Thursday, October 02, 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.

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AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN SEEKS TO CALM INVESTORS' WORRIES OVER SANCTIONS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told potential investors in Moscow that "unwarranted" Western sanctions won’t stop the economy from developing.

In a bid to calm investors, Putin told an investment conference on October 2 that Russia remains committed to developing an economy that is “strong, flourishing, free, and open to the world."

Prospects for foreign investors in Russia have been dampened by Western sanctions over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.

Putin said Russia aims to “actively” use national currencies in trade deals with China and other countries -- implying a shift away from the U.S. dollar.

He also said Moscow doesn’t plan to introduce restrictions on cross-border capital and currency movements after a dramatic decline of the value of the ruble.

Putin also said the state is prepared to support economic sectors and companies that are being hit by sanctions.

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

RUSSIA LANUCHES PROBE AGAINST UKRAINIAN MILITARY LEADERSHIP

Russian authorities say they have launched an investigation against Ukraine's defense minister and other senior military officials. 

The spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, announced on October 2 that Ukraine's military leadership, including Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey and General Staff chief Viktor Muzhenko, is facing genocide and war crimes charges.

On September 29, Russia accused top Ukrainian political and military leaders as well as nationalist organizations of committing "genocide" against Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine. 

Ukrainian authorities dismissed the accusations and opened a criminal investigation against officials of Russia's Investigative Committee.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists have been fighting for six months in eastern Ukraine, leaving at least 3,000 people dead and causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

PRO-RUSSIAN SEPARATISTS PUSH TO SEIZE DONETSK AIRPORT

Rebel forces in eastern Ukraine are pushing to capture the government-held airport in the city of Donetsk. 

The Ukrainian military said on October 2 that pro-Russian separatists continued an offensive begun the previous day, on "a broad front."

Army spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said Ukrainian forces repelled four attacks on the airport in the evening of October 1, destroying a tank and killing seven rebels. 

The rebels used tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, artillery, and mortars, Seleznyov added, resuming their attacks on the morning of October 2. 

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, was quoted as saying on October 1 that separatist forces control “90 percent of the airport's territory” and plan to have it fully under their control “in two or three days at most."

The airport has been a focus of fighting between government forces and the insurgents despite a September 5 cease-fire in the conflict which has killed more than 3,000 people since April.

Meanwhile, shelling has repeatedly been reported in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

On October 2, Interfax reported that the city became the target of an artillery strike a day after about 10 people were killed in shelling in the rebel-held city.

Three people were reported killed on October 1 when a shell exploded on a school playground, while several others died when a shell hit a minivan on a nearby street.

The blasts occurred as pupils returned to school after the start of the school year was postponed from September 1 due to fighting.

Meanwhile, diplomatic pressure on Russia continued as German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin via phone on October 1 that Moscow has a duty to exert influence on the separatists in Ukraine. 

According to a German government spokesman, the two leaders expressed concerned that violence was still being used in Ukraine every day.

Merkel said the border between Ukraine and Russia needed to be monitored and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had a big role to play in that. 

Earlier, new NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the cease-fire in Ukraine offers an opportunity but Russia still has the power to destabilize the country.

Stoltenberg also had conciliatory words for Russia, saying he saw no contradiction between aspiring for a constructive relationship with Moscow and being in favor of a strong NATO.

(With reporting by Interfax and the BBC)

PUTIN SAYS HE HOPES UKRAINIAN ELECTION WILL BRING STABILITY

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed hope that Ukraine's parliamentary election later this month will help bring stability to the country.

Addressing the annual "Russia Calling" investment conference in Moscow on October 2, Putin said economic and political stability in Ukraine was in Russia's interests.

The Russian president said Moscow wants a "predictable" and "reliable" relationship with Ukraine and that he regards the former Soviet republic as Russia's "most brotherly" nation.

The elections to the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada are scheduled for October 26.

Government forces and Pro-Russian separatist continue to battle in eastern Ukraine despite a September 5 cease-fire in the conflict which has killed more than 3,000 people since April.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

And here are some comments by Putin at the annual VTB Capital investment forum in Moscow.

On Ukraine:
"Russian national interests will be met if Ukraine exits its political and economic crisis -- and this country has indeed plunged into a deep political and economic crisis -- restores its economy, political, social spheres. We are interested in having a reliable and predictable partner and neighbor."


"I hope that both Ukrainian parliamentary election is conducted with dignity and a long awaited political stability sets in. However, I cannot fail to mention that we expect all people living in any part of Ukraine to be able to fully enjoy their rights enshrined both in the international and Ukrainian law, that no one is discriminated either for the language they speak, or ethnicity they belong to, or religion they follow. This is the only way to preserve the country's territorial integrity and the only way to return it its unity."

