Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Power Vertical

The End Of The Consensual Hallucination

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
A lot of things that people say never happened before suddenly seem to be happening.

When news agencies incorrectly reported -- based on a forged government press release -- that President Vladimir Putin had sacked his longtime ally, Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, last week some analysts called the incident unprecedented.

"Nothing like this has ever happened before," Alexander Rahr of the German Council of Foreign Relations, a biographer of Putin, told Reuters.

Actually, it did.

Back in February, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich appeared to announce his resignation on Twitter. He later announced on Facebook that he hadn't resigned, that his account had been hacked, and the tweet in question was a fake.

But Dvorkovich is pretty peripheral to Putin's inner circle while Yakunin is a bona fide member of his Politburo.

Nevertheless, if last week's firing wasn't exactly unprecedented, it was at least highly unusual. And so, too, was another firing that actually happened.

According to most accounts, Putin really didn't want to remove Anatoly Serdyukov as defense minister in November despite the procurement scandals engulfing him. But he appeared to have been pressured into doing so by a cabal of aides including Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and Russian Technologies chief Sergei Chemezov.

It "may have been the first instance of Putin giving in to pressure and doing something he didn't want to do," political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky wrote recently. 

Yakunin's fake firing and Serdyukov's real one each illustrate that despite his bluster, Putin has actually become an increasingly weak leader who can no longer control his courtiers. On last week's "Power Vertical" podcast, co-host Mark Galeotti of New York University likened the phenomenon to that of a collective mirage being lifted. 

"In politics, everything is about a consensual hallucination. Everything is about people agreeing with each other about what really matters. People agreeing with each other about who is powerful," said Galeotti, who authors the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."  

"Putin for a long time was the beneficiary of this," Galeotti added. "He had this astonishingly effective image as the ruthless, mechanical, totally well informed chekist in the Kremlin. People on the whole didn't want to go up against him."

Nobody is going up against him yet. Not directly anyway.

But he couldn't prevent what was a clear attack -- even if it is still unclear from whom -- against Yakunin, one of his closest allies. And he couldn't resist the Ivanov-Rogozin-Chemezov conspiracy to get Serdyukov fired.

Putin is also known to disdain the elite airing its dirty laundry in public, and during his first stint in the Kremlin the mudslinging was kept to a minimum.

Now it is commonplace.

Remember those videos attacking Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that appeared on the YouTube account of Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin? 

It was once unthinkable for members of Putin's inner circle to openly vie to be his successor. Now it is conventional wisdom that the president's own chief of staff is angling for that designation.

All the open infighting, brazen shenanigans, and naked ambition suggest not only that the chimera of Putin's omnipotence is fading. It also suggests that Putin is no longer able to perform his key role as the ultimate trusted arbiter of disputes among the elite's various clans -- the role that has long made him Russia's indispensable man. 

Nobody is quite saying "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" quite yet.

But the consensual hallucination in the Kremlin is indeed fading.

And we still don't know what reality -- or the next hallucination -- will look like.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 24, 2013 18:27
Reading this cheap propaganda article one comes to the following conclusion: there are honest people among US citizens, such as Edward Snowden, and then there are other ones, such as the author of the article :-)).
In Response

by: zviad from: Tennessee, USA
June 29, 2013 21:26
Putin is weakening and people within his clan are fighting with each other for power and money. Putin's corrupt regime will inevitably fail. The only question is how soon. It looks like the regime's collapse is a matter of 3-6 more years.
In Response

by: Alex from: Baltimore, MD
July 01, 2013 16:01
It's actually pretty funny that one of the best online blogs on Russia today consistently gets the most stupid, offensive, and pro-Putinist comments - comments, by the way, that consistently fail to present any actual counter-arguments to the points made in the blog (and that don't follow the rules of good English grammar either).

In a way, it's a compliment to the Power Vertical that it has a such a "loyal" audience of pro-Putin trolls like "Eugenio" and "Jack," wherever and whatever they may be.

