Wednesday, October 22, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Loneliness Of The Autocratic Ruler

President Vladimir Putin at a reception at the Kremlin on June 28 in honor of military-academy and university graduates.
President Vladimir Putin at a reception at the Kremlin on June 28 in honor of military-academy and university graduates.
If President Vladimir Putin's legislative intentions toward Russia's fledgling civil society are not clear by now, it's not for lack of trying on his part.

New legislation is reportedly in the works that would create a register of websites with illegal content -- and require providers to block such sites. The legislation's original stated purpose was to combat child pornography and pedophilia. But as Gazeta.ru reports, quoting members of the ruling United Russia party, it will also be used to battle "extremism" -- the Kremlin's favorite euphemism for any opposition activity.

The legislation, currently being considered by the State Duma, comes as lawmakers are also set to debate a bill requiring any NGO receiving funding from abroad to register as a "foreign agent." And, of course, it comes on the heels of a recently passed law imposing draconian fines on participants in unsanctioned demonstrations.

Likewise, it is also becoming clear that Putin doesn't plan to show much mercy for disloyal former friends and allies.

Just ask Federation Council deputy Lyudmila Narusova, the mother of socialite-turned-social activist Ksenia Sobchak and widow of the man who launched Putin's political career -- the late former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.

Prosecutors are reportedly poring over a television interview Narusova gave, looking for evidence of extremism. Additionally, the ruling United Russia party is seeking to expel Narusova from the upper chamber of parliament.

Part of the assault on Narusova can surely be traced to the Kremlin's increased irritation with her daughter's opposition activities. And part of it was likely sparked by her vocal opposition to the law imposing harsh penalties on anti-regime demonstrations.

Narusova would not be the first Putin ally to fall from grace. Sergei Mironov lost his perch as Federation Council speaker when he was too vocal in his support for a second term for Dmitry Medvedev and too critical of United Russia. State Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov saw his taxes investigated and his security company eviscerated when he became a vocal critic of the regime.

The ramping up of the pressure on civil society and the retribution against perceived turncoats suggest that the ruling elite -- or at least the part of the elite that currently has Putin's ear -- is spooked by the longevity and intensity of the opposition to the Kremlin since December.

In a thoughtful piece published on opendemocracy.net, Maxim Trudolyubov, the opinion-page editor at the daily "Vedomosti" wrote that ever since popular uprisings in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004, "Putin's main concern has been to avoid revolution," but his actions might paradoxically lead to one:

Despite all their efforts, it is the country's current rulers that have created the conditions for revolution. By rewriting Russia's electoral legislation (the last few years have seen amendments to 55 laws relating to electoral processes), the Kremlin's political managers have made elections controllable. Businesses have been intimidated by expropriation, their owners prevented from financing undesirable political activity. The development of a civil society has been strangled by restrictions on the not-for-profit sector. The entire thrust of Putin's policies has been to eliminate everything natural and unpredictable.

The result has been that all genuine, not imitation, political activity has been excluded from the political arena. The Kremlin's apparatchiks spent years working out how to restrict the opposition's legal room to maneuver, and they succeeded: they destroyed the conditions necessary for the development of a political mainstream. And by doing so, they created a powder keg.
 
Trudolyubov isn't the first respectable commentator to suggest that Russia is on the brink of serious upheaval. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, one of the country's leading sociologists; the Center for Strategic Research, a top think tank; and former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin have come to the same conclusion.

It is not just that Putin is creating a powder keg. With his pressure on civil society and his moves against former supporters, he is also isolating himself and his increasingly shrinking inner circle.

And with potential economic storm clouds on the horizon -- either from volatile commodities prices, or contagion from Europe, or both -- isolated is not where he needs to be. If the crisis comes, Putin will own it -- and he'll be mostly all alone.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: The Power Vertical blog and podcast will take a small break due to the extended July 4 holiday weekend. The blog will be back on July 9 and the next podcast will come out on July 13
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Comments
     
