Wednesday, October 01, 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.

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