Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Day That Changed Russia

Murky dealings in the corridors of power? At last year's United Russia congress Dmitry Medvedev (right) effectively relinquished the presidency to Vladimir Putin.
Murky dealings in the corridors of power? At last year's United Russia congress Dmitry Medvedev (right) effectively relinquished the presidency to Vladimir Putin.
A year ago, the mask came off. A year ago, a spark was lit. A year ago, one political era in Russia ended and another began.
On September 24, 2011, Dmitry Medvedev took the stage at United Russia's party congress and suggested it nominate Vladimir Putin to run for president. Putin followed suit by saying he would like Medvedev to serve as his prime minister.
The tightly choreographed maneuver finally settled years of speculation about which member of the tandem would be president after 2012.

But more importantly, it also answered a deeper question that had lingered throughout the Medvedev presidency: Was this strange little four-year interregnum a transition period to a more pluralistic system? Or was it just a mechanism to keep Putin in the Kremlin for the foreseeable future without violating the letter of the constitution?
The answer deeply disappointed -- and in some cases outraged -- those in the elite and broader society whose expectations had been raised during Medvedev's term that a more open political system was in the offing.

The fallout was visible almost immediately, and continues to this day. Longtime Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's resignation days after the announcement signaled that all wasn't well in Russia's ruling class.
Kudrin is a close personal friend of Putin's and his defection clearly came as a shock. "How could you let me down in this way?" Putin reportedly asked him at the time.

And weeks later, when fans at a martial arts boxing match booed Putin when he entered the ring to address them, it was a sign that the self-styled national leader was wearing out his welcome with the general public as well.

Putin, it appeared, had lost his aura of invincibility. His mojo clearly wasn't what it once was. And there was a rebellion brewing below the decks that would soon be visible on the streets of Moscow and other cities.
But September 24, 2011 also did something more subtle, but perhaps more important. It exposed something that had been hidden. Or more accurately, it made it impossible to ignore something that everybody had previously pretended wasn't there.
Most attentive Russia-watchers eventually come to an understanding that the country's formal institutions of governance -- the presidency, the State Duma, the courts -- are, to a large degree, a facade. Real decisions are made by a small cabal of a few dozen people informally known as everything from "Putin's politburo" to "the collective Putin" to "The Team." The formal institutions merely execute these decisions.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I prefer to call this "Russia's Deep State." And a year ago, this "deep state" stopped being deep and thus lost a degree of its effectiveness.

"The deep state worked when everyone was aware that it existed...but it was willing to operate behind a carapace, a facade of politicians," longtime Kremlin-watcher and New York University professor Mark Galeotti said in a recent Power Vertical podcast.
"Putin made the presence of the deep state so clear. He rubbed it in Russians' noses, and that was a big mistake."
In a recent interview with CNN, socialite-turned-activist Ksenia Sobchak said this was the moment that drove her into the opposition.
"They decided to change Medvedev for Putin and Putin for Medvedev and then they gave us the result. This is not how it should work and people were offended," Sobchak said.

In addition to inflaming public opinion, especially among the fledgling urban middle class, the announcement also ignited a debilitating cold war inside the deep state itself -- where there was apparently little consensus on Putin's return to the Kremlin.

So September 24, 2011 was one of those inflection points, one of those explosive before-and-after moments that foreshadows political change. And one year later we are still waiting for the dust to settle.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Dmitry Medvedev,2011,September 24

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
September 24, 2012 22:31
You write: "Most attentive Russia-watchers eventually come to an understanding that the country's formal institutions of governance -- the presidency, the State Duma, the courts -- are, to a large degree, a facade."

But you've left out two key points. First, there were some Russia-watchers -- like me for instance -- who had it right from the start. Credit where credit is due? And how about all those who got it wrong? Where is the mea culpa? Where is the introspection? Should we not ask why they were so ready to believe the lies told by Medvedev on behalf of Putin, and so willing to castigate those who, like me, called the actual tune?

And most of all, forget about the Russia-watchers, what about the policymakers, especially Barack Obama and Michael McFaul. Isn't it time for you to write about how they were either entirely suckered by Putin, or lied on his behalf to help him return to power? Remember the burgers Obama munched with Medvedev?

It's time for a reckoning.

by: Anonymous
September 25, 2012 04:43

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
September 25, 2012 06:29
Ah, those sweet memories of this glorious September 24th, 2011... If one just took a trouble of having a look at how many dreams were born in the heads of the RFE/RL staff as a direct reaction to the "events" of that day! One of those dreams was, for example, the "humiliating defeat" of Vladimir Putin in the second round of the 2012 presidential election - with a consequent crowning of Sen. McCain as the Russian Emperor :-)). Well, guys, however sad it might sound, all of the above was happening only in your imagination: Putin is and will remain the President of Russia, Sen. McCain is and will remain a sore loser (and a useless geezer), and the glorious September 24th, 2011 will never enter history books as anything at all (unless you, guys, get a grant from the National Republican Institute to write a history book af your own :-)))..
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa, canada
September 25, 2012 11:50
euginio, the russian ruble is worth 2 cents on the world market, when it reaches zero thats when you will be able to wall paper your outhouse with worthless rubles, nice colors, any extra you can use the ruble for tissue paper , its real value.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
September 25, 2012 14:09
Aaah,the good old putin-medvedev charade-on RFE/RL we have the EU Genio-Jack one with good old vakhtang for a wily counterpart-but dont worry,Peter-communism is soon going to win and replace capitalism all over the whole wide world,and then we shall have no use for any money whatsoever-thats why the russkies have already devalued their currency in sweet anticipation of the future.And the vodka,selyodka and the natashkas we now pay our good money for will be absolutely free as well.Aaah,just imagine what will happen then-Eugenio sharing Jacks bed with a whole bunch of male natashkas in total alchoholic stupor-thats what we all would like to see on You tube and read on RFE/RL.Yes,comrades the whole world,not just the east is turning red and if you drink a cup of what EU Genio drinks you will see what I mean!!! Prosit,tovarishchi!!!
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 26, 2012 02:20
Glad to see you're from Ottawa, Peter; that way, perhaps whatever is affecting your ability to reason won't make it over the Rockies.

