Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Slobodan's Ghost

Similar tactics. Similar myths. Similar futures?
Similar tactics. Similar myths. Similar futures?

There's a specter haunting Vladimir Putin -- the specter of Slobodan Milosevic.

As the Ukraine crisis has unfolded, it has become fashionable -- and even a bit of a fetish -- to compare the Kremlin leader to the late Serbian dictator.

Writing recently in "The New Republic," Vera Mironova and Maria Snegovaya noted how Milosevic and Putin "fueled intense nationalism...against Croats and Ukrainians through mass media propaganda" and how each "empowered the uprising of ethnic minorities."

Both also used the pretext of protecting minorities to "engage the military" and "established self-proclaimed, semi-independent republics in both Croatia and Ukraine" that were under the de facto control of Belgrade and Moscow respectively.

"But the resemblance between Putin and Milosevic’s cases is more than just a similarity in tactics -- it embraces the fundamental myths and historical clashes between Serbs and Croats, and Russians and Ukrainians," they wrote.

And it isn't just Putin's critics who are dredging up the Milosevic comparisons. So are his erstwhile allies -- as a cautionary tale.

Angry about the Kremlin's apparent decision not to use overt military force in eastern Ukraine to support pro-Moscow militants, separatist leader Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, recently warned Putin against "an irreversible step down 'Milosevic's path.'"

Writing on his VKontakte page, Girkin went on to explain that Putin's apparent abandonment of armed groups seeking to form "Novorossia," or "New Russia," in Ukraine, resembled Milosevic's "surrendering" of paramilitaries fighting for a "Greater Serbia" in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia in the 1990s.

Milosevic, Girkin wrote, "was later finished off in Kosovo, and finally 'expired' naturally, and tellingly, in The Hague."

The subtext, of course, was that if nationalists turned against Putin over his "betrayal" in Donbas, he would be dangerously vulnerable at home.

LIkewise, the nationalist Mikhail Kalashnikov recently argued that “the Kremlin has lost control over the process” in eastern Ukraine and that as a result, “the uprising in the Donbas could turn into an uprising in Russia."

The meme of the potential for an angry backlash against the Kremlin from jilted nationalists has also been picked up by the mainstream Russian media.

"The Russian authorities have learned how to suppress liberal protests but they are far worse at coping with nationalist and left-wing protests when they are confronted by resolute, desperate people who are prepared for a strong-arm confrontation," the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote in a July 11 editorial. 

"The state has not resolved the migration question and this means that Kondopoga, Manezh Square, or Biryulevo could be repeated at any moment.... The Kremlin has absolutely no interest in a left-wing or nationalist protest in Russia being headed by experienced militants."

So how relevant is the Milosevic experience to Putin's fate?

A couple things here. First, the line between Milosevic's abandonment of the "Greater Serbia" project and his fall from power was not a direct one.

Nearly four years passed from the signing of the Dayton Accords, which ended hostilities in Bosnia in December 1995, until Milosevic's fall in October 1999 -- a period in which he weathered the loss of nationalist support, a series of noisy street protests in Belgrade, another war, in Kosovo, and a NATO bombing campaign.

And second, when Milosevic finally went down it was by no means preordained.

Pro-Western liberals and student activists were the most visible participants in the massive demonstrations that followed the flawed 1999 presidential election, and those demonstrations certainly played a role in the Serbian strongman's downfall.

But the death blow was actually dealt behind the scenes and away from the crowds, in the back seat of a Mercedes SUV cruising Belgrade's backstreets.

It was there, according to media reports, where Milorad Lukovic, one of Milosevic's most brutal henchmen, cut a deal with opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, the German-educated darling of the liberals who would later go on to serve as prime minister until his assassination in 2003.

Milosevic had ordered the paramilitary police unit Lukovic commanded, the Red Berets, to open fire on the demonstrators swarming Belgrade's streets and squares. Djindjic reportedly convinced him not to do so, persuading him that Milosevic was finished.

"The hidden power structures in Serbia understood that they could not go any further with Milosevic, so they gave him up, but they wanted certain payoffs," Bratislav Grubacic, a Belgrade-based political analyst, told me back in 2003.

So in the end, it was a combination of a liberal uprising, nationalist disillusionment, and security-service disloyalty that ended the Milosevic era.

Putin could go the same way sometime in the future. But it is just as easy to imagine him hanging on to power -- provided the elite and the security services remain loyal.

And provided he's willing to spill blood.

A 260-page report issued earlier this month  -- edited by Kirill Rogov and titled "The Crisis and Transformation of Russian Electoral Authoritarianism" -- argues that the Ukraine crisis was "beyond doubt" a turning point in Russian history. (A big h/t to Paul Goble for flagging it.)

