Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Power Vertical

The 'Cold War' In The Kremlin

A gun salute is held outside the Kremlin during President Vladimir Putin's inauguration ceremony on May 7.
A gun salute is held outside the Kremlin during President Vladimir Putin's inauguration ceremony on May 7.
One front in the struggle for Russia was visible in Moscow last weekend as tens of thousands of protesters marched through the capital carrying balloons and placards as thousands of riot police armed with batons and assault weapons looked on.
The ratio of police to protesters, longtime Russia-watcher Mark Galeotti wrote on his blog "In Moscow's Shadows," was "distinctly higher than in other, recent protests" and appears to be indicative of "a nervous Kremlin."
But it's more than just the ongoing clash with opposition forces that is making the ruling elite jittery these days. What is truly causing sleepless nights is the "second front," the one where Russia's future will likely be decided -- the elite's war with itself.
And with reports of an impending government shake-up and of deep, enduring, and hardening splits in the Kremlin administration, signals abound that this longstanding intra-elite "cold war" could go hot at any time.
One aspect of this intramural struggle is simply a naked battle for power and a clash of political ambitions. Another is a heated debate over which tactics -- sticks or carrots -- would best tame the Russian Street and keep the current elite safely in power.
But part of the schism is also ideological, with part of the elite believing that increased pluralism -- albeit managed -- is necessary in a rapidly changing society and another faction seeking to revive the tough authoritarianism that marked President Vladimir Putin's first stint in the Kremlin.
For the time being, those seeking to turn the clock back to 2007 appear to be winning. A series of tough laws cracking down on dissent have been passed. Dissidents like Pussy Riot and defectors like Gennady Gudkov are being dealt with. And the tepid reforms Dmitry Medvedev ushered in during his presidency are being rolled back.
But what is also becoming clear is the model of governance Putin constructed over the past decade, in which he controlled the elite by playing the role of the indispensible arbiter of its warring clans, has -- to say the least -- lost its effectiveness.

"It is this model of statecraft that has now entered a crisis...[Putin's] system of rule, if the not the system itself, shows sign of exhaustion," Richard Sakwa, a professor of Russian politics at the University of Kent, wrote in
"Putin's return has destabilized the system that he so assiduously created, although in formal terms matters continue much as before."
The Artist And The Bureaucrat
One focal point of the struggle within the elite is the fierce rivalry between Putin's former chief ideologist and political manager, Vladislav Surkov, and the man who succeeded him, Vyacheslav Volodin.
In the most recent edition of the Power Vertical podcast, my co-host Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL's Russian Service astutely noted that Surkov approached the job like an "artist" while Volodin behaves more like a "post-Soviet bureaucrat."
In practice this means that Surkov's approach to the regime's opponents was to charm, cajole, hoodwink, and -- wherever possible -- to co-opt them. Volodin's is to run them over and whack them over the head with a baseball bat.
Surkov also stayed very tuned in to prevailing social forces and understood that as Russian society became more complex, differentiated, and affluent, the political system needed to create outlets to accommodate the emerging pluralism. Failure to do so would lead to political unrest of the sort we are seeing now.
He reportedly was pushing for Medvedev to remain president for a second term to complete his program of political and economic modernization, with Putin of course remaining firmly in control behind the scenes.
Surkov was also pushing for a form of "managed pluralism" in the State Duma, with United Russia sharing power with a broader constellation of obedient and housebroken "opposition" parties.
With the announcement a year ago that Putin was returning to the presidency and Medvedev would become prime minister, it, of course, became clear that Surkov had lost that argument. Months later, after the December 2011 parliamentary elections, he also lost his Kremlin job and was ultimately replaced by his archrival, Volodin.
Down but not out, Surkov ended up as chief of staff of Medvedev's government. He's no longer running the political show, but he still has numerous loyalists in the Kremlin (despite Volodin's efforts to purge them), in the media, and throughout the bureaucracy. 
The conventional wisdom is that he is gathering his forces, biding his time, and waiting for Volodin's strategy to fail
"Slava has taken a break, but this game is not over. They are waiting for the [Kremlin] staff's chosen strategy to lead it into an impasse," an unidentified Kremlin official told

Shareholders And Managers
Surkov was one of the key architects of Putin's authoritarian system and his push for greater pluralism was driven by pragmatism more than by principle.
As I have blogged in the past, the upper echelons of the Russian elite are largely comprised of shareholders who control resources and are collecting rents from the system, and managers who owe their position in the elite to their specific technical skills.

