Thursday, August 25, 2016

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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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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