Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Power Vertical

The End Of Russia's Mass Hallucination

Protecting the Kremlin's propaganda hub -- barbed wire around Ostankino. (Cartoon by Sergei Elkin)
Protecting the Kremlin's propaganda hub -- barbed wire around Ostankino. (Cartoon by Sergei Elkin)
By Brian Whitmore

Fresh barbed-wire fencing around the nation's main TV tower isn't exactly a sign of a confident regime.

In addition to reinforcing its perimeter, Moscow's state-run Ostankino television center also upgraded its security detail, replacing regular police officers with elite Interior Ministry forces. 

"These are normal security measures that are connected to the alarming situation in Moscow, in Russia, and in the world," Denis Nazarov, a spokesman for Ostankino, told Novaya Gazeta.

Beefing up security at Ostankino -- the epicenter of the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- is just one sign that the Kremlin is getting increasingly concerned about civic unrest as 2015 draws to a close.

Russia's security services have also increased their stocks of crowd-control weapons -- including grenade launchers -- fivefold.

The State Duma, meanwhile, has passed legislation allowing the Federal Security Service to fire its weapons into crowds and lawmakers are considering a bill that would make discrediting the Russian Federation a federal crime.

But wait a minute! Why all this paranoia? Isn't this regime wildly popular? Isn't Vladimir Putin's popularity close to 90 percent?

Well, yes. But the Kremlin understands all too well that the sky-high public support is largely based on a collective hallucination -- a euphoric patriotic purple haze resulting from the annexation of Crimea and the illusion that Russia is again a superpower. 

And they understand that once everybody comes down from this television-induced acid trip and hungover Russians have a clear view of their new reality, there's gonna be hell to pay. 

"To ordinary people, the fruit of Putin's foreign policy is bitter," political commentator Leonid Bershidsky wrote in Bloomberg View.

"All that Russians have gotten from Putin's international activity is a boost to their pride, delivered by the Kremlin's propaganda channels -- not a tangible benefit as the economy continues to buckle under the weight of falling commodity prices."

Television, The Drug Of The Nation

Over the last year, inflation has soared, real incomes have plummeted, and purchasing power has evaporated. With oil prices at historic lows with no recovery in sight and Western sanctions remaining in place, there is little chance things will get better soon. 

And if television is the drug of the nation, it may finally be losing its potency.

According to a new poll by the independent Levada Center, Russians' trust in the TV news has declined precipitously, from 79 percent back in 2009 to just 41 percent today.

Likewise, a recent report by the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology concluded that although three-quarters of Russians still blame the West for their economic woes, the Kremlin has a window of approximately one year to 18 months before they begin to blame their own rulers.

From the recent nationwide truckers protest to striking doctors and teachers in Siberia, the signs are increasing that the scales are indeed beginning to fall from people's eyes. 

Mindful of the risk, Putin has reportedly tasked the Federal Guard Service, the Kremlin's Praetorian Guard, to spearhead a task force to monitor the potential for labor uprisings in Russia's far-flung provinces.

They even have a color-coded scheme that classifies regions as green, yellow, or red depending on the risk of civil unrest.

Stockholm Syndrome

In addition to fears of civic unrest, there are also signs that the business elite is getting increasingly restless. 

Speaking at the Moscow Economic Forum, Dmitry Potapenko, a partner at the Management Development Group who runs a chain of supermarkets, shocked the audience by laying into the authorities.

It's not Western sanctions but the actions of Russia's rulers that are damaging its economy, he said. "It's not Barack Obama who's responsible for our prohibitively high interest rates."

A video of his rant attracted more than 1.6 million views on YouTube. 

"There is obvious fear among the elite," Valery Solovei, a professor at the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations, told

"There are growing concerns about the future. All this is due to the unpredictability and irrationality of the president's actions. But at the same time, the elite feels hostage to the president. It's a typical case of Stockholm Syndrome."

If 2014 was the year Moscow went rogue, then 2015 can be described as the year that the costs of that course became manifest for Russians.

And next year should be when we learn whether Vladimir Putin's regime will be able to bear those costs -- and what lengths he will go to should they become prohibitive.

"Putin faces a harsh dilemma. He could try to make Russia more competitive by carefully retreating in Ukraine, getting Western sanctions lifted, and liberalizing the domestic economic climate. That would mean dismantling the backbone of his regime," Bershidsky wrote.

"Or Putin could drop the remaining pretense of democracy and rule openly by force, ordering mass reprisals against opponents both real and imagined. The system Putin has created is pushing him toward the second option."

The barbed wire around Ostankino is symbolic -- and it is probably just the beginning.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Anonymous
December 23, 2015 11:56
... Or not.

What is this now, the 3,747,987th report of imminent collapse and revolution in Russia?


Keep toking from that pipe you smoke.
The pipe of Neo-con dreams.
Dope for dopes...

In Response

by: Volodya from: Hawaii
December 23, 2015 17:52
Remember Nicolae Ceaușescu! It's going to happen, if not today, then soon.
In Response

by: Bogdan from: Romania
December 24, 2015 10:41
Remember Ceasescu what? What does he have to do with Putin?
In Response

by: VCHY
December 23, 2015 23:03
I didn't find this article to be asserting the "imminent" collapse of Russia. Rather, it laid-out current happenings within Russia (heightened security at critical propaganda infrastructure; authorities buying grenade launchers for domestic law enforcement; passing laws to authorize the shooing of civilians in crowds; etc), and connected it to the economic conditions within the country that are fueling the increasing dissent.