Surkov and former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin are managers. And as specialists, respectively, in political and economic management they understood the system had to change, modernize, and become more pluralistic. Their goal was not democracy, but rather to preserve the system by reforming it.
Political managers like Surkov understood that the fledgling middle class would rebel in the face of continued authoritarian rule. And economic stewards like Kudrin understood that economic modernization required a degree of political liberalization.
Shareholders like Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Putin cronies Gennady Timchenko and Yury Kovalchuk, on the other hand, opposed opening the system up because they feared that any change would threaten their continued access to rents, their position in the elite, and -- possibly -- their freedom.
The shareholders won this argument, which engulfed the elite during the latter stages of the Medvedev presidency, and their victory was evident at the September 24, 2011, United Russia congress when Putin's return to the Kremlin was announced.
But their victory has turned out to be pyrrhic. The rebellion Surkov and other political managers like former Kremlin spinmeister Gleb Pavlovsky expected has come to pass. And with Putin's return, economic modernization appears to be off the agenda, which could have dire consequences as it leaves Russia dangerously dependent on commodities exports.
And now, Pavlovsky says, they are in a bind. "They have no follow-up step," he told "They cannot endlessly adopt ever-new emergency laws and they cannot suppress all liberal media."
Siloviki And Civiliki
Meanwhile, it is quickly becoming conventional wisdom that a government shake-up is coming this fall and that Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika will be one of the top officials to lose his job.
The leading candidate to replace Chaika, according to a recent report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," is Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak. But a second name being floated is Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov, who is Medvedev's old law-school classmate -- an association that many officials believe will ultimately disqualify him.
"Konovalov's position is weaker because he is perceived by many people as a member of Medvedev's team," an unidentified Kremlin source told the daily.
Konovalov was the most high-profile of the so-called "civiliki," or officials with backgrounds in civil law, that Medvedev either appointed or promoted during his presidency. Many of them studied or taught alongside him at the law faculty of St. Petersburg State University in the 1990s.
Other high-level figures include Konstantin Chuichenko, who heads the Kremlin's Central Control Directorate; Nikolai Vinnichenko, the presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District; Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Gutsan; and Moscow Arbitration Court Chairwoman Valeria Adamova.
During his presidency, Medvedev was using the civiliki as a counterweight to the siloviki, the security-service veterans like Sechin and Sergei Ivanov who surround Putin.
As Medvedev's star faded after Putin's return to the Kremlin, the civiliki's influence of course faded. But they are still present throughout the bureaucracy.
"Real fragmentation is taking place by age because Medvedev rejuvenated the system of administration," prominent Moscow-based sociologist and expert on the Russian elite Olga Kryshtanovskaya told "Nezavisimaya gazeta."
"The more conservative older part of the elite was irritated by this and moved toward Putin. And those who were younger moved toward Medvedev in hopes of a quick career if Medvedev remained for a second term."
They are also ideologically inclined toward greater pluralism. "Many observers are convinced that these leaders are giving financial support to the opposition," Kryshtanovskaya said
The Decider
And what about the man in the middle of it all?
Writing in, Kent University's Richard Sakwa notes that while on one hand "Putin is back," on the other "the country and the political system have evolved."
A continued "tightening of the screws would cause the system to lose " whatever remains of the inner resources of dynamism and renewal" and "play into the hands of those many voices now predicting the decline and fall of the regime," he writes.
Sakwa argues, however, that there is still time to change course. "The third Putin term may yet see a new synthesis emerge. A positive reinvention of Russian political order requires an act of unprecedented leadership and political imagination," he writes.
Color me skeptical on that, at least for the time being.
In a recent interview with, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky succinctly contextualized the hard-line Kremlin attitude that has prevailed since Putin's third term began in May.
"This is a series of measures aimed at bringing reality into line with Vladimir Putin's psychological state," Belkovsky said.
"Putin wants everything around him to be stable. He is also hurt and offended that he is being accused of all sorts of crimes and that the opposition does not appreciate the concessions he made on things like the election of mayors and governors and easing the rules on party registration."
If real political change comes at this point, it will likely be despite Putin, not because of him. it will result from a combination of pressure from the Russian Street and the resolution of the "cold war" within the elite in favor of those advocating greater pluralism.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Russian politics,Russian opposition,Russian elite