The report's authors argue that “the level of political repressions will only grow,” become more intense, and increasingly become “an inseparable part” of “the political culture” of the Putin regime.

The true Milosevic scenario for Putin could, in fact, turn out to be one in which he managed to hang on to power -- and became even more brutal.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Power Vertical blog,Slobodan Milosevic

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 14, 2014 18:28
VIDEO: Russia to reestablish its military base in Cuba -
In Response

by: Bill
July 16, 2014 07:56
Dishonest journalism on the part of Whitmore. No surprise to see him and his employer coverup the hypocritical bigotry behind that historically challenged New Republic article.

by: Idrian from: Surrey
July 14, 2014 18:46
This gives the opposition all the more responsibility and necessity to survive and thrive and create a better post-Putin alternative.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 15, 2014 10:37
"A post-Putin alternative" :-)). It's like in Syria where the US and the "opposition" organized a "post-Baschar al-Assad alternative" :-)).
In Response

by: Not a Kremlin apologist
July 16, 2014 06:25
Eugene, you really don't have the ability to contribute to a conversation, do you? What kind of a comment is that? It's just plain rubbish speak. This article is not about the US or Syria, and no one is interested in reading your deflective-debate ideas where you bring up the subject of something irrelevant to what is being discussed.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 16, 2014 07:12
Not a Kremlin apologist, if you dislike plain rubbish speak, what are you doing on this web-site? You will not find anything other than that here.
And then, why not give your smart advice on cutting rubbish speak to such "people" as Hillary, Tony Blair or George W Obama - plain rubbish speak is the only thing one hears from those losers.
So, reflect on all those issues before you waste people's time the next time you post something. And if you are not interested - then get out here, go back to your native Detroit to look for food in the garbage.

by: Anonymous
July 14, 2014 22:37
Maybe you should call your column the powder vertical?
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 15, 2014 22:15
Good , this is good !

by: Jack from: US
July 14, 2014 23:05
Brien Whitmore, wisely forgot to mention under Putin Russian economy grew 20 times (i.e. 2000%), and under Putin it continues to grow even under sanctions, while US economy under "democratically selected" B.Hussein Obama contracted at 2.9% annual rate in 2014. It looks like evil Putin has all the reason to laugh: he is winning in Syria, he is winning in Ukraine, he is winning in Europe
In Response

by: Milosevic from: Baltimore
July 15, 2014 08:37
I'm afraid that Mr. Brian Whitmore had a wrong comparison and many wrong conclusion about Mr. Milosevic too. Mr. Milosevic is not responsible fir the war in firmer Yugoslavia. War has been planned, created and managed by Western countries begin of 1974. Milosevic get in power 1990, I new that a civil war in Yugoslavia is going to happen already 1986.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
July 15, 2014 13:38
Holy cow! Keep on commenting "Jack" from US, "Milosevic" from Baltimore, and "Eugenio" from Vienna! With critics like you all, who needs supporters! Yikes! Is this the best the Главное управление троллей can come up with?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 15, 2014 15:37
The comment of Milosevic made me go to look for some additional info and here is what I found in Youtube: an interview of Marshall Tito filmed in 1978 (!!!) in which he talks about the danger of seeing Yugoslavia desintegrated after his would-be death:
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 15, 2014 22:23
Remember that in a first time
Milosevic was "the good boy" that USA need
in this corner of world

And than , only than .....

Remember that during the Dayton Accords
Milosevich was defined by the international community
and by the U.S. administration
as a "man bearer of peace "

