Tuesday, July 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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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.

About This Blog

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

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