Russia has the third-largest cash reserves in the world - denominated in dollars if not actually held in that currency - and has the lowest debt in the G20. Has having a dollar that's worth $1.02 Canadian prevented the world's largest economy from racking up debt that is nearly 100% of its GDP?

Meanwhile, the Euro is worth more than either of our dollars, and half the Eurozone is trembling on the edge of bankruptcy. Having a currency that is trading low on the world's exchange rate doesn't necessarily indicate poverty.

by: patrick from: moscow
September 25, 2012 09:34
regarding the kudrin defection ... you couldnt find a better source than moskovskii komsomolets? thats like quoting the new york post.

by: zmoreira from: Luanda
September 25, 2012 10:45
Russia-watching from very far away I was surprised the role reversal was such a shock to some. I thought all expected Putin to return (if not now, then after the next term). I never saw a mask. Was it really not apparent to everyone in Russia that this would happen?

In Response

by: Alex from: LA
September 25, 2012 22:58
Not only Russia, the whole world, it's just RFE/RL has a minimum propaganda pieces to be posted online on countries that don't cater to their masters and client nations that pump oil and capital.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
September 25, 2012 21:31
Nice analysis, but you may want to tone down the hyperbole. Very skeptical of the idea that a single day could ‘change Russia,’ and I see few watersheds in the course of Russian history. The characters change, but like the matroshka doll, it’s the same story with a different façade. I agree that Putin’s cocky announcement that he and Dmitry were switching jobs was an affront to those Russians who believe in democracy (a minority today). Most Russians, however, are sick of politics, and as long as the Putin team can provide a modicum of stability, they will continue to provide him with their tacit support.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
September 26, 2012 04:18
By the way, yesterday, to celebrate the day of September 24th, the youth of Moscow went out to the streets to protest against the social budget cuts undertaken by the Putin regime - here is the VIDEO of this event:

by: Idrian from: British Columbia
September 26, 2012 04:29
I guess the onus for change now is in the hands of the opposition. There is no question about the fate of the current gov't: possibility for change or reform rests in the head of state. The question rather is, can the opposition present a viable alternative? And what is that viable alternative?
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
September 26, 2012 11:27
Hyperbole. Putinism remains stable and economically fairly successful. The protest movement sputters on but has considerably weakened. Do many Russians wish for a viable alternative to Putin -- yes. Putin has been in there a while and the system he runs has inevitably lost some dynamism and accumulated some baggage. But he still runs the country fairly well-- producing economic growth and ameliorating (if not wholly solving) the various problems facing Russia. Perhaps even more importantly -- THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE- none. The communists and nationalists are both impractical and Russia lacks and has always lacked a patriotic liberal tradition. Russian liberals are merely Western puppets who value the West's interests interests above those of their own country and thus are not a viable alternative either. Look at today's liberals, those in the 1990s, and even going back to the Provisional Government of 1917 and the pattern is clear. Why is this? Western interference? Russian political geometry just not adding up? Maybe a bit of both...
In Response

by: chung
September 27, 2012 11:29
"Russian liberals are merely Western puppets who value the West's interests interests above those of their own country and thus are not a viable alternative either. Look at today's liberals, those in the 1990s, and even going back to the Provisional Government of 1917 and the pattern is clear."

Thanks for passing along the Kremlin propaganda, Marko, that's really useful. Free elections, free media, the rule of law -- purely Western interests. Just because many interested in reform have actually been in the West and -- gasp! -- found inspiration there means they are tainted in the typically xenophobic view you bleat. You know, like in Peter the Great's time, maybe being more like the West might actually work out for Russia, instead of corporate fascism-lite.

" But he still runs the country fairly well-- producing economic growth and ameliorating (if not wholly solving) the various problems facing Russia."

Hee hee, "wholly solving," that's great. Yeah, he's done great with corruption, and, uh, terrorism. And he's doing great diversifying the economy and attracting investment. In anything, even natural resources. Really great job, that.
In Response

by: Ben
September 26, 2012 11:30
The author reminds me the ancient pagans that permanently watched their stone idols for some signs of attencion: " You noticed- Juno nodded me!
In Response

by: Anonymous
September 26, 2012 13:29
rusnya is a backward country where any Putin can make his own rules.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
September 27, 2012 05:08
Guys, Putin has gone completely nuts: he is sending now riot police to the Moscow subway to shoot there at people, beat up young people and intimidate free press by stealing from it cameras they are filming the event with! Here you will find an impressive VIDEO of all of that:

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