns about the recent adoption of a decree by the Russian government proposing new trade barriers between Russia and Ukraine. We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement.

The joint ministerial statement also foresees further consultations on how to address concerns raised by Russia. We are ready to continue engaging on how to tackle the perceived negative impacts to the Russian economy resulting from the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

I take however this opportunity to underline that the Association Agreement remains a bilateral agreement and that, in line with international law, any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other, according to the mechanisms foreseen in the text and the respective internal procedures of the parties.

I wish to recall that the joint conclusions reached at the Ministerial meeting state clearly that all these steps are part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as its right to decide on its destiny.

Consequently, while all parties should implement the conclusions as laid down in the joint ministerial statement in good faith, the statement does not and cannot limit in any way the sovereign prerogatives of Ukraine.

The European Commission remains fully committed to contribute to a peaceful solution. In this respect we hope that the recent positive steps embodied in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September and the ensuing memorandum from 19 September will be fully implemented, including the monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and its verification by the OSCE, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the Ukrainian territory.

We also expect that rapid and decisive progress can be achieved in the trilateral gas talks towards a mutually acceptable interim solution for the upcoming winter period, on the basis of the compromise elements set out by the European Commission. It is key that the resumption of energy deliveries to the citizens of Ukraine is ensured and that the fulfilment of all contractual obligations with customers in the EU is secured.

Yours faithfully,

José Manuel BARROSO"


And just when you though it couldn't get any weirder, Valery Zorkin destroys your illusions.

That's Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court. Zorkin penned an article last week in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" (that's the official Russian government newspaper, by the way), calling for -- wait for it -- a return to serfdom. A big h/t to Elena Holodny at Business Insider for flagging this.

Here's the money quote:

"Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: 'We were yours, and you — ours.'"

Zorkin also took a shot at Pyotr Stolypin, the 19th century reformist prime minister (and a hero of Vladimir Putin's), and his judicial reforms.

"Stolypin's reform took away communal justice from the peasants in exchange for individual freedom, which almost none of them knew how to live and which was depriving their community guarantees of survival."

I wonder what that portends. Zorking also compared the abolotion of serfdom to the post-Soviet reforms of the 1990s.


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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