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 03, 2012 19:48
Another one of those "interesting negative" stories on Russia that just galvanize the readership and provoke a tsunami of begeistert comments :-).
Ah, now I see that this extremely interesting blog will take a "small break" for a few days :-(. Let's hope that the author will take this time to figure out why it is that no one really cares to comment on his "interesting" stories :-)).
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 03, 2012 21:45
I dont understand Eugenio. You read these articles and then say that no one reads them. It reminds me of an old Yogi Berra quote, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."
In Response

by: Matvei from: USA
July 04, 2012 14:36
We read and absorb the articles here, Eugenio. We try not to waste too much time answering the likes of you. By the way, did you get the paycheck from Putin in the mail this week?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 04, 2012 18:10
You are asking: "did you get the paycheck from Putin in the mail this week?" Of course, Matvei, I did: Putin is not one of those bankrupt NATO losers like George W Obama or Frau Merkel; unlike them, he (a) has money and (b) pays on time.
Cheers from Vienna, "Matvei" :-)!
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 06, 2012 15:41
Well, I give you credit. At least you are an honest man, Eugenio. :)

by: nirvichara from: Irving , US
July 03, 2012 22:48
There is no "condition for revolution" in Russia whatsoever. Most of the so called anti-Putin opposition live in the imaginary la-la land that has nothing to do with reality. Putin continue to enjoy overwhelming support of about 90% of Russian population. On the contrary, the Moscow spoiled and corrupt anti-Putin herds are below 0.1% .
They are loud but weak, silly, disorganized, aimless and useless.
I don't see any serious political figure their who could be even remotely close to be a leader (except maybe Kudrin, but Kudrin will never become a truly anti-Putin and will never join the anti-Putin brainless hamsters)
So an article is much ado about nothing, as usual...
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
July 04, 2012 17:51
I have now totally lost count of how many times the Western Commentariat, and RFE/RL's editors and bloggers in particular, have predicted Putin's doom. There are a number of comments one can make (both good and bad) about this:

1. So far, anti-Putin predictors have a 100% track record of being wrong; this suggests that their wishes are clouding their analyses..
2. Give that though, they only have to be right once.
3. Personally, though I don't think that they are going to be right this time either-- there appears to be little evidence that any of the following fundamentals have changed-- Putin is still Russia's most popular politician. His economic record is still comparatively quite good good and the Russian economy is still growing despite some pretty strong global headwinds. The opposition protests have become smaller and less frequent. The coming NGO and other measures will deprive Putin's opponents of US funding that they rely on or further discredit them. No sign that the security forces don't fully back Putin. The opposition itself is localized (no real presence outside of Moscow), divided, and itself unpopular. There is no real alternative to Putin that makes sense-- past failures of Westernizing (and Western-dominated) liberals and communists discredit them both, extreme nationalists simply aren't a practical option...and finally, Russia is a significant regional power with some elements of being a world power. Overthrowing a governement there isn't the same as overthrowing a government in a place like Libya. Remember that Yeltsin, for all his buffoonery, deep unpopularity and catastrophiic failures was NOT over thrown. To believe that the far more successful and popular Putin will be doesn't make much sense...
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 06, 2012 18:22
One can only agree with you, Marko, when you say that "anti-Putin predictors have a 100% track record of being wrong", but it's hard to agree that "their wishes are clouding their analyses". It's not about wishes: it's just that the guys from the RFE/RL (just as those from all the other Western "media") are getting paid by their employers to present this picture of the world in which everything outside of the West is just so horrible and is in a state of a permanent crisis.
The purpose of this propagandistic line is quite clear: to divert the attention of the Western public from the fact that NATO/US/EU are being militarily defeated in Afghanistan and are standing on the verge of an imminent economic collapse that results from the fact that the capitalist economic model is unsustainable. That's the only reason for which they need to brainwash their readers with the stories of how Putin, Ahmadinejad or Assad "are doomed" - while getting stuck reading this crap, the readers do not make it to the economic sections of serious newspapers.

by: Sey from: World
July 04, 2012 01:05
I would like to see a revolution in Russia happening without costing an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 lives. It is apparent, judging from the last century, that Russians are quite prone to die by the hundreds in any outbreak of violence.

Putin will make sure he gets you in the bathroom before you can tweet it. So I hope the activists are capable of becoming soldiers quickly.

by: American Troll
July 04, 2012 10:12
So much botox, yet too miserly to fix that proboscis.

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 04, 2012 19:22
"The legislation, currently being considered by the State Duma, comes as lawmakers are also set to debate a bill requiring any NGO receiving funding from abroad to register as a "foreign agent", as has been the law in the USA under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) since 1938 and upon which the proposed Russian law is modeled."

