Wednesday, November 26, 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?

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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?





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.






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