I know "Neocon" is a word that Russian propagandists love to use to label people who dare question the Kremlin's logic (or over the last few years, lack thereof)— however, pointing out obvious facts hardly falls into the category of "neo-conservatism."

Truth is, Russia collapsing on itself would be a disaster for the entire world— and most security/foreign policy experts know it. All those loose nuclear weapons, now in the hands of unpredictable regional players, who are also desperate for cash to fund their governments/own corrupt lifestyles, may be more inclined to sell these weapons to shady buyers. However, and unfortunately, Putin's policies, including his 19th century foreign policy, are leading the Russia to that ultimate decline. One can hope that the Russians wakeup before the Federation is lost.
In Response

by: elmer
December 24, 2015 13:40
I wonder if Russians know about the Rotenberg Law.

This is the way the Kremlinoids work. Rotenberg has 4 villas in Italy, plus other property. He is a Kremlinoid. Italy seized his assets in Italy.

So what do Putler Khuylo and his Kremlinoids do?

Sanctioned villa owners could be reimbursed with Russian pension savings: The government said in mid-September it was setting up a fund to support sanctioned companies, which would receive a cut of the 309 billion rubles ($7.8 billion) gleaned from redirecting part of the public's pension savings to the budget this year, the RBC news agency said at the time.

Russia is being killed by the bloodsuckers in the Kremlin - Vlad Dracul Putler Khuylo and his Kremlinoids.

It is near death already.
In Response

by: Danram
December 24, 2015 15:21
Hope you've been saving your paychecks from all your work at the Troll Farm, troll. At the rate Russia is burning through its reserve funds trying to prop up its imploding economy, you may be getting a pink slip very soon!
In Response

by: Shmizer
December 24, 2015 21:18
Agreed the russian population is much to cowardly and drunk to stand up to their oppression.
In Response

by: gammy from: hawaii
December 27, 2015 03:26
This is American propaganda at work. It is so funny to read an a propaganda article about propaganda in a different country from a country where all media is paid for and is controlled by big corporations.

by: Aunt Polly
December 23, 2015 12:34
Pray for the people of Russia to wake from insanity

by: Drinker
December 23, 2015 14:18
Wonderfull article and very true, but l fear it will also involve outright Millitary action somewhere in that time scale and all that comes with it.
In Response

by: CTAC from: Siberia
December 24, 2015 13:31
Have you ever been in Russia? Have you seen the living standards increase?!

by: Fred Eidlin from: Guelph, Ontario, Canada
December 23, 2015 18:18
Yes, it's about time that the Russians woke up and restructured their regime following the Ukrainian model.

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
December 23, 2015 18:39
Taking actions, tantamount to occupying the Donbas, Occupying and annexing Crimea for their Black Sea fleet, establishing an air force base of operations in Latakia and carrying out air strikes against IS and other rebel factions, all the while suffering from sanctions by the US and EU and the collapse of oil and gas prices, and maintaining staunch public approval does not sound like a country that is on the way to internal rebellion. I could be very wrong.

by: Fred Eidlin from: Guelph, Ontario, Canada
December 23, 2015 19:54
Bill: You raise some good points. Here is an article from FOREIGN AFFAIRS which should help to go deeper than the simplistic argument of this article:

by: Sergey
December 23, 2015 21:20
You are all crazy. From Russia with love ;)

by: Cristian from: Romania
December 24, 2015 07:50
All dictatorships are based on mass hallucination but it is created in many ways, TV is just the "maintenance" stream.
In case of a coup the TV stations and towers are the first to be taken over, FSB knows it very well.
Supreme Comrade Ceausescu had a hallucination of 97% approval until 21 Dec 1989. Next day he got an approval of minus 97%, 3 days later he was killed. Not by the people who wanted him judged by his own laws but by a Russian-Jewish gang supported by more than 50% of Securitate. The first thing they did was to take over the national television. Then with less than 100 "terrorists" they created a mass hysteria and almost a civil war all over Romania. Then they assassinated Ceausescu family to stop the "terrorists", actually the hysteria they created via TV. The coup leader wanted by KGB, comrade Iliescu behaved as next president from the first minute in Studio 4. And they managed to have him installed officially 6 months later.

The Supreme Comrade Putin knows all these very well but enforcing the security of TV stations and towers will not help him, of contrary. If 10-20,000 or more civilians will come at the gates of the TV station and brake the protective fences FSB will not shoot them, will shoot him.

He will not die in his bed anyhow, that's for sure.

by: Nicolas Kochnitzky
December 24, 2015 10:27
The height provided by the acid pill in-taking is as enjoyable as the brutality of the ensuing crash landing will be for many Russians. At the end of the day, the common populace is the one who will pay the highest price. Excellent article.

by: Diego Ectre from: Medellín
December 24, 2015 12:58
Everything hinges on the gas and oil prices.
Putin didn't deserve his popularity, the economic upturn for Russia was simply a result of the oil and gas prices increasing 500% during his reign.
He does, however, deserve a lot of the blame for Russia's current financial problems, with his inability to deal with the rampant corruption and, of course, the idiotic Ukrainian adventure.
If oil & gas prices rise again, all will be well. If they don't, there will be unrest in a year or two -- and If there is unrest, Putin is immediately going to use the full force of the Russian military against the protesters. The Tiananmen Square massacre will look like a picnic.
Comments page of 2

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

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