Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Power Vertical

The Bolotnaya Maidan

"Ukraine, We Are With You." Boris Nemtsov and other activists outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow on December 2.
"Ukraine, We Are With You." Boris Nemtsov and other activists outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow on December 2.
The latest threat to Vladimir Putin's autocratic rule may be coming not from the Russian opposition but from the Ukrainian street.

As tens of thousands continue to protest in Kyiv against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to scuttle a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow, and with mass rallies scheduled this weekend, many in the Russian opposition seem to get this.

"We support Ukraine's course toward European integration," Boris Nemtsov told Interfax recently. "By supporting Ukraine, we also support ourselves." 

Nemtsov was among the handful of protesters detained on December 1 outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow. They had gathered under the banner "Ukraine, We Are With You" to show solidarity with those taking to the streets in Kyiv. 

A day earlier, 30 prominent Russian writers and poets penned an open letter in support of the Ukrainian protesters. 

"Your struggle for the right to choose your own path is going to be difficult -- but we hope you are successful," they wrote. "This would be a sign that in Russia we too can defend our rights and freedoms. We are with you!"

Putin, who also grasps the significance of the Ukrainian uprising for Russia, was predictably less positive in his assessment. The protests, he said, resembled "a pogrom." 

And it was perhaps with the events in Ukraine on his mind that the Kremlin leader announced this week that he would not be granting amnesties to the defendants in the so-called "Bolotnaya case" against those detained during anti-Kremlin demonstrations that turned violent on May 6, 2012. 

The mass protests in Kyiv are taking on additional symbolic value because they are taking place almost exactly two years after Russians staged the largest antigovernment protests since the fall of the Soviet Union -- also on Bolotnaya Square -- on December 11, 2011.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Nemtsov noted the mass nature of the Kyiv protests, which dwarfed even the largest Moscow demonstrations. "What we saw in Kyiv last weekend, when by various estimates between 400,000 and 800,000 people came out, speaks for itself," Nemtsov said. "And by the way, the population of Kyiv is four times less than that of Moscow." 


In a sarcastic post on, blogger Arkady Babchenko implored the Ukrainian opposition not to repeat the "success" of their Russian counterparts. 

"The success of any human endeavor depends at least in part on the ability to imagine an outcome. The Westernizers in Russia have had so few successes in the last decade -- or the last century -- that they have a hard time imagining anything but failure," Moscow-based journalist and author Masha Gessen wrote in "The New York Times."

"But now the Ukrainians are showing the Russians that there might be another way. If they succeed, they may change the future of not one but two of the largest countries in Europe."

But the significance of the events in Kyiv, of the "maidan," is larger than the lessons they offer to Russia's Bolotnaya opposition. They are larger than the precedent that a democratic revolution in culturally similar Ukraine could set for Russia.

This is about more than contagion. True systemic change in Ukraine would have practical consequences for its northern neighbor.

It would deal a significant -- if not mortal -- blow to the corrupt political and economic model Putin has fine-tuned in Russia and sought to export to the rest of the former Soviet space.

In a 2012 briefing paper for Chatham House, James Greene wrote that a key part of the Putin model was to use corrupt business schemes to "capture" elites and make them compliant -- both in Russia and in other parts of the former USSR. 

"Putin used the carrot of corruption in conjunction with the stick of 'compromat' to establish patron-client political relationships," Greene wrote.

"By broadening this approach to the corrupt transnational schemes that flowed seamlessly from Russia to the rest of the former Soviet space -- and oozed beyond it -- Putin could extend his shadow influence beyond Russia's borders and develop a natural 'captured' constituency for maintaining a common Eurasian business space."

As growth slows and Russia faces an increasingly dire budgetary crunch, projects like Putin's Eurasian Union will become increasingly vital for the Kremlin. 

And as New York University professor and longtime Kremlin-watcher Mark Galeotti said in a recent Power Vertical Podcast, Ukraine is a key piece of that puzzle. 

"Ukraine performs a vital role for the not-so-open elements of the Russian economy," Galeotti said.