If this blog wasn't good, it would not attract the attacks of these awful people, whose energies would be much better spent learning English and getting therapy for their sick and dysfunctional anti-Americanism. Brian, you rock.

by: Jack from: US
June 24, 2013 18:31
is it the height of what RFERL can do - post digitally distorted pics of Putin in the hope of vilifying him in the eyes of a crowd of 3 readers who still visit RFERL web site?
Let us give RFERL advice - go to Youtube, where you can find not just digitally "remastered" pictures of evil Putin, but the whole "remastered" videos of him. That would make your day
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 24, 2013 21:03
:-))) Good point on the "3 readers who still visit RFERL web site" :-)). Are those three readers (a) you, (b) me and (c) Konstantin from LA :_))?? Because it looks like Camel Anatürk stopped coming here :-))).

by: Alik from: Lithuania
June 24, 2013 19:50
For sure this is the real image of Putin, the KGB officer and admirer of Dzerzhinski and nostalgic about the USSR. Making his small Gulag in the meantime.

by: Mamuka
June 24, 2013 19:51
Jack and Zheniya, calm down. This article is describing a normal process that actually shows a degree of "maturing" in the Russian political process. Namely, political elites realizing that the current regime will not last forever and beginning to jockey for power. Actually I think it is a positive sign.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 25, 2013 17:25
Aha, Mamuka, this "regime" is crubling in front of our eyes and will collapse - right after the "end game" for Bashar al-Assad has come and right after Edward Snowden will be handed over to the US "to face the music". Ah, I'm sorry I forgot: right after Mischa Saakaschwili will have been reelected as the President of Georgia :-)).

by: Ben
June 24, 2013 20:17
Putin`s confrontation with the West means as always in Russian politics the strengthening of the "military industrial complex" and the army who are strongly dissatisfied with Serdyukov and his politics.
He is the victim of this politics.The provocations mentioned are I think, the actions of the confrontation supporters.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 24, 2013 20:49
Flattering picture of VVP and I’m sure that it will strike fear into any boyars harboring disloyal sentiments.

Not sure that I agree that Serdyukov’s removal ought to be interpreted as a sign of Putin’s growing weakness among the elite. Putin tried to protect him as long as possible, but the stench of high-level corruption was growing too close to the Kremlin. There was grumbling in the ranks. If Putin is as weak as you suggest, why hasn’t a criminal case been opened against the former Defense Minister?

And I also question the validity of Mr. Galeotti’s assertion that “In politics, everything is about a consensual hallucination.” Perhaps, but there’s still something to be said for envelopes stuffed with cash, nice dachas, new cars, or conversely, the knock on the door at night, a tax inspection and the steel-toed boot. I suspect that VVP still has an impressive arsenal to ensure compliance among the faithful.

by: American Troll
June 24, 2013 23:18
Wrong. We know perfectly well what the next hallucination will look like:

It will look like mobs of Slav-supremacists that Putin, gutless little clown that he is, can't treat the same way that he treats irrelevant urban liberals that no Russian has ever heard of. Those well-intended nonentities can be beaten and jailed without fear of consequences. These folks, not so much.

Problem is, it won't be a hallucination. And when they finish cleansing their sacred motherland of gastarbeters, gays, NGOs, and other alien elements but still have surplus rage to spare, then they'll turn on Tatars, Chuvashes, Tuvans, and anyone else insufficiently Slavic or Orthodox.

But hey... they wrote some awesome poetry.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
June 25, 2013 04:07
Eugenio and RFE, after having my mother murdered,
Have a free ride of plain propaganda of expanding Russia.
He and Jack must think I am also dead, or silenced for good.
Well, I still comment on RFE, when the world sunk in "laga".
Sure, comparing to Russia's race wars, it's just an "intriga",
Who gets who, as Russia breeds occupants in our lands.

