Saturday, October 25, 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:

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17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

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


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.


Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


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."

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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