"Ukraine is an initial pre-wash venue for dirty Russian money. We've seen the port of Odessa being used for all kinds of dubious arms deals.... Losing that would affect not only the Kremlin but also the profitable opportunities of a large number of people whose opinions matter to the Kremlin."

Likewise, in his column in the "Financial Times," foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman noted that "events in Ukraine are profoundly threatening to the personal interests and ideology of President Putin and his circle."

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast on December 6 when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with co-hosts Kirill Kobrin and Mark Galeotti and special guest Nina Khrushcheva.

Tags: Russian opposition,Bolotnaya Square,Power Vertical blog,Maydan,Ukrainian opposition

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Borys Pawliw
December 05, 2013 12:22
The best hope for Ukraine to finally make a real break for freedom is to destroy the oligarch structure that has been the albatross around its neck for the past 20 years. It may be based on Putin's preferred model, but it has been used by both pro-West and pro-Russian entities...and these entities are loyal only to their own interests. Yes, Ukraine needs to align with the EU and the West, but it must do so with many of its wealthiest - and most corrupt - political and business leaders held to account by a judiciary they have not bought off.
In Response

by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
December 06, 2013 02:51
Out of curiosity, do you see how this could be done? Do you see any Ukrainian politician -- Yatsenyuk, Klitschko, Tymoshenko -- who could do that?
In Response

by: Borys Pawliw
December 06, 2013 21:45
Probably Klitshcko, for the simple reasons that he is so well known and also, he made his money globally at the highest level of sport, rather than in the world of Ukrainian business, which is always a big warning indicator...
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
December 06, 2013 12:38
The EU and the West generally have hardly been sure cures for anything. Having your economy taken over by Western transnationals looking for unprotected markets and cheap resources and cheap disposable labor is hardly a path to prosperity. Countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania (or for that matter these days Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy) are examples of that (Poland has done better, but that is another story that depends partially on geographical position). Compared to the 1990s when Russia tried this path, Putin's Russia is paradise despite the numerous real flaws that are consistently pointed out here by Brian... It is also hilarious for anyone putting forth the idea of the West as perfect to point out Russian budget deficits-- that is too hypocritical and ridiculous for words to describe!

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 06, 2013 07:12
The following is the answer to event, even
I was late to publish this comment as it going
Whitmore's interview was up to the point, however,
He always slightly directing it to question of belonging,
Using settle words - is Ukraine belong to West or to East?
I think Ukraine must belong to Ukrainians and all its citizens.

Rubachuk described it from point of Ukrainian, thought,
Sometime it looks like one of Oleg's ancestor extraction
Might be German, but he stops short of total belonging
Of Ukraine to EU, run by Germany, he simply brought
Europe as the future - rules, justice, property and right,
Also privacy and improving life, while "Customs Union"
Is a “Ghetto of the past - has no rule and ran by Putin.”

I don't hold it against him, understanding a few I knew.
All he said is true, but he said details are not important,
“Just sign EU agreement, - Ukraine signs only symbolic
And it’s nothing.” What does he mean, admiring youth,
That reads Internet? My comment? Before sign, think?

Or just opposite – do not analyze - just sign it through?
He says “Freedom in Ukraine - threat to Putin, because
Rich might run to such Ukraine - as investment routine.”
Russia tries get all CIS, sunk in encroaching by her case.
“Russia pressure Ukraine - violating international Law”.

All he says above is truth - after I wrote something here,
On “RFE”, after my comments stashed or not published
And skillfully incorporated by Russia, Germany, Austria,
With their beneficiaries, including mind readers, in USA,
In apartment building I reside – staffed by Russians-CIA.
They plagiarize – 7/7/2012 they killed for that my mother.

I do mind be used like that - even if the enemies of Rights
For CIS and the World would use my writings in the spirit
And Ukraine and other nations would benefit and survive.

On another hand, being Ukrainian, he cannot but pick hope
That new generations of youngsters coming on the own with
Open heart - Internet, Globally emerging. WHERE TO GO?
Sorry, I do not know when I drop another shoo - if still alive.