There. That looks a little more balanced. In fact, FARA was specifically modified in 1966 to focus on agents actually working with foreign powers who sought economic or political advantage by influencing governmental decision-making. The USA seemed to think failure to register as a foreign agent was serious enough to kick Anna Chapman out of the country and to speak excitedly of her and others also deported as a "ring of spies", although that is the only charge actually brought against her. Western NGO's can legitimately start to worry about persecution when they are being denounced as spies and ejected from the country as persona non grata.

Russia has let NGO's operating in the country get away with murder to the point that they actively and boldly aid and enable the opposition, and it is high time the Russian government took steps to rein them in and regulate their activities, just as the United States - beacon of democracy and freedom - has done since 1938. If it truly infringed unduly upon freedom or limited the charitable activities of legitimate NGO's that do no harm, the United States presumably would not allow such a law to remain on the books, and I'm sure you will agree that Russia could do worse than to borrow from the USA for its laws and regulations.

It is worth remembering that both the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia were spearheaded by western NGO's. Pretending they are only in the country to do legitimate charitable work and are apolitical is disingenuous, and is not fooling anyone except those who are happy to be fooled.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
July 06, 2012 11:37
A little disingenuous there Mark, given that FARA is aimed at members of foreign intelligence services .

You do know that Ana Chapman was an SVR agent (an actual spy) don't you, she even got state awards such as a medal on return from her mission, while Putin's neo-fascist bill will attack anyone working for an NGO, regardless of its work.

All in all the sort of poorly informed argument I would expect from a Victorian.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 06, 2012 21:58
"Disingenuous". My, that's a lot of syllables, Andrew; your medication appears to be helping, not to mention that follow-the-bouncing-ball therapy.

Actually, if you took the trouble to look it up, FARA requires "every agent of a foreign principal, not otherwise exempt, to register with the Department of Justice and file forms outlining its agreements with, income from, and expenditures on behalf of the foreign principal. These forms are public records and must be supplemented every six months."

Additionally, "The Act also requires that informational materials (formerly propaganda) be labeled with a conspicuous statement that the information is disseminated by the agents on behalf of the foreign principal. The agent must provide copies of such materials to the Attorney General. "

As far as it being applicable only to agents of foreign intelligence services - which I presume is what you mean when you say that is who the provisions of the Act are "aimed at" - that is unsurprisingly not so. If you refer to "Does everyone who acts as an agent of a foreign principal have to register?" in the link provided, you will learn that even lobbyists must register as Foreign Agents if they are lobbying "on behalf of a foreign government or foreign political party. "

http://www.fara.gov/fara-faq.html#3

Anna Chapman was awarded, coincidentally, the Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. This originated as a religious medal, but is also presented as recognition of merit and service to the state. It is not a spy medal, and Anna Chapman was not charged with spying for Russia. She was given a medal more to spite the USA for making such a big spy flap than for any other reason. Despite lurid speculation of all the government officials she came close to seducing, there was no evidence she did anything of the sort or she would have been charged with something more than failing to register as a Foreign Agent. Somebody has been staying up after sleepy-time watching Bond films.

http://the.heraldry.ru/text/rpcorders.html

In fact, Putin's neo-fascist bill will be just like the USA's neo-fascist law in that those "whose activities are of a purely commercial nature or solely of a religious, scholastic, academic, scientific or fine arts nature... Certain soliciting or collecting of funds to be used for medical aid, or for food and clothing to relieve human suffering" will be exempt. That pretty much covers the NGO waterfront, at least so far as legitimate apolitical activities are concerned.

I'm not going to stoop to disparaging your intelligence based on the city you live in, although I'm not surprised to see such a childish performance from you.