And than, than only .....
In Response

by: Bill
July 16, 2014 07:58
Holy cow Whitmore, you're llike empty calories.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Losd Angeles
July 17, 2014 20:56
1947 - Stalin under house arrest by "Stervyatnik",
because he vas indignant when learned Russia
plagiarize us all and to prevent CIS restoration.
"Stervyatnik" offered USA and British plagiarize all of us,
including me, I and my mother were sentenced to death.
1949 - "Stervyatnik" reversed CIS restoration, started influx,
overturned E. Europe governments, in Poland three times.
Churchill and USA confirmed "Cold War" was on.
Queen Mother wasn't please.
1953 - Stalin killed, "Stervyatnik" re-shifted ruling apparatus.
1954 - "Stervyatnik" lured into plot to resurrect empires the
Queen Mother and "Bechtel", receiving Bechtel’s blueprints
and technical assistance - build for Ru-"Stervyatnik"
Nazi arsenal of many small A-bombs - to use in republics that
would resist grab by Russian genocidal breeders.
(pro-Russians on this Forum, like Eugenio, might be there too)
1955 - secret killings of 150,000, mainly Georgians, by
"Stervyatnik" - to be sure no word about the "secret pact"
to destroy non-Russian nations, restore empires, divide Europe with Germany-Austria and the World with British.
1956 - Khrushchev started lie about Stalin, first use of USSR
army to provoke and crush Hungary, E. Europe, Georgia
Civil protests.
"Stervyatnik" and British move into USA armies of "experts"
to find "Stalinist agents" (just people of non-Russian extraction)
and destroy them - effectively taking control of brainwashing
and destroying USA minds by inserts of British and Russian
imperial spies, homosexuals, degenerates and clipping female
parts sadomasochists.
Turned into hundreds of trillions of dollars, plagiarized property
corrupted the World ruling races and classes.
Up to hundred trillions from my brake-through alone...
Rule of Antichrist began since 1947, becoming apparent...
Russia bring hundreds thousands of slave prostitutes to USA...
Russia expanding again, USA deteriorating...
1954-56 pact continuation also demanded many nations
agree with new Imperial World of "Stervyatnik" and his
Cousins, that included Arabs, Serbians and many others.
The refusing or ignored nations would be exterminated.
Some like Georgians and Ukrainians didn't follow orders,
"Stervyatnik" destroying them - pay for resistance.
USA trying to help - "Stervyatnik" hate USA!
Arabs and Serbs went alone - pay for non-resistance.
Serbians and Russians were ordered train Special force
instructors by Germans and British, to bestialize and mortify
Serbs had look evil, to prove that Nazi Germany was not so bad, do not offer Yugoslavia CIS and challenge "Mashtrih",
let Germany-Austria take over most of Yugoslavia.
Milosovich tried explain it in EU court - they silenced him and
murdered by NLW devices and Lemurs - they mocked his
health complains - so he would be squashed in small space
of murdering sell.
Serbia lost its industries and economy - UGO bombed by
order of Germans of S. California and Germany-Austria.
Putin is part of the "Srtervyatnik" plot, but sometime he
hold his horses and reminded who is the boss:
"Nash Ataman nas na babu promenyal!"
World can remind him and his "Stervyatnik" too,
if USA is not totally under voodoo spell...

by: Throwdown
July 15, 2014 07:50
Actually, this article looks quite one-sided, also because the two figures cannot be compared either now or never, as the two situations (former Yugoslavia - Ukraine) are dramatically different. Clashes between croats and serbs (I personally do not consider bosnians, whilst the sultanate was a mere invention to justify economical and strategical help to mujaheddin needed then in Cecenia and other "ad hoc" war scenarios) always existed, and cultural differences among them were always strong and kept united only by the personality of the Marshal, whilst can we tell the same about Russians and Ukrainians (otherwise in West part of the Country, where actually for a long time they didn't consider themselves Ukrainians either)? I generally appreciate the contents and the general framework of the website, but I guess that "to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established" is to provide exactly news and not to spread and push on propagandistic my humile opinion, of course...then, both situations can't be relegated to few lines or quotes, but could/should take several years of discussions and debates.

ps: sorry for being so long-winded! :)
In Response

by: Simon from: Belgrade, Serbia
July 16, 2014 13:58
Please, take it easy.
This article is pure propaganda, not just one-sided.
Name RADIO FREE EUROPE is total failure as there is no freedom in reporting at all.
In Response

by: throwdown
July 19, 2014 12:03
…yep, I wanted just to understand which was the spirit here…the most crap I heard about Serbs being "evil" is the same crap I must hear now on Russians and Putin…I see US gov and EU have a desire to mess up with historical places for slavian though, Kosovo for Serbs (…just to be clear, to me NO INDEPENDENT KOSOVO EXISTS, it was, is and always will be Srbjia) and Ukraine for Russians…almost funny, if it didn't mean they are playing with the lives of million people...

by: rkka from: usa
July 15, 2014 09:23
"There's a specter haunting Vladimir Putin -- the specter of Slobodan Milosevic."

Um, Brian, you misspelled "Poroshenko", who after all is the one directing the aerial and artillery bombardment of cities, something no court proved Milosevich ever did..
In Response

by: Sam
July 17, 2014 03:48
A superior piece:

by: Milosevic from: Baltimore
July 15, 2014 13:24
I'm afraid that we have so many 'expert' today like Mr . -- Brian Whitmore which creates their conclusion based on wrong comparison.
In Response

by: Bill
July 16, 2014 07:59
He's a paid hack, much like how his favorite RFe/RL Podcast guests are prone to carrying on.

by: Sey from: World
July 15, 2014 15:04
This is getting ridiculous already. Media has become so powerless at seeking to destabilize and attack governments their owners can't stand they get a hold of the silliest and lamest stories lately...

I'll have to count just how many articles I've read throughout the course of the past 15 years heralding the imminent fall of the Putin regime.