On charges of money laundering in a deal to acquire a regional oil company against one of Russia's richest businessmen Vladimir Yevtushenkov:
"There will be no review of the results of privatization [in Russia] on a massive scale. At the same time, one case always differs from another both systematically and qualitatively. Thus if law enforcement authorities found either [privatization matters] or asset movements questionable, we have no right to deny them their duty to investigate this particular case and make a decision."

"I hope all pending decisions will be made in the realm of civic laws and arbitration rather than that of the criminal code. In any case, I am not going to interfere and I am not going to issue any policy directives."

 

 

 

 

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP FOR OCTOBER 2, 2014

Good morning. Here are a few items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO PRESS SEPARATISTS IN UKRAINE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia has a duty to exert influence on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Merkel made the remark during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 1.

According to a German government spokesman, the two leaders expressed concerned that violence was still being used in Ukraine every day.

Merkel said the border between Ukraine and Russia needed to be monitored and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation had a big role to play in that. 

She said Germany would continue to support the OSCE mission in Ukraine, adding it could play an important role in planned local elections in the regions around Donetsk and Luhansk. 

Earlier, NATO's new Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the cease-fire in Ukraine offers an opportunity but Russia still has the power to destabilize the country.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Reuters)

MOSCOW LINKS SUSPENSION OF STUDENT EXCHANGES TO GAY U.S. COUPLE

Russia's child-protection ombudsman has linked Moscow's decision to suspend participation in the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX)  to a gay American couple that established guardianship over a Russian high school student who was in the United States for the program.

Pavel Astakhov said on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RFdeti) on October 1 that Washington had violated its obligation to return Russian students to their country when  "a Russian teen stayed behind in the United States."

Astakohov said a homosexual couple established illegal "guardianship" over the boy.

But the U.S. administrator of the program says the events described by Astakhov occurred after the child had completed the exchange program and that the student's host family was not a same-sex couple as Russian officials have implied.

U.S. Ambassador John Tefft expressed regret over Russia's decision to withdraw from next year's FLEX program.

(With reporting by TASS and Interfax)

NATO'S NEW CHIEF SAYS RUSSIA STILL ABLE TO DESTABILIZE UKRAINE

NATO's new Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the cease-fire in Ukraine "offers an opportunity" but says Russia still has the power to destabilize the country. 

Stoltenberg, speaking on October 1 in Brussels at his first news conference as NATO leader, said Russia must comply with international law and demonstrate it is respecting its international obligations.

He said: "We see violations of the cease-fire" in Ukraine.

But the new NATO chief said he saw no contradiction between aspiring for a constructive relationship with Russia and being in favor of a strong NATO.

Stoltenberg, a former two-term Norwegian Prime Minister, is NATO's 13th secretary-general in the trans-Atlantic organization's 65-year existence.

He replaced Danish former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. 

(With additional reporting by Reuters and AP)

LAVROV SEES CHANCE TO RESUME TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting in Moscow with North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong on October 1 that he sees a possibility for six-party talks to resume on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

But Lavrov said the resumption of the talks "will take a certain amount of time – not immediately."

He said the main conditions are "to achieve from all sides a calm, balanced approach" and to avoid "any abrupt steps that would only polarize positions."

North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States began talks in 2003 with the aim of ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

But Pyongyang withdrew in 2009 and indicated it would not abide by a 2005 pledge to abandon its nuclear programs.

Ri, who is on a 10-day visit to Russia, said a "long tradition of relations" between Moscow and Pyongyang is "bonded with blood."

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

And this, via Reuters:

RUSSIA GAS DUEL DEEPENS WITH SLOVAKIA SUPPLY CUT

By Michael Kahn and Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE, Oct 1 (Reuters) - The cat and mouse game between Europe and Russia on gas intensified on Wednesday with Slovakia saying its supply from Russia was down by a half and its prime minister calling the move part of a political fight.

Since September, Russia's state-controlled Gazprom has sent less-than-requested deliveries to Poland, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary - after the European Union began sending gas to Ukraine - in a clear warning from Moscow ahead of the winter heating season which officially starts today, when the industry switches to higher pricing.

The 50 percent cut reported by Slovakia, a major transit point for Russian gas exports to Europe, was by far the deepest yet, and Prime Minister Robert Fico said he would call a crisis meeting of his government if the problems persisted.

Fico, who normally has warm relations with Russia and has criticised EU sanctions against it, said he saw political factors behind the cuts.

"The Russian side talks about technical problems, about the necessity of filling up storage for the winter season," Fico said. "I have used this expression and I will use it again: gas has become a tool in a political fight."

There was no immediate comment from Russian gas exporter Gazprom

Slovakia's western neighbour the Czech Republic became the latest former Soviet-bloc nation to experience reductions. RWE Czech Republic, its main gas importer, said it saw unspecified reductions on several days over the past week, although the flow seemed normal on Wednesday.