In Response

by: William from: Aragon
July 07, 2012 10:57
Hello Andrew, please refer to my final comment on: http://www.rferl.org/content/hrw-says-syria-tortures-civilians/24633199.html
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
July 09, 2012 22:46
Hello Andrew, please refer to my final comment on: http://www.rferl.org/content/hrw-says-syria-tortures-civilians/24633199.html

by: American Troll
July 04, 2012 21:25
On a more topical note, yes, the best reason to ignore Russia's liberals is that everyone in Russia does. That said, Putin's public approval rating is about as relevant as his horoscope. When the end comes, he will "hand the briefcase over" to someone acceptable to the army and the siloviki, not the electorate. If he hangs on for another couple of years, it may be someone we've never heard of before. If it's sooner, then my money's on that tubby little goosestepper, Rogozin. But first he needs to either hit the gym or quit stitching himself into those Cossack costumes that make him look even more like an angry sausage than he already does. God but I miss Alexander Lebed.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
July 08, 2012 19:34
IF Putin were to retire before the end of his term this indeed might be the scenario. Don't see that happening though. I'm also always confused about whom the Russian electorate might "prefer" either over Putin or as his successor. I have yet to hear a single credible name either from the RFE blogs or from the commentary section-- the tired retreads Zyuganov or Zhirinovsky-- no; Navalny-- widely and credibly suspected of being a CIA agent in Russia-- get real! Udaltsov, Prokhorov, etc-- uh, no. Too many people in the center and one or the other end of the Russian political spectrum just wouldn't vote for either one under any circumstances. Zyuganov is easily the most credible of that bunch, and he couldn't clear 35% even under the most favorable conditions-- I think that the "angry sausage" (an accurate and funny description) or someone else from Putin's entourage or some random general with some successes in Georgia or Chechnya to his credit would beat all of these candidates easily. Election or just appoint the guy-- doesn't make much difference.

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

08:27

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-UKRAINE GAS DEAL REPORTEDLY CLOSER

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

Oettinger said as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia before the end of this year.

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

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

PROSECUTORS TARGET EKHO MOSKVY

The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)

PUTIN, POROSHENKO DISCUSS CEASEFIRE AND GAS SUPPLIES

The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and kremlin.ru)

RUSSIAN INVESTIGATORS SAY 'CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE' BEHIND TOTAL AIR CRASH

Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)

 

16:08 October 17, 2014

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.

AND A NEW POWER VERTICAL PODCAST COMING SOON

We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.

 

13:25 October 17, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-WEST RIFT PERSIST AFTER DIFFICULT UKRAINE CRISIS TALKS

By RFE/RL

Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

GEORGIAN PM SAYS NO PROGRESS NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

(Based on reporting by Interfax, AFP, and TASS)

RUSSIA DETAINS TWO JOURNALISTS OVER WORKSHOP

Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

18:00 October 16, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's Newes Desk:

PUTIN WARNS EUROPE OF GAS CRISIS THIS WINTER

President Vladimir Putin has warned that Europe faces "major transit risks" to natural gas supplies from Russia this winter.

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies."

Putin made the remarks ahead of talks in Milan on October 16 and 17 with EU leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia Preident Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

The price standoff is the third between Moscow and Kyiv since 2006.

Russia is the EU's biggest gas supplier, providing about a third of the gas consumed there.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

U.S. HELSINKI COMMITTEE DECRIES RUSSIAN ATTEMPT TO CLOSE MEMORIAL RIGHTS GROUP

By RFE/RL

The U.S. Helsinki Commission says Russia’s attempt to liquidate Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, is “an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience.”

“It is very troubling that an organization founded by [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression,” the commission’s chairman, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, said in an October 16 statement.

Russia's Justice Ministry on October 10 appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to close Memorial, which comprises more than 50 bodies nationwide. The reasons for the request were not made public.

Created in the 1980s by Soviet-era dissidents, Memorial has served as a tireless rights watchdog and important source of Soviet-era records for a quarter century.

PUTIN VOWS TO SUPPORT SERBS ON KOSOVO

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continued support for Serbia on the divisive issue of Kosovo during a state visit that mixed meetings with officials with attendance at a military parade.

Putin is the guest of honor at Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by partisans and Soviet Army troops in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

The visit highlights Serbia's delicate balance between the European Union, which it is seeking to join, and relations with Russia that are rooted in history and religion but encompass economic and geopolitical interests.

Russia angrily criticized the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and has backed Belgrade's opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, defying the United States and preventing Kosovo from getting a seat at the United Nations.

Putin promised Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that Russia would stand firm over Kosovo, saying the Kremlin's stance was "a position of principle that is not to be subjected to any adjustments."

"We supported Serbia in the past and we intend to continue supporting it in the future. In Russia friendship is not an object of trade-offs," Putin said.

