Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

Siloviki Run Wild

The head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin
The head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin
Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin has finally spoken. And all around him, the plot is thickening.

Following a day of silence after he was publicly accused of threatening the life of Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of the opposition newspaper "Novaya gazeta," Bastrykin issued a curt denial in an interview with the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia."

As I wrote in my last post, "Novaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Dmitry Muratov alleged in an open letter on June 13 that Bastrykin's security guards forcefully took Sokolov to a forest outside Moscow where their boss was waiting -- and where he threatened to kill the journalist.

Earlier, Bastrykin and Sokolov had argued over "Novaya gazeta's" coverage of the Investigative Committee's work. Sokolov has since left the country, according to Muratov.

In his "Izvestia" interview on June 14, Bastrykin admitted that he and Sokolov had argued heatedly while both were attending a security conference in Nalchik last week. But he called the allegation that he later threatened Sokolov in the woods "the delusions of a fevered mind." Bastrykin added that he didn't "even remember the last time I was in a forest. My job is so demanding that there is no time for trips to the countryside."

Later in the day, after meeting Muratov and other journalists, Bastrykin apologized for what he called an "emotional breakdown" during his meeting with Sokolov in Nalchik. It is still unclear, however, whether he admitted to the incident in the woods.

For his part, Muratov said he received "safety guarantees" from Bastrykin for Sokolov and other "Novaya gazeta" staff. Sokolov will, presumably, now return to Russia.

So all's well that ends well, right? Well, not so fast.

If this twisted tale worthy of a Quentin Tarantino film looked murky when it first came to light, it seems even more opaque now. So what just happened?

The daily "Vedomosti" suggested in an editorial that the security services have received carte blanche to go after the Kremlin's opponents and "are having the time of their lives" in doing so:

Irritated by protests, the Kremlin apparently told the siloviki to go after the president's political enemies. And the siloviki did. Carrying out the order, they arranged a manhunt this May when pedestrians were taken in without a cause, much less a courtesy of explanation or excuse afterwards, when draconian fines were adopted for protesters, protesters themselves were bagged, and opposition leaders' apartments ransacked in a thoroughly humiliating manner. In short, this May and June the Russians found themselves living in a police state. There's no use waiting for a reprimand for Bastrykin, much less his resignation. Life teaches us that he will probably be decorated or even promoted instead.

But while the siloviki-run-wild theory may be the simplest explanation for the "forest scandal," it isn't the only one out there.

Media reports have suggested that this week's scandal could be part of an ongoing struggle for power, access, and influence between Bastrykin's Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor-General's Office.

Some Kremlin-watchers see it as a harbinger of a new "Siloviki War" similar to the one that broke out in 2007 between different factions of the security-service veterans surrounding Vladimir Putin. That dust up, which actually got bloody, occurred as Putin's second term as president was drawing to a close and various clans in the elite, nervous about the succession, were furiously jockeying for advantage.

Those analysts who see a larger game going on point to the fact that on June 11, two days before Muratov's letter, Aleksandr Khinshtein, a State Duma deputy from United Russia, wrote on his Twitter feed that "an unprecedented scandal awaits Bastrykin."  (You can view Khinshtein's Twitter feed here. Scroll down to June 11 to see the tweet.)

Khinshtein, who is very plugged in to the ruling elite, tweeted this comment as the Investigative Committee agents were searching the apartments of opposition figures -- including Aleksei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak -- and a week after Bastrykin and Sokolov argued in Nalchik.

Of course, the Siloviki War scenario is not incompatible with the siloviki-run-wild theory. Both could actually be correct. The Investigative Committee has clearly taken the lead in the Kremlin's crackdown against the opposition, and their methods appear to have other parts of the elite recoiling.

"Vedomosti" quoted Russia Today Editor in Chief Margarita Simonjan as saying that "a man from the upper echelons of state power, someone I cannot in all earnesty call a liberal, told me the other day that he was frequently befuddled by the logic of the Russian Investigative Committee."

Of course, it's all speculation at this point. But as I noted, the last time the elite was behaving like this was in late 2007, amid the uncertainty that prevailed just before Putin left the Kremlin. If this is indeed what is going on now, it suggests the ruling elite is just as nervous today, little more than a month after Putin's return to power.

-- Brian Whitmore

(Be sure to tune in to this week's edition of the Power Vertical podcast, where I will discuss this topic with Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian Service, and special guest Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," and an expert on the Russian security services.)

Tags: siloviki,Aleksandr Bastrykin,Sergei Sokolov,Novaya Gazeta

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
June 15, 2012 05:18
If you ask what any Russian patriot, why such things happen in Russia you will receive an answer, that Bastrykin did everything right and correct because no other options in Russia, too many irresponsible people in Russia, especially among journalists .

On the other hand just look at the face of Bastrykin and you will see that Lombroso was right-mug of the typical bandit.

Imagine... Bastrykin apologized!!!The incident has been exhausted!!
Who is now interesting that Bastrykin committed a criminal offense-abduction of a person and threats to kill a ordinary citizen for such actions would go to Mordovia for 10 years..a bandit mug Bastrykin to a restaurant to fill his belly.
Where is the justice in the Russia?

I think that if Mr. Whitmore will be meet by accident Mr. Bastrykin anywhere at а press conference, he must say:"Hello Bandit Bastrykin, how many people are you took to the woods and buried?"
Someone has to eventually restore justice in this country...

by: Gene from: Moscow
June 16, 2012 12:39
I see one back-yard party from this report: Chayka, Khinshtein, Aleksei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak, "Vedomosti", Russia Today Editor in Chief Margarita Simonjan. What's the name of the party? Back to the future?
And, from the other hand, another party: Bastrykin Putin's ally &Co. Their name must be "We are in the future". And the actual issue must be a couple of cottages in suburban Moscow and in the Caucases and a couple of oil/gas share packages.
It's very interesting and worth of a special regular bulletin "Weekly rating of two factions". Why not?

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

17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS)


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.


Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)



Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)


A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014


According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

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