Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

Russia's Summer Frost

An opposition activist looks out from a police bus after being detained near a protest camp on May 17.
An opposition activist looks out from a police bus after being detained near a protest camp on May 17.
Can we call it a crackdown yet?
A court in St. Petersburg has ordered former schoolteacher Tatyana Ivanova to pay 30,000 rubles ($890) in damages for the "moral suffering" she caused when she blew the whistle on alleged electoral fraud back in December.

Aleksandra Dukhanina, a diminutive 18-year-old Moscow State University student, has been detained and faces five years in prison for allegedly attacking police officers during antigovernment demonstrations that turned violent on May 6.
Two others -- Maksim Luzyanin, a 36-year-old businessman, and 22-year-old Andrei Barabanov -- have also been detained and charged with provoking violence in those same demonstrations.
A court in the southern town of Cheboksary has sentenced Dmitry Karuye, a 20-year-old opposition activist, to 15 days in jail for allegedly spitting on a portrait of President Vladimir Putin.

The preliminary investigation into the feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot has been completed. Three members of the group -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- face up to seven years in prison on charges of hooliganism and conspiracy to spread religious hatred for performing the song "Holy Mother, Throw Putin Out!"  in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

And, of course, the State Duma is debating a bill that would make it exceedingly difficult -- if not virtually impossible -- for the opposition to organize protest actions. And more than 20 activists protesting the law were detained outside the Duma on June 5.
After a brief mini-thaw between the parliamentary and presidential elections, there has been a gradual uptick in repressive measures, ranging from high-profile cases (Pussy Riot) to more obscure ones (journalist Andrei Kolomoisky's prosecution for posting a video mocking Putin on his blog).
But the pace has clearly picked up of late, indicating that Putin has settled on a get-tough strategy with the increasingly emboldened opposition and its supporters.
"It appears that the Russian regime has definitely made up its mind about its attitude toward the protest movement. It considers any street actions to be protests and intends to take the toughest possible measures against participants in these actions without conducting any meaningful dialogue with society," wrote in an editorial last week.
As I have blogged in the past, the Kremlin's decision to embrace hard-line tactics with the opposition reflects the philosophy of deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin's latest political guru.
Volodin's predecessor -- and archrival -- Vladislav Surkov, the regime's former uber-ideologist, was not opposed in principle to hardball methods, but by and large he favored the softer touch of tricking, cajoling, and co-opting the opposition.
Playing rough with opposition protesters and marginalizing their leaders worked when the opposition was -- well -- marginal. But Surkov understood that in the current political environment, the approach could easily backfire. But he is no longer in the Kremlin (he's government chief of staff) and no longer responsible for the regime's political management strategies.
A new poll by the Public Opinion Foundation shows that trust in Putin had fallen to 48 percent by the end of May, down from 55 percent in March. A hard-edged approach now, especially with economic storm clouds on the horizon, could make these numbers even worse, embolden the opposition, and win it more supporters.

2012 is clearly not 2007.

"The authorities don't understand this," Pavel Salin of the Center for Political Assessments told Russia Profile. "Unfortunately, they continue to operate with zero logic, and they don't understand that society, which has gone through a fundamental change in attitude, is several levels above them."

This was on display in the St. Petersburg courtroom when the judge ruled against Ivanova, the whistle-blowing former schoolteacher and election commission official. (You can read my post on her here, with a video of her explaining what she witnessed.) After the verdict, supporters presented her with flowers and spectators shouted, "Shame on the judge!"
And Ivanova, for her part, said she was undeterred. "I feel energized," she said. "I want change so badly."
-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 05, 2012 16:05
Yet another baldfaced lie by the gringo nation of Beavus and Butthead

by: Sey from: World
June 05, 2012 16:10
Blood will run down the streets of Moscow before Putin is either forced to go, or goes on his own decision.

by: john from: canada
June 05, 2012 19:38
So maybe Ambassador McFaul did intend to say that Russia is a wild country? And from the evidence presented here, it looks like its getting wilder - or is just becoming more clearly a country of Asia, not a country of Europe.

A country whose ideologues now favour state sovereignty over human rights, rule of law, low corruption?

Why Putin loves Belarus and China?
In Response

by: rick from: milan
June 06, 2012 00:41
and if will be a country of Asia
where is problem ?

I think that in our time many people live much more better in Asia than in Europe

your post expresses the typical self-referential concept
of all western people

"" We are so much better
that the simple term "europe"

expresses positivism

while the term Asia expresses negativism

My compliments, dear neo colonialist
In Response

by: john from: canada
June 06, 2012 13:01
rick: I agree that to stereotype all of Asia as not being progressive could be seen as both racist - and wrong. I'll amend my statement to say that Putin is aligning his country with other countries that have significant human rights abuses, poor ranking on the Corruption Perception Index, Freedom Index and UN Human Development Index. Examples of Belaurus and China still stand, to be joined by virtually all of the other Asian "stans". To stay that many people live better in Asia than in Europe is empty, when the world's most-populous country does not enjoy democracy, rule of law or freedom from corruption. In addition, so many Chinese live very poorly by UN HDI standards that these Chinese alone outweigh European-based poverty.

June 06, 2012 02:49
Hey, if the State Department and US Treasury are so rich that they can fund "mass" demonstrations in Moscow, they might as well pay $6,000 per person (instead of the current $100.00) in penalties. Nothing says "World's Greatest Democracy" as subverting other democracies and bankrolling their faux opposition.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
June 06, 2012 15:42
You just nailed an important issue on the head. The US DOESN'T actually have the money to fund these mass demonstrations. Jack, Rick, Eugenio and other trolls seem to think otherwise. It is mainly the paranoia of Putin, Lukashenka, Assad, and others that make the claim of foreign-funded demonstrations. Has anyone complained about foreign funding of OWS?? Also, there is no such thing as "World's greatest democracy" anywhere (we might be the world's oldest though).

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
June 07, 2012 02:40
Can we call it crackdown yet?
Yes, Mr.Whitmore as well as the usurpation of power, orders to kill unwanted or put them in jail.
And why no one talks about the qualities of a person?
We see that Putin is obnoxious man, arrogant, cad and very vindictive...
Of course people like Putin should not be allowed to power..
but in Russia is always so-scoundrels and rascals in power
As drunken Yeltsin appointed him under the blasts in Moscow so he sits in the Kremlin..
Then Yeltsin, in delirium tremens was ready to appoint exploded ..аnarchy in the Caucasus...all on the verge..
The whole policy of Mr. Putin has been reduced to the maintenance of high energy prices by creating a tense situation in the world..
Putin himself misanthrope, he does not tolerate other people's opinions, despises and hates the opposition and what do you expect from this type, he will change?
Do not make laugh my slippers Mr.Whitmore!!
Now your task is waiting when someone wlill be imprisoned, beaten, killed, poisoned with polonium, where will begin next conflict.
Then strain you brain, what else will happen...

In Response

by: Frank
June 11, 2012 17:55
You appear live and well in Moscow Vakhtang.

At RFE/RL, and a number of other venues, there's a "crackdown" against journos/analysts with a view different from the favored slant.

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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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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