It was unlikely there will be any impact for now on consumers of gas in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or the countries further West that receive it via there, because gas storage reservoirs throughout Europe are close to full.

As well as shipping Russian gas west, Slovakia also sends it east into Ukraine. That has irked Russia, which switched off gas deliveries to Ukraine to persuade Kiev to pay its arrears.

"Nobody should be surprised by what Russia does. They want to keep pressure on Ukraine... at the start of the heating season," said Michael LaBelle, a gas expert at the Central European University in Budapest.

Central European spot gas markets rose to over 25 euros ($31.52) per megawatt-hours (MWh), their highest levels since the Ukraine crisis broke out in February/March.

Russia is Europe's biggest supplier of natural gas, meeting almost a third of annual demand and in return, Gazprom receives around $80 billion in annual revenues from its European customers, making up the majority of its income.

Moscow halted gas flows to Ukraine three times in the past decade, in 2006, 2009 and since June this year, although this year gas for the EU via Ukraine has so far continued to flow.

Opening up gas flows eastward was part of the EU's response to Gazprom's decision to cut supplies to Kiev in June. Slovakia, Poland and Hungary can also send gas to Ukraine but so far deliveries have not been without incident.

Poland temporarily stopped deliveries to Ukraine last month after Warsaw said it was getting less gas from Russia than requested. Hungary stopped eastward supplies last week in order to fill its own storage tanks ahead of winter.

Slovakia, with the largest EU capacity to Ukraine, had maintained deliveries.

Analysts agree the moves are a warning to Europe that Russia is ready to retaliate should Brussels impose further sanctions on Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine.

"It (the Russian export reductions) could actually be in the end quite harmless. But the fact that they did not tell anyone in advance, (shows) that nobody should trust any explanation he or she gets, and that in itself is damning," Czech energy security ambassador Vaclav Bartuska told Reuters this week.

He added it would be foolish to expect gas to flow as usual through Ukraine this winter.

DEAL?

Traders have, however, pointed out that Russia's recent reductions to Europe, at least before the latest cuts to Slovakia, were within contractual allowances and came during times that EU gas storage tanks are well filled.

Gas Infrastructure Europe data show that the EU's gas storage sites are filled to an average of over 90 percent, compared to just 68 percent this time last year.

"Most of the EU has its gas tanks filled to the rims, so they don't need more gas at the moment, while Gazprom needs to still fill its domestic reserves ahead of the Russian winter, so I'm not surprised by its flow reductions to the EU, which were all within contractual allowances," one EU utility trader said.

While gas deliveries to Germany, Gazprom's biggest customer, should continue through the Nord Stream pipeline which bypasses Ukraine, the outlook is far less certain for central and southeastern European nations which receive most or all of their imports from Russia and via Ukraine.

To deal with a potential shortfall this winter, the European Union has prepared emergency plans and has also sought a compromise to safeguard winter supplies in a potential deal that would guarantee Kiev at least 5 billion cubic metres of Russian gas for the next six months if Ukraine made pre-payments.

The Russian energy ministry said on Wednesday that there would be not further gas talks with Ukraine and the European Commission this week. (1 US dollar = 0.7933 euro) (Additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Berlin; Writing by Henning Gloystein and Christian Lowe; Editing by William Hardy)

 

WHY COMPROMISE IN UKRAINE MIGHT BE IMPOSSIBLE

The always insightful -- and often provocative -- Alexander Motyl has a piece up at Huffington Post suggesting the Western and Russian positions on Ukraine are irreconcilable.

"Should the West therefore try to understand Russian perceptions even if it knows that they are completely wrong? Obviously, understanding Russian delusions can help the West and Ukraine craft a better response to Putin's expansionism. But it makes little sense to say that the West and Ukraine should try to accommodate these delusions in their search for peace in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

Should the democratic world have accommodated Hitler's perceptions of Jews? Or of Germany's need for Lebensraum? Or of the innate superiority of the Aryan race? The questions are rhetorical, but they are exactly the ones we should be asking about Russian perceptions.

The implications for policy are clear. Finding a compromise under such conditions may be impossible. And agreeing to disagree may be the best one can possibly achieve. Russia currently controls the Crimea and one third of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Let it continue to do so. The West has imposed sanctions on the Russian economy and supports Ukraine. Let it also continue to do so. Finally, Ukraine has adopted a defensive position and appears intent on preventing further Russian incursions into its territory. It, too, should continue to do so.

There is no practical solution to the Russo-Ukrainian war. The most one can hope for is to "freeze" it and thereby transform hot war into cold war between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and the West. That cold war will continue as long as Putin remains in power and continues to promote his delusional views of the world." 

Read the whole piece here.

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.

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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