They said Putin'd fall when the war in Chechnya broke out and that submarine sunk, then when the Moscow attacks and the Beslan tragedy took place, then when the war with Georgia was all the rage, then with the 2012 election protests, and now with the Crimea issue. And he didn't fell, and what's more... he grew more powerful everytime.

And now they are liking him to Milosevic when the situation in Russia today and the Balkans in the 1990s has got nothing to do with each other mind the fact both involved Slavs.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 15, 2014 19:36
Guys, while you were comparing Putin to Slobodan, Russia, China, India, Brasil and S. Africa at their summit in Brasil created a bank of their own which will challenge the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF, WB). If you were not so busy with empty talk, you would have reported on this event yourselves, given that the event is likely to influence international finance significantly.
VIDEO: BRICS new joint bank to influence global development -

by: Anonymous
July 15, 2014 22:14
more i read what is written in this article
more i think that the real Milosevich in this situation
is Ukrainian Poroshenko .
Comments page of 2

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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



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."

11:01 October 23, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Top managers at a Moscow airport have resigned and four more airport workers have been detained over a plane crash that killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when a corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee said on October 23 that prosecutors had detained an air-traffic controller intern, her supervisor, the head of air-traffic controllers, and the chief of runway cleaning.

Meanwhile, the airport announced the resigntion of its director-general, Andrei Dyakov, and his deputy, Sergei Solntsev.

And a Moscow court ordered that the snowplough driver remain in custody until December 21.

The driver says that he has lost his bearings before the collision.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and TASS)

And these items from Reuters:


By Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A Russian court decided on Thursday to postpone to next week a hearing on a move to wrest control of an oil company from oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, a case that has deepened investors' fears the Kremlin wants to reclaim prized assets.

Russian prosecutors filed the suit last month to regain state ownership of Bashneft, saying there had been alleged violations in the privatisation and subsequent sale of the oil producer to Russian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Sistema in 2009.

On Thursday, the judge at the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled in favour of the prosecutors who had requested more time to prepare their case and said the next hearing would take place on Oct. 30.

Sistema's shares, which lost 70 percent after it reached a peak this year in July, traded down nearly 5 percent in early trading in Moscow. Bashneft's shares were down 1.3 percent on the day.

In September, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of Sistema's majority stake in Bashneft a day after a judge refused to release Yevtushenkov, who is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition.

The case centres on the privatisation of oil production and refining assets in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan in the Ural mountains in the early 2000s and Bashneft's subsequent sale to Sistema.

The Russian investigators say the privatisation and the sale was illegal.

Sistema, which directly owns almost 72 percent of Bashneft's voting rights and has a stake of 86.7 percent, including 12.6 percent which it owns through its subsidiary Sistema-Invest, has denied the allegations.

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

Some analysts have said that state-controlled Rosneft , Russia's biggest oil producer run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, was interested in buying Bashneft.

The company, Russia's sixth largest crude oil producer, extracted more than 16 million tonnes (320,000 barrels per day) of crude oil last year, increasing output by more than 4 percent - the best results among domestic majors after launching production at new deposits in the Arctic.

Its oil refining capacity stands at 24.1 million tonnes a year. (Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; writing by Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Elizabeth Piper and William Hardy)


BRUSSELS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - NATO and Swedish fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian intelligence-gathering plane that briefly entered Estonian airspace on Tuesday, the alliance said on Wednesday.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry called the Russian ambassador to the ministry and gave him a protest note over the incursion, the Estonian defence forces said.

Fighters from Denmark as well as Portuguese F-16s from NATO's air policing mission in the Baltics took off after radar detected an unidentified aircraft flying close to NATO airspace in the Baltic Sea, NATO said.

The plane was identified as a Russian IL-20 intelligence-gathering aircraft that had taken off from Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, heading towards Denmark.

The Russian aircraft was first intercepted by Danish F-16s and later, as it headed further north, by fighters from Sweden, which is not a NATO member.

The Russian aircraft turned south again, entering Estonian airspace for less than one minute, a NATO statement said.

Portuguese F-16s, which had been scrambled from their base in Lithuania, escorted the Russian plane away from NATO airspace.

Interceptions of Russian military aircraft by NATO planes over the Baltic region have increased since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March, but usually Russian planes only approach NATO airspace and do not enter it, a NATO source said.

At a time when tension between Russia and the West is running high over Ukraine, Swedish forces have been scouring the sea off Stockholm following reports of activity by foreign submarines or divers using an underwater vehicle. (Reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and David Mardiste in Tallinn; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

11:12 October 22, 2014


In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.


08:27 October 22, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:


European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

Oettinger said as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia before the end of this year.

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

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


The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)


The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and


Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)


16:08 October 17, 2014


I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.


We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.


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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