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Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Victoria
September 21, 2012 18:03
My, yes; Stanislav Belkovsky. I was just wondering the other day where that adorable little fatboy had gone - and when he might pop up, having reinvented himself yet again. Now he's back to being a political analyst. The supermarket must have let him go.

Cast your memory back, back to when Stanislav Belkovsky was whipping western media sources into a feeding frenzy with his titillating tales of Kremlin Konfidential insider confessions - such as that Vladimir Putin was easily the richest man in Europe, having appropriated billions and inserted himself as ghost majority shareholder in state oil companies. According to Belkovsky - and breathlessly relayed by serial chowderhead Luke Harding in The Guardian - Putin personally controlled at least 75% of Gunvor through a sweetheart deal with his pal, Gennady Timchenko.

But then, something went wrong. The Economist wrote a saucy piece entitled, "Grease My Palm", in which they drew a number of conclusions based on Belkovsky's figures. Gennady Timchenko threatened to sue. And The Economist retracted everything. You know they would never have done that if they had any evidence at all which would support their claims.

Later, in a bizarre display of meandering nutjobbery, Belkovsky angrily cut his ties with the opposition, describing them as "lying, swinish and insincere"

and, incredibly, offering his services to Vladimir Putin in exchange for his pardon. He even claimed to have a canister of napalm and a grenade launcher at his dacha, which he would use in Putin's service if called upon.

Yeah. I'd be taking him seriously. What? No, sorry; I was laughing at something else.
In Response

by: chung
September 21, 2012 21:19
yes, yes, long character attacks on a minor element in a long essay -- are you still pretending not to be a Kremlin flack?
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 23, 2012 20:59
Mark, you realize that nothing of what you said means that Belkovsky's opinion on the current situation is wrong, don't you?

He may be right, he may be wrong. Just like my Russian father-in-law also may be right or wrong. Only time will tell.

It's interesting to think that, rather than discussing the analysis, people think it easier to attack the person who is making them. Shouldn't assertions, arguments, claims, etc. stand or fall by themselves, regardless of who is making them?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 24, 2012 19:06
Why, yes; that's true. Belkovsky could be right on a yes/no question as easily as flipping a coin could result in a correct answer. What I am trying to show is that anyone who pays Belkovsky for political analysis is wasting their money, as his facts in the past have been demonstrably fabricated and he shifts his loyalties according to his perception of what is best for himself - then tailors his narrative to fit his perceptions.

But as far as anyone being solicited for an opinion and their chances of being right, I guess what you say is true; they could be correct, and their background as a fraud or a liar might not impact their opinion at all - might I say, that's a very refreshing attitude. If you asked Nick Leeson for advice on investing, what you got could be an extremely accurate opinion, even though his trading practices did cause the collapse of Barings Bank. You'd think they'd have seen that coming, considering he was unable to get a broker's license in the UK because of fraud on his application, but maybe they just thought everyone deserves a chance at a fresh start, as you do.