Similar "intriga" happen in USA, but it rather would exit
Occupied countries - while Russia try hold them back,
Manipulating insurgency - to prevent revival, to a bit
Of Russian "barabans" - waiting to invade left racks
Of nations they sabotage - from Afghanistan to CIS.

Recently Putin and Russia rudely denied Georgians
Return of their lands and houses that Russians grab
And repopulate, using "hallucination" of "Abkhazians"
And "Osetin" children of rape by Russia's army mob,
Accompanied by "Anychars" of invaders, like Adygas
And pushing fences into Georgia, as bestial macaques.

by: Boris from: London
June 26, 2013 06:53
I've come to the conclusion, that because of inconsistent US foreign policy Tyranny in the face of Putin and Russian empire in general can not be defeated. Republicans wound the bear badly, then come incompetent democrats and give them an empire back.
Unfortunately, two terms of republicans aren't enough to completely destroy the empire for good. Three is needed, which happens once, or twice a century. Last time it happened, Reagan and Bush, dramatic mistake has been made, to leave the bear badly wounded but alive. World has yet to see the outcome of this unfortunate mistake.

In Response

by: Jack from: US
June 26, 2013 12:17
One must agree, US was excessively victorious lately, especially under Republican administration (although as everyone knows it is the same ruling mafia - democrats or republicans). Let's see what do American people remember about Bush era: 1. Attack on 9/11 when Sunni Muslims from Saudi Arabia and Egypt (all - "strategic allies" of US government) killed 3,000 Americans in World Trade Center; 2. Shuttle Columbia disaster, 3. Katrina disaster, 4. Housing bubble and worst economic slump since Great Depression; 5. Disastrous aggression and war in Iraq which Bush started under fabricated pretext and shamefully lost; 6. Disastrous war in Afghanistan against friends and allies of US government - Taliban and Pakistan.. Close to 12,000 American soldiers have been killed by US government and its Sunni allies, and many more were mutilated, paralyzed for life... hmm indeed, US has been badly wounded but it is still alive and even instigated yet another war, this time in Syria.
In Response

by: Boris from: London
June 26, 2013 20:35
Jack, eugenio and other KGB boys at work here))
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
June 27, 2013 10:08
Boris and Jack, you using dogmas of "Cold War",
Through bent lens of Russian imperial expansion.
Putin is not Tyranny in itself, brainwashed by hors,
A relatively small group of conspirators of Russian,
Prussian and Levite extraction since 1949 and1954,
Most instigated by those, freed from Nazi occupation.

However, the envious and evil instigators - kill our people
Of non-Russian extraction - breed in our homes and land,
Since 1954-56, combining anti-Stalin and anti-CIS riddles
Not only created generation (Putin and Medvedev meant),
But increased again to 2/3 non-Russian hate momentums
Among Russians - as Russians had during pogrom's ages.

As for Reagan, Bush, other USA leaders it is all same -US
Never knew where it came from, who it was, where to go,
Manipulated by empires in the past, lately like a horse ass,
Lured by imperial resurrection - which influence is growing.
From USA media and press, Cohen, Litvak and Shvarzkov,
Russ and partners - Austria, Germs and Brits push to bogs
USA resources to spread like Napoleon into Russia's snow.

Neither USA defeated Russia, just prevented CIS genocide,
Nor tried to conquer Asia - just set of Russian provocations,
Using mindless USA power, nor intended or could follow up
With your interpretation: "Russia or USA conquer the World".
By the way, it's Russian game, USA and Georgia could wipe
Russia since 20-th - let it die from hunger and Nazi weapons.

As for Democrats, they becoming dangerous, like the proxies
Of imperial resurrect - Russian, Austrian-German and British
Forging "Bagdad Halifat" of all Moslem world, another empire,
Help squash Caucasian and Human Civilizations, in between,
From South-East Europe and Caucasus through Middle East.

It is why all this happens to Syria, Caucasus, Balkans, Asia...
Jack, are you accounting in "Cold War" style, who kicked who?

