Monday, November 24, 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," Gazeta.ru 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
Comments
     
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.

by: DEDA CVETKO from: NUEVA YORK
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 any...house 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, Foreignpolicy.com and a number of other venues, there's a "crackdown" against journos/analysts with a view different from the favored slant.

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

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

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

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
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.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
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 CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
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: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
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

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

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

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

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

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

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

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

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)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

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)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

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