Nikolic said Serbia "sees in Russia a great ally and a partner and Serbia won't compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine in an interview on the eve of his visit, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and attempts to do so would hurt Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin used the visit to promote South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project that that the EU has suspended in member states.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream.

Putin told "Politika" the pipeline project would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

Putin's warm Serbian welcome may contrast with greeting he faces hours later at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan, where he will meet Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

NATO says Russian has sent troops and weapons to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people in eastern Ukraine since April, including 298 passengers and crew abroad a Malaysian jet shot down there in July.

Putin said the importance of the liberation anniversary events could not be overestimated.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," he said in the interview.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin said he hopes for peace in Ukraine but suggested Ukrainians whose protests toppled a president sympathetic to Moscow in February presented a Nazi-like threat.

"Unfortunately the vaccine against the Nazi virus ... is losing its potency in some European states.," he told "Politika," adding: "particular concern on this score is prompted by the situation in Ukraine, where there was an anticonstitutional coup d'etat in February whose driving forces were nationalists and other radical groups."

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

However, he told reporters last week that Serbia's "strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of Putin's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

"Nothing better could happen to us," Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, said of Putin's visit. "Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax)

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR AGAINST 'PUTIN PUB' IN BISHKEK

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Krutko, has protested the new "Putin Pub" restaurant in Bishkek.

Krutko said late October 15 that naming "a dubious drinking site" after "our president" is "unethical" and therefore he asked Bishkek authorities to remove the commercial banners and billboards advertising the pub.

Krutko added that he would do everything possible "either to shut down the place or to make it change its name."

Last month, Bishkek authorities removed all billboards and banners in the city that advertised the "Putin Pub."  

The billboards carried a black screen with white and black silhouetted portrait of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a circle with the name of the restaurant -- "Putin Pub," below.  

(With reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek")

17:35 October 16, 2014

UKRAINE CALLS ON ITS CITIZENS TO DITCH VKONTAKTE

VIa slon.ru:

Ukraine's Security Service has urged Ukrainians not to use Russian social networks.

Markiian Lubkovsky, an adviser to the Interior Minister told the television channel "112 Ukraine" that the site "VKontakte" is an "element of pressure and influence." 

"We urge all Ukrainians, all of our citizens to be careful not to use these networks, because they are now part of the information war against Ukraine," he said.

Read it all here. And a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock for flagging.

 

17:25 October 16, 2014

TARGET: VEDOMOSTI

According to a report in Bloomberg, Kremlin-connected oligarchs are plotting to take over "Vedomosti," one of Russia's few remaining independent newspapers -- one that has been a pathbreaker in the field of economic journalism and data-driven investigative reporting.

Businessmen close to President Vladimir Putin are preparing to acquire Vedomosti, the largest Russian newspaper outside the Kremlin’s control, three people familiar with the matter said.

Putin signed a law yesterday capping foreign holdings in media at 20 percent, meaning the owners of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, co-founders of the newspaper, must cut or sell their 33 percent stakes by the end of 2016. The third owner, Sanoma Oyj (SAA1V), is in talks to sell its Russian assets.

Under a plan backed by the presidential administration, an intermediary may be used to acquire all three stakes to make the deal more palatable politically before a group loyal to Putin buys the whole newspaper, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The eventual owner will probably be either Gazprom-Media, an affiliate of the state-run gas exporter, or companies linked to longtime Putin ally Yury Kovalchuk, they said.

“The Kremlin sees Vedomosti’s shareholders as foreign governments,” the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Tatiana Lysova, said in an interview. “The WSJ equals the U.S. and the FT the U.K. They want a Russian owner so they have someone to call.”

Read the whole piece here.

 

11:17 October 16, 2014

CRIMEA'S LGBT COMMUNITY FLEES IN FEAR

Simon Shuster has a dispatch in Time Magazine about the plight of the gay and lesbian community in Crimea after the Russian annexation.

For the gay community in Crimea, the most worrying piece of legislation was the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda,” which Putin signed in 2012. Although the law is billed as an effort to protect Russian children from learning about “non-traditional sexual relationships,” its critics say the law encourages homophobia, signaling to Russians that gays are somehow inferior and should not be allowed to insist on their equality in public.

Since March, the new leaders of Crimea have embraced these principles with gusto. 

Read it all here.

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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