So I suppose when Belkovsky proffers opinions on the political situation that he could only have gotten directly from Vladimir Putin or one of his closest confidantes ("Putin is hurt and offended..."), the fact that he previously claimed to have deep-cover Kremlin inside sources who fed him details of Putin's Billions and it all turned out to be nonsense likely should not be part of the decision-making process.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 25, 2012 04:10
Well, sure. I see you don't like Belkovsky, and you think he has a good chance of being wrong. OK. So be it. Not that most analysts and pundits pretty much anywhere fare much better -- I usually don't hold my breath to see if their predictions turn out to be true...

by: Ben
September 21, 2012 18:26
In the body of the Russian "kasha" where si-viliki-loviki bother with each other and changes,by the author opinion are connected with the age we can wait for alterations when some of these viki will die out.

by: david neuman from: ojai, california
September 21, 2012 18:52
"Pay no attention to that anti-ballistic missile shield behind the silver curtain, Dorothy."
If you listed a dozen more psychological theories about what animates Putin and The Russian elite, but still did not describe Bush's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, you would be just as wide of the mark.

"Russia threatens preemptive strike over planned US missile shield(May 3, 2012)"

"Russia to build 100-ton ICBM to penetrate US missile defenses. (Dec 21, 2011)"

The arms race is back. What do you think about that? With Americans still falling through the safety net, are we now going to spend money we don't have on new weapon systems in Europe. With budget deficits of over a trillion dollars per annum, including $400 billion just for interest on the national debt, who will fund this American Folly? The Fed?

The First Cold War ended by "beggar thy neighbor." The second one will end with "beggar thy neighbor's currency."

In Response

by: William from: Aragon
September 24, 2012 23:01
David, you ask "who will fund this American Folly?" China. While the US administration bailed out private banks for $1.5 trillion dollars, China spent the same building high-speed rail links between its major cities. While the US engaged in wars of adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan for 10 years with no real outcome, China continued to build its economy unabated. While the administration dreams of global domination, her competitors stengthen. It is time she woke up.

by: Alex from: LA
September 22, 2012 00:33
I watched Russian news and they showed this so called thousands of people was not more than thousands, and organizers said the momentum is lost, Putin is game over. RFE/RL or US always demonizes actions of countries it wants resources out of, stop this BS propaganda please it makes us, USA look bad.
In Response

by: concerned citizen from: somewhere
September 22, 2012 10:06
Right on Alex, US ruling elite/policy makers would love nothing more than see the old enemy, Russia, capitulate and break up along ethnic and religious lines. In eyes of US, Russia has always been the biggest long term threat, and with emasculation and fragmentation of it, nothing would stand in the way of complete US geopolitical hegemony. Its comical how the ruling elite in US continue to hide behind a thin Vail of democracy when videos are streaming on youtube showing violent suppression of peaceful street protests, police brutality, blatant widespread voter fraud in recent republican nomination, increasing gap between poor and rich, continued expansion of wars of aggression overseas, torture, arrest without warrants and indefinite detention of their citizens and here they are chastising Russia/Iran/China on daily basis...Their entire political system is based on bribery of those in charge by interest groups and lobbyist with principles and morals up for the highest bidder, with a propaganda machine hard at work brain washing and passivising the masses. They are rapidly losing their legitimacy and the land of the free is becoming nothing but a long expired dream....
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
September 24, 2012 22:55
Well said, not to mention that US citizens will shortly get to vote for the Repulocrat duopoly again, with no real other choice - two faces of the same coin. The "establishment" that runs the country wonders why it is loosing influence across the globe.
In Response

by: Ben
September 22, 2012 12:08
chung! You are right,but sometimes they act stright. So called "Anonimous" resently declared here that he knows personally the names of the Russian "SVR agents".That is the old tradition of the Western opinion enfluence by Kremlin.RFE sponsors.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
September 23, 2012 21:03
How's that? The thousands were only thousands? Maybe you meant to say something else?

That the media have some sort of "bias" (or political orientation, or whatever you want to call it) stands to reason. The Russian news you watched were also biased, and I'm sure they chose shots that would make the protesters look less important than they were (just as RFERL tends to make them moore important than they are).

If you're smart, you'll watch BOTH news sources, knowing in what direction they tend to exaggerate, then you'll do the math, and end up with some idea of what may really be going on.

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

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.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014


09:09 November 21, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:

Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)


16:55 November 19, 2014


Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014


MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014


Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)


President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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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