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
June 28, 2013 09:26
Girls from Pussy Riot are torturing in prison
bandits are going to sentence of Khodorkovsky to life imprisonment
abkhaz criminals with permission of Putin brings arabs terrorists from Syria to Abkhazia and settles them in Georgian houses
but Mr. Whitmore tells us about the adventures of a group of criminals who have stolen millions and now they have fun because they drunk more than usual.

The Power Vertical Feed

LIVE 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

Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

From RFE/RL's News Desk:


The head of the European Commission says an EU-Ukraine trade deal can only be changed by Brussels and Kyiv – not Moscow.

Jose Manuel Barroso made the remarks in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin released on October 1.

Ukraine's parliament ratified its agreement with the EU last month. 

However, the implementation of the trade part of the deal has been delayed until January 2016 to appease Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.

Moscow has called for more three-way negotiations to amend the deal and threatened to curtail Ukraine's access to Russian markets if Kyiv implements it.

In his letter, Barroso warned Putin not to impose new trade measures, saying it would threaten the agreement with Russia to delay the EU-Ukraine pact.

(With reporting by Reuters)

And for anybody interested, here's the full text of Barroso's letter:

"Mr. President,

Following your letter of 17 September, I would like to welcome the constructive engagement from all sides in the trilateral ministerial meeting on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on 12 September.

The conclusions reached at that meeting were endorsed by all participants and set out in a joint ministerial statement.

On the EU side, we have informed our Member States of the outcome of the trilateral process, and we have now obtained their approval for the necessary legislative steps.

I should emphasize that the proposal to delay the provisional application of the DCFTA is linked to continuation of the CIS-FTA preferential regime, as agreed in the joint ministerial statement. In this context, we have strong concerns about the recent adoption of a decree by the Russian government proposing new trade barriers between Russia and Ukraine. We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement.

The joint ministerial statement also foresees further consultations on how to address concerns raised by Russia. We are ready to continue engaging on how to tackle the perceived negative impacts to the Russian economy resulting from the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

I take however this opportunity to underline that the Association Agreement remains a bilateral agreement and that, in line with international law, any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other, according to the mechanisms foreseen in the text and the respective internal procedures of the parties.

I wish to recall that the joint conclusions reached at the Ministerial meeting state clearly that all these steps are part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as its right to decide on its destiny.

Consequently, while all parties should implement the conclusions as laid down in the joint ministerial statement in good faith, the statement does not and cannot limit in any way the sovereign prerogatives of Ukraine.

The European Commission remains fully committed to contribute to a peaceful solution. In this respect we hope that the recent positive steps embodied in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September and the ensuing memorandum from 19 September will be fully implemented, including the monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and its verification by the OSCE, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the Ukrainian territory.

We also expect that rapid and decisive progress can be achieved in the trilateral gas talks towards a mutually acceptable interim solution for the upcoming winter period, on the basis of the compromise elements set out by the European Commission. It is key that the resumption of energy deliveries to the citizens of Ukraine is ensured and that the fulfilment of all contractual obligations with customers in the EU is secured.

Yours faithfully,

José Manuel BARROSO"


And just when you though it couldn't get any weirder, Valery Zorkin destroys your illusions.

That's Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court. Zorkin penned an article last week in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" (that's the official Russian government newspaper, by the way), calling for -- wait for it -- a return to serfdom. A big h/t to Elena Holodny at Business Insider for flagging this.

Here's the money quote:

"Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: 'We were yours, and you — ours.'"

Zorkin also took a shot at Pyotr Stolypin, the 19th century reformist prime minister (and a hero of Vladimir Putin's), and his judicial reforms.

"Stolypin's reform took away communal justice from the peasants in exchange for individual freedom, which almost none of them knew how to live and which was depriving their community guarantees of survival."

I wonder what that portends. Zorking also compared the abolotion of serfdom to the post-Soviet reforms of the 1990s.


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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