Churikova said that Putin and Yanukovich are not the people.
Human dignity is on street, they don’t understand. Russia stay
Strong in Ukraine, because Ukraine haven’t yet “Civil Society”.
Typical position of the “Russian Speaking” some feel half-way
Ukrainian, half-way International from former USSR, it's OK.

Some others, Churikova is careful about, pro-Russian people
That wouldn’t mind “say who are to be Ukrainians in Ukraine”
And Russia “equalize Ukraine, if it know who they are”. Duple,
Russia use in race war, provocateurs and oboroten’s, staff-in.
She said “Yanukovich elected pro-Russian, supports EU, but
He'll reverse this course (for Russia, but unfortunately bound)
By “ideological promises of predecessor, Ukraine be for EU”…

Is she hope Ukraine, repopulated, specially after WW2 ended,
In violation of Law of God, International Law, and UN Charters,
Will lose race war to Russia? Or she is really for “Civil Society”,
For all Ukrainian Citizens? If it is so - why only Russian Union?
Repopulate fast Ukraine by ethnic Russian Master-Hooligans?
“It isn't about faces, but systematic change people want...";
"Ukraine has to chose…” - Absorb by Russia, or Germany?.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 06, 2013 07:14

Drach trying be more realistic, saying if “European integration,
Russia will force its influence"; "Ukraine is at decisive corner”. She hopes some of ruling party defecting to opposition, rise of New leaders, as she said, but they have yet no analysis – Sure, Russia-Pruissia is sabotaging or stealing it from people Like myself, and use dope: Only repopulate by Russian race War and be slaves - or absorbed, by German-running EU,
Under Lenin’s-Hitler’s dream US of Europe, later Lenin Reneged, being beaten and raped in Germany...


by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 06, 2013 10:00
The longer the circus on the Maidan lasts, the more desperate the neo-orange Trinity leaders become. They are coming to realisze that their attempt aimed at a speedy overthrowal of the legitimate and democratically elected president and govt has turned out to be a flop (pretty much like everything that friends of the US and of the EU have undertaken over the last 10-12 years).
According to media reports, today there are only about 3000 people remaining on the square - as compared to some 100.000 that took part in the protests last week-end. Those organizations whose real estate the demonstrators have illegally ceazed (such as the Federation of Trade-Unions) are getting impatient and want to get their buildings back.
And the Winter is coming.
So, such German agents as Klitschko - who has twice run for the mayor of Kiev and has lost twice - have failed to achieve anything once again. As Hillary Clinton would say: "Their days are numbered and they know it" :-)).
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 07, 2013 00:47
Eugenio "is going again", as would say Ronald Reagan,
Reading from a note, given to him by "Bechtele" lemurs,
As Eugenio, reading note in his "shatlahis kurekis" mind
To "get one for Russia", use opportunity make his curve,
Turning my phrase for independent Ukraine - into a trap.

Gloating again - turning Klitschko into a "German agent"?
Is it envious hate of dirty Russian Viking from "13 worrier"
And implied threat that Russia will return with vengeance,
And murder Ukrainian Pride, starting with Klitschko fame?
Ukrainians simply fall not for provocation, Russia-Prussia.
They give time, they warn, rethink details - not your game,
Threaten Ukraine again - to go to Russian prison parasha?

by: water melnycenko from: USA
December 07, 2013 01:43
To Eugenia from Vienna -- Your negative statment against Ukrainian people uprising against pro Russian ( Moscow) authorities and seeking justice in the world. For over 300 years Ukraine has been inslaved by the Russian domination . Do you read history and see what Moscow rulers did to Ukrainian people.? Sibiria - Masacars - Holodomor - brutality - Brain washing. The last one I think effected you Eugenia unless you are one of them ungodly creachers.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 08, 2013 07:31
Whatever kind of creature I am, Walter from the USA, my point consisted in that the US and Germany were going to LOSE the battle for Ukraine the same way they lost the battle for Afghanistan, Irak or Syria, and due to this, all those - like Klitschko - who look for help in the US or Germany will end up where they belong - in the garbage-can of history. And the people of Ukraine will figure out what to do and which way to go without any help from the US or Germany, Walter :-)).

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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