Monday, November 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Russia's 'Revolutionary' Situation

Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks during an anti-government protest in Moscow on June 12, 2012.
Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks during an anti-government protest in Moscow on June 12, 2012.
We can now add Olga Kryshtanovskaya to the list of leading experts who are convinced that Russia is headed toward a very serious and potentially destabilizing crisis.
One of Russia's most renowned sociologists, Kryshtanovskaya has spent the past two decades studying the country's elite -- and the signs now, she says, are deeply troubling.
"In my view, the country is in a revolutionary situation. Dangerous processes are accelerating that could lead to a destabilizing situation," Kryshtanovskaya said in an interview this week on Dozhd TV.


Kryshtanovskaya recently left her position at the Russian Academy of Sciences Center for Elite Studies and suspended her membership in the ruling United Russia party to, as she put it, "study the revolution" and "if possible to help stop the worst-case scenario from developing."
In her Dozhd TV interview, conducted on the eve of the June 12 protests as opposition leaders apartments were being searched,  Kryshtanovskaya said the elite is dangerously split between factions vying for power -- neither of which is content with the current situation.
"This is a dangerous process that began during the Medvedev thaw," she said.
Those who wanted the "Medvedev thaw" to continue, she said, are unhappy with Putin's return to power. But the victors in that Kremlin power struggle are also dissatisfied with Medvedev's legacy and the tremors that swept through Russia's ruling class during his presidency.

For example, Kryshtanovskaya says that when Putin turned the Kremlin over to Medvedev in 2008, 45 percent of Russia's senior officials were security service veterans. Medvedev cut that figure in half:
Putin was very careful. He didn't want there to be a large number of dissatisfied people in the elite. He was careful about who was dismissed and who didn't get what they wanted. Medvedev may have the reputation of being softer and more liberal but from the perspective of the elite he was more strict and many more people had the ground fall out from under their feet. They are not satisfied. The number of dissatisfied people in the elite sometimes reaches critical mass.
Kryshtanovskaya also sees the fledgling opposition as a source of instability. Some in the movement, she says, are sincerely trying to improve the situation. But some are also seeking to use the current discontent to destabilize the country and seize power.
"It is important to understand who the leaders are. Some are above ground and some are underground. The ones underground are the most dangerous," she said.
Kryshtanovskaya's bleak assessment came on the heels of a report by the highly respected Center for Strategic Research that warned Russia could descend into violence and chaos if the authorities continued to crack down on opposition protesters or if the economy slides. (You can read the report in Russian here and read my blog post on it here.)

Writing on his blog "In Moscow's Shadows," New York University's Mark Galeotti compared the study to the 1983 Novosibirsk Report, which warned of fundamental weaknesses in the Soviet economy and became one of the foundations for Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika program.

What Kryshtanovskaya's dire warnings and the Center for Strategic Research report have in common -- other than their conclusions -- is that both assessments come from inside the system. Kryshtanovskaya has always been close to the elite and joined United Russia in 2009. And the Center for Strategic Research report was commissioned by former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's newly formed Committee of Civic Initiatives.
When the insiders are nervous, and they clearly are, it is time to pay attention. It looks like Russia could be in for a very hot summer.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Russian opposition,Russian elite,Olga Kryshtanovskaya

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ben
June 12, 2012 22:18
King Lir`s fate or "khotel kak luchshe..."

by: Judah Disraeli from: Across River Sambatyon
June 12, 2012 22:55
Based on Kryshtanovskaya's alarmist sociological conclusions, unlike his 1st term as president, Putin will not blow-up Russia during this term to justify a further loss of liberty. Instead, he will publish alarmist reports that say that someone will blow up Russia unless we give more power to the security apparatus of the state.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 13, 2012 07:07
Most probably, this third presidency term will be marked by the collapse of the European and (possibly) global financial system - provoked by the Greek exit from the Euro-zone and Greece's default on its sovereign debt. So, the "intellectual" games of Kryshtanovskaya and the cheap propaganda by the RFE/RL will be forgotten very soon, giving way to concerns over how to limit the damage caused by the implosion of the European (and global) capitalism on the Russian economy.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
June 13, 2012 14:33
Russia is totally reliant on the EU buying its oil and gas. If western capitalism implodes, then Russia will implode along with it and to a far greater degree. BTW Eugenio, you live in an EU member state, seems odd that you would consistently gloat about the continuing troubles they are having when you stand to suffer severely from them.
In Response

by: Alex from: Baltimore, MD
June 13, 2012 15:51
Longtime readers of this blog will recognize Eugenio from Vienna as a persistent pro-Putin troll whose commentary consists solely of anti-American and anti-RFE/RL insults. He is either paid by the Russians to spread his odious views on this site or he is a clinical idiot incapable of understanding the true nature of Putin's regime and the threat it poses to Russia and its unfortunate neighbors. I suggest that regular readers of this blog - which I think is one of the best Russia-watcher sites online today - ignore this guy.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 13, 2012 16:06
Hey, Andrew from Auckland, welcome back! I even thought that your long absence from this forum was conditioned by the fact that you were giving a helping hand to "unarmed civilians" in Syria, but it looks like you are more reasonable (than some of your comments might suggest you are) and prefer to stay away from Damascus :-))).
I would also like to underline that you are in a pretty good shape today: your comment on Russia (for a change) makes a lot of sense. The only two corrections that I would make are the following: substitue the word "totally" in the first line through "to a significant extent" and take the words "to a far greater degree" out of the second line compeletely - and I will 100 % agree with your statement.
And the very fact that PUTIN has done a lot (even if a lot more needs to be done) in the last 12 years in order to diversify the Russian economy and make it more independent from the European market absolutely speaks in his favour (and constitutes the major reason why such cheap propaganda web-sites as this one are so hostile towards him).
And as long as you are making a point about how my own situation will be affected by the implosion of global capitalism, I can assure you that I have taken the measures I could (i.e. changing the little money that I have from Euros into Swiss francs - the effectiveness of which can of course be questioned, but - let's admit - you have to at least try to do something when a tsunamy is heading your way).
And as far as "gloating" is concerned: you know, Andrew, if you read Lenin, you would have known that sharp and rapid deteriorations of the economic situation of the vast majority of the population (like the one we are witnessing in such NATO/EU member states as Greece or Spain today) constitutes one of the three essential elements of a revolutionary situation. Thus, the coming revolution will give those who today can only gloat on internet fora an occasion to personally take part in a radical societal change.
Greetings from Vienna, Andrew, and we'll see each other on the barricades :-))!

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.

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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